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Guardian/Angel

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Handwritten note, from Waverly Earp to her niece, Alice McCready, along with a small black shoebox filled with various documents and photographs
February 2035

Dear Alice,

Happy 18th birthday, baby girl! In some ways, I can’t believe how quickly the years have gone by. I am so proud of who you are and everything you’ve accomplished, and I feel like I can say with confidence that your Mama would have been, too. Sometimes I still see her in my dreams, and you are always the first thing she asks about.

I’m writing this letter to give you an explanation of the shoebox I just handed you. Although the contents of this box is what you might call ancient history, to me, these memories are as fresh as they would be if they had happened yesterday. Long story short, I’m writing because I feel incapable of speaking these things out loud.

Your Mama made two requests of me, moments before she died. The first was that I shield you from anything and everything that had to do with our family’s curse until I believed you would be emotionally capable of shouldering such a monumental burden. The second request was, when such a time came, that I share with you all the events that transpired in their entirety and I let you process it in any way you see fit. That includes returning to a town called Purgatory, if that is what you wish.

Far be it for me to deny your Mama anything in this world. For 18 years, your Aunt Gus and I have carefully protected you from our family’s curse. I did all that I could to ensure that you grow up a happy, well-rounded child leading a relatively normal life. Seeing the extraordinary woman you have grown into, I'm happy that I played a role in fulfilling Wynonna’s wishes to her specifications. This leaves me with her second request, the one that I have truly been dreading.

I can start with the basics, because they don’t hurt so much. You, Alice McCready, are the last descendant in a long line of Earp heirs. You are the first in that line that will not have to face the burden of the curse on your 27th birthday, and that is due to the incredible selflessness, courage, and sacrifice of your Mama, Wynonna Earp. For generations, Wyatt Earp’s descendants have been tasked on their 27th birthdays with the annihilation of 77 demons, called revenants, that Wyatt himself “put down” over 100 years ago. None were successful. None, until your mother.

In a small, cold, backwater town called Purgatory, your Mama, myself, and a tightly knit band of close friends (who were really more like family) faced demons and monsters from the depths of hell itself over the course of one long and (mostly) awful year. In the end, it was our collective bond, with Wynonna at its center that lead to the breaking of the curse. At terrible cost.

Our triumph resulted in the loss of several friends, including two of the three great loves of my life. One was your Mama. The other…

Suffice it to say, you will meet the other person in question very shortly within the cardboard walls of this Pandora’s shoebox. To this day, the loss of this person from my life sucks the air from my lungs and renders me unable to speak, and therefore also unable to fulfill the second half of my promise. I believe this is information that you deserve to know, so I won’t let my own limitations deprive you of it. I’ll let the voice of my love tell our story to you. (Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Your 40 year old spinster Aunt had a love.)

After 18 years my emotional wounds have mostly scarred over. Mostly. All but one, which gets ripped open anew every time I hear her name or smell vanilla or see a flash of auburn. In those moments, the shrouded form on the edges of my consciousness steps out of darkness and manifests itself into the person who was the other half of my soul. No matter how hard I rale against the universe, I can’t bring her back to me. All that I have left of her is contained in this box.

When you’re finished reading (you’ll find several handwritten letters, case files/notes, and a black, leather bound journal), and you feel ready, come find me and I’ll fill in the holes and answer any questions that you might have. I will tell you anything you wish to know about the curse and your beautiful Mama.

But the person whose life and love is at the center of the contents of this box, well. That topic has to remain off-limits. At least for now. You’ll understand.

I love you, Alice.

Xoxo,
Aunt Waverly

//

Handwritten note tucked into the inside flap of a black, leather-bound journal
February 2017

Waves,

The fact that you’re reading this means that my worst fears have come to pass. I gave Jeremy very specific instructions to get this journal and my notes to you in the event we were ever separated…in any sense. If you’re reading this and Jeremy is still with you, please thank him for me. Please also thank him for safeguarding the secrets that this journal will shed light on. He and I were always good friends (albeit on the DL) as we had a significant common interest.

You.

(Although our motivations for keeping you out of harm’s way and the manner we went about ensuring your safety were quite different.)

I can’t begin to imagine the confusion and sadness you must be feeling right now. I fear this won’t compare to the heartbreak and betrayal you’ll feel once you’ve read what’s enclosed. From the depths of my heart, from the bedrock of my soul, baby, I am so sorry for the pain and deceit you have experienced in the course of our relationship. All I can do now is hope that the things I have written in this journal will shed light on every decision I’ve made and give you some sense of closure…and if I’ve done a good enough job, maybe even of understanding.

There is one thread (perhaps steel cable is a more accurate term) that runs through the center of our story, and it is this: I love you, Waverly Earp. I loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you standing across the street from Shorty’s on my second day on Assignment in Purgatory. Before I even met you I was already bound to you by an oath that I will elaborate on in this journal, but after your endless green eyes met mine across the bar for the first time, I was entirely and irrevocably yours.

I ask you to please see past this sloppy letter and hear me in your heart and see me in your mind’s eye. I’m on my knees before you with tears in my eyes as I tell you, no matter the distance between us (temporary or otherwise) and no matter what has transpired to get us here, you were and you are the love of my existence. This life, the ones behind it, and the ones that stretch out endlessly after it, they are all yours. Know that every decision I’ve made, since the day we met to the one that lead to you reading this letter, has been to ensure your safety and well-being. Being your Guardian (and more importantly, your lover) gave me back my life as if you were the air in my lungs and the blood in my veins.

Know this, too: If I am alive, I will move heaven and earth to find you again.

And if I am not…I will wait.

Yours Forever,
Nicole

//

Journal Entry #1
27 Feb 2016
“Graduation & Assignment Day”

Well, I’m here. I arrived in the town of Purgatory today at 0700 hours. Traveling was, as expected, an absolute nightmare. It’s hard to believe that people consider this part of the country habitable. Temperature-wise, it’s one hell of a change from what I’ve been used to for the past four and a half years, alternating the blast-furnace of the Middle East with the humidity of Fort Bragg, NC. It would be a welcome change from sweltering in ACUs and desert boots if it just weren’t so damn cold I can feel the snot freeze in my nose after five minutes outside. That really kind of sums up my life so far, always jumping from one extreme to another. A tendency born from trying to outrun the past.

I found a nice house to rent without a problem. People aren’t exactly scrambling for real estate around here. I like it, but it’s far too big for me. I feel like a penny rattling around in a tin can, especially after growing up with 6 siblings and spending a four year enlistment in tents and barracks practically on top of other people. It’s nice (REALLY nice, actually) to finally have some privacy, it’s just…a little too quiet and my thoughts are a little too loud. I think maybe I’ll get a cat for company. In the meantime, I’ll do exactly as I was instructed, and write in this stupid journal.

//

My class graduated from training at what I’ve decided to call “The Firm” 2 days ago. (I don’t think it’s wise to be overly elaborate in explaining the nature of what I do, in case this word vomit ever falls into the wrong hands.) I graduated from the police academy three months before that, a pre-requisite for acceptance into The Firm.

The day before graduating and receiving our assignments, our instructors pulled us all aside, one-by-one, to give us advice as individuals (a singularly bizarre experience, I might add, to see an instructor transform from a hollering hardass to something resembling a human being.) I sat in Instructor Higgs’ office and willed my eyes not to wander around the room and read the certificates for each of his Assignments. I always prided myself on my discipline and self-control, and I believe the intensity with which I adhere to those qualities is (at least in part) the reason he gave me the advice he did.

Instructor Higgs had an unnerving ability to nail someone to their seat with his eyes, and he was doing it to me then. I met his ice blue irises with my hazel ones and with great determination, did not squirm or look away.

“Recruit Haught.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Tomorrow you’ll graduate and become Guardian Haught.”

“Yes, sir.”

For a moment, he looked thoughtful. It occurred to me that he was taking this very seriously.

“Remind me how many tours of duty you did in the Middle East.”

That was abrupt. I met his eyes briefly, and couldn’t help the way they flicked down to plain brown file directly in front of him with the label “Haught, Nicole.” Surely this was information he was already apprised of, but it was obviously my job to play along. I cleared my throat.

“Three, sir.”

He leaned forward on his desk and regarded me shrewdly with those piercing eyes. I watched the muscles in his cheeks ripple as he clenched and unclenched his jaw. On our first day of indoctrination, he had served as the ringleader in the traditional “shark attack.” My cohort had quickly taken to referring to him amongst ourselves as, “That Crazy Motherfucker.” Needless to say, I felt a little on edge.

“How many total months were you in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

“30 months, sir. 12 months in Iraq on my first tour, 9 months in Afghanistan for my second and third.”

“Indeed.” He flipped my file open and glanced down. He folded his hands. “You spent a good bit more than half of your four-year enlistment in a combat zone. I understand the operational tempo was high at the time, what with the surge, but for a Military Police unit, it strikes me as excessive.”

“I only spent one of those deployments with my assigned unit, sir.” I looked him square in the eyes when I answered. At that moment, I realized where our conversation was headed. I’d had it before.

“You volunteered for the other two.”

“Yes, sir.” My hands slowly curled into fists underneath the desk. I could feel my fingernails bite into my palms, hard enough to be painful. Keeping my face composed in this moment was of the utmost importance to me. I could feel his perceptive gaze like prying fingers in my head, flipping through my memories.

“Who did you lose on your first tour?”

There it was.

“Three members of my squad.” I paused to arrange my features. “In an IED explosion. One of them was my best friend.” It suddenly felt like an iron band was constricting around my ribs. “Specialist Katie Epperson.” I’m still not quite sure why I offered up her name like that. To this day, saying it is like speaking around a mouth full of cotton.

Instructor Higgs leaned back in his desk chair, reached behind him, and came up with a box of tissues. He pushed them across the desk toward me.

“I’m not crying, Instructor.”

“No, you aren’t,” he said, looking almost…sad? Like I said, the entire experience was Twilight-zone level bizarre.
“My question is, have you ever?”

I sat bolt upright. I hadn’t even noticed how much I had started to sag. I felt my eyes blaze and my cheeks get hot. My Scottish coloring and temper are a large part of the reason I have learned to keep my emotions well in hand. With great difficulty I pried my gritted teeth apart.

“Sir, the death of my teammates was devastating, but if I’m going to complete my mission and succeed as a Field Guardian on Assignment, I have to let my emotions sort of take the back seat.”

To my absolute amazement I watched a hard man’s expression soften.

“Haught, I want you to listen to me carefully,” he began. “I respect your service to this country. I respect the dedication you show to your profession. However, given the reading I’ve done on your background, my observation of you in training, and this conversation, I believe I’m seeing the shadows of a fatal flaw.”

I distinctly recall reminding myself in that moment to trim my nails after I left his office, as I was starting to draw blood. (I really have been single for too long, but that isn’t exactly relevant.)

“Having emotions, especially strong ones like rage and grief and love isn’t weakness or a detriment to the mission, as you clearly have been lead to believe,” he said gently. “Feeling is what makes us human. Being human gives us the capacity to make hard judgement calls, which you will do every minute of every day on Assignment. You have to recognize and respect emotions for what they are, and you have to deal with them, regardless of the toll it takes on your psyche. Bottling them, shoving them down where no one can see them isn’t going to do you any favors. Steam requires a release valve, yeah? Are you following me?”

“I think so, sir.”

“Good.” I heard the steel undertone return to his voice and the wall between us went back up as quickly and suddenly as a blast door. “There are two things I will strongly advise you to do when you arrive on Assignment. The first one is to exercise daily, for at least an hour. I know that seems obvious, but that’s the easy part. The second one is to order a black, leather bound journal and write in it every single day.”

I feel my eyebrows shoot up against my own volition. Seriously?

“Sir?”

“Journal, recruit,” he growled. “Write shit down. Record any events that occur on Assignment as they transpire, but more importantly, write what you feel. Get all those thoughts and emotions out of your head and onto paper. Like the old guy’s bowl in the wizard movies my kids like.”

“…A pensieve?”

“Yeah, like a pensleeve.”

“Ah…okay. Yes, sir.”

He nodded, flipped my file closed, and stood up abruptly, holding out his hand. Surprised, I stood and took it. His shake was firm and warm. I could feel the sharp rasp of his calloused palm scrape over the hardened surface of my own.

“Good luck in the field, recruit. Enjoy your first assignment.” He paused, looking past me for a moment. “It’s the only one you’ll ever truly care about.” I don’t know why his statement struck me as so profound, but that was the moment that I decided to take his advice on journaling. He was a salty old man, but he spoke like he knew more about me than I did about myself.

//

I didn’t care much for our graduation ceremony, partially because I had no family there to see me take the Oath, and partially because I was so eager to get my Assignment and move forward. The majority of my cohort would receive assignments to high-level government officials. Some would serve as Guardians to more covert governmental assets, like spies. A much smaller subsection of us (those who “met certain criteria,” whatever that meant) would be farmed off to the highest bidder on a non-governmental contract. That is, we would agree to guard individuals in the private sector, but only those that the authorities deemed valuable, for whatever reason.

After the Oath ceremony, we lined up single-file outside of the Commander’s office. One by one, we stepped through the door and were handed a slim file with nothing but the bare essentials of what we needed to know for our Assignment. As soon as I had the envelope in my hand, I was racing through the building toward my living quarters so I could open mine with some semblance of privacy. I knew how meaningful my first Assignment would be to me, and I wanted to process it alone.

I sat on my bunk and cracked the file open. My eyes flew greedily over crisp, typed pages until they arrived at a small, 3X4 inch black and white photograph clipped on the upper right hand side. I wrenched it free to take a closer look. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know why my reaction to the woman in the photo was so visceral. From what I could see, she was undeniably beautiful, but it was more than that. Heat spread from the pit of my stomach to the crown of my head. It was the feeling you get when you’re in a public place and you recognize a dear friend in the crowd that you haven’t seen in years. She was familiar to me in a way that I couldn’t for the life of me put my finger on.

I packaged the strange feeling up in my mind and sent it to live with a wide variety of other untouchable topics and continued to read the file.

Name: Waverly Earp
Gender: Female
Age: 21 years
Location: Purgatory, Montana
Asset type: Private contract
Contractor: Redacted

There was other information, her social security number, her next of kin, height and weight...and at the very bottom of the second page,

Special Instructions: ***Contractor requires that the asset remain completely unaware that she is being guarded. Asset has recently entered circumstances of extreme peril above and beyond what would normally be expected for her demographic. Guardian should have expectation of events surrounding the asset that exceed standard operating procedure.***

I’m still unclear as to what exactly that last sentence meant.

//

So here I am, sitting on the floor of this big, drafty house, pouring my thoughts into this black rectangular pensieve rather than eat or sleep, though I desperately need to do both. Tomorrow morning I start my "cover" job as Sheriff’s Deputy. I also have to find and hopefully introduce myself to her. Waverly Earp. Purgatory is an exceedingly small town, and it is absolutely essential that I fit in here so as to not raise suspicion. The closer I can get to her, the easier my job will be.

I wonder if I’ll like her.

Somehow I know I will.

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #2
March 2016

What a crazy week. This has been my first chance to sit down and write.

Although, just because I named you doesn’t mean I have to explain myself to you, Journalie. (I really need to start making friends in this town. Ha,ha…..ha……ehhhhh.)

A number of important things happened since my last entry, which I will do my best to mention in chronological order, but I have to admit, I feel more than a little muddled. For some reason, this town is completely throwing me off my game. It’s kind of dark in a way that’s hard to explain. People walk around like they all share some terrible secret but no one will talk about it or even allude to what it might be.

Not to mention that my-

***NOTE: the next word after “my” is firmly scratched out and barely legible. Upon close examination, it says “Waverly.” –A.M.***

-Asset is a descendent of the legendary gunslinger, Wyatt Earp, the OK Corral guy. I plan on making it a point to find out why he ended up in Purgatory. Despite having been here for a week already, my file on one Waverly Earp is still embarrassingly thin. I introduced myself to her on my second day here, like I said, but things are turning out to be a little more…complex than I initially anticipated.

I think I need a drink.

//

The morning after my arrival I woke up at my usual time, 0500 hours, to run and iron my uniform before my 0700 shift began. This uniform is…atrocious, for lack of a better word. I really never thought I would miss my ACUs, but here we are. I put in a request to the Sheriff before my arrival for permission to carry my usual sidearm, a Glock 17, but it was roundly denied. Their Colt .45 standard issue is a cumbersome, clunky weapon and feels strange in my hand.

I’m quickly starting to realize that the uniform and the pistol are only two of many, many concessions I am going to have to make while I’m assigned here. A significant portion of our training at The Firm was learning how to blend in and fit seamlessly into the life of the Asset, which is exactly what I intend to do. At least I can wear my hair in a French braid rather than a sock bun. If it weren’t for the uniform, one might even mistake me for an attractive woman…not as if that matters….

I arrived at the station early to fill out paperwork and introduce myself to the Sheriff and the desk staff. Shocker: the Sheriff wasn’t in yet and there is no desk staff apart from myself and the other deputies. I made coffee and sort of twiddled my thumbs for a few minutes before I got restless and decided to walk around the block and see what I could see. Fact is, there isn’t much TO see in Purgatory (at least on the surface, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) There’s your standard general store, a cute little donut and coffee shop, a hardware store, all the usual obligatory small town businesses. The only building worth more than a second glance was the saloon, Shorty’s, which I was walking past when I first laid eyes on the person that I had been sent to Purgatory to watch over.

Although she had her back turned to me, I recognized her immediately by the feeling I got. It was the same one I had when I saw the picture in her file. Overwhelming warmth and the strangest sense of intense recognition. I stepped sideways into the shadow under the awning of the brick building beside me and gazed at her from under the brim of my Stetson, fancying myself stealthy. From my vantage point, I observed the following about Waverly Earp:

1. She works at Shorty’s
2. She shows a lot of midriff
3. She smiles a lot at nothing in particular. Within the two minutes I was observing her, she smiled at the door as she unlocked it, the “closed” sign as she flipped it, and even the trash cans as she adjusted the lid.
4. She is absolutely, positively the most stunning woman I’ve ever seen in my life, bar none

My notes on these observations:

1. Her place of employment makes it exceptionally easy for me to stage my introduction. It’s also very close to the station which is convenient for me. The less I have to rely on my ability, the better.

***NOTE: Ability??? –A.M.***

2. I don’t really know why I included this. Maybe I was hired to defend her from the elements? I’ll have to think about this more. For science.
3. Even people with generally sunny dispositions don’t smile 24/7. Given her surname, place of employment, and staggering good looks, I think there’s a pretty good chance this girl is the town sweetheart. It makes me wonder if Waverly Earp seems so happy more because it’s what is expected of her, and less because she truly is.
4. I have no excuse for this, I am useless. I will not be including this point in any briefings to my superiors.

It’s my journal, okay? I can write what I want.

//

As luck would have it, I never got the chance to introduce myself to Waverly that day. My shift started and I hit the ground running. This department doesn’t even bother to give the illusion that they have enough manpower. I introduced myself to the Sheriff when he ambled in, bleary-eyed, at 0830. He nodded at me, mumbled about coffee, and rubbed his hand through his thin, seemingly unwashed hair. I noted the several days’ worth of stubble on his chin and ultimately came to the conclusion that this was a man that was stretched very thin. It really was no wonder I had gotten such an enthusiastic response when I had put in an application to this department. Despite his state of mild dishevelment and gruffness, he struck me as a good man trying his best, and more importantly, as the type of boss who would allow me to remain relatively autonomous. That’s an important factor not only for the nature of my job but also for my own sanity. I’ve always been something of a lone wolf, which is part of what made Guardianship so appealing to me in the first place.

I don’t know if it was a full moon or just the nature of it being my first day on the job, but my 8 hour shift quickly stretched into 12, and I started to wonder if my cover job was going to become a bit of a liability to my true purpose in Purgatory. Conveniently, I walk by Shorty’s on my way home from the station, so with my Stetson in hand and my chest feeling like it was full of live wires, I went in, hoping to see her. I’m certainly not in the habit of introducing myself to beautiful women looking like a Haught mess (ha, ha, oh God I’m so tired) but I was very rapidly nearing the deadline for the introduction debriefing my superiors expected. Shorty’s was bursting at the seams with townies, as this was plainly the place to be after work. I walked to the bar, feeling the stares and practically hearing the sneers of “outsider.” A thickset man polishing a glass with a stained gray rag sauntered over and regarded me.

“You must be the new Sheriff’s deputy.” He extended his big bear paw. I took it and shook firmly, with a smile.

“Guilty. I’m Officer Haught, but if you’re Shorty, please just call me Nicole.”

“Alright, Nicole it is, then. What can I do you for?” This was a man of few words. I like that.

“Actually…I was hoping you would tell me when Waverly is working next?”

There are sundry reasons why being female in my line of work is often inconvenient. Being able to ask a question like this without looking like a total creep is not one of them.

He gave me a passing curious look but didn’t hesitate to answer. “She opens tomorrow and the shift starts at noon, but she likes ta’ get an early start.” I watched his eyes crinkle at the corner a little while he spoke. He was close to her in some capacity that went beyond the normal boss-employee relationship. Suddenly, a shadow passed over his face. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Wynonna being back in town, does it?” Wynonna. That rang a bell. It was one of the names listed under “next of kin” in Waverly’s file.

I hit him with my most winning smile. “Oh no, not at all. It’s just, I’m new in town and sorta keen to make friends. I haven’t seen many other women my age and I figured I should introduce myself.”

His crinkled forehead smoothed out immediately. “Well, if it’s friends you’re looking for, you don’t need to look much farther than Waverly. She’s the best thing about this damn town.” He paused, glanced around at the other patrons, and then looked back at me. His voice lowered an octave. “You’ll steer clear of her sister, though. If you know what’s good for you.”

I nodded solemnly. “Will do.”

Will not. From here on forward, it isn’t about what’s good for me.

It’s only about what’s good for Waverly.

//

I took my lunch break the next day promptly at 11:30 am, which is way too early in my book for lunch, but I had a mission to complete. Before I left the station to head to Shorty’s, I stopped in the station’s one decrepit, smelly bathroom to completely redo my hair and dab on a little lip gloss. I was determined to make a good first impression... for the sake of the Assignment. Right? Right. Totally professional. Sometimes, completely unexpectedly, I can hear Katie’s voice in my head, with such clarity it’s as if she’s standing right next to me.

“Sure, Nicole. Totally profesh.”

I stepped out of the front door and couldn’t help but smile a little. I could always rely on Katie to call me out when I was doing that thing, what did she call it?

Bullshitting myself.

Absentmindedly, I reached my hand under the collar of my button-down uniform shirt and rans the tips of my fingers over the words of the tattoo on my ribs below my left clavicle which read, “I carry your heart with me (I carry it with me in my heart.)” It’s a line from an EE Cummings poem. Below it is a long, white, puckered scar that runs all the way down the left side of my rib cage. Both the scar and the tattoo serve to remind me of what I’ve lost. Specifically, a small blonde spitfire who was my best friend and who would not have tolerated this habit I’m getting into of lying to myself.

I pushed the thoughts that were beginning to creep in firmly out of my mind and returned to the task at hand. I didn’t have any idea how this introduction was going to go, or what persona I would choose to adopt around the person who was soon to become the center of my life. I walked up to the door of Shorty’s and stopped short, ducked my head and took a deep breath. Why was this proving so difficult? I picked my head up, squared my shoulders, and pulled off my Stetson.

As the genie says to Aladdin, Nicole, “Beeee yourself.”

Oh God. I’m doomed.

I walked in at the exact moment my Waverly-

***NOTE: She didn’t catch the “my Waverly” this time. LOL –A.M.***

-lost a battle she’d apparently been having with a beer tap. I stood dumbfounded, leaning against the door frame as she got absolutely soaked. For a moment all I could do was stare, until I realized that this moment gave ME the opportunity to be the calm, cool, and collected one. I tossed a quick, “Thank you,” to the goddess above before opening my mouth and hearing,

“I didn’t realize Shorty’s had wet t-shirt competitions,”

come out. I could practically hear Katie’s delighted, mocking laughter in my head as I walked over to the bar, trying to maintain my composure. Once we were face to face, the effect I had so far only felt from a distance magnified itself by 1,000%. I’m really not one for cliché, but looking Waverly Earp in the eye was like seeing the sun after spending years trapped underground. My mind drew a complete blank, save one word. Angel.

Did she have this effect on everyone she met? Or is it just me?

(“Uh, it’s just you.” Thanks, Katie. )

She made some comment about having a crazy night, and I bantered back that I wished I had been around to see it, while inwardly cursing myself for being negligent. Hopefully she meant crazy in a non-life threatening sense. She stood and blotted her wet shirt with a towel while our eye contact lingered for a shade too long. In a momentary lapse I let my eyes drop to her soggy front (!!!!!!) before I took the runaway track of my thoughts firmly in hand and made my introduction.

“I’ve been meaning to introduce myself. I’m Nicole. Nicole Haught.”

Oops. Years in the military flattened my southern accent, but when I’m nervous, it creeps in. I made a mental note to at least try to put a lid on the twang. A Georgian accent in Montana is sure to stick out like a sore thumb.

She shook my hand warmly and looked almost…flustered? I could be projecting. I was definitely projecting.

“And you must be…Waverly Earp. Quite the popular girl around here.”

That last part was both an attempt at a save and a guess based on my brief observations. I really had no business knowing her name or anything about her, but she seemed unfazed by it, making a cute comment about how it was all in the smile and the wave. About a hundred jokes based on a play of her name and the word “wave” raced through my head, but in a rare moment of self-preservation I clamped down on all of them and instead asked her for a coffee to go.

Waverly looked loathe to disappoint me but replied that the bar wasn’t actually open yet. I feigned surprise and quickly started to shuffle through a list of conversation starters that would allow me a few more minutes in her presence before something straight out of lesbian romance novel happened.

“Gosh, I’m soaking wet. Do you mind…?”

I absolutely did NOT mind. What?

She gestured toward her eyes with her hands, as if to cover them up. I just stared and mimicked her movements until it clicked. Oh.

“Right! Of course.” I swiveled on my stool to face away and started thinking about how exactly I was going to describe this initial encounter to my boss in the briefing I would be writing that night. I thought about how badly Shorty’s needed a fresh coat of paint and good floor buffing. I thought about my great Aunt Madge. I tried to think about really anything other than…

“Uh, Officer? Uh, I’m kind of…stuck…so…”

This report is going to be a joy to write.

I stepped around the bar and pulled Waverly’s beer-soaked top the rest of the way off her head. I couldn’t help but notice it was a button-up top, but I do tend to overthink things. Everything about being as close as I was to her was intoxicating, and the feeling was so off-putting and out of context for what I was trying to accomplish that all I could do was smile and look at her from underneath my eyelashes and try to pretend that I couldn’t feel my dimple pop out like a crater in the side of my face. The pads of my fingers tingled from where they had grazed her bare skin.

I describe all this because the next thing I did was as a direct result of the state I was in and could get me severely reprimanded, if not fired.

I asked her out.

As if I really was just a Sheriff’s deputy new in town and as if she were nothing more than a pretty girl I was crushing on and not my charge and the source of my livelihood. Later, when I got back to the station, I would try to convince myself ten ways to Sunday that I had done it for the sake of her safety, telling myself that the closer I was able to get to her, the easier my job would be. Our instructors hammered us during training with “The Rules,” not the least of which was the forbidding of romantic attachments between Guardian and Asset. Hi, my name is Nicole Haught, and believe me, I am keenly aware of “The Rules.” It’s just, well, it’s a little difficult to make room for such mundane matters when your entire head and heart are filled to the brim with long, wavy hair and shy smiles and bright eyes and warm voice and the smell of floral shampoo.

After her awkward (and slightly embarrassed?) pronouncement that she was the girlfriend of some unidentified boy-man, I grabbed my confidence back by the horns and left her my card as I swaggered out of the bar. I had to leave on somewhat of a high note. If I stayed any longer I feared for my heart because just then it was making a valiant attempt to gallop out of my chest.

I was feeling awfully proud of the way I had put my Stetson back on as I walked until I was through the front door and the wind swept it off my head and down the street.

It was what I deserved.

I’m tired now, and I really need to grab a bite of something before I continue. In closing, I pose this question, because it’s been bothering me for days.

How can you fall so hard, so fast, for someone you just met?

Chapter Text

Email print-out of Assignment Report #1
(All names and pertinent information blacked out with sharpie)

Captain _____________,

Good afternoon, sir. This is Guardian Nicole Haught making my initial report.

1. Arrived in Purgatory, Montana at 0700 27 Feb 2016 and reported to Sheriff’s Department at 0700 28 Feb 2016. Nothing out of the ordinary to report.

2. Made contact with and introduced myself to my assigned, one Waverly Earp, 1130 28 Feb 2016. Introductions were pleasant and good rapport was established. Ms. Earp and I are close in age, establishing a friendly relationship will not be difficult.

3. Observation/surveillance at Ms. Earp’s place of employment (“Shorty’s” saloon) took place from 1900-2330. Nothing to report. Subject left in a red Jeep Wrangler. I tailed her from a distance and she arrived at her domicile, nicknamed “The Homestead.” Ms. Earp entered her domicile. The home is on the outskirts of town, surrounded by large swaths of open prairie. I found an excellent observation point on a hill overlooking the home. Spent the night in observation. Nothing to report.

4. This week I will continue to build rapport with the assigned as well as get a more firm sense of her habits and schedule. At this time, I do not believe the assigned to be in any immediate danger.

5. A Deputy Marshall Xavier Dolls from a covert government agency called the “Black Badge Division” moved into the police station. The agent described his work as top-secret and did not elaborate on the nature of his assignment. Ms. Earp’s sister, Wynonna Earp, seems to be working with this agent.

6. Due to the secretive nature of my Assignment, I regret to inform my superiors that I do not have a very specific sense of what I am protecting my assigned from. This hinders my ability to Shield. My ability to Locate is unaffected and accurate to a radius of 5 square miles. I am choosing to make the assumption that the danger Ms. Earp is in is related to the nature of her sister’s work with Black Badge. I request that you please advise, if possible.

Guardian Nicole Haught

//

Email print-out of response to Assignment Report #1

Guardian Haught,

Congratulations on arriving on Assignment. I have read your report and forwarded it to the Contractor, upon request. Be aware that any and all reports you make will be forwarded in this manner. Your request for additional information is denied at this time. We advise that you continue to observe the Asset from a distance and do your duty to the best of your ability. Make no advances toward the Black Badge deputy. Interact with the Asset’s sister only insofar as it pertains to the well-being of the Asset.

Our expectation of you at this time is to remain undercover and only report when absolutely necessary. Your role is to ensure the Asset’s safety at all times, by any means necessary.

We appreciate your service.

Captain ___________
Et vita mea
***NOTE: The Firm’s motto? Loosely translated from Latin: “With my own life.” –A.M.***

//

***NOTE: After Aunt Waverly gave me this shoebox, I arranged all the documents by date, just like she taught me to do with any historical research. In doing so I found several of these printed reports at the bottom of the box. While the name of the officer, his/her email, and the agency’s name were blacked out, I’m surprised that someone as straight-laced and rule-abiding as Nicole would print out correspondence like this. Seems like it would be “top secret.” Given what I read in Nicole’s last letter to Aunt Waverly and these printed reports, I’m starting to wonder what kind of terms Nicole left “The Firm” on.

Clearly, the demonic forces (revenants) that Aunt Waverly referred to in her letter are what brought Black Badge to Purgatory. It seems like Mama was working with this Xavier Dolls. Now that I think back on it, I feel like maybe I’ve heard Aunt Waverly and Aunt Gus say that name to each other a few times over the years. Aunt Waverly also has a friend she sees at least once a year who she just calls “X.” Coincidence? I guess I’ll have to ask when I’m done reading all this and I have a better sense of what is going on. I’m so confused. Intrigued, but confused.

Other thoughts:
1. I like how Nicole stopped referring to Aunt Waverly as “the Asset” and switched to less impersonal terminology like “assigned” and “Ms. Earp.” I get the impression forming emotional attachments is frowned upon by The Firm. It seems like she showed her hand to them a little without realizing it.
2. Why does Nicole keep referring to “abilities?” She capitalizes “Shield” and “Locate.” What in the world is that about? Although, I don’t know why I’m questioning whether or not someone can have magical abilities when I seem to have accepted the fact that Mama put down 77 revenants and broke an evil curse without a problem. Honestly, what is my life?
3. I kind of want to tell Henry about all of this and see what he thinks. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but was the Jeremy that Nicole referenced in her letter, like, Henry’s dad Jeremy? There are way too many layers to this and its making my head hurt. Where’s the whiskey? (Just kidding!)
4. WHY is Aunt Waverly so important to this mystery “Contractor?” This is all so strange and far-fetched that if she hadn’t written that letter and broken her heart crying when she gave me this shoebox I wouldn’t believe any of it.

-A.M. ***
//

Journal Entry #2, Cont’d
March 2016

Okay, where was I? I think I was describing my first week in Purgatory. Like I said, it’s been a doozy.

Waverly. Getting to know her has proven to be much harder than I anticipated. We haven’t spoken a whole lot since I introduced myself at Shorty’s, but I started seeing her around the station with her sister and that Deputy Marshall Dolls. I have no idea what she’s been up to. All I know is I tried to be friendly and say hello while all three of them were in the Black Badge office and he practically breathed fire at me. The frustrating part is that I’m about 98% sure that whatever Black Badge is here “investigating” and what I’m protecting Waverly from are one and the same. It seems logical that I try to make an alliance with Deputy Marshall Dolls, but my superior explicitly forbade it.

Speaking of Wynonna, I finally did a little research into the Earp family. Though I still feel very much in the dark, there’s a lot more that makes sense to me now. Such as why, despite the fact Wynonna was gone for years, there seems to be an impenetrable wall between the Earp sisters and everyone else. Trauma bonds people like nothing else will. A home invasion when both girls were very young resulted in the deaths of Willa and Ward Earp, Waverly’s sister and father. I had to read the report several times in order to fully process what it said. In an attempt to save her Willa, Wynonna shot and killed her own father. No wonder she walks around like she’s a bag of broken glass covered in skin. (***NOTE: Oh, Mama.  -A.M.***)

All the dark forces that seem to be at play in this town swirl around the Earp family like matter around a dying star. Not even light can escape.

//

To compound matters, I was right in thinking that my job as deputy would interfere with my Assignment. I can barely find time to sleep, much less be on top of Waverly.

(Oh okay, Nicole. Wow.)

Worse, my ability to locate her barely does me any good because her movements are erratic at best. Early in the week during my break at work I closed my eyes and reached for her and I was actually able to get a blurry visual, like an old television with really bad static. From what I could “see,” she was running all over the Homestead’s land with her sister. At one point, I could have sworn she was digging something up, but before I could decide for sure, I got called out on a job.

Then, Shorty died as the result of some kind of hostage situation that was immediately commandeered by Deputy Marshall Dolls. We got a call that several people were being held at gunpoint at the Surplus store. I was excited at first, thinking I could finally be of real help to someone (filing the tenth missing animal report of the day and writing parking tickets falls well short of my occupational expectations.) To my chagrin, Dolls basically told us to stand down unless we could get a clear shot, which ultimately resulted in us standing around flat-footed as the perps drove off with Shorty, Wynonna, and Champ (Waverly’s sister and boyfriend, respectively. No really, that’s his actual name.)

The only positive thing to come out of the whole situation was Dolls asking me to call Waverly to let her know “her sister was in a situation,” because now I have her cell phone number. The cost of that cell phone number was having to call Waverly and leave this travesty of a voicemail:

“Waverly, hi. This is Nicole. Uh…Haught. Officer Haught. I’m calling to let you know that your sister is in a hostage situation that’s still developing. The Sheriff, Deputy Marshall Dolls, and I are all on it, so don’t worry, okay? I won’t let anything happen to your sister. Or Champ. Oh, uh, Champ is involved in the situation, too…did I mention that? Okay, I’ll keep you apprised of the situation. Bye.”

I think I need to put in a request for a psychological evaluation, because not only did I make Waverly a promise that I am MOST CERTAINLY not allowed to keep, I also sort of…kept it.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I reached for her and found her safely at the homestead. I then adjusted her Shield to the lowest possible level without removing it completely and threw it as hard as I could at the van as it sped off. Casting a shield is a lot like throwing a net. I thought hard about my intended target, which was Wynonna, but also made an effort to include Champ, and I was able to cover both of them. Shields are far more difficult to maintain when they’re covering more than one person, because they were really never intended to be used that way. I feel terrible now, because I wasn’t able to cover Shorty, and he was the only one who died.

When Wynonna and Champ returned, I refocused my energy back on Waverly. I made a split-second, idiotic decision to prioritize Waverly’s happiness over her safety. I can practically hear Instructor Higgs’ comment about “fatal flaws” ringing in my head. In the end, it didn’t matter anyway. Shorty died.

I won’t ever make a decision like that again.

As soon as I heard about Shorty I went straight over to the saloon, knowing that’s where Waverly would be. She was standing behind the bar crying when I walked in. Seeing her like that felt like a punch to the gut. Her face was a mask of pure sorrow and some other unidentifiable emotion. I found myself wishing for the first time that I had the ability to Read. She thanked me for leaving that awkward voicemail and told me she “was glad I called,” (!!!) so I took a gamble and reached out to hold her hands. I waited for a moment with my heart in my throat for her to throw up a defensive wall and shut me out, but she didn’t. She gave me this look and it was almost like there was something there… and then Champ walked up and shattered our bubble. When he started molesting her sweet face with his stupid one, I left. It’s not my place to interfere with her personal life.

That pretty much brings us up to present. I know this is my first Assignment and all, but I feel like I got thrown into this blind-folded and hog-tied. I’ve been here for a week and I feel like I’ve made exactly zero progress. If anything, I feel more lost now than I did when I first arrived. Maybe a refreshing beverage is in order.

***NOTE: This is the first time Nicole has written so candidly about her “abilities,” which I’m starting to think are actually magical abilities. I can’t think of any other explanation for what she’s talking about. Some kind of super-secret government technology? That’s a little scary. So far we have:

1. Shield: This is pretty self-explanatory. A “net-like” protective cloak of some kind that can be cast as a distance and, in a pinch, over multiple people. Not really clear on how exactly this works.
2. Locate: Mental GPS? I think Nicole is using this to keep track of where Waverly is while they’re separated.
3. Read: Given the context the only assumption I can make is that she’s referring to the ability to read minds. For some reason, this one freaks me out the most.

I keep questioning how any of this is possible, and then I have to remind myself that my family was literally cursed for over a hundred years BY A DEMON. –A.M.***

//

Journal Entry #2 Cont’d, cont’d

One refreshing beverage turned into three and it gave me the courage to do something I’ve been dreading. I finally texted Shae to let her know I’d arrived in Purgatory on Assignment. I don’t know why exactly I feel compelled to record this, but Higgs told me that the purpose of this is for icky emotions and such, and icky is a good way to describe how I feel right now. Rather than try to summarize our conversation in my current state, I’ll just transcribe it here.

Shae (2/1/16 6:43 pm): Hi. Pulse check.
Me (3/3/16 9:15 pm): Hey. Just wanted to let you know that I arrived safely on Assignment in Montana. Me (3/3/16 9:15 pm) How are you?
Shae (3/3/16 9:17 pm): Thanks for responding to that pulse check a MONTH later.
Me (3/3/16 9:18 pm): What good is a pulse check if you don’t follow up when the person doesn’t respond, doc?
Shae (3/3/16 9:25 pm): What good is a wife who I’ve heard from exactly 3 times in the past year?
Me (3/3/16 9:27 pm): …Can we not do this please
Shae (3/3/16 9:28 pm): I’m just messing with you, Nicole. Thanks for letting me know.
Shae (3/3/16 9:29 pm): Should I assume our arrangement is staying the same?
Me (3/3/16 9:30 pm): I think so. At least for the foreseeable future, if it’s alright with you.
Me (3/3/16 9:31 pm): It’s just easier this way. You know?
Shae (3/3/16 9:35 pm) Okay. Take care of yourself, Nicole. Be safe.
Me (3/3/16 9:40 pm) Thanks, Shae. You, too. Let me know if you need anything.

Our “arrangement.” My marriage is basically a convenient emergency contact and shared health insurance. Not that it was ever anything… meaningful to begin with.

If you don’t mind, dear diary, I’m going to get a fourth beer and call it a night.

(***NOTE: Okay, I did NOT see that coming. –A.M. ***)

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #3
The following morning

I don’t even know where to start. I’m kind of freaking out.

Waverly Earp is upstairs. In my bed.
(***NOTE: Oh God, what is happening. Did I mix up these entries? –A.M.***)

When I woke up in a hungover haze, I had forgotten, and… there she was, looking so perfect and angelic in her sleep. I almost fell out of the bed. The memories of last night are all coming back in a torrent that’s making my head throb but I’m determined to get them down before I forget one single detail.

Here goes.

After I finished texting Shae (ugh) and writing last night, I grabbed that fourth beer and decided to sit at my desk and try to compile everything I’ve learned so far about Waverly Earp into one cohesive document. I had her file, my notes, and her picture all spread out across my desk when my phone buzzed and I got this text:

Waverly <3 (3/3/16 10:12 pm): Hi, Nicole. This is Waverly. I got your number off the card you left me. But I guess you already know that. Can I ask a favor?

For a full 30 seconds I just stared at the message in flat disbelief.

Me (3/3/16 10:12 pm): Hi! Of course, what is it?
Waverly <3 (3/3/16 10:13 pm): Can I stop by your house? I just left Shorty’s and I kind of don’t want to go home yet. I could bring that cup of coffee I owe you?

Britney take the wheel.

Me (3/3/16 10:13 pm): Oh sure! What time do you think you’ll be here?
Waverly (3/3/16 10:13 pm): Actually, I’m sort of standing on your porch.

Apparently between the drinks and texting Shae, I hadn’t maintained my link with Waverly. I let her sneak up on me. Instructor Patrick’s voice popped into my head. “Did we or did we not tell you fools, on multiple occasions, that drinking dulls your Abilities?”

I have never, in my entire life, moved faster than I did at that moment.

I leapt to my feet and using one arm, swept everything on my desk into the wastebasket and threw it all into a closet. I scrambled in my junk drawer for a mint, thankfully finding an Altoid that could have been anywhere from 6 months to 10 years old and popped it in my mouth. I ran to the bathroom and checked my appearance in the mirror. Not bad, but not great. I tossed my long red hair into a sloppy bun and scrubbed at the mascara under my eyes. I hoped the fact that I had been drinking was only blatantly obvious to me.

I yanked the door open with a little too much enthusiasm and smiled down at the world’s most beautiful face. I thought she looked smaller than usual (that’s saying something considering our 6 inch height difference) and her eyes were glassy. True to her word, she was holding a beverage carrier containing two coffees.

“Hi,” she said softly, with the briefest glimmer of a smile.

“Hi! Come on in.” I stepped aside so she could walk past me into the house. I reached for the beverage carrier and she absentmindedly handed it to me and shrugged out of her winter coat. She stood just inside the door for a moment and looked rather lost.

“Hey, Waves…is everything okay?” I set the coffees down on the sideboard and turned to face her. I’d never stood so close to her without a bar-top between us and my heart was pounding out of my chest. Watery gray-green irises turned up to look at me from under long, damp lashes and as soon as our eyes met, she crumpled forward into my arms with a muttered,

“I’m sorry,” before she broke down completely. For a moment, I froze, and then slowly and carefully put my arms around her. She started crying harder, so I tossed propriety out the window and tucked the crown of her head underneath my chin and pulled her in closer.

I stood very still and held her like that until her chest stopped heaving and she backed away from me, sniffling and looking embarrassed and insecure. She swiped at her cheeks and tried to force a small smile.

“Oh my God,” (sniff, sniff) “I’m so sorry Nicole. I don’t know where that came from.” Her sweet nature was compelling her to try to put ME at ease.

She dropped her head and her eyes, and backed away from me a step. In that instant, I could suddenly see how extremely young she was for the burdens she carried. That eerie sense of familiarity returned, but this time in the form of pure empathy. 21 year-olds are supposed to live in dorms and party with friends and drink themselves stupid. They aren’t supposed to shoulder the burden of caring for a damaged, prodigal sister or act as the support system for hundreds of people after the death of a town father figure.

They also shouldn’t have to be the rock on which the families of three dead friends lean. Sometimes life chooses for us, and it’s seldom a choice we like.

“Hey, you don’t ever have to apologize to me for crying, okay?”

Her eyes were still downcast. My self-control slipped abruptly. I reached out and used my index finger to gently lift her chin so she was looking me in the eye.

“Sometimes despite our best efforts, the dam bursts and all we can do is let the tears come.”

I took my hand away and used it to rub her shoulder tentatively. I felt out of my element for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it was taking every ounce of my restraint not to just carry her to the couch and hold her in my lap. I’m no empath, my aptitude scores for it were awful. But if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that people in pain often just need someone to step up and hold the broken pieces together until the wounds have time to stitch themselves closed.

I was lucky enough to have someone do that for me, but that’s a story for a different day.

Her smile reappeared and my spirit lifted. “That’s really nice. You’re a really nice person, Nicole. Actually… that’s kind of why I wanted to come over here.” She looked uncertain. “I know we just met but I…” She shook her head and looked away, knuckling away a tear.

“But what, Waves?” I asked softly.

“This is going to sound crazy, but I feel kind of… connected to you, somehow. Like, maybe we should be friends? I feel like I don’t have any real friends in this town, I mean, apart from Chrissy, I guess, but still, we don’t talk much, and Wynonna, well, she has her own issues to deal with, and…”

She trailed off when she noticed the look on my face. I was grinning at her. I couldn’t help it! I have a weakness for girls who babble when they’re nervous. And by “girls” I mean one girl. This girl.

“You’re laughing at me,” she said. I could practically see her wall going up.

“No.” I said firmly. I reached for her again, squeezing both her upper arms with my hands and looking her straight in the eye. “I’m smiling because I feel exactly the same way. I would be honored to be your friend, Waverly Earp.”

The overcast on her features cleared and her eyes glittered up at me. The compulsion to lean down and kiss her was becoming unmanageable, so I grabbed the coffees off the sideboard and gestured for her to come in and make herself at home. I watched her walk through my living room and look around at the “décor” (if I can take the liberty to call it that.) Most of my stuff was still in boxes, and of the many pieces of Ikea furniture I had bought recently, only a coffee table and one bookshelf was actually built. She went to stand at the entrance to my kitchen and turned around to look at me.

“Have you unpacked your coffee mugs yet? And uh… would you happen to have any whiskey?”

I laughed. “Mugs are on the shelf over the sink, whiskey is in the cabinet under the sink.”

I hung up her coat and put on some music (Coldplay) while she fixed us both hot toddies. I felt thankful for the fact that I had barely started drinking that fourth Sam Adams and that having Waverly Earp in my house had sobered me considerably. Not that getting too drunk is really ever a concern of mine. I didn’t spend four years in the military to come out the other side as a lightweight.

She brought both mugs into the living room, set them on the coffee table, and then sunk down to sit cross-legged on the floor, opposite the couch. I sat across from her and watched as she gazed at her mug thoughtfully before taking a sip.

“I didn’t know you were in the military. But then, I guess there’s a lot I don’t know about you.”

She was drinking out of my green FUBAR mug (“Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition,” possibly the most accurate of all military axioms.) Ironically, it was a gift from the empathetic friend I mentioned earlier, Javion. We haven’t spoken in ages. I miss him.

“Well, I’ll tell you anything you want to know. I’m an open book,” I replied, letting a flirtacious tone creep into my voice to cover up the fact that the statement was a lie.

Her eyes crinkled and the prettiest blush started to creep up her neck and onto her cheeks. I watched with fascination until I realized she could see what I was doing and I tore my gaze away.

“Okay. Umm…why did you move to Purgatory?”

I took another sip of my coffee-laced whiskey (the Earps drink hard or they go home… to drink more) and cleared my throat. “Well, after I graduated from the police academy I decided I wanted a change in scenery, so when I saw a job opening in Montana for a Sheriff’s deputy, I took it without really thinking about it.”

“That seems out of character for you.”

For a moment, I was speechless. How did she do that? “Why do you say that?”

She shrugged and glanced around. When her head moved, her long earrings made a pleasant tinkling noise. She has super cute earlobes, is that a weird thing to say?

“I don’t know. You strike me as someone who plans their next move before making it. Like me.”

Valid. I was starting to collect an interesting array of character traits that we seemed to reflect back at one another.

“That’s true, I usually am. After the military and the police academy I guess I was just really dying for a change, you know? I wanted to do something that scared me a little.”

Her eyes sparkled and her lips parted slightly. She was gazing at me with such intensity that I knew I had said just the right thing. Although the timeline wasn’t exactly accurate, the motives behind my actions were. Fleeing from your past certainly leads to some interesting life decisions.

Just as it had several days ago at Shorty’s, our eye contact went on for several heartbeats too long to be construed as merely friendly. Her hand was resting on the coffee table, palm up, and I itched to reach across and take it. A strand of long, brunette hair fell across one cheek and she tucked it behind her ear.

“I would think that after the military you would avoid things that scared you.”

I laughed. “You would think. My skull is a little thick.”

Curious, intelligent eyes regarded me. I felt my stomach give a hard lurch. I got the impression that if she took the Ability Aptitude Test she would score very high marks on cognitive empathy (the ability to read people.) If Waverly could read my thoughts, I would be screwed in more ways than I can count on one hand.

“Tell me about it.”

“The Army?”

“Uh huh.” She settled and held her mug in both hands. I got the sense that I had her undivided attention and that anything I had to say would be fascinating to her. ***NOTE: That is Aunt Waverly to a T. –A.M.***

“Okay. Well, I enlisted right after I graduated from high school. I uh, wasn’t on the best terms with my parents and the Army seemed like a convenient means of escape,” I studied her face to see how that comment was received. She didn’t look surprised. “I did four years active duty as military police. MP. I was stationed in North Carolina, for the most part, but I did go on three deployments.”

“THREE?”

I took an extra big gulp of my coffee and almost choked when it scalded the back of my throat.

“Yep.”

She looked floored. “Wow. I’ve never even left Purgatory,” she frowned. “I must seem really boring to you.”

“Waverly Earp, you are many things to me, but boring is not one of them.”

The blush crept back and her eyes glasses over again. Nonplussed, I actually did lean forward and reach for her hand that time. She must have seen the concern on my face and answered it, in a drawn tone,

“I broke up with Champ today.”

!!!!!

“I probably should have mentioned that in the first place. I just have…a lot going on right now and it was long overdue.”

Long overdue.

!!!!!

“Do you want to talk about it?” I tried to sound solemn and sympathetic, really I did.

She laughed and looked up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly to keep the tears at bay.

“Nope.”

We sat for a minute in our first uncomfortable silence. I seem to be making a great deal of decisions that are not in my best interest for Waverly’s sake, because the next thing I did was downright idiotic. I turned and fumbled around in one of the unpacked boxes beside me and came up with a photo album, which I handed to her.

“Here, um. You might think these are cool.”

Her eyes flicked up to me and then down to the album with a smile. She ran her fingertips over the words written on the cover in permanent marker, “503rd Military Police: Iraq 2010-2011” She flipped it open and I watched her study pictures of me and my unit training in Texas, traveling to Kuwait in a C-130, messing around on guard duty. She found a slot with the picture missing and looked at me inquisitively.

I felt my breath catch in my throat, but I got up and went over to my desk and brought the framed photograph over and handed it to her.

“I took that one out and framed it because it’s my favorite,” I explained.

In the picture, two absolutely filthy, 19 year old soldiers with their arms wrapped around each other are laughing at the person behind the camera, all wild eyes and flushed cheeks and dimples. It was Katie and I, safely returned from our very first 12 hour mission outside the wire.

We were young and on an adventure and very unaware that the world was a cold place that didn’t care in the slightest about our happiness or how much we loved one another.

At first, Waverly seemed delighted by the picture, but when she set it down, she was frowning a little.

“Who is that with you? You look really happy together.”

I swallowed the knot in my throat. “That’s Epps. Um, Katie. Katie Epperson. She’s-she was-my best friend.”

Waverly got very still. Her eyes were enormous.

“Was…?”

I steeled myself. My hands were balled into fists in my lap and I could feel my nails bite into my palms.

“Yeah. She died. Along with two other members of my squad in an explosion 8 weeks after this picture was taken.” I dropped my chin to my chest and stared at my lap, willing myself to hold it together. It was very unusual for me to get emotional about it anymore, but some combination of the alcohol, the photograph, and Waverly’s open, utterly non-judgmental presence was making it hard for me to keep it together.

“Oh Nicole,” her voice was soft and in my ear. I hadn’t even noticed her get up and cross to the couch to sit beside me. She was so close I could feel her breath on the side of my neck. I turned to look at her and her expression was so sorrowful and kind and raw that I couldn’t take it for another second.

“I’m sorry,” I said shortly, as I got up and collected our mugs. “Refill?” I walked briskly into the kitchen to pour us each another drink. I knew another drink probably wasn’t the best idea, but I was several shades past caring. I glanced back over my shoulder at her and saw she was putting the album and the picture away in the box and tidying the coffee table. I took a few moments to collect myself.

“Hey,” I called to her as I poured a generous measure of Jack Daniels into two glasses full of coke, “There’s a deck of cards in the end table drawer. Do you want to play circle of death?”

She turned around and smiled uncertainly but said, “Uh, what? Circle of death?”

“Are you serious? You’ve never played? Oh, I can’t wait to teach you.”

I threw her a mischievous grin. She smiled back, and this time it reached her eyes, but just barely. I cannot begin to explain the gratitude I felt toward her when I realized she was going to humor me and play along and pretend like that conversation had never occurred. Like I said, Waverly would make an excellent empath.

I walked back over with the freshened drinks and an unopened can of beer and handed everything to her before vaulting lightly over the back of the couch. I forgot to make an effort to make it look clumsy and her eyes widened. Oops.

For the next hour, I taught her to play circle of death and we drank…kind of a lot, which is the nature of the game, after all. I won handily, but in a fit of chivalry I shot-gunned the beer for her, and her sheer amusement was well worth the heartburn. Thinking back, I can’t remember the last time I laughed that hard with anyone.

I still had my Coldplay playlist on in the background on Spotify. “Hymn For The Weekend” started playing and she stumbled to her feet after I chugged the beer, laughing, and to my utter amazement, started dancing around my living room. Her movements were surprisingly graceful for how drunk she was, and I was sitting on the floor with my back against the couch, enjoying watching her a little too much, before disaster struck. During one particular elaborate pirouette, she came a little too close to my desk which was behind her, and ran into it with her hip.

“Oh, shit!” she yelped, as several items fell off the edge.

One of them was the black and white photograph from her file. I had missed it in my haste to clean up.

OH, SHIT.

She immediately apologized and started moving to gather everything up when I did the only thing I could think to do in the moment. (Sometimes my drunk brain can really come through for me in the clutch.) I grabbed my phone, hit the “forward” button for the next song, kicked the coffee table out of the way (thankfully our glasses were empty), and grabbed Waverly by the wrist just as she was bending down. It was just in the nick of time before she could get a good look at what had fallen.

The song is one of my favorites. It’s “Something Just Like This,” and in complete honesty it didn’t even occur to me how fitting it was until right now.

I pulled her flush against my body and lead her through a basic box step for the slow beginning part of the song. She seemed so shocked at what was happening that she went right along with it. By the time we were a minute into the song and the bass dropped, she was grinning from ear to ear, and I seized my opportunity.

I backed off from her a couple steps, took both her hands in mine, and walked her easily through a side-pass and several spins, and just like that, we were dancing. Like, really dancing. She followed my lead easily and with flair as we spun all over my living room, at one point scaring the hell out of CJ (my cat.)
As it was happening, I was thinking that I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so happy and free. Juxtaposed as it was over the conversation we had started to have only an hour or two before, and it might have been one of the happiest moments of my entire life. At one point I even started singing a little, and the sober Nicole buried down deep in the back of my brain made a note to cut me off.

When the song ended and the next one started, Waverly collapsed breathlessly into my arms and for a moment we just stood still and laughed delightedly at one another, the desk incident completely forgotten. The next song on the list was “Fix You,” which is slow, so when we started moving again it was in a gentle circle, and we were close. Way too close.

“Nicole HAUGHT. You have been holding out on me! I had no idea you could dance like that,” she said, her eyes sparkling and for all the world looking exactly how I felt.

I decided to lay it on thick. “Actually, I can play the guitar and the saxophone, too.” I wiggled my eyebrows at her. “I can also sing…a little.”

Her jaw dropped open and her eyebrows shot into her hairline.

“You’re incredible,” she said, so softly I almost didn’t catch it.

We continued to dance for a few seconds as our heartrates slowed. I was really paying attention to the song and the lyrics when I felt her stop and back off slightly.

We were so close she had to tilt her head all the way back to look up at me. I watched her eyes flit back and forth between my eyes and my lips and felt my heart stutter as I recognized the expression on her face. It was the look you get when you’re in the middle of making the decision whether or not to kiss someone for the first time. The moment hung between us in the air like a crystal. She licked her lips, shifted forward onto her tippy-toes, closed her eyes, and…

The crystal shattered. Her phone, which was on the coffee table, trilled loudly and I cursed all the powers that be for the fact that her ringtone was turned all the way up. Someone thought it would be a good idea to call RIGHT NOW?!

She immediately let go of me and lunged for it, apologizing profusely.

“Sorry, I have to get this. It’s Wynonna.” She stuck her finger in her ear and answered as I killed the music. I ran my hand through my hair and wondered if I should go stick my head in the kitchen sink and crank the cold water. Then I remembered why the whole thing happened in the first place and hustled over to my desk to pick up the pen holder that had fallen off the side, as well as kick the photograph of Waverly deftly under the closet door.

I can’t believe I dodged that bullet.

I walked into the kitchen to rinse out our glasses and give Waverly a little privacy while she spoke to her sister. I could hear snippets of their conversation from the next room.

“Nicole’s...yeah a little…I don’t know yet, I haven’t decided…okay, bye!”

I heard her set the phone down. The bathroom door clicked shut and I could hear water running. I wondered if she was dunking her head in the sink and then decided I was projecting again. When she came out, she stood leaning against the doorframe leading into the kitchen and watched as I cleaned a few dishes. Her eyes were sleepy and a little seductive. What they call “bedroom eyes.” I gulped and pinched myself before turning around to face her.

“Wynonna doing okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, she was just calling to check on me. She expected me home hours ago.”

Right. She was about to tell me she had to leave. I put a tight lid on my disappointment. “Oh, okay. So… did you need to get going? I can call you an Uber…wait…does Purgatory have Uber?”

“Actually, I was sort of hoping I could stay a little while longer.” she said. That look of insecurity and self-doubt was all over her face again. It suddenly hit me that she had lived her whole life in a state of constant uncertainty about whether or not she was wanted by the people around her. It colored her every action.

It made me feel sick.

“Really?” I flashed her my biggest, most dimpley smile. “I would love…I mean…like that.” I winked at her and looked to see if she got the reference. She did, because she was blushing again. “Do you want to watch a movie?”

“I would love to.” She winked, too. My own face got hot. My inner Katie-voice whispered for me to get ahold of myself.

“Okay, go put on Netflix and I’ll get you some sweats to wear,” I said, giving her outfit a once-over. Waverly doesn’t exactly dress what you would call “comfortably.”

I went upstairs and changed into my cutest PJ bottoms and my favorite Britney Spears concert t-shirt (don’t judge me.) I grabbed shorts for Waverly because my pants would be far too long and after a moment of consideration, obliged my own selfish desires and chose a t-shirt with ARMY written across it in gold lettering. I had hopes that she would wear it home and serve to remind her of me. Plus I just…kinda wanted to see her in it. Sue me.

She got changed and we settled in on opposite ends of the couch. I think we were both keenly aware of what had transpired just before Wynonna Interruptus had called. Boundaries were back up, and although I hated it, it was probably for the best. She decided to continue “Shawshank Redemption,” which I had been watching the last time I got a moment to myself, which had been weeks ago. She commented that it was one of her favorite movies. It’s one of mine, too.

About fifteen minutes into the movie she was fast asleep with CJ curled on her lap and her fingertips touching mine across the no-man’s land stretch of couch between us. I glanced at the clock and realized it was past 2:00 in the morning. I thought of Wynonna, alone at the homestead, and quietly reached across Waverly and grabbed her phone. I opened it (no lock screen, she is entirely too trusting) and found Wynonna’s number. I texted her from my own phone.

Me (3/4/16 2:07 am): Hi Wynonna, this is Nicole. Sorry if I’m waking you, just wanted to let you know Waverly is going to crash here tonight. Little too much to drink
Wynonna Earp (3/4/16 2:08 am): What a lush. Here I thought I was the hard drinker in the family. Tell her I’m proud of her when she wakes up.
Me (3/4/16 2:09 am): Haha, will do. Goodnight!
Wynonna Earp (3/4/16 2:11 am): Hey, Nicole? Thanks for being a friend to my sister. She could use more people in her life like you.
Me (3/4/16 2:12 am): She makes it easy. Thanks for saying so
Wynonna Earp (3/4/16 2:13 am): Yeah, yeah. Don’t let it go to your head. Night.

Despite everything I’ve heard about her around town, I like Wynonna. I mostly like her because she genuinely, deeply cares about Waverly. I don’t talk to any of my six siblings, haven’t in years. Seeing a healthy sisterly bond like the two of them have is refreshing and gives me warm, fuzzy feelings. I really think that if there wasn’t the “BBD vs Sheriff’s department” rivalry that seems to be going on, that Wynonna and I might actually be friends. We certainly should be, sharing Waverly as our number one priority.

I turned the TV off and turned to Waverly, who was snoring a little and making small, adorable mouth noises. She was really out. What I did next is yet another bullet point on the long list of “risky things Nicole has done for the sake of Waverly’s happiness.” Rather than cover her up with a blanket and call it a night, I walked over to her and scooped her up into my arms. She was even lighter than I anticipated. I paused for a moment to see if she would wake up, but she was well and truly shnockered. I was careful not to jostle her as I carried her up the stairs and into my bedroom and laid her down in my bed. I brushed a lock of hair out of her face and whispered, “good night” as I turned to leave. I got as far as the bedroom door when I heard,

“No, Nicole. Stay.”

I stopped and turned around slowly. “Waves…”

“Please? I get really cold,” she mumbled.

I don’t think there’s a thing in this world that I would deny Waverly when she uses that tone. Plus, I’m weak.

So weak.

I crossed the room and climbed into bed with her. She was already facing away, curled up in a tight little ball. I settled in on my back beside her close enough so the right side of my body was flush against her back. I was able to stay awake long enough to sternly remind sleeping Nicole to NOT accidentally turn over and pull her butt into the curve of my pelvis and wrap my arms around her and lace my fingers through her hair. That would be very bad and “unprofesh.”

I was asleep within minutes.

//
That leads us up to now. I’ve been sitting at my desk for the past hour and I still haven’t heard her get up. Unfortunately, I have to leave to go by the station in a little while (even though it’s my day off) to pick up some paperwork that Nedley wants me to complete. I think I’ll make some breakfast and leave Waverly a note that says,

“Morning, sunshine! There is a stack of pancakes for you in the microwave and fresh coffee in the pot. I had to go to the station, so if I don’t see you when I get back, drive safe and text me when you get home. I had a great time hanging out with you last night, I hope we can do it again soon! -Nicole”

All this emotional writing seems to have cured my hangover, but not my heartache. The girl who I am assigned to protect, who I thought was straight, who I thought I didn’t have a chance in hell with, broke up with her boyfriend and ALMOST kissed me last night. Oh, and slept in my bed. None of this is even REMOTELY allowed. Everything that happened last night could get me canned, or worse. Much worse.

It's just...

She's amazing.

I’m falling in love, aren’t I?

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #4
March 2016

I’m in the hospital. The nurse begrudgingly brought me a pen and paper upon request. I’m supposed to be sleeping, and I will be soon since I just watched the doctor dose me with enough sedative to tranquilize a rhino, but so much has happened and I’m afraid I’ll forget it all. Last 16 hours in a nutshell:

-Last thing I remember is driving with Wynonna in the squad car to get breakfast. She finally agreed to explain a lot of the WEIRD SHIT that happens in Purgatory. Between the night we had in the morgue, the attack on the homestead, my terror for Waverly’s safety, and the anticipation of finally getting some answers, I was distracted enough to let us get ambushed. Next thing I remember is waking up in a ditch.

-The nurses told me EMS had to resuscitate me on-scene because they couldn’t get a pulse. Medical staff are confused because none of my injuries appear life-threatening (re-separated right shoulder, 4 broken ribs, multiple lacerations and contusions, blah blah. Fancy terms for, “You got the crap kicked out of you.”) I don’t actually remember what happened, but I can guess. If we believe we are going to die on Assignment, Guardians are taught to use every last ounce of life force to Shield our Asset. That way, the Shield is maintained (theoretically) long enough for the next Guardian to arrive and take over. The fact that I was able to cast an LRS (Last Resort Shield) and be resuscitated is nothing short of a miracle and I really don’t understand it. I should have died.

-I think Wynonna and I were almost friends until the morgue thing, and now with this additional turn of events, I’m afraid I’ll never get answers.

-Seeing Waverly with her arm in a sling, terrified for her sister made me feel like my heart was being ripped in half.

-Deputy Marshall Dolls and some guy named Henry dressed like a 19th century gunslinger came in my room and grilled me about what happened. They seem to have an idea of where Wynonna might have gotten taken, which I’m really happy about. I wish I could help, but I don’t think I could get up out of this hospital bed if I tried (unless it was for Waverly.)

My eyes are starting to close and I know this is getting illegible, so I’m gonna-

//

Okay, I’m back and slightly more coherent.

Being stuck in this hospital bed is kind of the worst. In fact, hospitals in general are the worst. It’s all the sterile sounds of machines beeping and phones ringing and the snap of latex gloves contrasting sharply with the feral moans of sick and dying people and the dulcet tones of the worried and the grieving. Journaling is honestly a welcome distraction. Who knew I’d end up enjoying it this much?

Being here reminds me of all the things in my life that I try so hard on a daily basis to forget: Grandma, Katie, Sergeant Gonzalez, Lieutenant Hurdle…Shae. My memories from the last time I was in this situation and the present keep blurring together. When the nurses tell me that the doctor will be in to see me shortly, I keep thinking they mean Shae. They called her when I arrived but she couldn’t make it, her schedule was booked up with surgeries for the next 48 hours. I would have told them not to bother, but I was too doped up. The last thing I want is for Shae and Waverly to inadvertently meet each other while I’m unconscious. Just the thought of it makes me queasy.

However, despite our relationship’s sad state of affairs, Shae is still a fundamentally good person. When she realized she wouldn’t be able to make it, she called my friend Javion. Aside from Shae, he’s the only one left outside of Purgatory who really knows and cares enough about me to fly across the country to visit. The timing worked out because he’s between Assignments right now.

I had just finished choking down some kind of awful food substance that the nurses insisted I eat and was starting to drop back off when I felt a huge shadow loom over my bed and say my name. I thought the grim reaper had finally come to collect me.

“Oh my God. Jav.” I started to sit up and winced. The broken ribs and my reinjured shoulder yelped at me. A warm, dinner-plate sized hand urged me gently to lay back down.

“At ease, Guardian,” he said in his deep, silky voice as I met his warm eyes. Something in my chest clenched that wasn’t a result of my injuries. I hadn’t realized how much I missed him. His presence was far more calming than any sedative the hospital had to offer.

I gave him a look. “I’m glad to see you, but can you please try to not blow my cover?” I laid the rest of the way back onto my pillows and tried to suppress the urge to groan.

He chuckled and shook his head as he pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and sat down. The chair gave a loud squeal of protest. Javion is 6’7” and 300 pounds of pure muscle. He was a basketball center at Duke before he decided to join the Marine Corps and subsequently got recruited by The Firm for his many talents.

“Take it easy, Haught. We’re Muffled.”

“Oh, right. Sorry, my brain feels like scrambled eggs.”

I watched concern and sympathy spread across his smooth features. “Don’t apologize,” he said gently. “Here. Gimme your hand.”

I reached out and he took my hand in his. It disappeared completely into his warm fist. He closed his eyes and bowed his head and sat very still. I mirrored him and let the feeling wash over me like warm water. I was tingling from the soles of my feet to the roots of my hair and I felt the fog in my brain lift and blow away. The pain was better, too. Not great, but better. I opened my eyes and looked at him.

“Thanks, J. I missed you.” I made a valiant effort to keep the quiver out of my voice, but failed.

His liquid brown eyes reappeared and met mine. He managed to look both amused and troubled. “You’ve had a lot going on since we last talked.”

I blushed a little and looked away. “What? Like what? I’ve just been out here on this boring, undercover Assignment.”

He narrowed his eyes at me and we both laughed. “Fine, that’s a lie. But you first. How are the girls?” I asked.

“They’re great. Malia is about to graduate high school. Wish I could be there.”

“I’m sorry, Jav. You must miss them.” He adored those girls. It really was the ideal assignment for him, but they have to wipe everyone-

(***NOTE: See follow-up note attached at the end of this chapter. –A.M.***)

-and rotate the Guardians every 6 months for safety’s sake. When I entered training, he was about to graduate. He was assigned to me as a sort of mentor, and we became friends almost instantly. He was the first, and thus far only person who ever got me to open up about Katie and the IED incident.

“Not as much as I missed you, baby.” His eyes twinkled merrily. I swatted at him weakly.

“Why do you have to be gross?”

“Because you look so cute all laid up in a hospital bed. Like a red-tail hawk with a broken wing. Can’t fly but still lookin’ to peck someone’s eye out,” he said with a booming laugh. I acted annoyed, but…yeah, kind of true. Maybe minus the cute part.

“How’s Michael?”

His smile melted off and his bright white teeth disappeared. He leaned forward and put his head in his hands briefly. “Last I heard from him was about a week ago. It’s been radio silence ever since. I can’t even Locate him.”

“I’m sure he’s fine. He’s indestructible. And don’t beat yourself up, not even Javion Hamilton can reach across the Atlantic Ocean.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that. I’ve made it as far as the Virgin Islands.” That cocky grin started to creep back and I rolled my eyes.

“Show-off.”

“Who is Waverly?” He kept his tone neutral but he had clearly picked up on something when he held my hand. “She’s beautiful, by the way. The detail you have stored is exquisite, I’ve never seen anything like that. Usually the storage point for faces is in the visual cortex or the fusiform face area, but I was getting all the detail from your anterior cingulate cortex and amygdala…” Long pause. Slow smile. “Oh.”

“Can you like…speak English?” Javion is an Empath with a PhD in neuroanatomy. If I got a dime for every time I’ve had to sit through one his super-genius tangents, I’d be rich.

“You’re either falling in love or most of the way there already.”

FML.

I fixed him with what I believe to be my fiercest glare. “You don’t know that.”

He suddenly looked delighted. “Nicole, is Waverly your girlfriend?”

“No. She…” Paranoia struck. “Jav, no one can like, hear us, right? We’re Muffled? The Firm doesn’t have us all bugged or anything, do they?”
He settled back into his chair again (it squealed like a dying animal) and folded his hands in his lap. “Not that I’m aware of. And yes, no one in this hospital can hear a damn thing we say.”

(You know, Muffling really is a cool Ability. I especially like it because it reminds me of the “muffliato” charm from Harry Potter. Why is the real world always so much stranger than fiction?)

“Okay. Well,” I started picking at the skin around my nail bed. Nervous habit. “You’re not going to like this, but Waverly is sort of my assigned.”

I give Javion a lot of credit for always managing to keep such a cool, level head. It’s part of why he got assigned to the White House. His only reaction was to raise one eyebrow and tap his lips with his index finger.

“Huh. That’s interesting.”

“Jav…”

“Why don’t you hit me with the pertinent points and we’ll go from there.”

There’s no sense in trying to withhold anything from an Empath (they’re like walking lie detector machines), so I told him everything. I started with my initial reaction to Waverly’s photograph when I was assigned to her and finished with the attack on Wynonna and I. I told him how I felt about Waverly and confessed that I was terrified it would get me in a lot of trouble. He listened to the whole thing in thoughtful silence, and by the time I was done, I realized that spilling my guts to an actual person (no offense, Journalie) was actually somewhat of a relief. If anyone in the world could make me feel better about the situation I was in, it was Javion.

“I really need you to tell me what to do,” I admitted.

He has this way of making and holding eye contact while he thinks that can be disconcerting unless you’re used to it, which I was. We sat that way for several minutes before he spoke.

“Okay. I’m going to ask you a question that I believe I already know the answer to. As soon as I finish, I want you answer immediately, without thinking about it. Ready?”

Jav enjoys playing mind games with me because he knows I hate them. He’s a little sadistic like that.

“Um, okay. Yeah, I’m ready.” I steeled myself.

“As applied to Waverly Earp, what is your worst fear?”

Was that a trick question? Instantly: “Losing her.”

He clapped his hands together and nodded his big bald head vigorously. “Yes! Good.”
“Good? J, this is not good. The Rules…”

“Rule #3,” he recited, “A Guardian shall never allow themselves to become emotionally invested in the Asset or the people immediately surrounding that person. I know “The Rules,” Nicole. Shit, I helped teach them to you. I need you to listen to me very carefully, now. Do you know how I feel about the Obama family?”

“Of course. You love them. Especially the girls.”

“Absolutely. I love them like they were my own nieces. What do you think the chances are that The Firm is aware of that fact?”

“Slim to none,” I replied. I thought I could see where he was headed, but with Jav, you never really know.

“The way I see it, you have couple factors working in your favor. One, the firm assigned you to a woman who lives in BUFU, Nowhere-ville and who is unknown to anyone outside of BUFU, Nowhere-ville. As long as you use a modicum of discretion, who in the world, outside of Purgatory, would even begin to guess that your relationship with her is anything other than strictly professional? You’re married to someone else, for Christ’s sake.”

On paper. But okay, that’s logical.

“Two, and this is important, your emotional investment in this person will make you BETTER at your job. Stop shaking your head, you pain in the ass. You have increased motivation to keep her safe, and…well.” He squinted at me and pursed his lips, all pensive. Like he was deciding something.

“Well, what?”

“It’s better if I show you. Do you trust me?”

“You know I do.”

“Alright, then. Sit up a little.”

I did. He got up out of his chair and lowered the guard-rail on my hospital bed. In order to get on my level, he had to kneel down (seriously, that’s how tall he is) and he wrapped his giant sequoia tree arms around me. I froze. It’s my hard-wired initial reaction to affection.

“Hug me back, you little weirdo,” he instructed. Jav must be the only person on Earth who calls me “little.”

I wrapped my arms around his back. I have a decent wing-span and my fingertips were still at least a foot apart. For several long moments, we stayed like that. After about a minute, I felt my shoulders relax and my tension melt away. I hugged him harder. I was actually starting to tear up. I’m becoming such a sap.

“Hey, Nic?” He asked in my ear.

“Mmm?”

“I love you, girl. You’re one of my best friends,” he said with absolute sincerity.

(!!!!!)

“I love you too, J.” (I’ll admit it. A couple tears fell. Just small ones, you know.)

He let go of me and stood up. He walked to the foot of my bed and stood facing me.

“Nicole, Shield me.”

“….What?”

“Shield me. Just do it.”

I stared at him with my mouth agape. I wasn’t following. That is, until he reached into the waistband of his pants with a speed that defies belief for such a large man and pulled out his concealed-carry pistol. He put the muzzle to the side of his head.

I didn’t think twice. I reached down deep, as I had been taught, and threw the Shield at him so hard I saw stars. The force of it caused me to fold all the way forward on the bed until I was propped up on my elbows, staring at him laser-like intensity. My hands balled up in the sheets with a death grip as I concentrated with all my might on that Shield. A second later, Jav pulled the trigger.

“NO!”

Click.

It took me a moment to register that the slide was stuck in the open position. The weapon had jammed. He slowly lowered the pistol, cleared the jam, and re-holstered it. I stayed frozen in place. His genuine faith in me and my Ability was revealed by the fact that there wasn’t a trace of relief on his face. The outcome was what he had expected. J is a genius, but he’s a crazy genius. It’s no wonder he’s marrying a SEAL. They are two peas in a crazy pod.

I collapsed back against my pillows with my eyes closed and let the Shield slide off him. The heartrate monitor I was hooked up to was going bonkers. Javion turned it off. I reached for Waverly to re-establish her Shield since I assumed I had pulled it off of her to cast at J, but it was still intact. That’s…odd. I opened my eyes and blinked back the rage-tears.
“You asshole.”

“Sorry, that ended up being more dramatic than I anticipated.” He gave one of my feet a reassuring squeeze.

“For someone whose major talent is the human emotional spectrum, I find that very hard to believe.”

He just chuckled. “Truly Nicole, I’m sorry. But did I make my point?”

“If your point was to induce myocardial infarction, then yes. What the hell was that, Javion?”

He pulled his chair back up and sat down beside me. He held my hand and stroked the palm with his thumb. I could feel myself calm down almost immediately. “You’ll be fine, don’t be a baby.” His voice was soothing, I think he did feel a little bad. “Okay, now it’s Q&A time. What does your Shield usually feel like to you? How would you describe it to someone who didn’t know what it was?”

“A net. Feels like a net.” I felt physically exhausted, but more mentally alert than I had since the attack.

“Yes. What did that one feel like?” His face was so full of anticipation and eagerness it was hard to stay angry at him. Stupid jerk.

“It felt like a fucking force-field.”

“HA!” He shouted, and smacked both of his giant palms on my bed. The apple juice container that was on the tray next to me jumped into the air and landed in my lap, and my teeth snapped together. It’s like being friends with The Hulk. “Oops, sorry. Sorry Nic, my bad.” He leaned over and cupped my cheek gently. “That’s what you were able to cast with the platonic love you feel for a good friend. You channeled it.”

“Jav, what are you even talking about? If that hadn’t worked, Michael would have killed me in my sleep.”

“But it did work, sugar. It always does. That’s the point I’m trying to make. Here you are, all angst-ridden because you’re afraid falling for your girl is going to get you in trouble or is going to get her hurt, but in reality, it’ll make you powerful beyond measure.” He paused. “Of course, this is all assuming she has feelings for you, too. Does she?”

I dropped my eyes. “I…I don’t know.” I thought of how she had almost kissed me the other night, but she had been drunk and emotional. “Maybe.”

“Well, that’s something you’ll have to figure out, then.”

“Jav, how important is the…” I waved my hands around vaguely and made a hugging gesture. “You know. Physical part?” Why am I so hopelessly awkward sometimes?

Booming laughter. Knee slaps. Cool, Jav.

He recovered and answered, “Important, but not absolutely essential. I suppose you can think of it like a boost. It’s the mutual connection that matters the most. The more connected you are to the person, mentally, emotionally, and physically, the better your Abilities will work on them. Your big three are Shielding, Locating and…what’s the third?”

“Healing.”

“Yes. You just saw Shield, your Locate radius will widen and the on-view will clarify, and you’ll Heal more efficiently.”

I flexed my injured shoulder in response. That would be a relief.

He frowned. “No, you goof ball. You’ll heal her more efficiently. It’s all about her.”

Don’t have to tell me that twice.

I took a moment to try and process everything he had just said. The information was overwhelming, in part because such care had been taken to hide it from us in training. The Firm encourages us to be cold, distant, detached. I started to wonder if my whole conversation with Instructor Higgs had had a deeper meaning, after all. Had he known about this? He must have.

Something occurred to me. “How is it possible that the strongest Shield I ever produced was a split? After I cast yours, I reached for my Waves and her Shield was still there.”

“It wasn’t a split. You cast two individual Shields simultaneously. With practice you can even learn to maintain multiple Shields at once, although it does consume a lot of energy.”

As he said those words, the strangest feeling washed over me, like an echo reverberating from the future. Like one day I would recall this exact conversation, and it would be the answer to a question I don’t know yet.

//

We sat and bullshitted for another half hour before he got up and stretched his gigantic body. “I should probably get going, you need to rest and I need to catch a flight. Sorry for rattling your cage like that earlier.” He grinned to show the apology was insincere. I waved my hand at him dismissively and rolled my eyes.

As he shrugged into his leather jacket, he said, “Oh hey, Nicole? When you find out, let me know, okay? I’m interested.”

“Find out what?”

He never got a chance to answer, because at that moment Waverly walked through the door with a bouquet of daisies and a teddy bear. I sat up so fast I made myself dizzy. She took one look at Jav and stopped in her tracks.

“Oh! Um, hi! Sorry if I’m interrupting…?”

“Not at all, I was just leaving,” he said smoothly, offering his hand. “I’m Nicole’s friend Javion.”

Waverly was all sweetness and smiles. She took his proffered hand and shook it. I noticed that he held on for a few seconds too long, but she was too flustered to notice. “Pleased to meet you, Javion. I’m Waverly.”

“Oh, I know,” he said smugly. Waverly looked confused. Jav turned back to my scowling face and waved. “Take care of yourself, Haught. Don’t be a stranger.” He winked.

“Bye, J. Thanks for coming to see me.” I smiled and threw an exaggerated wink back at him. He can be a real pain in the ass, but he’s truly one of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

//

Waverly had come by not only to hang out with me, but to let me know Wynonna was safe. Her relief at the fact that both of us had survived the entire ordeal was making her a little more chatty and affectionate than usual, and it was wonderful. Mostly I just laid there in a Waverly-induced stupor, occasionally reminding myself to blink and nod and not stare at her lips too intently as she talked. I’m really glad I had the excuse of high-dose IV pain killers.

Twenty minutes after Jav left, my phone buzzed in my uniform jacket pocket, which was hanging by the door. Waverly hopped up and grabbed it for me, glancing casually at the screen as she walked back over. I love the fact that she herself is so forthcoming and truthful that she doesn’t think twice about reading other peoples’ text messages, but I made a mental note to turn off the “text preview” option. Usually it’s easy for me to stay several steps ahead of others, but Waverly is special.

“Javion texted you. It says, ‘Never mind, I know the answer now. She does.’” Waverly smiled uncertainly at me and cocked her head. “What does that mean?”

Katie used to call the look I knew I was making at Waverly “love eyes.” I had to make a significant effort to keep my voice under control and the tears at bay. I really have to get a handle on myself, it was like the fourth time I almost cried today.

“Nothing, Waves. Just something we had been discussing.”

//

“Find out what?” I had asked Javion as he was leaving.

If she has feelings for you, too.

//

***NOTE: Okay, that last entry was a wild ride. I had to read it twice to fully understand what was going on. All the stuff about the super strong Shield and love increasing Abilities and all that is weird enough but that’s not even close to being the craziest part.

Some of the stuff in this journal is starting to spill over into real life and there’s no way it can all be chalked up to mere coincidence.

I feel like I need my head examined for even making this connection, but there’s a married couple on our block whose names are Jasper and Matthew. Every morning in the spring and fall when I’m walking to school, Jasper sits on his front porch and drinks a cup of coffee. Every morning he waves at me and says, “Good morning, Little Alice!” I wave back and say, “Good morning, Big J!”

I’d put him in his early 50s, a few inches short of 7 foot tall and about 250 pounds. He’s bald.

After I first read this entry, I decided I was grasping at straws because Nicole specifically says Aunt Waverly met him in the hospital when he was visiting her. He’s the first person to tell Nicole that Aunt Waverly liked her (seriously? DUH.) So if Jasper=Javion, he and Aunt Waverly should act like they know each other, right? That’s what I thought, at least.

I hate causing her pain, I really do, but I had to ask. Here’s the conversation we had:

ME: “Aunt Waverly, can I ask you something about…you know…what you gave me?”

AUNTIE: “Oh. Oh, sure, hun. Did you already finish?”

ME: “No, no. It’s just, I know you said some topics are off-limits, but I was wondering, did you ever meet someone named Javion? Like, in a hospital?”

AUNTIE: “Gosh, let me think. I remember reading that I did, but to be honest with you, I don’t recall actually meeting him. Of course I don’t doubt her, but I was really emotional after everything that happened that weekend. I probably just forgot all about it. Why do you ask?”

ME: “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I just wondered if you ever saw him again after that.”

AUNTIE: “Honestly baby girl, even if I did, I don’t think I would recognize him.”

My head is about to explode. I actually nicked some of Aunt Gus’s emergency whiskey (Mama are you proud of me?) Throughout the journal entry, Nicole mentions how talented Javion is, and he can clearly connect somehow to other peoples’ minds, but more importantly, she says this in reference to President Obama’s daughters:

“He adored those girls. It really was the ideal Assignment for him, but they have to WIPE EVERYONE and rotate the Guardians every 6 months for safety’s sake.”

I think Nicole’s friend Javion had the power to delete memories and I think he wiped some of Aunt Waverly’s.

I also think that he lives on our block.

-A.M.***

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #5
Late March 2016

This entry may end up being a little disjointed. I’m writing it at work. It’s not really my habit to conduct personal business on the job, but I’m too bummed out and pissed off to care. At first, I was thrilled to be out of the hospital and back at the station, but now I’m counting down the minutes until I can go home.

The word to most concisely sum up my day so far is “confusing.” As soon as I got to the station, Sheriff asked me to write a detailed report about the ambush/kidnapping, so that’s what I spent the morning doing. We were taught at the police academy to be truthful in our reports, and that’s what I endeavor to be in real life as well, so rather than leave out descriptors like, “unnatural” and “otherworldly,” I included them. Because that’s WHAT THEY WERE.

Nedley would either have to be blind or a bumbling idiot not to recognize that there is something…supernatural going on in Purgatory. In fact, I’m at a point now where I believe I’m here for that very reason. Whoever put a Guardianship contract on Waverly knew it, BBD knows it, and I’m fairly certain most of the Sheriff’s department knows it, but they choose not to say anything.

But that’s not me.

Anyway, after I turned it in, Nedley called me into his office and reprimanded me for the language I used and asked me to rewrite the report. You know what? Fine. I’ll make shit up, if that’s what will make him happy. Truly, what does it matter, anyway? This job is just a smokescreen for my true purpose here in Purgatory. One thing this whole incident WILL motivate me to do is finally get some answers out of Wynonna or Deputy Marshall Dolls.

I tried to talk to Waverly about it today, and at first I thought she was purposely misleading me or worse, making fun of me. By the end she was talking about lesbians and unicorns and I just walked off because I could feel my temper flaring and I’ll be damned if I turn any of that on Waverly.

I went on patrol shortly afterward and quickly got tired of writing tickets. I decided to drive out to the edge of town to clear my head, when in the distance, I saw someone walking. As I got closer I realized it was unmistakably Waverly. The V8 roared as I jumped from 30 mph to 65 (I have to remember to write myself a ticket.) When I got closer I slowed down to a crawl alongside her. She looked angry. I mean, mostly beautiful, but also angry. I rolled the window down.

“Waverly, what are you doing?”

“Being alone. I wanna be alone.” I was finding it pretty hard to take her seriously when the pom-poms on her boots were bouncing so cutely. (Where does this girl do her shopping? Her wardrobe is a source of endless fascination to me.)

“Well,” I said, “You’ve reached the edge of town. If you keep going any further you’re going to freeze to death,” I lied. As if I would ever let that happen. She continued to refuse until I threatened her with my taser. There was ample opportunity for a more euphemistic word like “handcuffs” or “baton,” but like I said, I just wasn’t at my best.

Hmm…handcuffs.

Why is there no “control-alt-delete” option for the human brain? End task.

Anyway, she got in the car. We sat in silence until I could find a good place to park.

“Okay, I’ll start. I’m sorry for being such an asshole before,” I said.

“First you wanna talk, then you don’t wanna talk, then you tell me to talk…” I’d never seen her fired up like that.

…I kinda like it.

END TASK.

“Maybe we should figure out what exactly it is we’re talking about,” I suggested.

Seemingly out of left field, Waverly announced that Gus was selling Shorty’s. With surprising fury in her voice, she said that everyone and everything around her was changing too fast, and she wished everyone would

“Stand still for one frikin’ minute.” Her chest started heaving and her eyes were welling up. A wave of intense sympathy washed over me. She looked and sounded just as thrown off and lost as I was. Maybe we were sort of talking about the same thing earlier, after all.

“Hey,” I said, putting my hand on her thigh, “it’s gonna be okay.” What I wanted to add was
“I’m going to take care of you,” but I exercised self-restraint. The look she shot at me was wary, disbelieving. Waverly lives her life under the assumption that most people barely tolerate her. For someone to show her kindness after she lashed out was clearly a very new concept to her.

“I just screamed at you. You shouldn’t be nice to me.”

You could light me on fire and I would be nice to you.

“I just think you’ve been dating too many shitheads,” I retorted. It wasn’t my intention to imply anything, it was just an observation.

“We’re not dating!”

It was my fault she was on the defensive, I had walked straight into it. That didn’t make it hurt any less.

“I know,” I said, in a tone that conveyed how I felt, “God Waverly, I would never ask you to be someone that you’re not.”

“Good, just don’t ask me to be anyone at all.” I thought that was the nail in my coffin, until she hit me with the worst of the worst. “Well, maybe just friends.”

My heart swan-dived into my stomach and then to my horror, I felt her Shield waver. It was only for a moment, but I know I felt it. I thought of everything Javion and I had talked about and I decided he hadn’t mentioned negative emotions causing faulty Abilities. I immediately threw the car in drive and took her home before heading back to the station. Now I’ve-

//

Journal Entry #5 Cont’d
Many hours later

This is going to seem like a complete 180, but I just got home after having literally the best evening I’ve ever had in my entire life. I’m so giddy that when I got in I started blasting “Something Just Like This” on Spotify-

***NOTE: Seriously, what the hell is Spotify? –A.M. ***

-and danced around my living room with Calamity Jane. She was NOT happy. But I am! The Great Goddess Britney Spears Herself could materialize in my house right now and hand me the keys to a red 1969 Ford Mustang and tell me I’m pretty and it would only be the second best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Okay, okay, okay. I know I need to backtrack. (But did you know smiling for a really long time starts to hurt?)

Remember when I was back at the station moping around like a sad panda and writing that entry about how Waverly told me she wanted to be “just friends?” So, I got cut off at first because Mrs. Strayer came in to complain about how her neighbor doesn’t shovel his front sidewalk to her specifications.

(Sometimes I truly wonder if I am the butt of a Purgatory-wide practical joke. Half the time I expect to see Ashton Kutcher’s face peek out from behind a corner to tell me I’m being Punk’d.)

I could barely keep a straight face talking to her because all of the sudden I could feel/see Waverly in my mind’s eye come charging out of Shorty’s and toward the station like a heat-seeking missile. Sure enough, as soon as Mrs. Strayer stormed out, Waverly Earp stormed in. She came up to the desk with that look of singular determination that she gets and asked me if the Sheriff was out. In fact, she had just missed him on his way over to the saloon. All the other deputies had gone home for the night and I was the one stuck womaning the desk until the night shift clocked in.

When she had confirmation that we were alone, she went busting her cute butt past me, through the bullpen, and into Nedley’s office. I followed her in and as soon as I saw her closing all the blinds, my heart sank. Did she want privacy because she had decided that she didn’t even want to be friends after all and was afraid I’d cause a scene? I asked her what her problem was and steeled myself for a broken heart when she kicked the door closed and came at me like a small, brunette hurricane.

SHE kissed ME. I can’t even believe I’m writing that. It’s my journal so I’m just going to write it again.

SHE KISSED ME, and she did it with such enthusiasm that I was driven backward the entire length of the office. At one point I briefly arrested our five yard stumble to open my eyes a crack and check to make sure that it was really happening and I wasn’t having some kind of seizure. I fell backward onto the (very convenient) couch that Nedley has in his office and Waverly landed on top of me. We stopped kissing long enough for me to ask her what had happened to the “just friends” conversation we had in the squad car. At which point she asked,

“You know what I’ve always wanted to do?”

“…Whaaat?” I responded.

(For a split second I genuinely thought she was going to say, “Girls,” and I’m really glad she didn’t because I would have just died right then and there. My body would have vaporized and floated out the window and that would have been the end of Nicole Haught.)

Instead, she launched into the world’s cutest monologue about how she’d always wanted to do stuff that scared her like skydive and swim in the ocean and eat some sea creature shaped like a bit of male anatomy that I have exactly zero interest in.

“It’s not so easy to be brazen when the thing you want the most, that scares you to death, is sitting right in front of you,” she finished. Then she said that I scare her and she didn’t want to be friends, which is honestly where I thought the whole thing was going in the first place, but then she must have seen the shadow that passed over my eyes because she clarified,

“When I think about what I wanna do most in this world, it’s you.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jesus, Britney, and Joseph.

She started babbling adorably, as she does, while I made a cursory attempt at collecting myself. We had a flirtacious little exchange of “maybe-you-should-stop-talking-maybe-you-should-make-me,” before we were kissing again and I decided to take the pressure off of her (mentally, I mean) and take control.

Waverly is a force of nature, but everything about the situation we were in was new to her. Not only was I a completely different person than the one she had just broken up with, I’m also a woman. I can remember distinctly being in the exact situation that she was in, and I was determined she not share my particularly misguided experience.

I settled on top of her on the couch, careful not to drop too much of my weight onto her. I fit one of my thighs snugly between her legs (cursing my utility belt and the material of my pants loudly in my head) and lifted one of her legs to wrap around my waist. I could hear her barely perceptible gasp as I leaned through my thigh and used my tongue to part her lips at the same time. She was allowing me to set the pace but responding beautifully. As our kiss deepened, I felt her lift her hips into me for a little more contact. The fingers of one hand sunk into my hair and the other was all over my face and the back of my neck. I brushed my thumb over her bottom lip and when I could tell she was getting a little shy, I used the knuckle of my index finger to bring her mouth back up to mine. Everything about it was just the sexiest thing I’ve ever experienced, but I was so happy I couldn’t stop smiling.

She pulled back for a moment and our gazes locked. “I’ve never kissed a girl,” she said softly. “You taste really good and your lips are really soft.” My heart stuttered because I had just been thinking about how amazing her mouth was. She was blushing and her eyes were glittering. “This is better than I thought it would be. How is that possible?”

I could feel heat rising in my chest, face, the back of my neck, and…elsewhere. Not only was Waverly kissing me, but she liked it, and seemingly a lot, because when she finished talking I felt her lift her pelvis against my thigh again. The hand on the back of my head drew my lips back down to hers but rather than kiss me, she hesitated with our mouths a fraction of an inch apart before closing the distance to bite my lower lip lightly. Then she kissed me.

I felt my eyes roll back in my head as my brain short-circuited, but instead of deepening the kiss, I pulled back. I had to put the brakes on now or I got the feeling that we were going to get carried away, and I wasn’t about to let that happen in my boss’s Old Spice, deer head, man-cave of an office. Waverly deserved a lot better than that.

Using more self-control than I was aware I had, I rolled off of her onto my side and propped myself up on one elbow. “Not only is it possible, but it’s probable that it can still get a lot better than this.” I smiled at her and brushed a loose strand of hair out of her pretty, pretty face. I watched her struggle to maintain eye contact as her eyes kept dropping to my lips of their own volition. The memory of the first time she had almost kissed me came surging back and I clamped down hard on my desire to start making out with her again.

“So…what now?” She asked.

“Well, I have some paperwork to finish up and the nightshift is due to be here within the next 45 minutes, but then I’m free. What about you?”

She started fiddling with the ends of her scarf. “I’m free the rest of the night, too.” Her eyes came back up to meet mine and she caught her lower lip between her teeth. It made me light-headed. “Should I…just meet you at your house, or something?” I watched her pupils alternate between constriction and dilation. The technical term for it is “hippus.” We were taught in training to look for it when we thought someone was lying or being indecisive. I suddenly realized that she was caught between terror of the unknown and pure lust.

Lust. For me. Did I mention that today was the best day of my life?

But at the moment, it wasn’t about me. It was about Waverly. It always is.

“No way, we aren’t doing that,” I said, a little too firmly.

(I immediately heard Katie’s voice scream in my head, “Do you EVER think before you speak, Nicole?!”)

It was too late. Waverly’s eyes widened and her face fell. Two bright spots of color appeared on her cheeks. She thought I had responded like that because I didn’t want her. “Oh,” she said quietly.

“Wait, no.” I rolled so I was halfway on top of her again. I cradled her face in my hands and used my thumbs to brush over her pink cheeks. “No, babe, I’m sorry, I meant I don’t want you to come over because I want to take you out.”

Sheer, delighted amazement replaced the look of glassy-eyed rejection. “Really?” She asked. “Like…on a date?”

“Yeah,” I said, kissing her softly. “Like on a date.” I kissed her again, nudging her mouth open and running my tongue under her upper lip. “What’s your favorite restaurant?”

It took her a moment to answer. Her eyes were dark and unfocused. “Umm…I don’t know. I usually just eat at Shorty’s or I get Chinese take-out with Wynonna if I don’t cook at home.”

Wtf?

I didn’t want to go there, but I was being forced to. “Well, where did Champ take you on dates?”

She looked embarrassed. “Champ and I didn’t really…go out much.”

Ugh, ABORT.

“Okay, that’s okay. Just tell me what kind of food you like the best and I’ll figure it out.”

I could tell by the glimmer in her eye that she was starting to get a little excited about the prospect of being allowed to choose what we had for dinner. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, I laid my index finger across her lips and said, “You are allowed to say anything EXCEPT geoduck.” She giggled.

“I like pasta. What about Italian?”

I kissed her again. I couldn’t stop, she was like a drug I had been in withdrawal from for years. “Done.” I rolled off of her and stood up, making a cursory attempt to brush the wrinkles out of my clothes. A whiff of her perfume wafted up from my collar as I did so. I decided to retire that particular shirt to my closet without washing it, so the next time I wanted to smell heaven, I could.

“What should I wear?” She asked, gazing up at me from where she was seated. I bent down and rested my forehead against hers, so we were eye-to-eye.

“Absolutely anything you want, just make sure it’s comfortable enough to dance in.”

I took a mental picture of the way she looked at me in that moment. I’ll never forget it.

***NOTE: Is there a website where I can order my own Nicole? I’ve known this whole time where this was headed, and I thought these parts would gross me out, but this is so romantic and sweet that I’m squealing and scaring my cat. –A.M.***

//

I told Waverly I would be by the homestead to pick her up in about an hour, and she left to get changed. I floated around the station for the next 15 minutes like Bambi after he gets twitterpated (you think this is a lot of Disney references? I’m holding back.) When Lenny finally showed up, I high-tailed it home.

Finding an Italian restaurant in the city that would cater to the fact that Waverly is vegan was relatively easy. Deciding what to wear was not. My usual “lesbian uniform” attire was not going to cut it. I had chosen the restaurant more or less based on cost and fanciness. Not only did she deserve the best, but I had at least 5 years’ worth of Champ Hardy to make up for and I’m, well, kind of rolling in the dough. I make a modest salary as a Sheriff’s Deputy and over 6 figures as a Guardian. I also have so much money saved up from my time in the military that I hardly know what to do with it all. I donate most of every paycheck from the Sheriff’s Department to the Humane Society and the “Make-A-Wish” Foundation. I had half a mind to buy Shorty’s when I found out Gus was selling it and gift it to Waverly, and then I realized that would be crazy.

Ultimately I went with a low-cut, navy blue top, stretchy black dress pants, boots, and a leather bomber jacket. I let my hair dry naturally into loose ringlets. I even put on eyeliner and lipstick. I don’t know what Waverly’s preferences are yet, so I just tried for, “as hot as possible,” and this is where I landed.

I had Katie’s uniform name tape sewn over the left breast of the jacket years ago, and I touched it for luck as I stepped outside and locked my door. My heart started to pound about halfway to the homestead. I did some breathing techniques we learned in training, but it was no use. I found myself hoping Waverly is one of those girls who takes a really long time getting ready so I could steal a couple nips out of one of the bottles of whiskey I’m sure Wynonna has hidden strategically around the house.

Wait a second. Wynonna.

What had Waverly told her about the two of us?

I pulled up into the gravel drive in front of the house and threw my truck in park. Sure enough, Wynonna was perched on the front porch’s railing with a bottle of whiskey in her hand, thick chestnut hair rippling in the breeze, looking absolutely picturesque in all her damaged beauty. I have yet to meet someone who always looks as effortlessly badass as Wynonna Earp.

Her eyes tracked my movements warily and her right hand drifted in the direction of where her unwieldy Buntline Special was tucked into her boot. She acted casual but I could see how her body coiled like a tightly wound spring. Wynonna and I do have characteristics in common. The more I get to know her, the more I can see it. However, while I naturally take on a defensive role, Wynonna is pure predator. The shield versus the sword.

When she saw it was me, her posture relaxed and she took a long pull out of her bottle.

“Evening, Officer,” she called to me as I walked toward her. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dress to the standard of your last name.”

“Hi, Wynonna.” I gestured at the bottle. “You doing okay?”

She looked confused and gave it a shake. “Yeah, see? There’s still some left.”

I held my hand out. Her eyebrows shot up but she begrudgingly handed it over. I took a long pull without flinching. I could feel her eyes on me, searching for signs of weakness. I did not plan on showing her any.

“Gonna tell me what you’re doing on my property, drinking my booze?”

I got the distinct impression that admitting, “dating your sister” would be strike three and I would be out.

“Waverly and I are going for a drink in the city,” I replied.

She scowled. “Why? There’s plenty of drinks here.”

I laughed. “Believe it or not, Wynonna, some people enjoy listening to music and drinking in the company of others.”

I barely caught the amused look flash across her eyes before it was gone. She’s one of those rare people that gives a lot of shit but enjoys getting shit in return.

“Do you want to come?”

I had to ask. Partially because it was polite, but mostly because I could sense the vulnerability that she had radiating out from underneath that hard shell. She needed a friend in this town as badly as I did.

“Hard pass.” She killed the rest of her bottle and hopped off the railing. “Come on. I think Waverly is in her room,” she said as she led the way inside. It was the first time I’d ever stepped foot inside the homestead. I took in the attempts Waverly had made to offset the bleak feel of the house with bright carpets and decorative pillows. It served as a tidy metaphor for the Earp sisters. Waverly truly is the light in Wynonna’s darkened world.

Wynonna pointed up the stairs and headed into the kitchen. I took a deep breath and ascended to the second floor and followed the sounds of music to Waverly’s room. It was a tiny little thing at the end of the hall with barely enough space for the equally tiny twin bed. I walked in and sat on the edge of the bed to wait for her to get out of the bathroom. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, letting my mind wander back to earlier in the day and doing my best not to think about the fact that I was sitting where Waverly sleeps.

I quickly arranged my face when I heard her walking down the hall. She was humming some tune in her pretty soprano tone, and I smiled and blushed remembering the way she had drunkenly twirled around my living room, singing Coldplay.

She walked through the door and her eyes bugged out of her head when she saw me. “Nicole! You’re here.”

For a long moment I couldn’t respond. I was at a loss for words, and my throat felt like the Mojave desert. Her hair was pinned up and her makeup was done, but she wasn’t dressed yet. She was wearing a fuzzy pink bathrobe, underneath which she was presumably naked.

I made some unintelligible noise, cleared my throat, bit the inside of my cheek, and tried again. “Yep, hi, sorry. Wynonna told me you were in here.”

She smiled and blushed as she walked over to me. I stayed seated on the edge of the bed because my brain had apparently killed the power to my legs. She took both of my hands in her small, warm ones and gave them a gentle squeeze as she bent her head down for a kiss. I could feel her smiling as the kiss deepened and she recognized the effect she was having on me.

“Hi,” she said softly, as we broke apart.

“Hey,” I replied. I let our smoldering eye contact carry on for another few seconds before I stood up. “I’m going to stand in the hall so you can get dressed. Our reservation is for 7:30, so if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to miss it.”

Her look told me that she wouldn’t be entirely disappointed if that happened. “Also, your sister is in the house.”

She cringed. “Point made. Okay, I’ll be done in a jiffy.”

I stepped out and shut the door behind me. I wandered up and down the hall, examining dusty black and white photographs on the wall of people who seemed to share Wynonna’s propensity to glower. When Waverly finally came out, she was wearing a gorgeous black and purple dress and heels that added at least 2 inches to her height. She had unpinned her hair and let it fall in thick waves down her back and past her shoulders.

I walked over to her and let my hands drift out to hold her around the waist. I let my thumbs graze over the jut of her hipbones and bent down, as if to kiss her, but just before our lips met, I pulled away, brushed her hair back with my fingertips, and instead kissed the side of her neck, just behind her ear.

“You look beautiful,” I whispered, letting my breath wash past the wet spot I had left on her skin. She shivered. I drew back and her eyes met mine, two perfect, dark mirrors reflecting my desire back at me a hundred-fold. She reached up and touched my dimple with the pad of her index finger. The damn thing gives me away every time.

“We need to go before we can’t,” she said breathlessly.

So we did.

//

The restaurant I had chosen was called “Bellissima,” which I thought was appropriate because that’s what Waverly is. I’m a little bit of a snob when it comes to Italian. Jav grew up in Chicago, so when I went with him to visit his parents, he introduced me to the cuisine of Little Italy and nothing has really compared since. I got the impression that this place was up to the task though, because it was rated five stars and was booked up for a month solid with reservations. When I called for a table, the host had actually just laughed at me when I asked what his availability was for tonight.

After I made an offer he couldn’t refuse to accommodate us, he apologized profusely. It’s truly amazing how doors open for you when you have disposable income.

I watched Waverly’s eyes get big when we pulled up and the valet took my keys, and even bigger when the host ushered us past the main dining area down a long hallway and into a private room.

“Is this acceptable, Ms. Haught?” He asked in a thick Italian accent as I slipped him several hundred dollar bills.

“Yes sir, this is perfect. Thank you so much.” He told us our waiter would be with us shortly and closed the door behind him. I took Waverly’s coat and pulled out her chair for her. She still hadn’t said a word and I started to wonder if it was all too much.

“Is this okay?” I asked her gently as she took a seat. She was gazing around the room at the paintings of Italian villas and vineyards and all manner of fancy people stuff.

She dragged her eyes away to look at me. “Nicole, this is amazing. I thought only movie stars did stuff like this.”

I laughed and shrugged. “I just wanted our first date to be special. Like you,” I said, shooting her a flirty smile.

“Special” turned out to be an understatement. The owner made sure to pull out all the stops for us and I encouraged Waverly to order whatever she wanted. We were finishing up our entrees and I had just ordered one of their most expensive red wines when she looked sheepish and said,

“Nicole, this has to be costing you a fortune.”

I put my fork down and reached across the table to lace my fingers through hers. “Don’t worry about it, okay?”

She didn’t look satisfied with that answer. “You live in one of the biggest houses in Purgatory, you drive a brand new GMC Sierra, and you’re treating me to the most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I know what Sheriff’s deputies in Purgatory make, and it doesn’t add up.” I don’t know why I thought she would let something like this go, she’s inquisitive and observant by nature.

“Alright, alright. I have a decent chunk of change saved up from when I was in the military.” Not a lie, not quite the whole truth. Kind of like everything else I had told her about my background.

“Oh,” she said. She looked thoughtful. Then, out of nowhere, “My Aunt Gus gave me a check today for $20,000. She wants me to use it to leave Purgatory.”

I choked on my wine a little.

“Are you…planning on taking her suggestion?”

She laughed humorlessly and shook her head. “No, I can’t do that. Not with everything that’s going on, and definitely not now that Wynonna is back.” Something in her eyes told me that she was holding out on me. That makes two of us.

I could have pushed her on it and finally gotten some answers, but that wasn’t how I wanted to spend our date, so I changed the subject to desert.

When we were done and the check was paid, I asked her if she was ready for phase two.

“There’s a phase two?” she asked with a bright smile.

“Only if you’re interested,” I told her. “So, I actually had two different options in mind. We can either go to a club that’s down the street, or to a place about ten minutes from here where we might…umm… ‘fit in’ a little better.”

She looked lost. I raised an eyebrow and shot her a pointed look. Understanding washed over her features.

“OH! You mean a lesbian bar?”

“That’s unicorn bar to you, missy.”

She threw her head back and laughed happily. “I’ve always wanted to see where unicorns lived,” she said.

I stood up and offered her my hand. “Shall we?”

//

The name of the establishment was Rebar. I drove into the city about a week ago after a particularly infuriating shift to check it out. There’s only so much small town Montana a girl can take before she needs to reconnect with her own people. It had live music, craft beer on tap, and it was a sea of flannel and backwards snap-backs as far as the eye could see. It was everything I had ever wanted.

I enjoyed Waverly’s reaction to the ambiance as we walked in, and enjoyed watching the way she turned heads even more. We went over to the bar for drinks and the same bartender who had served me last time caught my eye and came over. Her eyebrows shot up when she saw Waverly beside me.

“Good to see you again, Officer. You clean up nice.” She leaned against the bar and winked. I had worn my uniform last time.

I felt Waverly’s grip on my hand tighten. She pursed her lips. Butterflies exploded in my stomach when I realized she was a little jealous. I let go of her hand and stepped behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist and putting my lips to her ear.

“What do you want to drink, baby?” I purred. I felt her slouch back against me ever so slightly and exhale.

I’m not going to pretend like I don’t know my way around girls.

Waverly ordered a whiskey sour and I got a beer. We sat and chatted and touched and listened to music surrounded by women who were all doing the same thing and it was just nice. Really nice.

I was finishing my second beer (and fifth drink of the night) when the band ended their set and went on break. Waverly scooted her bar stool closer to me, picked my hand up from where it was resting on the bar, and kissed my palm.

“Thank you,” she said softly. “This has been…this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.” She squeezed my hand and looked at me, biting her lip. She took a deep breath. “You make me really, really happy, Nicole.”

She was so sincere, and so very, very beautiful, that I suddenly made a decision that was far more characteristic of old, impulsive Nicole. As I write this, I still can’t believe I did it.

As Kesha would say, blame it on the alcohol. Or, more aptly, blame it on the alcohol and the girl that I’m falling head over heels for.

I called Bonnie, the bartender, back over. “Hey B, can I get a double of Jim Beam?” I turned back to Waverly, squeezed her hands, and kissed her. “Stay right here, okay?” She looked baffled. I tossed back the shot Bonnie had slid over to me, got up, and headed out the side door of the bar. I figured the alley would be the likeliest place for the band to be taking a smoke break. Sure enough, the lead singer was leaning against the wall, puffing away. I summoned up every last scrap of swagger that I could muster and walked over to her.

“Hi, Alex, right?” She raised her eyebrows and gave me once-over. She took a drag off her cigarette.

“Who wants to know?”

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my money clip. “My name is Nicole,” I said. I peeled off two hundred dollar bills. Alex watched me with interest but said,

“Sorry, I don’t do song requests.”

“What if you aren’t the one doing the singing?” I asked. She stopped with her cigarette halfway to her lips and laughed.

“Seriously?” she looked at me from over the top of the thick black frames of her glasses.

I offered her the cash and responded, “As a heart attack,” with a bravado that I most definitely was not actually feeling.

She looked at the money for a second, thinking. Finally, she let out an exasperated sigh and plucked the cash out of my fingers. “Okay, fine. What song? And you better be able to actually sing.”

Oh, I can sing.

“'Criminal' by Fiona Apple.” It’s one of my favorite songs of all time. Her face got away from her and she actually smiled at me.

“Cool.” She dropped her cigarette and put it out with her foot. “Five minutes.”

She turned and went back in through the side door. I stayed outside for a moment to let the effects of the shot I had just taken wash over me and let my nerves dissipate. I touched my tattoo and asked Katie not to laugh too loudly at me from heaven, then followed Alex inside. I stood waiting backstage while the band got set up. Alex adjusted the microphone stand and then walked over to me.

“Anyone in particular you want this dedicated to?” She asked.

“Her name is Waverly.” She nodded.

“Lose the jacket,” she instructed. I shucked it off. Her eyebrows went up. “Better than expected,” she muttered. She reached out and raked her fingers through my hair. “Don’t fuck up.” She turned and walked back out onstage.

“This one is for Waverly,” she announced.

I walked up behind her and she handed me the microphone, mouthing “good luck.” I looked out into the crowd, letting hundreds of faces blur together and become meaningless. I found Waverly and let her become the only thing I was consciously aware of. The look on her face was pure shock and disbelief. I watched her look around as if to make sure she wasn’t the only one seeing this.

Then the band started playing and I started singing, nailing Fiona’s deep contralto. I knew if Alex had been skeptical, she wasn’t anymore. I sang my heart out, directly to Waverly. Halfway through, I hit my stride and let my eyes wander past her to see how I was being received by the rest of the crowd. I wasn’t disappointed.

As the song neared the end, Waverly got up and started walking quickly toward the stage. I watched the other patrons part and let her pass by, looking back and forth from me to her. By the time I was singing the last note, she was standing right in front of me, gazing up with a look that was pure fire. As the bar erupted in applause, I hung the microphone back on the stand and jumped off the stage, landing lightly on my feet next to her.

Waverly leapt at me, wrapping her arms around my neck and kissing me as I lifted her off her feet.

We brought down the house.

I said it before and I’ll say it again. Tonight was the best night of my entire life.

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #6
Late March 2016

Me (3/27/16 10:32 am): Hey Jav
Javion (3/27/16 10:34 am): Hey girl what’s good
Me (3/27/16 10:34 am): 1 attachment (Picture of Waverly & I together at Rebar)
Me (3/27/16 10:34 am): :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)
Me (3/27/16 10:35 am): Ugh I’m having regrets now. Delete that.
Javion (3/27/16 10:36 am): LOL I’m sending this to your superiors
Me (3/27/16 10:37 am): (20 knife emojis)
Javion (3/27/16 10:38 am): You look real happy. Are you happy?
Me (3/27/16 10:40 am): This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.
Javion (3/27/16 10:40 am): And how about what we discussed?
Me (3/27/16 10:41 am): Haven’t tried it yet. I’ve been a little…distracted
Javion (3/27/16 10:42 am): (Puking emoji) I’d suggest starting with Locating
Me (3/27/16 10:42 am): Will do. How’s Michael?
Javion (3/27/16 10:43 am): At the airport now flying out to see him before I start my next Assignment. :-)
Me (3/27/16 10:43 am): Yay! Tell him I said hi. Love you guys.
Javion (3/27/16 10:44 am): Love you too, Nic. Take care.

//

 

I feel like I’ve spent the last few days in a fugue state. I can barely function on a basic human level.

Waverly and I are together.

***NOTE: The rest of this journal page was just drawings of hearts, smiley faces, cats, and two female stick figures holding hands. Oh my God, Nicole. –A.M.***

After I finished writing down every detail of every event that transpired during our date night, I suddenly started to question if it all had even been real. Maybe, for example, I was still unconscious in a ditch somewhere? Perhaps I had hallucinated it all in the hospital? Maybe I was concussed. Who in the world would think to serenade a girl on the FIRST DATE? Surely that’s a ten year anniversary type of thing.

(I tend to overthink my actions, have I said that?)

Anyway. Fact is, when I got done with my entry, I texted her. I couldn’t help it.

Me (3/27/16 2:06 am): Hey, sorry if I’m waking you up. I just wanted to say I had a really nice time with you tonight :-)
Waverly <3 (3/27/16 2:08 am): I don’t know, Nicole.
Waverly <3 (3/27/16 2:09 am): “Nice” seems like a pretty big understatement :-)

(WHY do girls break their texts up into chunks like that?!)

Me (3/27/16 2:09 am): <3 <3 <3
Waverly <3 (3/27/16 2:10 am): Do you mind if we keep this on the DL for now? Wynonna has a lot going on and I just don’t really want to have to deal with that right now.
Waverly <3 (3/27/16 2:10 am): Wait! That came out wrong. I meant that I’m just really happy right now with the way things are and I don’t want anyone to ruin it.
Me (3/27/16 2:11 am): Believe me, Waverly. I won’t let anyone ruin it.
Waverly <3 (3/27/16 2:12 am): Tonight was amazing. I’m so happy I can’t sleep.

(I couldn’t answer right away because I was too busy squealing and rolling back and forth on top of my bed, hugging that teddy bear she got me while I was in the hospital.)

Waverly <3 (3/27/16 2:16 am): Is that stupid?
Me (3/27/16 2:16 am): No baby, it’s definitely not stupid
Waverly <3 (3/27/16 2:17 am): I wish I had just come home with you.

(!!!!!!!!!)

Me (3/27/16 2:17 am): Is Wynonna asleep?
Waverly <3 (3/27/16 2:18 am): Dead to the world. Why?
Me (3/27/16 2:18 am): I’ll be there in 20 minutes. Just crack your window.

Don’t laugh, Journalie.

//

I got back in my truck and drove to the homestead. It’s truly eerie out there at night, it reminds me of the setting to a horror film. I parked as far from the house as possible, knowing that despite Wynonna’s drunken stupor, she would have an ear out for intruders. I walked stealthily to the side of the house and scaled the tree outside Waverly’s window easily. Before my eyes could adjust to her dimly lit room, she was in my arms, soft and warm and smelling like shampoo.

We kissed for a few minutes, not saying a word, before she grabbed me by the front of my jacket and spun me around with surprising force. The back of my knees hit the frame of the tiny twin bed behind me and I sat down hard with an “oof!” She stepped into the space between my legs and plunged her fingers into my hair, her nails scratching my scalp. I barely registered the fact that she was wearing nothing more than a sheer pink nightgown before her lips were on mine and her tongue was in my mouth.

The night just kept getting better and better.

Our haste to get my jacket and shirt off was almost comical. The jacket came off easily, but when I raised my arms over my head to let her pull off my t-shirt, it got caught and pain from my shoulder and broken ribs made me gasp and pull away abruptly just as it came free of my head.

“Oh!” She exclaimed. Her hands shot out to stroke my face and comfort me. “Nicole I’m so, so sorry. I forgot.”

I had to laugh. “I did, too. Don’t apologize.” I smiled at her to show I would live and reached out with my good arm to run my fingers underneath the hem of her nightgown. Chills washed over me and I suddenly became very aware of the fact that I was sitting in front of her wearing nothing but my bra. Pain lanced through my shoulder again and I held my right arm awkwardly against my body. Despite where I was mentally, I had to make a concession for my physical form. “Baby, do you have any ice?”

Her eyes were flitting from my face to the tops of my breasts. I made a note to treat myself to a donut the next day for having the excellent foresight to wear a push-up bra. I moved my arms slightly in an attempt to give her a better view and winced. It shook her out of her reverie.

“Ice! Uh huh…let me just…be right back,” she said as she scurried out of the room. I sat on the edge of the bed and gazed around. It took a moment for the thought to sink in that the ambiance was intentional. The only light was the glow from a nightlight with a scarf over it. The bed was made and turned down. There was music playing very softly.

She had thought…

Oh my God.

I whispered, “You’re dead to me,” to my injured shoulder just as Waverly slipped back in with an ice pack and a towel.

“Here, baby,” she said softly, “turn around and lean back.”

She called me baby.

I did as instructed and she crawled up onto the bed beside me. I turned my head to get a better look at her as she busied herself with applying the ice pack to my separated shoulder. Her long hair was in a low ponytail swept to one side. As far as I could tell, she didn’t have a stitch of makeup on. The nightgown she was wearing would have made a Victoria’s Secret model blush. My eyes dropped to the neckline as she leaned over me, fussing over the ice pack. I caught a flash of nipple and was just about to say “hell with it” and pull her down on top of me when I noticed she had frozen. The look on her face was one of pure shock.

She was seeing the scar (well, scars plural) that, between my lust goggles and shoulder pain, I had forgotten about completely. She remained where she was, leaning over me, and traced her fingers along the scar on the left side of my torso that runs from clavicle to pubic bone.

I laid very still and watched her face from underneath my eyelashes. Her finger stopped where the scar plunged into the waistline of my pants. Her head stayed bowed but her eyes came up and met mine, and they were huge. Her lips were parted slightly.

“What is this?” she breathed.

I pushed myself up slightly. My heart was pounding and I could feel my anxiety surfacing faster than I could control it. I dragged my hand through my hair.

“It’s a scar,” I said. Well, that much was fairly obvious. “From when I got blown up. Sorry, I mean from the IED. The explosion.”

“The one on your first deployment?” She sat back, settling on top of her feet. She rested one of her hands on my thigh, absently stroking up and down with her fingertips.

“Yeah,” I said, clearing my throat around the lump that was forming. “I was the gunner. It was what saved me. I got thrown, but a piece of shrapnel got lodged in my side. Somehow there was no major organ damage (Except for a broken heart. I didn’t say that) but I did end up with something like 180 stitches.

“A hundred…a hundred and eighty?”

“Yeah. Also, this is the second time I’ve separated my right shoulder. Uh, the rest of the smaller scars you see are also from the explosion” I sat up and bent my head, straining to look at my own abdomen. “Oh, but not this one.” I pointed to small scar on my ribcage just below my right breast. “This is from falling off a swing set when I was little.” I chanced a look at Waverly’s face. She was just staring at me. I decided to swallow my nerves and stop talking and just wait.

“Nicole,” she said shakily.

“Hmm?” I couldn’t form words. I was afraid.

“Thank you,” she finished.

What?

“For what?”

She leaned forward and cupped my cheek. “For your sacrifice,” she said. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt my eyes sink shut. My throat felt swollen and my face felt hot, but then Waverly’s lips were on mine and the world outside of the two of us ceased to exist.

I wanted her more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my entire life, but we both needed to sleep. She must have sensed it because she drew back and slid off the bed. “Scootch over a little,” she said over her shoulder as she turned off the nightlight. The room plunged into darkness and I felt her get in beside me. Rather than lay down, she just sat.

“You can’t wear jeans to bed,” she said softly. True. I was pretty uncomfortable.

“I um… I can’t take them off one-handed. Will you help me?” I clenched my teeth.

Vulnerability. It’s not my strong suit.

“Oh! Of course,” she said. Before I could move, her fingers were on the fly of my jeans. She unbuttoned and unzipped, and then without hesitation, hooked her thumbs into the waistline and tugged. I lifted my butt off the bed and let her pull my pants all the way off my long legs. I heard them hit the floor and I could see her sillouhette as she paused. She ran the palm of her hand up the side of my leg, from calf to hip, as she moved to lay down beside me. I pulled her gently into the crook of my left arm. She hooked her leg over my thighs and hugged me around the middle. I put my nose to the crown of her head and inhaled in an attempt to ground myself.

“What does your tattoo say?” she asked with her mouth against my chest. “I couldn’t quite make it out.”

I cleared my throat again. “It’s a quote. It says, ‘I carry your heart with me/ I carry it in my heart.’ It was written by-“

“E.E. Cummings,” she finished.

I smiled. “I didn’t know you were into poetry.”

“And I didn’t know you had a gigantic scar,” she replied, lifting her head up slightly to look at me. “Nicole, I speak four languages. Fluently. My minor was English literature.”

I was dumbfounded. “I didn’t know that.”

“It seems like there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about each other,” she said quietly.

More true than she could possibly imagine.

“I want to learn everything about you,” she continued. “And I want you to know everything about me. Is that…”

“No, Waves,” I interjected. “It’s not weird. It’s part of falling for someone.”

“I’ve never done that before,” she said. She sat up more, propping herself up on one elbow so she could look down at me. She had that fiery look in her eye again, like she had when she had come up to the stage as I was finishing my song. Fiery, but this time, also just a little sad.

“Never done what? Fallen in love?”

“Yes,” she answered simply. She bent her head down and our lips met. All vestiges of hesitation and insecurity vanished and she kissed me with passion that she had only alluded to earlier. I brought my hand up and wound it into her hair. I brought my bare left thigh up a little to make contact with her where she was straddling me and felt my eyes roll back in my head when I realized she wasn’t wearing anything underneath her nightgown.

***NOTE: I’m out. –A.M.***

Our lips separated briefly as she let out a soft huff at the pressure. I let go of her hair to put my hand on the small of her back and pushed her pelvis into me. Her eyes shut and her mouth opened and I leaned up to bite her lower lip. I let her set her own pace as we continued to kiss. It didn’t take long.

“Nicole…”

“I know,” I whispered against her temple as she let her head drop down onto my shoulder.

“NICOLE.”

“Yes, baby,” I purred into her ear.

That did it. She was up and over in seconds, shaking and breathing in short gasps. I felt all the tightly wound tension slowly melt from her body. She nuzzled her face deep into the curve between my neck and shoulder.

“Is that…was that sex?” She asked a few minutes later, once her breathing had slowed. Her voice was drowsy and uncertain.

No, it was love. Or at least the beginning of it. It was vulnerability. It was comfort. It was weeks’ worth of intense desire. It was connection.

“It’s whatever you want it to be, Waves.”

“Amazing,” she muttered.

She dropped off to sleep shortly after. I laid on my back and stared up at the ceiling and thought about nothing but the beat of her heart against my rib cage, over my scar.

//

My life in the last 48 hours has barely existed apart from thinking about, seeing, and touching Waverly. Since she works with Black Badge, she’s constantly in the station, which has been both a blessing and a curse.

We’ve been doing the best we can to be discreet, but it’s proven to be far more challenging than expected, because the other person who is constantly hanging out at the station is Wynonna. I wish I could somehow get her to take the Ability Aptitude Test. Her Instinct marks would be off the chart, but her observational skills (at least as it applies to me and Waverly) are abysmal.

Today is a good example. I had just grabbed Waverly by the wrist on my way to Nedley’s office to drop off a report and was half an inch from kissing her when Wynonna came charging in to tell us that she’s been sleeping with Doc (that Henry guy who dresses like a gunslinger.)

(Most of the time I can’t wrap my head around why anyone would want to sleep with a man when women exist, but that dude is like…universally attractive. Is it in spite of or because of the way he dresses and wears that gigantic mustache? I can’t tell.)

Anyway, their relationship status was news to Waverly, and before Wynonna could get into any of the sordid details, I stepped out.

Waverly left and went home about an hour ago and the town is uncharacteristically quiet, so I’ve just been sitting at my desk, writing. Why I thought it would be a good idea to rehash the events that transpired the night I spent at the homestead, I truly have no idea.

I’m hopeless.

I was just about to text Jav to see if he’d arrived safely in Paris with Michael when I remembered the last text conversation we had. He had asked if I had noticed any change in my Abilities after Waverly and I had…gotten together. He told me to start with Locate.

When he visited me in the hospital, he said that my range would widen and there was even a possibility that I could get an improved on-view. I’d already had that happen a few times, which is rare. Normally, Locating is just the ability to have a sense of where a person is. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say that it’s just a feeling you get. I reach for Waverly, and I get a sense that she’s at Shorty’s or the homestead or she’s traveling. It’s not much beyond that, except for the rare occasion I get an on-view, which is like seeing her but through a camera with a really blurry lens, and usually those glimpses are very brief, transient.

I put my pen down, settled back in my chair, and closed my eyes. I let my head fill up with an image of Waverly’s face and tapped into our connection.

For a moment, nothing happened. And then I got a sudden and intense feeling of weightlessness, and then I was in Waverly’s room. One moment I was in the station, and the next I was standing as if I were in the doorway, facing her bed. She was in it.

It was so real that my first instinct was to say her name, but naturally she didn’t respond, because I wasn’t really there. It was an on-view and it was the clearest one I’d ever had. I could practically smell her perfume. Once the initial shock wore off, I took a couple of steps forward so I was near the end of her bed. She was laying on top of the covers with her legs tucked underneath her, looking at her phone. She had half of her face, including her nose, hidden under the collar of the shirt she was wearing.

My shirt. The Army t-shirt I had given her when she stayed the night at my house.

Goddess help me.

When she let the shirt drop away from her face I saw she was smiling. She put her phone down and I could just make out a selfie she had taken of the two of us at the station today, hidden away in a janitor’s closet, all bright eyes and flushed faces and red lips. She laid back against her pillows with her forearm over her eyes for several seconds, then she got up abruptly and, weirdness of weirdness, walked straight through me to her bedroom door, which she closed and locked. As she walked back to her bed I realized she wasn’t wearing anything under my shirt.

It wasn’t until she climbed into bed and got under the covers that I realized what I was about to watch.

I had NOT meant to intrude on her privacy like that. I yanked myself out of the on-view so fast I think I gave myself whiplash.

***NOTE: Nope, bye. –A.M.***

I opened my eyes and I was back at the station. My heart was beating in my chest in a valiant attempt to get all the blood in my body to where it needed to go. I was the worst possible mix of turned on and ashamed of myself for intruding on her like that.

For a few minutes I just scrabbled around, searching for something to do or something to take my mind off of what had just transpired.

Then I remembered that she had her phone in bed with her.

Me (3/29/16 4:43 pm): Hey cutie, what are you up to?
Waverly <3 (3/29/16 4:45 pm): Hey you. I was just thinking about you. ;-)
Me (3/29/16 4:45 pm): Oh really? Good thoughts?
Waverly <3 (3/29/16 4:46 pm): Really good

Self-restraint? What self-restraint?

Me (3/29/16 4:46 pm): Like maybe what happened today in the utility closet?
Waverly <3 (3/29/16 4:47 pm): Like maybe what happened the other night when you stayed over.

!!!!!!!!!

Me (3/29/16 4:48 pm): Oh, you mean like when we were making out and you were mostly naked?
Waverly <3 (3/29/16 4:49 pm): I mean like when we were making out and I got off on your leg

I started looking in the desk drawer for a paper bag to hyperventilate into. I told myself that I would take it slow with Waverly. It was all so new to her, I would let her set her own pace. I could never have guessed that things would progress so fast. Her courage and constant willingness to put herself out there just blows my mind.

She opened the door, so I walked through it.

Me (3/29/16 4:51 pm): That's interesting, I was just thinking about the day you get off on my mouth.

I clicked the side button on my phone and set it face-down on the desk. I put my face in my hands and shook my head. My phone buzzed.

Waverly <3 (3/29/16 4:53 pm): Okay yep now I’m thinking about that too

Fuck it.

Me (3/29/16 4:54 pm): I can’t wait. I bet you taste amazing.

I hit “send” and about 30 seconds later, the sensation of weightlessness I had earlier returned. I screwed my eyes shut, anticipating an on-view, but all I could see was darkness until...
Something happened.

It hit me out of nowhere, like a freight train. One moment I was just sitting there, suspended in this weird in-between, and the next I was sagging in my chair and shaking really hard the way I do when I orgasm, but I hadn’t been touched.

I mean, sexting with Waverly is wonderful and all, but I’ve never in my life had a “hands-free” experience.

I feel bad about what I did next, but I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t in a stable state of mind. I reached for Waverly again and the on-view was instantaneous and so clear it may as well have been in high-def. She was laying all sprawled out on her bed, her arms out to the side, her hair a disheveled mess. She had one hand underneath the blankets.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what had just happened.

Me (3/29/16 4:59 pm): You all good?
Waverly <3 (3/29/16 5:01 pm): I’m great :-)
Me (3/29/16 5:02 pm): Want to go to dinner?
Waverly <3 (3/29/16 5:02 pm): I’d love to
Me (3/29/16 5:03 pm): Okay baby. See you in an hour. Xoxoxo

//

Me (3/29/16 5:05 pm): Hey Jav, you got a second?
Javion (3/29/16 5:07 pm): Anything for you, baby
Me (3/29/16 5:07 pm): Ew stop. This is serious.
Javion (3/29/16 5:08 pm): Okay I’m sorry. What’s going on?
Me (3/29/16 5:08 pm): First of all, you were right about my Abilities. At least Locate. But is it possible to have a connection so intense that you can not only see them, but feel what they feel?
Javion (3/29/16 5:09 pm): You mean emotionally? Anger, sadness, etc.?
Me (3/29/16 5:09 pm): I mean like…literally feel what they feel
Javion (3/29/16 5:12 pm): I don’t get it
Me (3/29/16 5:12 pm): Javion don’t make me say it
Javion (3/29/16 5:14 pm): Nicole, I truly have no idea what you’re talking about
Me (3/29/16 5:14 pm): Say she had an itch. Would I feel itchy too?
Javion (3/29/16 5:16 pm): What?
Javion (3/29/16 5:16 pm): ???
Me (3/29/16 5:18 pm): ……………………..Jav.
Javion (3/29/16 5:18 pm): Oh.
Javion (3/29/16 5:18 pm): Ohhhhhhh.
Javion (3/29/16 5:20 pm): Hold up I’m having an out-of-body experience I’m laughing so hard
Me (3/29/16 5:21 pm): Screw you
Javion (3/29/16 5:22 pm): Lolololol. Well, it’s definitely possible. I’ve just never heard of that.
Me (3/29/16 5:23 pm): But it is possible?
Javion (3/29/16 5:23 pm): I don’t see why not. Oh girl, you really are in a pickle
Me (3/29/16 5:24 pm): Yeah, thanks for that.
Javion (3/29/16 5:25): I can’t wait to tell Michael. Lmaooo

I think I’m in way over my head.

//

Email print-out from Captain (name redacted)
Date & time receipt: 3/29/16 5:30 pm

Dear Guardian Haught,

Please report to the field office located at (street intersection and city name redacted) tomorrow, 3/30/16 at 0800 hours.

Regards,
Captain __________

Chapter Text

***NOTE: Before I could read the next journal entry after that cryptic email, Aunt Waverly called me downstairs to go to school. (High school is the worst, by the way. I’m so over it. Only 2 more months, thank God.) A whole bunch of interesting stuff then transpired.

That last entry grossed me out, but all the texting Nicole was doing with Javion got me thinking. Why not just take matters into my own hands and find out if Jasper down the block is Javion? I say hi to him every day, might as well just ask him. I’m a cheeky aquarius with hair for days, who could possibly say no to me?

I left the house and proceeded down the block to commence my scheme. I could see the mailman’s truck rounding the corner, and I got a brilliant idea. I could pretend to get his mail for him, and in doing so, just read what the name was on the envelopes. Fool proof.

That’s exactly what I did. Luckily, he wasn’t on his porch this morning. Of course I was taking my life in my hands, being that stealing mail is a federal offense, but it’s what I know Mama would have done. AND it was for the sake of research, so I knew I would have Aunt Waverly’s approval, if I was of a mind to tell her. Which I’m not.

Unfortunately, all his mail was addressed to “Jasper Williamson,” not “Javion Hamilton.” I guess he’s concealing his identity from more people than Aunt Waverly, which really I should have expected, but I’m an 18 year old high school student, not a private investigator. (Although that’s definitely on the table as far as career options go. Especially if spy school falls through.)

I was just about to stealthily cram all the mail back into the mailbox when I heard a deep voice call out,

“Good morning, Miss Alice.” I tried to play it cool, but it was hard to do considering I was literally stealing his mail. I said good morning back and told him I was just getting his mail for him, to which he said, “uh huh,” and asked if I wanted to come in for a minute. I decided to go for it, since I’m technically an adult now and all. Here’s more or less how our conversation went:

Mr. J: “Any particular reason you decided to bring me my mail this morning, Miss Alice?”
Me: “No. Well, kind of. Aunt Waverly asked me to keep my sassitude to a minimum at school today and I don’t plan on doing that so I thought if I did something nice it would kind of like, balance it out.”
Mr. J: “I see. So it had nothing to do with trying to figure out if my real name is Jasper or Javion?”
Me: “…”
Mr. J: “…”
Me: “…”
Mr. J: “…”
Me: “Nope.”
Mr. J: “You know, Alice, you could just ask.”
Me: “Okay. Are you, or are you not, one Javion Hamilton, friend and associate of one Guardian Nicole Haught?”
(I thought maybe formality would convince him to be honest with me, I don’t know how this works.)
Mr. J: “I am.”
Me: “Holy shit, you’re Javion?!”
(He burst out laughing. Nicole was right, booming is the only way to describe it.)
Mr. J: “Did you finish reading everything in the box?”
Me: “No, I’m only about a quarter to half of the way through.”
Mr. J: ***look of surprise*** “Ah, I see.”
Me: “Mr. J, I really have to get to school, so you have to tell me everything I need to know in like…the next six and a half minutes.”
Mr. J: “Baby girl, I can’t tell you a single thing until you’re through reading everything in that box. It’s part of the agreement.”
Me: ***righteous indignation*** “What do you mean, agreement? What agreement?”
Mr. J: ***misplaced exasperation*** “Honey, I’m sorry. I really am. I never expected you to make the connection this fast. I can’t say anything else until you’re finished.”
Me: “This is ridiculous. What do you expect me to do?”
Mr. J: “Read as fast as you can.”
(Speaking of sassitude.)
Me: “Right.”
Mr. J: “You look a lot like your Aunt Waverly. Has anyone ever told you that?”
(Actually, no. Most people who knew my Mama tell me I look just like her.)
Me: “No. You know, I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing it for her. Aunt Waverly.”
Mr. J: “I know, honey. Your aunt is an angel.”
(So true.)
Me: “You really loved Nicole, didn’t you?”
Mr. J: ***long dramatic pause*** “…I still do.”
(Then he did that thing people do when they’re trying to drop you a hint without being super obvious. It’s that chin-thrust-forward-head-cocked-eyebrows-raised-a-little-bit look.)
Me: “You still do? You mean like metaphorically, in a ‘she lives in you, she lives in me,’ sense or a more literal one?”
Mr. J: ***Dying laughing*** “Truly if I didn’t know any better, I would think you and Nicole were related by blood. You gotta get to school now, baby girl. That’s it for today. Until you’re done reading.”
(He reached out toward me.)
Me: “No way, you are not empathing me into compliance.”
Mr. J: ***Guffawing*** “I’m not, Nicole junior. I’m trying to get you to leave so you aren’t late for school.”
Me: ***Protesting***
Mr. J: “You know what? Fine. I’ll make one concession, and then you have to leave. Wait here, I have something for you.”

When he got back, he put a long-chained necklace around my neck. Hanging on the end of it there was a tassle, some beads, and a key. I had no idea what it was, and then he told me it was Wynonna’s. My Mama’s. I just stood there in shock, clutching the thing in my hand, as he told me that under no circumstances was I allowed to let Aunt Waverly or Aunt Gus see it. He wouldn’t tell me why he had it.

He just told me to keep reading.

-A.M.***

//

***NOTE: That last email print-out was associated with this hastily scribbled entry in Nicole’s journal:

Journal Entry #6
Addendum

Just before I left the station I got an email from my superior asking me to come in tomorrow morning.

This is extremely uncharacteristic and doesn’t jive with our usual SOP.

I can’t decide if I’m working myself up for no reason. I can’t decide if the timing was a coincidence.

What if Javion was wrong? What if we are bugged?

I’m going to have to rain check on dinner with Waverly. I’m a mess.

***NOTE CONT’D: I say “hastily scribbled” because her entries are usually all written in her very neat hand with minimal typos and cross-outs. This one looked like it was written by someone in a state of mortal terror.

I can understand her being worried that she’s going to get reprimanded, but this seems to go beyond that. What EXACTLY is the consequence for Guardians who screw up? –A.M.***

Journal Entry #7
Late March/ Early April 2016

I spent the night after I received that email getting ready. Preparation is the key to survival, after all.

All I wanted to do was drive to the homestead, kidnap Waverly, and just start driving. Anywhere. Alaska, maybe. But I had to leave that option open as a contingency plan. Because there was still at least a chance that the email summons was routine. It’s not like I’ve been on this Assignment for that long. Maybe this particular Captain did things a little differently than what we were taught to expect in training.

These are the things I told myself between sips of bourbon as I ran back and forth tossing whatever I deemed essential onto my bed.

I packed up most of my essentials into one suitcase. I got CJ’s carrier and a bunch of Benadryl in case I needed to knock her out for the trip. I don’t know how she does in the car and I really hope I won’t need to find out. I wrote a long letter to Waverly explaining everything… just in case. In case I’m not in a position after tomorrow to explain things in person. Hopefully everything will work out and I can just burn the damn thing when I get home.

***NOTE: She must have done so, I don’t see it anywhere. –A.M.***

In the letter I told her that I love her, because it’s true. I know it’s “too soon” and that we technically haven’t even been on a second date or…done much together. But if a soulmate is something that truly exists, Waverly and I are it. I believe it to my core.

At that point, all I cared about was making sure she knew it, and making sure she was safe.

The last thing I did before turning in to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling was call in sick to work and Locate Waverly. I found her at the homestead, but I didn’t on-view her. It was too painful. I checked her Shield. It was humming around her like a force field. I was pleased to discover that it was already at least as powerful as a last resort shield, if not more so. If I was forced to cast an actual LRS, she would be protected for weeks.

All I could do from that moment forward was try to survive.

//

At 0730, I arrived at the field office. It was a nondescript, brown brick governmental building that most people wouldn’t so much as blink an eye at. I was dressed in business casual attire, we’re trained not to draw attention to ourselves. I walked into a tiny, mostly bare-bones lobby and went up to a small window with a woman sitting behind it.

“Guardian Haught reporting for a meeting with the Captain at 0800.”

The woman looked up at me with a big, toothy smile. “Good morning! Please have a seat, the Inspector will be with you shortly.”

Two takeaways here: One is that this receptionist clearly had no idea who she was actually working for. No one associated with The Firm smiles like that, ever. Two, I wasn’t meeting with my superior.

I was meeting with an Inspector. I cannot possibly convey on paper how dire my situation was.

I took a seat and wished fervently for a Xanax. All I could think about was Waverly. I could feel her at the homestead but I didn’t dare on-view her. That would lead me down a path I was sure to get lost on.

I drew on my years of military training to sit very still in my chair, with my hands in my lap, immobile. Waiting.

The Inspector kept me like that for the full half hour. At 0801, the receptionist opened the door, called my name, and led me down a long hallway lined with plain wooden doors with no windows. She tapped on and then opened one of the interior-most doors in the building. I stepped inside.

Seated at a square table in the center of the room was a rather severe-looking middle aged woman. She had silver hair pulled back in a bun and was wearing a black pant suit. She reminded me of a super grumpy Hilary Clinton. I walked over to the chair she was sitting opposite from and stood behind it.

“Good morning, Inspector. Guardian Haught reporting as requested.”

She gazed at me steadily with steel gray eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. “Please take a seat, Guardian. My name is Inspector Higgs, and I will be conducting a psychological evaluation on you today. We will be completing this evaluation to The Firm’s standard.” She gestured at the computer, a small black device, and electrical leads in front of her. A lie detector machine. (I’m fucked.)

I sat down and tried valiantly not to let my face betray what I was thinking. I wondered if the door was locked or if escape was even an option at this point.

Inspector Higgs turned suddenly and called over her right shoulder, “Amy, please turn off the cameras.” She turned back to me and in an explanatory tone said, “Of course, this will still be audibly recorded.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She turned her attention to the computer momentarily when a coherent thought appeared briefly in my dumpster fire of a brain. Higgs. Her last name was Higgs. Could this be…?

I took a chance. At this point, why not? “Ma’am, please forgive my interruption, but I was wondering, are you any relation to an Instructor Robert Higgs?”

Very, very slowly, she raised her head and looked at me from over the top of her laptop screen. She pinned me to my chair with her eyes just the same way that Instructor Higgs had done the afternoon the newly minted Guardians received our mentorship just before graduating.

“I don’t know anyone by that name,” she answered. She held my gaze for several seconds too long and raised one eyebrow.

She must have seen my bafflement dissolve into realization, because she dropped her eyes and went back to what she was doing. She had just lied to me for the sake of the recording. I’m 95% sure Instructor Higgs is her husband.

“Guardian Haught, may I please have one of your fingers?” I reached toward her hesitantly. She clipped the electrical lead to my index finger and the lie detector beeped. She turned the computer screen to me slightly so I could see the base-line reading.

“I am now going to ask you a series of questions to which it is imperative you give truthful answers to the best of your ability. Is that understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I knew better than to ask why I was here in the first place. I knew she wouldn’t tell me, and the fact is, I already knew.

“Please state your full name.”

“Nicole Katherine Haught.”

She used one short fingernail to gently tap the computer screen. The baseline didn’t waver. I shot her a quizzical look. I know how lie detector tests work.

“Please state the nature of your Assignment in Purgatory, Montana.”

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I arrived in Purgatory on Assignment at the end of February of this year. I was hired by an unknown contractor as Guardian to Waverly Earp.”

“Have you encountered any difficulties or events in the line of duty that are pertinent to this interview?”

“I spent several days in the hospital as the result of an attack on myself and my Wa- my Asset’s sister. My recovery was unremarkable. I don’t have anything else of consequence to report.”

That was close. Get it together, Nicole.

At this point, I knew what she was doing. She was asking a series of questions that she could reasonably expect I would answer truthfully. I could tell by the look on her face that she was about to move into a line of questioning associated with what The Firm really wanted to know.

“Guardian Haught, are you married?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Here we go.

“And do you have an amicable relationship with your wife?”

No, I haven’t seen my wife in over a year. I opened my mouth to answer, when suddenly, with extraordinary speed and skill, Inspector Higgs reached out, snatched the lead off my finger, and closed it on her own. The baseline barely moved at the disruption. She looked right at me and gave a barely perceptible shake of her head.

“Yes, ma’am, I do.” Our eyes were locked on each other, rock steady. I tried hard not to give any indication of my discomfiture.

“Have you developed any emotional attachment to your assigned Asset? That is, what is the nature of your feelings toward Waverly Earp?” she asked. Her lips were pursed into a razor thin line.

The nature of my feelings for Waverly?

Consuming. Instantaneous. Intense. Passionate. Connection on a level I didn’t know existed. Love at first sight, adoration at first touch. She is the last thing I think about before I fall asleep, and the first thing I think about when I wake up. She speaks four languages. Four. She hugs me in her sleep. She loves to dance. She puts peanut butter in her sweet and sour soup. Peanut butter. She’s kind and unfailingly courteous to everyone who has the pleasure of speaking to her. She’s the bravest and most honest person I’ve ever met. I catch her staring at me out of the corner of my eye when she thinks I’m distracted. She’s so beautiful it makes my chest hurt. Every time our eyes meet I can see what we once were, what we are, and what we will be, all at the same time.

Before I met her my spirit was a blank canvas and she is an artist creating something out of nothing with splashes of color I didn’t even know existed.

“Ma’am, I have no feelings toward my Asset.”

If that lead had been on my finger, it would have been Game Over.

This woman was saving my life.

She raised her eyebrow again. “None whatsoever?” She was prompting me. Okay, Nicole. Proceed with caution. Keep it together.

“We have a friendly rapport. She’s often around the station where I work and I frequent her place of employment.”

She nodded vehemently. That was the correct answer. “Have you noticed any changes in your Abilities since you arrived on Assignment?”

For a moment, all I could do was stare at her. I didn’t know what she wanted and she was giving me no indication as to how I should respond. I decided to be honest.

“I have.”

“In what way?”

“My Shielding capabilities seem to have improved, and I can Locate within a 15 mile radius. My on-views are clearer and more frequent.” That was an understatement, but I wasn’t about to go on the record stating that my on-views have gotten downright pornographic.

She gave me a thumbs-up. I can’t even explain how surreal it was to have an Inspector give me a thumbs-up. The Firm uses them to nail Guardians who have stepped out of line to the wall, not aid and abet them in breaking The Rules.

“Do you have any theories as to why this has happened?”

She slid a pad of paper across the desk toward me. I glanced down at it. It said, “READ VERBATIM: I believe the improvement in my abilities is due to the location of the Assignment. The Ghost River Triangle has been documented as a Source in the past.”

***NOTE: Why is everything Mysterious capitalized? –A.M.***

I read it verbatim, as requested. I have no idea what a Source is, but it was clearly something that they thought I could know.

She smiled, nodded, and held up the index finger not attached to the lie detector. One more.

“Guardian Haught, are you presently or do you anticipate in the future that you will engage in a romantic relationship with your Asset, Waverly Earp?”

I literally had a spare house key made for her yesterday. I was Googling “what is the appropriate amount of time to wait before asking your partner to move in?” and checking out U-Haul rentals between reading Hollstein and Brittana fanfics two days ago. I wish I was joking.

“No, ma’am,” I answered stoically.

“Very well,” she said to me. Into the recorder, she stated, “Guardian Haught passes evaluation and is cleared to resume her duties.” She turned off the recorder and the laptop. She took the lead off her finger and set it down on the table with a clink.

She stood up and held out her right hand. In between her thumb and index fingers was a card. I took it.

“Good day, Guardian.”

“Good day, Inspector.”

My legs were jelly by the time I collapsed in the driver’s seat of my truck. The back of my blouse was soaked with sweat. I fumbled in my pocket for the card the Inspector had given me and pulled it out. On the front was her name and contact information. On the back, written in cursive, was this message:

“Your Abilities are well beyond your expected skill level. You are being monitored. For now you are in the clear, but PROCEED WITH CAUTION. Do not contact the number on this card unless your situation is dire. –Higgs”

Monitored HOW? They were aware that my Abilities had increased but were apparently unaware that it was because of Waverly. If they were physically monitoring me or tapping my phone, there wouldn’t have been an interview. I’d be on my way to Virginia wearing handcuffs.

I leaned forward and pressed my forehead against the steering wheel. Inspector Higgs had just saved my life, and I didn’t know why.

***NOTE: I guess I know what the consequences are now. WTF? –A.M.***

//

I woke up with my cheek smashed against the steering wheel.

Apparently the combination of Frenzied Packing Fest of 2016, no sleep, and hair follicle melting anxiety had made me a little tired.

It took me a moment to figure out what had woken me up, and then I realized it was my phone buzzing in my pocket. Shit, I had completely forgotten. It was Katie’s mom calling for our monthly chat. I wiped the drool off my face and gave my cheeks a light slap, wishing I had a Beaver Buzz to drink. I had no idea before moving to Montana that it’s the equivalent of Red Bull for Canadians. I almost died laughing when I saw them at the gas station for the first time. Canada is so delightfully gay.

I hit ‘send’ and infused a false tone of cheerfulness into my voice. “Hey Mrs. Epps!”

“Hello dear, how are you?”

“I can’t complain,” I answered. I really actually couldn’t. Mrs. Epps is under the impression that I am a simple Sheriff’s Deputy in a small town named after the antechamber to Hell.

“That’s good to hear. Did you get the package I sent you?”

Package? Maybe I hadn’t noticed it in last night’s frenzy.

“No ma’am, I can’t say I have.”

“Don’t ma’am me, Miss Lady.”

“Yes ma’am.” I smiled. We couldn’t get through a phone conversation without going through this bit at least once. In Georgia, children are taught to address adults as “ma’am” or “sir.” (As she well knows, considering I spent half of my childhood from ages 6-18 at her house.)

“Alright, well, be sure to check when you get home. There’s something valuable in there.”

“Mrs. Epps, I don’t know what you sent me, but whatever it is, you didn’t have to.”

“I know I didn’t HAVE TO. I wanted to.” She paused. “It’s important to me that you have it. All of it.”

I started to speak again, but she interrupted me. “Aw hell, I’ll just tell you. It’s a scrapbook I made of pictures of you and Katie growing up, and that awful pink jacket she bought overseas.”

Oh my God, the Pink Ladies jacket? Where in the world had she found that? I opened my mouth to speak but couldn’t. She is the most thoughtful woman on Earth. (Well, aside from Waverly.)

She continued, “And one more thing.”

“Beth…”

“Nicole, stop it right now. It’s also the keys and the deed to the cottage in Cartersville.” I hadn’t even begun to protest when she added, “I can sense an argument coming. Don’t you dare argue with me.”

She knows me too well.

The cottage she was referring to was where I spent most of my summers from the time I was in middle school to the time Katie and I left for Fort Leonard-Wood for basic training. The Eppersons own it and the 25 acres it sits on.

“What about Brian?” I managed.

“He doesn’t want it, too many memories. And neither do I, or Katie’s father. We all agreed that we want you to have it. Didn’t you mention the last time we spoke that you met a girl? Bring her there. Katie would have wanted you to.”

I chuckled humorlessly. “She would not. She actively attempted to sabotage every relationship I was in.”

She was protective. We have…had…that in common.

“Well, maybe so.” I could hear the smile in her voice. “Bless your heart, Nikki, you deserve to have something nice in your life. You’re only 25 years old and you’ve already been through so much.”

We were in agreement about that.

“Thank you, Beth,” I choked out. “You and Daniel have been like the parents I never had. I am so grateful to ya’ll.”

“We are grateful to YOU, darlin’. Speaking of parents, I ran into your mother at Publix not 3 days ago.”

“Did you run screaming?”

“You stop that, now. She’s still your mother. No, as a matter of fact I went up to her directly and asked her if she’d spoken to you recently and whether or not she had an inclination as to your whereabouts.” I loved when Mrs. Epps got that southern belle twang. It meant she was fired up.

“And what’d she say to that?” I asked eagerly.

“Well, she gave me that look. You know the one. I told her not to worry, that I was keeping tabs on you even if she sees fit to not do the same.”

“Was she mad?”

“Fit to be tied. However, she did have the gall to offer up an excuse in the form of your baby sister Hayley getting married. Did you know? To a Marine?”

“Yeah, Hayley and I still talk sometimes.”

Completely unbeknownst to my parents, Hayley texts me fairly regularly. I had known she was getting married for weeks, because she was pregnant. I sent her $5,000 for the wedding a few days ago. I love my little sister dearly.

“I’m glad to hear that. The situation between you and your family horrifies me. How you can reconcile being a God-fearing Christian with disowning your own child because of who she loves, I will never know.”

“That’s what makes you, you, Mrs. Epps.”

She grumbled and made a series of dismissive noises. I thought of the way Katie used to tease her when she pretended to be modest. God, I miss her so much. I thought of summer nights at the cottage and that ridiculous pink jacket. We found it in a little clothing shop in Kuwait, of all places. Katie had intended to have “Pink Ladies” embroidered on the back when we got home, but she didn’t get to go home.

After the day I’d had so far, I didn’t know how I was going to keep it together when I opened that package.

“Alright sugar, I know you’re busy so I won’t keep you. Same day and time next month?”

“Yes ma’am, you got it. Thank you so, so much.”

“Don’t ma’am me, you sassy thing. Text Daniel when you get your package.”

“I thought you said Brian was going to teach you how to text.”

“He did. I hated it. It was worse than that Facebook.”

I laughed. “Take care, Beth. Give Daniel and Brian a hug for me, please. And um, can you…can you tell her I said hello? And I love her.” Katie is buried on the Epperson’s property.

“Of course I will. I always do. But she’s not there, Nicole. You know that.”

I cleared my throat around the giant lump. “Yeah, I do. Bye Mrs. Epps. Thanks again.”

“Goodbye, sweetheart.”

//

I didn’t even get a chance to recover after hanging up. I had a text notification.

Wynonna Earp (3/30/16 3:33 pm): Just called the station but Nedley said you were out sick. Need you at the homestead ASAP, Waverly got shot.

I read and reread that text about ten times before I could fully comprehend what I was seeing. Waverly got shot. What did she mean, got shot? Got a shot? Like a flu shot?

SHIT

I dropped the truck in drive and flew out of the parking lot like a bat out of hell, running over the landscaping and sidewalk and narrowly missing a fire hydrant. I called Wynonna but she didn’t answer. I reached for Waverly and found her at the homestead, but by the time my addled brain reminded me to on-view her, I was already on the highway. The drive from the field office to the homestead is supposed to take just over an hour. I got there in 34 minutes.

The tires squealed as I ripped into the driveway and I was throwing the truck in park before I had even come to a complete stop. I ran into the house past Deputy Marshall Dolls and some brunette woman I didn’t recognize. Waverly was sitting on the couch with Wynonna in nothing but a sports bra and she had a large white bandage on the right side of her ribcage. She was alert and conscious and seemingly no worse for wear. I felt so grateful I almost died on the spot.

I had to gather every last modicum of restraint and self-discipline to control my face and prevent myself from sprinting over to run my hands over every square inch of her skin. Wynonna expected me to be concerned, not have a meltdown.

I strode over to the two of them. I nodded at Wynonna and went down on one knee in front of Waverly, reaching out to take her hand. We locked eyes for a moment and a hundred unspoken questions and endearments passed silently between us. I squeezed her hand and tentatively checked her Shield, expecting the worst. Somehow it still had decent integrity, despite the fact that she had gotten injured. What the hell had happened here?

“Waverly, what happened?” I asked, looking back and forth from her to Wynonna, who was scowling.

Waverly opened her mouth to respond but Wynonna spoke over her. “A bunch of assault rifle-toting assholes in dollar bin camouflage attacked the homestead.”

“Shit tickets,” Waverly muttered under her breath. I glanced away from Wynonna to look at her and give her a small grin. I couldn’t help it, I love when she says shit tickets. My smile was gone as fast as it had appeared.

“What? Why?” Why is there constantly a war being waged on the homestead? Seriously, does this house sit on cursed land?

“Dolls’ boss put a hit out on him,” Wynonna replied. Like that was a normal thing to say. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the Mafia is involved in all this. Not surprised at all. At least The Firm had the decency to feign professionalism.

I didn’t care enough to ask her to elaborate. All I could think about was the fact that I hadn’t been there. I wasn’t there to protect Waverly when she needed me the most. I decided I couldn’t wait to write an email to Captain _______ and inform him that my impromptu “psychological evaluation” had almost cost me Waverly’s precious life.

I mean, had almost cost The Firm its Asset. Ha.

Wynonna turned to Waverly. “Hey baby girl, now that Nicole’s here, I’m going to step outside and regroup with everyone. Figure out our next move.” Next move? What did that even mean, apart from calling the police and installing an 8 foot, electrified chain-link fence and maybe a couple of guard towers?

She stroked Waverly’s hair tenderly. Waverly leaned forward slightly and pressed her forehead against her sister’s. Wynonna is a pain in the ass, but the way the two of them act together sometimes tugs at my heartstrings.

“Okay. I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” Waverly said.

“Fat chance of that,” Wynonna responded. She kissed Waverly’s forehead and stood up. “Officer,” she said to me sarcastically with a nod, and left through the front door.

I stayed where I was but I scooted forward a little and took Waverly’s other hand. I laced all twenty of our fingers together.

“Waverly, I am so, so sorry,” I said. I looked back and forth between her eyes and the bandage on her side.

She leaned forward, wincing slightly, and took my face in both of her palms. Her thumbs stroked my cheeks and I let my eyes drift shut, feeling her lips on mine, very gently. “You have nothing to be sorry about,” she whispered.

“You got shot,” I was starting to cry. Damnit. “And I wasn’t here to protect you.” Bad choice of words, but it was out before I could stop it.

“Nicole, it’s not your job to protect me, and anyway, you’re here now,” she said, tucking a strand of my hair behind my ear.

Ha.

“I only got grazed. Actually, it’s kind of miraculous. It could have been a lot worse.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the house got attacked by at least 25 guys with high powered assault weapons. The bullets tore the kitchen apart. All I had was my shot gun, and I only got grazed.” She touched her bandage gingerly. “I don’t know how that’s even possible. I should probably be dead.”

Dead. I decided in that moment that I never wanted to hear Waverly use that word in reference to herself ever again. But she was right, the homestead looks like it’s made of pressed cardboard and balsa wood. The only plausible reason for her survival was her Shield, and even so, a standard Shield would have failed against that hailstorm of bullets. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have anticipated how much our connection was affecting it.

She sagged into the couch and gave me a look of pure exhaustion. Not only had she been shot, she had also just been in her very first (and hopefully last) fire fight. I still have nightmares about my first. She looked like she could sleep for days. Without giving it another thought, I stood up, put my knee on the couch beside her, and scooped her up into my arms. She put her arms around my neck and rested her face on my chest. My injured shoulder and ribs hollered at me but I ignored them and walked toward the staircase.

“You’re really strong,” Waverly said softly when we were about halfway up the stairs. Using my neck for leverage, she pulled herself up and pressed her lips against mine. Without breaking our kiss, I continued climbing slowly. By the time we reached the landing, I was out of breath, and not because Waverly is heavy. We parted and I opened my eyes and saw that hers were glassy and very dark.

I walked into her room but rather than lay her down, I sat on the edge of the bed with her in my lap. I wrapped my arms around her, carefully avoiding her bandage, and buried my face in her hair. She wrapped her arms around me as well and squeezed. We sat hugging each other like that for a long time. I had felt like half a person all day, and it was only when we were doing this that I ever truly felt whole.

God it feels good to be hugged.

When I suspected she was getting uncomfortable, I turned around and laid her down gently on the bed. As soon as her head hit the pillow, she started to doze off. I perched next to her and stroked her face with my fingers, brushing lightly over her forehead, cheeks, and eyes, encouraging her to fall asleep. Just as I was about to get up to draw the blinds and turn out the lights, her eyes opened and she said, “Nic?”

“Yeah, baby?”

“My sister Willa is alive. She’s here.”

That brunette on the porch I hadn’t recognized. Holy…

I started to speak but Waverly interjected, “I just thought you should know. I can explain later.”

“Okay, love,” I replied. It just slipped out. Her eyes opened a little wider and her eyebrows lifted slightly. I started to stroke her again, up and down the outside of her arm. Her eyes stayed open and we drank each other in. She had a look on her face like she was deciding something.

“Nicole,” she whispered so softly I could barely hear her. I bent my head down to her. “I…I lo-”

I had leaned in so close to hear what she was saying that when Wynonna burst in through the door I recoiled so hard I almost fell off the bed. How? How does she do it?

“Hey! Everything okay?” I saw Wynonna’s eyes narrow as she took in Waverly and I. Wynonna has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen, and I truly believe I saw something akin to understanding register on her face for a hot second before it was gone.

“All good,” I answered, standing up. “She just needs to sleep for like 24 hours.”

“Sounds like what I plan on doing,” Wynonna said as she leaned against the door frame, crossing her arms. “Wait, did you say sleep? I meant drink.”

I humored her with a slight smile. “Who dressed her wound? That bandage is going to need to be changed every few hours.” I would have happily stayed to do it myself, but Wynonna’s territorial aggression over her sister was coming through in spades and my Waverly was mostly asleep anyway.

“I got it,” Wynonna stated flatly. She walked to the bed and pulled back the covers, nudging Waverly to scoot over. I took it as my cue to leave.

On my way out of the house I walked past the brunette stranger. Willa. The third Earp sister, somehow returned from the dead. I’ve learned to not bother questioning the impossible twists and turns that seem to be par for the course at the Earp Sisters Country Club from Hell.

Her eyes raked over me. When we made eye contact, I felt something knaw at the edges of my consciousness. I didn’t like her. There was something just…off. Not for the first time, I wished I was an Empath or a Reader.

“Who are you?” She asked coldly.

“Nicole Haught, Waverly’s…friend. I’m a Sheriff’s deputy. Wynonna asked me to come over.” Why did I feel like I had to explain myself to this person? I knew who she was but I asked anyway. “And you are…?”

“Willa Earp. The heir.”

At first I thought she said “the air,” and then I realized she was saying “heir” in the sense of agnatic primogeniture. (What? I read a lot of historical fiction.)

***NOTE: I like when Nicole feels she has to explain herself to her own journal. It’s just so…Nicole. –A.M.***

“Oh…kay…” I replied. For a moment, we just stared at each other. Then I decided I wasn’t going to take one more iota of weirdness from this awful day, so I turned on my heel, walked to my truck, and drove away.

//

When I got home, sure enough, there was a box sitting on my back porch. Opening it in the state of mind I was in was the worst idea I’ve had in a long time. I hadn’t considered the fact that the contents of that box was going to smell like Katie’s house. Like Katie.
I sat on the steps leading up to the door with her pink jacket crushed against my face and sobbed so hard it doubled me over. I couldn’t bear to look through the scrapbook. Not then, and probably not for a long time.

The last words I spoke to Katie were, “I love you,” but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t save her. We had been telling each other since we were six years old that we would protect one another. That we had each other’s backs. But I failed her.

I love Waverly and I know she loves me, because she almost said it to me back at the homestead, before Wynonna walked in. But I almost failed her, too. No, that’s a lie. I didn’t “almost” anything. I fail her every single day, because every single day, I lie to her. Sure, it’s mostly lies of omission, but it comes down to the same thing. Our entire relationship is based on my dishonesty. She doesn’t even know I’m married.

Once the sobs had dissipated somewhat, I let the jacket fall away from my face and stared down at the wrinkled material. I ran the pad of my thumb over the collar, and then I shook the jacket out in front of me and put it on. I zipped it up and made a solemn promise to Waverly and the powers that be.

When the danger in Purgatory has passed, I’ll resign my post as a Guardian and take Waverly far, far away from here. I’ll take her wherever she wants to go. I’ll tell her anything she wants to know. I’ll get a divorce and I’ll marry her and I’ll love her the way she deserves to be loved for the rest of her life.

Most importantly, I will never lie to her, ever again.

You can quote me on that.

//

***NOTE:

When I got done reading this entry, I went downstairs to see Aunt Waverly. She was sitting on the couch crocheting and listening to music. Sometimes when I see her relaxed and happy, it’s hard to believe what she went through all those years ago, or that she’s 40. Aunt Gus always teases her for being “ageless,” but she has a point. When I compare photographs of her when she was 22 to now, it looks like she hasn’t aged a day. She doesn’t even have wrinkles. (Needless to say, I’m very pleased with my genetics.)

Me: “Hey Aunt Waves.”
(Nicole calls her that so frequently it just came out. Her eyes got really big.)
Aunt Waverly: “Hey baby girl. What’s up?”
Me: “I didn’t know you got shot. I’ve never seen a scar.”
Aunt Waverly: (smiling) “I don’t have one. I had a really good nurse.” (She winked at me.)
(I was staring at her cell phone. They are so weird.)
Me: “Aunt Waverly, why don’t you just get an implant?" (I tapped the side of my head)
"It’s so much easier than using…that thing.”
Aunt Waverly: “Alice, you know what this is. It’s a cell phone.”
Me: “Oh, is that what that archaic blinking brick is called?”
(She laughed. She’s so easy.)
Me: “Are you listening to (what does she call it?) Spotify?”
Aunt Waverly: “Yep.”
Me: “Can I see?”

She handed her “cell phone” to me. I started scrolling through her playlists (with my FINGER, how prehistoric) and found one titled “<3” I clicked on it.

The very first song was “Something Just Like This.” The one Nicole always mentions playing, that they danced to. I put one ear bud in my own ear and handed her the other one. I hit play.

“But she said, where'd you wanna go?
How much you wanna risk?
I'm not looking for somebody
With some superhuman gifts
Some superhero
Some fairytale bliss
Just something I can turn to
Somebody I can kiss
I want something just like this”

I never heard that song before. It was so perfect it was like it had been written for the two of them. By the time it was over, we were both crying.

I crawled over and hugged her, hard.

Then I whispered in her ear, “Aunt Waverly, I’m going to find her.”

I will.

You can quote me on that.

-A.M.***

Chapter Text

Journal Entry # 8
April 2016

When I finally managed to drag myself off the porch and into the house, I was spent. This had made at least the number nine spot in my top ten crappiest days ever, and I was beyond ready to put it behind me. I hung Katie’s jacket on my coat rack, tucked the scrapbook onto my bookshelf for a time when I was more emotionally stable, and put the deed and the keys to the cabin in my gun safe. I made a mental note to text Hayley to see if she and her fiancé wanted to use it for their honeymoon.

Britney knows it’ll be a long time before I’m able to use it myself.

I staggered upstairs, scooping Calamity Jane off her perch on the landing. I still don’t know how I managed to adopt a cat that both shares my hair color and is as snuggly as I am. Come to think of it, we also share a desire to swat at men who come within 2 feet of us. I like to think that I’ve molded her in my image.

***NOTE: I wish I could reach through time and space to tell Nicole that CJ is doing well, for a decrepit old lady. She’s a little more sass and a little less snuggle these days though. Actually, she’s lying next to me on my bed right now. I tapped the page and told her that her Mama was talking about her, but she just looked disgusted that I woke her up. –A.M.***

I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, despite the fact that it was only 6:30 in the evening. Thankfully I had the afternoon shift the next day, but then Waves wanted me to go to some “poker spectacular” fancy shindig with her afterward. Galas are NOT my thing, but if Waverly wanted to attend a 24 hour doily knitting competition, better believe Nicole Haught would be there.

When I woke up, it was dark outside and the clock read 9:45 pm. It was completely silent except for the chirp of crickets outside and the sound of…someone breathing? Suddenly I realized I could feel warm pressure across my waist and along the entire back side of my body. Oh, I could not have asked for anything better. I closed my eyes again and laid perfectly still, allowing myself to feel every square inch of her warm weight.

I guess Waverly had found the house key and the note I had left her on her bedside table.

I slowly turned over onto my back and smiled when she grumbled in her sleep. I reached underneath her and gathered her into my arms, her head falling heavily against my chest. I draped my legs over the back of her thighs and pulled her in, with my face in her hair. I just hugged and hugged her, my sleeping beauty. I could feel all my sadness and anxiety and grief melt away and get replaced with a sense of unbelievable heaviness and contentment.

Love is a drug, and in that moment, it was a sedative. I dropped back off in a matter of minutes.

When I came-to again, it was just barely light outside. I guessed it was about 5:30 am. Somehow in the night we had ended up on our sides, facing each other with our foreheads together. I could feel her warm breath on my face. I closed the miniscule amount of distance between us and kissed her, very softly. I kissed her like that over and over until I saw her eyelids start to flutter and green eyes appeared.

“Nicole,” she said, her voice bleary with sleep.

“Hey, gorgeous.”

The corner of her mouth curled up slowly and she reached forward to caress my cheek with the palm of her hand. I wonder if she knows how much I like being touched like that. Yeah, of course she does.

She yawned. “Sorry for breaking and entering, but when I woke up at the homestead, Wynonna was gone and I got really lonely. I really wanted to see you.”

“First of all, I gave you a key so you weren’t committing a crime,” (not that I wasn’t thinking about her potential “punishment”) “And secondly, sorry I wasn’t very good company. What time did you get here?”

“A little after 7:00,” she said. She dropped her eyes and ran the tip of her finger over my bottom lip. “You’re really beautiful when you sleep.”

Oh, boy.

I cocked an eyebrow at her questioningly and decided to play it coy. “…Aren’t I beautiful always?” I asked playfully. I slid my fingers into the palm of the hand she had near my face and kissed each of her knuckles, one by one.

She watched what I was doing with those half-lidded bedroom eyes of hers and didn’t answer until I stopped. “Of course you are. It’s just…when you’re sleeping, you aren’t wearing your armor. You’re just…soft and relaxed and I feel like I can see what you really are. You know, like underneath it all.” I had no idea Waverly was so poetic when she was sleepy.

I laid perfectly still, just staring at her. I could barely get the words out to ask, “Well, what am I? Underneath it all?”

She leaned forward to rest her forehead against mine. Her thumb stroked over the ridge of my cheekbone. She rubbed our noses together and then pulled back, locking our gazes.

“You’re true,” she said simply.

I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath until she spoke that word and I let it all out. My heart felt too big in my chest. I wanted to tell her I loved her, I wanted it more than anything in the world, but the words wouldn’t come out. I settled for kissing her and letting her taste and feel how I felt instead.

It’s better than hearing it, anyway. Once words are spoken, they disappear into a void. Intangible.

Actions are more permanent.

//

I made breakfast for the two of us and we ate in silence, sitting side by side at my kitchen table so our shoulders rubbed together. We kept stealing glances at each other out of the corner of our eyes and grinning.

Is there anything more nauseating than two people in love? God, it’s the best.
She left and went home about an hour after we woke up, knowing if Wynonna couldn’t find her at 7:00 in the morning she’d tear the town apart with her bare hands. As much as I like existing in our own private bubble, it really would be more convenient if Waverly would just tell her sister, but I’m not about to pressure her into doing anything she doesn’t feel comfortable with.

I took a shower and then drove to the homestead, despite knowing Wynonna and the new pod person sister would be over there. I didn’t have to work until noon, and I wasn’t about to waste a single moment of downtime not wherever Waverly was, intimidating sisters be damned.

When I walked in, she was sitting at the kitchen table with a variety of bandages and ointments laid out in front of her. She’d rather dress her own wound than ask someone else to do it for her.

“Hey, you,” I said as I took a seat beside her. She was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt with little men skiing on it. Why does she have to be so adorable all the time? How am I supposed to live my life?

***NOTE: Yeah, she’s right. Aunt Waverly is like, the cutest person I’ve ever met. Sometimes I come home from school and I want to act all sullen and crunchy, as teenagers do, and she just attacks me with sweetness until I smile. She is so cute, and it makes me so mad. –A.M.***

She shot me a furtive “we-spent-the-night-together-and-no-one-else-knows-it” grin and greeted me. “Hey, do you mind…?” She gestured at the various tubes of Neosporin and gauze pads and lifted up her shirt. I peeled the old bandage off carefully and examined the wound underneath. It looked angry, all red and swollen. I glanced up and saw she was trying to hide a wince.

I was going to have to strike a fine balance between Healing this enough so it wouldn’t get infected but not so much that it disappeared completely. That would be a little suspicious.

I cleaned the wound gently and started to dab on a little Neosporin, then I used a technique called “gathering.” I pulled the edges of her Shield together until it was concentrated right over the area and I held it there with my finger. I had just started to close my eyes and really focus when Bitchy Spice walked in and had the gall to chastise me for using anti-bacterial ointment in lieu of her homemade “eye of newt” witch’s concoction.

I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from making a snarky comment about Stockholm syndrome.

“You don’t always have to be here, you know,” she said dismissively.

Truly, what is wrong with this person? I find it very hard to believe that someone so rude and callous could be related to my Waverly by blood.

I could sense Waverly’s extreme discomfort, so when she asked me to “pop out,” I didn’t argue. I went out to the barn and waited for her, breathing in lungfuls of clean, cold air. Northern Montana in the spring is like standing in a cold shower after a day spent working outdoors, a rare redeeming quality for the barren wasteland this area is in the winter. It’s possible that’s just my Dixie talking, though.

I was leaning against one of the wooden walls when Waverly came in, looking annoyed, and plopped down on the cot beside me. She stared off into space, deep in thought. I just watched her, allowing her to take a moment to process. She didn’t like having Willa back, I could tell, but she felt guilty about it. In Waverly’s world, there’s always something wrong with her, not the situation.

***NOTE: Gee Nicole, who else does that sound like? –A.M. ***

Finally, she spoke into the silence. “I’m exhausted.” Her tone conveyed that fact better than her words did. I walked straight over to her and climbed up beside her on the cot.

“Hey,” I said gently, “I know, baby.”

I love when she wears her hair loose. It is so, so soft. I used the tips of my fingers to brush it aside and kissed the spot behind her ear that makes her break out in a million goosebumps, and then kissed her lips when she turned to face me. All the emotion from the past couple of days suddenly coalesced in the moment and we were 0-60 in a matter of seconds. We started pulling each other’s clothes off despite the chill in the barn and we were absolutely caught up in one another when Willa walked in.

If looks could kill, she’d have been dead before she hit the floor.

What made the sudden interruption worse was the narrow-eyed, condescending look on her face when she told Waverly that she “didn’t know she was a gay.”

A gay. Who says that?

I felt bad for bailing on Waverly, but the whole interaction was a 10/10 on my anger scale and I didn’t want to say anything rash. I felt like a teenager again. I told Waverly to call me and I brushed past Willa on my way out the door, resisting the urge to drop a shoulder and knock her down. I got in my car and drove off, thankful for the fact that I had thrown my gym bag in the back seat that morning on a whim. As I drove to the boxing gym a few towns over, all I could think about was a similar occurrence in my life, many years ago, that set in motion a chain of events that made me who I am today, and ultimately landed me in Purgatory.

//

“Have you and Joe had sex?”

I was 17 years old, sitting on my bed with a fifth of Smirnoff in my lap across from my friend Bridget. She was on the softball team with me. We were playing a drinking game we called twenty questions, which really just amounted to the two of us lobbing ultra-personal queries back and forth at each other. The rule was, if you didn’t want to answer, you had to drink.

I was well on my way to being trashed.

“Pass,” I answered, bringing the bottle to my lips and taking a swill. I prided myself on not needing a chaser because that’s the type of thing teenage girls find impressive.

“Oh come ON, Nicole! Seriously? Ya’ll have been together for like 8 months. I lost my virginity the summer before freshman year, for God’s sake.” She looked at me expectantly. I took another drink.

“Fine. Yes.”

She squealed.

“It’s REALLY not that exciting, Bridge.” It really wasn’t. The whole experience left a lot…scratch that. It left everything to be desired. I had held him off for as long as I could, always making up some excuse to escape his clutches just before anything actually happened. Finally, one night a few weeks before, we went to a party after I spent the day fighting with my parents. I got well and totally sloshed and in a fit of rebellion, snuck off with Joe and had sex with him on an air mattress. The whole thing was just a blur of clumsy, rough hands and wet, sloppy, tobacco-laced kisses and it was all over in a matter of 7 minutes.

Yes, I timed it.

***NOTE: This is way too much real life. –A.M.***

“You know what? I’m really impressed. I figured you were so Christian and straight-laced that you’d wait until you were old and married.” She reached over and snagged the bottle.

It’s so strange, in retrospect, to think that’s how people saw me. It was an elaborate ruse to cover up a maelstrom of inner turmoil. If I was a straight A student, an athlete, girlfriend to a football player, and a virginal and obedient Christian, who in the world would suspect what I was hiding? The only person in my life who knew the real me was Katie. But not even Katie was aware of the raging crush I had on Bridget.

Why else would I subject myself to a game like this?

By the time we reached the twentieth question, we were both practically falling off the bed we were so drunk. My mom and dad had gone to dinner and bible study with my younger siblings, and as far as I knew, it was just the two of us in my house. We only had about another hour before my parents got home, and I knew if I was going to make a move, I’d have to do it soon. I had no intention of being drunk in my room when Mama got home. I planned on just walking to Katie’s to face plant through her downstairs bedroom window and spend the night. I had recently developed sort of a habit of doing that.

I set the mostly empty bottle of vodka on the ground next to the bed. Bridget had laid down with her head on my pillow. Her eyes were closed. It was now or never. I crawled over and settled in beside her, turned her face toward me, and pecked her on the mouth with every expectation of being soundly rejected. To my utter bafflement and delight, she reached up, grabbed the back of my neck, and dragged me back down.
That was the first time I ever made out with a girl, and for a few minutes, it was like I was blind person seeing color.

Then everything went to hell.

Bridget and I were in our own little world when suddenly my bedroom door slammed open and a voice behind us shrieked, “What the FUCK?!”

I sat up too fast and the room spun hard. I was far too drunk. Standing in the doorway was my oldest sister, Kelly. She must have decided to come home from college to do laundry without telling anyone. Her face was a mask of disgust and indignation.

“Oh my God, Nikki, are you serious right now? What is this?”

I turned to Bridget and slurred, “Bridget, GO.” She didn’t have to be told twice. She snatched her purse and stumbled out the door. I turned back to my sister. My heart was pounding, and when I tried to stand, the floor tipped backward and I fell back onto the bed.

“Kelly please don’t tell mom and dad. Please, please don’t tell them.” I was starting to cry and she was shaking her head.

“This isn’t right. You know this isn’t right. This is really bad.”

“Kelly, PLEASE. You’re my big sister, please don’t do this.”

Both our heads turned as we heard the sound of the garage door open and close and daddy’s voice. We looked back at each other. For a split second, I saw her anger soften into something that was almost like sympathy, and then her face hardened and she whirled around and left the room.

I remember thinking that I should grab whatever I could and stuff it in my backpack. I knew the rules, I knew what was about to happen. But all I could do was sit on the edge of my bed with my head hanging down, drunkenly swaying back and forth. My life as I knew it was over.

I felt her presence in the doorway and dragged my eyes up to meet my mother’s face. Her hands were balled into fists and her jaw was clenched. She had tears in her eyes that hadn’t spilled onto her cheeks yet.

“Mama…” Maybe she would remember I was her little girl. Maybe she’d forgive me. If only we could move past this and go back to the way it was. I would do anything, anything at all.

I would deny myself, if that’s what it took.

“Nicole, I will give you ten minutes to leave this house,” she said in a clipped tone.

“Mama, please, it’s raining.” I don’t know why I thought that would change her mind.

“Are you drunk? Get out of this house,” she said, getting louder with each word. “Get out of this house before your poor father realizes what your sister just told us.”

“Mama, please.” I was crying then. Hard. I couldn’t believe it was real.

“GET. OUT.” She turned on her heel and walked out of my room. For a couple minutes all I could do was sit and try to breathe around the metal band that seemed to have wrapped around my chest. I’ve always had bad anxiety, and I know what an oncoming panic attack feels like. I dragged myself to my feet and started throwing clothing haphazardly into my backpack. I looked around my room at my awards and trophies and pictures of me and my family and my friends and cried harder.

When I walked out the front door, no one tried to stop me. I heard it slam shut behind me and I was halfway down the front walk when something hit the back of my legs and squeezed around my waist.

“Nikki!”

I turned around with bile in my throat. I knelt down in front of my 10 year old sister. “Hayley, I have to go, baby. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Fuck, fuck, FUCK.

***NOTE: FUCK. –A.M.***

“Why, Nikki? Please don’t go! I made you this at school today.” She handed me a little doll made out of pipe cleaners. Big brown eyes searched mine desperately. She had no idea what was going on, she just knew it was bad.

“Thanks, sweetie,” I said, swallowing my tears and forcing myself to smile at her. “Go back inside and watch your show, okay?”

“When will you come back?” She asked, her bottom lip quivering.

“Soon. Okay? Really soon.”

I’ve literally spent my entire life lying to the people that I love.

//

I was too drunk to remember to climb in Katie’s window. I rang the Epperson’s doorbell and waited on the front porch, in the rain. It was a twenty minute walk down the road from my house to Katie’s, and I was drenched. Beth opened the door.

“What in the Sam Hill? Nicole? What is the matter with you, girl? Get in here out of the rain!” She yanked me by the front of my jacket into the house and immediately started rubbing my arms vigorously, as moms do when they know you’re cold.

All I could do was stare at her concerned, beloved face. I couldn’t find words. The walk had sobered me up some, but not completely.

“Have you been drinkin’?” I watched concern get replaced with anger. “Was it that boy? Nicole Katherine, you look at me, now. Was it Joseph? Speak up.”

“No! No ma’am, it wasn’t Joe. I’m sorry. I…”

Katie came flying around the corner in her pink pajamas, her hair wet from the shower.

“What the hell?!” She ran over to me. “Nicole?!” When I didn’t respond, she gave me a light slap on both cheeks. “What is the matter with you?!” The look on her face was pure panic.

“KATIE!” Beth cried.

“It’s okay Mrs. Epperson,” I managed to choke out around a throat full of barbed wire. “My mom kicked me out of my house. She…she caught me kissing someone.” There was no reason to bring Katie’s wrath down on my sister.

The two of them stared at me blankly. Their expressions were identical. Katie looked so much like her mother that she may as well have been a blonde clone of her.

I took a deep breath. “She caught me kissing another girl.” I glanced at Katie and clarified, “Bridget.”

Once it was out, all I could do was stand there and wait, dripping water onto the Epperson’s hundred year old hardwood floor. Katie and I both looked at Beth, waiting for her verdict. Her face was unreadable.

“Katelyn, take Nicole to your room and get her dried off. I’ll be in momentarily,” Beth said.

“Ma…”

“Katie, NOW.”

She yes-ma’amed her and we walked down the hall together. I went right to the bathroom and Katie gave me a clean towel and some of my own PJs. We spent so much time together at least half of my wardrobe lived in her room at any given time. I got in the shower and cranked it all the way to hot, standing there and letting the water wash the vodka out of my pores and the sorrow out of my soul.

When I walked into her room, Katie didn’t say anything to me. We just settled onto her bed, side by side, and stared blankly at some show on TV. I don’t like to talk when I’m very upset. It was a mark of the depth of our friendship that she didn’t press me, despite what had just happened. She told me she loved me without using words by reaching for and squeezing my hand.

Her unshakeable loyalty was the only thing holding me together.

After about ten minutes or so, Beth tapped on the door and came in.

“I want the two of you to come straight back here tomorrow after school,” she said to Katie, and then she turned her head and looked at me. “Your mother has…graciously…agreed to allow you one hour to collect your things.”

“Collect her THINGS?” Katie hissed.

“Yes, young lady. That is what I said.” She paused, ringing her hands, and then seemed to reach a decision. “Nicole will be living here with us for the foreseeable future.”

I have never felt so grateful in my life.

//

I mostly kept to myself the next day at school. The seniors were graduating in less than two months, and my entire 150 person class was a ball of gleeful energy and I could hardly handle it. I was walking to seventh hour English, my last class of the day, when I passed a woman dressed neatly in a military uniform packing up a table in the cafeteria. Recruiters from all five of the services always came in at the end of the school year to tempt the seniors into serving their country. I felt myself slow and then stop to watch her. She was immaculately professional, her hair arranged into a neat bun and her perfectly pressed dress uniform sporting at least a dozen brightly colored ribbons. When she stepped out from behind the table, I was stunned to see that her right leg was prosthetic.

At that moment, I made a decision that changed the trajectory of my entire life, and the lives of the people that I loved most. I walked over to her and said, “Excuse me, ma’am?”

She stopped what she was doing to look at me. “I’m not a ma’am, I actually work for a living.” She pointed at the rank on her shoulder. “Staff Sergeant Lauren Thomas. How may I help you?”

“Oh, um, pardon me, Sergeant. Actually, I was just wondering, how old do you have to be to join the Army?”

“Eighteen,” she said. She raised her eyebrows. “Are you about to graduate?”

“Yes ma-“ Oops. “Sorry. Yes, Sergeant. I turn 18 in a month.”

She rummaged around in one of her boxes and pulled out a business card. “Why don’t you come see me in a month, then? I’m on Fort Gordon. Just ask gate security to direct you to recruiting.”

I took the card from her and nodded. “I will. Thank you.”

//

The day of my 18th birthday happened to fall on the first day of a four day weekend, so we didn’t have school. I woke up early, quietly filched Katie’s keys, and drove her purple Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible to Fort Gordon, Georgia. I had been on-post before with my daddy when he needed to meet with his VA benefits advisor. I had always loved it. The uniforms, the discipline, the camaraderie. It had never been an option because the girls in my family were expected to go to college, get married, and have children. Of course, none of that applied anymore, and it was strangely freeing.

I asked the front desk staff at the recruiter’s office for Sergeant Thomas and she came out to meet me, leaning on a cane. She shook my hand and walked me back to her desk.

“Happy birthday,” she said simply. It threw me off and the speech I had prepared vanished from my mind.

“How did you know it was my birthday?”

She chuckled. “I just got the feeling when we met that you were looking for a way out and you wouldn’t hesitate to take the first chance you got.”

True.

We spoke at length about what enlistment would entail and what my options were. The Army was VERY interested in able-bodied young soldiers in 2010, as the operational tempo had recently increased drastically with the troop surge.

“Have you given much thought to what MOS you want?” She asked.

“MOS?”

“’Military Occupational Specialty.’ Your job.”

“Oh. Um, no actually.” I hadn’t thought about that at all. It hadn’t even occurred to me that soldiers had different jobs. “Wait, yes. Whatever will let me see the most action. Um, infantry, I guess.”

She shook her head. “Women are barred from combat jobs.”

I couldn’t decide if she as messing with me. I very slowly scooted my chair back, leaned down, and stared pointedly at her missing right leg. “Sergeant, please correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like you saw combat.”

I could see that she was starting to like me. “That’s accurate.”

“What was your MOS?” I asked.

She turned around and pulled a brochure out from the stand behind her. She handed it to me. It said: “31B Military Police.”

“Why don’t you take a look at that while I get some forms together?”

A couple hours later I raised my right hand and was sworn into the US Army as an MP.

//

Katie (5/10/10 1:53 pm): Seriously Niks? I’ve called you like ten times. Where are you? Mom is madder than a wet hen.
Katie (5/10/10 1:54 pm): She made you your favorite supper for your birthday and if it goes to waste I’ll kick your ass.
Katie (5/10/10 1:55 pm): Wait a second did you steal my fucking car?!?!?!?!?!!?
Me (5/10/10 2:23 pm): OMG sorry sorry!!! I’m on my way.

I walked into the Epperson’s kitchen with a giant manilla envelope in my hand and my heart in my throat. They were all sitting around the kitchen table, waiting for me.

Beth slapped her hand on the counter when she saw me and said, “Nicole Katherine Haught, where on God’s green Earth have you BEEN? Young lady, I know you’re 18 now, but you cannot just disappear like that. You scared me half to death.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Epperson.”

Four sets of expectant eyes drilled into me for an explanation.

I get pretty awkward when I’m put on the spot like that, so I just held up the envelope containing my contract and said, “I enlisted in the Army.”

Brian, who was 16 at the time, looked delighted and said, “Awesome!” But he was the only one.

Beth clutched the edge of the kitchen counter, dumbstruck, before throwing a dish towel over her face and storming out of the room. Daniel stared at his hands. Only Katie’s eyes remained on me, and hers was the reaction I was dreading.

See, Katie and I had plans. We were supposed to go to the University of Georgia together. We were going to be roommates. It was something we had planned on since we were 11 years old, and I had just thrown all of that out the window. The moment dragged on and on as the two of us stared at each other. Finally, she stood up, balling up her napkin and throwing it down on the table. As she blew past me on her way out of the house, she said, “Happy birthday, Nicole.”

//

When I woke up the next morning, Katie’s bed was empty. I went downstairs to find Beth making breakfast, as she did every morning.

“Bacon and pancakes are in the warming drawer for you, darlin’,” she said. It seemed like we were going to be playing this whole thing like polite southern ladies. (By which I mean we would pretend it didn’t happen.)

“Thanks, Mrs. Epps.” I sat at the table and picked at my food lethargically. I felt like a deflated balloon. “Do you know where Katie is?” I asked.

“She told me last night before she went to bed that she picked up a shift at the creamery,” Beth answered.

No she didn’t. The creamery was closed because the owner was out of town.

“Oh, okay. Would you like help weeding today?” Beth worked in her sprawling garden every Friday morning.

“That would be lovely, dear. Thank you.”

We spent over two hours weeding in a slightly uncomfortable silence, which is unlike us. When we were done, Beth asked me to sit on the porch with her. She brought out two glasses of sweet tea and sat in the wicker chair beside me. I took a moment to collect myself before I spoke, because I knew it was expected of me.

“Mrs. Epperson, I’m sorry I sprang that on you last night. I’m sorry I was gone all day without saying anything, too. I was awake most of the night thinking about how unappreciative that was, and the last thing in the world I want to do is make you feel like I’m ungrateful for everything you’ve done for me. I am so thankful for you and Mr. Epperson.” I took a deep, shaky breath. “If I’ve made you ashamed of me…for any reason…I am so sorry.”

I couldn’t bear to look at her, but I could hear her next to me, stirring her tea.

“Nicole,” she began, “you are the kindest and most gracious young woman I have ever met, and I should be thanking you for all the years you’ve spent reining in my daughter.”

I smiled at her. She’d described me in the past as the anchor to Katie’s speed boat.

She set her glass down and turned to me. “You look at me now, young lady.” I did so. “I need you to hear everything I am about to say to you with absolute clarity. I cannot begin to fathom what you would have to do to make me ashamed of you.”

She paused. “Well, I suppose I wasn’t thrilled the time you and Katie stole half a bottle of my peach Schnapps when you were thirteen.” She raised an eyebrow at me and we smiled at each other.

“You are a beautiful person, Nicole. I am concerned for your safety, as any mother would have a right to be, but I am more proud of you than you can possibly imagine for making the decision to serve this great country. And as for the other topic that you alluded to…” She reached out and took my hand. She squeezed it. “Who you choose to share your body and your heart with are no one’s business but your own. Do you understand me? The only thing I care about is that you are happy, and you are living the most authentic possible version of your own life. Is that absolutely clear?”

I could hardly speak around my tears. “Yes, Beth. It is. Thank you.”

//

We were still sitting there about a half hour later when Katie came in through the back gate.

“Hey, Nik. Hello, Mama.”

Mrs. Epps looked at Katie skeptically. “Young lady, where is your uniform? You told me you were workin’.”

Katie’s eyes shot to the side. She’s a terrible liar with the most obvious tell I’ve ever seen. “I already changed.”

Beth rolled her eyes. “Uh huh. Do you honestly think I just fell off the rutabaga truck? You know what, I don’t care. I’m going inside to clean up.” She left.

Katie came over to sit down beside me. I could tell by her face and the way she was walking that she was pleased with herself about something. That was never a good sign.

“Well?” I prompted. “Where were you?”

She reached behind her, lifted her shirt, and pulled a large manilla envelope out from where she’d been hiding it in back of her pants. I recognized it immediately, as I had been carrying a similar one yesterday when I had gotten home.

“…Are you serious right now?”

She was grinning from ear to ear. Her eyes sparkled like blue diamonds. She pulled out the top page of her contract and handed it to me. “Read it.”

Name: Katelyn Marie Epperson
Rank: PV1
MOS: 31B
Initial Entry Training: Fort Leonard-Wood, MO
Ship Date: 05 JUNE 2010

“How did you do this? We have the same MOS, ship date, and training location.” I still don’t know how she pulled it off. She was a force of nature, and apparently not even an Army recruiter could say no to Katie.

“Surprise, betch. I guess you thought you could get rid of me that easily? You better think again.”

When I bear-hugged her off her chair and onto the ground, she couldn’t stop laughing.

That was Katie.

//

I pulled into the boxing gym that I got a membership to when I first arrived on Assignment. Instructor Higgs had been clear in his directions: write in a journal, and exercise. I like lifting weights and running, but really, nothing can top just punching the hell out of something.

Especially in the state of mind I was in.

I was in the zone, beating the crap out of a punching bag in the mostly empty gym when I saw a gray-haired, middle-aged man in a baseball cap watching me out of the corner of my eye. When he noticed me noticing him, he came over.

“Hello,” he said.

I stopped what I was doing, breathing hard. After what had happened at the homestead, and the onslaught of memories that had come from it, I was really about one wrong word away from knocking his teeth out.

“My name is Juan Carlo.” Uh, I hadn’t asked. Why do old white dudes always just assume women want to talk to them?

***NOTE: WORD. -A.M.***

“Okay.”

“Your name is Nicole.” Okay, WTF?

I dropped my gloves and rested my hand on my waistband, where my concealed carry sits. He put his hands up and smiled.

“Whoa, whoa, now. I’m a friend. I have a message for you.”

“Then you better speak fast and get the hell out of my face,” I snarled.

He lifted his hat, ran his hands through his hair, and settled it back onto his head.

“You and your…” he chuckled. “What do you people call it? Your “Asset” are in a great deal of danger. There’s a storm coming, and you would be best advised to batten down the hatches.”

“In danger from whom?” I asked, despite myself.

“Forces of evil beyond your wildest dreams,” he answered cryptically. His eyes snapped up, looking just over my shoulder. I looked, too, but there was nothing there.

By the time I looked back to where he had been standing, he was gone.

Fabulous.

//

***NOTE: As I was finishing reading this entry, Aunt Waverly came in and gave me a mug of hot chocolate. She does that a lot. She reached down and scratched the top of my head and smiled at me, telling me that this is the most she’s ever seen me read.

When she saw that I’d been crying, she looked horrified. I got up and we hugged for a long time. She apologized and told me she felt bad for giving me this box. “No, Aunt Waverly,” I told her. “Thank you.”

Thank you, Aunt Waverly. Thank you, Aunt Gus. Thank you, thank you, thank you. –A.M.***

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #9
April 2016

After everything that had transpired that morning, work was thankfully uneventful. Of course, it would prove to be the calm before the storm, but I’ll get to that. Waves called me in the middle of my shift to apologize for Willa’s behavior and to ask me what I planned on wearing to the gala. I told her she’d have to wait and see in my most seductive tone, because in reality I had no idea. Like I said, I don’t really do fancy people parties.

Near the time I was supposed to go home, Sheriff came over to my desk and sort of brooded over me for a moment like he does when he’s thinking about what he’s going to say.

“Have fun tonight, Officer Haught, but be vigilant. This town doesn’t have a long…or rather, any history of large events that go off without a hitch. I’d like you to bring your sidearm and handcuffs.”

“Sheriff, I’m sorta going to be in a dress,” I told him.

His mouth opened and closed and he looked utterly baffled. I think sometimes he completely forgets that I’m a girl. I knew he was going to stay shorted out unless I just agreed to do as he asked.

“Will do, Sheriff.”

He nodded and said “good, good,” and walked off. So not only did I have to worry about what I was going to wear, I also had to figure out how I was going to find a dress that matched my utility belt AND be on the lookout for some undisclosed danger.

Oh, and keep Waverly out of trouble. Can’t forget that. I wonder what it must feel like to be a normal person. I could have gone into nursing, like I had originally intended to all those years ago.

Yeah…I would be so bored.

At that exact moment, Mrs. Strayer walked in and said loudly that she wanted to lodge a complaint against a woman living on her block because one of her hairless cats had looked out the window at her and had given her “the evil eye.” She’s convinced the neighbor is a witch. (Which, in this town, it’s at least possible.) At first I thought she was using “hairless cat” as a euphemism until she showed me a collection of pictures she had taken of it. (It was oddly cute. Maybe CJ would like a hairless friend?) When I told her she couldn’t file a police report against someone for owning a cat, she started hollering for the Sheriff.

I mean, is it too late to apply to nursing school?

//

An hour before I was due to meet Waverly at the gala, I had every single piece of clothing that I had ever owned strewn on my bed. I don’t have anything even resembling formal attire, other than my dress uniforms. I collapsed on top of everything and stared at the ceiling like the hopeless mess that I am, when suddenly I remembered that I DO have a dress. Exactly one dress. It was in a storage unit about 10 minutes from Purgatory with the rest of my old stuff. I had worn it to my last homecoming. I had been way more excited about and flirtacious with the dress than I had been with Joe, my poor date. I wonder where he is these days. Ah, boy men.

I knew driving to the storage unit and finding the dress was going to make me late, but it was either that or I go naked. I was grabbing my keys and about to fly out the door when my phone buzzed. Speaking of naked:

 

Waverly <3 (3/31/16 6:08 pm): 1 attachment

Uh, naked. Naked Waverly. Well, topless and wearing nothing but panties. My brain threw the breaker switch to the rest of my body and I collapsed onto my couch in a boneless heap.

***NOTE: Shit, these are always sneaking up on me. First this girl is talking about naked cats and now she’s talking about naked aunts. I mean, fine, I don’t think she ever intended for her 18 year old niece to read this, but COME ON! –A.M.***

Waverly <3 (3/31/16 6:08 pm): I’m all yours after the dance tonight, baby. :-)

(What does that mean? Does that mean…? That definitely means…right? I don’t know how to text, how do I text?)

Me (3/31/16 6:10 pm): Did you maybe just want to skip this whole party thing and come over…? I have something that I think would match what you’re wearing really well ;-)

Yeah, MY naked body.

Waverly <3 (3/31/16 6:11 pm): That sounds amazing, but I can’t. Wynonna and Willa expect me to be there. But Nicole?
Me (3/31/16 6:11 pm): Yeah baby?
Waverly <3 (3/31/16 6:13 pm): 1 attachment

Same picture, but she had taken her panties off and turned around.

I burned about an inch worth of tread off my tires peeling out of my driveway.

//

I found the dress and got home in record time. I was surprised it still fit, but then again, I didn’t grow much after the age of 16. When I was done getting ready and looked in the mirror I felt…what is that word? It’s the one that Waverly is. Oh yeah, pretty. Not something I get the opportunity to feel very often. I even put on jewelry!

I also found a small clutch while I was looking for the dress. When I opened it to stash my concealed carry and handcuffs, I found one of those picture strips you get from a photo booth. Three small, black and white photographs of Katie and me making goofy and lewd faces at the camera. It was like finding a winning lottery ticket. I tacked it to the bulletin board over my desk and left, only a few minutes late.

When I got to the party, it was already packed. I found a doorway to lean against and champagne to drink, because that is what I do when I feel awkward and out of place. Luckily, within minutes my girlfriend was walking down the stairs like a perfect radiant mermaid. I suddenly felt a lot less silly for wearing an old homecoming dress, because she was clearly wearing a prom dress. And it was amazing.

“You are a vision,” I told her breathlessly as she walked up. She gave me that shy smile that I love.

“Oh please. I didn’t even have time to accessorize.”

But somehow I did?! (“Wow, I’m actually impressed,” my internal Katie voice remarked.)

“Ah, see I knew I wore this bracelet for a reason,” I said, winking at her. It’s never too early to start laying it on thick.

“Hey, if we get out of here, we are getting dressed up way more often.” Her eyes swept up and down my body.

I was just about to respond, “Did you mean get NOT dressed way more often?” When I realized what she had just said. “What do you mean, if we get out of here?”

“Just stay by the exits, okay?”

WTF.

I guess the Sheriff’s instincts had be correct. I hate when that happens. Unfortunately for me, at that moment Willa showed up at the top of the stairs and started beckoning Waves to her, smiling and pretending to be friendly in that manipulative way she has. I was thinking about how much I hated how beholden Waverly seemed to feel toward her when who came swaggering over to me but Champ frikin Hardy. He was wearing one of those fake tuxedo t-shirts. He has to be the most punchable person I’ve ever seen.

“I saw all that, you know,” he slurred.

“Not now, Champ.” Not ever, Champ. Had Waverly seriously dated this guy? How?

“So you two are like, together now, eh? That’s disgusting. DISGUSTING.” He leaned over me and slurped his champagne, apparently unaware of the irony.

***NOTE: PUNCH. HIM. PUNCH. HIM. –A.M.***

I started walking toward the stairs to find Waverly. He actually had the balls to chase me.

“What, so as soon as we break up, you just swoop in and steal my girl?”

“Okay, lower your voice,” I said, turning toward him. “Waverly doesn’t belong to anyone.” EXCEPT ME, STUPID IDIOT.

He started walking up the stairs mumbling about feminism. Of course, at that exact moment, Waverly showed up.

“Champ! You’re drunk, and apparently a raging homophobe.”

Waverly, you are so hot. Wait, what? Oh.

“Why, just because she’s a girl?” His words were getting more and more slurred. Seriously, could he not even handle a glass of champagne? The guys in my MP unit would have kicked his ass. Actually, no. I was going to kick his ass.

Then Nedley showed up and told Champ to go sober up, and Champ whined that Sheriff was taking my side. Then he babbled on and on about some law enforcement exam he failed repeatedly and then blurted out that Waverly and I are dating.

Shit. The hairless cat was out of the bag.-

***NOTE: Nicole was wilding in this entry. –A.M.***

-My eyes shot to Waverly and then Nedley’s face.

“Well, I guess that would be their own private business. Come on, son. Let’s get you out of here.”

I can’t believe it. Randy Nedley made me swoon.

It’ll seem like I’m making this next part up out of spite, but seriously this happened. Champ yelled “No!” at Sheriff, then broke his champagne glass and puked all over himself. Oh I wish I had it on video. He then made the crucial mistake of charging at Waverly, but Sheriff stepped in front of her. When he recoiled and turned around, I didn’t hesitate and decked him.

***NOTE: YAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSS –A.M.***

Waverly watched as I pulled my cuffs out of my purse and detained him. Our eyes met and a telepathic “I’m going to screw your brains out tonight” conversation passed between the two of us. I wrangled him and brought him downstairs, intending to take him into the station, but some bearded Mohawk man in a fur coat showed up and started explaining a nefarious scheme involving poisoned champagne, an anecdote (antidote? antidote), and capturing Wynonna.

Keep in mind that the whole time he was soliloquizing at us, I was battling with Champ who was still writhing around puking everywhere. I need a vacation so bad.

When he was done, the crowd, who by now were all in the same sorry state as Champ (minus one face punch) were surging toward Wynonna. Myself, Dolls, Henry, and a few of the other deputies formed a defensive perimeter around her. Waverly came over with Willa and told me to come with them. When I hit her with this panty-dropper of a line, “Waves, Champ is right. I’m a cop, I run toward the danger,” she told me I was sexy (or the line was sexy, or something was sexy, whatever) and kissed me in front of everyone.

Barfing boy man=WORTH IT.

Aside from being kissed in public during an all-out-crazy-town crisis, it also gave me a chance to plump up Waverly’s Shield before we got separated. I was loathe to let her go, but Sheriff needed me and she and Willa were going to hide, as far as I knew.

My first step was to dump the drunk chump at the station, then find Wynonna. When I passed the Black Badge office, I saw Henry and Dolls were in there, evidently gearing up but acting pretty blasé about the fact that time was of the essence.

“Hey, have you seen what’s going on out there? The whole town’s gone 5150.”

Suddenly, a Remington Tactical pump action shotgun caught my eye. It was the fourth best thing I’d seen all night (1. Waverly’s naked selfie, 2. Waverly’s other naked selfie, 3. My fist smashing Champ Hardy’s face, 4. Champ Hardy crying in a holding cell, 5. Big black shotgun. Okay, okay. It was the fifth best thing.)

I walked toward it. “Hey…whatever you have planned, I’m game.”

“This is classified,” Dolls Downer told me.

Luckily, gunslinger man stepped up and explained. “Purgatory is overrun by demon revenants- aka Wyatt Earp’s resurrected outlaws. Bobo Del Ray is their leader, I am Doc Holliday, yesss that Doc Holliday, and Dolls here, he is just a dick.”

“Finally!” I yelled. “Thank you!” Validation is THE BEST. “It actually makes perfect sense” Dolls gave me a look. “Well, except for the last part,” I lied. I really wanted that shotgun.

Henry/Doc Holliday tossed it to me and asked if I was still in. I said, “Like Flynn,” and cocked it like a BAMF. (Why oh why oh why couldn’t Waverly have been there to see it?)

I asked Dolls what he needed from me and he told me to find the Earp girls, which is what I had intended on doing anyway.

I slung the shotgun over my back and ran to my locker. I shucked my dress off right in the middle of the station and changed into a spare uniform, remembering at the last minute that my Kevlar was at home. I found someone’s old-fashioned puffy white bullet proof vest and decided to make do. As soon as I was finished I started blowing up Waverly’s phone. She didn’t answer so I headed to the door while I called her again and could hear her ringtone somewhere in the vicinity of the bullpen.

I swung around the corner through the door and skidded to a stop. It was Resting Bitchface Earp with a gun on me.

I put my hands up slowly. My eyes darted to Waverly. She and Wynonna looked much more confused about this turn of events than I felt. Then again, the two of them weren’t accustomed to having complete assholes for family members.

“Give me peacemaker before I pump a bunch of holes in Waverly’s girlfriend.”

Ah, so she was after the magic gun, right. Because of course, why not? Were she and that Bobo weirdo hooking up or something? I wouldn’t doubt it for a second. Demons and evil sisters are so transparent.

“Girlfriend?” The world’s most oblivious brunette asked, then she started looking all around like that was the priority here. Oh, Wynonna.

“Um, kind of…?” Waverly said.

Seriously?! >:-l

“Kind of?!”

Wynonna told Willa she knew she wouldn’t shoot, and Willa responded that she didn’t care about the life of some “ginger butch cop.” (Was she trying to be insulting? Not sure.)

“Wynonna…she’ll do it,” Waverly said.

Willa decided to give them until three to give her peacemaker.

Wynonna told Waverly she couldn’t because the gun was the only thing that would stop Bobo. I appreciated the fact that Wynonna was able to prioritize the mission over her personal feelings, but I really wasn’t keen on dying. If I’m gone, Waverly is vulnerable, and in this town she wouldn’t last long without my protection. I think the attack on the homestead really proves that point.

Willa got to “three,” and in desperation, Waverly turned to Wynonna and whispered, “Please. I love her.”

!!!!!

I don’t think she intended for me to hear her say that.

To my surprise, Wynonna relented and gave Willa the purse with the gun in it.

I have to stop here and point out that Wynonna’s decision was a true testament to how much she loves Waverly and values her happiness above all else. I don’t think there is a price that Wynonna wouldn’t be willing to pay to guarantee the safety and well-being of her little sister. In the moment I couldn’t help but think of Hayley, and curse the fact that I haven’t made more of an effort to show Wynonna that she can trust me.

Willa snatched the gun out of her hand and started to launch into some villainous tirade about being naiive and emotional but Wynonna interrupted her, telling her she was coming for her.

“Then I better slow you down,” Willa said.

And then she shot me. It was more the shock than anything else that knocked me down, the old vest had done its job admirably. Willa fled the scene and Waverly ran over to me, turning me over and crying. In the background, I could hear Wynonna questioning the fact that there was no blood. I think she thought I was a demon, but I get the impression she sort of thinks everyone is a demon.

I tried to tell them it was because I was wearing a bulletproof vest, but Wynonna was already dramatically ripping open my shirt. Okay. I told them it was SOP for when we had a 404 on our hands. Then Wynonna proved to me for the hundredth time how much she loves Waverly by saying, “You finally picked the smart one,” and winked at her. They can be so cute sometimes.

Waverly wanted to take me to the hospital, but I am 100% over that place so I told her I was fine.

“You gotta go find your sister,” I said, looking back and forth between the two of them. “Sorry, but she’s kind of a dickhead.”

“I wish Doc and Dolls were here,” Wynonna said.

“They went to raid Shorty’s. Something about an (anecdote?) antidote.” I told her.

“See? Super smart,” Waverly said. (I’m glad she can’t hear what goes on in my head.)

Watching her cry and fuss over me in that moment made me realize that she is just as terrified of losing me as I am of losing her. Something about our relationship shifted as I laid there on the floor of the bullpen. We haven’t said it directly yet, but we love each other.

I get the distinct impression that this isn’t the first or even the thousandth time that we’ve done this.

She must have been thinking all the same things I was, because she leaned down and kissed me deeply. I grabbed her arm and pulled away to look her in the eyes. A silent “I love you” passed between us, and then something unexpected happened. I could feel my eyes widen slightly because in that moment, I could actually SEE her Shield. It was gold. I’d never seen anything like it before. I could feel the energy from it coming off of her like sparks.

A sense of relief and contentment washed over me. Nothing could hurt her tonight, even if I was physically unable to be with her.
“Time’s up!” Wynonna yelled, throwing Waverly’s coat at her. “Let’s go!”

Because of her Shield (and because I love her) I said, “Go.”

I let her go do something dangerous because it’s what I needed to do as her partner, not as her keeper. Now that I know about the demons and her level of involvement with everything, it’s something I’m probably going to have to get used to doing more often.

And now I can see a second reason why The Firm doesn’t want us developing emotional attachments, although I feel like this one is a little more logical.

Apparently Waverly’s ultra-Shield was only part of the inexplicable phenomena going down that night. As the two of them walked off, I watched something extraordinary happen. Waverly’s shield, which I could still see shimmering around her, seemed to branch off and surrounded Wynonna. The two of them appeared to be connected by a thread, and then the glow disappeared. I felt no change in the integrity of the Shield or my ability to maintain it. It was like it wasn’t me expanding the Shield to Wynonna, it was Waverly.

I hate that I had to send my girls into danger, but I trusted that they would protect one another.

//

After they left, I made a valiant attempt to stand up, but the bruising (which was far more significant than I had let on to Waverly) was making me short of breath and I had hit my head much harder than I thought. Luckily, one of the other deputies found me and took me home.

I took a couple of painkillers and forced myself to remain upright on the couch. I reached for Waverly and found her in some freaky treehouse that is either on Earp property or near it. The on-view wasn’t nearly as crisp as it’s become in the past week, which I blamed on the pain killers. At one point I could have sworn Waverly was talking to Bobo, but again, I think the medication was addling my brains somewhat.

I kept track of her, doing my best not to nod off, until I finally got a text saying that she was fine and back at the homestead with Wynonna and Doc. I had just started to reply to her when the exhaustion and sedatives overcame me and I succumbed to sleep.

//

I woke up the next morning around 8:00 am. Everything in my body was sore.

I remembered a nightmare I had.

I had been standing at some kind of archway, watching Waverly, Wynonna, and Doc. They were talking but I couldn’t hear anything they were saying. It was a lot like an on-view, but that’s not supposed to happen while I’m asleep.

Wynonna and Doc stopped to discuss something, and Waverly wandered away from them. I watched her lean down to examine what looked like a puddle on the ground, and then everything went black for a couple of seconds.

Waverly’s face reappeared and the last thing I saw before the dream ended was Waverly standing up with her eyes closed. When she opened them, they were all black.

My heart started to pound with anxiety. What if the dream had been real? Like a premonition, or something? I instantly reached for her.

Nothing.

I tried again.

Nothing.

It wasn’t just that I couldn’t on-view her. I couldn’t find her at all.

I did the best I could to clamp down on my panic. I thought of the dream again. Was it possible that I had on-viewed something that had actually happened in my sleep? And even if I had, what the hell did it mean? Why were her eyes all black?

I had to go over and see her in person, but in order to do that I had to calm down and act like nothing was wrong (aside from her sister shooting me and the poisoning of the town and the demons, etc. etc.) I decided to call Jav on the drive to the homestead. I popped another pain killer, took a quick shower to wash off the anxiety sweat, and hopped in my truck, yelling, “Call Jav,” at my hands free.

He answered on the first ring. He has a sixth sense for when I need him. “Hey girl, what’s going on?”

I started just straight up babbling. So much for calming down. “I lost her. I mean, I can’t see her. I mean, I reached for her and I don’t know where she is and I had this dream that something happened to her and then I woke up and she was gone.”

“………………..Are you on something?”

“Yes,” I replied, “but that is beside the point. Javion, listen to me, I can’t find Waverly. I can’t even feel her Shield. I know it’s not me because I was able to put one around my cat before I left.”

“You Shielded your cat?” He sounded amused.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Aw, Kitty Shield.”

“JAV.”

“Okay, sorry,” he said, “so what you’re saying is your Abilities have gone offline.”

“Sure, that’s what I’m saying. Is it possible to on-view someone while you’re asleep?”

“It’s not likely but it’s not impossible.”

Then maybe I really HAD seen something happen to her. There’s no way that I coincidentally had that dream and woke up unable to Locate her. I don’t believe in coincidence.

“Shit, okay. Can you tranquilize me over the phone? I’m freaking out.”

He just laughed. “No, babe. I’m sorry. Nicole, listen. Sometimes this happens. Abilities can go offline temporarily. That implant-

***NOTE: Implant? Like what I have? NO WAY. Here I thought this thing was just for Instagram and streaming movies. –A.M.***

-in your head, it’s the most cutting edge technology known to mankind, but it’s still fallible. Did you hit your head recently or anything?”

“Yeah, actually. Last night.”

“Okay, so the most likely explanation here is the shearing force from your head injury damaged the interface between the implant and your axons and there hasn’t been enough time for the neuronal plasticity to adapt.”

“Let’s try that again, but in the Queen’s English.”

“Head go boom, implant damaged, Abilities affected temporarily.”

“You don’t think this had anything to do with that dream I had?” I was still hung up on that despite his sound and logical explanation. He’s used to this.

“More likely that the dream you had was a result of the implant being damaged from your head trauma. Which, girl? By the way? Maybe be a little more careful? You can’t afford to lose any more brain cells.”

I was too busy thinking about everything he was saying to snark back at him. Jav is very rarely wrong about stuff like this, but I had a bad feeling about the whole thing.

“At what point should I start worrying that it’s not temporary?”

“It’s hard to tell without having an MRI to see the extent of the damage. A few weeks, maybe? Couple of months?”

MONTHS?!?!

“No way. No way can I protect her in this hellhole for months without my Abilities.”

Jav sighed. “Nicole, you don’t have a choice. This is why we spend half our training learning to be glorified body guards. Can’t always rely 100% on your Abilities.”

I’d have felt better if I truly thought that this was happening because I hit my head.

But for some reason, I just really, really don’t.

//

When I pulled up to the house it was so quiet I was afraid that no one was home, but then I remembered the hour and how late everyone must have been up last night. There was no way I was risking Wynonna’s wrath by knocking on the front door so early, so I went around the side of the house and climbed the tree to Waverly’s bedroom window. She must have had a feeling I would do this, because it was open. I slid my long frame through it, hissing through my teeth at the pain that lanced across my chest and abdomen.

It was still early and fairly overcast outside, so the room was almost completely dark. I looked toward the bed, trying to figure out if what I was seeing was Waverly’s body or just a bunch of pillows when I realized she was right beside me.

“Hey, baby, I didn’t-”

I was cut off abruptly and the rest of my words (“see you there”) were muffled because I whispered them into her open mouth. She was all over me and she was wearing nothing but a tank top and a pair of black cheerleading spanks. Her thick hair was wavy and loose.

It took me exactly 0.1 seconds to completely forget everything that I had been flipping out about on the drive over.

***NOTE: Deuces. –A.M.***

She pushed me backward with her body a step until I could feel my shoulder blades hit the wall behind me. She reached up and pulled the hair tie that was holding my hair in a messy bun out and then dug her fingers into my hair and scratched at my scalp. Every time we had kissed prior to this, there had been an air of hesitancy on her part and a whole lot of restraint on mine. There was none of that. She was acting as aggressively passionate as I usually am. It was incredible.

When she pulled away from me I could hear her ragged breathing as she used the hair she had bunched up in her fist to turn my head. She ran her tongue from the top of my scar to soft skin just behind my ear, and then she bit me. Hard.

I had not anticipated spending my morning finding out that my sweet, gentle, docile Waverly was going to prove to be a challenge for me sexually.

Nothing about this girl is ever what I expect, and I love it.

I growled as the pain from the bite lanced through me. I reached around and grabbed her by the hair at the nape of her neck. I can play that game, too. She gasped as I pulled her head back and looked up at me with the dark, unpredictable eyes of a caged tiger. I took advantage of our six inch height difference to tower over her for a moment before I leaned down, caught her lower lip in my teeth, and backed her all the way up to the other side of the room, where she had a desk. When I felt her ass hit the edge, I leaned down and lifted her onto it easily.

I pushed her knees apart and stepped into the space between them, pushing the front of my thigh into the crotch of those skin tight shorts. I laced all ten of my fingers into her hair and pulled as I brought our open mouths together. I kissed her fervently until her breaths were coming out in clipped gasps before I squeezed one hand down between her and my thigh. I pushed against the front of the fabric with the pads of my fingers and broke our kiss to groan when I could feel the cloth was damp. She hissed through her teeth and moaned my name.

Despite the fact that we were both well past the point of no return, when we heard the front door slam so hard that a few picture frames fell off the wall, we stopped and stared at each other. The air between us was electric and I was so turned on it was actually physically painful. I could see that she felt the same way.

“Fuck,” she huffed. It was the first time I had ever heard her use that word.

I loved it.

“What was that?” I managed to ask.

She reached out, her jaw slack and her eyes half closed, to run her fingers over my lips. I couldn’t help it. I can’t be held accountable. I licked them.

She threw her head back and repeated the aforementioned expletive but louder. Her long hair brushed the top of the desk behind her.

“Wynonna. She must be awake.”

“Does she always storm out of the house like that or is there something going on that I don’t know about?”

The look on her face made it obvious that her love for her sister and her lust for me were fighting each other tooth and nail. Finally, she grabbed my hips with her hands and pushed me gently but firmly backward and slipped off the desk, plucking at the crotch of her panties and cringing. I’d have felt bad for her if I wasn’t feeling the same way.

She walked over to the bed and sat down. She pointed at me, and then at her desk chair. “You sit there.”

I smiled. “Okay,” I said, sitting. “Tell me what’s going on.”

Waverly stared down at her hands and took a deep breath. “Wynonna, Doc, and Dolls ended up confronting Willa and Bobo” (I KNEW IT) “at the archway at the boundary of the Ghost River Triangle. There was a fight, and…when it came down to it, Wynonna had to shoot Willa.” Waverly’s lower lip quivered but I could see her clamp down hard on her emotions. This is what she had been trying to distract herself from with me.

Wynonna was forced to kill her own sister.

All of the sudden, I felt very lightheaded and I was glad I was sitting down. I think it must have been the fastest I’ve ever transitioned from arousal to gut-wrenching sadness.

Waverly was picking at her duvet cover absently. “I need to go down and make sure she’s okay,” she said in a tone that suggested that she had no desire to do any such thing, but was obligated to.

I stood up. “No,” I told her. “You stay here. I’ll go talk to her.”

“What? No, Nicole…”

“Waverly, please. I got it.” I walked over to her and picked up her hands. I kissed the palm of each one and then her forehead. “Just take it easy for a little while, okay?”

She gave me that slow, shy smile that says, “I can’t believe you’re being so nice to me.” I kissed her again and walked out of the room before my resolve weakened.

//

I found Wynonna on the front porch sitting on the steps. It was 9:00 in the morning and she already had a half empty bottle of Wild Turkey between her knees. She had a look on her face that we called the “thousand yard stare” in the military. It’s the blank look people get when they’ve seen and done too much awful shit to process on a normal human level.

I sat down beside her without saying anything and glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. Wynonna is an enigma, because despite the fact that she is undeniably gorgeous, she’s usually too closed off and dark to be anywhere near approachable. She’s like one of those midnight black timber wolves that live in the mountains, heartbreakingly beautiful, but only to be observed from a distance.

Or, another way of saying it: Get too close and she’s liable to bite your hand off.

“Mind if I sit?” I asked, after I had already had.

She took a swig out of her bottle. “I’m not the boss of you.” Thick brunette hair swept across her face, obscuring her expression.

“No, but this is your porch.”

She slammed the bottle down a little too hard and turned to square up to me. “True. And that girl you were just upstairs with is my sister. Let me tell you something, Haught. If you do anything to hurt her, I’ll throw you out of the second story window that you came in through.”

I put my hands up to show I wasn’t interested in an argument. “Fair enough.”

She turned away from me again.

“You and I both know that I would never do anything to hurt Waverly, Wynonna. I…I care about her. A lot.”

She huffed.

“I just don’t want you to view me like I’m your arch nemesis or something.”

“As long as you’re weaseling your way into my sister’s pants and her heart, I’ll view you however I want to.”

Weaseling. I had interrupted what I was doing with Waverly to go out there and offer moral support, and she was implying I was using her sister to get laid. I can put up with a lot, but I was at my limit. I had just started to stand up when she grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me back down.

“Shit. I’m sorry, Nicole. It…it was a rough night.” I could see the tears in her eyes, threatening to spill over. She had her grief in an iron grip and if she let go even a little bit, she would go spiraling off the edge that she was teetering on into an abyss so black that not even light can get out.

I know. I’ve been there.

I reached over and plucked the bottle from between her legs. I held it for a second and collected my thoughts as I stared off at the horizon. Then I took a long pull and set it back down.

“Has Waverly told you that I was in the Army?” I asked.

Her eyebrows went up slightly and a look of understanding crossed her features. “No, but it would explain why she's suddenly wearing a US Army T-shirt around the house 24/7.”

Warmth that wasn’t from the alcohol exploded in my belly. I couldn’t help but smile. I gathered my thoughts and continued.

“I was in the Army for four and half years. I went on my first deployment to Iraq seven months after I graduated from high school. I turned 19 over there.”

She was staring at me. I bowed my head and took a deep breath. This was the right thing to do.

“That was the same year my best friend, the girl who was born a month before me, who I spent my entire childhood with, who enlisted in the Army because of me, died in an IED explosion.”

Wynonna looked away and blew a stream of air out from between her pursed lips.

“We had only been in the country for a couple of months,” I continued. “We were on a routine patrol through the city: me, our squad leader, an officer, and Katie, my best friend. We rolled over the trip wire to an IED and the floor of the Humvee got blown out. I was the gunner, so I only got thrown, but my sergeant and the officer died on impact and Katie suffered severe spinal cord damage. By the time I was able to crawl to her she was paralyzed from the neck down.”

I could feel I was starting to get out of breath. I clutched the edges of the stairs and attempted to steady myself. I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind, when a warm hand wrapped around my white-knuckled one and loosened my grip. I opened my eyes and looked down. Wynonna was holding one of my hands. I turned it over and laced our fingers together. I squeezed it and thanked her mentally.

“I told her to hang on. I told her rescue was coming, and I just needed her to hang on. I was bleeding a lot, kind of all over us, because I had a big chunk of metal stuck in my side. I remember her eyes looked so scared until she saw me, and then she tried to smile.”

I stifled a sob. Thought about Wynonna.

“She just kept saying, ‘Nicole, please don’t let them keep me on life support. Please don’t let Mama make the decision.’ I kept trying to tell her that none of that was going to happen but she just kept asking so I told her ‘okay.’”

I was clutching Wynonna’s hand like my life depended on it.

“Those were the last words she spoke to me. She slipped into a coma that she never came out of. We both got airlifted to the same hospital. I remember being so grateful for that. Everything for the next few days was just a blur. I was heavily medicated and the hospital was just in a state of constant chaos. Finally one day I was able to stay awake for a couple hours. I asked this one Air Force doctor who was always checking on me if a soldier named PVT Epperson was there. She went and found out for me and came back and told me there was.”

I held Wyonna’s gaze fiercely, borrowing some of her steely eyed courage.

“She said that she was in bad shape. Really bad shape. Basically the machines were keeping her alive. That night I got up out of my bed, walked to Katie’s room, kissed her and told her that I loved her, and disconnected her life support.”

I dropped Wynonna’s hand to bury my face in both of mine.

True, heart-rending sorrow is dry and silent. The grief robs you from the ability even to cry.

My body was locked up, rigid, when Wynonna put her arms around me and hugged me, hard. I felt her put her cheek on my shoulder, and then the dam broke and both of us were crying. We sat like that for a long time.

Finally, Wynonna spoke. “Nicole,” she said brokenly. “How do you deal with it? It’s tearing me apart. How do you fix it? You know, besides…” she gestured vaguely at the whiskey bottle.

I used the palm of my hand to wipe my cheeks. “You don’t.” I said simply. It’s true. “You let the time pass and you learn how to live with it. Like learning how to live with an eagle pecking out your insides. And you distract yourself.”

“Distract yourself?” she asked. “How?”

“Well, for me, it was sex and shooting shit.”

Wynonna’s face froze and then cracked into a smile. “Holy SHIT straight lace, you’ve been holding out on me!”

I rolled my eyes. “Contrary to your beliefs Wynonna, other people aren’t actually the one dimensional caricatures you tell yourself they are.”

She frowned and nodded. “Okay, I’ll own that.”

We regarded each other for a moment. Two sides of the same coin, two people with the same ends, but different means. Two people whose lives revolved around exactly the same thing.

She turned her shoulders back to me and reached down for my hand again. She squeezed it briefly and said, “Thank you, Nicole. No one else understands. Thank you.”

I nodded my head.

“And Nicole? You…you did the right thing. The hard thing, but the right thing. Nothing else matters.”

I squeezed her hand and leaned all the way forward, into her personal space. “You did too, Wynonna. You did too.”

***NOTE: Mama. Nicole. Aunt Waverly. The world didn’t deserve you, but you deserved each other. –A.M.***

//

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #10
Late September 2016

***NOTE: Whoa, whoa, whoa. What just happened? I had to flip back through a whole bunch of pages to check the date on the last entry. It says, “Journal Entry #9 Early April 2016.” At first I thought maybe some pages had gotten lost, but nothing looks ripped out or out of place.

The next entry picks up right after the last one ended: “After our bonding moment, Wynonna filled me in…” so I know this has to be the next one. Problem is, we just skipped forward 6 months without an explanation.

I’m going to see Javion.

//

I marched straight down the street to his house. He must have one of those Locate things on me because I wasn’t even through the front gate when he was opening the door and calling out, “Well hey there Little Alice, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

I stormed past him into his house. He looked bewildered but amused. Here’s how our conversation went down:

ME: "I have some questions I need answered."
BIG J: "Honey, we’ve been through this…"
ME: "I don’t frikin’ think so, mister. Would you care to explain to me why you wiped my Aunt Waverly’s memory? I know it was you. Also, why is there an unexplained time warp in Nicole’s journal?"
BIG J: (Rubbing the bridge of his nose) "Alice…"
ME: (Sitting on the couch, getting comfortable) "Big J…"
BIG J: "Alright. I can answer your second question, but I’m going to have to abstain from the one about Waverly’s memory for now."
ME: "For now?"
BIG J: "Until you’re done reading. We’ve been through this. Alice, please, do you trust me? Your Aunt Nicole did. I told you that when you’re done I’ll explain everything. Do you believe that?"
ME: (Begrudgingly) "Yes."
BIG J: "Thank you. Now, by ‘time warp’ I’m assuming you’re referring to the jump from April 2016 to September of that same year. What would you say is bothering you the most about that?"
ME: "That Nicole seems unaware of it. She doesn’t even mention it, just continues on from the last entry."
BIG J: "Correct. Nicole was unaware of it, just like the rest of the town of Purgatory was unaware of it. Alice, I’m assuming that by now, given everything you’ve read, that you’re fairly willing to suspend your disbelief on most subjects."
ME: "You could say that, yes."
BIG J: "Good. Because you’ll need to right now. Are you aware of the term ‘prime mover?’"
ME: "Negative."
BIG J: "Okay. Well, a prime mover is a being or entity that lives in a plane that exists above the one we are in. Ancient civilizations thought they were gods. They occupy a different dimension that plays by its own set of rules, but affects us in a tangential sense. Following so far?"
ME: "I mean, I wish I had a joint, but yes, I follow."
BIG J: (Raised eyebrow) "Good, so it probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you to imagine that there were forces at play in Purgatory far beyond our level of comprehension. Specifically, two forces, and for the sake of simplicity we’ll call one Good and the other one Evil. The Good had motives that lined up with Waverly’s and Nicole’s and your mother’s. It was interested in ending the curse. The Evil was what was driving the curse and the revenants."
ME: "This is intense."
BIG J: "Indeed. Now, the point to all this explanation is this. Typically, these forces are only allowed to act on our dimension through players, such as your mother and Bobo. Very occasionally, they are able to find a loophole or take advantage of the rules that they play by and intervene in more significant ways."
ME: (Cartoon lightbulb above my head) "The Evil force accelerated time. Holy shit."
BIG J: "Holy shit is correct."
ME: "But why?"
BIG J: "We’ll never know exactly why, but I have theories, chief of which is that something was bound to happen that winter, and the Evil force wanted it to happen sooner rather than later."
ME: "What was going to happen? Do you know?"
BIG J: "A great deal of interesting stuff that you’ll eventually read about. I do have one thing to add, though. By accelerating time, the Evil force inadvertently sped up the unraveling of all its plans due to the arrival of something very important."
ME: "Really? What?"
BIG J: "You."

Anyway, so what a freaky conversation that was. I’m starting to really sympathize every time Nicole questions her sanity.

-A.M.***

 

//

After our bonding moment, Wynonna filled me in on everything that had happened the night before. To make a very long story short, Willa and Bobo tried to leave the Ghost River Triangle with peacemaker. Wynonna, Doc, and Dolls tried to stop them, a scuffle ensued, a giant tentacle monster grabbed Willa, forcing Wynonna to mercy shoot her, and ultimately some Black Badge agents showed up and took Dolls.

When she was done explaining, she handed me the rest of her whiskey bottle and said to tell Waverly she was going to the station and then to search a hotel where she knew Dolls had been staying for clues. I watched her walk off, absolutely in awe of her courage and resiliency. Wynonna Earp doesn’t dwell, she moves forward. As Daenerys Targaryen says, if she looks back, she’s lost.

After she left, I sat alone on the porch for a little while, thinking about the people in my life that I’ve lost. Letting the flood gates open with Wynonna had left me feeling hollow, empty. Numb. It’s a coping strategy I’ve taught myself over the years. Living my life on mindless autopilot, not thinking about or feeling anything, is a lot easier than crying constantly, or worse, letting the anger consume me.

I did that once. It lasted a long time and I left a trail of destruction in my wake, with my marriage being the most significant casualty. Guilt and loss of control are two things that I do not cope well with, and Katie’s death featured both of them as the leading role. Wynonna had been amused when I told her that I distracted myself from what had happened with sex and combat, but it really wasn’t funny. It was tragic.

I sat on the steps and I did drink a little despite the hour and I watched the limbs of the trees ripple in the distance. I have to say, fall in Purgatory is shaping up to be cold, but beautiful in an eerie way.

***NOTE: She really has no awareness that they just skipped forward 6 months -A.M.***

This town is overrun by demons who regularly attack my girlfriend and her sister. I’m apparently now part of yet another governmental agency that I know nothing about, I’m injured, I just spilled my guts to a woman who I’m not sure even likes me, and now the powers that I rely on to keep Waverly safe have apparently failed catastrophically.

That thought is ultimately what made me get to my feet and go back inside. I climbed the stairs to Waverly’s room and found her asleep. I knelt down at the side of the bed by her face, reached over, and ran my hand over her neck and shoulder, closing my eyes.

Her Shield was gone.

I sat back on my heels and just stared at her, at a loss as to what to do. She stirred a little and I saw her eyes moving beneath her eyelids. She would wake up soon. Before she did I reached forward again, laid my hand on her side, and closed my eyes, casting the Shield at her with my mind. I could feel it working!

Oh thank you, Great Goddess, thank…

Wait a second. I opened my eyes, and much like last night, I could see her Shield again, but this time, it wasn’t gold. It was silver, almost like smoke, and nowhere near as solid and vibrant as it had been. It was moving, shifting around her. I’d never seen anything like it before. I leaned forward, squinting, trying to figure out what I was seeing. It seemed to be rising, concentrating around her face.

She was absorbing it. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was like watching the reverse of someone smoking a cigarette blow smoke out of their nose and mouth.

I sat there and literally just watched in dumbstruck silence as the entire Shield I had just cast got sucked into her body. It happened so fast the entire thing was gone in seconds. This is not good, right? This could not possibly be good. We weren’t taught anything like this in training. All I could do was hope that Jav knew something about it, but he had thought that this whole thing was a result of my head injury. There was no way a head injury could cause what I had just witnessed. I thought of my dream, Waverly’s black eyes. Something happened. Something is going on with her.

I couldn’t deal with any of it right then. Casting that Shield had sucked the remaining life force out of me. I got up, staggered to the bed, climbed over Waverly, and settled in behind her, pulling her butt and back against me and pressing my face against her back. I immediately felt better and more grounded. I let my eyes slide closed and drifted off to sleep.

//

When I woke up, I was on my back with Waverly in the crook of my arm. She must have been awake for a little while, because as soon as my eyes were open, she sat up and leaned across my chest to kiss me.

I yelped.

“Oh! Oh gosh, baby I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” She threw the covers off and climbed out of bed. “Meet me downstairs in the kitchen, okay? I’m going to put some of that ointment on your wounds.”

She left. Unlike Wynonna, who deals with heartache by looking for things to destroy, Waverly deals with it by fixing the stuff she can fix, rather than focusing on everything that she can’t. I followed her downstairs and leaned on the kitchen table while she pulled up my sweater and dabbed ointment on my chest and belly.

“My poor, brave baby,” she muttered, her eyes flashing from my chest to my eyes and then down to my lips. I could see what she was thinking, it was all over her face. She had gone from “interested with reservations” to insatiable seemingly overnight.

Not that I’m complaining, I am so NOT complaining, but why?

“We sure do a lot of patching each other up these days,” I said, smiling at her flirtaciously.

“Yeah, when there are so many other things we could be doing,” she said, her expression shifting.

I went from having her eyes on my lips to her mouth on my lips in seconds. Her hands came up and grasped at my face and neck and hair as we kissed. The ache we had created earlier came surging back with a vengeance. God I wanted her. Better yet, she clearly felt the same way.

And then I noticed something…off. She tasted different. It was subtle, but there. It was almost…smoky. It wasn’t bad, it was just present.

Maybe I really did hit my head too hard and now I’m having a stroke. Maybe I should make a doctor’s appointment.

Her hand went up my shirt and I jumped out of my skin for the second time that day. I needed to grab some more of that medication from my house, I was in more pain than I had anticipated.

“Ah, sorry, still tender.”

She looked surprised and apologetic, backing off. Suddenly I got the notion that maybe there was an explanation for the taste that I just wasn’t aware of. Not everything has to have some insidious hidden meaning, right?

Right???

“Hey Waves? You taste um…different,” I said, hoping against hope that she would say something like, “Ah yes, must be the pork tenderloin I was smoking this morning.” I even would have accepted, “Sorry, all the stress made me take up smoking.”

I would have been down for anything but the look of surprised insecurity she gave me. I was about to explain myself to her when Doc came strolling into the kitchen. (People just walk in and out of this house as they please. I would know, I’m one of them.) He talked at us loudly so we knew he was there, which was maybe a 20% improvement from what Wynonna does. The number of times we’re interrupted in a day is approaching sitcom level comical, except I’m not laughing.

I took it as my cue to get up. I planned on going into work for a few hours and then Wynonna had asked me to come back over for a little powwow to discuss Dolls’ rescue. As I walked out the door I paused and overheard this conversation:

Doc: “She is a lovely girl.”

Waverly: “Which makes me the luckiest!”

I put one hand on the door frame and the other over my heart. SWOON.

When I got to my truck, I reached for her on a whim. There was no reason I couldn’t find her, she was literally 50 feet away. Nothing.

Swoon over.

//

A few hours later I was on my way back to the homestead, in uniform. I still don’t know exactly what being deputized as a BBD agent means, but all I ultimately care about is being closer to Waverly (for a variety of reasons) and working with BBD allows me to do just that. It’s good for me to have an excuse to be closer to her now that I can’t Locate or Shield her properly. I still have no idea what happened when I tried to Shield her in her room, and most unfortunately, neither does Jav. He had never heard of such a thing. I think he’s also starting to worry that I’m losing my marbles. He was hitting me with a lot of long, drawn-out “oooooooookay’s”

Also, if I’m just going to be honest, I’m kind of excited at the prospect of demon-hunting in an official capacity. Aiding the descendent of Wyatt Earp to put down all manner of dangerous and evil beings to break a centuries-long curse? It’s everything I never knew I wanted.

Everyone was seated around the kitchen table when I got in. Here’s the cliff notes version of what happened:

1. Waverly officially told everyone that we’re together (!!!!!)
2. Wynonna found Dolls’ partner, Eliza. (Who he’d apparently been working with the whole time without mentioning. Seems unlikely but okay.) She said Dolls is being held at a secure site but she knows how to spring him.
3. 62 revenants are left at this point. Which, wow. That is a lot of evil demons still at large.
4. I told everyone that Dolls deputized me before he disappeared. Everyone looked skeptical. I was very annoyed.
5. Wynonna tasked Waverly and I with demon reconnaissance.

After the palaver, Waverly pulled her sister into another room to check on her mental health status, which was plainly wearing a little thin. I thought of our conversation this morning and felt bad. I understand what she’s going through. She doesn’t have time to sort through her emotions or do any type of self-care, she’s too busy constantly chopping off the ever-regenerating heads of the hydra that is her life.

I went back to the station for a little while and then met Waverly back the homestead later that evening. We were sorting through some of the weapons Dolls had left behind. Those weapons…

Not even the blackest of black ops has weapons like those. I’m at a point in all this where I really wish I could reach out to The Firm for a background check on BBD, but I don’t dare draw attention to myself. As always, I’m on my own. The only thing I can do is play along with this, help rescue Dolls, and see if I can get the information I want directly from him. BBD and this curse are the root of what I was contracted to protect Waverly from, and it’s my duty to know everything there is to know about both of them.

Aside from the weird, foreign weapons, I was also bothered because Waverly was acting strangely. Her comments were a little off-color, her mannerisms were out of character, and she chopped off the head of some demonic tooth monster right next to me with no warning. Ever since I had that dream about her at the archway, she’s been a little…well, dark. It’s like all the previously smooth corners of her personality now have an edge to them.

***NOTE: The suspense about Aunt Waverly is killing me. I know everything worked out in the end because I can hear her downstairs singing adorably while she does dishes, but I still hate this. –A.M.***

I don’t mind the edge, Goddess knows I’m pretty pointy myself, it’s just the sudden transition that worries me. She had me so discombobulated that at one point I told her I was thinking of cutting my hair. Now that I think about it, I actually do kind of want to cut my hair.

“I don’t know what we’re gonna find at that trailer park now that Bobo is gone. The demons are going to be desperate,” she remarked in that strange tone she was affecting.

I again thought of the conversation I had earlier with Wynonna. “Desperate things make desperate decisions,” I responded. As soon as it was out, I got the chills. Not from the cold, but like a goose had walked over my grave. Why do I keep getting the most intense sense of premonition?

As it turned out, Waverly had no intention of going to aforementioned trailer park in the first place. There was another, completely unrelated plan that no one had bothered to brief me on. When I asked Waverly for clarification (after she chopped that demon head) she told me that Wynonna had sworn her to secrecy. What is this? Am I part of this team or not?

She made a comment about needing to protect her sister, now more than ever. (As if Wynonna the Wolf needs protection.)

“Just like I need to protect you,” she said.

Uh, what? No baby, I think you have that backwards. Does she really think I need her protection?

I didn’t say any of that. Instead I said, “Yeah, okay. I just want to make sure that deep down, you’re still my Waverly.” I watched her face carefully. I needed to know if she was aware that something weird was going on with her. Her face indicated that she did not.

“Yeah, but first, will you help me be someone else?” She slid a pair of gaudy red glasses onto her face.

(Where on Earth did she get those? Even Macklemore would be impressed with this girl’s ability to pop tags.)

//

As it turned out, I had no tangible part to play in the Grand Theft Dolls plan. I was responsible for driving Waverly to the “black site” (what’s with this constant movie terminology?), waiting, and then driving everyone home.

The chauffeur. I was the chauffeur.

I was expected to send Waverly into that building ALONE with Britney knows who or what inside, Shieldless, weaponless, to enact a plan that is precarious at best and downright suicidal at worst.

I was irritated. No, that’s not true, that’s an understatement. I had steam literally billowing out of my ears. Not even listening to Waverly’s cute but abysmal attempt at a British accent could cool me down. I begged her to stay safe, and she told me to keep the getaway car running. Not only was this plan a dangerous debacle, my own girlfriend was condescending to me.

The worst part of the entire thing was the fact that I could hear a lot of what was happening over the radio, and I couldn’t do anything about it. The place was completely locked down and I was trapped on the outside, which ironically is also where I stand when it comes to the Earp sisters’ relationship.

I feel pretty ashamed of this entire next part, but the point of this journal is to write about stuff that I feel strongly about, good or bad.

The Scooby gang (what else are they, really?) must have moved to a part of the building with better signal, because the radio started picking up what they were saying loud and clear. What it all boiled down to was the BBD boss guy told them that they would start doing all their demon hunting on behalf of Black Badge, which I didn’t understand at all because I was under the impression that was already happening? Anyway, the guy killed Eliza (our recently acquired ally) for being traitorous, and then they were forced to take some sort of blood oath. When asked if anyone else knew what’s been going on, Waverly interjected with a firm denial and effectively booted me out of Black Badge.

It was the last straw. The feeling of being betrayed by someone you trust is one of the worst feelings in existence. My face must have looked like William Wallace’s did on Braveheart when his friend Robert the Bruce double-crossed him.

***NOTE: She makes the most obscure, yet strangely accurate movie references. –A.M.***

I was seeing red and shaking like I had just downed a pot of coffee. I threw my cruiser in drive and left. (As I said, sometimes my temper causes me to make rash, irresponsible decisions.)

If Black Badge was enlisting them for help like this, they weren’t in any danger anymore. They could walk or call an Uber for all I cared.

I started driving home, but realized that the bar was on my way and decided I wasn’t done making out-of-character, questionable decisions for the night. I pulled into the parking lot of Rebar, thankful that it was fairly empty. I turned my ringtone all the way up, figuring that if they suddenly decided they needed me, they’d call. I hadn’t gone far. I had a feeling that once Waverly saw my car was missing, she’d put two and two together that I’d overheard.

I grabbed a seat at the bar and was happy to see Bonnie was working again. She sidled over to me, smiling at my uniform. At least as it applied to my head space, this was the right decision. Nothing cheers me up more than pretty girls smiling at me.

“Hey, officer. Long time no see,” she said. She was already grabbing a beer glass from under the bar.

“Hi, B. Can I get the usual?”

She paused. “The usual-usual or the usual like you mean it?”

Good question. “Like I mean it.”

She winked at me and poured a shot of Jim Beam and a glass of Sam Adams from the tap. She slid them both across to me and then walked off to serve some other patrons. I downed the shot and chased it with a sip of beer, and then settled in to stew in silence.

Not five minutes later, someone leaned on the bar right beside me.

“Next round is on me,” the someone said in husky voice.

I stared into my beer and replied in an undertone, “Not unless your name is Waverly Earp, it’s not.”

“No, my name is Alex. Remember?”

Oh my God. I snapped myself out of my petulant brood-fest and turned toward her. Her manner and tone were a 180 degree turn around from the last time we had spoken. I guess I had impressed her with my singing and grand gesture to Waves, because I was interpreting the look on her face as maybe not seductive, but at least very interested.

“Shit, I’m sorry Alex, I’m a little on edge.” I stuck my hand out. She shook it, looking nonplussed. “Please sit.”

She did so and called B over, asking for another round. I decided to roll with it and cut myself off right after.

We tapped our shot glasses together and downed them.

“Are you guys playing tonight?” I asked her. She was dressed more casually than the last time I had seen her. Jeans, a button-up with rolled sleeves, and a red bandana tied in her black hair. Not really my type, but still pretty hot.

“Nah, we have the night off,” she replied. She was playing with a lighter, flicking it on and off. Why does everything in my life have to be so obviously metaphorical?

“And yet, you’re still here.”

She set the lighter down and waved her hand around at the room and then looked at me very pointedly from over the top of those thick black glasses of hers. “This place is full of beautiful women whether I’m working or not.”

I laughed and tilted my beer glass toward her. She mimicked me. Clink.

“So, where’s your girl? Waverly?”

I downed the rest of my first beer in three long gulps. Might as well be honest. “No idea,” I told her.

They would think to get an Uber, right? They wouldn’t actually walk home, would they? Waverly was wearing those heels and it was really cold outside and…

Her eyes flashed with interest. “Trouble in paradise?”

Paradise. LOL

“Something like that.”

She was running the tip of her index finger around and around the mouth of her beer glass. She was giving me a look that was making me feel a little overheated in my very restrictive uniform shirt.

“Want to take your mind off of it? I don’t live far.”

Wowzers, this girl was direct. It made me a little nostalgic for the Nicole I had been before the Waverly update.

I sighed. “I’m flattered, and I’m not going to pretend for a second like that that’s not tempting,” (Single Nicole would have been dragging her out of this bar by her belt buckle by now.) “But…”

“You’re in love.”

“Yeah. I am.”

“Ew.” She wrinkled her nose. “What a waste.” Yeah, yeah.

Thankfully, she decided to change the subject. “You know, you really were good that night.” She gestured at the stage. “I was impressed. I didn’t think you’d be able to hit all those low notes but you nailed them like a champ.” (Yuck, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take that word as a compliment again.)

“You seemed pretty skeptical at first,” I said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah well, this world is full of morons. I only let you do it because I thought you were cute.”

“Oh, did you mean you thought two hundred dollars in cash was cute?”

She grinned mischievously. “How about I keep buying your drinks and we call it even?”

“If you buy me two hundred dollars-worth of drinks tonight you might as well call the coroner now.”

God, I could barely even hold a conversation with a hot, intelligent girl. It’s like my flirt switch was broken. She still laughed though, so that’s good.

For a few minutes we just sat in silence, sipping our respective beverages. “Fine,” she said finally, setting her glass down and turning to me. “I’m such a sucker for angst. Want to tell me what’s going on?”

I had to laugh. How could I possibly explain what was wrong and make it sound like I’m anything less than completely certifiable?

“It’s kind of a long story.” It’s super long and totally insane.

“Time is what I have tonight. Well, time and a keen interest in chatting up pretty red-heads.”

“Even if they aren’t single?”

“Especially if they aren’t single.” She waggled her eyebrows, grinning. I gave her a look. “Kidding, kidding.”

“Okay, you asked for it,” I said. I took a deep breath. She wouldn’t believe anything I said anyway. “I moved to Purgatory to serve in a bodyguard capacity to my now girlfriend who is in danger of being killed on a daily basis by all manner of demons and monsters that run roughshod over the town. I just came from a covert mission where she effectively kicked me out of the organization that’s directly responsible for hunting said demons to ‘keep me safe.’ By doing so she made my job much more difficult and sort of betrayed my trust. She’s also been acting really weird and different and I’m really worried that I’m in way over my head and ultimately I’ll lose her.”

I talked as fast as I could without pausing so I wouldn’t lose my nerve. By the time I was done I felt a little dizzy. I drank more beer and tried to ignore the wide eyed stare I could feel drilling into the side of my face.

I glanced at her. She was squinting at me. “…Is this some kind of like, dungeons and dragons roleplaying shit?” She asked. Valid question.

“No, this is my life.”

“It’s…an analogy for your life?” She wanted to keep talking to me, but first she had to ascertain whether or not I was crazy.

“Let’s go with that, yes,” I told her.

“Wow. Right. Okay. Do you want advice?”

I didn’t expect that. “I would love advice.”

“Okay, well, I can’t speak to the demon-hunting side of that monologue, but I do have a good understanding of relationships. Good in the sense that I’ve been in a lot of them and I know all the various ways to fuck them up.”

Oh, sister. You are preaching to the choir. I could apologize to Shae every day for the rest of my life and still not deserve her forgiveness.

“Given the limited information I have, the way I see it is the two of you are playing exactly the same game and you’re both failing miserably at it.” She took a sip of her beer.

What game? Dungeons and dragons?

“What do you mean?”

“Partnerships are called partnerships for a reason,” she began. “It implies equality. Once you add a concept like ‘protection,’ all that flies out the window. You can have a partner, or you can have a keeper, but you can’t have both at the same time- they’re mutually exclusive. You’re both doing the same thing. She’s trying to protect you out of love and possibly some other emotionally-driven motivation you aren’t aware of, and you’re doing it out of love and because it’s literally your job.”

That was a fantastic assessment based on the tiniest possible amount of information. I love when I meet potential Readers in the wild.

Also, I knew Waverly’s hidden motivation. People tend to disappear from her life in tragic, unforeseen circumstances.

***NOTE: Oh God, she didn’t even know at the time how true this statement would end up being. This makes me so sad. –A.M. ***

“Relationships are built on an equal level of give and take. You have to decide what’s more important to you, being a partner to her, or being her keeper. You can’t be both.”

I don’t know how to do that. I’ve spent my entire life endeavoring to be both to everyone I love. Then again, look where that landed me. My mind was racing a million miles a minute but I couldn’t find words so I just picked at my fingernails. She seemed to understand.

“Look, what you need to do is sit down and have an actual conversation with this girl. You need to stop tiptoeing around and handling each other with kid gloves. Relationships are messy, let it be messy. Better yet, fuck each other. You look like you need to get laid.”

As we say in the South: Ain’t that the truth.

“I don’t know. I’m still a little too pissed off for that right now.”

Her eyes sparkled. “I honestly can’t think of a better emotional state to have sex in.”

She actually managed to crack the ice around my cold, dead heart. I threw my head back and laughed. God, I love sass.

“Okay, fine, you’re right. We would have fun together,” I admitted. We clinked glasses again.

But the fact is, fun is all it would ever be. Just the way it was with everyone else. Fun and light and exciting and…meaningless. Empty.

I wasn’t lying. I’m still spitting mad.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I am completely spoiled for anyone else, forever.

//

I left the rest of my second beer, ordered a gigantic glass of water and chugged it, and headed out the door. I blew the breathalyzer I keep in my squad car and when I saw I was good to go, I drove to the homestead.

By the time I got there, the sky was already light. It was morning. I hadn’t been at the bar for more than a couple hours, and the mission started around 9:00 pm. When I looked at the clock on my dash, it said 8:00 am.

Either I genuinely need to see a neurologist or just like everything else, time is a little funny in Purgatory.

***NOTE: Okay so she DOES notice it sometimes. –A.M.***

The scoobs were just walking in the door when I pulled up. Waverly came over to me looking hesitant. Now I knew she knew that I had overheard them, otherwise it didn’t make sense that she wasn’t mad at me.

“I’m sorry I left,” I told her. I really was.

She told me she was glad I left, which sucked because I was finally starting to cool off and looking to make up. Aggressively. Upstairs.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t have a choice, he would have killed you,” she said.

Anger came bubbling back to the surface. In my experience, any apology that is immediately followed by the word “but” is a “sorry-not-sorry” non-apology.

“Or signed me up and made it official,” I countered. I knew it didn’t matter. She had convinced herself she had done the right thing and had no awareness that her behavior was upsetting me so much.

I told her I had to go back to the station and finish up some paperwork and she said she needed to check on Wynonna. When she went to kiss me, I turned my head away. I know it was petulant, but I hate being made to feel like someone is humoring or condescending to me. Like my feelings and concerns aren’t valid.

I left. I really did have about a six inch stack of paperwork to fill out. It’s easy to play the role of a mundane, boring Sheriff’s deputy when you actually are one.

//

I went home, changed into a fresh uniform, fed and sat with poor, neglected CJ for a little while, and went back to work. It’s really starting to seem like down time is a thing of the past for me. Actually, wait. Down time has never been a thing for me.

The instant I got into the station, I was asked to go investigate a missing person report. A foreman came by to file a report when he noticed one of his workers had gone missing. I searched the entire site thoroughly but came up empty-handed because apparently the only person the supernatural side of this town will reveal themselves to is Wynonna Earp.

Mr. Kowalski, the foreman, came back into the station to ask what I’d found and was aggravated when there was nothing I could do. That adequately sums up at least 98% of police work in a small town. Correction: a normal small town.

As he was getting up to leave, Waverly came in looking adorable in a leopard print coat.

Great, now I was going to have to endeavor to remain upset and angry while she sat in the bullpen with me and looked at me with those eyes. Good luck, Nicole!

“I love watching you work,” she said, with that big Waverly smile. “Professional, but caring.”

I tried to walk past her but she blocked me with her legs. Deep breaths, Haught. Stick to your guns, Haught. Think of how bad she was yesterday…nope, wrong direction, don’t think of that.

Fml.

“This is my job, okay?” I moved her legs brusquely. I can’t always be caving in to her womanly wiles!

“Hey…” She said, looking surprised and disappointed.

“I know it doesn’t seem like anything special, trying to convince Bill Lippencott to stop driving without a license or looking for security footage to figure out who was flying a drone over the girls’ dance studio, but…”

It’s not. It’s not anything special and I’m bored and I’m frustrated and I’m confused and I still feel like crap over the way she got me booted from BBD.

“But…what?” She asked, getting up.

“Nothing. Forget about it.” I can get a little sarcastic and passive-aggressive when I’m upset.

“Look, I’m…I’m sorry about the whole BBD undeputizing thing, okay? But please don’t shut me out.”

Oh Waverly, it’s either I play this game with you or I cave in and kiss you and bury these emotions like I always do. I’m trying NOT to do that.

“I’ve got cases to track. Looks like you might, too.” I handed her the Kowalski case and walked away, slamming the door behind me. I’d let her twist for a little while longer. Not much longer, though.

She really is way, way too cute.

My shift ended at 5:00. When I got in my car, I realized I had a bunch of texts from Waves.

Waverly <3 (9/26/16 11:33 am): Nicole I’m really sorry :-( :-( :-(
Waverly <3 (9/26/16 11:45 am): I really thought I was looking out for you. I know I was wrong now, will you please please forgive me?
Waverly <3 (9/26/16 2:33 pm): Found a giant gross spider egg sac at that construction site!
Waverly <3 (9/26/16 4:32 pm): 1 attachment (giant gross spider egg sac)
Waverly <3 (9/26/16 4:43 pm): 1 attachment (Waverly looking adorable in lab goggles with egg sac)
Waverly <3 (9/26/16 5:01 pm): I’m headed home now. I feel pretty sad. Will you please, please come over? I have something I want to talk to you about. XOXOXOXOXO
Me (9/26/16 5:11 pm): Hey beautiful, I just saw all of these. Phone’s been in my truck all day. Let me run home to change and I’ll be right over.

Listen, I’m mad at her, but she’s still my love bug.

//

I got to the homestead and let myself in. The first thing I did once I was inside was Locate Wynonna. She was in the downstairs bathroom. There’s a way for us to set a little mental notice, almost like an alarm clock, to go off when a certain person is within a specified distance. I set an alarm for Wynonna, kind of like I was belling a cat.

It’s a slight abuse of my powers, but whatever. I’m done being barged in on.

I went to Waverly’s room, but she wasn’t in it. She must have heard me though because her voice drifted out of a room down the hall. Willa’s room. She hugged me as soon as I was through the door. She really is a dab hand at ambushing me with physical affection.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered into my chest. I stroked her hair and didn’t say anything. “Can I show you something?” She asked.

“Of course.” I really thought it was going to more pictures of egg sacs and goo so I was relieved when I realized she was referring to the diary. We sat on the bed and when she opened the diary, a picture of two girls fell out. I remarked that it was cute and in a clipped tone she retorted, “The one I’ve been cropped out of?”

That edge was back in her voice. It hadn’t been present until now, but maybe that had something to do with what she had been reading. As soon as I realized whose room we were in I knew it was probably Willa’s diary. Yuck city.

“Listen to this,” Waverly said, and then read out loud, “‘I hate that they brought the baby into the house. There’s something wrong with it. Mama told Daddy that we have to do what is right. What does that even mean? And why does she get the pretty name? Waverly.” (Because she’s the pretty sister, you dimwit. Sorry.) “Whatever. She’ll never be one of us.”

She had actually drawn a sun with a sad face. What a drama queen.

I couldn’t figure out what Waverly was looking for from me, so I said, “Willa was just a kid.”

“Yeah,” Waverly replied, “she didn’t think I was an Earp. And…neither did Bobo.”

BOBO?

“Bobo?” Oh hell no. “What did that gas-lighting sociopath say to freak you out?” And when had this happened, anyway?

Oh my God, I thought that on-view of Waverly in the treehouse talking to Bobo was a fever dream brought on by painkillers. It must have been real.

“There was another side to him. A side that wouldn’t lie to me.”

I seriously have to figure out what is going on with this girl. This is not normal.

“This…this is crazy. Look, you are the Earpiest Earp of them all.”

It’s true. She is. She’s the best part of this whole town and this whole family and by FAR the best part of my whole life. I must have conveyed all that in the expression I was giving her because suddenly the ice around us thawed and she leaned forward and rested our foreheads together. My heart leapt. Keeping up the angry ruse was wearing me down to a nubbin. I rubbed our noses together and then we started to kiss and…

(((WYNONNA)))

I pulled away from her. Waverly looked ticked off and said, “I guess we’re still fighting.”

I answered, “Nope, just someone coming up the stairs,” just as Wynonna came busting through the door.

I’m really glad I belled her.

“Shit,” Wynonna said, but made no move to leave.

“Hi Wynonna,” I said in an “I’m irritated but Waverly is sitting right here” voice. I turned to Waverly and told her I needed to go. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with whatever it was that the two of them were about to discuss.

I walked through the room past Wynonna who said, “Cool kicks.” Yeah, I know. “Sorry,” she said again.

“Okay,” I responded sarcastically. I sped down the stairs and just as I was rounding the corner, I ran smack into some small, strange dude who was carrying what looked like a bunch of lab equipment. When I ran into him he dropped everything.

I was bending over to help him pick stuff up, mentally asking myself why this house is like a pop-up book from hell when I heard him mutter, “Gilmore Girls reference, nice! Pop-up book from hell…” he chuckled and shook his head.

His amusement was short-lived.
I stood up, grabbed him by the front of his shirt, and pushed him bodily into the downstairs bathroom. It still smelled like Wynonna’s coconut shampoo. I shoved his back against the sink, still holding his shirt balled up in one hand, and pulled my concealed carry from the waistband of my pants. I pointed it off to the side but made sure he saw it.

He looked scared shitless.

“Who are you?” I demanded. “What’s your name and identification number? Who sent you? Are they coming for me?” His eyes were bugging out of his head. I would have felt bad if I wasn’t in such a panic. “SPEAK UP.”

He slowly raised his hands above his head and said, “May…may I speak? Uh….ma’am?”

I glared at him.

“Okay, so YOU think I’m a part of the super-secret private security firm that you belong to because I just accidentally read your mind…” I shook him by the front of his shirt to rattle him a little. Accidentally?! “Sorry, sorry! You think really loud, I didn’t mean to listen, I swear!”

I think really loud? Somehow I don’t doubt that.

“Keep talking,” I told him.

“Right, yes. My name is Jeremy, I work for Black Badge? Uh, with Dolls? Um, Waverly told me to come over and that’s why I’m here. Wynonna said I could hang out with Doc Holliday and dissect the weird spider demon.”

“Waverly told me to come over” was the winning phrase. I released him very slowly and holstered my pistol.

“You’re a Reader,” I said. “A telepath,” I corrected myself.

“That’s affirmative,” he replied, rubbing at his chest and frowning. “I’m also on your side. I mean, I think I’m on your side. What the heck are you? What’s a Guardian?”

I just stood there and stared at him angrily. Now what? I’m screwed, my cover is blown.

“No, no, no,” he was waving his hands around in front of his face and smiling. “I’m not going to tell anyone, don’t worry.”

Dude!

“STOP READING MY THOUGHTS.”

“Right! Right, sorry. Uh, no one else knows that I’m a telepath, and judging by everything I’ve uh…heard…no one knows what you are, either.”

“Correct. And it is in your best interest that it stays that way,” I growled.

“I do get that impression, yes.” We just looked at each other for a long, tense moment. Finally, it occurred to me that the only viable course of action to take in the situation at hand was to roll with it. I stuck my hand out.

“Nicole Haught.”

He shook my hand. “Jeremy Chetri. Uh, I’d say pleasure to meet you, but…”

I smiled at him. “Yeah, sorry about that. I find it’s better to overreact and apologize later than underreact and be sorry.”

He smiled slowly and narrowed his eyes. “The outcome in both of those situations is the same.”

What a smartass.

I decided to go with something Javion says to me all the time. “10/10 reaction to a 2/10 stimulus.”

He looked delighted at the word “stimulus.” Science nerds are so easy. “I’d say that’s accurate.”

We did an awkward “you-first-no-you-first-I-insist” out of the bathroom door and I helped him clean up his lab equipment. Then I finally got in my truck and headed home.

What a day.

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #11
Late September 2016

I spent the night alone for the first time in a few days. I’ve decided I’m not partial to it. Calamity Jane is a decent cuddle buddy, but Waverly’s absence from the crook of my shoulder made me feel all hollow. I’m becoming such a sap. What would Katie say?

I woke up the next morning to three picture messages from Waverly, two of which featured her and Wynonna covered in gross yellow goo and one selfie she’d taken making a silly face, with damp hair, apparently post-shower. The caption was inexplicable. It said, “Spider eggs don’t make me wet, but you do!”

I really don’t know what to make of that, but I’ll take what I can get.

Anyway, I texted her good morning, showered, and hustled out the door. After what she had discussed with me last night, I had a mission to accomplish. I love when there are problems that I can actually solve. I drove 25 minutes to the County Clerk’s office with the intention of getting application forms for a birth certificate, birth announcement, change of name, medical records, etc. There’s a bazillion different ways to get confirmation on her parentage.

Of course, I had grossly overestimated the competence of the Glacier County records office. They were unable to provide a single form and refused to direct me to a website that might have them.

“Well, what about a birth certificate request form?” I asked the woman behind the counter.

She opened her mouth to answer, and then her eyes sort of crossed. She turned her head and started doing something else, like she had forgotten I was there.

“Ma’am? Birth certificate request forms?”

“We don’t have those,” she answered monotonously. She sounded almost robotic. Seriously, what is wrong with northerners? Are they all like this, or is it just Montana? Katie piped up in my head. “Damn Yanks.”

“You don’t…have them?” I clarified.

“No.”

After a while I gave up and left, feeling defeated. At this point the Nicole Haught Mission Success Rate is about 0-20. I can’t even manage to successfully pick up some forms.

I got in my truck, feeling irritable and grumpy, and was just about to blast some Queens of the Stone Age, when I saw someone sitting in my passenger’s seat out of the corner of my eye.

I jumped so hard my head hit the roof. I jammed my back against the door and pulled my pistol.

It was that FRIKIN Juan Carlo, staring at me with that goofy ass grin. The utter nerve of some people…beings…creatures…whatever.

“Hate to tell you, but if you choose to shoot, all you’re apt to do is waste your bullets and put a hole in the door of this nice new truck,” he drawled.

I lowered my pistol and mentally scraped my guts off the floorboards. I needed something to do with my hands that wasn’t punching him, so I gripped my steering wheel.

“Well?” I growled through gritted teeth. “What now?”

He chuckled and stared out the windshield. He nodded toward the building.

“Have a hard time getting the forms you wanted?”

I wasn’t even going to bother playing the, “How do you know that?” game. Instead I just raised my eyebrows.

A manilla envelope materialized in his lap. It just appeared, I watched it happen. He handed it to me.

“Here you go. Should find everything you need in there, including a request for a DNA test.”

I took the envelope and stared at him. “Why?”

“Why, what? Are you asking why I’m giving these to you or are you asking why the county clerk refused to?”

“Both. Obviously both,” I responded. So annoyed. So, so annoyed.

He scratched the stubble on his face and frowned. “Suffice it to say the…person…I work for has an interest in Waverly discovering her true parentage.” He paused, glanced at me, and continued, “She’s not an Earp.”

Oh, hell. I let go of my steering wheel and let my hands drop into my lap. Poor Waves.

“Yes indeed. What I will tell you is that she and Wynonna do share a mother. They’re still sisters, just not in the paternal line. As for your second question, the county clerk was being manipulated. While my boss wants Waverly to discover who her real father is, another force at play in Purgatory does not.”

Another force at play?

Before I could inquire as to what he could possibly mean, he was gone.

Why does Purgatory not have Ghostbusters? They’d do incredible business.

//

Rather than drive home, I went straight to the homestead. I needed to see Waverly, not only to give her the documents, but to ground myself. I’ve had it about up to here with supernatural nonsense, it’s making me feel like my mind is a little loose of its moorings. Of course, I had no idea if she was actually home or not. I guess I could have called or texted to find out, but I’m so used to being able to Locate that I’ve gotten out of the habit.

For the record, I don’t believe Juan Carlo. I think he’s messing with me. Nothing about him makes sense and the further I got from the clerk’s office the more I was able to convince myself that I had gotten them legitimately and I’d made the whole JC thing up. Waverly staked her entire life on the belief that she’s an Earp. No randomly materializing weirdo in a trucker hat is going to convince me otherwise.
When I arrived, Waverly’s jeep was there but Wynonna’s old truck was gone. I reached for her anyway and found her at the station. Better to be safe than barged in upon. I reached for Waverly, just for kicks and giggles, but of course there was still nothing. Rather than just bust into the house like Kramer, I decided to do the polite thing and actually ring the doorbell. Of course it was broken. I knocked. Nothing.

Kramer style it is.

As soon as I was in the house, I could hear Waverly singing upstairs. My heart lurched when I realized that for once, we were actually, truly alone. As soon as I walked into Willa’s old room/Waverly’s new one and saw her, I knew it was finally going to happen. About a million butterflies starting flitting around in my stomach and my palms started to sweat. I stood in the doorway for a moment and just watched her. She was standing on the bed, putting up some kind of window scarf.

She was wearing this…skirt…and her cute little butt… and her hair was just…oh boy.

The room was thankfully a lot less Willa museum and a lot more Waverly, which is a significant improvement. The bed still left a lot to be desired, though. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to fit on that. I wasn’t sure how anything short of a life-size Barbie could fit on that.

I decided to make my presence known so she didn’t turn around and see my creepy tall ginger self stalking around her doorway. I crinkled the manilla envelope a little. She about jumped out of her skin.

“Okay, I rang, and then I knocked,” I put my hands up for emphasis, choosing not to point out that I’d also been standing watching her cute butt move around in that skirt for about the past three minutes.

“Waves, this room! It’s really you. But different.” Wow, great observation, Nicole.

Have you ever been in a situation where you start questioning every decision you make and every single thing that comes out your mouth in a fit of anxiety-induced, awful self-awareness?

***NOTE: Yes. Totally. All the time. My life. –A.M.***

I’m once again talking to a journal. One of these days I’m going to do that and it’s going to start talking back, Voldemort style. Come to think of it, wasn’t Ginny a ginger? Wait, is that why her name was Ginny? Seems kind of cruel to…

Sorry, where was I?

“Yeah well, I feel different,” Waverly said. Speaking of self-awareness, had she noticed that something was going on with her? Strangely enough, there didn’t seem to be any of that darkness present at the moment. She was all soft edges and sweet smiles, all Waverly.

“Are you still mad at me?” she asked

“Girlfriends fight,” I replied.

She hopped off her bed. Her skirt rode up a little. Britney take the wheel.

“It’s…it’s okay. It’s normal,” I said. It’s really not. Nothing about any of this is normal, but why worry her?

“It’s kind of the worst,” she said. Oh thank Goddess, we’re being real.

“It’s TOTALLY the worst, yeah.” I kind of yelled at her. I blame nerves.

She must have thought I was cute because the look in her eyes shifted and she stuck her tongue into her cheek. She can go from soft, sweet, adorable Waverly to “I’m going to eat you alive” in a matter of milliseconds. It’s a little…harrowing.

I really like it.

I had to talk about this paperwork before I forgot about it completely. “So, I kind of got you something. Ironically, I hope it doesn’t make you mad.”

I handed her the envelope. She looked confused and opened it, pulling the documents out.

“Applications? But what for?”

“Birth certificate, medical records, school documents…” Courtesy of good ol’ Juan Carlo. Wait, no. I decided that didn’t happen.

“Anything that could prove I’m an Earp. Or…not.’

Okay, here we go. “Hey, I know that going down this road is really important to you and…”

Gulp. Deep breath.

“…And as long as you…want me…I will be by your side.”

I can’t remember the last time I put my heart out there on the line like that. Actually, it may have been the first time ever.

***NOTE: Vulnerability is not your strong suit, Nicole. Yes, we know. –A.M.***

Her eyebrows went up and a genuine, gorgeous smile spread across her features. It was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. It made putting myself out there 100% worth it. When has Waverly Earp ever heard from another person that they’d be there for her, just for her, no strings attached? Again, maybe never.

She tossed the envelope on the bed and took both of my hands. Her butterfly wallpaper matched my insides. I was so nervous it felt like my very first time, and really, it may as well have been. I’ve never had sex with someone that I was already in love with. Come to think of it, before Waverly, I don’t know for certain that I ever actually was in love. At least not compared to this.

I kissed her nose in an attempt to mitigate some of the anxiety that I knew she was feeling, too. She smiled and cupped my cheeks with her hands and brought our mouths together. She still had that smoky taste, but it was much more subtle than it had been the other morning.

She started unbuttoning my shirt, swallowing hard, but keeping my eye contact. I untucked her shirt and we started kissing harder and it was right as she started to unbuckle my belt that it occurred to me that maybe we were moving too fast. She wasn’t just doing this for me, right?

***NOTE: Face palm. –A.M.***

Gathering up every last shred of willpower I possessed, I stepped away from her and said, “Wait, Waverly. Wait. Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” she said instantly.

“Yeah?”

“I mean…the best sex is make-up sex, right?”

!!!!!

“And I…I like you…” she said, and then instantly dropped her eyes and pursed her mouth. In retrospect, I think I know what happened. She meant to say, “I love you,” but got cold feet at the last minute.

It’s okay. We have all the time in the world for that. I assured her that I “like her too” (HA!) and pulled her lips back up to mine. She started to pull my shirt the rest of the way off when I decided I’d had enough standing. I leaned down and swept her easily into my arms. We just looked at each other and laughed as I carried her to the bed.

It felt really good to be back on the same page together like that. Really, really good. I laid her down on the bed and started kissing her again.

***NOTE: So, I turned to the next page (cringing and squinting, anticipating a shift from PG-13 to R) but the next part didn’t logically follow.

At first I thought it was another time warp, and then I realized that this time there actually WERE pages missing. I could see where they had been torn out near the binding.

It didn’t take me very long to figure it out.

I walked down the hall to Aunt Waverly’s bedroom. She was still awake, reading a book in bed with her ear bud things in. I tapped on her door and she waved me in, smiling. I watched the way her face lit up when she realized it was me. Nicole is right, she really is so pretty. I can see how someone would fall head over heels in love with her. I felt a little sick because if the world was fair, Nicole would be in bed next to her.

And my parents would be alive. The world sucks.

Aunt Waverly said, “Hey sweetie, come on in. What’s up?” She patted her bed and I sat down.

I didn’t bother framing it as a question. I knew. “You tore out the pages in Nicole’s journal of your first time together.”

I thought this would be a majorly awkward conversation to have with my Aunt, but for some weird reason, it really wasn’t.

She set her book down and slowly pulled out her ear buds. Her lips were all pursed and I started to feel really bad for bringing it up.

“Never mind, Aunt Waverly. I’m sorry.”

“No, love, it’s okay.” She leaned over and opened the drawer of her bedside table, pulling a handful of loose sheets off the top. She waved them in my direction. I could see the pages were yellow, worn out, tattered. Like they’d been shuffled through at least a thousand times. “Not that you need to be reading these,” she said.

Nope.

I stared at my hands. I knew what I wanted to ask her but I didn’t want to pry or make her feel uncomfortable.

“Alice?”

“Was it everything you hoped it would be?” It was out of my mouth before I could stop it. Goddamnit, McCready.

“It was more than that.”

I squeezed my hands together. I couldn’t look at her. I truly don’t know why I did this. “She loved you so much.”

She did that thing people do when they’re trying not to cry, looking up at the ceiling and blinking really fast. I wanted to kick myself. I changed the subject.

“It makes sense to me now why you never dated anyone.” I had always thought that was a little strange. I just figured she thought men were gross, because men are gross. I mean, a few of them can be super cute, but 95% are gross.

“I tried, but I couldn’t. No one could ever compare. It was like…a candle in a dark room after you’ve spent all day outside in the sun.”

When I looked back up at her again, her head was bent and her shoulders were shaking. She waved me away when I started to crawl over to her and wiped her eyes. She rummaged around in her bedside table drawer again and pulled out a book.

“Page 93,” she said. “Do you mind reading it in your room, though? I’m sorry, baby girl.”

I said, “Please don’t be, Aunt Waverly.” I kissed the side of her head and took the book from her.

//

Page 93 of “We Don’t Have a Compass, But I’m Sure We’ll Find Home” by Raquel Isabelle De Alderete:

I made the mistake of believing that
Your bones were a good place
To grow roots and now I miss you but

My great-grandmother used to say
That ghosts don’t haunt houses,
Ghosts haunt people;
If you feel empty and cold it’s because
Your soul is out there
Wandering the streets with the person
You call home

So even though I’m alone
And frozen, a plant with no water, a sun
Without heat

I’d like to think
You’re still somehow
With me

//

The next morning after school, I went straight to Office Depot and bought one of those laminating kits and a few other things. When I got home, Aunt Waverly was still at work (she teaches at the University) so I snuck upstairs to her room and pulled out those tattered journal pages. I put on Aunt Gus’s glasses to blur the words so I wouldn’t be able to read them.

I carefully laminated every page, hole-punched, and bound them, and tucked them back into the drawer along with a post-it note that said, “She’s still with you.”

-A.M.***

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: Nicole and Waverly’s “first time” journal entry is a separate one-shot in my works called “The Closest to Heaven (That I’ll Ever Be).” I knew I wanted to write their first time in a different tone and a different tense than the one I’ve written this story in, which is the reason I separated the two. Alice didn’t want to read it, but you’re welcome to.)

//

I had no recollection of falling asleep, but when I woke up, it was nighttime and I was outside. It was hot and sandy and the air smelled funny, like burning chemicals. I looked down at my hands and saw there was dirt caked underneath my nails and in the folds of my knuckles. I patted my chest. Kevlar.

I was dreaming.

I rubbed my eyes and glanced behind me. Nothing but barracks and sand and giant metal drums as far as the eye could see. I walked away from them, toward the barbed wire and sandbag barrier that separated our FOB from the rest of Iraq.

I knew she was there before I saw her. I could feel her presence, like hearing someone hum a song you recognize from a distance. She was sitting on a sandbag with her rifle in her lap, staring out at the desert. When I came up behind her, I reached my hand out and let it hover over her shoulder for a second. I was afraid if I touched her, she’d disappear.

“Niks, why are you always creepin’ up like that? You’re gonna get yourself shot one of these days.”

Oh, Katie. You were always right.

I relaxed and lowered my hand. I squeezed her shoulder and closed my eyes tight. This wasn’t real, but it sure felt good. I let go and bumped her shoulder with my hip to get her to scoot over and make room for me. I sat down.

“Please, like you’d be able to hit me, especially in the dark. Does whoever put you on guard duty know that your marksmanship scores were so bad they made Jesus cry?” It was a running joke between the two of us. Katie is…was…a “Hawkeye.” Her marks were perfect.

Like everything else she had ever attempted in her life.

“Have you ever seen a therapist about your projection problems?” She asked. I just turned to her and smiled. Her face was in shadow, hidden under her helmet.

“I’m dreaming,” I told her, matter-of-factly.

She sighed. “Sure, Nik. Whatever you say.”

I didn’t know how to answer that, so I didn’t. Instead, the two of us just sat in companionable silence. After several minutes had passed, I scooted closer to her and wrapped my arm around her waist. She did the same. She took her helmet off and shook her blonde hair loose, and she laid her head on my shoulder.

“This place sucks,” she said softly.

“I hate this place,” I answered her truthfully.

“You came back.”

“Yes.”

“You thought you could fix what happened.”

“…Yes.”

“Nicole, that’s some Donnie Darko shit.”

I chuckled. It was one of our favorite movies. Katie hated that bunny costume with a passion. It gave her nightmares.

The dry desert wind blew past us, lifting her hair and blowing it across my face. It didn’t smell quite right. It smelled like Waverly. Dreams do their best, but they aren’t always accurate.

“Are you even officially dating someone if I’m never going to get the chance to meet them?”

“You’d really like Waverly.” I smoothed her hair down with my hand. I kissed the top of her head. “I’ll take her to meet your mom someday.”

For long time she didn’t speak and I didn’t mind. I just held her.
“How is she?”

“She’s…she’s Beth.” I didn’t need to say anything more than that. “She gave me the cabin. Not long ago.”

“Then I should probably tell you that I hid those pokemon cards you thought you lost under the stairs on the back porch.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Nope.”

“You’re the worst.”

She nuzzled her head into my shoulder. “I love you, too.”

The sky was getting light, much too fast. The edges of my vision were starting to blur. The dream was ending because I was waking up. Shit.

“Katie.”

“I know,” she said. She didn’t lift her head. She put her arms around me and squeezed. “Nicole, don’t forget the cabin.” That was a strange thing to say. “Don’t forget the cabin,” she repeated. “When it’s time, just come back here, okay? You can choose where to go. I’ll be here.”

“What? Kates, what are you talking about?” I felt like I was holding onto the dream as hard as I could, clawing it with my fingernails. Maybe if I just held onto her as tightly as I could. “Katie, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Stop. You have nothing to be sorry for.” Her voice sounded like it was coming from a distance, like she was shouting at me from the end of a long tunnel.

“I love you,” I said to her. I could feel myself being pulled away. “Always”

“I know. Take care of your girl, Nicole. Don’t forget what I said. I’ll always be with you. You carry my heart.” I felt the sensation of fingertips brushing over my tattoo.

She vanished. I was alone in the desert, sitting on this god forsaken sandbag. I had her dog tags in my hand. I had squeezed them so hard they had cut into my hand and I was bleeding.

I stood up and balled my hands into fists and yelled her name, in anguish. “KATIE!”

//

I woke with a jolt. I sat straight up, gasping, with tears pouring down my face. I couldn’t catch my breath and I clutched at my chest. I was naked. Why was I naked? What…

Waverly’s terrified face swam into focus. I must have yelled out loud.

“Nicole! Nicole, baby, it’s okay! It’s okay, it was just a dream. Baby, please!” Waverly’s voice broke on the last syllable. I had genuinely scared her. It snapped me out of my panic.

“Waves.” I grabbed her face in my hands to look at her. Her green eyes brought me back down to Earth. I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her. She rubbed my back and kissed my neck.

I wiped my face, my cheeks were damp. “Shit, Waverly. I’m sorry. I must have scared you so bad.”

“It’s okay,” she said gently. She was sitting on the edge of the bed in her robe. She must have gotten up and come back just in time to see me losing it. “How often do you have dreams like that?” She asked.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I lie to her enough as it is. I might as well be truthful about as much of my life as I can. “Once or twice a month.”

Her eyebrows went up. “Is it PTSD?”

Fact is, I don’t really think so. At least not this time. Typically PTSD nightmares involve reliving the trauma and they happen more frequently. I know the difference because I’ve definitely had those too, but at this point they’re fairly infrequent. I’ve never had a dream like the one I just had. It was so real.

Instead I just said, “I guess so.” I didn’t know how to tell my love that my dead best friend had visited me in a dream to give me a incomprehensible message about protecting her and not forgetting the cabin.

She stroked my arm gently. “I know there’s probably nothing I can do,” she said, “but I’m here for you if you need me, or if you ever want to talk.” She smiled hesitantly.

She is utterly breathtaking. I find it hard to believe that something as beautiful as Waverly and something as ugly as that FOB in Iraq could exist in the same universe. Or that my heart has room for falling in love with her and simultaneously grieving Katie. They’re both so consuming, I’d think they should cancel out.

“Actually,” I said. “There is something you can do.”

She looked at me eagerly. “What?” she asked.

I leaned forward and pulled her mouth against mine. I kissed her. Minty. “Make me forget about it.”

//

I didn’t have work and Waverly didn’t have any BBD research to do, so we spent the day alternating between sleeping and having sex. I woke up continually to a hot, wet mouth in a variety of different places.

Thankfully, there were no more dreams. Just oxytocin-soaked bliss.

When it got to be about 4:00 in the afternoon, I rinsed off, got dressed, and went downstairs and made a bunch of sandwiches and packed them up in a cooler. I went in the barn and found a bunch of old blankets and threw them in the bed of my truck. By the time I was done, Waverly had come downstairs and she stood on the porch, watching me and smiling.

I waved her over. Her eyes were still sleepy and her hair was pulled into a messy bun. I couldn’t help myself, I was happy, so I scooped her up in a bridal style carry and spun us around. She clutched my neck and laughed in surprise. I kissed her, hard.

When I put her back down she looked shy and disappointed. “Are you leaving?”

“No baby, I’m taking you somewhere.”

Her eyes lit up. “Oh! Wait, really?”

“Actually, no. See ya,” I teased. She punched me lightly. “Get in the truck, babe.”

She did and we took off. I drove north for about an hour. By the time we got into the mountains, the sun was starting to set. I parked at the spot I’d found when I first arrived in Purgatory, got out, and lined the bed with all the musty blankets. I opened the back window of the truck and put on a song I’ve recently started obsessing over.

We both crawled up, sandwiches in hand, and watched the sun set the rest of the way.

“It always makes me sad,” she said, between bites of her sandwich. “The sun setting, I mean.”

I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her close. I buried my cold nose in the top of her head and said softly, “Without darkness, you can’t see stars.”

She turned her head to look up at me. Her eyes were a thousand times more beautiful than any night sky I had ever seen. “Nicole, this day has been amazing,” she dropped her eyes off to the side and grinned, blushing a little. I eskimo kissed her. “I really, really love you".

“I love you more,” I responded seriously. Being able to finally say it out loud is such a relief.

“Impossible,” she whispered.

I found myself wishing for a ring in that moment. I wouldn’t have hesitated for a second.

The song I had playing in the background is called “Boxes” and has a chorus that goes like this:

You are the memory that won't ever lapse
When twenty five years have suddenly passed
Wherever you take me, it's clear I will go
Your love's the one love that I need to know
You are the sun in the desolate sky
And your life's in these words and it can't be denied
Wherever you take me, it's clear I will go
Your love's the one love that I need to know

//

When we got back to the homestead, Wynonna was home and about three sheets to the wind. The three of us sat in the living room, Wynonna sprawled out across her armchair, eating pickles out of a jar (BARF) with Waverly and I on the couch, her head in my lap. She drowsed off almost immediately after she laid down and I started stroking her hair.

I looked at Wynonna, who was crunching loudly on a pickle and regarding me with her shrewd, eagle-eyed gaze. I raised my eyebrows and gave her a small, purse-lipped smile.

CRUNCH…crunch…crunch

I don’t know how Waverly was sleeping through it.

“Something on your mind, Wynonna?” I asked her.

“Just trying to wrap my head around the fact that Waverly spent all day upstairs in my dead sister’s room banging a woman.”

Okay, I can understand being skeeved out by the dead sister’s room part. But “banging a woman?” Seriously?

Before I could get pissed off, she corrected herself. “Sorry, that came out wrong. That’s good old Jack Daniels talking.” She patted her belly.

***NOTE: Somehow it just occurred to me that this moment is set in late September of 2016. Mama should be about 4 months pregnant with me. Ummm… time warp? I hope this is time warp related. Otherwise fetal Alice was pickled in booze. I guess it’s the Earp way, but shouldn’t Mama have known?-A.M.***

“What I meant was, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that my sister is gay and I didn’t even know it.” She set the pickle jar down with a clunk and started playing with that necklace she wears. She glanced at me from underneath her eyelashes.

She was ashamed of herself.

“In all fairness, Wynonna, I don’t think Waverly knew, either. I think she was under the assumption that she was unhappy with Champ because he was a douchebag, not because he had the wrong equipment.”

Honestly, I still don’t know if Waverly identifies as lesbian or bi. I figure she’ll talk to me about if she wants to, but being in love kind of blinds you to everyone else.

Wynonna pursed her lips and bobbed her head.

“Still. I just up and left her. She was still a little kid, and I abandoned her.” I watched her reach out, her hand closing on the empty space between her legs where her bottle usually sat. She looked grumpy when it wasn’t there.

“All any of can do in regard to our pasts is move forward,” I told her. True, but much easier said than done. I would know.

“Is that why you moved to Purgatory?” She watched me carefully, searching my face for any evidence of a lie. Thing is, in a twisted way, it actually is part of the reason I moved here.

“More or less,” I answered.

She nodded. “Your friend. Katie.”

“Not just Katie.” Shae, too. And…others. I cleared my throat. “I needed a fresh start after all that had transpired after she died.”

“Sex and shooting shit,” Wynonna smiled. “Does Waverly know that part?”

“No. Not yet. But she will.”

“Good. Secrets are bullshit.” She frowned and stared at her hands. She could say that again.

I once again couldn’t help but be floored by the parallels between Wynonna and I. Two people trying our hardest to do the right thing, but constantly weighed down by the heavy manacles and thick chains of our mutually screwed up pasts, like Jacob Marley’s ghost from a Christmas Carol.

Wynonna stood up and swayed slightly. She put her hand on the couch to steady herself.

“You know, Nicole, just because we have these little Hallmark moments doesn’t mean that we’re friends. You’re still banging my baby sister.”

“Wynonna, I love your baby sister.”

She put her hands on her knees and pretended to throw up.

I rolled my eyes and continued, “But yeah, I know. I get it.”

The corner of her mouth twitched briefly. She walked over, bent down and kissed Waverly’s temple, and turned around to head upstairs.

I gathered Waverly up and carried her to her new bedroom. I tucked her in, drove home to feed and hang out with CJ for a little while, grabbed my journal, and drove back to the homestead. I’m not really keen on spending another night alone. I’ve been sitting downstairs on the couch for the past hour and a half, writing this entry.

I was especially careful in the way I wrote about mine and Waverly’s first time, because I want to let her read it someday, when all of this is over.

Maybe on our honeymoon, or something. Goodnight, world.

***NOTE: Goodnight, Aunt Nicole. –A.M.***

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #12
Early October 2016

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I haven’t gotten a chance to write in here for almost a full week because…wait for it…drumroll please…I’ve been too busy being happy and doing things that I actually LIKE. (And by “things” I pretty much mean Waverly.) It’s been quiet, almost too quiet: no demons, no evil forces, no Juan frikin Carlos, no cryptic Firm emails, no gut-wrenching flashbacks. Even Wynonna has been, dare I say it, nice to me.

Okay, granted, my Abilities still aren’t working on Waverly. She still occasionally acts…odd, but maybe I was overreacting before. She’s the sidekick to a raging alcoholic who hunts demons for a living and her sister just died (again.). There are reasonable explanations to everything that I’m choosing to ignore because I always assume the worst, it’s just my nature.

***NOTE: Love is literally addling her brains. This is the first time she’s acted willfully ignorant.–A.M.***

I also decided that the Shield weirdness probably has nothing to do with Waverly and it’s more so that my implant isn’t 100% operational yet. Since she’s still…absorbing it, for lack of a better word, I’ve been having to recast it every other day because it’s draining my energy so bad. To be honest, I’ve found that the best time to do it is after we’ve made love and we’re very connected. Plus she’s usually fast asleep, so she doesn’t notice.

Listen, I have to think like this, otherwise I’ll lose my mind with worry. I’m no good to anyone if I’m not thinking straight.

//

So, to recap the past week:

1. I cut my hair! I let it grow out a lot after I was discharged from the Army because Shae wanted me to and then I just kept it like that. It feels about a thousand times better and Waverly seems to love it, because she’s constantly playing with it. Win.

2. Work has been pretty boring. There are a few cases I’ve been working on, but nothing major. The lull has been very out of character for Purgatory, but very much appreciated.

3. Every waking hour that I haven’t spent at work, I’ve been with Waverly. We hang out at the homestead with Wynonna and Doc a lot during the day, and at night Waverly usually sleeps at my house, partially because of CJ and partially because that twin bed is the worst and I need to take her to Ikea for a new one.

I’ve taken Waverly out to nice dinners twice, to the movies once, back to Rebar to watch Alex’s band play, and to a climbing gym about a half hour from Purgatory to show her my mad bouldering skills. She was very impressed. She deserves to be treated well, especially since she rides along with me almost every night I take the squad car “out on patrol.” I think Nedley is finally starting to catch on because I’ve handed out a grand total of 5 tickets the entire week.

Yesterday I had to bribe Lonnie with a month’s worth of breakfast and two covered shifts to drive out to the edge of town and spring us from the back seat of the squad car after I accidentally locked us in. Waves and I had gotten a little…uh…overzealous with her pretend arrest.

***NOTE: NOOOOOOOOO my eyes, my eyes! Someone show me a picture of kittens, PRONTO –A.M.***

4. Had a long phone conversation with both Javion and Beth this week, and even caught up with some Army friends via email. Feels nice.

5. Dolls is still gone and Wynonna is miserable about it. I feel bad for her.

Onto what happened today.

I was sitting at my desk at the station, watching Waverly flit around doing this and that. I had absolutely no motivation to work and not much to do anyway, so I was letting my mind wander to this morning when Waverly got in the shower with me. She’s a big fan of shower sex. Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. She’s a big fan of pretty much any sex, anywhere, anytime. Like I’ve said before, I have more than met my match.

She was standing on the other side of the front desk, flirting with one of the other deputies, and I was watching her lips move and marveling at the fact that she’s mine, and thinking about how her lips had looked this morning on my…

CRASH

I jumped about a mile and I was wrenched out of my daydream. That guy, Jeremy, had been passing through on his way to the BBD office when he tripped over a chair and dropped everything he was carrying directly in front of my desk.

“Oh, shoot! Sorry about that, stupid me, damnit Jeremy!” he chastised himself as he knelt down to pick up the various…tools he had been carrying.

I got up and walked around my desk to help him. “Seems like you’re making this sort of a habit,” I told him jokingly.

“Ah, yes, sorry about that, it’s just the visual was a little ah…shocking,” he replied.

I stopped what I was doing and very, very slowly lifted my head to stare at him.

He stopped what he was doing and very, very slowly lifted his head to stare at me.

“Did you just say…” I started.

“You know what? We are not having this conversation here.”

I scooped all of his stuff into my arms and deposited it on my desk. I called into Sheriff’s office that I was going on my lunch break. “You,” I said to Jeremy, “Come with me. We’re going to lunch.”

“Oh! Oh, okay, great! Subway sounds amazing, I…”

“Shut. It.” I said, dragging him out of the station by the sleeve of his jacket.

“Right, sorry, shutting it.”

We walked down the street to Subway. Yes, Purgatory has a Subway, can you believe it? It was almost entirely empty but I still picked the most secluded booth possible. I bought him lunch as an apology for body slamming him into the Earp’s bathroom, threatening him, yelling at him, and subjecting him to my sexual fantasies. (NOT that I consider that to be my fault.) Still, I can see how all that vagina would be a little traumatizing to a gay man. If the situation were reversed I’d have called in sick to work for the next week.

Shudder.

Anyway, we settled in with our food and I spoke first.

“So, is there a way to prevent you from getting exposed to my thoughts like that? I assume you weren’t, uh, ‘listening in’ on purpose.”

“I definitely was not,” he clarified. “You’re just louder than most and your…visualizations…are colorful.”

I tried to hide my red hot cheeks behind my sandwich. Shit. “Can’t you teach me how to do Occlumency or something?” I asked.

His mouth dropped open and his whole face split into a smile. “An HP reference! Excellent! Hey, you know, I always thought that it was silly for Dumbledore to ask Snape to teach Harry when…”

It was probably less the deadpan look on my face and more the, “stop talking,” I thought at him that made him stop talking.

“Oops, sorry, I tend to babble when I’m nervous.”

Fabulous. That’s my favorite.

I took a bite of my sandwich and marveled at the fact that he didn’t lose his mind being bombarded by people’s thoughts like this all day, every day.

“Well,” he said, “it really isn’t like that. I don’t hear everyone’s thoughts all the time. Usually I can only hear stuff that I’m either intentionally listening in on or someone is thinking directly at me. It’s a little different with you because, like I said, you just think really loud. Actually,” he sipped his coke thoughtfully, “Wynonna is that way too, just not to the same extent.”

I tried to ignore the fact that he had just directly answered my thought. “So you’re saying it’s my fault because I’m a loud thinker?”

He smiled. “Well, no. It’s not anyone’s (he made air quotes) ‘fault,’ it’s just what you do naturally. People that are sort of intense usually think louder than people who are laid back.”

What? I’m not intense!

***NOTE: HA! –A.M.***

He laughed and smacked the table lightly.

Fine.

“So is there a way for me to quiet down or am I just going to have to tolerate you snooping around in my head?”

He looked a little offended.

“Sorry, I know you’re not snooping, that wasn’t fair. But you understand what I’m trying to say.”

“There’s not much you can do, but I can try harder to block you out. And maybe you could…keep your thoughts a little more PG when you know I’m nearby?”

I grinned at him sheepishly. “Deal.”

We ate in silence for a few minutes. Well, I did at least. I did my best to keep my mind as carefully blank as possible. I made a concentrated effort to not think of Waverly or anything that was even tangentially related to her.

Believe it or not, at this point, there’s not a whole lot that doesn’t make me think of Waverly. Even the fact that I was eating this sandwich made me think of the lunch she had packed me and the note she’d probably included and where I wanted to take her to dinner tonight and what we would do after dinner and….

Oops.

I jerked my head up to look at Jeremy. He was rubbing his temples.

I cringed. “Sorry.”

“You are smitten,” he said.

Little bit.

“So, how did that come to pass? Aren’t you supposed to be some kind of bodyguard to her?”

I had forgotten he had picked up on all that during the homestead debacle. There was no sense in not being completely honest with him, he’d know if I was lying, anyway.

“I work for an organization that we just refer to as The Firm. It’s kind of like…being a bodyguard but with superpowers. We’re called Guardians and we get assigned to people that are called Assets. I was assigned to Waverly.”

“But you don’t know who hired you,” he said.

“That’s right,” I replied.

“So you can protect people using something called a Shield, find people using Locate, and heal minor injuries?”

I nodded.

“Interesting,” he said, sitting back and folding his hands in his lap. “You refer to telepaths like me as Readers and people who can read emotions but not thoughts Empaths.”

Okay, maybe the mind-reading thing wasn’t so annoying in this context. I didn’t even have to explain, just nod along with everything he was plucking out of my head.

“How did you find out you had these powers in the first place?”

“Well, actually I really didn’t know that I had them. When The Firm recruited me they just said that I had a specific skill set that they were interested in. I thought it had more to do with my military experience than anything else. Ultimately all the recruits take an Ability Aptitude Test and that’s how I found out what they were after.”

“The implant you have in your head enhances these Abilities?”

“Yeah. The way they explained it to us is that it enhances and channels some kind of energy that’s already there. Then we spend most of our time in training learning how to control it.”

Wait a second. He didn’t have an implant, right? How was he doing what he was doing?

“Not an implant, no. I’m just full of kind of a special type of metal that basically serves the same purpose.”

Oh my goddess, I’m so excited.

In a hushed voice I said,“…Please tell me it’s adamantium.”

He looked delighted and laughed. “So many good references! Uh, no. It’s not adamantium. I’d explain it all but it’s pretty boring. Suffice it to say that I had basically the equivalent of an implant but no training. I kind of had to learn on the fly. Not really…uh…not really by choice.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, right. Well, I was in a really bad car accident when I was younger. Like, really bad. My mom died and I broke almost every bone in my body. I was in a medically induced coma and the doctors had pretty much given up on me when BBD got ahold of me and took me away to a secure facility and fixed me up.”

This dude is an enigma.

“What does that make you?”

Smartass.

“So BBD saved you because they wanted to use you for their own nefarious schemes?”

“Ding ding ding! Winner.” He smiled.

This might be a major breakthrough. He could potentially tell me everything I wanted to know about Black Badge and Dolls and give me all manner of interesting and valuable information.

“Ah, not quite,” he said, once again just answering my thoughts. “I’m unable to ‘Read’, heh, I like that word! I can’t Read most of the higher-ups in BBD, including Deputy Marshall Dolls. You’re about to ask why.”

Fun. This is fun. I could be using this half hour to make out with Waverly in the janitor’s closet.

He looked sad.

“Sorry. Why can’t you Read them?”

“Well, my power only works on humans, and Dolls and most of the BBD bosses are…not.”

………What.

“They’re not human? What the hell are they?”

“Sorry, I’m not at liberty to be more specific. I know, it’s not fair because I can read your thoughts but it’s not about me. It’s about Dolls. It’s a trust thing, you know?”

“No, that’s okay, Jeremy. I get it,” I told him, softening my tone.

All of the sudden, I got an idea. I had just opened my mouth to speak when he was already answering me.

“I don’t know if I feel comfortable with that.”

There’s definitely a learning curve to talking with a telepath.

“Even if it’s for her safety?” I asked.

He twisted his lips, thinking. “Well…”

“Please, Jeremy. Anything would be helpful. Anything at all. I’m not aiming to pry. All I want to know is if she has an awareness at all about what’s been going on.”

“Okay, yes. I’ll do it. On one condition.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Fine, what is it?”

He held out the palm of his right hand. There was a gash on it. I smiled and took his hand, closing my eyes. The gash disappeared.

He gazed at his hand, grinning like a maniac. “Totally wicked.”

Totally. I guess I made a new friend.

“Are we FRIENDS? This is amazing! Do you want to check out this laser tag place I just found?”

I let him babble. I like him.

***NOTE: Henry’s dad is a telepath. Henry’s…dad…is…a…telepath. I kind of want to die right now. I can’t show my face at their house ever again as long as I live. –A.M.***

//

Waverly looked surprised when I walked back into the station with Jeremy, but I just winked at her and smiled. I went over and sat down at my desk and watched Jeremy engage her in conversation. I think it was something about seals. Sea mammal? Singer? US Navy? Stationary adhesive? There’s no telling.

I fidgeted impatiently, waiting for them to get done. I don’t know why I thought this would be fast, Jeremy and Waverly are probably the two smartest, friendliest, and chattiest people in Purgatory. They’d stand there and try to out-banter each other for hours.

Fifteen minutes passed and I decided I had to intervene.

Me (10/2/16 1:12 pm): Did you wear that skirt today for a reason or just to torture me?
Me (10/2/16 1:12 pm): If you aren’t wearing anything underneath it, scratch your left ear and then meet me in the closet.

Sometimes being in the closet isn’t such a bad thing.

I watched eagerly as she pulled her phone out and saw the messages. She couldn’t hide her flustered smile. Her eyes darted to me, she bit her bottom lip, and scratched her left ear.

She’s my favorite.

She made some excuse to Jeremy and headed in the direction of the utility closet. I started to get up to follow her when I remembered I had texted her for a non-sexual reason.

Jeremy was already on his way over to me.

“Well?” I asked him.

I didn’t like the expression on his face. “You’re not going to like this.”

Oh no, oh no, there is something wrong and she knows it. Oh my god, what is it? Is it cancer? Is it an infection? Does she want to break up?

He was rubbing his temples again. “None of the above.” He paused and looked at me like I was crazy. “Why would she be thinking about breaking up with you? You can barely take your eyes off each other.”

Welcome to my brain.

He smiled and gave my shoulder a light slap. “Hey, thanks!”

“Not literally, you goofball. Can you please tell me what I’m not going to like?”

“I can’t hear her thoughts.”

That is not what I had expected. But hadn’t he said…?

“That is what I said. No, I’ve never met a human I couldn’t hear. Yes, the only explanation I can think of is that she’s not fully human. Who is Juan frikin Carlo? Oh, I see. So definitely human in the maternal line, but paternal line is TBD. Well, that explains it, then.”

That was a wild ride. But what is she? Is it possible…

“I highly doubt she’s an alien or a demon, Nicole.”

“Okay, Jeremy? Sometimes you have to let me actually speak. This is a little overwhelming.”

He threw his hands up. “OH! Oh, you’re right, I’m sorry. I’m just so used to having to hide it, this is kind of a relief.”

“Are there other…options? Aside from demon or alien?” Werewolf? Shapeshifter? Vampire? Mermaid? I thought of her green dress and smiled despite my concern.

“I really have no idea. My expertise is in demons, of which I’m pretty certain Waverly is not. Have you met her? She’s adorable, there’s no way…Yes, you’ve definitely met her. Sorry.”

I put my head in my hands.

“Um, I’m going to go back to work and let you think this through. I will most definitely be avoiding the utility closet, but if you need anything, just let me know, okay?”

“Will do. Thank you, Jeremy.”

He patted my shoulder and walked off. I realized Waverly was probably wondering where I was and I practically knocked my desk chair over in haste to get to her. I eased the door open and found her sitting on a bunch of boxes, looking absolutely angelic. I walked over and she opened her legs. I glanced down, swallowed my heart, and stepped between them and hugged her instead. At first she was surprised, and then she hugged me back, hard.

“Everything okay, Nic?” Her fingers played over the ends of my hair, against the nape of my neck. It rendered me momentarily incapable of speech.

“Yeah, baby. Everything is fine. Hey…did you ever fill out those applications or send away for that test?”

She looked confused at the direction this interaction was taking. “Yeah, I did a few days ago. Why?”

“No reason,” I answered. “Just wondering. But, hey Waves? No matter what it says, you’re still you. You’re still Waverly Earp, no matter who your parents are. You’re the best person I’ve ever met and I love you.”

Her lips were parted and her eyes were glassy. “Thank you, that means a lot to me,” she whispered. She pulled me closer and kissed me deeply. She grabbed my wrist and guided my hand up and up the inside of her skirt. My knees turned to water when my fingers made contact. “I love you, too,” she said softly, her lips brushing the outside of my ear. Her other hand twisted it my hair. “Now hurry up and fuck me before someone notices we’re both missing.”

She could be a succubus for all I care.

//

I didn’t end up taking her to dinner after all. Unless she’s occupied doing something else, she always spends the last twenty minutes of my shift sitting on my desk and flirting with me gratuitously until Sheriff can’t take it anymore and tells us to get out.

We were walking to my truck and I was asking her where she wanted to go when she tentatively asked if she could cook for me. When I asked her what she had in mind to make and she answered, “fried chicken,” I had to chomp down on my tongue to prevent myself from speaking my first response out loud, which was “Will you marry me?”

(I am many things but a bigamist is not one of them.)

Instead I said, “That’s my favorite food.”

She rolled her eyes. “I know, Nicole. That’s why I’m making it.” She pinched my butt.

We ran by the store to get supplies and a couple bottles of wine. I was looking forward to a nice night, because I had to spend the next day wrangling drunks at a hockey homecoming rally. Again, what is the matter with these Yankees? Does this high school even have a football team? Oh, country roads take me home.

What am I saying? I’ll take Yanks and hockey rallies and demons over the pervasive, institutionalized homophobia of my home town any day.

Anyway, when we got in, I cranked some music, poured us each a glass of wine, sat on my kitchen counter, and watched my supernaturally (see what I did there?) gorgeous girlfriend make me my favorite dinner.

The worst thing about a perfect moment like the one I was in is knowing that at some point, it has to end. I always get worried when I feel this happy. I know that’s incredibly morbid, but my track record isn’t really the best.

I must have looked melancholy because Waverly twirled over to me and popped a piece of chicken in my mouth fresh out of the pan. She looked at me expectantly.

“That…is delicious. Even my mawmaw would impressed.”

Her eyebrows flew up and she grinned delightedly. “Oh my god, say grandma again.”

I laughed and pinched her cheek. “Mawmaw.”

“Baby, your Georgia is showing.”

“Tha’ right?”

She tossed her head back and laughed. “Why don’t you have your accent all the time?”

I extended my legs, caught her around the waist, and pulled her flush against me. I rested my forearms on her shoulders and brushed my fingers through her hair. I let myself lapse into the accent I had grown up with. “Well, the military flattened most of it. We had all sorta folks from all walks of life and I lost most of the twang then. Then we were specifically taught not to use ‘r accents in Guard…”

I cut myself off with a noise like “-hick!”

I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had almost just said, “We were taught not to use our accents during Guardian training.” I had almost just obliterated my entire life. Love and intimacy and friendship had pulled down most of the walls between us and all my carefully constructed boundaries almost collapsed around my ears like a house of cards.

I cleared my throat. Dropped the Dixie. “In the academy. The police academy.” I gulped my wine and chanced a glance at her. She was clearly picking up on my discomfiture, not much gets past her.

“Waves, that chicken is delicious.”

She smiled uncertainly. “Is everything okay? Your whole mood just changed.”

I stroked her face. I hate to see her look like this. “Everything is fine, my love. I’m just hungry.”

She pecked me on the cheek and turned around to mind her chicken. Hunger was something she could fix. I waited until she had a new batch in the frying pan before I changed the song that was on to “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flats. I know, I know, its hokey, but in keeping with the southern theme, I thought it was appropriate.

I hopped off the counter and swept her into my arms and danced with her slowly across the kitchen floor. I lasted about thirty seconds before I pulled her chin up to kiss her. She broke away after a moment.

“Remember when I came over after I broke up with Champ?” she asked.

“I remember that distinctly,” I said, kissing her. “I almost died of happiness when I got that text from you.” I smiled, letting myself think about how I felt. “I thought…” I shook my head. “Never mind.”

It was her turn to pull my chin up. “No, what?”

I looked in her eyes. “I was really happy you came over, but I never thought in a million years I would be anything more to you than a good friend. I didn’t think you’d ever be interested in me…like this.”

“You really didn’t?”

“Really. But I figured I would rather be your friend than nothing at all.”

Her eyes were flitting rapidly back and forth between mine. Her response was not what I expected. “You know, Nicole, I was with Champ for years. I was settled. I thought I was going to marry him.”

I backed away from her a step. Oh god, why was she doing this? I must have conveyed what I was thinking by the look on my face.

“No, you stupid, insecure idiot.” Ouch.

She grabbed me by the front of my shirt and yanked me back. Her voice was much more husky and serious than it usually is.

“Listen to me. I’m telling you this because I need you to know that I would have mindlessly married him and settled down and been miserable for the rest of my life.” She took a deep, shaky breath.

“I broke up with him because I was falling in love with you. I came over that night because I wanted to tell you that I wanted to be with you. I wanted to kiss you, but I was too scared. It’s been like this our whole relationship, so far. We held off on having sex and saying ‘I love you’ for so long because I was scared, not because I didn’t want to. Meeting you was like…finding a winning lottery ticket but being afraid to cash it because you know your whole life will change and all you’ve ever known how to do is be exactly the same.”

The tears that I had seen building up in her eyes finally spilled over.

I suddenly realized I was smelling burning chicken. I let Waverly go, killed the gas on the stove, shoved the pan to the back burner, and turned back to her. The look in her eyes said that she was hanging on a precipice and she was waiting to see if I’d shove her over or pull her back.

***NOTE: I think this is my cue to back out.–A.M.***

I lifted her into my arms. She instantly wrapped her legs around me and crushed our mouths together so hard our teeth clashed. I walked forward a few steps so her back was pressed against the wall of my kitchen. I pressed my whole body into hers and she pressed back, sweeping her tongue into my mouth.

She grabbed my face with her right hand while the other one reached down and unbuttoned my pants. I turned my head, caught her fingers in my mouth, and sucked them. As soon as they were wet she jammed them down between our bodies but her arms were too short to reach from the way she was positioned.

She cursed and shoved at me. I took the hint and carried her to the couch as she crushed our mouths together again. She bit my lip hard enough for me to taste blood and I gasped. I let myself drop backwards onto the couch with her on top of me. She turned my head and kissed the side of my neck roughly. I pushed the back of her head and she bit down hard.

“Oh, Waverly,” I groaned.

She drew back so she could look at me.

“You know how hard it was to sleep in my bed with you that night?” I asked her breathlessly. I’d never seen her eyes look like they did in that moment. It was lust, but it was more than that.

“No, baby, how hard was it?” she asked as she shoved my pants and underwear down my hips. She had slid down so she was kneeling between my legs on the floor in front of the couch.

It was getting very difficult to speak intelligibly.

“It was fucking impossible.” Her nails sunk into the flesh of my thighs. “You were so hot and you were wearing my shirt and you smelled so good.”

I hissed. She had replaced her nails with her tongue.

“What did you want to do to me?”

Sweet JESUS. Her breath was hot and right…there.

“I…” Her mouth closed over me. I was seeing stars. It was all I could do to remember to breathe and remind myself not to grab her. I’d made that mistake days ago and learned my lesson.

She wasn’t moving. She was waiting for me to answer. Somehow I managed.

“This, Waverly, oh God, THIS.”

I guess it was what she wanted to hear.

It did not take me long.

In fact it couldn’t have been more than ten seconds.

I was still riding the aftershocks when she climbed back up and straddled my shaking body. I couldn’t have moved if I tried.

She’s fierce and dominant and firmly in control during, but after, she is always all gentleness and softness and love. Her wet lips were parted slightly and she held my face in her hands and watched my expression as I came back down.

As soon as I was capable, I put my arms around her and pulled her in, hugging her. I could hear her murmured endearments in my ear. I hugged her harder.

I spoke into her ear. “Waverly…what you were talking about before? You’ll never have to feel that way again. I got you. I’m yours. I’m yours before anyone else’s, forever. You’re not alone anymore.”

It was that last part that got her. She lost it. Her whole body went limp in my arms and she just cried. I waited until she was spent before I stood up and carried her upstairs.

We spent four hours showing each other everything that we had failed to adequately convey with words.

After, we sat at my kitchen table naked and ate cold fried chicken, grinning at each other shyly.

If anyone ever asks me what love is, this is my answer: Two people eating cold fried chicken together, naked, at midnight.

That’s what love is.

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #13
Early October 2016

I just walked in the door and collapsed on my couch. What a day.

Currently I’m trying to decide if dealing with drunken idiots, fighting with my girlfriend, battling the patriarchy, getting tossed around like a ragdoll by a burlap sack bug demon, and being forced to release the likes of Tucker Gardner without charges is a fair asking price for the week I’ve had with Waverly.

And you know what? Yep, it was all worth it.

Waves is coming over in a couple hours and we’re going to watch some documentary on veganism (which is my least favorite word that starts with a V, but I love Waverly, so.) I’m going to try to quickly summarize everything that happened today before she gets here. Hopefully it’ll help take the edge off, because I’m still pretty irritated.

Let’s start with the good stuff, because the day did NOT, by any means, start off as badly as it ended. This morning after last night’s fried chicken and love fest, Waverly woke up early to go home and get ready so she could hang out with me during my shift at the rally. (Like I said, she really deserves a “Girlfriend of the Year” award for how often she hangs out with me at work.)

I was making breakfast and complaining about how gross men are when they’re drunk, and theorizing on their need to pee on everything while inebriated, when Waverly interrupted my monologue and told me that if I stopped by the homestead on my way into the station she would give me something to “take my mind off of it.” She didn’t elaborate past that, she just swatted my ass and gave me that mischievous grin. I don’t know how I’m supposed to say no to that face, so I agreed.

I showed up at her house a couple hours later and let myself in. Sappho was smiling down on me because she came down the stairs not two minutes later wearing a cheerleading uniform that wasn’t even within shouting distance of being appropriate for a high schooler to wear, but was totally appropriate for Waverly to wear for me.

I was in the process of thinking that my life couldn’t get any better when she turned on music and started busting out this…dance routine.

I thought I knew how gay I was (super gay), but by the time she was finishing up by shaking her pompoms at me (literal pompoms, not a euphemism), I had transcended to the next level of lesbianism. As Katie and I used to say when we were playing pokemon, I leveled up.

She then had the audacity to say, “I didn’t know if it was ‘your thing’”

I don’t even know what that means. If there’s an organism that exists that wouldn’t enjoy watching the sexiest woman alive dance around in a skirt so short it would blind a nun, I’ve never heard of it. Maybe an amoeba? I responded that it’s everybody’s thing and then immediately spiraled off into jealousy-ville thinking about the aforementioned inebriated hockey slobs who were sure to love this outfit, too. Maybe it would be better if she didn’t hang out with me on my shift today. I said as much, minus the last part.

“No, silly,” she said, walking over with that hip swing she knows I love, “this is a private show, for you before you have to go off on patrol.”

Why does she have to do that pout? Why does she have to look at me like that? I’m already useless enough as it is lately.

I told her that Nedley needed all hands on deck, and then (because I wasn’t turned on enough for her, I guess) she said that the department needed to get more hands so mine could “stay right there on her,” and then she kissed me and basically I just tried not to have a stroke because really, I did have to go to work.

She stepped back to do one last cheer which involved revealing to me that she hadn’t been wearing panties the entire time, when Wynonna came in and had that fact revealed to her as well.

Awkward.

Needless to say, I bailed. Feeling massively turned on and simultaneously standing in the same room with Wynonna “I drink whiskey for breakfast” Earp and her panty-less baby sister is not something I ever care to experience again.

On topic/off topic, Wynonna’s hair has always been amazing, but it’s looking especially luscious lately. The alcohol-only diet she’s on is really working for her.

***NOTE: Pickled. –A.M.***

After I got to the station, Sheriff and I immediately went to investigate a dead body found at the high school because Purgatory. To my chagrin, he immediately passed it off to Wynonna, who was showing off how seriously she takes her job by munching on a donut and snapping pictures with her cellphone. Usually I’d snark at her, but I figured she deserved a pass for not giving me any shit about earlier.

Sheriff essentially told me to clean up the body and forget it ever happened. So strange, when I had applied to be a Sheriff’s deputy, it didn’t say “glorified human remains disposal technician” anywhere in the job description. Oh, well. I’ll just get the scoop from Jeremy later. I love having a mole in the Black Badge office. I guess I could ask Waverly, but the whole getting kicked out of BBD still makes me a little bitter, so I don’t go there.

After I was done transporting the poor dead dude to the morgue, Nedley stationed me in the gym to make sure more drunks didn’t die via self-disembowelment under suspicious circumstances. I had just started wondering where my girl was when I turned around and got popped in the nose with cotton candy, which would have been cute if I wasn’t getting ready to deal with an influx of rowdy hockey fans. I had just started to ask her if maybe we could take a rain-check because I had more on my hands than I had expected, when she sort of kiss-attacked me.

I usually don’t mind being facially assaulted by Waverly (nope, not at all, heh), but it was wildly out of character and Nedley was standing not five feet away.

When I pulled away and told her, “Not in uniform, not in public,” she gave me a look and said, “Not good enough.”

What does that mean?!

I didn’t have time to ask, though, because at that exact moment I witnessed some skeevy, bespectacled, greasy-haired asshole taking up-skirt photos. I lit him up.

“Hey! Give me your phone!” I demanded.

“You must be new,” he answered smarmily.

“If I find up-skirts on there…”

“You might. Also a video of you and Waverly making out. I don’t think that’s allowed.”

Game over, pal.

“Let him go, it’s not worth it,” Waverly said. “It’s Tucker, he’s a Gardner.”

Wtf? “I don’t care what he does! Give me your damn phone,” I yelled, swatting it out of his hand.

He gave me some more lip so finally I just cuffed him and told him he was under arrest for obstruction of justice. I tightened the cuffs down on his little bird wrists and he cried like a bitch while Waverly called after me, “Nicole, you don’t want to do this!”

I can’t even remember the last time I was so angry. Getting booted out of BBD doesn’t even hold a candle to how I feel about being told how to do my job, especially when it comes to handling entitled assholes with no respect for women. Oooh I’m getting fired up all over again.

***NOTE: PUNCH! HIM! PUNCH! HIM! Nicole: 2, Entitled Assholes: 0. Also, none of what she is describing sounds like Aunt Waverly at all. She may as well be talking about someone else. It’s so icky.–A.M.***

As I hustled Tucker the Fucker out the door, I called over my shoulder to Waverly, “Don’t tell me how to do my job!” and tried with limited success not to notice the knee-high, high-heeled pink boots she was wearing. We would have to revisit that topic later. Repeatedly.

I booked Tucker and tried very hard to cool my jets. I gave him his phone call and he used it to get his sister to bail him out. Nedley let him go without a second thought. I could not believe it. I know Purgatory is backwater, but not even in my “good old boy” hometown would something like that fly. He even gave him back his cell phone. Granted, I had pulled out the sim card and crushed it with the butt of my sidearm and put a tracker on the phone, but still. It was the principle of the thing. Sheriff had also dropped all the charges. I tried to argue with him about it to no avail.
.
Then he started hitting me with phrases like “galpalitis” and “boys will be boys.”

“Whoa, I’m sorry, did I hit my head and wake up in patriarchal bullshit land?” I asked.

Nedley: “It looks fine to me. But that reminds me, the first aid kit does need restocking.”

Tucker, from behind me: “I want her charged with harassment.”

Once, when I was a little girl, I was walking home from school and saw a bunch of teenaged boys goading a chained-up pit bull with a stick. Its eyes were rolling and it was foaming at the mouth, and that’s really the only analogy I can think of to accurately describe how I felt.

“Oh you have not seen harassment,” I growled.

Can I get climb up on my soapbox for just a minute, here? (Right, right, this is my journal.) I have been on three deployments to two different war-torn countries. I got blown up. I watched three of my friends die before my eyes. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’ve been forced to kill in life-or-death situations. I have two bronze medals and a purple heart hanging in my bedroom. I’ve been through boot camp, MP training, airborne school, the police academy, and Guardian training. My own parents kicked me out of my house when I was seventeen years old. I wake up every single morning fully prepared to die for the woman I love, and yet, because I have a vagina, I was being treated like an overly emotional child having a temper tantrum.

Thing is, it’s not like my situation is unique. Senator Tammy Duckworth from Illinois? She was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot who lost both of her legs in combat, and she is still regularly condescended to by her male colleagues. One of them (for real, this is a true story) asked her if she “even cares about veterans.” It’s pervasive on every level of our society. Wynonna walks around with a twelve inch pistol on her hip that she uses to KILL DEMONS and she still gets treated like a loose cannon and the town pariah.

***NOTE: Get ‘em, Aunt Nicole! Go off! Hahaha! –A.M.***

Maybe I should have stopped by the boxing gym on my way home. Actually, maybe I should have just punched Tucker in the face when I had the chance.

Ah, well. Lesson learned.

Rant over. Anyway.

Nedley put me on paperwork and stopped just short of patting me on the head and telling me to be a good girl. I walked into the break room hoping that Wynonna had hidden a bottle of booze somewhere only to run into the woman herself, struggling with the coffee maker. Since apparently I’m not good for anything else but housekeeping and filling out forms, I decided to fix it for her.

“I just came to get some books for Waverly.”

Great. My girlfriend is avoiding me. Wynonna tried to talk her way around it and then said she had to jet just as I was finishing fixing the coffee maker for her. Before she could leave, I called her back.

“Hey Wynonna, have you noticed any…changes…in Waverly lately?”

Her lip curled slightly. “Were you hoping for some?”

The hell?

“No! It’s just, ever since Willa died, she hasn’t been acting like herself.”

“Hmm, well, one sister kills the other, might rattle your cage a bit.”

“No, of course. It’s just, what I really love about Waverly is…it’s like it’s missing sometimes. You know, the sweetness. She’s become hard, almost cruel. More…”

I stopped talking. I almost said, “More how I used to be.” I had been so full of rage and pain after Katie’s death even my closest friends had started avoiding me. Of course, Wynonna didn’t know that. Her own shame and anger issues drove her to assume that I was talking about her.

“Like me?” she asked, completing my sentence. I tried to say no, but she continued. “Is this because she kept you out of Black Badge?”

At first I felt bad because I could see the pain underneath her defensive shell, but after the Black Badge comment, I just told her to forget it, to which she responded, “I think we both know I won’t.”

Awesome day. But wait, it gets so much better!

I had to pick up some dude named Skip for drunk and disorderly conduct and vehicular theft. I was filling out his paperwork and chastising him a little when he started trying to rip out his own entrails and sack-face-bug-demon showed up. It was my first time face to “face” with an actual demon and despite being pissed off at her, I have to say that I’m impressed that Wynonna deals with this type of shit on the daily.

I pulled my pistol and yelled at it because I don’t know how else to confront a demon and I was feeling, as the kids on Tumblr say, a little “extra.”

Turned out it was the wrong move because it came around the corner and just sort of tossed me. I had been overestimating how crappy my day had been so far, because as I hit the floor I could feel my bad shoulder pop. I dragged myself up anyway but it tossed me through a plate glass window. I marveled at the fact that I was somehow not bleeding or unconscious when Doc came up behind it and shot it. Wynonna came through the doorway next, inexplicably carrying a Waverly-sized hockey trophy.

This isn’t even Punk’d level anymore. Now I’m truly starting to believe I’m starring in my own version of The Truman Show. The Nicole “FML” Haught Show.

“I had him right where I wanted him,” I told the scoobs. Doc helped me to my feet and we followed some dude named Perry into the back office where he was opting to take on sack-face all by himself.

Yeah buddy, I tried that, and I got tossed like a pair of panties on prom night. Sure enough, Perry started trying to rip out his own guts. At least that didn’t happen to me, phew.

Wynonna then solved the problem by trapping the demon in the giant trophy because…why not.

After everyone had cleared out, I headed back to the bullpen to clear up the glass I had shattered with my frontal bone when Sheriff came in and started mansplaining to me that Purgatory is overrun with demons and everyone tries to pretend like that’s not the case.

I know he was trying to be sweet and have a moment with me but…come on. Where was he when the not-friendly scarecrow was exploding into a million flying cockroaches and being sucked into a trophy like a Guillermo del Toro remake of the Wizard of Oz?

But then he handed me a coffee and broke it down for me grandpa style. As it turns out, he wants me to be Sheriff. That’s…honestly kinda nice. I told him we need more manpower (so my hands can stay on Waverly the next time she decides to hit me with an impromptu commando dance-off) and he agreed to let me work with Black Badge when the more “interesting” cases arose. I also told him “no more khakis” because there isn’t a pair of khakis on Britney’s Earth that aren’t floods on me.

I was already feeling a lot better, but then he added a cherry to my Sundae by handing me a two inch thick file on one Tucker the Fucker and told me he’s been playing a long game. I mean, I plan to as well but I call it the "tracking his phone until he ultimately gives me an excuse to deck him in the face” game.

That’s the last thing that happened before my shift thankfully ended and now here I am at home, waiting for Waves, who at this point is uncharacteristically late. I might have to start this vegan documentary without her. Haha, just kidding, I’m going to make bacon.

***NOTE: I just have to say that sometimes Nicole’s journal reads like a recap of one of those old Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns. I’ve always wondered why Aunt Waverly doesn’t really like that show, but now I know. She doesn’t like it because it used to literally be her life. –A.M.***

//

Journal Entry #14
Early October 2016

Oh, I don’t want to write this entry, but I know I have to.

I was right. About Waverly. There was something seriously wrong with her.

She was possessed.

***NOTE: COME AGAIN?! –A.M.***

The “dream” I had about her at the archway was an on-view like I thought and I’m never going to doubt my own instincts again. Not that I blame Javion, he doesn’t have much…or any…demon experience.

I allowed her to be possessed for…weeks. I knew something was up but I never would have guessed in a million years that it was this. It’s been…well. It’s been a rough few days. I guess I should start at the beginning.

After the night bug-face demon happened, we didn’t really see each other for two days. I was bummed because I had really wanted to show her my new uniform. (I look hot in it. I’ll admit it.) I mostly thought we were both just busy. Work had been a little crazier than usual and I knew Waverly was doing research for BBD.

I did see Wynonna yesterday morning, though. She finally admitted that she had noticed something was wrong with Waverly, too, and actually apologized, which she does…well, never. I appreciated it.

For some reason, I felt compelled to tell Wynonna I would never betray Waverly’s trust. I understand how ironic that statement is, but I meant it. Hiding what I am from her for her own protection and doing something to intentionally betray her are, in my head, two different things. Maybe that’s naiive, but it’s the only way I can live with myself.

Wynonna told me she knew that, and I told her that I feel like Waverly has been struggling with her identity. I didn’t elaborate past that, of course. Wynonna still doesn’t know that Waverly thinks she’s not an Earp. Wynonna would never have guessed that thought, so she went in an unexpected direction. “Is that why she went undercover with Lucado?”

What?! Oh my God, not being able to Locate is the absolute worst.

What kind of mission? Was it dangerous? Where in the world was she?

Wynonna didn’t answer only. She seemed deep in thought and told me that this morning she found Waverly wandering outside in nothing but a nightgown.

“Miss four blankets plus a bonus blanket?” I asked her. (PS, the bonus blanket is my thigh. Sometimes it’s my whole body, depending how lucky I’m getting.)

Then we figured out all the cutlery was missing, Wynonna found some dog tags and said, “Dolls!” and sped off. I didn’t know what that meant.

I called and texted Waverly three times, trying to find out where she was. I kept trying to Locate her, even though I knew it wouldn’t work. I was getting more and more frustrated so I finally texted Wynonna.

Me (10/5/17 3:30 pm): Wynonna, do you need help? Where is she?

A call came over the radio. It was a domestic disturbance and I was the only one available to respond. SHIT.

Me (10/5/17 3:34 pm): I just got called out on a disturbance. Are you okay? I’m really worried about her
Wynonna (10/5/17 3:35 pm): I’m okay. I got it.
Me (10/5/17 3:36pm): Are you sure??
Wynonna (10/5/17 3:37 pm): YES Nicole, back off!

Wow, okay. I went to the call and prayed Wynonna was taking care of her sister. As my terrible luck would have it, one call followed another and I was running all over town, anxiety about Waverly building in my chest. I kept leaving her voicemails, but she didn’t call back. Finally I got a chance to go back to the station. I tried to just work on some files to take my mind off of it, but I felt terrible.

I’m not only failing my love, I’m failing my duty. I’m getting paid to use powers that I currently don’t have. I should have gone with Wynonna when she found those dog tags and realized something was wrong.

To top everything off, who walked in while I was sitting at my desk but Tucker Gardner. He came in to bitch about his sisters and had the gall to tell me that something was wrong with Waverly. That she almost choked him to death. Nice try.

One of these days, asshole. One of these days.

I told him to get out.

I got called out on another few jobs. In fact, I was out on jobs well after my shift had ended and I still hadn’t heard from Waverly or Wynonna. Finally, just when I was about to speed to the station and clock out before I get called to yet another one, I got a text from Waverly.

Waverly <3 (10/5/16 8:13 pm): Hi, I’m fine. We’re home.
Me (10/5/16 8:13 pm): Omg Waves where were you? I’ve been freaking out all day!
Waverly <3 (10/5/16 8:15 pm): I was at work, Nicole
Me (10/5/16 8:15 pm): Baby, I was at the station and around town for twelve hours today and I didn’t see you at all
Waverly <3 (10/5/16 8:17 pm): Just don’t worry about it, okay? I’m fine. I don’t question where you are all day

…What the hell?

Me (10/5/16 8:17 pm): Okay…are you mad at me for some reason?
Waverly <3 (10/5/16 8:27 pm): No, I just wish you’d give me a little breathing room, okay?

I truly don't understand this. We've been great together. Better than great. The night after the documentary we played Mariokart for hours and the next morning I woke up practically smothering in her hair, we were wrapped up so tight. What changed?

I didn’t respond because I didn’t know what to say. I felt heartbroken because I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I trudged out to my car, no longer motivated to get home. Being in a constant state of anxiety all day had sapped me of all my energy. I got in my truck and put my head on the steering wheel. Something was seriously up with Waverly, and I was starting to think it involved our relationship.

Maybe part of her identity struggle had to do with the two of us being together.

When I got home, I went straight to bed. I texted Waverly a couple times to say goodnight, but I got no response. I did not sleep.

God I’m bummed.

//

The next day was no better. I texted and called her, especially concerned because there’s supposed to some kind of “thundersnowstorm” (the north is a strange and awful place) tonight. I tried to flirt a little and throw in the word, “hibernate,’” but then I felt stupid afterward.

I just wanted things to go back to normal.

I was in the office, trying to distract myself with work when Wynonna walked in, adjusting her boobs. It looked like what I would start to see my mom do every time she got pregnant.

***NOTE: Nicole can’t you please figure this out already so you can tell Mama to stop drowning me in Jack Daniels? –A.M.***

“Hey, did Waves pop in without me seeing her?”

“She’s home sick.”

Why didn’t she mention that in our text exchange? I know she was being curt but I think she would have told me if she was sick.

“Really? Because I spoke to her last night and she sounded fine.”

“She’s a good faker.” For some odd reason she spun around. Bizarre. “Or hadn’t you noticed?”

The FUCK?

“I left her three messages, do you know if she got them?”

She spun around again. I guess she was doing it for emphasis?

“THREE unreturned messages? Waverly. Needs. Space. She’s dying under the weight of your expectations.” She started walking away. Wait, what is with this coat? Did she join the night’s watch?

“Waverly’s not the...white picket fence in Purgatory girl you want her to be anymore.”

Holy shit this was mean. I really thought we had gotten friendlier with each other. We weren’t going to be BFF anytime soon, but I thought we were at least cordial. Respectful. This was just awful, and…after the way Waverly had sounded when she was texting me last night, I was afraid it was rooted in truth.

“You know, Wynonna, you’re really mean when you drink before noon.”

As I walked past her out of the room, she said, “Hope your Tinder game’s solid.”

I know she was just trying to ruffle my feathers, but hearing that was like a knife to the gut. I threw myself out of the door to the station and went right out to my squad car. I had a ton of paperwork and stuff to do, but I didn’t care. I drove away to the edge of town and parked. I tried to collect my thoughts but it was like herding Calamity Janes.

I feel like the week Waverly and I had just had together was just a temporary interlude in an otherwise FUBAR situation. Why had I allowed myself to get lured into such a false sense of security? What is wrong with me? That is not the way I was trained, nor was I allowed to be so selfish when Waverly’s life was potentially on the line.

God, I’m really spiraling over this. Anyway, I spent the rest of my shift on patrol. I didn’t want to run into Wynonna again, and I was terrified that if I saw Waverly, she would break up with me. I didn’t even want to look at my phone.

When the clouds started to gather and there was a very ominous rumbling in the distance, I decided I had had enough and drove to the homestead. I walked around the house and saw signs of struggle but I couldn’t find anyone, so I went out to the barn. There was something in there. It was a gigantic tower made entirely of metal. Like a lightning rod. Now, I know all manner of weird shit goes down in the Earp household, but this was just idiotic. This barn was made of nothing but kindling and matchsticks, it would go up in a blaze that would probably take the house with it.

At that moment, Waverly walked in the door. She looked strange, kind of dark. She was all hunched over like she’d been caught doing something wrong.

“Oh right,” she said, “You.”

At first, I didn’t register the fact that she sounded like she hated me. It sank in slowly and snaked its way to my heart. What…?

“Look,” I said, my voice shaking a little, “I know you need space and I tried to stay away, but I got worried. There’s signs of struggle in the house, and Waverly, what the hell is this…thing?” I turned to grab some kind of whisk or ice cream scoop or something.

“Stop! Stop!” She yelled at me, running over. I dropped the stuff in shock. I had never seen her so agitated.

“What? Are you kidding me? This is going to attract lightning like crazy! The whole barn could go up in flames!”

Just like that, she started crying. My emotions were getting jerked around like a puppet on a string. I immediately moved toward her and pulled her into a hug. I grabbed the back of her head gently and asked what was wrong.

“It’s Wynonna,” she whispered, “she’s possessed. Like demon took over her body, planning to kill us all, possessed.”

Oh my god, this explained everything! Well…mostly everything.

“Did she hurt you?” I demanded. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears. I was seeing red.

“Yeah,” she whimpered.

“Where is she? On the homestead?”

She nodded. I could hear voices outside, one of them sounded like Wynonna. I grabbed Waverly and shifted her behind me. I pulled my sidearm.

“I’ve got you, Waves. I swear I’ve got you.” Even if she planned on breaking up with me after this, she was still my love.

And I’m still her Guardian.

Wynonna came in. “Step away from the lightning rod,” she said.

I barely listened to her. “Stand back, Wynonna. Waverly told me everything. You come forward and I’ll shoot.”

“Haught, settle down. The demon jumped into Waverly. She needs to drink this. Now.”

“Don’t trust her,” Waverly whispered. I thought, believe me, Waves. I don’t.

“Yeah, flask. Demon did its homework.”

“Nicole! You are not my sister’s keeper.”

That blindsided me a little. She had used the exact word Alex had used weeks ago. “You can be her partner or you can be her keeper but you can’t be both.” My insides twisted up. She certainly didn’t sound possessed.

“That’s the demon talking,” I said, trying to convince myself more than anything else.

“No, it’s me. Listen, I’ll admit, you’re a little queen brisk of bossy town for my taste,” Ouch. But okay, fair enough. “But I know that you love her, and you know that I love her, too.”

Yes. That is true. That I do know.

“And now that thing is trying to keep her.”

“Shoot her,” Most-definitely-not-my-Waverly said. “It’s the only way.”

I rounded on her in horror. “Waverly Earp would never say something like that. Never.” And then I saw them. Finally, I saw them. Her eyes.

She had been possessed the entire time. Here in the barn, today, last night, yesterday, these past…few…weeks….

Oh, god. Oh god, oh god, oh god.

“You’re weak,” she snarled.

“Oh Waverly, let her help you,” I pleaded.

She must have knocked me out at that point. When I woke up there was light streaming into the barn and Waverly was vomiting up a tentacle demon. Wynonna called it “Mikshun” and shot it. I dragged myself over to Waverly, who had collapsed, and scooped her into my arms.

“That was so New Year’s 2012,” She groaned. How weird, she was getting blackout drunk while I was on deployment. “I can’t believe I ordered you to shoot her,” she said, looking aghast.

“I almost did it, too.” I know it wasn’t really the most appropriate thing to say to my girlfriend about her sister, but I said, “I’d shoot anybody for you,” because it’s true.

She smiled and said, “That’s really sweet.” I guess my slightly facetious tone had come through to her.

I kissed her deeply, despite the demon vomit. I don’t care. It was the first time I had kissed her, the 100% real Waverly Earp, since I was laying on the floor of the station after Willa had shot me. There were other, similar concerns on this train of thought that I was following but I couldn’t go there right then, not with Wynonna in the room.

Wynonna cleared her throat and told us to come on. Waverly was crying, but smiling. “Let’s get her in the house,” Wynonna said to me.

Still holding Waverly, I looked up at Wynonna and said sincerely, “Thank you for saving our girl,” because Waverly is OUR girl. Wynonna and I may not always see eye to eye, but we have to work together. When we’re against each other, bad things happen.

We may not ever be friends, but we should always endeavor to be a team.

***NOTE: I got her, Aunt Nicole. Waverly is my girl, now, too. I’ll take care of her. –A.M.***

“That thing took Willa,” she said. “Wasn’t letting it get Waverly.” I hadn’t even thought of it like that, but she was right.

Waverly said that she knew Wynonna would rescue her, and Wynonna quipped that all she’d done was bring a flask, SOP for the Earps.

“Yeah,” I said, as we stood Waverly up, “you said some nasty things.”

“Well, that was the demon talking. Don’t believe all of it.”

I stopped in my tracks, “What do you mean, all of it?”

She didn’t answer.

Asshole.

I helped get Waverly into the house. They both debriefed me as best as they could about how things had transpired the last in the last few days. The demon had been biding its time in Waverly, collected the metal stuff, so ultimately it could fuse with her body when it was hit by lightning. It made me shudder. After the day she had gone missing, the demon decided it was sick of fighting Waverly and jumped into Wynonna, who it was able to manipulate almost entirely.

Waverly sacrificed herself and took it back from her sister, trusting that Wynonna could save her.

If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

***NOTE: Oh Mama, oh Aunt Waverly. I know this journal is mostly a love story between Nicole and Aunt Waverly, but I feel equally sad for every other pairing. Aunt Waverly must miss Mama so much. –A.M.***

Waverly pulled me aside and gently told me that she would meet me at my house in a couple hours. There were some things she wanted to do and talk to Wynonna about. She looked into my eyes with her blessedly green ones and whispered, “I am so, so sorry for what I did and said to you.”

I could feel my insides falling to pieces. The relief that washed over me was dizzying. “I thought you didn’t want to be with me anymore.”

“Oh no,” she whispered. She stepped into my arms and I pulled her against my chest, burying my face in her hair. I had my emotions as well in hand as I could. It was hard.

“I wish I could have told you what was going on. I wish I could have given you a hint, or something. I tried so hard to fight it but it wouldn’t let me.” She started crying softly. “I did the best I could.”

“I know, baby. It’s okay. You did really well. That thing had complete control over Wynonna. She couldn’t stand up to it for a day, you stood up to it for weeks. You’re incredible.” I pulled back to make eye contact with her. She glanced up at me quickly through wet eyelashes. She sniffed and wiped her cheeks, and crossed her arms in front of her.

“At the end…like the last couple of days, it got harder to fight. Like, a lot harder. And the weird thing was, it was like it got harder to fight the farther away I was from you.” She dragged her eyes back up to meet mine. I stroked her arms and watched her carefully.

“And…this is going to sound really crazy, okay? But…that week we were…having all that sex? When we said we loved each other?”

Were we going to talk about this now? My heart was hammering. I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready to hear that all those times weren’t really her… Everything we did and said…was it real? Was any of it real?

But to my surprise, that hadn’t been the direction she was headed. “…I felt better. Like…I didn’t have as many blank spots in my day…”

I swallowed hard. That’s what they were? Blank spots? How many blank spots had she had when we were in bed together? I felt absolutely sick.

“…and it was like I was stronger. Isn’t that weird?”

She was waiting for me to answer. I snapped myself out of my anxiety-riddled brain and shook my head at her. “I don’t think it’s weird, baby. Maybe you, I don’t know, drew strength from our love.” I smiled at her shyly.

….Wait a second. Wait. A. Second.

That was why she was absorbing her Shield. The priority for the Shield wasn’t what was OUTSIDE of her, it was what was INSIDE of her. When we had been having all that sex, I was recasting it something like two or three times a day (oh, bliss.) I hadn’t been able to cast one for the past few days at all, because we hadn’t been together.

That’s what had given the demon the opportunity to make its move.

Just add another tally mark to the master-list of Nicole Haught’s failings, I guess.

She pulled my face down to her and kissed me sweetly. I grabbed her forearm tightly in my hand, like I always do, focused hard, and cast her Shield. To my complete and utter relief, I could feel it settling around her, perfect and gold and shimmering. Thank Britney. She told me she loved me and she would “see me at home soon.” :-)

//

But as it turns out, that’s not going to happen. I just got a text from her saying that she won’t be able to come over after all, because Wynonna needs her.

I love her, so I don’t force her to elaborate past that, but it still hurts.

A lot. In my heart of hearts, I’ve been missing her for weeks.

I guess one more night won’t make that big a difference.

***NOTE: Poor, poor Aunt Nicole. Wow, these past two journal entries have been a rollercoaster. I never could have guessed that Aunt Waverly was possessed. Or Mama, for that matter. They really came through for each other. They always did. I hope one day I get the opportunity to prove that I’m like that, too. When I’m done with this journal, and I get some answers from Javion, I swear that if Nicole is alive, I’ll find her and bring her home to Aunt Waverly.

Because I am the daughter of Wynonna Earp. –A.M.***

//

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #15
Early October 2016/Late January 2017

Waverly <3 (10/7/16 12:33 am): Hey, Wynonna finally just fell asleep. I’m sorry I bailed on you tonight. I’m so lonely now and I miss my bonus blanket :-(

I sat bolt upright, kicking the covers off, my heart leaping in my chest.

Me (10/7/16 12:33 am): Can I please come over? I want to be with you so bad.
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 12:33 am): Oh, you’re awake! YES! Pretty please?
Me (10/7/16 12:34 am): 15 minutes. Front door or window?
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 12:34 am): Front door is fine, just be extra quiet. She hasn’t been drinking.

After what had happened? That sounds…strange.

***NOTE: Omg, there it is, she knows. Mama must have wanted to tell Aunt Waverly. I wonder when she figured it out. It had to have been during the day she was possessed. Did the demon tell her about me? That’s kind of metal. Rock on. –A.M.***

I booked it to the homestead and crept inside and up the stairs to Waverly’s room. I cracked her door and peered in, but it was dark. I made my way to the bed and stubbed the hell out of my toe.

“Ow!” I hissed.

Waverly immediately turned over, sounding sleepy. “Nicole, are you okay?”

“Yeah, Waves when did your bed have a growth spurt?”
I heard the sound of the blankets being pulled back and a hand closed around my wrist, tugging me down insistently.

“Okay, baby, hold on,” I said as I started pulling my clothes off quickly.

She answered my earlier question. “I bought a bigger one the other day. Doc and Dolls helped me. I didn’t tell you because I kind of wanted it to be a surprise.”

I finished taking my clothes off and slid into bed with her. She was like a tiny naked furnace and it felt so good after driving over in a cold car in the midnight chill. I settled in behind her and kissed the back of her head while she scooted into me.

“I’m definitely surprised, baby. I don’t feel like I’m going to fall off the edge anymore.”

“All this room in here better not affect our cuddling quality,” she muttered.

“Waverly, nothing could hinder our cuddling, we’re obsessed with each other,” I responded.

The part of my brain that hates me gave me a “Are you sure about that?” dig. I ignored it. Now wasn’t the time to be insecure, Waverly needed me.

As if on cue, she rolled onto her back and turned toward me. I could feel her warm forehead against mine and her breath on my face and then her lips on my lips. Oh, she tasted like my Waverly again. I grasped her arm and checked her Shield and it was still there, wonderfully solid and intact. I brought her wrist to my mouth and kissed it. She hummed and kissed me again, using her tongue to part my lips. I despised myself for it, but I backed off.

“Baby, I’m sorry. I uh…I didn’t sleep at all last night,” I said.

I felt her flinch as she remembered why. “Shit,” she whispered. “Those texts I sent you were so mean. Oh my god, I forgot all about them.”

“No, don’t feel guilty, Waves,” I stoked her face gently, “I know it wasn’t you. But I didn’t sleep and I have to be at work at 6:00 this morning.” I kissed her again and she kissed back insistently until I broke it off.

“If we start doing this right now I’m liable to start my shift on 48 hours of no sleep,” I said, smiling.

Yes, I was tired. Yes, everything I told her was true. But that wasn’t the real reason I was saying no. I had to have a conversation with her about all the other times we had been together. I had to cross-reference what I remembered and what she remembered to make sure there weren’t any of those awful “blank spots” in her memory. I couldn’t have sex with her right then because first I had to find out how many times I had done so when she wasn’t present and somehow figure out how to deal with it.

“I understand,” she whispered, stroking my cheek. “I just missed you so much.”

“Oh Waverly,” I said, hugging her closer, “I missed you, too.”

She finally acquiesced and settled against me, closing her eyes.

“Hey, Waves?”

“Hmm?”

“When did you steal my body spray?”

“Few days ago.”

Both of her pillows smelled like vanilla. It felt nice to fall asleep smiling again.

//

The next morning I left well before Waverly woke up because I had to drive home and change first. When I got to the station I worked on some paperwork until I saw Jeremy and Dolls come in out of the corner of my eye. As he walked by, I asked Jeremy to come back over once he had clocked in to “debrief,” as we call it.

About ten minutes later, he came over to stand in front of my desk. For a moment, we just looked at each other.

“Wow…uh….wow. So she really vomited up that tentacle demon? I guess that emetic was really effective. What I don’t understand is why she would vomit to expel it. Anatomically speaking, I would assume a parasite like Mikshun would reside in the cranial cavity, but I suppose…”

“Jeremy. Please.”

“Right! Sorry. Hypothesize later, Jeremy.”

“What about the last part?”

“Ah, right. Yes, I’m happy to check for you as soon as she gets in, but I have to warn you, I really don’t think that’s why I couldn’t hear her before. Possessions are parasitic in nature, they don’t change your fundamental make-up. They don’t make you not-human.”

No, but they can rob you of your humanity.

“Poignant,” he said thoughtfully.

“Can you make an effort to only respond to the stuff in my head that I want you to respond to?”

He wrinkled his nose. “Ah, but you think such interesting stuff!”

I glared at him. “Jeremy, I can think MUCH more interesting stuff. Don’t push it.”

He squeezed his eyes together and shook his head, waving his hands in front of him. “Point taken, point taken,” he opened his eyes. “I’ll text you when she gets in and I find out, okay?”

“Sounds good. Hey, thanks Jeremy. I’m glad you’re my buddy.” I smiled at him. I really am, I like him a lot.

Of course he heard both the verbal and nonverbal parts of that thought. He immediately looked bashful and said, “Aw, shucks,” and stuck his fist out to fist bump me.

“Wait, should we have a secret handshake?”

“Okay, bonding moment over. Beat it, Jer. I have work to do.”

He wandered off in the direction of the BBD office and I texted Waverly.

Me (10/7/16 7:01 am): Hey gorgeous, when will you be in? Sorry I had to sneak out on you this morning like that.
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:03 am): Yeah, you’re in trouble ;-)

Oh good, I absolutely love being in trouble.

Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:04 am): Probably not for another couple hours, Wynonna and I are cleaning up the Tower of Crazy.
Me (10/7/16 7:05 am): Ah, got it.
Me (10/7/16 7:05 am): Hey Waves? Will you wear that outfit that I like today?
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:05 am): White top, black skirt?
Me (10/7/16 7:06 am): …..Yes….
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:06 am): I already am :-) :-) :-)
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:07 am): 1 attachment

Be still, my heart.

Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:08 am): Are you wearing that outfit that I like, too? ;-)
Me (10/7/16 7:08 am): I’m in my work uniform, babe.
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:09 am): That’s the one I mean. Didn’t think I noticed the new uniform?
Me (10/7/16 7:09 am): Oh. You like it?
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:10 am): I love it. I can’t wait to see it on the floor of my bedroom
Me (10/7/16 7:10 am): You’re my favorite.
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:10 am): You’re MY favorite
Me (10/7/16 7:10 am): <3
Waverly <3 (10/7/16 7:10 am): <3

Waiting for her to get to the station was going to be torture.

At 9:30, I got this text:

Jeremy (10/7/16 9:32 am): Nope, still nothing
Me (10/7/16 9:33 am): Damnit, why are you always right?
Jeremy (10/7/16 9:34 am): I have better than average deductive reasoning skills & intelligence, and an ability to read minds.
Me (10/7/16 9:34 am): It was a rhetorical question, Jer.
Jeremy (10/7/16 9:35 am): Ah, it’s hard for me to detect rhetorical questions and sarcasm over text

Shit. Well, I guess that was something we were still going to have to deal with. But not right now.

At 10:15, Wynonna came swinging into the bullpen. I immediately looked behind her for Waverly, but she didn’t appear. Drat.

“I really, really want you to give me a case, any case.” Wynonna put her hands together and grinned at me, leaning over the desk.

She was entirely too cheerful this morning, something was definitely up.

“Sorry girl,” I replied, “I got nothing.”

She had JUST put down that tentacle demon a little over twelve hours ago. Can’t she ever just take a break?

***NOTE: The Earps go hard or we go home, Nicole. –A.M.***

“Come on! Cannibal psychiatrist. Scorpion-shih-tzu hybrid. Ooh, creepy clowns! Those are really hot right now.”

This whole thing was hilarious, but seriously. She was entirely too chipper.

But wow, that hair. Top shelf.

“Wynonna, take a day off,” I suggested, gesticulating.

“Boo.”

“Get a spa treatment.”

“Purgatory doesn’t have a spa. Not unless you count the Jacuzzi Willie drives around in his pick-up.”

I definitely didn’t. I had actually pulled him over the other day with five drunks sloshing around back there, one of which was a hitchhiker from the local jail they had picked up. I can still smell it in my mind’s nose.

“Go shopping?”

“Why, do my clothes look tight?”

Okay, is what I think is going on actually going on? Am I crazy?

Before I could give it more consideration, an angel popped in carrying a coffee cup. “Hiiii!” she said, handing the cup to Wynonna. “For you.”

“Aw yeeeahhh,” Wynonna said, taking a swig. She immediately spat it out. “Why does this taste like it was brewed in Nedley’s hat?”

“Because it’s not coffee. It’s soothing sunshine herbal tea.”

Had the demon affected the area of Waverly’s brain that stored all her memories of Wynonna?

“Well, if it sounds like a hippie hemorrhoid cream, I don’t want it in my cup.”

I don’t blame her. Some of the stuff Waverly tries to get me to eat and drink is downright appalling. One time she tried to convince me that “kale chips” are a thing. Like, you know potato chips? But made out of kale. The devil’s vegetable. Yeah, she can’t fool me.

“Waverly, can you get her out of here and then come back? I’m off in ten minutes.” I smiled at her. I was not actually off in ten minutes, I just planned on taking an extra-long break and then pretending to go on patrol. Waverly leaned across the desk and looked at me with her big, gorgeous love eyes. The relief between the two of us at the fact that she was back to normal was palpable.

But it could be MORE palpable.

“Ugh, you guys make the Notebook look bleak,” Wynonna groaned. “Do you practice those googly eyes in the mirror or is that just natural talent?”

Wynonna, we practice those googly eyes at each other. Waverly scowled at her a little but when her eyes came back to me, they softened. I dipped my head, flustered. I don’t ever get flustered. Oh man, I am such a mess.

Our moment was interrupted though, because just then a bloody nun walked in.

Purgatory.

//

Waves wasn’t able to get away until almost an hour later, at which point I was practically crawling out of my skin in anticipation of being dragged away on a call before I could clock out and take her somewhere, anywhere.

She was just so pretty and so very Waverly again and that outfit was amazing and the way her hair was all swept to one side and…ugh. She was killing me.

She and Wynonna were speaking in hushed tones to each other on the other side of the front desk for a few minutes until finally Wynonna walked away and Waverly immediately headed over to me and leaned really far over to emphasize how low the collar of her shirt dipped. She smirked at the look on my face.

I unzipped my new work blouse the rest of the way and raised an eyebrow at her. Her smug expression disappeared behind lust like the sun behind a cloud. Game, set, and match.

“Can we get out of here now?” I asked her.

“Right now,” she hissed, her eyes lingering on my neckline.

We took the squad car to the homestead. Waverly wanted to “try out” her new bed and I was not about to argue with her on that point. The entire drive my hands were white-knuckled on the steering wheel. I was as nervous as I was our first time, partially because I didn’t know for sure that our first time actually counted as such anymore. She must have been feeling it too, because I kept seeing her sneak glances at me out of the corner of my eye.

I parked the cruiser and we walked side by side up to the house, not touching or looking at each other. I watched her try to unlock the door with shaky hands, missing the slot several times until I reached out and steadied them gently.

She opened the door, stepped through, and as soon as she was on the other side of the threshold, she turned around and grabbed me by my utility belt and yanked me in hard enough for me to stumble. She kicked the door shut, came forward two steps and pushed my back up against the wall.

Good, that hesitancy was killing me.

She had burst into flames and I was beyond ready to be consumed.

We kissed passionately standing by the front door for a moment before I grabbed her by the waist and pushed her toward the stairs. She climbed up two steps and turned back to me, our faces at the same height, and swept her fingers over my face and into my hair. I pulled her to me so hard her feet lifted off a little. I backed her slowly up the stairs, a step a time, never breaking the kiss except to turn my head to the other side and deepen it.

About halfway up the stairs I couldn’t take it anymore, so I wrapped my arms around her waist, she wrapped her legs around mine, and I carried her the rest of the way. I set her down as she opened the door to her room and as we stumbled in, grabbing at each other, I couldn’t help but smile. It just felt so right and good and normal.

“You taste like my Waverly again,” I told her. All that odd smoky flavor, which I had admittedly gotten accustomed to, was gone. She was back to just tasting like Waverly. Well, at least her mouth did.

I would certainly have to investigate this further.

But first, I had to ask her a question that I was dreading the answer to.

I broke our kiss and backed off, shaking my head to clear it and steeling myself.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. She had been about to undo my belt. I caught her hands and squeezed them.

“I was…I was just thinking. How many of the other times were you…you? You know, because we said things, and we did…things, and I don’t know how much of it was real.”

I had weeks’ worth of memories of love and whispered endearments and confessions and tears and smiles and laughter and sex (in all but one room of this house and every single room of mine.) I waited for the axe to fall and rob me of some or all of it.

She looked stunned. “No,” she said firmly. “It was all real.” She laced her fingers into my hair and pressed our foreheads together. “Okay? It was all me.” She didn’t give me a chance to speak, she just pulled my lips down to hers and kissed me with the type of open-mouthed passion that makes my mind go blank.

We were still moving toward the bed when I caught ahold of myself and asked again, to clarify.

“How can you be sure?” If her mind was blank when the demon was in control, how could she know if she was present for every single time with me?

“Because…I don’t remember much about when…it…was in control.” Shit, there it was. I let my head drop.

She caught my chin with her index finger and brought my face back up so I was looking at her.

“But I remember every second I was with you,” she said, in the softest, most love-infused voice possible. She let her hand drift down the side of my face and over my chest. “Each touch.” She guided my mouth to hers. “Every kiss,” she said, very slowly sliding her tongue past my lips.

Maybe if I was stronger I would press the issue, but her fingers were right by my face and all I could bring myself to do was lick them instead.

Through our kisses I said softly, “Well…” and smiled, because she was barely letting me get the words out, chasing my lips. “When you put it that way.” I backed her onto the bed and she sank down.

***NOTE: Okay, so I forced myself to skim through this so I could make sure I saw they had this conversation. It was important to me that they did. I felt really bad for Nicole. Anyway, I couldn’t read more of this encounter even if I wanted to (which I do NOT.) I must have bound it up and laminated it with the other pages a couple days ago without knowing it. Oh man, it still kills me that she ripped those pages out and kept them.

I can’t believe they haven’t seen each other in eighteen years. They were so in love. –A.M.***

(Author’s note: Much like the love scene from 2X02, the one from this episode is a separate one-shot called You Are The Rock/Upon Which I stand. The next part of this chapter picks up right after the one-shot ends, so if you haven’t already, read that first.)

//

I laid awake on my back beside Waverly, who was drifting in and out of sleep, and thought about how grateful I am that she remembers everything. I don’t know how I would have coped with it if she hadn’t. I know a big part of my problem with the whole issue comes from personal experience. There is a lot of sex in my past that I don’t remember. I spent the better part of four years either deployed to a combat zone or inebriated. As I said to Wynonna, after Katie died, the only way I knew how to keep living was to distract myself in the most self-destructive ways possible.

Waverly stirred beside me and rolled over. She hooked her leg over my waist and snuggled her head against my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around her and rested my hand on the side of her head.

“Usually you’re asleep by now,” she muttered.

“Yeah, I’ve just been thinking,” I scratched her scalp with my fingernails and she made a little “hmmm” sound.

“Good things?” she asked.

I gave her a squeeze. “Just…things.”

After a few minutes had passed, I figured she had fallen asleep, but then, “Nicole?”

“Yeah, baby.”

“Am I the best you’ve ever had?” I felt her squish her cheek into my chest with embarrassment. What in the world prompted that question?

“By a long shot, Waverly.” The longest.

I’m pretty secure in my sexual prowess (especially as compared to Champ Hardy), but insecurity tickled me in that moment for some reason.

“…Am I?” I asked.

She lifted her head to glare at me. I grinned back at her. “Were you with anyone besides…him?” I treat the name Champ like the name Voldemort.

“No, just him.”

Our sexual histories could not be more different. I was crossing my fingers on the hand that I didn’t have wrapped around her that she wouldn’t ask the obvious follow-up question.

“What about you?”

Yep, there it was. Oh boy. I knew if I tried to avoid the question it would just freak her out more, so I decided to go with honesty.

“I um, I actually don’t quite…know? I’m sorry baby, I know this isn’t the answer you want from me, but…it’s kind of a lot.”

I felt her swallow hard. I hugged her to me and kissed her head. How she stacks up against other people is frequently how Waverly measures her own value. I knew that admitting I had a long list of people for her to compare herself to would get to her.

“All women?” she inquired, trying to keep her tone even.

“About 95% of the time, yes, but I did experiment a little.”

Not only did I spend my late teens/early twenties still struggling with my sexuality, I spent nearly all of my time on deployment surrounded by men, and we were all very homesick. Many times it wasn’t even really about sex, it was about being lonely and craving another human being’s touch. I think a lot of people (especially inexperienced ones) assume that all sex is the same, but it’s not. It varies dramatically given the emotional context that it’s set in.

Waverly didn’t say anything.

“Waverly, after Katie died, I sort of spiraled off the deep end. I got really heavily into drinking and I was overseas a lot. I was just looking to numb out in any way I could.”

“Oh, baby.” she sighed. She stroked my ribs with her fingertips.

“I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse, but it was all totally meaningless. I don’t…I mean, I barely remember most of it.”

“That sounds kind of awful.”

“It kind of is.”

“What’s it like? You know, without feelings?”

I laughed humorlessly and raked my fingers through my own hair. “Usually just not worth it.” Sure, there was the distraction factor, and it had the potential to be comforting, but it was too temporary to matter much. Trying to fill an emotional void like grief with sex just doesn’t work. It’s like spitting in the ocean.

“But…weren’t you ever in a relationship before me?” Great, another question I’d been dreading. I had been hoping that she’d frame it as, “Did you ever love anyone before me?” Because at least the answer to that was a definite “No.”

I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love Waverly.

“Yeah, I was in a few. Only one was serious.”

And I’m still married to her. I can’t tell Waverly about Shae. I can’t risk her knowing about or talking to anyone who knows me outside of the fictitious role I’ve been playing in Purgatory. Any details she has about my life outside of here are intentionally vague. I was at least able to tell her the truth about why I don’t speak to my parents.

I continued before she could ask for details. “Waves…you’re the only person I’ve ever truly loved. Seriously, no one who came before you even matters.”

Sorry, Shae. Even now, hundreds of miles away and in a different life, I’m still doing you wrong.

She sighed. “I know, but I still hate it. All those people…they’ve all been with you the way I’ve been with you. They’ve seen and felt and heard the same…things that I have. It feels…I don’t know. Intrusive.”

I took my arm out from around her and pulled myself up onto one elbow so I could look her in the eyes. “No,” I said firmly. “No, they have not.”

Her soft eyes looked up at me, pleading for more reassurance. I cupped her cheek in the palm of my hand. “Waverly, did you ever give Champ even half as much as you’ve given me?”

Her eyes flashed. “No.”

“No. You were with him since you were freshman in high school. You probably loved him in a way, right?”

She looked sheepish and nodded, casting her eyes away.

“Waverly, look at me.” She obliged. “I’m not trying to make you feel bad, I’m trying to show you that the people we were with before don’t matter now. You were in an actual, long-term relationship with Champ and this is how you feel about it. I barely knew most of the people I’m talking about.”

Except one.

What she said next kind of threw me off. “Nicole, I wish I could have known you back then. When you were hurting. I hate the thought of you going through that.”

Gut-wrenching, soul-sucking blackness. God, I’m so glad she didn’t know me back then.

I kept my tone light. “I know. The ‘waiting around for you’ game is bullshit.” I winked and watched her out of the corner of my eye to see if she got what I meant.

She laughed and nodded. “Yeah, it is,” she said, tracing a line up and down my scar. She did get it.

“Do you believe in soulmates, Wave?” I asked tentatively.

She smiled. “Yeah. I always have. Did you?”

“No.” That was true. “Not before you.” I leaned down to brush her nose with mine. “I’m not really the hopeless romantic type, I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf.”

“Hard to believe that I was the one who changed all that.” She turned her head to the side to avoid my gaze. “I’m not special.”

“Waverly Earp, you are the center of my universe.”

There, I said it out loud. Her head turned to me and her eyes widened. I reached for her arm and grasped her by the wrist, lowering my head to kiss her at the same time. She already had one, but for the fun of it, because my feelings in the moment were so intense, I cast another Shield over the one she already had. I’ve never done that before.

She gasped into my open mouth and her hand flew up to grab my cheek. When she opened her eyes, they were the greenest I’d ever seen them and her pupils were all blown out. Scared I had done something wrong, I let go of her immediately. As soon as I did, I saw it. It was more vibrant than ever, and even crazier, it extended to me. I could see the way it wrapped around my wrist and traveled up my arm. She was reflecting my own Shield back onto me, like that time she did to Wynonna.

Waverly is definitely not entirely human. It’s like she’s able to both amplify and project my powers. I know the strength of the on-views and Shield are associated with our connection, but this is more than that.

I’m surprised The Firm hasn’t tried to recruit her.

“Nicole, did you feel that? What was that?” she asked, but her eyes kept slipping closed. Shit, had I sedated her somehow? Then I realized my eyes were doing the same thing. We were both falling asleep. Within seconds, we were out.

//

I was dreaming, but not like I had when I visited Katie or when I saw Waverly touch the goo. I knew this was a bona fide dream, because it was a flashback.

I was walking down the uncharacteristically vacant and quiet halls of the hospital in Kuwait that Katie and I got taken to after we were blown up. The soles of my boots squeaked on the floor. My hands were at my sides, balled into fists. I was walking back to my bed after heeding Katie’s last request.

I twitched the curtain aside and closed it behind me. I slowly unlaced my boots and unzipped my ACU jacket, letting it fall to the floor. I had been wearing a hospital gown for days, and it felt good to be back in uniform, but the one I was wearing needed to go. I wanted to strip naked and stand in a scalding hot shower for two hours. My hands shook as I reached underneath my sand-colored t-shirt and pulled out two sets of dog tags. One belonged to me, one belonged to Katie.

I was sitting on the bed, feet dangling over the side, with the tags in a death grip in my sweaty hands and my head hanging. Nothing felt real. Of course, this was a dream, but nothing had felt real back then, either. I felt untethered, free-floating. Katie was the grounding force in my life. Without her, I was directionless, lost. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that she was really gone. That I’d never speak to her again. It was unfathomable.

I heard the scuff of boots on the other side of the curtain. Shit. I started to scramble, whoever it was would wonder why I sitting up and in uniform when I should have been sedated and asleep. It was too late, the person came in just as I was trying to hide under the blankets.

“Good evening, Specialist Haught.”

My heart was in my throat. It was the black-haired Air Force doctor that had been taking care of me since I had arrived. I had begun to develop sort of a crush on her, and I think she knew it. It was awkward because of our age difference and the fact that she was an officer and I was lower enlisted.

“Good evening, ma’am,” I responded, unable to look at her.

I watched her eyes take in how I was dressed. She saw the look on my face. I squeezed the dog tags I was still holding and steeled myself for her to realize what I had done. She had been the one who told me that Katie wasn’t coming back, after all. Given the way I looked now, once she found out Katie was dead, she would know. I waited for the kind look on her face to change to one of horror and disgust.

Instead, she came over and sat down beside me. In a whisper that I could barely hear, she said, “I checked on her before I came over here. She’s gone.”

I held my breath.

“No one will find out. It’s been too crazy, this equipment is old and outdated. No one will even blink an eye.”

I let all the breath that I was holding out in a long, silent whoosh. I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t even nod. My throat was a dry, tight lump. Her hand crept over a few inches and covered mine.

“That was very brave, Nicole.”

I looked at her with my dry, red eyes and stony, mask-like expression. Brave? I hadn’t killed my own best friend to be honorable and courageous. I did it because she begged me to.

“I didn’t want her mom to have to do it. That’s what it would have come down to, right?”

“Yes. I was filling out her transfer papers to send her back to the states for that exact reason yesterday.”

This time I managed to nod. Okay. I had done the right thing. Okay.

“I have to get out of this hospital, doc.”

“I filled out your transfer papers as well. You’re being sent back stateside.”

“What?! For how long?!” I just meant I wanted out of the hospital. I did NOT want to leave my unit.

She sighed. “At least three weeks.” I started to protest, but she held up a hand. “No argument. You need it. You were sliced wide open by that piece of the humvee’s door and three members of your squad died. There is no way you’re ready to return to active status yet.”

Okay, fine, but what the hell was I going to do for three weeks? If I didn’t have something to do, if I didn’t keep moving, the grief would drown me. The sheer terror of it was coming at me like a freight train. I must have said at least the first part of that thought out loud because she answered me.

“You could spend it with me,” she said. She didn’t look at me. “I’m getting discharged. I pulled some strings and got on the same flight home with you.” She glanced at me. “If you want.”

This was too much. Way, way too much.

“I know this is a lot, but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you in the past couple weeks. I mean, when you’ve been lucid. You’re an amazing person and I…I could help you out.” She shrugged and squeezed her hands in her lap. “I could take care of you.”

I felt a brief flash of anger run through me. I’m Nicole Haught, no one “takes care” of me.

But what it ended up coming down to was this. I was nineteen years old, I had just lost my best friend, I was injured, and I was going home for at least three weeks to convalesce with exactly no one to go home to, except for Beth and Daniel, to whom I already felt like a burden. Whose daughter’s death I was responsible for, in more ways than one.

I told Shae “Yes,” and I went home with her.

She was discharged from the Air Force and got a civilian job at Fort Sam Houston. I got a temporary leave of absence to go home and be with family, but instead I used it to be with Shae. She was true to her word. She took care of me and bided her time patiently while I recovered (at least physically) and let some of the walls I had built around my heart crumble down.

I was never IN love with her, but I did love her. At least, to whatever degree I was capable of during that dark time. By the time I left to go back to Iraq, we were a couple. While I was gone, she was a patient, generous, and trusting partner. When I was home, I was angry and distant and often quite drunk, and she was a balm to my volatile heart.

I didn’t deserve her at all.

After I returned from my very last deployment to Afghanistan, just before I was discharged, I took Shae to Las Vegas on one of my manic highs. I spent way too much money, drank way too much alcohol, and made a decision I would live to regret. I think we both thought that my separation from the Army would mean that things would get better, but they didn’t. Without the sense of discipline and honor that I derived from the military, I went careening off the deep end.

She only lasted four months before she asked me for a separation. I gave it to her and left without so much as a glance back.

One of these days Karma is going to come knocking at my door to collect what I owe her for what I did to Shae.

For the damage that I did to my own soul.

//

I don’t know how long I continued to sleep after the dream dissolved into nothingness. It must have been a long time, because when I woke up, I felt drugged. It was the same feeling I used to get in the hospital when I’d wake up because the sedatives had worn off.

I groped around for Waverly and found her. She was still asleep. I realized I had never had to pee so badly in my life so I dragged myself out of bed and collected the various uniform items scattered around on Waverly’s floor. I balled everything up and padded to the downstairs bathroom, not wanting to disturb Waverly. I was about half-dressed with the bathroom door wide open when Wynonna went hurtling past, running up the stairs. I stepped out of the bathroom, still topless, to yell after her when I came face to face with Deputy Marshall Dolls.

“Officer Haught! Uh, excuse me!”

He looked apologetic, but his eyes were still like “Boobs!” so I yelled at him while I ducked back into the bathroom. I was finishing up getting dressed when everyone came downstairs, in a tizzy about the whole town being asleep. Dolls started passing out coffees. There was much discussion about curses and spells and how to find the person causing the Purgatory-wide slumber party.

“Okay, so we double up and start waking the town?” I asked.

“No, no, waking everyone up makes it harder to find the source,” Wynonna said. I wrapped my arm around Waverly as she swayed against me, yawning. We were all dead tired.

We needed something stronger than coffee to stay awake, so I suggested some of the uppers that were stashed in evidence. (What? Desperate times and all that.) Dolls agreed but Waverly made some cryptic comment and shot a look at Wynonna like “No drugs for you!” I guess she’s cleaning up her act?

***NOTE: Aunt Waverly, don’t you feel like this is a too little, too late situation? The horse escaped the barn months ago, it’s not gonna do much good closing the door now… -A.M.***

I had just run out the door with Waverly and Dolls when I realized I forgot my gloves so I went back into the kitchen.

Again, I need to start trusting my instincts a little more, because when I opened the door, Wynonna was standing there with her hands on her belly. By the looks of her I’d say she was well into her last trimester and her face indicated that it was as much a surprise to her as it was to me.

***NOTE: Time warp strikes again. Or were they just sleeping the entire time? I don’t know how any of this works. –A.M.***

“Uh…” I started, swiping my gloves off the table. “Is…is that…?”

“Nicole, please. “

“Wow, okay. Um…let’s just…” Pretend this isn’t happening right now? Wait. “Does Waverly know?” I asked, shutting the door behind me.

“Yeah, but not Dolls or…anyone else. Not yet.”

“Okay.” We made pointed eye contact.

“Yeah.”

“Uh, look, I’d still like to do a loop of the town,” I said, changing the subject to take the pressure off of her. “I just wanna see if anyone fell asleep outside and move them.”

She nodded vigorously. “Yes, great plan. Stay alert.” She was relieved I wasn’t going to push it. She tossed me a Beaver Buzz (O Canada.)

“Okay, the keys to the locker are in Nedley’s desk drawer,” I told her.

“Okay,” she said. “Nicole…”

I turned around, ready for anything.

“Uh, thanks. Thank you.” I gave her a nod.

“Heaven help that gynecologist.”

Heaven help all of us.

***NOTE; Hi, Aunt Nicole! Nice to meet you, too. –A.M.***

I kissed Waverly quickly before we separated and hopped in my squad car to do a loop of the town, chugging my energy drink. (I know, I know, there are so many jokes I could make based on a play on the words “beaver buzz” but I am just too damn tired still. )

Sure enough, it was on my second round that I spied what I can only describe as a character straight out of Beetlejuice floating through the door of someone’s house. I radioed Wynonna and Dolls and speculated as to why the bad guys in this town can’t ever dress with some semblance of functionality in mind. You know how hard it must be to get around in Victorian high society funeral garb? I don’t. I wear jeans.

Wynonna, not to be deterred in any way from her doing her duty because of her pregnancy, booted down the door. And when I say booted down the door, I mean literally kicked it off its hinges. I always thought that “mom strength” was something that was somewhat embellished, but I guess I was dead wrong.

The three of us ran into some creepy, Universal Studios-esque room with clocks hanging everywhere and some old blind guy in a wheelchair. I had just started to wonder if we had accidentally taken hyponotics instead of uppers when I passed out cold. Seems to be a running theme for me lately.

I woke up (not naked) with a start to a shot of epi in the leg. Thanks, Wynonna. I immediately reached for Waverly. She seemed to be at Shorty’s, but I was too messed up to be able to on-view her. I got the distinct feeling something was wrong.

“Waverly’s in trouble,” I managed to gasp out.

“Yeah, but I need you to find someone else, Haught, or the whole town dies. I’ll save my sister, you know I will.”

Here I was in this situation again, having to rely on someone else to do my job. Thing is, that someone else was Wynonna Earp. At some point I’ll have to learn how to delegate and trust the other members of my team (if that’s what we are), and I figured it might as well be then. Wynonna needed me to go after Tucker, which was a task I was only too eager to accept. I’ve been looking for an excuse to rough him up for weeks.

I should point out that I still don’t know how Tucker, the creepy old guy, and the floating black witches are related to the fact that we were all asleep for months. I’ve learned to just go with it.

“Okay, where do I need to go?” I asked.

“Alright, I need you to find this psycho named Tucker,” she answered.

“Tucker Gardner? I’ve been tracking his phone for weeks,” I told her, hauling myself to my feet and pulling my phone out. Wynonna cackled with delight.

“You bugged his phone? Isn’t that illegal?” she asked.

“Very illegal,” Dolls interjected from behind us, without so much as a hint of irony in his tone. Seriously, dude?

Then again, I realized that doing something illegal like bugging Tucker’s phone was a very out-of-character thing to do for the Nicole Haught that Wynonna thought she knew. Oops.

“In my defense, he is the worst. Don’t judge me.”

“I will judge you,” Wynonna replied. “Judge you unexpectedly awesome.” Phew. I really do like it best when the two of us see eye to eye.

We checked my tracker and realized he was headed to the homestead. At least Waverly wasn’t there.

I drove lights and sirens to the house with Dolls close behind me. When we got there, we started clearing the downstairs when I realized I could hear the fucker’s voice coming from upstairs, in the vicinity of Waverly’s room. I took the stairs two at a time, feeling murdery. If he was in her room, he’d be lucky if he didn’t die today.

I rounded the corner to her room to find him harassing some girl I didn’t recognize.

“Hands on your head!” I yelled at him, leveling my duty weapon in his direction. Of course he grabbed the girl to use her as a shield, as cowards do.

“You hurt her, it’s all over, man. It’s not just a couple of up-skirts. You do not want to cross that line.”

He held a knife to her throat and started crying about how everyone treats him like he’s stupid and he’s misunderstood. Why do they all say shit like that? You guys, let me save you some time. No one fucking cares.

“I’m not an idiot. I know what I’m doing. I know what I want.”

Yeah, my girl. This asshole wanted my Waverly. If he hadn’t been using this strange brunette girl as a security blanket, I’d have dropped my weapon and just kicked the crap out of him. As it turned out, stranger girl was a little more plucky than I expected and used his whiny-boy speech as an opportunity to wallop him with a brush she was holding. As soon as he let go and she dodged away, I shot him, aiming for center mass, but getting his shoulder. Man, I HATE the Colt. I want my Glock back.

What I should have done was continued to shoot until the threat was eliminated, but for some reason, I didn’t. I’m getting soft. I told him to drop the knife and instead he did a bunk and chucked himself out the window. This town is jam-packed with people who missed their calling as B-list actors on bad soap operas.

I realized that Waverly’s wall is now covered in his gross blood and made a mental note to pick up bleach, sandpaper, and paint from Home Depot after it was all over. I put my arm around the poor girl and told her I’d get her home. Shortly after dropping her off, I got a call from Wynonna to say that she and Waverly were all good, and everyone was back at the station.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening finding and helping all the townsfolk who were waking up. I didn’t feel comfortable with anyone driving so I loaded up my squad car with five people at a time and drove them home like a red-headed Mrs. Frizzle on the Magic School Bus from hell. By the time I was done and heading home, I was so tired I could barely see straight.

Me (1/31/17 9:16 pm): Mine or yours?
Me (1/31/17 9:16 pm): Omg are you seeing the date and time stamp?
Waverly <3 (1/31/17 9:38 pm): Hey, I’m sorry, Wynonna is in rough shape. I don’t think she’ll be awake much longer, though. Can you come over in an hour?
Me (1/31/17 9:16 pm): Sure, baby. You doing okay?
Waverly <3 (1/31/17 9:38 pm): Yeah I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about her.
Me (1/31/17 9:16 pm): I can imagine. I’ll see you soon. Love you
Waverly <3 (1/31/17 9:38 pm): Love you more

I guess she was more ruffled by her sister’s imminent due date than the fact that we hopped forward in time by THREE MONTHS.

Purgatory.

//

I got to the homestead a little past 11:00. I found Wynonna and Waverly crammed together on the couch, asleep. They both had tear tracks on their cheeks and it broke my heart. I covered them with blankets and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. When I turned around, Wynonna was walking in, pulling out a chair and sitting at the kitchen table. She put her head in her hands.

“Hey, girl,” I said gently, pulling out my own chair and taking a seat across from her. “I won’t bother asking how you’re doing.”

One light blue-gray eye appeared from between the cracks in her fingers. “Yeah, thanks for that.” I could hear the click in the back of her throat.

I pushed my water glass across the table to her. She drank from it and wrinkled her nose. “What is that stuff?”

I rolled my eyes but smiled. Coping with life-altering, difficult circumstances with humor is yet another personality trait that we share. We sat in a not-uncomfortable silence for several minutes before I spoke.

“I think it’s a girl.”

She gave me her classic “who the hell asked you?” look, but she doesn’t scare me, so I continued.

“You’re carrying the baby up kind of high. My mom was pregnant with one girl or another for like two and a half years of my childhood.”

“It doesn’t matter what I’m having,” she said, her tone suddenly miserable. “I can’t keep her.” Tears filled her eyes. “I’m Wynonna fucking Earp. I kill demons, and I can’t even say for a living because no one is paying me to do it. I can’t bring a baby into my life. The poor bastard wouldn’t last a day.”

She swiped at her face and took a deep breath. “Sorry, I can’t bring myself to tell all this to Waverly. I think now that it’s real, she kind of wants the baby.” Her beautiful face was absolutely haunted. It broke my heart.

“What’s your plan?” I asked, because I knew she had one. She always does.

“After I have it…her…” She shot me an irritated look. “I have to send her away. To my Aunt Gus. I’m going to call her tomorrow and ask her if she’s willing, but I know she will be. Family is family.” She said that last part very firmly, and I know why. She’s built her entire life since returning to Purgatory around that concept. Loyalty is one of Wynonna’s best traits, and she holds everyone around her to the same standard. It’s a big part of what glues her team together.

“Waverly said Gus moved to Chicago,” I said.

“She did. If you’re about to ask how I’m getting the baby from here to there, I don’t have an answer yet.”

“I’ll help you,” I said immediately. “Whatever it takes.”

She looked stunned. “Really?”

“Really. I got you, Earp.”

“No one can know. Not even Waverly.” She said it like I would balk at the concept of lying to Waverly. Oh man, I wish.

“I understand.”

“Okay. Thank you, Nicole.” She reached across the table with her hand out. I don’t know why, but rather than shake it, I grabbed her forearm and she grabbed mine in that old-timey Western “blood pact” style. It felt more binding.

It was that moment more than anything else that transformed the baby in my head from being a concept to a real, living human being. She went from being “Wynonna’s situation” to mine and Waverly’s niece. Wynonna must have seen something on my face shift because she said, “Yeah, wild, isn’t it?” I nodded and she stood up, walking around the table to me. She took my hand and placed it on her belly, just off-center of her belly button. I looked up at her face but she shook her head and said, “Wait,” so I did.

A minute later I felt a firm kick, followed by another and another.

“Kid is as feisty as her old lady,” Wynonna remarked. I couldn’t help the grin that spread slowly across my face.

“If she’s half as feisty and brave as you, and a quarter as kind and loving as her Aunt Waverly, she’ll be in really good shape,” I told Wynonna softly.

She just smiled at me.

***NOTE: I guess I technically did get to meet my Aunt Nicole, although it was a little rude of me to kick her like that.

They both deserved so much better. I hope wherever they are now, they’re together. Time for me to go to bed. This was a lot to take in. –A.M.***

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #16
Early February 2017

I am currently more hungover than the time my squad played Edward Fortyhands in the barracks and I got so drunk the guys duct-taped me between two mattresses and tossed me out the window.

More hungover than the time there was a storm while we were patrol in the Hindu Kush and we had to hunker down with the locals and we all got trashed on fermented horse milk. (Barrrffff)

NOT as hungover as the time me, Katie, and our friend Mallory decided to beer-bong an entire case of Icehouse between the three of us to see who would throw up first. (I threw up last, but longest. All over Katie’s bed.)

The only reason I’m not as hungover as that last time is because when I woke up just now, I realized I’m actually still a little drunk.

I think it’s about 10:00 pm and I’m lying in Waverly’s bed with a now-tepid and dripping bag of ice on my head and a glass of water with two ibuprofen on the nightstand beside me, provided by my long-suffering girlfriend. I have to chuckle, she is just adorable to me. Two ibuprofen? What is this, amateur hour? Maybe she wants me to suffer just a little because we were at a strip club. Okay, that’s fair.

The room isn’t spinning as bad anymore and I’m actually sitting up. Waves came in and brought me some toast and orange juice muttering about my stupid idiot blood sugar and how is my stupid idiot head? She bets it hurts but at least that means I’m alive, which is a shocker because I was drinking for two people, so I should be stupid idiot dead.

God, she is so, so cute when she scolds me. I could listen to her do it all day long.

When she came in earlier, she seemed a little upset and out of sorts, which I thought was because she was mad at me. I quickly figured out it was something else, but when I asked her, she just told me she had been talking to Wynonna about some stuff and she’d tell me about it later. She’s getting undressed for bed now and seems to be feeling a lot better because she’s leaning over to pinch me while I write this and begging me to get in the shower because I reek of booze.

I don’t know what this woman is thinking, its 10:00 at night and I need beauty rest, not showers.

Oh look, she’s naked.

Naked Waverly: “What are you writing in that little book?” ***pinch*** “Stop writing and go scrub the peppermint Schnapps out of your pores.” ***pinch, pinch***

Getting pinch-attacked by naked Waverly is titillating. Oh my god, that is such a good word!

“Waves, this is serious! I’m recording the things that transpired today for posterity!”

“Nicole Haught, there isn’t going to BE any posterity if you don’t…is that a journal?” (pinches paused) “I didn’t know you had a journal.”

Drunk Nicole: “This is Journalie!” (As a loud aside) “Journalie, say hello to Waverly.”

Waverly: Glaring at Drunk Nicole
Waverly: “I know what will sober you up.”

Two more ibuprofen and another beer?

Waverly: (setting an alarm) “I’ll stay naked for the next five minutes. My requirements are that you shower and brush your teeth.”

Did she forget that I spent 12 weeks in basic training? Challenge accepted.

Journalie, BYE

//

I only thought I was hungover last night. Now it’s 9:00 in the morning and I can feel every cell in my body and they are all alcohol-soaked and crying out in pain.

***NOTE: Much like, I don’t know, fetal Alice?! No, I’m never going to stop talking about this. –A.M.***

I’m such a lightweight these days. The old Nicole would be disgusted that all it takes now is four beers and six shots in the space of two hours to get me wasted.

Anyway, I’m at the homestead alone. The Earp girls are off doing whatever it is the Earp girls do together, which is for the best because the two of them have a lot to talk about.
After I showered in record time (3:46) and pounced on Waverly, we laid awake for a little while and she told me what she had been upset about. She finally admitted to Wynonna that she doesn’t think she’s an Earp and she doesn’t think she’s Wynonna’s sister. Knowing what I do (courtesy of that damn Juan Carlo) but not being able to reassure Waverly SUCKS.

I think she would feel a lot better if she at least knew that she and Wynonna are related by blood. (Not that they aren’t sisters regardless of DNA.) Worse, I’m still not even sure that JC was telling me the truth. Instructor Higgs would probably round-house kick me in the face is if I told him that I believed the word of someone who speaks in riddles and has the tendency to materialize out of thin air.

As much as I wanted to, I realize that I don’t disbelieve him, at least not entirely. What bothers me is I can’t figure out his motives. He keeps alluding to some unnamed boss of his which in my experience is a sure indication of shady behavior. There’s no way Juan frikin Carlo is Waverly’s dad…right? Nah.

BUT…maybe Waverly’s dad is the boss he mentioned? That would explain why he’s acted so cryptic about it…maybe he’s some kind of reclusive billionaire, like Bruce Wayne. Oh please let Waverly’s dad be batman. (This is Purgatory. That is NOT that far-fetched.)

Actually…

Hold on. Hold on. Things are coming together for me right now.

Did Waverly’s father hire me? Has JC been helping me because technically we’re on the same team? Okay, check it out:

1. JC warned me weeks ago that forces of evil are coming and to watch out and subsequently there’s been more close calls with demons, Waverly was possessed, and now there are evil widows skittering all over Purgatory getting up to Britney knows what. It was an accurate (albeit vague) warning.

2. JC showed up to give me all the paperwork that Waverly needed to discover her true identity. It makes sense that her father would want her to figure it out herself and allow her to decide what to do with the information, rather than show up in her life unexpectedly.

(Maybe he’s a vampire. Maybe he’s a werewolf!)

So, to summarize: I think JC works for Waverly’s father. I don’t think either of them are human. Either her father hired me or JC did it for him by proxy. Her father must be aware of the crazy shit that happens in Purgatory and got a Guardianship contract to keep her safe from it all. Now her father, using JC as the go-between, wants my help in aiding Waverly to discover her true parentage. Once she gets that paperwork and DNA test back, JC will probably show up and try…to…arrange…a…meeting.

Oh my god.

If he hired me, and they meet…she could find out. She could find out about everything. All the lies and the deception and…everything.

I could lose her. I can see it all unfolding in my mind’s eye, starting from the moment she opens that envelope.

Not only that, but if he is the contractor and he finds out that he’s basically been paying me to be completely unprofessional with his daughter, he’ll tell The Firm and they’ll crush me like a bug. Not even the Higgs could save me then. It would be shackles and blindfolds followed by a whole lot of nothingness faster than I can take a shot of Schnapps.

I have to prevent it from happening.

Okay, Nicole, deep breaths. I need to collect my thoughts, so I’ll write about what happened yesterday, and then I’ll try to figure out how to sabotage my girlfriend’s journey of self-discovery.

Oh, FML. There is nothing good about this situation. Nothing good at all.

PS: I just read my drunken entry from last night and realized that I let Waverly see this journal. GODDAMNIT DRUNK NICOLE!

//

My day started unremarkably yesterday. Of course, that’s never how days in Purgatory end, but I’ve learned to appreciate even the briefest stretches of normalcy at this point. The first thing I did after I got home from Waverly’s was to call Beth and text Javion, who I realized both hadn’t heard from me in three months.

(I still can’t quite wrap my head around that. We missed all my favorite holidays, too. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas…it’s like we skipped right over the best part of the entire year.)

Beth said for the first two months she’d assumed I was busy, but when she didn’t hear from me and I didn’t respond to all the gifts she had sent, she had started considering calling the police. Brian begged her to try Shae first, so she had. Beth called Shae, who called Javion, who Located me in Purgatory. It went back up the chain that I was fine, but the bottom line is, I had three people who were irritated with me for being MIA that I spent the morning either lying to (Beth and Shae) or mostly lying to (Jav.) As an afterthought, I also texted Hayley, who’s doing well but is much more used to not hearing from me for months on end. She got married and had her baby in November. She sent me pictures, he’s cute. I hope one day I’ll get to meet him.

I’m a point where I can barely keep track of what lies I’ve told to which people. I think I’m going to have to make a spreadsheet. I’m glad I at least got the opportunity to tell Jav about Waverly and what had gone wrong with my Abilities. He found the “Shield absorption” fascinating. He finally got a new assignment, too. He’s in California watching over the Governor, who he loves. I told him immediately that any and all “Terminator” jokes are off limit to him for the foreseeable future and he seemed very disappointed. It’s for the best, though. He’s one of those people that will abuse the same joke for weeks. There’s only so much “I’ll be back” that I can take, especially since Jav can just about nail the accent.

Anyway, after I got done with all the personal life housekeeping, I walked to the station to see how everyone was doing after being effectively comatose for the past three months. I’d been texting Waverly all morning, but she was fairly unresponsive. I was hoping she was just busy with work stuff, but when I reached for her, she was still at the homestead.

Unfortunately, no one was in but good ol’ Lonnie. I asked him how he and his family had fared and he said he, his wife, and the kids were fine, but explained the spell hadn’t affected his three dogs, who ate everything in his house short of the doorknobs and cabinet handles.

I am so, so glad Calamity Jane found that gigantic bag of cat food in the pantry. She made out of the whole thing three pounds chunkier and no worse for wear.

“Hey, by the way,” Lonnie said, rummaging around in the mail bin. It was packed. “There’s something in here for Waverly. You mind giving it to her?”

“Lonnie, it’s a felony to take someone else’s mail.”

He stared at me and I stared at him and we burst out laughing simultaneously. The nice thing about living in Purgatory is that it lends perspective. When people are constantly having to deal with demon attacks, possessions, evil spirits, and magic guns, trivial matters like federal laws just aren’t taken as seriously.

He handed me a large, official-looking white envelope. As soon as I had it in my hands, I knew it was her DNA results. I tucked it under my arm and thanked him. I was just walking out the door when she called.

“Hey baby doll, I was wondering where you’ve been,” I said when I picked up.

“Nicole, I need a favor,” she replied. Her tone was very serious and stopped me from following up with “I got your DNA results.”

I stopped walking and shifted the results to my other arm. “Anything.”

“I need you to Wynonna-sit. She hasn’t had the best morning and I can tell she has some sort of mission planned but she won’t tell me what it is. You can’t let her out of your sight.”

“And you think she’ll be amenable to ME tagging along on it?” I asked disbelievingly.

“Actually, yeah I do. I think she’ll give you shit about it, but she trusts you. I can tell.”

Our talk last night must have really affected her.
“Okay, Wave. I’m at the station so let me grab one of the squad cars and I can be over in 20 minutes. Will you be there?”

“No,” she said, sighing. “I have something else I have to go do.”

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I just said something kind of stupid to Doc and now I have to go find him. It’ll be fine. Thank you, Nicole. I can always count on you. I love you.”

Oh, sometimes I just want to squish her.

“I love you too, baby. Call or text me later, okay?”

“Will do. Bye.”

I hung up and went back into the station for the keys to one of the squads. When I arrived at the homestead, Wynonna was already on her way out the door. As soon as she saw me, she rolled her eyes.

“Don’t you people own cell phones? You’re gonna have to take a rain check on the ol’ pop-by. She’s not here.”

I just stared at her because I knew she’d figure it out.

“Nicole, I’m leaving. Don’t make me belly bump you.”

“Look, who would I rather piss off? You, or your sister?”

Realization washed over her features. “Waverly sent you to babysit.”

“Well, mommysit, technically.”

“Ew.”

I took a deep breath and did my best to pile the whole blame for her unhappiness on Waverly. If she knew I was tagging along to make Waverly feel better, she might not put up too much of a fight.

“I am not to let you out of my sight until she comes back. You’re going through a lot and she doesn’t want you to be alone right now.”

“Fine,” she said, and then to my amazement, “to the bar.”

It was 2:30 in the afternoon.

“That’s a little early to hit Shorty’s,” I called after her as she charged off toward my car.

“Not Shorty’s. It’s an away game. You coming or what?”

I took off after her. I hadn’t planned on drinking this afternoon, but Waverly had given me very specific instructions to keep Wynonna and the baby out of trouble. I was prepared to do whatever it took.

“I guess I’m drinking for two,” I remarked.

“Three,” she responded.

Yeah, I guess the baby had gotten introduced to the Earp family crash course in hard drinking a little early.

***NOTE: Damn right, I’m going to be legendary when I start at UIC this fall. –A.M.***

“I hate doing everything sober,” she continued.

I just laughed.

We ended up driving into the city. We pulled into the parking lot of a dive called “Pussy Willows” which I identified immediately as a strip club based on the neon signs and the smell of baby powder that seemed to emanate from the building. I gave her a look as I put the car in park but she just rolled her eyes and told me to “come on.”

We grabbed a seat at the bar and she instantly ordered us two beers, explaining that we were “under cover” but not elaborating further than that. I guess two women sitting in a strip joint not drinking would look a little suspicious. It was my day off and yesterday had been a little harrowing so I wasn’t complaining. (About the alcohol, at least. Strip joints in general skeeve me out. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy looking at beautiful, mostly naked women, I just don’t like it in this context.)

“Wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks,” Wynonna said, leaning against the bar.

I didn’t really think about what I was saying before I responded, “What kind of girls end up working in a place like this?”

Sometimes, despite my constant efforts to the contrary, I open my mouth and my mother’s voice comes out. Blame it on seventeen years of a strictly conservative, Southern Baptist upbringing. Beth did what she could to break me of most of it, but I’ve found that some things still linger in the dark corners of my brain.

“Well, maybe one with no family, a reputation for conjuring up fake demons, and no other way to raise money for a bus ticket out of here?”

Shit. Oh, Wynonna. We were both forced to make decisions as teenagers that would haunt us for the rest of our lives. As if on cue, a Hell’s Angel-looking biker dude strolled up behind her and grabbed her shoulder.

“Where you been, Aphrodite?”

Wynonna flinched. “Oh, hello. Sup, TJ? I have my period, so you’ll have to…”

He walked away.

“Who’s Aphro…ooooh.” Wynonna. Wynonna’s name was Aphrodite when she worked here.

Man, I always thought she had stripper hair.

(Things to NOT think about your girlfriend’s sister #547)

I chugged some more of mine and Wynonna’s beer. I was fixing to get really drunk, really fast.

“Pace yourself,” Wynonna said, watching me. “There’s so much more to judge.”

Girl, I am so not judging.

“I came here several months back when I got so drunk even Shorty’s wouldn’t serve me anymore. And… I did something.” She dropped her head and stared at the bar.

“What?” I asked.

She nodded across the room at some semi-attractive dude. Or maybe attractive dude? I’m gay, I can’t really tell.

“Him.” She said flatly.

“Oh! Well, even drunk Wynonna still has standards.” That’s a normal thing to say, right? I didn’t know what she was looking for.

“Yeah. No beer goggles here.”

I killed the rest of both our glasses of beer. “Wait, sorry. How many months ago?”

“Oh, just,” she gestured to her belly. “Yea many.”

I was trying to be serious but I started to get really distracted by the shirt she was wearing. It was the most amazing shirt I’d ever seen, and I was getting buzzed, so I was transfixed. It was like a dude riding a flying cat with some kind of rainbow in the background? Outstanding.
“Oooh. Okay, so we’re here to tell Mr. One-night-stand that you’re now a crazy chick with a bun in the oven?” I waggled my eyebrows at her. Oh man, recounting this is already making me cringe, and it just gets so much worse from here.

She chuckled. “Officer Haught, so sweet, so naiive.”

Wow, does she really think so? If I can fool Wynonna Earp, I can fool anyone.

She continued. “Ahem, I have no intention of letting this ‘pussy willow’ out of the bag. You’re gonna buy him a drink, then you’re gonna steal the glass for a saliva sample, science will tell us who the dad is, and then we murder science to keep its filthy mouth shut, and hopefully I never have to tell Doc about this whole unsavory situation.”

***NOTE: !!!!!!!!!!!!! DOC?!?!?!?! Wait, the immortal gunslinger guy? I thought my daddy’s name was John Hollis! Wait….what?!?!?! I guess Aunt Waverly and I have some things to discuss. –A.M.***

I would question this plan’s plausibility if I didn’t know how Purgatory worked. As such, I told her it was a good plan and she made some comment about avoiding her problems. As if on cue, baby daddy candidate #2 revealed that he was a demon.

Because of course he was.

***NOTE: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH WHAT?! –A.M.***

“You….had sex…with a…”

“Revenant,” Wynonna finished.

Now seems like a good time for a lesbian PSA. When you sleep with women, you don’t have to worry about things like getting knocked up by demons. That in itself should make most women want to make the switch. No demon babies, AND, as a bonus, you get to sleep with women! I highly recommend it.

Wynonna lunged for her beer glass and had almost succeeded in drinking some when I snatched it out of her hand and drank it for her instead. She was losing it. I asked her if she was sure it was the revenant guy she’d had sex with, and she explained after our whole “Jack of Knives” kidnapping debacle, that she’d wanted to numb out by getting drunk and laid. (GOSH why does that sound so familiar?)

“I just wanted to be touched. I wanted to feel something…good.”

Oh, god. Her face was just killing me. The last time I felt such intense kinship with someone was Katie. She was describing four years of my life. If I was straight, who knows? Maybe I’d have ended up with a demon baby, too.

Now wasn’t the time for any of that, though. “So…you’re the Earp heir. And he’s a revenant. So that means the baby…” My phone started to buzz. “It’s Waverly. Oh, boy.” Her timing was pretty terrible.

“Hey, cutie!” Great, why did I go with “cutie?” Now she would know something was up for sure.

“Don’t cutie me!” Yep, she was mad. She must have texted me, but I wasn’t looking at my phone. “Hi, sweetie pie,” she relented. Ha, she can’t stay mad at me! “No, but seriously, where is she?”

“Uh…uh…she’s with me! And we’re…fine!” Wynonna was staring at me. I mouthed “I cannot lie to her” at Wynonna. Again, the irony. But this situation was different. I don’t ever want to outright lie to Waves.

“YOU HAVE TO!” Wynonna hissed at me.

“I hear music,” Waverly said, her voice taking on that “you’re in trouble” tone. “Trashy…pumping…”

Ah, shit.

“You’re at a strip joint!” She gasped.

“Aphrodite made me do it!” Drunk Nicole yelped.

Wynonna told me to shut my mouth. Waverly asked me which one we were at, and before I could tell her, Wynonna dunked my phone in the beer. (It’s buried in a bag of rice right now, there are all sorts of pictures on there I can’t stand to lose. This isn’t my first rodeo.)

“You can’t tell my sister we’re at a sleazy knocker locker!”

“It’s Waverly! You know me, you know how I am. I can’t lie to her.” You know, I’m not sure who Drunk Nicole was trying to convince, but it definitely sounds like the answer is “herself.”

I reassured Wynonna that I was going to get that saliva sample for her so she could bail. Of course, at that exact moment, revenant baby daddy came strolling over and called Wynonna “woman.”

EW.

I followed the golden rule I use in situations that are sticky and awkward, which is “acquire more alcohol.” I asked for doubles all around and told Demon Daddy he could pick the poison. He endeared himself to me a just a little by going with peppermint Schnapps. They must’ve had a bunch laying around from Christmas. I took mine and quickly took Wynonna’s as well while he wasn’t looking.

At that point my tally was four beers and four shots and I was well on my way to being quite toasty. To distract him, I launched into a few of my trusty small talk stories, including the helmet debacle of 2012. I finished up and we took another shot. Well, I took another shot. Twice.

Wynonna decided to try to bail, but we still hadn’t gotten the glass. I asked DD to get us some more shots so we could grab it while his back was turned and skip-a-doodle the hell up out of there.

“You redheads are wild,” he said flirtaciously to me. “I like you.”

Dude, your name is Jonas, you’re a demon, and you have a penis. Three strikes, you’re out.

He turned away, we both grabbed for his glass, and when he turned back, he was all crazy demon red-eyes. Ah, shit. I was way too drunk for every part of what was going on.

Wynonna told DD that she didn’t appreciate the fact that he didn’t tell her what he was before they had sex, and he commented dickishly that it hadn’t seemed like pertinent information at the time and she wasn’t looking for conversation before they “bumped nasties.”

God, just gross. Gross. Blerg.

“We just came here for a drink,” Wynonna assured him.

Drunk Nicole, ever the wing-woman and word-smith, piped up, “Yeah, and to have a few drinks.”

“Nicole, let me do the talking.” She told him he’d better shut his mouth or “the little friend in her boot would have to come out to play.”

Drunk Nicole: “Yeah, she means her gun. And I got one too, ‘cause I’m a cop.”

I went to dip into my waistband and realized it wasn’t there. I whisper-shrieked at Wynonna that I had left it at home. DD told us not to make a scene because he had a bunch of evil friends in the bar with him. See? This is why I don’t like strip clubs. He walked around the bar and said a bunch of really gross things that insinuated rape and it was at that moment that Drunk Nicole remembered her ankle holster.

“Don’t touch her!” I yelled at him, leveling my pistol at him. “That’s right…I keep one in my sock.”

For the record, I don’t keep a gun in my sock. I think Drunk Nicole was just having a hard time coming up with the words “ankle holster.”

“How smart am I?” I slurred. “I’m smart.” I remember the sober part of my brain, which tends to speak with Katie’s voice, hissing at me to stop talking.

Wynonna threw an elbow at him and flattened his ass at the same time that I shot out the lights, thinking to myself that I had missed my calling as some kind of undercover agent, and then feeling a thrill of delight when I remembered that, in fact, I AM an undercover agent. We hauled ass and baby out of there.

“Take my keys, you drive!” I huffed to Wynonna as I drunkenly stumbled and she waddled to the car.
“Yeah, no kidding,” she replied, “But you’re a cute drunk.” She patted my back. “Good aim, too.”

“Grabby McRevenant is not gonna be too happy about having his larynx crushed, so we really need to skip-a-doodle out of here.”

“Wait, wait! Abort!” Wynonna flinched and spoke to her belly. “Sorry.”

***NOTE: That’s okay, Mama. –A.M.***

“He knows. Nicole, he knows that I’m harboring the next heir as some kind of rev-Earp hybrid. What if he tells the rest of them?”

Speak of the demon, he appeared. “Hey, wait! Is that mine?”

Drunk Nicole: “NOPE.”

Wynonna: “Actually yeah, what of it?”

He then started spewing some demon-human master race bullshit so Wynonna pulled peacemaker. DD took off running, which would have been disastrous for us considering my bellyful of alcohol and her bellyful of baby, when who showed up but my princess in shining armor, who wrecked him with the door to her Jeep.

She is MY FAVORITE.

Waverly came storming over to us. She is so hot when she’s fierce.

“You are so pretty and I like you so much!” I called to her.

“You are drunk!” she yelled back. “And in trouble! Okay? Both of you! I hit three other strip clubs! Three! Do you know how much strawberry-scented glitter I have on me? Huh?”

No Waves, I don’t, but I will most happily find out.

“Hey, you okay?” she asked Wynonna.

I explained that she wasn’t because the unconscious sack of shit on the ground was potentially her baby’s father. I mean, I did not say it with that level of eloquence, but Waverly must have correctly interpreted my sign language because she said, “Oh. What are we gonna do with him?”

Wynonna opted for slinging him in the trunk and driving him out to the middle of nowhere. The three of us stood around while he banged around and demanded to be let out. The sunlight glinting off the snow was killing my head and hangover was imminent.

Given the way Wynonna was talking, her mind was already clearly made up as to what she wanted to do with him. Ultimately we opened the trunk and told him to get out. She let him talk at her for a while about how he would go down in history as the revenant who got the heir pregnant, and generally just acted way too smug given the fact that Wynonna was holding peacemaker.

“I always heard you had a mouth on you. And you do, baby. Oh, you do.”

BARF.

To her everlasting credit, Wynonna just waited him out. The more he talked, the weaker and more pathetic he sounded. In the end, she told him that regardless of what the baby was, she was going to raise it (her) to be good and strong and everything he wasn’t.

“You know,” she said, “An Earp.”

She shot him dead and he got sucked into hell where he belonged.

Waverly walked over and hugged her sister. The two of them stood there for a while, and I just waited patiently, enjoying the view.

Their bond blows me away every single day. Those two would die for each other without batting an eye.

//

***NOTE: I couldn’t read any more without talking to Aunt Waverly first. I went downstairs to look for her, but Aunt Gus said she had run to the store. I ended up sitting with Aunt Gus on the couch for a little while, watching the hockey game. She’s still a diehard Flames fan and she watches them every time they play the Hawks (who she hates.)

“Hey Aunt Gus, do you have any…what are they called? Those books of paper pictures. Of Mama and Auntie?”

I know they’re called photo albums, I just like to ruffle her feathers.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Alice,” (Hee!) “They’re called photo albums. Yes, I have a couple upstairs in my room. You used to look at them all the time when you were a little girl.”

Yeah, I remember. I went upstairs and scoured around until I found my favorite one. It was all Mama and Aunt Waverly as little girls. I took it to my room and I was sitting on my bed, looking through it, when Aunt Waverly got home and stopped in my doorway as she walked down the hall.

“Hey baby girl.”

“Hey, Aunt Wave. Do you have a second?”
She walked over and smiled when she saw what I was looking at. For a minute, we flipped through the album together. I could hear her starting to sniffle, so I figured it was as good a time as any to ask.

“Aunt Waverly, what was my dad’s actual name?”

I could feel her freeze beside me. I didn’t say anything, I just kept flipping the pages.

“John Henry Holliday.” She paused. “But we called him Doc.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “So I’m NOT demon spawn. Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you make up a name?”

She wiped her eyes. “Because if I had told you that you’re the daughter of John Henry Holliday, you’d have thought I was completely insane until you saw a picture of him and realized that I was telling the truth. Then you’d have thought that YOU were insane. You had to find out knowing the whole story, the big picture. It was just easier.”

Shit. I knew it was stupid to hope, I told myself that, but I had done it anyway.

“But you weren’t lying about him being dead.”

She ran her fingers through my hair. “No, baby.”

Shit.

“You said there’s a picture of him?”

She nodded and went to her closet. She pulled out a shoebox and handed me a picture. In it, Mama and a man with the most luxurious mustache and coolest hat I’ve ever seen are smiling and hugging each other. Mama is looking at the camera, but the man is looking at her.

He looks, as Jeremy would say, smitten.

I asked Aunt Waverly if I could keep the photo and she said, “Of course.” Just as I was about to leave the room to go read some more, she called me back.

“Ally? What made you ask? What part did you just read?” She seemed oddly nervous.

Oh god, this journal can’t possibly get more NC-17, can it?

“The part where Mama shoots that asshole demon that she thought could be my daddy.”

She closed her eyes slowly. When she opened them, they were glassy. “Baby girl, promise me when you read the next part…promise me that you won’t hate me?”

What?

“Aunt Waverly, I could never hate you. What are you talking about?”

“Just read it, Alice,” she said miserably. “You’ll see.”

-A.M.***

//

That leads us up until now. After she put down the not-daddy demon, we headed back the homestead where I promptly face-planted into Waverly’s bed and passed out. It’s about 10:30 am now and the Earp sisters are still MIA, which is for the best because I just remembered that I have those DNA results in the squad car. I’m going to take off before Waverly gets back so I can go home and figure out what I plan to do, because I’m still not entirely sure.

This is the situation I’m facing.

Option 1: Give Waverly the DNA results. Risk her finding out who her father is. Risk her meeting him. Risk her finding out I’ve been lying to her our entire relationship and ending it. Risk The Firm finding out about the two of us.

Option 2: Keep the DNA results from her. Betray her trust. Risk her breaking up with me and ordering a new DNA test, finding out anyway.

WTF am I supposed to do? I want to call Jav but my phone is still in a zip-lock baggie full of rice.

Sometimes, when I’m in a pickle like this, I sit very still and clear my head and I talk to Katie. I asked her what she would do, and then I waited.

About a minute later, the answer came to me.

“Buy time.”

//

Journal Entry #17
Early February 2017

I am not in a good place right now.

In fact, I’m barely holding it together, but writing does make me feel better. Just like Instructor Higgs said, almost a year ago now, this journal has become a place to shed my thoughts when they’re a jumbled mess. The comparison to a pensieve was an accurate one.
I just got done having an awful phone conversation that was necessary and years overdue and painful beyond belief. Everything hurts right now and I feel like there’s a wolverine in my chest.

I’ve had a lot to drink and I know I’m going to cry all over these pages but I have to get this out. Here goes.

//

Buy time. That’s the answer I got from my blonde guardian angel two days ago in regard to what to do about the DNA results, so when I got home, I texted Waverly.

Me (2/2/17 12:02 pm): Hey sweetheart, I didn’t know where you two went so I took off. I have the day off and I was hoping to make up for yesterday and last night…?
Waverly <3 (2/2/17 12:05 pm): You better. >:-l
Me (2/2/17 12:05 pm): Am I in a lot of trouble? ;-) ;-) ;-)
Waverly <3 (2/2/17 12:06 pm): You’ll be in less trouble if you’re about to offer to take me out
Me (2/2/17 12:06 pm): Well in that case, never mind ;-D
Waverly <3 (2/2/17 12:06 pm): Nicole…
Me (2/2/17 12:07 pm): Okay, okay. I was thinking of pre-gaming at Shorty’s and then going out in the city. Interested?
Waverly <3 (2/2/17 12:07 pm): Yes!!!!
Me (2/2/17 12:07 pm): I’ll meet you at Shorty’s at 6:00 and then we can drive together. Sound good?
Waverly <3 (2/2/17 12:07 pm): Sounds amazing. How’s your head?
Me (2/2/17 12:08 pm): Right as rain. I had a good nurse :-)

Lies. My head felt like a bucket of broken glass and Lego pieces, but she didn’t need to know that. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning my house and washing my sheets with the (ultimately misguided) expectation that I’d have Waverly over later.

Rather than quit while I was ahead in the questionable decisions department, I also decided to open Waverly’s DNA results. I have no excuse for doing so other than to say that I was desperately curious and I suck. What if it turned out JC was wrong, or lying? What if she was Ward Earp’s daughter? If that were the case, I could reseal this envelope and give it to her like nothing ever happened.

Waverly Earp/Ward Earp: NO MATCH

So much for that plan.

As soon as I did it, I felt awful and guilty. The only way I could figure to assuage my guilt was to take the results with me (I found the one purse that I owned for this purpose.) I don’t quite know why I brought them. The decision to hide them at my house felt permanent. Absolute. It would be a 100% commitment to deceiving Waverly. Bringing them with me gave me the ability to keep the door open, and giving myself the choice felt a little less like lying.

I made the wrong decision.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you wish you could just hit the rewind button and do everything differently? If a genie gave me the chance to use that power once, there’s only one day in my life that would take precedence over today.

At 5:45 I walked out the door, grabbing Katie’s pink jacket off the coat rack on my way by. It didn’t really match my outfit, but I was thinking about her and I figured wearing her jacket would give me the reassurance I needed. Like a hug.

At 6:00 I met Waves in front of Shorty’s. She was certainly dressed for a night on the town, and looking at her, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. How does a damaged, fucked up person like me end up with someone as flawless as Waverly? It’s a miracle.

I was feeling debonair, so when I got to her I pulled her into my arms and dipped her like we were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I kissed her and pulled her back up, right into a hug.

“Still mad at me?” I asked, with my lips on her hair.

“I don’t know how I can be, after that,” she replied, blushing and smiling. She grabbed my hand. “Come on, I want to see if I can get as drunk as you were last night.”

“Um, okay babe, but if I were you, I’d forgo the peppermint schnapps, I was burping all night.”

She rolled her eyes and glared at me. “Aware,” she stated.

We went in and I racked up the pool balls while Waverly ordered drinks from Rosita, the bartender. I’ve met her once or twice, but I don’t know much about her. She seems nice enough and I guess she’s with Doc? I fully support the little polyamorous quad that Doc, Dolls, Wynonna, and Rosita seem to be sharing, but it is a little hard to keep track of. I made a mental note to ask Wynonna for a flow chart just because I know it’ll piss her off.

Waves and I played pool (well, I played pool. She mostly missed. At first I thought I was being sharked because she practically grew up at Shorty’s, but then she told me she never played because she spent all her time either playing make-believe or talking to people, which I find utterly adorable.) She told me she and Wynonna had gone for a walk this morning to discuss the possibility that she isn’t an Earp. Wynonna reassured her, but she was still feeling insecure about it.

Buy time.

“Wynonna remembers you coming home from the hospital,” I told her, after she had missed yet another shot and I realized how distracted she was by the whole thing. “Okay? So who are you gonna trust more, your sister or the sociopathic revenant in a fuzzy coat?” I turned away from her to line up my shot.

“I don’t have to trust either of them,” she said. “I sent in a sample. Results should show up at the cop shop soon. I didn’t want them going to the homestead, although it hardly matters now.”

I was really hoping we wouldn’t be talking about this tonight.

I turned back to her. “Of course it matters. Um, but I haven’t seen anything. I mean, besides, are you sure you really wanna know?”

Please say no. Please say no.

“No! But if I’m not an Earp, I have to know.” She had grabbed the cue to take a shot but she set it back down and grabbed me instead. “But hey, in the meantime, why don’t you…” she put my hands on her waist “…distract me?”

Relief flooded me. I bent my head down to kiss her when the bartender came up behind us. “Just the ladies I’m looking for!”

Girl, you are NOT the lady that I’m looking for.

“I had an idea. About your sister. I think we should throw her a baby shower.” Again, I’m not totally clear on the dynamic of this foursome, but as far as I know, Wynonna isn’t interested in a baby shower thrown by her on-again off-again boyfriend slash baby daddy’s girlfriend.

I asked her if she was serious and she started talking about mocktails and a piñata, which is basically the Wynonna equivalent of hell. Waverly correctly pointed out that she does enjoy whacking things, so at least there’s that. I think Rosita made a note of our skepticism because I saw her face fall a little. I felt bad for her, so I said it was a good idea. (I can always point at her and run if Wynonna thinks otherwise.)

“So what’s the cover for the surprise?”

“Nachos,” Waverly answered. “She’d never say no to nachos.” Okay, Wynonna might actually like a nachos party. Just minus everything else.

Waves and I started decorating while Rosita went out to get some supplies, bringing back a truly terrifying baby piñata filled with donuts. You know, Wynonna might actually enjoy that. Rosita had the excessively friendly attitude of a girl who is trying to fit in with other girls. I recognized it because I’ve spent practically my whole life living it.

“She certainly seems involved all of a sudden,” Waverly said after Rosita walked away.

“Yeah, she seems to have gotten over her ‘Wynonna carrying her boyfriend’s kid’ thing,” I replied.

“But,” I continued, carrying a ladder over to help Waverly hang the freaky piñata, “it’s a good thing. You guys are all kind of in this together.” I didn’t include myself because I never do.

“Well, she’s hardly said one word to me before today.” Waverly tends to question the motives of people who are friendly to her for no reason.

“Well, hey. Maybe she’s intimidated, okay? You Earps are a tough party to crash. It can be hard for an outsider, even for me.” God, if that ain’t the truth.

“I’m the nicest person in Purgatory,” Waverly said, sounding shocked. “There was a vote. I got a sash.”

Oh, baby. No one in the world questions your sweetness.

“Well, all I’m saying is I remember what it’s like to be new, and I wasn’t sleeping with Wynonna’s baby daddy.” Nope, I was sleeping with her sister. Possibly worse?

I kissed her forehead and she told me that would have been awkward on a lot of levels, missing the fact that our life IS awkward on a lot of levels. She promised to try, and when Rosita called her over for drinks, I let her go by herself. She and Rosita both seem to need more female friends in their lives.

(FML. Wow, this story is really hard to tell, knowing what I know now.)

Anyway, we all got a few drinks in us and things loosened up considerably. We started playing “never have I ever” while we waited for Wynonna to put in an appearance.

“Never have I ever…swam naked in the ocean,” Rosita said. Really? I’ve done that like…well, more times than I should probably admit.

“I’ve never even seen the ocean,” Waverly said wistfully.

Don’t worry, beautiful. I’ll fix that.

Ha. Maybe not. Fuck.

“You girls need to get out more,” I told them.

They then decided they wanted to play pregnant Pictionary because I was winning the game handily.

“Waves, grab a pen,” Rosita said, patting her on the shoulder.

Waves? Whoa, whoa. Waves in MY nickname for Waverly.

“Waves?” I said, under my breath. She was too tipsy to pick up on my jealousy.

“Rosie’s so much fun! I’m really happy for her and Doc.” She leaned over, almost falling off her stool, to grab for my purse.
My brain went into full on panic mode.

“Wait, this is your purse,” she said, as she pulled out the envelope. “But this is my DNA test.” She sounded floored. “You said it hadn’t arrived yet.”

I couldn’t answer. All I could do was stare at her and watch our relationship flash before my eyes. I fucked up royally.

She asked the horrible follow-up question, “Well? Have you opened it?” She waited. I just looked away. “Why wouldn’t you tell me?”

Okay, there’s a question I can answer truthfully. “Because I love you.”

I know that was a terrible thing to say, and I know how manipulative it sounded, but it was the truth. I had kept these results from her because I love her and I’m selfish and I’m not ready to give her up. Not now, not ever. I never intended to hurt her, but as they say, the road to hell is paved with Nicole Haught’s stupidity, or something like that.

“Are you serious right now?” She demanded, her tone transforming from confused and hurt to angry.

“Because I was trying to protect you,” I tried. I should have just stopped talking.

Trying to protect you from learning the truth about your father, trying to protect you from learning that our whole relationship has been built on lies, trying to protect you from the pain of our impending separation.

“Or…control me,” she said, because of course that’s the way she would view this.

“Once you look, you can’t unsee the result.”

“I don’t need you to make decisions for me. I’m not a child, Nicole. And from the look on your face, I’m not an Earp, either. Don’t follow me,” she called over her shoulder, as she walked out.

Oh, it hurt. Or at least, I thought it hurt. The real pain was yet to come.

//

I spent the next two days trying to remember how to breathe. I woke up, went to work, came home, cried into Calamity Jane’s fur, rinsed, and repeated.

I texted Waverly somewhere in the ballpark of 50 times without getting an answer. I called just as often. I sent flowers, I left boxes of donuts with notes where she would find them. None of it mattered.

I have to hand it to her, she has truly incredible resolve. I would have caved in within the first couple hours, but she stuck to her guns. It was that, more than anything else, that made me realize how betrayed she felt. I avoided Jeremy like the plague because I didn’t want him to see the dumpster fire in my head. He spends a lot of time with Waverly at work and I was beyond thankful that he couldn’t read what she was thinking. Her comments to him (which he shared with me) were bad enough.

Earlier today, a body was found so I forced myself to go into the BBD office where Waverly, Jeremy, and Dolls were watching some kind of game on TV. I made eye contact with Jeremy and mentally begged him to try to block me out.

“Sorry to interrupt…whatever this is. A body’s been found.”

“Oh! You sure it wasn’t someone else’s body that you stole and hid because you thought you had the right to make that utterly-not-your decision?” Waverly asked passive-aggressively. Remember when I said I liked it when I’m in trouble?

No I do not.

“Why would Nicole steal a body?” Jeremy asked, feigning ignorance at Waverly’s comment and tone.

"SHUT UP JEREMY," I thought at him.

“Shut up, Jeremy!” He repeated out loud. Britney help me. “You think this is a BBD case?”

“I think it’s an everyone case,” I said, very pointedly not looking at Waverly or Jer.

We went out to the scene, where there was a body burnt beyond recognition. Waverly continued to verbally jab at me while we figured out that it was the charred remains of Tucker Gardner, which is honestly the only thing that could have happened today to make me feel better. Justice is served, MFer. We brought the body back to the station so Jeremy could…examine it. I didn’t ask.

That icky Beth girl, Tucker’s sister, showed up. She swooned at the sight of his body like a woman in an 18th century romance novel and I was tasked with bringing her water while Waverly fussed over her.

“Thank you. I’m sorry Tucker was so awful to both of you,” she said in that fake, affected tone she takes.

“It’s fine,” Waverly said, shaking her head. The hell?

“No it’s not.”

“Well, you of all people should understand why Tucker was drawn to Waverly. Love takes on many forms. What is deviant to some is normal to others.”

OH I WILL TEAR THIS BITCH LIMB FROM-

“What are you trying to say?”

“I know Tucker was…odd. But in his own way, he loved Waverly.”

“THAT’S NO EXCUSE…”

“Nicole! Stop,” Waverly said angrily.

Bitch-face said she had to go and Waves told her that if she needed anything, to let her know. She flounced out and I resisted the urge to trip her with great personal difficulty.

“I cannot believe she’d try to rationalize her brother’s behavior,” I said, crushing the water cup she’d handed back to me and chucking it in the garbage.

“He’s lying on the table burnt beyond recognition. Sometimes lying is a kindness,” Waverly said. Did she hear herself, or…?

“Yeah, I tried that,” I said, turning back to her.

It took me a moment to continue speaking. My eyes left hers and roamed up and down her body. She was wearing those pink knee high boots AND the skirt she’d been wearing before we had sex for the first time AND standing in front of the couch we had made out on for the first time and JUST KILL ME NOW AND PUT ME OUT OF MY MISERY.

“With you. And now look at us. Waverly, that girl Tucker kidnapped and brought to his room? He wanted it to be you. Trust me, okay? If you had seen the look in his eyes you would never…”

“You know what I would never do?” She asked, her eyes filling up with tears. “Tell you what to think or feel.” She brushed past me and charged out the door.

I couldn’t wait to go home. At least my cat still likes me.

//

I finally clocked out at 6:00. I stopped by the liquor store to refill my stock of Jim Beam. I’ve gone through a lot of it in the past 48 hours. When I got home, I poured myself three fingers’ worth and downed it. I put Netflix on in the background, even though I knew I wouldn’t watch it, and picked up my phone to text Waverly for the 51st-75th time.

Me (2/5/17 6:39 pm): Baby, I am so so sorry. Please, will you call me? I just want to talk.
Me (2/5/17 7:15 pm): Waverly, I’m so lonely and you’re all I can think about.
Me (2/5/17 7:43 pm): Baby PLEASE
Me (2/5/17 8:23 pm): Wave you’re the love of my life and I made a mistake. Please text me back or call me.

Nothing. Crickets.

I was about six shots in the bag and staring off into space, trying to figure out how to un-fuck my life when my phone lit up on the coffee table. Calamity Jane launched about 4 feet in air and I fell off the couch lunging for my phone.

Waverly <3 (2/5/17 8:26 pm): Dear control freak, I will talk to you when I want to talk to you. Until then, have a nice life hurting the people that you love.

I don’t have the words to describe how I felt reading that text, so I’m not going to try.

The next thing I did, in a moment of weakness, is one of the biggest regrets of my life.

I reached for her. It was intrusive and wrong, but I was in so much pain, and I was desperate to see what kind of state of mind she was in when she sent that message. There was at least a possibility she was only trying to act tough. Maybe she was at the homestead, doing the same thing I was doing. If she was home and upset, I was going to get in my truck and drive straight there and kick in her window to get to her, if I had to.

I reached for her and the on-view was crystal clear despite my emotional state and level of inebriation. I truly believe I was being taught a lesson. Oh Karma, you are a cruel instructor.

It took me a moment to figure out where I was. Waverly and Rosita (what the hell?) were in bathing suits, sitting in a hot tub, drinking champagne. It looked for all the world like they were on a date. They were talking, but their voices were muffled and I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. It sounded like Rosita was saying something about bubbles.

Waverly was staring at her with a look on her face that I recognized.

The first time I remember seeing it was when she came over for the first time and we danced and she almost kissed me. It was her “I’m about to kiss you” face.

And she did. She kissed Rosita.

She kissed her. Mostly naked. In a hot tub.

I watched for long enough to see Rosita get past the initial shock and start to kiss her back before I wrenched myself out of the on-view as hard as I could and I let myself sink the rest of the way to the floor beside my couch.

I sat there like that, with my head in my hands and my heart exploding out of my chest with the force of the tachycardia for about twenty minutes before I got up and took two more shots. I kept my mind as blank as I possibly could. I tried to not look at the mental images I was conjuring of the two of them moving past the kissing stage.

Even after the shots, I felt like I was going to launch into a fully blown panic attack. I haven’t had one of those since 2013. I tried to resist, but ultimately, I was in too much pain. As I told Waverly a long time ago, “Desperate things make desperate decisions.”

I called Shae. She answered on the third ring.

“Nicole?”

“Hey. Hey, yeah it’s me.” God I sounded fucked up.

“Jesus, are you okay? What is going on with you?”

I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t even catch my breath. She recognized the pattern.

“Nicole, listen to me. Listen to my voice, okay? Breathe with me. Count of 5, okay? 1…2…3…”

I listened to her and did the breathing exercise. Count of 5 in, hold it, count of 5 out, repeat. We did 3 rounds before I felt like I wasn’t going to pass out.

“Okay,” I said, still breathless. “I’m okay. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. What is going on?”

“I don’t know why I called you. I’m so sorry. Of all the people for me to have called, this is the worst. I’m sorry, I’m such an asshole.”

“Nik, stop. Just tell me why you called. Is it your job? Katie?”

“No. My…my girlfriend. Waverly.”

There was a long pause. “Oh.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to tell you…”

“No, it’s fine. I’m seeing someone, too.”

Thank god. “Oh. What’s…what’s her name?” I managed to ask.

“It’s a he. His name is Jason.”
Oh. Okay. Why does that hurt?

“My girlfriend’s name is Waverly. We’ve been together for…” Jesus, I don’t even know. “Almost a year. We’ve been fighting and…Shae, she cheated on me. Tonight.”

Longer pause. “Shit.”

“Yeah, isn’t that fucked up? I guess I finally know what it was like to be you.”

No answer.

“No I don’t. Shae, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I’m just…I’m having a ‘come to Jesus’ moment.”

“You mean a ‘come to Britney’ moment?” She teased gently. It’s what she had always done, to pull me out of this headspace. She’d grab me as I spiraled down with her kind words and humor.

I hope this Jason guy is treating her well.

“Shae, I’m so, so sorry. I’ve never been more sorry for anything in my life.” I meant that. “You didn’t deserve any of it. I hope you’re…” I stifled a sob. “Happy.”

“Okay, Nicole? Listen to me. Do you believe she loves you?”

“…I don’t know.”

“Try again. Nicole, do you believe that she loves you?”

I swallowed. Pushed my insecurity away. “Yes.”

“I’m sure that she does. I don’t know how anyone could meet you and not love you. Listen, I don’t know what she did, but if you guys have been fighting, maybe she’s hurting. Maybe she made a really stupid mistake. I’d be willing to bet that whatever it is that she did, it didn’t change the way she feels about you at all. You can love someone and still make a really stupid decision out of pain and fear, right?”

Yeah, I’ve done it about a bazillion times. I just never anticipated how painful being on the other end of it would be.

“Babe, as much as you’re putting yourself in my shoes right now, which I appreciate, by the way, you also need to put yourself in Waverly’s shoes. You’ve worn those shoes before, you know what it’s like. It’s not the end. It’s only the end if you want it to be.”

“I don’t,” I whispered.

“Then don’t let it be,” she said. “Fight. Fight for her, Nicole. Fight your ass off. Even if you can’t bring her back to you, you’ll know you tried.” Shit, she was crying now, too.

“Shae. I…I loved you. You know that, right? I really did love you.”

“I know, Nik. Just not enough. Sounds like you might love this Waverly enough, though.”

“Yeah.”

“Nicole, should I sign those papers you sent a year ago?”

Our divorce papers.

“I’m so sorry, Shae.”

“Okay. I’m going to sign them and drop them in the mail tomorrow. Stop beating yourself up over this, we’ve been separated for over three years. Things are the same as they were, you’re just drunk and sad. Everything is fine.”

“Okay,” I whispered again. “Thank you.”

“Alright, are you going to be okay? Or should I stay on the phone?”

“No, I’m alright.”

“Fifteen minutes. If you’re good about answering, I’ll increase it to thirty so you can sleep. Fine?”

It was something she had done with me when I was on deployment or otherwise MIA. When I was spiraling, she got…rightfully worried. So she’d text me every fifteen minutes to make sure I was…

You know. Alive.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Thank you. Take care of yourself, Shae. Love you.”

“Love you, too Nik. Things will turn out okay, I promise. All you can do is trust that she loves you…and she’ll come back to you.”

How could I trust that? How could I trust that knowing that I hadn’t done the same, when the roles were reversed?

***NOTE: Wtf just happened? I’m crying. –A.M.***

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #18
Early February 2017

I’m writing this entry in the hospital.

Again.

After Shae left I tried to get up, but Dolls came storming in and practically body-slammed me back down onto the bed. He told me I have to take two hours to recover, or would I rather he just handcuff me to the bed? I told him no, that was Waverly’s job, and he left in a huff.

I might as well write.

There’s a really good chance that these next 48 hours will be my last on Earth. Which is fine, as long as that statement doesn’t also apply to Waverly, Wynonna, and the baby.

I’ll do whatever it takes to get them out of Purgatory.

//

After I hung up with Shae, I just sat. Emotional pain of that magnitude is hollowing. It’s like your insides feel like they got scooped out and all that’s left is a sucking blackness. You can’t have so much as a neutral thought, much less a pleasant one. Your hands become useless bricks and tears pour out of your eyes even though you aren’t trying to cry. It’s like a hot water faucet got turned on over your face.

After some length of time had passed (could have been five minutes, could have been five hours) my phone lit up, ripping me out of my catatonic reverie. I hoped it would be Waverly, but it was an email.

It was from The Firm.

Guardian Haught,

You are to bring your Asset to the field office in (city name redacted) by any means necessary within 24 hours of receipt of this email.

Sincerely,
Captain (name redacted)

I rubbed my eyes and read it again.

All the neurons in my brain that had previously been in the “off” position came online simultaneously and I leapt to my feet. What did that mean? Bring Waverly to the field office…? In 24 hours? What the hell? I glanced at my watch. It was almost 10:30 at night. Had I dropped Waverly’s Shield because we were fighting, and somehow they found out?
Where had this come from, where did I go wrong?!

I knew if I answered I wouldn’t get a response. We aren’t expected to question orders. I read the email, again and again, praying each time that it would say something different. This was unheard of. Most Assets never even meet their Guardians, so their expectation was clearly that I’d be willing to kidnap her. “By any means necessary.” What did they want with her? Maybe her father set this up, maybe he wanted to meet her. But that wouldn’t make any sense.

I was just about to call Jav and have a meltdown when I remembered I had Inspector Higgs’ card. On the back, she had given me her phone number and specified that I was only to contact her in case of emergency. Had she anticipated this? I ran to my closet and pulled out the box I have hidden with everything pertaining to my contract on Waverly. I found the card and dialed the number with trembling hands.

“Higgs.”

“Inspector Higgs, this is Guardian Nicole Haught. I apologize for the lateness of the hour.”

Brief pause. “Very well. How can I help you, Guardian?”

“Ma’am, I…”

I suddenly realized how ridiculous this was about to sound. Surely she’d scoff at me and tell me to obey orders? What was I doing?

“I received an email several minutes ago from the field office pertaining to my Asset. They are…demanding I bring her to the field office within 24 hours.”

I could hear the sound of her hand muffling the mouthpiece of the phone and her voice softly saying, “Robert.”

Then, to me, “Guardian Haught, I need you to listen to everything I am about to say very carefully. Both of your lives hang in the balance. It is essential that you follow my orders to the letter.”

I pinched myself hard, thinking that maybe this terrible night would turn out to be a particularly vivid nightmare. Nothing happened. I closed my eyes and all I could see was Waverly.

“Yes, ma’am, I’m listening.”

“You’re under the impression that you were hired by an anonymous contractor, but the truth is, you were assigned to Ms. Earp by The Firm itself.”

Huh?

“The Firm wishes to acquire Ms. Earp for her ability to Amplify. Since Purgatory is located over a Source, they’ve been waiting for her power to reach a critical threshold, which is why you’ve been there to protect her. She either reached that threshold or the danger has a reached a level they’re no longer willing to risk.”

“Ma’am, can you please clarify…? Amplification? How can a human being be used to Amplify?”

“Guardian,” she said, her voice softening slightly, “Humans are always used to Amplify. What you were taught in training is nonsense. Amplifiers are rare, extremely rare. Only 1 in 1,000,000 people has the potential to become a Guardian. Only 1 in 50,000,000 people is an Amplifier. Once The Firm has acquired an Amplifier, they’re altered and sent where they are needed.”

“…Pardon?”

She cleared her throat. “This is not a voluntary process. They are placed in a medically induced coma and their brain waves are harvested for the amplification of the Abilities of every Guardian within a thousand square miles. The current Amplifier in this half of the country is old and near death. They are desperate to acquire Ms. Earp.”

I felt sick, and not just because they wanted to take my Waverly. The entire time I’ve been here I’ve been using someone. Against their will. Using someone to protect Waverly so she could ultimately replace them.

“But my Abilities have only improved since I got to Purgatory. That’s why they brought me in for the interrogation in the first place, isn’t it? If the current Amplifier is failing…”I trailed off. I didn’t understand.

“You haven’t been using the old Amplifier. You’ve been drawing from Ms. Earp herself. I understand the two of you are close, which has only served to strengthen your Abilities. The two of you feed off each other, and I suspect you’ve barely scratched the surface of what you’re capable of together. The Firm can’t afford to lose either of you.”

“Inspector, why are you telling me all this?”

“Because Robert and I are fighting it. It’s wrong. We have been working to dismantle The Firm from the inside for years. We’ve saved two others in the course of our careers. When you were wanted for interrogation, I personally requested your case, knowing if you failed you’d be terminated and they would take Ms. Earp sooner than planned.”

That was why she saved my life that day. “Thank you,” I squeaked.

“There’s no time for gratitude. As soon as you hang up the phone, you need to get Ms. Earp and leave Purgatory as fast as you can. Robert and I can buy you 72 hours. Drive to the airport in Seattle. Don’t take your own car, rent one. I’ll give you the phone number of a man who will meet you at the airport. I will arrange for a private plane to smuggle you out of the country. Once that’s done, we can decide how to proceed. Do you have enough money?”

Everything was happening so fast my head was spinning. Leave Purgatory? We couldn’t leave. We had a curse to break, we had a baby on the way, there were evil widows trying to raise their demon husband. Leaving Purgatory was not an option.

“Guardian?” she prompted.

“Yes, I do, but…” I said quietly, closing my eyes and squeezing my phone. “I can’t do as you instruct. I can’t leave Purgatory. This town…”

“Is cursed and overrun by demons and will be wiped off the face of the Earth very soon.”

What? Did they know about…what does Jeremy call him? Bulshar?

“The Firm and our Pentagon associates are only leaving the town and the Source intact while you and Ms. Earp reside there and draw from it. Once you’re both gone, the town will be annihilated.”

She chuckled humorlessly. “Guardian Haught, do you honestly think the United States of America would tolerate the possibility of supernatural forces escaping the confines of the Ghost River Triangle? Once the true evil in Purgatory has risen, the boundaries will break down. Northern Montana is a wasteland, but demons can cover a lot of distance in a few days’ time.”

I wanted to look in the mirror to see if the sparks I was feeling fly off my brain were real.

“Ma’am, I have people here. I can’t just leave them.”

In the background I could hear Instructor Higgs’ voice saying, “Give me the goddamn phone, Lisa.” I could hear her handing the phone to him and then his gruff voice.

“Nicole, you listen to me. This is not a fucking game. You need to get your little girlfriend and you need to leave NOW. We are down to the wire. My wife and I are taking our lives in our hands buying you time, so you need to use it to get out. Do you understand me?”

My Katie voice spoke to me from somewhere deep in my brain. “Lie.”

“Yes, sir. I do. I appreciate what you’re both doing. 72 hours is more than generous. Thank you.”

There was a long pause on the other line. He didn’t completely believe me. “Very well,” he said. “Get your Asset, and start driving.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

Click.

I have T-minus 72 hours to break a curse, save everyone living in the Ghost River Triangle, get Waverly, Wynonna, and the baby out of Purgatory, and once we’re out, figure out a way to protect us from the full might of The Firm, which apparently has the ability to wipe a significant chunk of the map off the face of the Earth.

Britney, take the fucking wheel.

//

The bottom line was I needed help. I needed an ally living in Purgatory who I could confide everything to and who could help me come up with a plan as soon as possible.

Dolls was the obvious choice.

He’s an agent, like me. He understands the lifestyle and how to prioritize the mission. He also cares about everyone that I care about, he’s incredibly smart, brave, and resourceful, and isn’t entirely human.

I could also trust him to keep quiet until we knew what to do.

I didn’t have his phone number so I drove to the hotel he’s staying at. Thankfully, I could see the light from behind the curtain as I pulled up. I tapped on the door and saw the curtain move. He opened the door with the chain still on and his sidearm out.

“Haught,” he said, sounding surprised. He lowered his weapon and opened the door the rest of the way, looking at me and frowning. “What’s going on? Are Wynonna and Waverly okay? You look terrible.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “They’re fine as far as I know.”

(As far as I knew, my girlfriend was having a post-sex snuggle with someone who most assuredly was not me.)

No she’s not, Nicole. Stop it.

“What’s going on? You look like you got hit by a truck.”

“I WISH I had only gotten hit by a truck. Can I come in?”

He nodded and stepped aside, holstering his pistol. I walked in the room and turned around. That HGTV channel was on.

“Ah, sorry to interrupt your enjoyment of ‘Creepy White Twins Flipping Houses.’”
He looked bemused, then he actually laughed. “It’s like the only thing that’s ever on in a hotel room. Why is that?”

I crossed my arms and smiled. “It’s a universal law, like gravity.”

I paused to collect my thoughts and absentmindedly tried to smooth out the wrinkles in my shirt. Man, I really was in a state of dishevelment.

“Dolls, I need to unload a whole bunch of crazy shit on you, then burden you with the task of helping me come up with a plan to address said crazy shit.”

He slowly sank down and sat on the edge of the bed, looking interested. He was wearing one of those black muscle tops and gray sweatpants. I’m gay, but man. He is a cutie.

“Yeah, alright. I’m down. I’ve been a little bored, anyway.” His eyes twinkled.

Yeah, okay bro, you’re real bad.

I told him everything, starting from the day I arrived in Purgatory and ending with the conversation I had just had with the Higgs. It took me almost an hour, and you know what? I gotta hand it to Dolls. He listened to and absorbed it all like the natural-born soldier that he is. He didn’t so much as flinch.

When I finally got done talking, all he said was “I wish you felt like you could have confided in me sooner, but now is better than never.”

“Dolls,” I started, but he interrupted me, holding his hand up.

“My agent buddies call me X.”

I stared at him, raised my eyebrows, and curled my lip. “Yyyeeahh…I don’t think so, dude.”

He lost it. I’m glad he can laugh in times like these.

I said, “You have to keep all of this a secret, even from Wynonna. No one can know until we have a solid plan.”

“Agreed,” he replied.

“We only have 72 hours.”

“No,” he said, holding up a finger. “We have 72 hours until they mobilize to find you and Waverly. Their team will need to be notified, they’ll need to plan, stage, and then it’ll take them time to find you. It’s not like you guys are going to stand next to the ‘Welcome to Purgatory’ sign and twiddle your thumbs. They can’t lay a finger on the town until you’re found. We have three full days and some change to get this done.”

Damn, that was optimistic. I had just started to pat myself on the back for picking the right battle buddy when he abruptly caused me to regret my decision.

“What we need is a distraction. A diversion.”

“…What does that mean?”

“I mean, it’s time to wake up the big daddy demon. Bulshar. I get the feeling that once he’s awake, things will start to unfold pretty quickly.”

“Dolls…that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

He looked way too excited. I really didn’t realize how nuts this guy is. “Haught, there are forces at work in this town that won’t bother to stir themselves until they’re left with no choice. We have to leave them with no choice.”

“Do they train you guys to make bad situations worse in BBD or is this just you?” I asked.

“A little of both.”

“You really think that’s the right move? Setting everything in motion?”

“I know it’s the right move,” he said. I looked in his eyes and saw clearly that he knew more than he was letting on. I would have to trust him and we would have to work together, the clock was ticking. I stuck my hand out and we clasped forearms like I had done several nights ago with Wynonna.

Old Western style.

Without thinking about it, I said my words. “Et vita mea.” (With my own life)

He didn’t even blink. He just bowed his head. “Et meum.” (And mine)

Oh my god, was he…? “How do you know our words? Are you…?”

He shook his head and the corner of his mouth curled. “No, I’m not a Guardian. I just know Latin.” He met my eyes. “I’ve been living on this planet for a long, long time.”

Demons, witches, aliens…it’s only a matter of time before I meet a werewolf.

I went to pull out the desk chair, thinking that we needed to get down to planning right away, but he just frowned and cocked his head at me.
“Nicole, go home.”

“Wait…what? But we have to…”

He stood up, walked over to me, and put his big, warm hand on my shoulder. Ugh, he was reminding me of Jav and it was hitting me right in the feels. I’m such a sucker for large men who act all sweet and gentle. Okay, okay, maybe being straight wouldn’t be that terrible.

Just kidding, it would be the worst.

“Go home. Get some rest. Time is limited but you can’t function like this. You look like you haven’t slept in days.”

He was right. I was no good to anyone all messed up.

I thanked him and drove home. As soon as I got in I went straight to bed and I was asleep instantly.

//

I woke up at 7:00, showered, and got dressed. I reached for Waves and found her at Shorty’s.

The only possible reason for her to be there that early in the morning was because she had stayed the night in the upstairs apartment. I tried desperately to not think about why that might be.

My phone buzzed.

Waverly <3 (2/6/17 7:43 am): Nicole, can I come over? We need to talk. I have to tell you something :-(

Oh sweet Jesus. My thumbs were frozen over the keys and my heart was hammering again. I just wanted to get it over with. Plus, I didn’t know if my heart would survive hearing about what happened in person.

Me (2/6/17 7:44 am): Waverly, whatever it is you need to tell me, please just do it now.


Waverly <3 (2/6/17 7:44 am): I kissed Rosita last night. I am so so so sorry

!!!!!

That’s it?

Me (2/6/17 7:44 am): Did it go beyond a kiss?
Waverly (2/6/17 7:45 am): NO! It was a stupid mistake and I immediately regretted it. Please, can I come over?
Me (2/6/17 7:45 am): Please do

My legs turned to jelly and I sank down onto my couch. I held my face in my hands. I know relief was not an appropriate emotion for me to be feeling, but I couldn’t help it. It was a mistake. A stupid mistake. I’ve made plenty of stupid mistakes. She wasn’t leaving me. She still wanted to be with me.

She still loves me.

Fuck The Firm.

I stood up, ready to kick some ass, when I heard a knock on the door. I ran over and wrenched it open, expecting Waverly to jump into my arms and kiss me.

It wasn’t Waverly. It was…Mercedes? But she looked terrible. Possibly even worse than Tucker the well-done boy. Her face was falling off.

I pointed out as much and she attacked me. At first I thought I had just really offended her, and then she started yelling shrilly about her husband, her lord, and a ring. I hit the ground hard, and as I tried to drag myself away, she yanked the hell out of my leg.

I’ve had a whole lot of combatives training, but she was wrecking me. She was far stronger than she looked, and when she grabbed my leg as I tried to crawl away, I felt something in my knee give. Shit, it was probably my ACL. I had torn it playing softball in high school.

She yelled that I had “the seal” this whole time and stomped me. (Wow, okay I guess I didn’t need a spleen.) I did my best to fight her off but she was too much. She started choking me and I swear she was wearing Wolverine claws.

“If I had the seal I would have told Wynonna!” Damn right, I don’t even have a bathtub, where would I keep it?

She started rambling about what the seal was made out of (apparently it’s a ring, not a pinniped.) At that exact moment, a miracle manifested itself in the shape of my princess in shining leopard print coat.

Waverly came in, snapped a handy broom handle over her leg, and went crazy on Mercedes-not-Mercedes, yelling, “Get away from her, you bitch!”

SWOON

I am going to have to revisit the mental image of her fighting like that later. For science.

I couldn’t stand because of my busted knee but I dragged myself in the kitchen to where I left my sidearm on the counter. I could hear Waverly still fighting in the background. I realized I had probably dropped her Shield with all my drunkenness and emotional angst, and I turned just in time to see MNM breathe freezy-breath at Waverly. Nope, Shield was still intact. It missed her by about a yard, but MNM wasn’t giving up that easily.

ACL be damned. I launched myself over the couch and got the widow masquerading as Mercedes (figured it out!) in a sleeper hold.

She bit me. Hard. Pain like I’ve never experienced in my life, worse than when I was blown up (but not as bad as last night’s heartbreak) washed through me like a nauseating red wave. I felt an intense sense of paralyzing weakness run through me and I collapsed to my knees.

MNM screeched that I didn’t have the ring, but the one with the ring was still coming, and she bailed. Waverly chased after her with my pistol but she was already gone. I could feel my vision gray out as Waverly ran over to me. I was holding my bleeding arm and trying desperately to stay awake as she called an ambulance. I managed to check Waverly’s Shield once more before I lost consciousness.

Just before I did, I thought: you know, I may not live through this.

//

Most of what happened next is a giant blur. I hardly remember the ambulance ride or being in the hospital. The only thing I do remember is Waverly’s desperate, soft-spoken pleas and apologies. She kissed me and hugged me and talked to me the entire time, and after last night, it was nice.

You know, I’d take the poison any day, if it meant I got to have this.

I must have blacked out again at some point, because when I came to, I was in a trauma room and I was in so much pain I couldn’t see straight. The doctors were talking in hushed, frightened voices and I could tell I wasn’t in good shape when one said, “This is the most severe case of hemochromatosis he’d ever seen.”

Iron overload. I could die.

Wynonna came around the corner and ran over to me. I immediately tried to tell her what the widow had told me because my time was limited and she needed the information to prevent all hell from breaking loose. Literally. I wanted to tell her to try to escape Purgatory with Waverly, but she would just think I was losing it from the pain. Thank god I told Dolls everything. I know I can trust him and Doc to take care of Wynonna and Waverly.

“Okay, okay, save your strength, Haught,” Wynonna said.

“Wynonna, if this gets bad…”

“This ain’t bad?!”

“Just listen for once, Earp. Okay?” She’s such a pain in my ass. “I don’t wanna be a burden and I don’t want a machine keeping my body alive.” The last thing I needed was for Waverly to be stationary in the hospital with me like a sitting duck.

“And we both know Waverly’s not gonna let me go,” I continued.

“Nicole, please don’t ask me to do this,” Wynonna pleaded.

That’s what I said to Katie. I said that exact same thing.

So I answered with the reply she had given me.

“You’re the only one I can,” I paused and tried to collect myself. “And you’re the only one she’s gonna forgive. Please. Please.”

The look on her face was haunting. Oh, the parallels. I hear you, universe. Loud and clear. After what happened last night and right now, I had never seen things clearer.

“Okay. Okay, you have my word.”

Katie. Wynonna.

“Thank you.”

Our gazes locked for a moment before we both heard Waverly coming in, shouting “I’m here, I’m here!”

Wynonna went to get the doctor. Meanwhile, I tried my hardest to act like I didn’t have fire burning me up from the inside.

“Hey, baby,” I said, keeping my voice as even as possible.

“Hey…” Her eyes were huge and terrified. She looked like she couldn’t quite wrap her head around what was happening.

“You give Calamity Jane to Nedley, okay? He acts like he doesn’t but he loves that cat.”

He likes to tell me my house is on his way home (it’s not) so he can come in and pet CJ under the guise of dropping off some files for me. He’s an adorable man.

“I am so sorry” Waverly said, and her tone was pure, abject misery.

“No, I’m sorry. I am so sorry, Waverly.”

God, for everything. She didn’t even know the half of it. I was about to die and leave her to face all the evil of the world without me.

“No! Forget about the DNA results okay? It doesn’t matter now.”

Oh, baby. I wish that was all I was sorry for.

“I just thought I did the right thing. I lied to you and I shouldn’t have.”

“Hey, hey, I’m going to be here when you wake up, okay? We’ll do all of our sorries then. We’ll have a big old sorry party and I’ll make hats.” She smiled through her tears.

She is so beautiful.

“But if I don’t, no matter what happens, I need you to know,” I started to cry, “that I have never loved anyone the way that I love you.”

It’s true. Not Shae. Not Jav. Not Beth.

…not Katie.

“Oh, you know what?” She asked. I kissed her hand. “We are not doing this. We’re gonna find a way to stop the toxin, okay? You’re gonna be…”

I assume she said fine, but that was the last I heard.

//

When I opened my eyes again, I was in yet another weird dream. What is with all these lately?

Right. Purgatory.

I was in a meadow or something. It wasn’t anywhere I’d been before. I felt a light touch on my shoulder, and then a squeeze. I turned around.

“Hey, you,” Katie said.

“Hey, yourself,” I replied.

We just stared for a minute, taking each other in.

Her face very slowly split into a smile. “You look a little worse for wear there, Nik.”

I looked down. I was still wearing the hospital gown, spattered with blood. I stuck my tongue out at her.

“What is this place? What are we doing here?”

She shrugged and raised her eyebrows. “No idea. I’m just the messenger.”

“Messenger?”

“Yeah, this is your rodeo. I just brought you here to meet someone.”

“What? Who?”

She shrugged. “Some weird dude. I think he said his name was Lou?”

She started to leave, but heard me call after her and turned around. She shook her head at the hand I had stretched out to her.

“We’ll be seeing plenty of each other soon enough, my love.” She walked away and disappeared and someone else took her place.

A man. He was a nondescript, middle-aged and white. He looked friendly enough. Like someone’s dad, maybe.

“Hello, Nicole,” he said.

I frowned at him. “Uh, hi. Who are you?”

He folded his hands in front of him and smiled kindly. “I’m your love’s father. Well, for most intents and purposes.”

Oh. He is someone’s dad. Waverly. (Still bummed it wasn’t batman.)

He strolled toward me slowly. “You’ve been watching over my daughter. Thank you for that.”

“Haven’t been doing the best job, to be honest.”

“Why?” he asked. “Because you’re here?”

“Because I’m either dead or dying and the assholes who hired me to guard her are coming to take her away,” I said angrily. “And I’m stuck here with your spooky ass.”

He shook his head and chuckled. “No, Nicole. You’ll see this through. You’ll save our girl. Actually, there’s a good chance you’ll save all three of them. But you’ll need my help.”

“How do you know I’ll make it? And what do you mean, need your help?”

Even men in dreams are pretentious.

“Nicole,” He stopped about a foot in front of me. His face was strangely beautiful. A glow seemed to emanate from him, it was very disconcerting. “I’m not human, and neither is Waverly.”

“Right, she’s half-human, half something else,” I said uncertainly. “Your pal JC told me.”

He looked pleased. “That’s correct. She’s a hybrid of her mother, a human, and myself, a being of Light.”

SO pretentious.

“You’re…a god?”

He smiled and shook his head. “Oh no, at least not in the way you see it. Let’s just say I am merely a being living one level above you within this reality.”

Sounds like a god to me.

“I play by different rules and I obey different laws from the ones that you’re familiar with.” He looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard it described that I am to humans what humans are to ants.” He shrugged. “But I think that’s crass.”

“If you’re a…a ‘Light being’…what does that make Waverly?”

“Not that I entirely agree with this analogy, but you humans call beings like Waverly ‘angels.’” He watched for my reaction carefully. I didn’t give him any.

Waverly turning out to be an angel is the least surprising thing I’ve learned since I set foot in Purgatory.

“If you’re so far above us, why would you procreate with a human?”

“The full explanation is long and we don’t have the time,” he said. “Suffice it to say that I am not the only force at work in Purgatory. My brethren and I play an ancient game, and the lives of you humans are the game pieces.”

I sneered at him and he gave me an apologetic look. “I understand that I’m being rude, but I find this is the most accurate metaphor. My desires and motives are what you would consider ‘good,’ because they coincide with your own desires and motives. The one who opposes me is what you consider ‘evil.’ Currently, we are ‘playing’ for Purgatory and the lives of everyone in the Ghost River Triangle, but most of all, we’re competing for the right to decide what happens to Waverly and the ones that she loves.”

I was just staring at him in stunned disbelief. This entire scenario was ridiculous.

“I created Waverly because she’s the keystone to this entire iteration of the game. She is my central player. Without her, no one in Purgatory would stand a chance.”

I mean, I can get on board with that. I know I wouldn’t stand a chance without her.

“What about Wynonna?”

“Wynonna is the wild card. She is the catalyst, the one who sets things in motion.”

“So, let me get this straight. You’re using your own daughter as a pawn on a chessboard?”

He laughed. “No, Nicole. In the analogy you’re using, Waverly’s piece is the king. Wynonna’s is the queen. Yours…” He looked at me, considering. “Is the knight.” He nodded to himself.

“We are not pieces in some cosmic game,” I growled. “We’re real people. I love Waverly and Wynonna and I love this town and everyone in it.”

He looked at me curiously. “You humans are so fascinating,” he mused. “Always taking everything so seriously. Why? You’re nothing but a speck of dust, here and gone in the blink of an eye. The things you do, the things you sacrifice…is it all worth it?”

I felt my eyes close against my will and he filled my head with snippets of my life. It was a reel of all the terrible, gut-wrenching decisions that I’d ever had to make in my life, one after the other.

Leaving my house, signing my enlistment papers, holding Katie in the desert sand as the blood pounded in my ears, unplugging that awful, beeping, breathing machine, sobbing and begging for Shae’s forgiveness, pulling the widow off Waverly and being bitten.

I banished the images and opened my eyes to meet his. I realized suddenly that they were the same color as Waverly’s. I drew strength from them.

Resolve wrapped around my heart like armor.

“I would pay all that again and more, if that was the cost of her life and happiness.” I answered firmly, clenching my jaw. “I would endure a thousand lifetimes’ worth of suffering for the opportunity to love her once.”

“Well,” he said, sounded amused, “I suppose we might get the chance to find out if you’re telling the truth. It depends on how the next 24 hours play out.”

“What do you mean?”

“I told you that I play by a certain set of rules. However, it’s within my power to bend them, just a little. There are…loopholes, if you will.”

“You have an ace in the hole,” I speculated.

“Yes. But I’ll only play it if the situation is dire.”

“It isn’t yet?!”

He shook his head. “No, Nicole. My opponent’s main player is still asleep.”

Bulshar.

“But if he were to wake up, you would be compelled to act.”

Dolls comment earlier suddenly made sense to me.

He looked at me and inclined his head.

Talk about a deux ex machina. This guy was offering to save us. He must have either been able to read my thoughts or my face was giving me away.

“It doesn’t work like that, Nicole. You should be careful what you wish for. The price to be paid for my plan is…high.”

“Will it end the curse? Will it save Waverly? Wynonna? The baby?”

“Yes.”

“Then I don’t care. Name the price.”

“When the time comes, I will. Wait for Wynonna.”

He was fading away. The dream was ending.

“What do you mean, wait for Wynonna?”

But he was gone.

//

When I woke up, it was to my angel’s eyes.

The fear and apprehension, the hours of terrified waiting she’s endured, I saw it all reflect back at me from two perfect blue-green pools.

“Waverly,” I whispered. Somehow, she had healed me. I don’t know how I knew it was her, but I did. She healed me and most of the pain was gone.

She saved me.

Despite my “alive” status, she looked like something was wrong. Very wrong. There was anger and guilt on her face that didn’t belong there.

Then she said, “Nicole. You’re married,” and I felt the room spin a little. Of course Shae had been here. Of course she had. Oh god, what had they talked about?

“No! I’m getting divorced! I’m sorry…”

“Nicole, don’t start that again.” She gave me a small smile and shook her head. The look on her face stayed the same.

Then we heard Wynonna’s voice in the hallway, shouting, “Waverly, I got the BEST news!” When she rounded the corner and saw me, she stopped dead in her tracks, eyes going wide.

“Haught damn! You made it!” She ran over and gave me a bone crushing hug.

She asked me how it had happened and I told her I had no idea. I mean, I know Waverly had something to do with it, but I don’t know what that is. I figured she just kissed me and I woke up like a Disney princess.

“It’s a miracle,” I said. Sure.

“It’s…something,” Wynonna said, giving Waverly a look. Waverly looked miserable. What is this?

“I told you to wait,” Wynonna said. “I told you I’d get a cure and I did. Waverly, what did you do?”

Waverly very uncharacteristically got up and ran out of the room, crying, without even saying goodbye to me. Wynonna turned and gave me a disbelieving look.

“She made a deal with a witch and gave the widow the third seal to save you,” she said flatly.

Oh. That explains a lot. Before I could ask her to elaborate, she left, following Waverly out the door. When they’d both been gone a few minutes, Shae came from where she’d been hiding around the corner. If she overheard what we had been talking about, she didn’t let on.

“Hey,” she said gently, looking concerned. She took my hand and held it, sitting beside me on the bed.

“Shae, I’m sorry, you didn’t have to come.”

She patted my hand. “I wanted to. What have you been doing to yourself lately? Isn’t someone taking care of you?” she smiled.

“Did you meet her?” I asked.

“Yes. She’s lovely.”

“Shae, did you…”

“Tell her anything? No. All she asked about was how we met, and I told her it was rock climbing.” She rolled her eyes. “How cliché. I did tell her about Britney Live, though.”

“Oh, you would.”

We smiled at each other wistfully. Just strangers now.

“Okay, well, take care of yourself, Nicole. Or at least try. The papers are in the mail, I would have brought them, but I had already…”

“It’s fine, Shae. Thank you. For everything. Always. You’re the best.”

She squeezed my hand. “Actually, Nicole, you kind of are.”

//

Journal Entry #19
Early February 2017

Whoa. I really need to start sleeping more.

I just woke up at my desk, I had the weirdest dream. Shae and I were in the hospital. Not like eating lunch on her break, like I was a patient. Some other stuff happened too but I can’t remember it now. I can’t believe I fell asleep on the job, what is getting into me?

“Hey, Sher’f?”

Urrrr. “What, Lonnie?!”

“You wan’ me or Mikey to go to that escaped cows call?”

“I want BOTH of you to go, please!”

“Okay…. yes ma’am.”

It’s only 9:00 in the morning and I’m already annoyed. Only three hours before Waverly comes in.

***NOTE: What……..is………..happening. –A.M.***

I know I need to go check on Dolls and Jeremy and their witch in a box, but my head is so fuzzy. I really need another cup of coffee. I think I’ll go get some and check on the guys before I recount what happened with Waverly last night at Shorty’s.

It was pretty great.

//

Wow. So I went and made a cup of coffee, then I went by the BBD office, only to find Doc FRIKIN Holliday and Dolls/Jeremy in a stand-off. Luckily Doc the douche had his back turned to me and I walloped him. He passed out cold and Dolls stuffed him in the giant fish tank with the witch.

I didn’t object, it’s what he deserves.

//

***NOTE: I really thought Nicole had some kind of latent-onset brain damage from the poison. I went to Aunt Waverly to clarify and she must have thought I came to yell at her because as soon as I walked in her bedroom and opened my mouth, she cowered.

“Aunt Wave, what is your deal?”

“Did… did you read it?”

“What? Nicole’s mental break? Yeah, I’m reading it right now and I need you to explain what happened because I don’t get it.”

“No, I mean…what I did. Did you read what I did?”

I stopped pacing around her room. I was so agitated by everything I had just read. There’s some kind of demi-god in my family tree and my aunt is an angel. I was a little distracted. Also, where has The Firm been my whole life? Are we in some kind of witness protection program?

WTF IS HAPPENING.

“Did I read what you did? You mean the part where you made a deal with a witch and gave the widow the seal thing so she can release the big daddy demon?”

She looked a little confused. I got the impression that since I’ve been reading everything from Nicole’s perspective, we were on slightly different pages.

“Yes…that I was responsible for raising Bulshar. I’m the reason everything went to hell.” She bowed her head. “I’m the reason your Mama and Nicole died.”

I didn’t realize until that moment that she blamed herself for what happened. I thought of Lou and the plan he had mentioned to Nicole in her dream. Had that come to pass? Something must have gone wrong. I really didn’t understand.

“Aunt Nicole had some kind of a dream or premonition or something while she was in the coma. She met your father, Aunt Waverly. He told her that if Bulshar woke up, he would intervene. He would help them.” I don’t know why I was telling her all this, it wasn’t as if she hadn’t read it all herself.

She looked up and her eyes flashed with anger. “Well, then either he lied, or it was just a dream. I’m more inclined to believe the latter. Nicole was sick and dying and drowning in her own guilt, I’m not surprised she would believe in a dream that offered a solution. Bulshar rose, we broke the curse, but they both died, Alice. I saw it happen.”

“You…you saw it?” I didn’t know that. How could Javion bring himself to plant such a memory in her head?

How could Nicole allow it?

I felt awful. I crossed the room instantly and pulled her shaking body into my arms. “I don’t blame you, Aunt Waverly. No one blames you. You did what you thought was right, you helped break the curse.”

I let her cry into my shoulder for a few minutes. When I could feel her start to recover, I said, “Now can you please tell me why Nicole’s next entry is written like she’s a pod person?”

“The witch,” she replied. “It was the witch’s one stipulation. In exchange for the location of the final seal, she made a wish that your Mama never existed. We got transported to an alternate reality.” She shook her head slowly. “It was awful.”

I felt a knife twist in my guts. An alternate reality where my Mama didn’t exist.

That’s the one I’m living in.

But I didn’t say that.

-A.M.***

//

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, and chastising Lonnie for using the wrong form yet again, when I realized it was 11:59 and Waverly would be walking through the door any minute. I scrabbled for my lip gloss and fixed my hair, the clock turned over to 12:00, and there she was.

My angel.

I know Shae and I decided to try to make it work long-distance. I know Waverly is getting married soon (to a man, gross.) MOST importantly, I know she’s my assigned and I wouldn’t dare go against the rules.

But I can’t help the way I feel.

A little flirting is harmless, right? It’s like normal talking, but with a lot of eye contact and smiling.

“Your regular, chicken salad. But I added pickles, do you like pickles?”

Oh nooooo

“Love ‘em.”

Oh, she was going to sit on my desk. Really, pickles aren’t that bad, they’re fine.

She made a comment about being “pits deep in them” and my mental retort is not appropriate for me to recount in this journal so I won’t.

I quipped that things would turn around for Shorty’s, we would just have to put a picture of her face on the welcome sign, and people would come from all directions.

“I might have to put my face on the ‘Now leaving Purgatory” sign.”

Oh yeah. This again. We’ve been through this before. In fact, this will be the third go-round.

“Doing it for real this time, huh?”

“Yep,” she said, “It’s for real. Hey, you guys are sort of like a DMV, right?”

Waverly Gibson, I will be literally anything you want me to be.

“‘Cause I need to fill out a ‘change of name’ form.”

Lonnie started to get it for her and I bit his head off. I grabbed the form myself and started to fill it out.

“Name: Waverly Gibson,” I glanced at her. Her eyes were on my face, not the form. She had the same distracted expression she had last night while we were playing pool at Shorty’s.

Britney help me, I’m too weak for this.

“Date of birth,” I continued, “September eighth…”

“Wait, you know my birthday?”

Oops, that sounds creepy.

“Um…yeah, I guess I do.” Of course I know your birthday, Waves. I know everything about you.

“Well, little known fact, my real last name is Earp. Yeah, I was raised by an incredible woman named Gus Gibson. So, I sort of borrowed the name.”

I feigned surprise at her little speech.

“Oh, I had no idea.” LOL

She made a comment about the name Earp being a curse, looked strangely distracted, and then reached for my wedding ring.

“Oh, I like this. It’s simple,” she said, her fingers sort of…caressing mine. I tried not to let her see my eyes roll back in my head.

The two of us briefly made eye contact while I made some comment about marriage not being simple. Something tickled the back of my brain, it was bizarre. A voice whispered, “something is wrong, you don’t wear a wedding ring.”

“Well,” Waverly said, pulling me back to reality, “A fresh start. I’d be a fool not to marry him, right?”

I lifted one shoulder. “As long as you believe it in your heart.”

“I sort of feel like I’m, you know, running towards a cliff, terrified of jumping.”

“Well, if it’s right, you don’t worry about the cliff, because when you reach the edge, you’re sure you’ll fly.”

Sometimes I can be very poetic.

There was that fleeting moment again. Our eye contact went on for just a little too long to be considered purely friendly. I know the way I feel, but does she feel the same? I could swear I saw her eyes flick down to my lips.

There’s just a glimmer of possibility and I feel like in another lifetime, in another reality, we’re together. I’m not supposed to be in love with this girl. I know I’m not. But…

“If you got off a cliff, don’t you die?”

LONNIE, YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR ELEMENT.

Waverly’s phone rang. “Oh, he’s outside,” she said, getting up.

Moment over. Until the next one, I guess.

She grabbed her form. “Thanks for this,” she said sweetly.

“Thanks for lunch!”

She left and Lonnie said, “You gonna eat those pickles or what?”

I glared at him. “What?” he said. “You don’t like them!”

“Well, I do now.”

***NOTE: So…Bulshar is rising, The Firm is after Aunt Waverly and Nicole, Mama disappeared despite the fact that she’s about to give birth to me, everyone in Purgatory is trapped in a witch’s alternate reality, and all Nicole thinks she has to be concerned about is pickles on her chicken sandwich. I’m going downstairs to make popcorn. –A.M.***

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #20
Early February 2017

This entry may turn out to be insensible and practically illegible, because I’m writing it as fast as I can when I should be changing and getting ready to get Wynonna’s baby the hell out of Dodge. I’m also shoveling food in my face because I don’t know how soon I’ll get the chance to eat again, so these pages are probably going to be a little greasy.

I feel like it’s especially important right now for me to try and record everything that’s happening, because there’s a good chance that I won’t make it out of this alive. I’m thinking that I might give this journal to someone, like Jeremy, for safe-keeping. He already knows pretty much everything that’s in here, anyway.

Maybe one day Waverly will get the opportunity to read it.

Maybe if she reads it, she’ll understand.

A LOT has happened since my last entry. For one, I’m no longer Freaky Friday Nicole. For two, Waves, Jeremy, and I just blew ourselves up in a barn in order to break an alternate reality spell cast by a witch.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Purgatory.

The worst part of the spell is how much time we wasted. There’s less than 24 hours left until The Firm mobilizes, and Bulshar is coming for us.

Like I said, I don’t have much time, so I need to write fast.

//

Shortly after I choked down the pickles that Waverly brought me (as it turns out, pickles are disgusting regardless of whether or not an angel with a perfect butt and abs feeds them to you) she called the station and tearfully asked if I would come pick her up at Shorty’s. I peeled out of the parking lot so fast I left tire marks on the sidewalk.

I have to take a moment to say that while real Nicole’s life SUCKS right now, at least Waverly and I are together. My life in the alternate universe was basically the same as it is now, but with the full responsibilities of being Sheriff, which included dealing with all sorts of supernatural bullshit without Wynonna and Dolls.

CJ was destitute without Nedley…and so was I.

The worst part was the only time I got to spend with Waverly was stolen, furtive, and guilt-ridden. Being “friends” with her was better than being nothing, but every time I was near her, I could feel that something was horribly amiss. In the real world, Waverly and I only got together because she had the courage to put herself out there and take a chance. Without Wynonna, she was still buried deep in her shell and engaged to PERRY, of all people. He’s not her type. Wrong gender, wrong hair color, wrong person.

As Wynonna would say, “hard pass” on the alternate reality.

Okay, back to it. I found Waves at Shorty’s wearing a wedding dress and a flower crown. (I don’t even bother questioning these things anymore.) She got in the squad car, crying.

“Thanks for coming to get me,” she said, pulling tissues out of a box and wiping her face.

“Standard operating procedure,” I lied, trying to act sympathetic while trying not to short-circuit at how pretty she looked.

“We both know that’s not true,” she replied tearfully. “I don’t know what’s…I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Hey! Absolutely nothing,” I told her adamantly.

“He’s violent and insane,” she said, referring to the death of Doc.

There was a show-down at Shorty’s between Doc and Dolls. In this Wynonna-less version of reality, Doc replaced Bobo as the leader of the revenants, which seems utterly nonsensical. I always thought Doc was a pretty good guy, but as it turns out, a lot of that comes from being under Wynonna’s influence. She is a force to be reckoned with, and the utter chaos that was the alternate reality really served to highlight it.

***NOTE: She sounds amazing, I’d love to meet her. :-( –A.M.***

“He’s a huge part of why Purgatory went to shit. But when he died…” She turned her head to look at me with those eyes. Her tearful face framed with the flower crown was making it nearly impossible for me to stop myself from reaching over to comfort her.

“Have you ever met someone and instantly known in your heart that they meant something to you?”

Yeah, I’ve had that happen to me in at least two different universes.

“I might kinda get that…yeah,” I replied a little breathlessly.

“He told me to find the iron witch. The way he said it…I think he meant an actual witch. That’s crazy, right?”

The role reversals I’ve been dealing with lately are relentless and are getting a little annoying, to be honest. I told her that Purgatory was “supernatural central” and she responded that I was brave for saying so. I distinctly remember making a mental note to record that word for word in my journal later that day. Poor AU Nicole was happy with anything she could get.

“So, look, this iron witch, do you know who that might be?”

I don’t, but pod Nicole did. I told Waverly as much and she asked if it would be illegal if I gave her the address.

Ha! Like I care about such trivial things as legality. Waverly Earp could ask me if I wanted to steal the Declaration of Independence and the only thing I would ask is whether she wanted to call Nicholas Cage or should I.

Plus she got a little flirty when she asked, like she was used to getting her way with me.

Oh man, this is not a path I should be going down. (Bad choice of words. Ahem.)

“Uh huh, super illegal. But…you know if I just happened to blow off work…and we sort of…passed by…”

Her eyebrows went up and a smile ghosted across her face. She is so pretty. “You’d do that for me?” she asked in that quiet, sexy voice that not even Sheriff Haught can stand up to.

“I’d do a lot of things to you,” I answered before I could put a lid on it.

***NOTE: This girl is useless in any universe. Excellent continuity. –A.M.***

“For…for me,” she said, looking at me shyly out of the corner of her eye.

“Yeah, that too,” I responded, starting the car and reminding myself that I should remember not to talk. Ever.

But THEN: “You know, Sheriff Haught? You always smell like vanilla dipped donuts…”

Jesus, Britney, Joseph, and a camel.

“They’re my favorite,” she finished.

Oh, Waverly. YOU are my favorite.

Also, did she think I didn’t know that? I don’t know why else I would venture into Bath and Body Works. I hate that place.

//

We drove to the witch’s house and flirted pretty much non-stop. The attention felt good, but it was agonizing knowing that she belonged to someone else and not me. We both rested our arms on the console between us and our hands inched closer and closer until our pinkies were lightly hooking over one another’s.

We both tried very hard to pretend not to notice.

When we got to the witch’s house, we just walked right in because apparently witches have an open-door policy. The whole thing was VERY hard for both alternate reality and actual reality Nicole to follow, so I’ll try to quickly summarize it.

The one-eyed (but cute) witch wanted her twin sister back and assumed that deleting Wynonna from the world would bring her back. She made the wish using a demon that Waverly referred to as the “Mars and Yock” (sounds like an alien law firm but okay.) However, the demon was in over his head, so the spell was rather thin, which explains why I kept feeling like something was wrong.

The witch was able to lift the spell temporarily so Waverly and I would remember Wynonna and get a glimpse at the way things were supposed to be.

It was strange, because in that moment, it was like both real world and alternate reality Nicole were living in the same body. As soon as the spell was lifted, all the memories of my relationship with Waverly came rushing back, and it was an overwhelmingly wonderful feeling. Then Waverly realized that the reason she had made the deal with the witch in the first place was to save my life, because she loved me.

It was worth every pickle.

After it was over, the bottom line was we had to find the hockey trophy and destroy it, and in order to do so, we had to spring Bobo from the mental institution he was staying at. I would say that it probably wasn’t the best idea for the Sheriff to be an accomplice to a prison break, but like I said, when it comes to Waverly, I don’t concern myself with trivialities.

Once we had Bobo, we drove to the homestead which was now Doc Holliday Revenant Headquarters.

***NOTE: This spell is bullshit. I know Mama was a good influence on him, but I refuse to believe my daddy would side with the very people he helped his best friend put down in the first place. I hate this. –A.M.***

We were supposed to be digging up something that would blow all the revenants off the property, but we were using sticks to chisel ice, Waverly was freezing in wedding dress, and Bobo was being a total diva. We didn’t get very far with that plan. We gave up and I told Waverly we needed to jet, but she insisted that we make a run for the barn and try to find the trophy just as West Side Story Demon Remix was kicking off.

I shielded Waverly as best I could as we dodged our way through fighting revenants, a hailstorm of bullets, and burning tires. At one point, Waverly swooned at how cool I was and I felt like Indiana Jones.

How did my life come to this and why can’t Katie be here to see it? I really want to know.

We managed to make it into the barn and I found myself squaring off with Rosita. (Surprise level: -100) Jeremy was in there too and both he and Rosita told me not to shoot, since the entire structure was rigged to explode. I yelled at Jeremy that he was a double agent and he yelled back that he’s barely a single agent, and I just want to say I love him to pieces in all realities.

“Sheriff Haught, we believe Black Badge has gone rogue!” Jeremy informed me.

“You think that’s bad,” Waverly replied, “We need to find a giant hockey trophy!”

Rosita yelled that BBD was probably on their way to annihilate us with Tomahawk missiles. We were all scrambling and searching all over the barn for the trophy, when Waverly’s boyfriend called. He was asking her what ice cream she wanted. How is this a question? Obviously vanilla with sprinkles.

“Uh, sure, raspberry cream sounds great,” she told him. Uh, no way, raspberry cream isn’t even in her top five. Nice try, Perry.

“Listen, I can’t really talk right now, I’m in a barn wired to explode.”

I made a “hurry up, hurry up!” hand gesture at her.

“Also, I think I’m gay, call you later?” She hung up.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!

:-)

Rosita and Jeremy were peering at what was going on outside through a crack in the wall. “The widows?” Jeremy asked. “What do they want? And why do I suddenly know they’re called the widows?” Great question, I thought they were dementors.

“I’m not waiting to find out,” Rosita said. “There’s a trophy behind the wheelbarrow, if that helps.”

Uh, yeah it helps, it’s what we’ve been looking for the past fifteen minutes, Rosita. Ten points from Slytherin.

Waverly ran over to get the trophy and Rosita went all demon-eyed and growled and charged out of the barn and promptly got riddled with bullets. Okay, I felt a little bad. Waverly found the trophy just as the revenants started trying to bust down the door of the barn and I found myself wishing that we had a Hodor.

“Guys! Guys, I found it!” Waverly shouted.

“It’s too late, we’re not gonna make it!” I yelled back.

“No, no, no! I cannot die!” Jeremy said frantically, waving his arms all over the place. “I’ve only had sex one and a half times! God that was out loud…”

I cannot wait to ask him to clarify on that one later.

“Guys, we’re not gonna die,” Waverly said.

“Okay, Waves, I love…” You! I love you! “…your optimism, but there’s no way out!”

“Right,” Waverly said, “Unless we die.”

Jeremy came flailing over with the detonator like that bit clowns do in the circus when they’re pretending to try to balance a huge stack of plates. You’d think he’d have better coordination, being made of adamantium and all.

“Jeremy, watch that thing!” I yelled at him.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!”

“I know how to get her back!” Waverly said. “I just hope it’s not too late. Listen, what happens if we detonate the RDX?”

“Your basic fire and brimstone,” Jeremy replied.

“The iron witch said if we destroy the trophy with fire, the spell will be broken and Wynonna returns! Dying may be our only chance of living.” She grabbed the detonator from Jeremy, who was not down for that plan.

“Okay, I am a super brain and I have NO idea what you two are talking about!”

“Who’s in?” She asked, looking between us.

That was a turning point for me. Yes, it was technically AU Nicole that was in the situation, and it was AU Nicole’s decision, but I think real life Nicole would have done the same thing. My entire life revolves around protecting Waverly, and there she was asking me to let her BLOW HERSELF UP. It went against everything I am and every cell in my body screamed for me not to let her do it. But instead, I grabbed her hand and looked into her eyes and said “Where you go, I go.”

It’s part of the second half of the poem I have tattooed over my heart.

What matters is that we’re together. In any universe, in any reality. I will endure any amount of suffering to ensure it. Including death.

Her eyes got huge and glassy. “For Wynonna,” she whispered.

“For Wynonna,” I repeated. She closed her eyes but didn’t press the button. Instead, she opened them back up a little to look at me again and I don’t think either of us could help it. We lunged at each other and had our second first kiss. I don’t know of many other couples that can say that they’ve had two first kisses. Her hand was in my hair and her thumb was caressing my cheek and I pulled her off her feet a little with my enthusiasm. As it turns out, AU Nicole AND AU Waverly are just as crazy about each other as real life Nicole and Waverly.

Then we blew the barn up.

//

Other than looking like we had all stood in front of a blast furnace for an hour, we made out no worse for wear.

“Not dying single! Fingers crossed.” Jeremy declared.

“We’re back!” Waverly said, turning toward me. Her hair was a crazy, frizzy mane and it reminded me of that time we…never mind. “You’re okay,” she continued, putting her hands on my shoulders.

“I am so, SO sorry times infinity…” I started, but she just shushed me and kissed me again.

Jeremy plucked my “I’m cold” thought out of my brain and tossed me his jacket. We were speculating on the whereabouts of Bobo and the widows when Waverly interjected that the only way to truly find out if the spell was broken was to find Wynonna. She headed out, presumably to go find her sister, and I realized I was being given an opening to talk to Jeremy privately.

“Jeremy, can we go inside? I’m freezing.” He agreed and we headed toward the house. Waverly was already gone, but I knew she had probably grabbed her shotgun and she was Shielded. As we walked, Jeremy did what he does best, which is babble.

“I can’t wait to tell Doc that I blew up! He’s going to be so impressed, you know, what with his love for dynamite and all, maybe if I told him I got blown up, he’ll be interested in me by association! I’m going to…”

I shoved Jeremy through the door and yelled at him to shut it. I walked through after him, telling him to sit and pointing at the couch. He sat. I walked over, knelt down in front of him, grabbed his hands, and unleashed holy hell on his poor frontal lobes. I watched his eyelids flutter as he tried to take in everything I was thinking at him at once. When he finally opened his eyes, his expression was calm and stoic. Jeremy is one of those people who deserves a lot more credit than he usually gets from the people around him.

“I know why Dolls wants to raise Bulshar,” he said.

I got up and sat beside him on the couch. “Yeah, he said it would be some kind of distraction. He said it would ‘set things in motion.’”

“Correct. He also thinks we need the ring,” Jeremy said.

“What ring?” Waverly’s engagement ring? No. Oh, does he mean like the seal?

“No, Bulshar’s ring. Bulshar has a ring that grants him immortality.” Jeremy replied, and then, “But that’s very pretty, by the way. Aw, Nicole! I didn’t know you were planning…”

“JEREMY.”

“Sorry, sorry. What was I saying? Oh yeah, Dolls said we need to get Bulshar’s ring. He said to say that it’s ‘absolutely essential you get the ring if the plan is going to work.’ Wait, you guys have a plan?!”

I got a sensation in my head that I can only describe as fingers riffling through my thoughts. It tickled and I scrubbed at my ears like I had gotten water in them.

“Yah! Jeremy, stop! No, we don’t have a plan yet, as far as I know.”

“Ah, right, sorry. Such a bummer I can’t read Dolls’ thoughts.”

“Well, he’s at least talked to you about this stuff, right? How does he know Bulshar has an immortality ring?” I wondered.

“Oh, he knows all sorts of stuff about Bulshar. He has a whole file on him that he compiled from people that worship him as some sort of minor god.”

I hadn’t shared my dream with Dolls yet, but despite that, he seemed to be at least aware that beings like Lou existed and he probably suspected that if Bulshar woke up, Lou might intervene on behalf of Waverly. Somehow I didn’t think Wynonna would approve of this plan.

“Nicole, this agreement you were offered…you don’t even know what he wants in repayment.”

“Maybe he wants the ring. Maybe that’s why Dolls said we need it,” I speculated.

“Uh, why would a demi-god need an immortality ring?”

Great question. “Maybe he wants Waves to have it?”

He looked surprised. Hearing someone else come up with an idea he hasn’t already thought of is always surprising to him. “I suppose that’s possible, but why? He doesn’t seem like someone…or ‘somebeing’…that would do anything for an altruistic reason.”

True. I guessed we would find out soon enough.

I changed gears. “Jer, can I ask you something?”

“You already did,” he said patiently. “And the answer is ‘of course I will,’ but who said you’re going to die? I won’t let you die.”

He paused, listening.

“Okay, okay, okay, but IF you die…uh huh, or disappear…yeah, yeah, okay, or if you are incapacitated for any reason…Yes, Nicole, I get it! I will give her the letter and the journal. Uh huh, and all your money…and give Calamity Jane to Nedley, but only if Waverly doesn’t want her. And he gets visitation rights. Got it.”

We smirked at each other. “Thank you, Jeremy. You’re a good friend and you save me a lot of talking.”

He shook his head and gave me that endearing little half smile of his. “You’re nuts,” he remarked mildly.

There was the slam of a car door outside and Dolls’ voice, shouting for Wynonna. Jeremy and I both ran out, and just as we did, Waverly and Wynonna ran around the corner. Wynonna said she was glad to see us morons and we had a quick run-down of everything that had just happened and our next steps.

Wynonna summarized it best. “We need a plan and we need it fast, ‘cause this sucker’s coming out of my vagina.”

***NOTE: Okay, ma, gross. –A.M.***

We went inside and discussed the possibility of some ugly plate becoming a weapon because peacemaker lit up in proximity to it and because of something called “Wynonna logic” which Waverly referred to as “infallible.”

Baby, I don’t think the word infallible means what you think it means.

Jeremy got up to go to the station to look at maps in an attempt to find Clootie/Bulshar’s tomb and Dolls was tasked with finding Doc. Waverly opted to stick with Wynonna, professing concern for her impending childbirth. Wynonna’s demeanor changed when Waverly brought it up, and Wynonna looked at me from across the room.

“Haught?”

Blue eyes met mine and a tapestry of emotion flickered through them in the space of a few seconds.

I stood up. “Yeah, I remember. I got you, Earp.”

Part of being a leader is knowing how to delegate certain tasks to the right people. You have to play to the strengths of your team, trusting in the knowledge that your people will always come through for you. Wynonna is hard, she is tough, and she can most certainly be mean, but she is a leader to the roots of her perfect, split-end free hair. She’s the reason any of us has made it this far, and she’ll be the reason that any of us makes it out of this alive.

I have no doubt in my mind that a day will come when she and Alice can be together again. She is going to make an amazing mother.

***NOTE: Wow, this hurts. –A.M.***

From there, I headed home, which is where I am now, stuffing food in my face. I haven’t done laundry in weeks (shocker) so I’m stuck wearing black tactical pants, a utility belt, an old date-night shirt with a boob window, and boots. For fun, I threw Katie’s pink jacket over the whole ensemble, just because I think she’d find it cute and funny.

I’m going to give Jav a call and make some plans, then I’m headed out. Wish me luck, Journalie.

//

Journal Entry #20 Cont’d
Later the same day

This might be my last entry. It’s hard to tell.

I officially have two items checked off of my “to-do” list.

1. Baby Alice is safely on her way to Chicago.
2. I have Bulshar’s ring.

On the other hand, there are still several dozen demon revenants on the loose, and Bulshar is on his way. Worse, Jeremy confided in me that he’s specifically after Waverly. Much like The Firm, Lou’s counterpart is well-aware of who and what Waverly is.

When I first arrived here in Purgatory on assignment and met the love of my life, I knew she was special, I just didn’t realize to what degree.

We watched Alice’s helicopter until it was little more than a speck in the sky. We drove back to Purgatory and I dropped Waverly off at the homestead. I went to the station to change into one of my spare uniforms. There’s not much time left, and I’ve always told myself that if I’m going to die, I want it to be in uniform.

I’m at the station now, hastily scribbling. We all agreed to meet in front of Shorty’s in a little while to regroup. Dolls is on his way to the station right now to take a look at the ring. After Alice was born and Wynonna and Dolls took out all the revenants at Shorty’s, she disappeared on her motorcycle. (She has a vagina of steel.) I asked Jeremy if he caught where she was going, but he hadn’t been close enough to her to find out. That’s okay, I’m sure we’ll be finding out soon enough.

//

As I said, after I finished up my earlier entry at home, I headed to the station. Wynonna and Waverly had gone off to make a weapon out of that plate, so I wanted to gear up and make sure Jeremy didn’t need help. I found him in the BBD office with all manner of maps and rulers and protractors spread out in front him. I can’t believe he knows how to use a protractor, he is so smart.

I grabbed a box of bullets and a bunch of magazines and started to load up while he rambled about holy sites and Bobo del Ray messing everything up.

“Yeah, and you haven’t even met him yet,” I said.

“I’m so okay with that,” he replied. “I can’t wait to meet the pod, though.”

I gave him a look, hoping he was talking about some kind of escape pod.

“That’s my codename for baby Earp. I’m gonna teach her to rap.”

***NOTE: This is so weird and cool for me to read. Mr. Chetri (Henry’s dad) has called me pod since I was little. Henry and I would always ask him why and he would just laugh. He also taught us every word to “Ice, Ice, Baby.” –A.M.***

Something occurred to me. “Why’d you stay, Jeremy? After Black Badge dissolved?”

Rather than answer right away, he got distracted, as he does. “Wait, there’s two sites where Bobo had constant security. The site where Constance’s sons’ bones were located, and a condemned gold mine in the foothills. Oh, and I stay because I don’t fit in here, but none of you ask me to. I’m allowed to be me.”

Wow. That’s how I often feel.

“You’re part of the family,” I said out loud. My family. “And being part of the family means…”

Some kind of Mercedes-Ice Witch-Daenerys Targaryen hybrid chose that moment to burst in through the door. Perfect.

“Dealing with terrifying forces of evil,” I finished, racking the slide of my pistol and leveling it at her.

“Where is the Earp wench?” She asked rudely. “I want my weapon.”

“Why don’t you eat mine?” I asked her. Jeremy and I were shoulder to shoulder. He had his shotgun. I barely had the time to think about Shield splitting and throwing one over him before she had rendered us both unconscious with her freezy-breath.

Ah, nuts.

When I woke up, I was paralyzed. Jeremy and I were laying on the street with a bunch of other people and Wynonna was threatening Mercedes 2.0 with the ammolite-laced bullet she had made out of the plate. The other widow walked up behind the sisters and grabbed Waverly. Mercedes was trying to make some kind of a deal with Wynonna.

I couldn’t see much of what was going on because I was paralyzed and on my back, but I did hear Mercedes mention that she was wearing Bulshar’s ring. If Wynonna managed to figure out a way to kill both Mercedes and Beth, I could probably grab it without anyone noticing. The fact that Wynonna only had one bullet and there were two widows complicated the situation significantly, though.

I heard Doc walk up and growl that he was late because he died. Mercedes told Wynonna to use her one bullet on Beth, because Beth wanted to feed her baby to Bulshar. Doc drew his pistol and made it clear that threatening his child was a mistake.

***NOTE: Tell ‘em, Papa Bear! –A.M.***

Beth pointed out that his bullets wouldn’t work on either of them.

“Maybe I should just take the prize you are fighting for,” Doc said. I couldn’t quite tell, but it sounded like he was pointing his gun at Wynonna.

“Wynonna, what is he doing?” Waverly cried.

“I am the greatest gunslinger that ever lived. When I pull this trigger, things die.”

Shit, had Doc lost it completely? I willed my arms and legs to work desperately to no avail.

“Bad things,” Wynonna said. I could see her walking away from Waverly out of the corner of my eye.

“Mercy comes in many forms,” Doc snarled.

“You’re confused,” Wynonna said. There was shock and heartbreak in her voice and it was killing me.

“It’s not so bad, Wynonna,” he said. “Up there. I saw Wyatt, and he is so damn proud of you. But I will kill us both before I let you walk in service to the devil.”

***NOTE: Wait, no! WTF? –A.M.***

“If I die, they can’t use me,” Wynonna said. I could hear something like understanding dawn in her voice.

“Two birds, one stone.”

“You can save the baby,” Wynonna said. “Aim high.”

“I will do my best. I am so very tired, Wynonna.”

Waverly was screaming and Beth was yelling to Mercedes that it was a ruse, but in the end, there were two gunshots, the widows hit the deck and dissolved into a million spiders, and Jeremy and I were released from the spell. I ran to Waverly and pulled her into my arms, lifting her feet off the pavement. She broke away from me long enough to slap Doc in the face and yell at him to never do that to her again.

***NOTE: GOOD. Also, are the bad guys always made of bugs? No surprise here. –A.M.***

As it turned out, Doc and Wynonna were indeed bluffing and Doc was able to split her ammolite bullet in half. That…is incredible. I guess there’s a good reason the guy is so famous.

Wynonna’s uterus decided that right then would be a good time to start having contractions. Jeremy and Doc quickly ushered Wynonna into Shorty’s. Really not a great place to have a baby, but desperate times and all. I grabbed Waverly before she went in and told her I had to go get ready. I had some calls to make.

“What did Wynonna ask you to do?” Waverly inquired. She wasn’t going to let this go, so I told her.

“The only thing she could,” I replied. I could see on her face that Waverly had known what that was going to be the entire time. She’s very sharp, she just hadn’t wanted to admit it to herself. “Go easy on her, okay? She’s really gonna need you after.”

Waverly nodded, fighting tears. I kissed her again and rubbed my forehead against hers. I wanted to just stand and hold her for a second but we didn’t have the time now that the baby was on the way. As soon as she went inside, I went back out into the street and scoured around. I found the ring and picked it up. There was a crack in the middle of the stone. God, I hope that doesn’t mean anything bad.

I jogged to my squad car at the station and called Perry. Yeah, Perry. Wynonna specifically requested him and he’s a nice enough guy as long as he’s not trying to marry my Waverly. We went in on transportation cost 50/50. We arranged to meet at a location outside of the Ghost River Triangle. He and a wet nurse would fly with the baby to the airport and from there they would take a private plane to Chicago to meet Gus.

I called Jav next.

“What’s up, Mamacita?”

“Jav, that has to be the grossest one yet.”

He laughed. “Is it a go?”

“It’s a go,” I replied. “I already have the chopper and the pilot booked. There will be a guy named Perry on board and he said he’s bringing a wet nurse.”

“Those are still a thing?” he asked.

“Apparently.”

“Alright, I got two of my buddies for you. Both retired. They’ll take care of them.”

“They’re good guys?”

“Absolutely rock solid,” he replied. “Don’t worry, Nik. They don’t feel any loyalty to The Firm.”

I had given him the breakdown of my situation earlier on the phone. He was horrified and he had already been in contact with the Higgs and their associates. Javion lives his life by a code, and when he encounters a bad situation that he feels he can fix, he tackles it head-on. It was part of what made him so reliable.

“Jav, I might need you to come at some point.”

“The quickest I can get to you is in two hours. If you think you’re going to need me, you need to call me right away, alright?”

“Will do. Thank you, Javion. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome. You know I’m always here for you, girl.”

He always has been.

Once the arrangements were made and I had filled the squad car's tank, I felt antsy, because now what I had to do was wait. I hate waiting.

Me (2/9/17 2:43 pm): Status?
Dolls (2/9/17 2:45 pm): Main drag outside Purgatory headed to get the doctor when I was ambushed by Ewan and his firefighters. They killed the doctor. Threats neutralized, situation is in hand, no doctor coming tho. Headed back
Me (2/9/17 2:46 pm): Shit. What next?
Dolls (2/9/17 2:47 pm): You got the ring?
Me (2/9/17 2:48 pm): Affirmative
Dolls (2/9/17 2:48 pm): Keep it safe. Go to BBD office and find my file on cult of Bulshar. Start reading through it, we have to be ready for anything. I need to take a look at the ring at some point, I’m afraid it got damaged when the widow died.
Me (2/9/17 2:49 pm): Will do once I get the baby to safety. Meet you at the station.

Me (2/9/17 2:45 pm): Just heard from Dolls, he couldn’t get the doctor. Are you guys doing okay?
Waverly <3 (2/9/17 2:55 pm): Yeah come get us

That could only mean the baby was already here. I booked it over to Shorty’s and waited for Waverly to come out. When she did, she was holding a small bundle wrapped in a blue blanket. She had blood on her face. I got out of the car and ran over to her, wrapping my arms around both of them.

“Oh my god, Wave, what happened? Are you both okay?” I asked, pulling away and looking down into her eyes. They were red and swollen from crying.

“No,” she whispered. “Not okay, but not hurt. Rosita turned on us, Nicole. She attacked us.”

I’ll kill her.

“But look,” Waverly continued, twitching the blanket out of the way to reveal a tiny, perfect face. “This is Alice. Alice Michelle.”

She was perfect. I know everyone says that about their own baby, but she was absolutely perfect. She already had a full head of thick chestnut hair and eyes the same color as her Mama’s. She was so beautiful that even though we were on a time crunch, all Waverly and I could do was stand there and stare at her.

“Alice,” I said softly. I gave her my index finger, as I had done with each of my younger siblings, and she grasped it in her itty bitty fist. Waverly’s shoulders started to shake as she cried silently.

“Nicole, I don’t know how to do this. I just met her.” Alice must have sensed her Aunt’s sadness, because she started to cry, too. “I feel like she’s mine,” Waverly whimpered. “Like I’m not supposed to be giving her up. She needs me.”

***NOTE: I’m so glad I bought the three-pack of Kleenex the last time I was grocery shopping with Aunt Gus. Aunt Waverly, you were right. I am yours, and I always need you. –A.M.***

I pulled Waverly close and wrapped my arms around the two of them again. “It’s temporary, okay? It’s just for now. You two will be seeing each other soon enough, I know it. We’re going to break this curse, baby, and then we can all be together again. But for now? Right now we have to get her out of here. I promised your sister, it’s the most important thing.” I kissed the top of Waverly’s head repeatedly as I spoke.

She didn’t answer, she just nodded. I put my hand on the small of her back and guided her to the car. We had about a half hour drive out past the boundary. I belted the two of them in and we took off. For a long time, Waverly sat in silence, holding the baby near her face and speaking to her softly. It hurt my heart, seeing her like that, knowing she would have to say goodbye, but also because I think this might be the only time I see anything like this.

You know, Waverly holding a baby.

I gripped the steering wheel and stared straight ahead at the open road and tried desperately not to think about the fact that I’ll probably never get the chance to propose, or plan a wedding and marry Waverly, or get the chance to see her snuggle our own baby, and it hurts. Oh my god, it really hurts.

“Nicole,” Waverly said softly, jolting me out of my emotional fog.

I glanced at her. Alice was fast asleep.

“You have to stop before we cross the boundary,” she continued.

“What? Why?”

She sniffed and took a deep breath. “I have to walk over the line with Alice…to make sure nothing happens. To either of us.” She looked at me.

Concerned, I said “I know there’s a chance the baby isn’t Doc’s,” (although I never really believed that was true.) “But what do you mean, either of you?”

Waverly dropped her head and held Alice tight. “I’m sorry, I haven’t really gotten the chance to talk to you about any of this, but…there’s a chance Bobo is my father. Or another revenant. I don’t really know. Anyway, I think I might be part revenant, so I have to walk over the line with Alice to make sure.” She was having a hard time holding her tears at bay. I could see them threatening to spill over every time I glanced away from the road toward her.

I reached across the console and squeezed her knee. I know she isn’t part revenant. I’m 99% sure the baby isn’t, either. She was in pain, but I couldn’t reassure her. Not now. Not until it was all over. “Okay, beautiful. I got you, don’t worry.”

We didn’t say anything else. When we reached the boundary, I stopped the car and we got out.

“Are you sure about this?” I asked her gently, even though I knew she would say “yes.”

“We have to know,” she replied. “Both of us.”

We walked around the car toward each other. They both looked very small. Waverly was still teary-eyed but I could clearly see the resolve on her face. She is so brave.

“Okay, so if the baby starts screaming or if I…start burning, get us over the line fast okay?” It hurt to hear her talk like that, even knowing none of that was going to happen.

I grabbed her by the back of her neck and pressed our foreheads together. “I got you, Waves,” I told her. It’s the truest thing I could possibly say. We stood like that for a moment, and before I let her go, I squeezed her wrist and checked her Shield. She and the baby were both completely cloaked in it. Even if they were both demons, I had a feeling it would have protected them, at least temporarily.

Waverly doesn’t have any idea how powerful she is.

I let her go, giving her some space so she could walk across the line by herself. I know she needed it. Once they passed the boundary and nothing happened, I let myself smile. I could feel her relief. I trotted over to the two of them and pulled them both into a hug.

“The baby is Doc’s,” she said, smiling a little. “And I don’t have revenant blood. Bobo lied to me. But I’m not an Earp, either. Nicole…what am I?”

Shit. I’ve always said that despite hiding so much from her, I would never outright lie to Waverly. For a moment, I felt stuck. But then I realized the answer was obvious.

“That’s easy,” I told her, reaching out to stroke her face. “You are extraordinary.”

I kissed her and we both looked down at little Alice for a moment. We walked back to the car and I know Waverly was feeling better because she asked me how my divorce was going. I told her I was working on it, but truthfully, the signed papers were in the back of my squad car, I planned to surprise her with it at the right moment. I had found them in my mailbox earlier in the day with a note from Shae that said, “I’ll always love you.”

I’ll always love you too, Shae. Thank you.

We took off and reached the rendezvous point five minutes later.

Jeremy (2/9/17 3:40 pm): Sent Doc to the GPS coordinates so he can say goodbye to pod
Me (2/9/17 3:42 pm): 10-4. We are there now. Thanks Jer
Jeremy (2/9/17 3:43 pm): <3 <3 <3 Hug Waverly for me

I parked the car and we got out. There was a helo coming in for a landing, and while I knew that in all likelihood it was Perry, I still got in front of Waverly and Alice and pulled my weapon. My terror of The Firm taking us by surprise was at critical levels. The helo landed and sure enough, it was Perry with the “best private security” money could buy. Yeah, you can say that again.

“You’re a good man, Perry Crofte.” Waverly said sweetly.

“And I’m alive because of your sister. This is really the least I could do. We should get going, just to be safe.” He started to come over to take the baby but Waverly pulled away. Doc still needed to say goodbye.

Right on cue, Doc came jogging up the hill. He was breathing hard and I could hear a distinct wheeze. I know he was about to say hello and goodbye to his only child, but he didn’t look very good. He looked sick. I thought about his broken immortality ring. I thought about how when I had looked up his Wikipedia page months ago, it said he died of tuberculosis.

If I didn’t know better, it sounded like he had it again.

Waverly handed baby Alice to him. The look on his face was gut-wrenching. “Dainty and delicate in blue,” he said through his tears. “Where are you taking her?”

“As far from the Ghost River Triangle as she can get,” Waverly replied. “Aunt Gus is waiting.”

“Goodbye, little girl,” Doc said to his daughter and he handed her to the wet nurse. Doc and I aren’t really friends, we’ve never really spoken much, but I had more respect for him in that moment than I’ve ever had for anyone. Giving up someone you love in order to keep them safe? Is there anything in this world more profoundly selfless?

***NOTE: :-( :-( :-( -A.M.***

I held Waverly tightly in my arms as the helicopter took off. She cried and cried. Doc took off across the field. He really shouldn’t be running with his lungs in that condition.

Waverly was crying so hard her knees were wobbling so I lowered us both gently to the ground and pulled her into my lap, rocking her back and forth gently and whispering in her ear. There was nothing I could do to fix it, but I could hold her. For a little while, at least.

We can have just a little while, can’t we?

//

That more or less brings me back up to now. Waverly and I drove back and I dropped her off at the homestead. Dolls came by the station so I could show him the ring I had retrieved from the widow. I was right about the crack. It’s broken.

As soon as Dolls saw it, he turned around and punched a hole through the wall. That ring was the only thing we had going for us.

Truth is, this is probably the last journal entry I’ll ever write. All I can do now is pray that we come up with a solution. Lou told me to wait for Wynonna, and that’s what I’m doing. After she and Dolls lit up Shorty’s, she disappeared. I knew she would come back soon, and when she did, I’d have to tell her everything. I’d have to tell Waverly everything.

Maybe someday Waverly will read this journal and understand.

That I never wanted to deceive her.
That I never wanted to control her.
That I will always, always love her, no matter where I am.

I love you, Waverly Earp.

***NOTE: She was right. It was her last entry. I flipped through the rest of the journal, but it was blank. I’m going to go see Javion right now. –A.M.***

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #21
Early February 2017
Last Entry on loose leaf paper

Javion,

This last entry is to be given to Alice when she comes to you after finishing the journal. If you haven’t already given her Wynonna’s necklace, now is the time.

Thank you, my friend. See you soon.
Nicole

//

As it turns out, this will be my last entry. At least for the next eighteen years.

Eighteen years is a long time, you know? It’s a really long time. Waverly was eighteen only four years ago.

She and I haven’t even been together for half of four years.

Sorry, I can’t seem to fully wrap my head around this number.

I know I need to be concentrating on writing this last entry. I have so much to say and I have to explain it all accurately, if Wynonna and I are going to have a chance at being rescued.

But…all I can do is marvel at how long eighteen years is. It’s almost two decades! I don’t even know how I’ll be spending these years.

I know how Waverly will be spending them, though.

Will she ever forgive me for what I had to do? Lou’s asking price was far steeper than I ever could have imagined. Wynonna and I didn’t realize until much too late that the price to be paid for Waverly and Alice’s lives was their happiness. Alice would grow up without a mother or a father. Waverly would lose her sister and her soulmate. Worse, she would remember losing us.

She doesn’t even know yet. She’s still asleep. The thought that she’s still blissfully unaware is the only thing keeping me sane, but barely.

Wynonna is sitting in the seat across the aisle, staring out the window. We’re on a plane, flying to Atlanta, with our ultimate destination being a little cabin in Cartersville, Georgia. Waverly is on a plane too, with Jeremy, Javion, and Dolls. They’re on their way to Chicago, where Alice and Gus are. Thankfully, Jeremy will be sticking around close by, but Javion and Dolls will leaving almost immediately. Thinking about what is being asked of them is almost too painful to bear.

I’m asking too much of them. I’m asking too much of every single one of them. The only thing that makes it hurt less is I know they aren’t just doing it for me. They’re doing it for each other, and more importantly, they’re doing it for Alice. Everything we have done to this point, and everything that we have yet to do, it’s all for one little girl. One little girl and her Aunt Waverly.

I have a little less than four hours to say everything I need to say. Four hours is like a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of eighteen years. How many four hour time chunks are in eighteen years?

Sorry.

I will do my best to get everything down before we land.

I am really hurting. So, Alice? If you ever read this…bear with me, baby girl.

//

After I finished my last entry, I drove over to Shorty’s to meet up with everyone and regroup. I watched Dolls bring Waverly and Jeremy a couple of coffees. They were all smiling and laughing, so I sat in my car and watched, rather than interrupt. Waverly deserved to be happy for a few more minutes. Once Wynonna arrived, we’d have to tell her everything, and she wouldn’t be happy anymore.

I had the signed divorce papers in my lap with the note from Shae. I was going to show them to Waverly after we came up with a plan, thinking that maybe it would take the edge off. I don’t even know anymore. Marriage seems pretty trivial in the face of almost certain death.

Or maybe it’s more important than ever.

I picked up the Bulshar file and checked that the broken ring was still in my pocket. Our situation was beyond grim. Dolls was standing outside of my cruiser, looking at me through the windshield. Our eyes met and he inclined his head toward me. I nodded back. Of everyone, except for perhaps Wynonna, only he and I had a true understanding of how near death we all were.

I drew strength from his calm demeanor to steady myself and I got out of the car. I walked over to Waverly and kissed her, but when I started to sit down beside her. Jeremy’s hand snaked out and grabbed my wrist. He was looking at me with eyes the size of dinner plates. Waverly didn’t see it.

“What?” I asked him mentally. Waverly turned to Dolls to say something, giving Jeremy his chance.

He leaned toward me and mouthed, “Wynonna. Station. Now.”

I nodded once and got up immediately, pretending to check my phone. “Hey, babe? The station is callin’ me. I gotta go. I’ll be right back, okay?”

Waverly pouted, but she kissed me and nodded. As I jumped in my cruiser, I told Jeremy mentally to tell Dolls I was meeting Wynonna and to not say anything else to Waverly. I caught him nodding out of the corner of my eye. I asked him to make sure Waverly got home safely as well. I didn’t know how long we would be.

I drove to the station and parked and stood outside my car and waited. Sure enough, two minutes later I heard the distinctive roar of Wynonna’s motorcycle. She pulled up beside me and tossed me a helmet.

“Get on,” she said.

I caught the helmet but didn’t move. “Wynonna, what the hell…?”

“Get ON, Haught! Now! We don’t have a lot of time.” Her eyes were wild and scared. I’ve never seen her look like that before. I jammed the helmet on my head and swung onto the seat behind her. I barely had time to hold on before the bike leapt forward and we took off.

We rode down the long, desolate main drag that connects Purgatory to the surrounding townships for about a half hour. I had just decided that we were probably leaving the Ghost River Triangle when Wynonna swung off at the very last exit and I realized we were at the archway boundary, where Waverly had touched the goo. The sun was setting and it was even more eerie than usual. Wynonna parked the motorcycle and we both got off.

Wynonna strode off toward the archway, dropping her helmet behind her in the dust. She was looking all around for someone or something, frantic.

“Earp, can you clue me in here? What is going on?” I called after her, jogging to catch up. She sat on the small retaining wall near the arch and ran her hand through her hair.

“Someone is meeting us here,” she said simply.

“Juan Carlo?” I speculated. Her eyebrows flew up. She didn’t know I knew him.

“Juan Carlo is dead. We’re meeting his boss.”

I felt my eyes go wide. “Lou? Waverly’s father?”

Before Wynonna’s look of curiosity and suspicion could turn to one of betrayal, a voice spoke from behind me. It was indeed Lou, no longer dream-like and ethereal, but solid and corporeal.

“Good to see you again, Nicole,” he said to me. He nodded to Wynonna, who stood up and immediately drew peacemaker. “Pleasure to finally meet you, Wynonna Earp,” he said, glancing at her gun. “Oh, you won’t need that, dear.”

She scowled. “You’re Waverly’s father?” She turned to me. “How do you know each other?”

“Ah, you can call me Lou,” he replied before I could. “Nicole and I have met before because I appeared to her in a dream. What was the word you used to describe me? A demi-god?” He chuckled. I’m glad it was all funny to someone.

I opened my mouth to attempt to give Wynonna the cliffnotes version of what had transpired in my dream, but Lou held a hand up. “No need. Allow me.” He strolled over to where Wynonna was standing and passed a hand in front of her eyes. I watched them drift closed, and watched as her eyeballs flickered underneath her eyelids as she took in everything he was showing her.

When she opened her eyes, she spoke to me first. She was angry. “You’ve been lying to me. To us. This entire time. How can you live with yourself?”

Her eyes scared me, but I managed to reply. “Wynonna, please. Everything I’ve done since I arrived in Purgatory has been for Waverly’s best interest,” I said. “I love her. I love you, and I love Alice. Whatever I’ve done, you must believe that. Please. You don’t have the luxury of hating me right now. We have to work together.” I balled my hands into fists, feeling the sting of my nails. If Wynonna turned on me now, we were all screwed.

She was grinding her teeth and her eyes were still wild, but finally, she nodded. “Might be that I haven’t been the most forthcoming, either,” she said, with an undertone of guilt in her voice. She didn’t elaborate. She turned back to Lou instead. “So?” she prompted. “What is it? This deal?”

It was so very Wynonna. Straight to the point. All action.

He clasped his hands in front of him and looked at Wynonna patiently. “I am unable to give you the details of the deal until you agree to the price.”

“Okay…” she said. “What’s the price?”

He smiled and shook his head.

“He wants us to agree before he tells us what it is.” I said.

“Well, that’s just utterly fucked,” Wynonna replied. “It could be anything. He could be asking us to die or betray each other. We can’t just agree to this.” She was right.

I had an idea. “Lou,” I asked, “Is it possible for you to show us the future? Can you show us what will happen if we don’t agree to your bargain?”

He looked nonplussed. “Of course,” he said. He frowned. “It is unpleasant.”

“Show us,” Wynonna growled.

So he did.

My vision went dark and was replaced by visions that flitted by at an accelerated rate. Images of Bulshar rising. Of him taking Waverly. Of him harnessing her power and using it to destroy Purgatory. Images of Purgatory being wiped off the map by the US military and Waverly being taken away by Firm agents. Images of our team being killed, one by one.

Images of shadowy figures, ones I didn’t recognize, coming for Alice.

No. Whatever the cost was, I would pay it.

When our eyes opened, I walked purposefully to Wynonna and grabbed her arm. We regarded each other fiercely.

“I’m in,” I said firmly. “Whatever the cost. I’m in.”

“I am, too.” She squeezed my arm and gave it a shake.

We turned back to Lou and simultaneously said, “We agree.”

In an instant, my vision went dark again, and I saw a different movie reel of events yet to transpire. They all played out in my head, burning into my memory. I saw exactly what we had to do and Wynonna saw it all, too. I saw our solution from point A to point B, and more importantly, I saw Lou’s asking price.

It was awful. It was heartbreaking.

It was necessary.

When we opened our eyes and looked at each other, we were both crying. Wynonna looked desperate.

“But why?” She demanded of him. “Why? If you’re the light, one of the good guy forces in the universe, why are you asking this of us?”

He shrugged. “It is what I require, Wynonna. I never claimed to be a benevolent force. As I told Nicole in her dream, you only perceive me as good because you live in a limited reality. What my opponent and I represent is balance.” He turned to me. “Nicole, do you remember our discussion about sacrifice?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Good. Well, my opponent and I have a little…wager, if you will. He wagers that what I am asking of you, all of you, is too much. He believes that you would either refuse my deal out of hand, or you will renege on our agreement once it is underway. Now, I believe I can count on the two of you. Your hearts are hardened and your loyalty is unwavering. But my daughter? I’m not sure she will agree to what is asked of her. It is her sacrifice that is truly at the center of all this, and it is her sacrifice that will be the most profound.” He was pacing a little and had the decency to try to look regretful.

“She will spend the next eighteen years blaming herself.”

It was like a knife to my heart.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring. “This is one of three rings Waverly will wear today, Nicole. It will put her to sleep. As you both just saw, it is essential that she be unaware of things as they happen. Also, if she is awake while you attempt to break the curse, it might kill her, despite the other ring she’ll be wearing.”

He walked forward and placed the ring in my hand. “I’d suggest you slip this on her quickly, while she’s distracted.” I closed my hand around the ring. My throat felt all constricted, like I was being choked.

“You know what must be done to restore Bulshar’s immortality ring, Wynonna. Again, if she isn’t wearing it, she won’t last long in the face of the energy drain from the tether.”

We would summon Bulshar and render him immobile using mine and Waverly’s combined power. Lou would change my ability to Shield slightly so it could act as a net to bind Bulshar. However, in order to do accomplish that without killing Waverly, she had to wear the ring. And the ring had to be repaired.

Wynonna scowled at him and shook her head. “This is too much. This is too much to ask. How can you live with yourself? Doc…Doc is bad enough, but eighteen years? Eighteen fucking years? I’ll miss her entire childhood. She’s going to grow up thinking I’m dead. My sister will think I’m dead!”

“That is the price you agreed to pay for love,” he responded without wavering in the slightest. “If it makes you feel any better, Wynonna, John Henry isn’t long for this world anyway. The pulmonary affliction he suffers from will kill him within a few months.”

Wynonna was gripping the handle of peacemaker so hard her knuckles were white.

Lou continued, “I can buy you an additional twelve hours. After that amount of time is up, you will face Bulshar on his own terms, as well as the full force of The Firm. If you deviate from any part of the plan that I have laid out to you, the agreement is forfeit.”

To me, he said, “The power that I am giving you will only be available within that twelve hour time frame. You must trap Bulshar and end the curse, and when that is done, you must get to your final location and establish the link with Waverly. Then,” he shrugged. “You wait.”

“Wait for what?” I asked.

Wynonna replied. “For my girl. For Alice. She’s the final piece, isn’t she? That’s why it’s eighteen years.”

He smiled at her and nodded. “I desire that Alice grow up living a normal life with no knowledge of the curse. On her eighteenth birthday, she’ll be given Nicole’s journal and once she reads it and learns about the sacrifices her family made for her, she will be allowed to come find you. Only Alice herself can release you.”

“And then we can go home?”

“Assuming all of our previously discussed parameters are met, yes.”

There it was. The light. The possibility. The glimmer of hope.

In the end, it would all come down to Alice.

//

I drove to the homestead through a blur of tears. After Wynonna dropped me off at the station, I called Javion, Jeremy, and Dolls to fill them in. Thankfully it didn’t take long. Javion was booking a private plane and leaving immediately.

We didn’t have a lot of time, but I didn’t care. There were three things I absolutely had to make time for. Three things that had to be done in a very specific order. Wynonna and I agreed to meet back at the homestead in two hours after she was done completing her terrible task.

I arrived at the house, parked, and took some deep breaths to try to quell some of my anxiety. I reached in my pocket and felt the two rings, rubbing them together with my fingertips. One was the sleeping ring. The other was a simple white-gold band with a pretty vine and leaf design and a round diamond I bought weeks ago.

Simple. She likes that.

I flipped the vanity mirror down and wiped my eyes, fixed my hair, and put on a little lip gloss. With everything that was about to come to pass, you’d have thought I wouldn’t be nervous for this part, but I really was.

I knocked on the door and took a couple steps back. Waverly was throwing it open in seconds, concern all over her face.

“Nicole! Where have you and Wynonna…” she trailed off when she realized she was talking over my head, because I was down on one knee.

Her hands flew up to cover her mouth and her eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Whaaat?” she whispered, walking over to stand in front of me. I took her left hand in mine and pulled the ring out with the other hand, holding it out to her.

“Waverly Earp,” I said, and despite everything, I could feel the dimples break out on my face like craters. I could hear my pulse in my ears. I realized that the next two hours will be the last happy ones I have for a long, long time.

I took a deep breath. “I’m no good at speeches, and the only thing I’ll ever be able to guarantee you is my love, but I can tell you beyond a shadow of doubt, you have that from me forever.” I paused and glanced down to gather myself because I was starting to cry. When I looked back up at her, I saw she was crying, too. “Will you marry me?”

Rather than answer, she just sank to her knees and hugged me. I laced my fingers through the hair on the nape of her neck and held her to me. She pulled away, grabbed my face, and kissed me passionately. I broke away after a minute to ask, “well?”

“Yes!” she yelled at me, laughing. “A million times yes, of course yes!” She leaned forward and cupped my face with her hands again. “You’re the love of my life, Nicole.”

“You are the love of all of mine,” I whispered back, taking her hand and sliding the ring onto her finger.

She held her hand up to her face and stared down at it with the same expression she had when I told her “Where you go, I go.” I allowed the two of us to just be together in the moment for a little while before I stood up and pulled her to her feet. I pulled her in and kissed her deeply. When I felt her tongue in my mouth and hands hook into my belt to pull me backward into the house, I stopped her.

“No, baby,” I took another deep breath and closed my eyes. I counted to five and opened them. “Will you marry me right now?”

“Oh,” she said softly. “Really?”

I squeezed her hands. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us, Waves.” My heart clenched at the lie. I know exactly what will happen to us. “I just know that I want to be able to call you my wife before... before things start to happen.”

She didn’t hesitate. “Okay,” she said, determination replacing the confusion on her face. “Okay, let’s get married. Um, we can go to Pastor Bob’s house, I think he’s still awake watching Jeopardy.”

“Baby, it’s only 7:00.”

“I know, so we don’t have much time. Um…are you going to wear your uniform?”

I laughed. “Waves, it’s what I’m already wearing, so yes.”

“Okay, good. Can you just…stay here for a second? I’ll be right back.” She whirled and ran up the stairs. I folded my shaking hands and waited. When she came back down, I was facing away, looking out at the horizon, deep in thought.
“Nicole…?” she called to me hesitantly. When I turned around, she was coming down the stairs wearing her mother’s dress. The one she was wearing in the alternate reality.

She looked even more beautiful than she had then. She was still wearing that gold, leafy headband she had one earlier. She looked every bit the angel she is.

I walked to the end of the stairs and when she was standing on the second step from the bottom I grabbed her by the waist and lifted her down the rest of the way. I dipped her like I had that day outside of Shorty’s and kissed her. “You,” I said, my eyes sparkling, “are a vision.”

I gave her my arm and we walked out to my squad car and drove to Pastor Bob’s house. We couldn’t stop grinning and blushing at each other the whole way there. For that short drive we were able to forget about our lives temporarily and allow ourselves to just be enamored with each other.

Thinking about it right now makes my insides feel like they’re on fire.

Sorry, Alice.

I saw a bunch of perfect tulips growing in the park on the way, so I stopped the car and got out to pick them. (Tulips in February. Thanks, Lou.) I jumped back in the car and handed them to Waverly, who looked at me with bright love eyes and brought them to her nose to sniff. We got to the house and pulled into the driveway and ran up to the door hand in hand. Waverly tapped, and when there was no answer, knocked.

A kind, wrinkly face appeared through a crack in the door and asked “How may I help you?”

“Pastor Bob, it’s Waverly Earp and my fiancée, Nicole Haught.” At the name “Waverly Earp,” the door flew open with a bang.

“Waverly!” he said, with a big smile. “Officer Haught! Please come in,” he said, stepping aside so we could get through the door. We stood in the small entranceway and he gave us a once-over. Before I could speak, he called “Theresa!” over his shoulder. His wife answered from the kitchen.

“Be a dear and bring me my collar and the lord’s book.” He turned back to us, “Oh, uh, pardon, I just assumed based on your state of dress, the flowers, and the fact that the two of you can’t stop swooning over each other that you want to get married?”

“Yes!” Waverly and I shouted at the same time, and then we just turned to each other and dissolved into giggles. Pastor Bob put his collar on over his pajamas and started riffling through his bible. Theresa ushered Waverly and I into the dining room. The pastor stepped in front of us and told us to join hands. I think we were supposed to stand side by side and face him, but Waverly and I faced each other instead.

Hers was the only face I wanted to see in the hours we had remaining to us.

She smiled at me shyly, with teary eyes. As Pastor Bob got started, I could see reflected in her face my own expression: disbelief that this was really happening. I smiled back and squeezed her hands. When the pastor asked if we had anything in particular we wanted him to read, I nodded.

“Do you happen to know Shakespeare Sonnet 116?”

He was starting to frown and shake his head when Waverly spoke up instead. She started hesitantly but picked up steam when she could see the look on my face.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love when it alteration finds, nor bends with the remover to remove.”

Everyone and everything else in the room disappeared, and it was just the two of us. I spoke the last part with her, looking directly into her eyes. “Oh, no. It is an ever-fixed mark, that looks upon tempests, and is never shaken.”

The first time I heard that sonnet, I loved it. Now I knew why.

Waverly liked it too, because after we stopped quoting it, she leapt into my arms and crushed our mouths together to the pastor’s amused protests.

Waverly let go of me, cleared her throat and smoothed her dress. “Pastor,” she said sweetly, “Corinthians?”

My throat felt hot.

The pastor spoke: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I wonder if we were the weepiest couple he’d ever married.

When it came time to exchange rings, I thought Waverly would just slide one of the rings she was already wearing onto my finger. Instead, she reached into a hidden sleeve pocket (cool) and pulled out a plain gold wedding band.

“It was my mother’s,” she said softly. “I really hope it fits.” She took my hand, said her vows, and slid it on.

It fit perfectly.

Just like the two of us.

I said my vows and we said our “I do’s” and then the pastor told me I could kiss my bride and I did, right there in the dining room of his house. We broke apart with huge smiles and he and his wife applauded us.

We hugged the two of them and thanked them profusely. Pastor Bob was unmuting Jeopardy before we were even out the door. As we walked down the driveway toward my squad car, I looked back to see Theresa was making their cat wave goodbye at us.

I don’t say it enough, but I really love the people in this town.

I sped back to the homestead as fast as I could. I filled my head with nothing but Waverly. I wouldn’t allow myself to think of anything else, because I knew I would break down. I glanced at the clock. It was 8:00 and we had 11 hours to spare. I had three tasks to complete in two hours. One was already done. Two were left.

One I will love. The other one I will hate.

We pulled up to the homestead and before she could get out, I squeezed her leg and told her to wait. I ran around the other side of the car and opened her door, handing her out. Once she was standing, I leaned over and swept her off her feet and into my arms. She giggled and squeezed around my neck happily and kissed my cheek and oh I love her.

I carried her into the house and up the stairs, kissing her the entire way to her bedroom. I kicked the door open and walked us to the bed and the closer we got to it, the sicker I felt. There was a clock in my head ticking down the seconds. Every second that passed was one I would never get back. My hands were trembling badly as I tried to unzip the back of her dress, so she turned around and grabbed them both.

“Nicole, relax. I know you’re worried about what’s going to happen, but let’s just have this right now, okay?” She was smiling and her tone was so reassuring. “I don’t want to think about anything else. I just want to have you.” She paused. “I’m your wife,” she said very quietly. Her eyes glittered.

A sense of calm confidence washed over me. She was right. This was more important now than ever. I turned her around, unzipped her dress, and watched as she freed herself from it while I stripped off my uniform as fast as I could. We were back together like magnets as soon as we were both naked.

I whispered “I love you,” again and again into her open mouth as we kissed. My heart was in shambles.

Eighteen years.

I won’t see her again for eighteen years.

I treated what we were doing like it was our last time.

I gave us an hour. I hated having to tear my eyes away from her to look at the clock. She must have sensed my desperate urgency, because she responded in kind, more passionate than I’ve ever seen her. When we had less than ten minutes left, I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. I felt her fingers wiping the wetness off of my cheeks and saw the concern on her face when I opened my eyes and looked down at her.

“Nicole,” she whispered, “What’s wrong?” I rolled off and laid beside her, letting the floodgates open. Lou hadn’t said any of this would be easy, but he had also neglected to mention that it would be this hard. Waverly held me in her arms. She seemed stunned at how badly I was falling apart. I don’t think she’s ever actually seen me like that.

I knew what I was about to do was technically cheating on my end of the bargain. But she was going to lose her memories, anyway. What did it matter?

“Wave,” I asked her, choking back my tears. “Is there anything you wouldn’t sacrifice for love? For Alice and Wynonna? For…for me?”

Her eyes flashed. “No, nothing.”

“What about your memories? What about your happiness? Your free will?”

The expression on her face was evolving from sadness and concern to confusion. “What are you talking about?”

I glanced at the clock. Everyone would be here soon.

“Waverly, Wynonna and I found a way out of this. We can save Purgatory and with…with one exception, we can all get out of here alive. It’s our only hope. I’ve seen what happens if we don’t do this, and it’s terrible.”

“What?” She demanded, sitting up. “What is it?”

“I don’t have time to explain everything,” I told her, reaching down to grab my pants off the floor and pulling out the sleeping ring. “The entire plan relies on you. It relies on your willingness to give up everything you hold dear to save us all, including your…including your memories of this, right now.”

“I have to give up my memories? Wait…of our marriage, too?”

I nodded, gritting my teeth through the pain. “Putting this ring on your finger will put you to sleep and set everything in motion.” Lou had made it clear that once the ring was on, everything else would start to fall into place like dominos. It was essential. But I was supposed to put the ring on when she was already asleep or distracted. She wasn’t supposed to know. Lou thought that if given the choice, she would refuse.

But I know my wife.

“Put me to sleep? But why? For how long?”

“Just a few hours. When you wake up, you’ll be in Chicago with Alice.” I steadied myself. “Wynonna and I met your father today.”

She gasped and clutched at my hand.

“He’s good, Waverly, he’s looking out for us. You have powers that you aren’t even aware of, and we need to use them to end the curse and protect you and Alice.”

From The Firm. I didn’t have time to explain all that, though. I held out the ring to her. “I won’t force you, Waverly. It’s your choice.”

She took the ring. “I have powers and if I put this on…it’ll save us all?”

“Yes. At a terrible cost.”

She nodded and said essentially the same thing I had to Lou in my dream. “I would pay any cost to end this curse and save us all.” She closed her eyes. “Even if it means…if it means…”

I reached out and cupped her cheek with my hand. “It’s temporary, baby. You’ll get the memories back.”

“How long?” she asked hesitantly.

I didn’t want to tell her.

I had to tell her. “Eighteen years.”

“Eighteen YEARS?! Where will you be? Wynonna? Where will everyone else be?”

I shook my head. I heard the front door open and close downstairs and Jeremy and Dolls’ voices.

“Nicole,” she said, getting agitated, “tell me!”

“You’ll believe Wynonna and I are dead for eighteen years,” I whispered.

For a moment she just sat in stunned silence, and then she lost it, slumping forward into my arms. She tucked her head against my shoulder and I could feel her tears tracking down my scar.

From downstairs, Dolls called my name but Jeremy must have been able to hear what was going on, because he shushed him. Waverly drew back. Her jaw was set, her black eyelashes glistened and her eyes were more blue than green. I knew that look well.

“Okay,” she said firmly. “I’ll do it.” She nodded to the ring and held out her right hand. “Put it on fast, Nicole, before I change my mind.” Her eyes flicked rapidly from my face to the ring.

I took her hand and hovered the ring over the tip of her right ring finger. “Waverly,” I said, through tears. “I love you. I love that you’re my wife. I’ll see you soon, okay? Really soon. I promise I’ll always come back to you.”

She leaned forward to kiss me. When she drew back and started to say, “I love you, too,” I only let her get as far as “I” before I slid the ring onto her finger and she slumped forward into my arms, unconscious.

I glanced at the clock. We had less than ten hours.

I didn’t get up right away, though. I mentally called down to Jeremy and asked him to give us a little while. I sat crossed-legged on the bed and held my wife in my arms and allowed myself five minutes to fall apart.

Five minutes. What’s five minutes in the face of eighteen years?

//

I rinsed off quickly in the shower and got dressed in my uniform. I dressed Waverly in clothes that would be comfortable for traveling while unconscious. I held the tears firmly at bay as I pulled that ratty old Army t-shirt of mine over her head. The time for break-downs was over. I tucked her sleeping form carefully under the sheets and kissed her head.

Lou told me I wouldn’t be able to give her a choice because he believed that no one would be willing to sacrifice so much. What a shame, he didn’t know his daughter at all. Genetically, she may only be half-human. As it applies to matters of the heart, she is more human than the rest of us combined.

I called Jav. He had landed but it would still take him over an hour to drive in. I met Jeremy and Dolls downstairs and we gathered in the kitchen to discuss the first half of the plan. I knew Wynonna had already explained most of it to Dolls (with one exception.) She had gone to him before going to Doc. Jeremy got everything he needed to know out of my head in under a minute. His eyes got huge, asking me a question, but I shook my head. I didn’t know yet.

“Where is Wynonna?” Dolls asked for the tenth time.

I started to shake my head when the front door slammed open. A strong breeze blew in and it smelled like snow. “Here.” Wynonna’s voice came from the porch. She staggered in and went straight for the liquor cabinet, blowing dust off a bottle of whiskey and drinking it straight. I watched her for a second before something occurred to me and I instantly turned to Jeremy to catch him before he collapsed.

“What the hell is going on?” Dolls demanded. I watched yellow flash through his eyes.

It was best to just get it over with. “Doc is dead,” I told him. I hugged Jeremy tightly. He was crying.

Wynonna banged her fist on the counter and yelled, “Fuck!” She slumped and held her head in her hands. “Fuck,” she said again, quietly. She was crying, too.

Dolls bowed his head and folded his hands in front of him. “Was it the disease?”

He had noticed the cough.

“No,” Jeremy said. “It was Wynonna. She asked him to do it to repair the ring.”

Dolls looked stunned. “Doc died to fix the ring? It’s fixed?”

Jeremy nodded and sniffed. “He died and imbued the ring with his life force. Oh god, he was so brave and good.”

Dolls looked grim but under his breath he said, “We may actually win.”

I helped Jeremy into a chair and walked over to Wynonna. I put my hand on her shoulder but she swatted me away, her eyes blazing. “Fuck off, Nicole! This was too much.” She yanked the ring out of her pocket and smashed it into my hand. “He’s in there now. His whole fuckin’ life. You happy?”

I backed off. “No,” I told her, “I’m not. This is fucking terrible.” I looked at the guys, then back at Wynonna. “This sucks. We all loved Doc, Wynonna. He was a good man. Thanks to him, we’re going to end the curse tonight.” Hopefully.

I took a deep, shuddery breath and gripped the back of a chair. “Wynonna, my wife is upstairs unconscious and I’m about to put her through a whole world of shit without her consent. I am NOT fucking happy, but we don’t have time for this. We have to move forward with the plan.”

She turned to face me. We stared at each other for a long minute.

“She’s my sister, Nicole. I love her every bit as much as you do.”

“I know,” I said softly.

She took a long swill from her bottle again and slammed it back down on the table. She dropped her eyes and wiped her mouth. When she looked back up, at me, her expression was different. We were back on the same page. She turned to Jeremy and Dolls.

“Someone want to tell me how Jeremy knew what happened?” Wynonna asked.

“Oh, I’m a telepath,” he announced, swiping at his cheeks. Poor guy.

Dolls coughed and looked away. I looked at the floor. Wynonna glared at each of us in turn.

“You all KNEW?! And you didn’t tell me?” Her anger rapidly gave way to sadness, her brow furrowing. Her eyes flicked to Jeremy. “You heard all that?” she asked. “Sorry.”

He shook his head and waved his hand at her. “It’s okay, I’m used to it.”

Wynonna looked around at the three of us, considering, then she turned away and pulled three glasses out of the cupboard. She filled them up and passed them out. She raised the bottle to us.

“John Henry Holliday and Waverly Earp.”

“John Henry Holliday and Waverly Earp,” we repeated, and drank. She refilled our glasses.

“For Alice,” she said.

“For Alice,” we repeated. We drank again.

//

“Dolls? Jeremy? You’re sure you can summon him?” Wynonna asked.

We were all sitting around the kitchen table. Eight hours left. Javion was about twenty minutes away. We couldn’t get started without him, so we were rehashing the plan. I was the only one who had the big picture in its entirety, so I was trying to fill in the gaps for everyone else.

“We can definitely summon him,” Jeremy said. “That won’t be the hard part. The hard part will be keeping him here once he knows it’s a trap and he’s on the homestead. At that point it’ll be up to Waverly, Nicole, and the PM.”

Wynonna curled her lip. “The prime minister?”

“The prime mover. Waverly’s father. He’ll be the one that allows us to trap Bulshar on the property.”

“Yeah I’m still pretty unclear as to how that’s going to work,” Wynonna said.

“Lou gave me the power to bind Bulshar to the property using my Shielding ability as a sort of tether. It’ll only last a couple seconds because the drain on Waverly and I will be too powerful. The rings will keep her alive, but only to a point.”

I would cast the Shield, but Waverly would be the one harnessing and amplifying the energy. Being unconscious and wearing the ring imbued with Doc’s life force would offset the energy drain, but only temporarily. Once the drain became too powerful, she would start to die. Our timing had to be perfect.

Wynonna was rubbing her temples. She was squeezing her eyes shut in concentration. The girl wasn’t even a full 24 hours outside of childbirth and yet she was sitting here with us. We were still relying on her entirely to do her job and end the curse.

Have I mentioned lately how amazing she is?

Wynonna nodded in acceptance. “Doc died for Waverly,” she said firmly, mostly to herself.

“And for Alice,” I added gently. She met my eyes and nodded. It seemed to stiffen her resolve.

“Okay, so once he’s here and tethered, then what?” Dolls asked

“Wynonna shoots him and ends the curse,” I said.

Wynonna gave me a look. “What are you, new? It’s never that easy.”

Dolls piped up. “Earp, if you can get a good shot, and I know you can, he dies. He’s just another demon. Once he’s dead, all his other little demon buddies die too. Once the curse is broken, we can move on to phase two of this plan.” He glanced at me and grinned. “My partner going to be here soon?”

“Yeah, any minute now actually. Believe me, you’ll know when he gets here.”

“Glad someone is excited about phase two,” Wynonna muttered, shooting a glance at me. I reached under the table and found her hand. I squeezed it.

“He’s going to need that energy and enthusiasm to take on The Firm,” I said.

She squeezed back and shook her head. “We’re asking too much of them, Nicole.”

“I know,” I whispered.

“I’m glad I have you, girl.” She admitted. Her chin trembled.

“You’re my sister now, Wynonna.” I told her.

I could see she hadn’t thought about that. She smiled. “Oh right. Yeah. Congrats.”

“Thank you.” I bumped her with my shoulder and smiled back.

I assumed it was from talking to Wynonna that I felt a sudden sense of intense calm wash through me, but then a booming voice reverberated through the house from the front door asking to come in.

I got up and ran over to him as he was ducking through the doorframe into the kitchen. He caught me in his arms and swung me around. “I like it better when you’re on your feet, kid,” he said, smiling.

I turned to everyone at the table. They all looked very chill. “Hey guys, this is my friend Javion. Javion, this is Jeremy, Wynonna, and Doll- I mean, your partner, ‘X’” I said, rolling my eyes. Jav walked over and shook Jeremy and Wynonna’s hands, and then did some kind of broshake thing with Dolls. Great, glad to see they’ll get along fine.

Javion turned toward Wynonna and said deferentially, “Ms. Earp, of course we will proceed whenever you’re ready, but the clock is ticking.”

Wynonna was on her feet instantly, strapping on her gun belt. Her jaw was set. She turned to me and said simply, “Get Waverly.”

“Jav,” I said. I nodded toward the stairs for him to come with me.

At the top of the stairs I stopped. He saw I had something to say so he sat on a bench in the hallway so we were a little closer to eye level. “How you holding up, Nik?” He asked.

“Not the best, but it’s just a mission, right? I’ve gone on a lot of missions. I can do this.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. I have no doubt you will pull this off. You people love each other, I can feel it, and that’s what will make the difference in the end.” He leaned forward and dropped his voice a decibel. “I mean, how are you doing with this,” he asked, rolling his eyes toward Waverly’s bedroom.

I stared through the doorway. I could just barely make out her shape in the bed. “I married her, Jav. A few hours ago. I married her, and then I forced her to make an impossible decision. What am I doing? How can I ever forgive myself for this? How can she?”

“You can take comfort in knowing that you did it to save her niece and an entire town full of people,” he said gently.

I took a deep breath. “Jav, I have to tell you the rest of what I told you on the phone.” I laid out the deal as fast as I could. Like Jeremy, he can understand a lot given very little information.

Jav rubbed a hand over his big bald head. “So that’s how you’ll protect them while Dolls and I take on The Firm. I wondered about that. It’ll work. But I doubt we’ll need eighteen years.” He gave me that disarming smile of his. “I don’t think you’re giving X and I enough credit.”

I bowed my head. “No, it was his price. It was a wager he had with his opponent. He wanted to see how much the three of us would sacrifice for love. It’s not only the eighteen years, Jav. Wynonna is sacrificing watching Alice grow up to save her and everyone in this town.”

I paused, trying to keep it together. Jav spread his arms and I went over to him and sat in his giant lap like a child. “Waverly is going to think we’re dead for eighteen years, and even if Alice succeeds, when Waverly gets her memories back she’s going to find out about all the lies. She’s not going to want to be with me anymore.”

For a few minutes we just sat. And then Jav spoke in his low baritone. “Somehow I don’t think that’s true, Nicole. I think she’ll understand.”

God, I hope so.

“I’m leaving my journal and a few other things with Jeremy. I’m going to try to write one last entry before we get to the cabin. Can you make sure Alice gets it? When the time comes?”

“I’ll make sure of it. You can count on me.”

“Okay. Okay. Thanks, Jav.” He started to get up but I didn’t move, so he stayed. “Do you really think she’ll forgive me for everything I’m about to put her through?”

He gave me a squeeze and when he let go, he said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

//

When I went in her bedroom, it was dark except for the light of the moon shining through the window. I thought of all the times (too few times, really) that I traced my fingers over the curvy silhouette of her body in that light, marveling at how lucky I was, how in love I felt. I don’t know if I’ll ever get that back and thinking about it for too long would probably drive me to madness.

I scooped her up off the bed and brought the crown of her head to my face so I could memorize her smell. Once the curse was broken, things would start to move very quickly and I wouldn’t get the chance for a moment like this again, so I crossed the room one slow step at a time, pausing every few to kiss her. I carried my love past Javion in the hallway and down the stairs, out to the porch where Wynonna was standing. Dolls and Jeremy were crouched down around something in the yard.

I walked up beside Wynonna. Her eyes darted down to Waverly and then bounced away instantly. I saw her swallow and look up at the sky. She clamped down tight on her emotions like the warrior she is and grabbed her sister’s left hand. She stroked her wedding ring with the pad of her thumb. “Pretty,” she said.

I couldn’t find words so I just gulped and nodded. Wynonna slipped Bulshar’s ring onto her middle finger, beside her wedding band. “Take care of her, Henry,” she whispered. The look on her face hurt my soul.

I felt Jav come up behind me and place his big hand on my shoulder.

“Ready?” He asked us.

“As we’re ever going to be. Fuck this guy,” Wynonna said, stroking her sister’s arm.

Jeremy and Dolls came jogging up to us. “Okay, we’re all set. We’re just going to need a lock of Waverly’s hair,” Jeremy said.

Uh, what? Hell no. I scowled at him and turned away.

“Oh for god’s sake,” Wynonna said, pulling out her pocket knife and cutting off a piece of hair. She handed it to Jeremy and unholstered peacemaker.

Jav squeezed my shoulder and I squeezed Wave. I lifted her up so my lips were against her ear and I whispered, “We got this, babe.”

Jeremy turned to me. “As soon as you see me come running back here, get ready.” He was squinting through the fat snowflakes that were falling. “He’ll show up right on that spot. You have to trap him right away and hold him for as long as you can while Wynonna shoots.”

“Okay. I’m ready.” I told him.

He nodded and started to turn around, but stopped. “Wait. Bring it in. Come on Dolls, you too.”

We all converged with Waverly in the center. “For Doc and Waverly,” Dolls said. We all repeated it. While we were all touching each other like that, I felt for Waverly’s Shield. Just like that, it appeared. It was beautiful and gold and it encompassed every single one of us. When we separated, I could see clearly that they were all still wearing it, like gold cloaks.

I held onto Waverly tightly and Wynonna cocked peacemaker. Jeremy ran out to the summoning circle in the middle of the yard and Dolls covered him.

Jeremy dropped the lock of hair and hadn’t even turned around to sprint back when Bulshar appeared with a crack like a thunderclap.

I wish I could accurately describe him but I can’t. He was the embodiment of evil, like the devil incarnate. He was huge and not quite human and he stood in the middle of a black vortex which seemed to swirl around him. It wasn’t what I expected, so when I cast the Shield to trap him, it wasn’t enough and it didn’t cover him completely.
Terror ripped through me but Jav squeezed my shoulder and my confidence skyrocketed. I hugged Waverly, bringing her chest up to mine so our hearts were together. I gritted my teeth and tried harder. I could feel the energy coming off of Waverly and I like sparks from a welding iron.

Bulshar looked right at us. He was trapped in place, but he could still move. I saw him raising one hand.

“Wynonna, NOW!” I screamed. Dolls and Jeremy were both firing at will, but there was only one bullet that would matter. I heard Wynonna take a deep, steadying breath, and fire. The crack of the gun was right beside my head and I felt my right ear retire as a loud buzzing replaced all sound.

Bulshar deflected the bullet with a flick of his hand that was almost lackadaisical. I could see his face. His smile was all sharp teeth and it was awful. He pointed at Waverly and I, curled two fingers, and two of the three of the rings she was wearing flew off her fingers and landed on the ground.

Then they started rolling toward him.

Jeremy dropped his shotgun and dove for the rings just as Waverly woke up. Her eyes popped open and her mouth opened in a silent scream.

The drain of keeping Bulshar tethered was killing her.

I started to drop the Shield binding him, but she grabbed me by the wrist and screamed, “NO!” But I knew she wouldn’t last. Her eyes were rolling back in her head and her face was stark white.

I did the only thing I could. I stopped drawing all my energy from Waverly and instead, I took some of the burden of the drain on myself. I instantly sank to my knees. I could feel my heart stuttering and giving out. The muscular fatigue was unbearable and my vision was tunneling. Jav was beside me, hollering at me to hold on, and Wynonna was walking forward, toward Bulshar, shooting at him with every step.

She wouldn’t be able to kill him unless he couldn’t move.

I watched Jeremy scramble to pick up the rings, but they just kept slipping out of his hand and rolling toward Bulshar, like he was some kind of magnet. I leaned my face down to Waverly and spoke into her ear hoarsely as my voice gave out. “We have to do this, Wave. Together.”

Jav heard me. “Nicole, NO. It will kill you both!”

Waverly was gripping my wrist. The whites of her eyes were shot through with red. Her nose was bleeding. We both ignored Javion and only looked at each other. “Together,” she said. Her irises were green and gold, I had never seen them that color before.

“I love you,” I told her.

“I love you always,” she replied.

I dug down deep into the soul that Waverly and I share and I felt it. The energy to do what had to be done. I gathered it all up, swirling it together in a sort of projectile in my mind’s eye and Waverly amplified it. When it was powerful enough and Waverly and I were on the precipice of death, I hurled it at Bulshar.

I didn’t expect to see it hit him, because I expected both of us to be dead. When I opened my eyes, I saw Jeremy finishing jamming the immortality ring onto Waverly’s finger. Bulshar was completely immobile, in a state of suspended animation.

Wynonna shot him right between the eyes.

A sound like the blood curdling scream of a dying animal filled my head. It was all around us, it was enough to break a person’s sanity. I couldn’t speak so I screamed at Jeremy in my head to get the other ring on her finger, too. I watched through a slit in my eyelids as he fought through the pain and slid the ring over her finger.

She was out instantly, thank god. I think of all of us, she felt the pain the most.

The screaming stopped just as abruptly as it started. We all watched as Bulshar got sucked into hell like all the rest of them. I knew in my heart that whatever remained of the original 77 were gone, too.

We did it.

I held Waverly tightly and did my best to just breathe. Jav pulls us both into his lap and I could feel his energy healing us. I reached for and grabbed one of Jeremy’s hands. Dolls walked over, collapsed to his knees, and grabbed the other one. Only Wynona remained standing, apart from the rest of us, looking at the place where Bulshar had disappeared. Snow was collecting in her thick hair, the light reflecting on the flakes and shimmering like crystal. She had peacemaker raised in one hand, pointing at the sky.

She looked like a goddess.

She turned toward me and met my eyes. I gave her a feeble nod.

Dolls asked, “How do we know it worked? How do we know the curse is truly broken?”

“Like this,” Wynonna answered. She raised peacemaker over her head and pulled the trigger.

The gun clicked. She cocked it and fired twice more. Both clicks.

Peacemaker had gone back to being nothing more than an antique. Its power was gone because the curse was broken.

Jeremy and Dolls made excited noises and looked back and forth between Wynonna and me, looking for our reaction. We didn’t smile as we maintained our eye contact. Wynonna holstered peacemaker and walked over, kneeling in front of us. “You good, Haught? You ready?”

“I’m ready.” I put my hand out. We clasped arms and nodded to one another. Wynonna stood up and spoke to everyone else. “This isn’t even close to being over. We have to move fast. We have to get Waverly out of here. It’s all that matters now.” I tried to follow her, but I was too weak. Javion gently took Waverly from me and got to his feet. Jeremy stood and pulled me up after him. I locked eyes with him and fought tears.

“I know,” he said. “You’re welcome.” He smiled, looking like he was ready to fall over.

We put our arms around each other and followed Wynonna back into the kitchen. Every single face in the room was grim, when we should have been celebrating. We had ended the curse, it should have been a party. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t over, because now we had to face the fact that The Firm would be coming for Waverly within the next few hours and the only thing that mattered was getting her out and making sure she and Alice were safe.

I sat down in one of the kitchen chairs. Jav walked over and gently lowered Waverly back into my arms. I held her left hand and stroked her wedding band. It calmed me.

“Dolls, give me our transportation status,” Wynonna commanded.

“Both planes are waiting at the airport. Jeremy, Javion, and myself will travel with Waverly to Chicago to ensure everything goes to plan. You and Haught will board a non-stop to Atlanta. You’ll have to take a rental car the rest of the way.”

“Once we cross the boundary,” I said, “Lou said we will be locked in. We won’t be able to get out and no one else will be able to get in, except Alice, when it’s time. We’ll need periodic supply drops. Medical supplies and food.”

“Got it covered,” Jav said. He nodded at Dolls. “We got it covered, I mean.”

I continued. “Once we’re there, we’ll have to wait for some kind of a sign. I don’t know what that will be, since we won’t have any communications. Once we get the sign, I’ll cast the LRS and we’ll…we’ll hope that Lou was telling the truth and it works.”

“It’ll work,” Javion said softly. It was hard for me to hear him, the ringing in my ear was still very loud. “I know it will. After what I just saw out there in the yard? It’s going to work.”

“And it’ll protect them, even from so far away?” Wynonna asked. It really was an enormous distance, but it was out of our hands. Lou had chosen the location for us: the Eppersons’ cabin.
She sniffed and cleared her throat, looking between us. “You’re positive? Because all of this goes to shit if it doesn’t work.” She faced Jav. “Nicole can really continuously cast this Shield for eighteen years using Waverly to…to amplify, or whatever?”

“They’ll create a sort of positive feedback loop,” Jav said. “Nicole will cast the Shield, and Waverly will keep Nicole alive by reflecting it back onto her. Waverly will in turn Shield everyone around her. Everyone she loves and is connected to.”

“So…it’ll protect them from being harmed by The Firm? Or anyone else?”

“It’ll prevent The Firm from finding them in the first place,” Jav assured her.

“And they won’t be around much longer anyway,” Dolls said, grinning. He turned to Jav and fist-bumped him.

“Okay, what’s left to do?” Wynonna asked.

Jeremy, who was sitting beside me, rubbed my leg and shot me a sympathetic look.

“The worst thing,” I said simply. “Jav?”

He stood up. “Yeah. Come on,” he said gently. He walked over and scooped Waverly out of my lap. Wynonna helped me up and put her arm around my shoulders. Jav laid Waverly down on the couch and knelt by her head. I crouched down beside him.

“You have to be very clear in your mind, understand?”

“Yes.”

Jav put his palms on my temples and closed his eyes. I closed mine, too. I pictured an event that didn’t happen to convince Waverly that we were dead.

I will not recount it here, because you don’t need to read that, Alice.

He took those terrible false memories from me and dumped them into my wife’s head. At first, nothing happened. Then I saw her eyes start to move rapidly back and forth under her eyelids.

I wanted to die.

“It’s done,” Jav said gently.

With shaking hands I took her wedding ring off her finger and slipped it onto my pinky. She needed to continue to wear Bulshar’s ring for the next eighteen years in order to maintain our connection without being drained, so I pulled a chain out from underneath my shirt. I was wearing mine and Katie’s dog tags. I took Katie’s off and replaced it with the ring and looped it over Waverly’s head, tucking it under the neckline of her shirt. Part of her tampered memories included instructions to never take it off or let anyone else see it.

“Time to go,” Wynonna said from within the shadows of the doorway. She walked forward into the room and pulled her own necklace off. She crumpled it in her hand and gave it to Javion. “My daughter can have this once she starts to figure everything out. She’ll need it to get over the boundary.”

Jav nodded. “I understand.”

“Dolls, if for some reason, you don’t succeed…” Wynonna trailed off.

“We will,” Dolls interrupted her. “It’s not an option. We have a good team. We’ll get the job done.” He walked over and took her hands. “You can count on me, Wynonna. I can do this, and then I’ll be there. Eighteen years from now. Count on it.”

Wynonna kissed him with tears pouring down her face. She looked around at all of us. “I love you,” she said. “Every one of you. I will never forget this night as long as I live.” She looked at me. “Haught?”

I nodded. “I got you, Earp.”

Nothing else needed to be said. Everyone got up and we went our separate ways.

I knew that if I tried to say goodbye to Waverly, I might fail. So I didn’t. I kissed her and I said, “See you soon.”

After Javion had carried her and tucked her into the back seat of his rented SUV, I pulled him aside.

“Jav, we almost forgot to discuss a signal. How will I know when you’re in place, when it’s time? She has to be awake.” He was shaking his head before I could finish.

“Oh, Nicole. You don’t need a signal. You’ll know when she’s awake. You’ll feel it.”

“Feel what?” I asked.

“Agony,” he replied frankly.

//

As I finish this entry, we’re entering our landing pattern. We don’t have much time to spare. I’m leaving this last entry with the retired Guardian friend that Jav sent with us. He’s going to join Jav and Dolls in their mission to take on The Firm, along with Higgs and a bunch of Javion’s other friends. I have absolute faith that they will succeed.

This family is indomitable. I believe in us.

I believe in you, Alice Michelle Earp.

I know your last name is McCready. But an Earp is what you are in your heart. Just like your Mama. Just like your Aunt Waverly.

I didn’t know it when I started, but I know now that I’ve been writing this journal for you. I hope you feel like you know your family a little better now. I understand why Lou required you read this journal as a stipulation before you could come find us. You needed to know what we all meant to each other, and what you mean to us.

Lou won his wager. There is no limit to the sacrifice that people are willing to make for the ones that they love.

If you’re reading these words, you know what to do.

Come get us, baby girl. I love you.

XOXO,
Aunt Nicole

Chapter Text

Journal Entry #22
Early February 2017
(Written in retrospect in March 2035)

When I opened my eyes, I didn’t expect to still be in the cabin.

I don’t know what I expected exactly, but it wasn’t that. I sat up slowly, hesitantly, waiting for Waverly’s pain to hit me again.

“How will I know?” I had asked Javion. “How will I know when it’s time?”

“You’ll feel it.”

He was right. Wynonna and I got to the cabin with only minutes to spare. I laid down on the bed so I wouldn’t fall and clutched Wynonna’s hand desperately, waiting for my signal. I don’t know how much time passed, all I know is that it was the most painful anticipation I’ve ever experienced in my life.

And then I felt it, her pain when she woke up was staggering. She woke up to the freshly planted memories of us dying. She opened her beautiful eyes and rather than see our faces, all she saw was a terrible black freight train of grief barreling at her at a thousand miles per hour.

I was in no position to do anything about it, but I started to sit up anyway, forgetting my purpose, forgetting entirely about what we were at the cabin to do. All I wanted was to get to Waverly. I would have crawled all the way from Georgia to Illinois over broken glass to reach her in that moment.

But Wynonna held me down. With gritted teeth and red eyes and iron will, she held me down and yelled, “Nicole, NO. You have to do this, now, right now! There’s no time!”

She knew what was going to happen. She was sacrificing eighteen years of her life, to live in absolute solitude, with nothing but her memories to keep her company. She was losing Waverly as much as I was, and more importantly, she was relinquishing the chance to watch her daughter grow up. She was doing it to break the curse. To save everyone she loves.

Waverly was right. Wynonna is the best of us.

I looked into her eyes and drew strength from them. They’re blue like Katie’s and that helped. I tapped into Wynonna’s endless reserves of fortitude, squeezed her hand, shut my eyes, and dug down deep.

I filled my head with all the best memories I have of Waverly and I.

Meeting her in Shorty’s. “Officer, uh, can you help? I’m stuck.”

Dancing with her in my living room. “Something Just Like This.”

Our first kiss in Sheriff’s office. “When I think what I want to do most in this world, it’s you.”

Singing to her at the bar.

Our second first kiss in the alternate reality

Telling her I loved her for the first time, tangled up in her bed. “I love you too,” she replied. “I’ve loved you always.”

Our first time making love. The time after that. The time after that, and the one after that…

And the last time.

Our wedding night.

I filled my head with her face and her eyes and her laugh and her smile and the brush of her fingertips on my skin, and I cast a Shield that we referred to in training as a “Last Resort.”

It meant accepting death. Period.

But Waverly and I are special.

I put my faith in love, and I cast the Shield that I trusted would keep us all safe while all the greatest people I have ever known in my life work to save Waverly from a terrible fate, and protect Alice from anything and anyone who would seek to harm the Earp heir.

Jav said that if it worked, I would slip into a sort of catatonic state. Waverly’s ability to Amplify would allow me to cast a Shield that would cover her and everyone she loved from where I was trapped nine hundred miles away. Using our connection, she would reflect her own immortality onto me, and neither one of us would get sick or age. The energy drain from the whole thing kept me in a sweet spot just outside of death. It was a sort of suspended animation that only Alice would be able to wake me from.

I suppose if she never got the journal, or if for some reason she chose not to come, that Wynonna and I would have just stayed there forever.

Doesn’t bear thinking about.

Anyway, I didn’t know what to anticipate, once I was asleep. Endless blackness, maybe? The last thing I expected was to open my eyes and be back in the cabin.

I sat up and looked around the little bedroom. No one was there. It was dead quiet, which is strange because the cabin is always full of the sounds of nature. The air felt thick and my vision was blurry, like I had a film over my eyes. A sense of intense and disconcerting unreality washed over me and I called Wynonna’s name. Had she left because it hadn’t worked? If it didn’t work, it would make sense that she would go straight for Waverly and Alice. We had briefly discussed a contingency plan in the event that I failed.

I called her name again, but she didn’t answer. Finally, it occurred to me that I could stand up and look around. As soon as I started walking toward the door, I realized I must be in a dream. When I first woke up, the room was bare, dusty, and unlived in, as it has been for years. As I walked toward the door, things started to appear.

Pictures on the wall. A rug on the ground. A hairbrush on the dresser. As they popped into existence, the film over my eyes seemed to lift, and I could see more clearly. I reached the door, turned the knob, and stepped out into the living room.

Sitting on the couch, leaning over the coffee table, was Katie. She had a bunch of board games spread out in front of her. She was shuffling the cards to Candyland. Despite my confusion, I had to smile. It had been our favorite game to play as kids.

Her head came up when she heard me come in. “Hey there, stranger,” she said with a smile. She put her hands on her knees and stood up slowly. Death had healed her wounds and smoothed out all her features. She still had her laugh lines, though.

“Katie?”

I had seen her and hugged her in dreams before, but she had never felt that solid or real.

I held her at arm’s length. I hated the question, but I had to ask. “Am I dead?”

“Dead?” she asked, disbelievingly. “You think this musty old cabin is your afterlife? That’s pretty bleak, Nicole, even for you.”

“I mean, you’re here,” I said uncertainly.

She shook her head. “That’s not how this works, Nik.” She dropped my hands and gestured to the couch. “Sit.” I walked around and sank down onto the sofa. She sat on the coffee table across from me, looking thoughtful.

“Remember how we used to cheat and mess with Brian’s head?” she asked, tapping the stack of cards in the middle of the gameboard. “Poor kid.”

I actually laughed. I can’t remember the last time I laughed. “Oh my god, we used to stack the cards before we played so you and I would get all the good ones. He hated our guts.”

A wave of intense nostalgia hit me. “I really miss you, Katie.” I reached for the blue ginger bread man, the one she always played, and held it in my hands, turning it over and over.

“You won’t be saying that for much longer,” she replied seriously.

“Are you going to stay with me? Have you been here since…” The words got stuck.

“I died?”

Hearing her actually say the word was jarring. “Yeah,” I replied.

She locked eyes with me, her smile disappearing, and said gravely, “No, Nicole. I haven’t been here. You brought us here.” She waved her hand around the room. “All this is your deal.”

“…What?”

“Nicole,” she said, her face adamant. “You chose this place. I’m here because I go wherever you go.”

I was starting to feel a little short of breath.

She took the game piece from me and set it down, replacing it with her hand. “When I died, I was given a choice. I was told one day you might need me. So I could hang around with you, or I could move on.”

She paused. She is a tiny person with a giant presence, and at the moment she was taking up the whole room. “But you’re my best friend. You’re my sister. I didn’t have a choice at all.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“I’m your…well… This will sound dorky and cliché, but I’m your guardian angel. I’ve been looking out for you and the people you love.”

Of course she had.

She swiped at her eyes, annoyed by her own tears. “I watched you spiral after I died. That was hard. I watched you find Shae. I watched you get recruited and become a Guardian. I watched you move to Purgatory, and I watched you fall in love.”

My heart skipped a beat.

Katie’s eyes drilled into me. They are the blue of a clear southern sky.

“Your relationship with Waverly is so beautiful and it’s going to survive this. I understand this sucks, and I understand the next eighteen years are going to be hard, but in the end, you’ll be together. You’ll pick up right where you left off, I promise.”

She was certain, and I never knew Katie to be wrong.

Every word I spoke was an effort. “Katie, thank you. Thank you. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve you. Or Waverly, or Wynonna, or…any of you. I don’t deserve any of you.”

She sat back and looked appalled. “Wait, are you kidding me? You think you don’t deserve us?”

She scooted forward on the couch and waved a hand over my eyes. My vision immediately went dark and was replaced with a series of moving images. Memories.

Carrying Katie home five miles piggy-back style after she broke her leg.**Standing up to a bully who was making fun of the new girl at school.**Volunteering at the homeless shelter in high school.**Teaching Hayley to ride a bike.**Taking another soldier’s ruck sack from him when he was lagging behind on a march.**Performing CPR in Iraq**Rescuing a puppy and tucking him into my body armor when we were on patrol.**Playing soccer with little kids in Afghanistan.**Holding Katie’s hair back as she threw up after getting terrible food poisoning.**Pulling extra guard duty shifts so one of the sergeants could spend time talking to his wife and little boy over Skype.**Leaning over my best friend’s hospital bed and whispering, “I love you,” in her ear as I unplugged the machine keeping her alive.** Coming home from deployment and running to Shae in the airport, lifting her up and swinging her around while people applauded us.**Encouraging Jav to ask Michael to marry him**Taking a bullet for Waverly.**Dancing her around my living room and singing her a song while she laughed.** Telling Wynonna the story about the day Katie died to lessen the pain of having to kill her own sister.** Pulling the widow off Waverly to save her and getting bitten.** Resting my hand on Wynonna’s belly so I could feel Alice kick me**Waverly and I getting Alice out of Purgatory**Sliding a ring onto Waverly’s finger in the Pastor’s dining room.**Taking the drain on myself to save Waverly when we tethered Bulshar**Driving to this cabin, clutching Wynonna’s hand.

Making the ultimate sacrifice. To save Waverly. To save Alice.

When I opened my eyes she smiled and said, “Now do you understand? You are one in eight billion, Nicole Haught. All the awful shit you’ve suffered through, all the horror you’ve endured…you’ve only gotten better. All you’ve ever done is sacrificed more and tried harder. YOU are extraordinary.”

“These years will be hard, I’m not going to lie to you, but this is the price you agreed to pay.” She paused and changed her tone.

“Plus, you have me, we have about a hundred board games, AND I just found a ‘Best of Britney” playlist. I think you’re able to conjure up just about anything you want while we’re here, so I’m going to go ahead and put in a request for a karaoke machine.”

She stood up and offered me her hand. “Come on, let’s go outside. It’s too stuffy in here.”

Everything still hurt, but Katie’s presence was like a balm on the shredded tissue that remained of my heart.

//

I passed the next eighteen years with my best friend, for the most part. She came and went without explaining herself, and I didn’t question it.

We spent a lot of time just talking, about everything and nothing in particular. One of our favorite games to play was, “what do you think Alice is doing right now?” She mostly let me speculate, her eyes twinkling, like she knew something I didn’t.

On the morning of Alice’s eighteen birthday (and my eighteenth wedding anniversary) Katie was gone, but that wasn’t uncommon. When a few hours passed and she still hadn’t reappeared, I started to worry.

Right on cue, I heard the sound of her rocking chair’s runners squeaking on the wooden floor of the porch beside me.

I turned my head to look at her and she smiled at me. “Happy anniversary, Nicole.”

“It’s been eighteen years,” I said.

“Eighteen years,” she confirmed. “Waverly gave Alice the letter and the journal. It’s only a matter of time now.” She paused, considering. “From start to finish, I’d say it won’t take longer than two or three weeks.”

Katie leaned over to look directly at the empty chair beside me. “She’s a smart kid.”

I never sat in that chair. Somehow I knew it was Wynonna’s.

Three weeks was nothing in the face of eighteen years, but somehow it still felt like an eternity.

Katie waited patiently for me to ask the question she knew I would ask.

“Katie…what’s going to happen to you? When I wake up?”

She rocked her chair back and forth and lifted her face to the breeze. Her hair was so long it had started to curl at the ends. She was beautiful.

But there was something else. It had been going on for weeks, but it wasn’t until right then that I understood what I was seeing.

She was fading.

She put her hands on the arm rests and got to her feet, turning to face me.

“I’ll move on, Nicole. Souls aren’t meant to hang around forever.” She paused. “I mean, unless it’s for a really good reason, like getting in epic pillow battles and creating endless dance routines to ‘Toxic.’”

Yep, the edges of her body were just a little blurry.

“But where will you go?”

“I can’t tell you right now,” she replied. “But I promise one day you’ll find out.”

//

Alice
March 2035

When the GPS lady told me I had reached my destination, I thought she was just confused.

I had taken a paved road to a less paved road to a gravel road and finally ended up on a dirt road that had no business calling itself a road at all. It was mainly just a stretch where there was less grass.

My “destination” was nowhere. I hadn’t seen a single house for at least five miles. All I could see out of the window of my parked rental car was foliage and thick underbrush. Man, Georgia is so green it hurts your eyes.

I thought about calling Jav, who was at the hotel, to see what he thought, but I decided he wouldn’t know either and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the agreement. I also have to get out of the habit of calling adults for help, now that I am one and all.

Nicole wrote in her last entry that I would know what to do. She was right. I read the whole thing as fast as I could, sitting in Javion’s living room. As soon as I got done, I asked him how soon we could get a flight out to Atlanta. He called Dolls, who hired us a private jet.

I went home and told Aunt Waverly I was staying the weekend at my friend’s house, which is technically true. I’ve never lied to her a day in my life and I won’t start now. We arrived in Atlanta about six hours after I read Nicole’s last entry. We probably could have gotten here faster, but Jav insisted I pack a bag.

I checked and double-checked the address I had gotten off the deed. I was definitely in the right spot. I decided that the driveway must have gotten overgrown after all these years, so I got out and started walking down the side of the “road.”

I hadn’t gotten farther than two steps when a gate appeared. It literally materialized out of thin air like I had suddenly gotten transported into a Harry Potter novel (which honestly would be fine with me.) The gate was chain link and there was a wooden sign on it that said “Epperson.” I ran my fingers over the faded lettering. I’d only ever read about this family in a journal, seeing the sign made them real people to me and I choked up a little. They’re Nicole’s family as much as we are. Poor Beth, she hasn’t heard from Nicole in eighteen years.

Family is all that matters. I squared my shoulders.

There was a padlock on the gate, but I just climbed over it. Locks rarely deter me. I started walking down a long driveway that had not been there while I was still in my car. It was mostly gravel and it crunched as I walked, so I slowed down and tried to be quieter. I couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of me because the foliage was so dense and the track was so winding. I must have walked for about ten minutes before I came to a clearing.

In the middle of the clearing, there was a small, rustic-looking log cabin. And when I say log cabin, I mean straight up built out of logs. I’m from Chicago, I’ve never seen such a marvel of lumberjackery in my life. The house had a large wrap-around porch, and sitting in a rocking chair, facing away from me, was a woman.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was looking at my doppelganger, or my future self. She couldn’t see me, but I could see her, so for a while, I just looked.

This woman, who I had spent my whole life idolizing, was sitting there not a hundred feet in front of me, just as real as I am. She had the thick, luscious hair that Nicole was always describing, the same exact color as mine except for a few streaks of gray. She was wearing a leather jacket. Even though she was sitting, I could tell we were about the same height and weight. I knew when I looked into her face, it would feel like looking in the mirror. Pictures just did not do her justice.

I walked toward her as stealthily as possible, wanting to observe her for a little longer before she noticed me. When I was about twenty feet from the porch I snapped a twig and froze.

She turned and our eyes met.

Her expression was alert and defensive. Her right hand flew down and smacked the butt of the gun sticking out of her boot. But then she must have realized who I was because the cast of her features changed instantly from thunderstorm to sunny day.

She stood up so quickly she knocked the rocking chair over backwards. I had already closed most of the distance between us as she vaulted over the railing. She stumbled a little when she hit the ground, but by then I was already on her, and I hit her like a linebacker. Her imbalance and my momentum carried us backwards a few steps, and then we were laying sprawled out in the dirt together, holding onto one another for dear life. I could feel her hands grabbing handfuls of my jacket as she pulled me as close to her as humanly possible.

“Alice,” she whispered. Her voice was the croak you’d expect from long disuse.

“Mama, Mama, Mama,” I repeated, over and over again. I’d spent my whole life fantasizing about that moment. Dreaming that a day would come that I would find out that she was alive after all. I’d think about hugging her, smelling her hair, feeling her kiss my forehead, hearing her say my name. All of that was happening.

I had to let go for a second to pinch myself because it was so unreal.

Neither of us could pull away long enough to even look at each other. We probably rolled around in that dirt and sand for anywhere from five to twenty minutes. Finally we both sat up, facing each other. Mama had tears pouring down her cheeks. She reached forward and cupped my face, looking into my eyes. They were the same color as mine. Our faces were exact replicas. If it weren’t for the age difference you’d have thought we were twins. She ran her hands over my cheeks, through my hair, down my neck, and over every square inch of me she could reach, as if to make sure I was real. She couldn’t stop saying my name.

“Mama,” I said finally, reaching to grab her wrist as her hand roamed over my side. “I’m real. You’re not hallucinating. I’m really here.”

“You are,” she said. She cleared her throat and swallowed. “You really are, aren’t you? I’ve been dreaming of this day for a long time, kid. You are so beautiful.”

I smiled at her and used my thumb to wipe a tear off her cheek. “Mama, I look just like you.”

We just sat there gawking. We probably would have sat there for the next hour if I didn’t speak up. “I finished Aunt Nicole’s journal. I came here with Jav right after, he’s at the hotel. Only he and I know right now.”

“You did it,” she said. “I can’t believe this is happening.” Her voice was still rusty but getting clearer. “Sorry, don’t get up to much talking these days.”

I’ve heard her voice in my head for years, never fully realizing who it belonged to.

She smiled and kissed my hand. “I am so proud of you, baby. How’s your Aunt Waverly?”

“She’s good,” I said. I was glad I could answer this question honestly. “You’re gonna be pissed, though. She hasn’t aged a day.” I smiled.

Mama laughed and rolled her eyes. The sound of her laugh was heaven. “Nicole hasn’t aged, either.”

Huh?

“Wait, really? Why? Where is she, anyway?”

She looked very reluctant to answer. “Baby girl,” she said, standing up and putting her hand out to pull me to my feet as well. “I have some bad news for you. Nicole is asleep. She has been for the past eighteen years.”

I stopped brushing the dirt off of my pants to stare at her.

“The last Shield she cast was the most powerful kind. The connection between her and your Aunt Waverly kept her alive, but barely. She just kind of…” She looked off into the distance and sighed, sticking her hands in her pockets. “Exists.”

What struck me the hardest was knowing Mama had been alone this entire time. She had been all by herself for eighteen years.

“Come on,” she said. “I’ll take you to see her.”

She reached for my hand and led me up the porch steps into the house. The main living area was sparse. All that she had was some furniture the Eppersons had left behind and whatever Dolls had been able to send her via supply drop. It really wasn’t much.

She opened a door that led into a small bedroom. It felt much more homey and lived-in than the main room. The furniture consisted of a bed, a chair, and a table. There was a large open window that overlooked the chair Mama had been sitting in. The room smelled like Georgia breeze and lilac and just a hint of vanilla. There was a radio playing music softly and whole bunch of books and a photo album on the table.

Mama had clearly spent almost all of her time in here with Nicole, who was asleep in the bed.

I couldn’t believe it. I was about halfway through her journal when I figured out she was probably still alive, but I had never anticipated this.

She was still wearing the uniform she had on when they had arrived. It was clean, but faded. Her hair was the same length and color, her skin was flawless and smooth, and her eyes were hidden under thick black eyelashes. Mama was right, she hadn’t aged a day.

I reached out and gently picked up her left hand. Her wedding band was on her ring finger. The white gold band with the design on it, Aunt Waverly’s ring, was on her pinky finger. I gave her hand a squeeze.

“Hello, Aunt Nicole,” I said. I sort of half-sat on the bed beside her. “Nice to finally meet you in person. I feel like I’ve known you for years.” I paused, considering. “Time to wake up,” I said, like that’s all it would take.

I glanced at Mama, who was standing off to one side, watching intently. “I don’t know what to do,” I said.

“Probably whatever seems right,” she answered. “Listen. Sometimes if you tell your mind to shut up, the right thing will come to you out of the clear blue sky.”

That’s true, I do that a lot. Of course, now I know the voice I’ve heard all these years was Mama’s. I sat very still and cleared my head and just listened.

That time when the voice spoke, it didn’t sound like Mama or Aunt Waverly or anyone else I knew. But the instructions the voice gave me were loud and clear.

I nodded and leaned all the way forward so I could whisper in Nicole’s ear. I took a breath and closed my eyes. “Wake up, Aunt Nicole. It’s Alice. I finished reading your journal and I’m here to get you. We’re safe and we need you to come home.”

I drew back and watched. I don’t think I actually expected it to work, so when bright caramel-colored eyes suddenly appeared, I jumped a little and froze, giving her a minute to adjust. She focused on me with effort.

“Wynonna!” she gasped. Her voice was even more crackly than Mama’s had been. “Wynonna, Alice is here!” she managed. I tightened my grip on the hand I was holding.

“Aunt Nicole, it’s me. I’m Alice.”

“What? Baby Alice?”

I smiled and did my best to hold the tears at bay. “Grown-up Alice,” I corrected gently.

I watched the realization slowly dawn in her eyes. They were so warm and soft and full of love that all I could think about was Aunt Waverly missing that expression for the past eighteen years.

“Alice,” she whispered. “Oh, Alice. You look just like her.” She kept having to pause because her voice was so hoarse. “You look just like your Mama but…you look a little like your Aunt Waverly, too.” She had tears in her eyes.

“Aunt Nicole, she’s okay. I’m going to take you to her, alright? It’s over. The curse, the spell on the cabin, everything. Dolls is in charge of The Firm, there’s no danger anymore. It’s over. You did it.”

“It’s over,” she repeated, disbelief evident in her voice. “But Waverly…”

I remembered her last journal entry. Her constant insecurity, all the guilt she burdened herself with. I could see it all right there on her face.

I gripped her shoulder. “Aunt Waverly loves you,” I told her truthfully. “She loves you. You’re all she ever thinks about. She…”

How could I even describe it? How could I describe to her the depth to which Aunt Waverly had missed her? The tattered journal pages, the Spotify playlist, the pictures, all the crying when she thought I wasn’t looking, her letter to me on my birthday, the complete dearth of any romantic relationships for all these years.

“…Aunt Nicole, she loves you as much today as she did eighteen years ago when you got married. I swear it. I’ve never even seen her look twice at anyone else.”

Nicole was staring at me like I had pulled the stars out of the sky and handed them to her. I could see she was searching my face for any evidence of exaggeration. When she couldn’t find any, she hit me with the prettiest smile I think I’ve ever seen. Britney have mercy, I don’t blame Aunt Waverly for her infatuation one bit.

I hadn’t noticed Mama had left until she came back in the room with a glass of water. As soon as Nicole saw her, she said “Wynonna,” her voice cracking.

I scooted over so Mama could sit, too. “Welcome back, Haught Sauce. Doin’ okay?”

“Peachy,” Nicole said, the corner of her mouth curling.

Mama hugged her. Her voice was muffled, but I heard her say, “Thank you, Nicole.”

Nicole said, “No, Wynonna. Thank you.” As she said it, she looked directly at me.

//

“We have to go home,” Nicole told Mama. “I need to see her.” She started to try to get out of bed. Mama pushed her back down.

“Not so fast. We’re going to take this one step at a time. We’ve been here for a long time, we can stay another couple hours while you learn to walk again.”

Nicole slumped back down onto the bed, pouting. I got up and retrieved the photo album from the table and sat in the chair next to the bed.

“Alice, is Javion here?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah! He can probably get onto the property now,” I speculated. “Okay, I just messaged him.”

Nicole was staring at me like I had three heads. “No, you didn’t.”

We looked at each other all wonky for a minute until I realized almost two decades of technology had come and gone without her awareness. I tapped the side of my head. “My ‘cell phone’ is up here now. I have an implant, like you. Well, not like a Guardian implant, it’s more like pictures of other people’s food and dogs and stuff.”

She looked baffled.

“You know, like Instagram? But in my brain.”

Nothing.

“You know what? Never mind. But I’m going to start calling you Aunt Gus.”

Javion texted back a bunch of exclamation points and “I’m on my way.” I told Nicole as much and she looked thrilled. Mama pulled another chair into the room so the three of us could all sit together and talk.

I opened the photo album. It was made up entirely of pictures of me as a little kid.

“I got that on your eighth birthday with a supply drop from Dolls,” Mama explained. “He pinched it from your house when he was over visiting you guys one time.”

Good old Dolls. I had always known him as “X.” He came by the house every few months or so when he was able, always bringing me the absolute best toys. Little Alice started to think he was her own personal Santa.

Mama pursed her lips and dropped her eyes. She patted her chest, feeling for something to fiddle with. I realized she was missing her necklace. She must have been making that same gesture for years, always coming up empty-handed. I tried to take it off and give it to her, but she shook her head.

“That’s yours now, baby girl.”

I squeezed the end of the necklace and smiled at her.

I started to flip through the album and we chuckled at pictures of me taking my first steps, running around naked, sitting on Aunt Waverly’s shoulders. Every time we passed a page with a picture including Aunt Waverly, Nicole would stop me and say, “Wait, can you go back?”

Mama was looking at me more than she was looking at the pictures. It occurred to me that she’d probably already memorized them all and now she was trying to memorize my face.

I was about halfway through when I stopped on one of me riding my first bike with training wheels. In it, Aunt Waverly is behind me with her hand on my back, her eyes squinched up and her nose all wrinkled like it gets when she laughs really hard. I stared at it for a long time, because I remembered that day clearly. It was one of those perfect childhood moments that stick around in your memory forever.

I yanked my eyes away from the picture and looked back and forth between Mama and Nicole’s blue and brown ones.

I needed them to understand how much I appreciated what they had done for me.

“I need to tell you both something.” I closed the album and reached out for each of their hands. “I want you both to know that I had an incredible childhood. I've always just felt really lucky. After reading your journal, Aunt Nicole, I feel like I understand what it used to mean to be the Earp heir, but I never knew any of that. I've only ever been happy.”

I swallowed. The looks on their faces were killing me. “Mama, I was sad that I never got to know your or Daddy, and I missed you both so much, but Aunt Waverly and Aunt Gus took care of me and they told me all about you. I always knew you loved me, even though you were gone.” I was crying. Shit.

I faced Nicole “Aunt Nicole, I barely even know what to say to you. You could have left with Aunt Waverly. You gave each other up…for me.”

I stopped talking because it was getting too hard to speak on account of the cotton mouth.

“It was worth it,” said Aunt Nicole very softly. “We would go back and do it all again right now, if we had to.”

She turned to Mama for confirmation, and she nodded at her. “A thousand times over.”

Nicole was right. They are two faces of the same coin.

//

A half hour after I texted Javion, I heard a knock at the door. I ran to answer it and yanked him in by the front of his shirt.

“She’s awake, Big J. Come on,” I said, dragging him to the room despite his protests that he was a big boy and he could walk. Mama smiled and nodded at him as he ducked through the doorway. Nicole immediately started to try and stand up.

He was over to her in two strides, picking her up off the bed and bear-hugging her like she was a rag doll while Mama and I cringed. I’m not sure Javion has any real concept of the word “fragile.” He set her down on the bed, and without saying anything, put one hand on her shoulder and the other on the side of her face and closed his eyes. Nicole’s eyes drifted shut as well, and when she opened them, he let go and stepped back.

“Alright, girl. Now try.”

Nicole slid off the bed and onto her feet. She crossed the room to the door and back easily. She stretched her arms overhead and grinned. “Thanks, Jav.”

“What about the ear?” he asked inexplicably.

Nicole rubbed at her right ear and frowned. “Still busted.” She shrugged. “Oh, well. I have a spare.”

He gathered me up in a hug, too. “Good job, little Alice,” he told me softly. “I knew you could do it.” He walked over to Mama and put his hand out. She shook it. “Hello, Wynonna. Your daughter is every bit as beautiful as you are.”

“And twice as feisty,” she added proudly.

Jav sat beside Nicole on the bed. He made a divot in the middle so big that Nicole fell into it and had to claw her way out. The two of us regaled Mama and Nicole with everything that had happened after I finished reading the very last journal entry, which for the most part just consisted of us sleeping on the plane and drooling all over each other. A part of me wishes the whole thing was a little more heroic, but a bigger part of me is glad that it didn’t have to be.

When we finished telling the story, Jav started looking around the room and he spied the photo album. He walked over, bent down, and examined a picture of me at five, holding Calamity Jane, who was distraught because I had dressed her in doll clothes.

He grinned at the picture, then looked very thoughtful. He straightened up and crossed the room to Mama, lifting his hands and letting them hover on either side of her head. She was staring at him like he had lost his mind.

“May I?” He asked gently.

Mama caught my eyes and gave me a confused look.

“It’s fine, Mama.” I’ve learned it’s best to just go along with Jav’s shenanigans.

“Okay,” she told him hesitantly. He rested his giant palms on her temples and closed his eyes. At first, Mama’s eyes stayed open, but after a couple of seconds, her lips parted and her eyes fluttered closed, too. After about a minute, she started to slump in her chair and I crossed the room speedily to put my arm around her shoulders and steadied her.

When Jav finally let go, she looked astonished. She raised her hands slowly and she touched the sides of her head where his hands had been, like something precious lived there now.

“Thank you,” she whispered to him.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “Jeremy has been collecting them from your Aunt Gus ever since Alice was a baby. He knew you’d want them one day.”

At first I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about, and then it hit me.

He had flooded her brain with memories of me growing up. She was no longer limited to snapshots in a photo album, she could see it all happening in detail through Gus’s eyes, thanks to Jeremy’s telepathy and thoughtfulness.

“Wait, can you scrub the ones of me potty training?” I asked him with a frown.

Mama smacked me lightly. “You’re not scrubbing anything. These are amazing.”

Nicole was watching us. “It sounds amazing,” she said softly. She was clutching a picture of Aunt Waverly and me on my sixth birthday. She looked like she would have cut off her right leg to have access to eighteen years’ worth of memories of her wife.

They could make new memories together, though.

“Hey, you guys?” I said. I met blue eyes, caramel eyes, and brown eyes in turn.

“Let’s go home.”

//

The drive from the airport to our house is about half an hour. Jav was driving with Nicole riding shotgun and Mama and I were in the backseat snuggling. Other than for bathroom breaks, I don’t think the two of us had been separated for longer than ten minutes since I found her. If she thinks I’m not going to make her sleep in my bed with me tonight, she’s wrong.

She and I didn’t feel the need to talk much. I think over the years she’s gotten accustomed to the silence. We mostly just held hands and listened to Javion and Nicole banter and rib on each other. Listening to their verbal dialogue after having read it for weeks in a journal was funny and endearing. Their conversation focused mainly on how he and Dolls had taken over The Firm, and while I was interested, I knew I’d have plenty of time to ask them all about it later.

I was more curious about something else.

Keeping my voice down so they wouldn’t overhear, I asked, “Mama, all those years you were by yourself, and Nicole was asleep…what did you do? How did you stay sane, all alone like that?”

I was sitting between her legs, with the back of my shoulders and head against her chest. Her arms were wrapped around me. I couldn’t see her face and she didn’t give any indication that she had heard me, but I waited her out.

“I wasn’t alone,” she said so quietly I could barely hear her.

“You mean you had Nicole?”

My body jerked a little when she laughed with no real amusement.

“No, baby girl. I did sit with her every day, but she wasn’t very talkative.”

I smiled. Mama’s humor is very dry and a little dark, like mine. Sometimes when I make jokes, Aunt Waverly and Aunt Gus give each other this look like, “Where did she come from?” Now I know.

She continued. “No, my demons kept me company.”

“Not the literal kind,” I muttered.

She stroked my hair. “No,” she said. “The kind that live in your head. They kept it to a dull roar during the day, but they rioted at night. Know what I mean?”

I didn’t. I understood what she was saying, but I shook my head slowly. “No, Mama. I don’t,” I said honestly. “I’ve never had the opportunity to meet a demon, literal or otherwise.”

I could feel her breath on the top of my head as she exhaled shakily. “Thank god.”

I shifted my body so I could look her in the face. “No, ma. Thank YOU.”

She smiled at me through her tears and I wiped them away with my thumbs.

“Did they ever go away? Your demons?” I asked when she seemed to have collected herself.

“Yeah,” she said firmly, sniffing and rubbing her nose impatiently. “Yeah, they did. It took a long time to drive them all out, but I had a weapon on my side that they couldn’t stand up to in the end.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. “Like peacemaker?”

She put her hand on the side of my face and spoke every word like it was both her downfall and her salvation. “No, baby. Like you. Darkness can’t stand up to love like that.” She pulled me forward and pressed her lips to my forehead. I felt my hair getting wet from her tears.

Nicole’s journal revealed to me that Mama made the ultimate sacrifice by giving me up in order to save me.

I never anticipated that for all these years, I’d also been saving her.

“I love you, Mama.” It felt so good to finally say it out loud to my living, breathing mother, in the flesh.

“I have loved you since the day I found out you existed, baby girl,” she whispered.

She let me go and tried to dry the top of my head with her shirt, but I stopped her, turned around, and settled back, wrapping her arms around me again. She tucked her head in the crook of my shoulder.

A few moments passed, and then she spoke again. “Actually, there was someone else there too, sometimes,” she said hesitantly, like she was afraid I would tell her she was crazy.

“A girl. She was about your age. Short, blue eyes, blonde hair. Real pretty. She wasn’t there all the time, but when things got really bad for me, she would show up and…” she hugged me tighter. “She would tell me about you. Where you were, what you were doing. She pulled me through some rough spots.”

Blue eyes and blonde hair. Sounded familiar.

“That’s really strange,” I said. “I had an imaginary friend when I was little that looked just like that.” I had forgotten all about her.

“What was her name?” Mama asked.

“I think she said it was Katie.” I stopped talking abruptly. I felt like I had just zapped myself with a wall socket.

I never made the connection until that moment.

//

When we pulled up in front of the house, I told everyone to stay put and ran inside to find Aunt Waverly and Gus. Aunt Gus was probably at binko or bungo or whatever it is that old ladies do, but Aunt Wave was usually home on Sunday afternoon, doing chores.

Jav told me it was important that he see her before she saw Wynonna and Nicole. I can imagine it might fry a few brain cells to suddenly come face to face with two people who you’ve spent eighteen years believing were dead.

Sure enough, she was in the kitchen doing dishes. She had her earbuds in and she was singing a song I recognized as being one of the ones she associates with Nicole. I had to take a minute to calm my heart down before I crept back out into the hallway and sprinted for the front door, leaning out and waving the three of them in. I stuffed them on the stairs to the basement and shut the door, hoping Calamity Jane wouldn’t smell Nicole and blow their cover.

I went back into the kitchen and tapped Aunt Waverly on the shoulder. She pulled her earbuds out and smiled at me. I was vibrating out of my skin with excitement.

“Hey, baby girl. You’re home earlier than I expected. You have a good weekend?”

My efforts to control the shit-eating grin that kept popping up on my face were futile. She was going to think I snapped. “Yeah actually, I had an amazing weekend. But hey, Aunt Waverly? Can you sit down with me for a second? And where’s Aunt Gus?”

Lines appeared on her forehead but she grabbed a dishtowel and sat down. She watched me warily and answered, “Aunt Gus is at bunko, you know that.”

Oh, good deal. Perfect.

I jumped right in. No use beating around the bush. “So…you know Mr. Jasper? From four houses down?” I asked.

“Yes…” she trailed off, frowning and wiping her hands really slowly, staring at me the way aunts do when they know you’ve done something wrong, but they don’t know what yet.

“Okay, good. He’s going to come in here in a minute to talk to you.”

There was a pause, and then her face changed from cautious interest to irritation with a dash of barely disguised amusement. “Alice Michelle,” she said, smacking the towel down on the kitchen table. “You are eighteen years old. What was it this time? His lawn gnomes? You’re about to go to college this year, you can’t still be stealing people’s lawn ornaments!”

Indignant, I protested, “I did NOT steal his lawn gnomes! I haven’t stolen a single small and adorable weather-resistant humanoid in years!”

Well, okay, “years” was a bit of an embellishment. “Months” would have been more accurate.

She wasn’t buying it and I don’t blame her. “Look, I’ll prove it to you,” I said, then called “Jav!” over my shoulder.

Big J came stooping into the room and smiled at Aunt Wave, trying to pretend that he wasn’t just about as big as our whole kitchen.

“Hello, Ms. Earp,” he greeted her.

Uh excuse me sir, that’s Dr. Haught to you, but I’ll let it slide this time.

“Hello, Jasper,” she said sweetly. “Do you want anything to drink?” She started to get up. He put his big paw up and shook his head, sitting down next to her. The chair made an ominous noise and I braced myself for him to fall through the bottom, but it held up.

“Do you remember me?” he asked frankly. Boy, do I love a man who will just cut to the chase.

Aunt Waverly looked baffled. “You’re…you’re Jasper from down the street,” she said uncertainly.

“Well, sure. But do I look like anyone to you? Maybe you remember seeing a picture of someone who looked like me? Or maybe at some point Nicole mentioned a seven foot tall bald black dude that she was good friends with?”

Aunt Waverly visibly startled at the mention of Nicole’s name. Other than hearing it from me in the past few weeks, she probably never heard it at all for the past eighteen years, other than in her own head.

She spaced out a little, deep in thought, and finally said “Actually…I do remember her mentioning someone that fit your description.”

He looked pleased. “Waverly, my name isn’t Jasper. It’s Javion. Javion Hamilton. I’m a dear friend of your…”

He caught himself before he said “wife” and cleared his throat. Wow, way to almost blow our cover, Big J. He made an “eek” face at me and I scowled at him.

“…Of Nicole’s,” he finished.

Aunt Waverly was staring at him like she was seeing a ghost.

“The reason I’m telling you this is because I need you to trust me. Alice trusts me, don’t you, sugar?”

“Much farther than I could throw you, that’s for sure,” I remarked.

“Uh huh,” he said. He winked at me, then he grew very solemn and said to Aunt Waverly, “Honey, I’m here to help you. I can make you feel better.”

I watched her stiffen. Her eyes narrowed. “I feel fine,” she said in an extremely unconvincing tone.

Big J leaned against the table on his forearms and gave her the ol’ laser eyes. “You sure?”

She held his gaze for a moment, but she’s never been one for staring contests so she dropped it almost immediately and looked at her hands sadly. “No,” she said in a quiet voice. I made an angry face at him and scooted my chair over next to her and took one of her hands. I understood what he was trying to do, but no one upsets my Aunt Waverly in front of me.

“No,” he repeated gently. “Will you let me help you?” He looked back and forth between the two of us. I gave Aunt Waverly’s hand a gentle squeeze.

“Let him help you, Aunt Waves,” I told her. She turned to face me.

“Alice, what is this?”

“You have to just trust me. Please.”

Her features twitched. She was trying not to cry. I could tell what she really wanted to do was run and hide from this. Instead, she said “Okay,” showing a little of her outstanding backbone and turning to face Jav. “I trust you.”

He got off his chair and knelt in front of her so they were almost at eye level. He reached his big hands up to hover on either side of her head. “On the count of three, I want you to close your eyes and clear your mind. This will feel a little funny, but it won’t hurt. Ready?”

She closed her eyes and nodded. Jav counted down. On three, he rested his palms on her temples the same way he had done with Mama. For three long minutes, he just held her like that. They were both absolutely still. I could feel my heart slamming against my ribs and I was fidgeting madly with Mama’s necklace, which I had hidden under my shirt.

When her eyes finally opened, they were full of tears and she was gasping, clutching at me for stability. Jav immediately let go and sat back.

“What? Alice…what? They…they’re alive? Are they alive?” She whirled toward Jav and said angrily, “Are you messing with me? What did you just do?”

I grabbed for her hand again and dragged her back around so she was looking at me. “He fixed your memories, Aunt Waverly. Don’t you remember? Nicole told you in eighteen years you’d get your memories back.”

Her eyes got enormous. “What? How do you know that? Wait, how do I know that?”

“The memories you had all these years were false, Aunt Wave. You sacrificed your true memories to save us all. Do you remember?"

She was shaking her head slowly and gripping her temples. I don’t blame her, it was a lot to take in. I pulled her hands away from her head and she gave me a desperate look. She was resisting the real memories because she thought they were fake. She was fighting not to get her hopes up.

With that, I decided that “show” was far superior to “tell.” I told Aunt Waverly to sit tight for a minute. I dashed into the hallway and pulled open the basement door, crowding onto the stairs with Mama and Aunt Nicole and shutting the door behind me.

Mama was scowling at me. “Seriously, kid? How much longer you going to keep us trapped in this dank basement? ”

“You get to come out now. Aunt Nicole, I’m sorry, can you hang out a little longer? She’s having a hard time with this and I don’t want to overload her too much and cause brain damage.”

Nicole’s jaw dropped in horror. Whoops. Why does she have to be so literal?

“No, no I’m kidding,” I reassured her. Mama punched my arm.

I grabbed Mama by her punching hand and pulled her upstairs and through the door. Her eyes widened at the sound of Aunt Waverly’s voice coming from the kitchen, talking to Jav. We stopped just outside the door.

“You used to steal Javion’s garden gnomes?” Mama asked in a whisper.

“Uh huh,” I hissed back.

“Why?”

“I like to hide them in strategic locations around the house for Aunt Gus to find.”

Bathtub, bedroom closet, passenger seat of her car, etc. High comedy.

She was shaking her head and grinning, all dimples, looking like she just won the kid lottery.

“Ready?” I asked her.

“Ready.”

We walked into the kitchen together. When Aunt Waverly looked up and saw us, I felt a little bad because she was even more confused than Nicole had been when she woke up. We must have looked like one of those olden days Double Mint gum commercials. Her eyes bounced back and forth between us until they finally settled squarely on Mama.

Her hands flew up to her face and she immediately started crying, sitting back in her chair. “Wynonna?”

Mama was across the room and to her in seconds. Aunt Waverly stood up and the two of them slammed together, stumbling a little and hugging each other desperately.

“Baby girl,” Mama whispered to Aunt Waverly.

Wait, I thought that was my nickname?

“Wynonna,” Aunt Waverly sobbed. She was gripping Mama so hard her knuckles were white. I smiled at Javion and he held his fist out to me. I bumped it.

He leaned toward me and whispered, “Nicole?”

I tore my eyes away from my mother and auntie for long enough to nod and say, “In just a minute.”

I walked over to the two of them and they immediately opened their arms and crushed me into the hug. I let the sheer warmth and love of it run through me for a second before I pulled back and looked Mama in the eye with a question on my face.

She nodded.

I turned around and walked back to the basement and opened the door. Nicole gave me that soft half smile of hers. She was teary-eyed, and it occurred to me that she could probably hear her Waverly’s voice through the door.

“Sorry,” I said, grabbing her hand. “I know it sucks to make you wait until last, but I knew you could handle it.”

She chuckled. “I get it.”

I was about to bring her to the kitchen, when I realized I was an idiot and shook my head, turning around and pulling her toward the stairs to the second floor instead.

“Change of plans,” I told her. I heard her make an inquisitive noise but I ignored it and led her up the stairs.

“Alice, what?” she asked, confused.

I stopped in front of Aunt Waverly’s bedroom door and gestured for Nicole to go in. She looked in at the room, tentative. I saw her expression change and her eyes close when Aunt Waverly’s smell hit her and she saw the pictures on the wall. She stepped through the door and looked all around, her mouth open a little. She turned in a slow circle, taking it all in, until she was facing me again.

It was striking how young she looked. At 26, she was only eight years older than me. She looked like she had stepped directly out of 2017. I practically could have conjured her from the pages of her journal, if it weren’t for her eyes. Behind those eyes there was more pain and more strength and more love than most people could amass in their hearts in multiple lifetimes.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

I gave her a disbelieving look. I knew she was smarter than that. “Aunt Nicole,” I said, crossing my arms in front of me. “You’re about to see your wife for the first time in eighteen years. Girl, I’ve read your entire journal from cover to cover.”

She folded her hands in front of her and pursed her lips, looking contrite but amused.

I crossed the room and pulled open the bedside table drawer and found the journal pages I hadn’t read. “Well, almost all of it,” I finished, handing the pages to her. “She kept these to herself.”

She took them, looking flummoxed, but then read the first couple of sentences and started to blush. The dimple she always talked about giving her away popped out and did just that: gave her away. I rolled my eyes, shut the door, and went back downstairs.

Aunt Waverly was sitting with Mama in the kitchen, holding her hand. I walked over and sat down beside them. “Hey, Aunt Waverly?” The look she had on her face was giving me the warm fuzzies.

“Can you go upstairs for a minute? Someone wants to see you.” I was grinning like a lunatic and Mama was smirking, too.

She looked back and forth between me, Mama, and Javion, not quite daring to believe, and then flew out of her chair and raced down the hallway.

I looked at Mama and Big J and asked them if they wanted to go out for a bite.

I had a feeling it was in our best interests to make ourselves scarce.

//

Journal Entry #23
Early March 2035

I stood in Waverly’s room waiting for Alice to send her up with my heart in my throat and the pages of my old journal in my hand. I was trying to figure out why they were laminated, when I realized it was because they had started to get worn out.

Like they had been read over and over and over again.

It made me feel a little faint.

I paced around her room, waiting for her. The room smelled just the way I remember her hair smelling, but there was a different undertone that was familiar, too. It took me a minute to figure out that I was smelling myself: it was vanilla. She must’ve still had that old bottle of body spray, or maybe she’d replenished it over the years.

I didn’t know why the thought of that made me feel kind of happy. Relieved.

Well, yes I did.

I woke up at the cabin this morning just as heartsick and head over heels in love as I was the night I married her eighteen years ago. My feelings never changed, but I’d been so afraid that hers had. I spent all those years stuck on hiatus while Waverly was living her life.

She had pictures all over the wall of her room. Most were of her and Alice, many were of her and Wynonna, but only a few were of the two of us. We never got the chance to take that many pictures back then, our lives were so hectic, what with the constant brushes with death and all. The only pictures she had framed on her bedside table were of us. I remembered taking every single one of them. Over the table was a bulletin board and tacked in the lower right corner was my old business card.

“Nicole Haught: Purgatory Sheriff’s Deputy.”

That was another life. I was a different person.

I had a lot of time to think these past eighteen years. Thankfully, I also had the world’s best (albeit sassiest) counselor. A lot has changed for me.

But one thing has not.

I could hear the sound of her feet running up the stairs. I had barely set the journal pages down and scraped my heart off the ceiling when she was through the door and barreling into me. She knocked me straight backward onto the bed and the warmth of her body on top of me was pure heaven.

We just laid like that for a long time, completely still, not saying a word. Her arms squeezed me hard enough to make my old rib injuries hurt a little, but I didn’t care. I doubt I could have escaped even if I wanted to, and I never, ever wanted to. Just listening to the sound of her breathing was like listening to the sweetest music in the world. Like the morning tide.

Finally, she sat up a little so she was resting over me on her forearms. Her lower lip was trembling and tears were pouring down her face. She was even more beautiful than she had been in my mind’s eye. She stroked her palm over my cheek, her eyes flitting between mine like she couldn’t quite figure out how best to take me in.

Through her tears she whispered, “You’re alive. You’re alive and you look exactly the same. You haven’t aged a day. You’re not a ghost, are you? Am I hallucinating?”

“No, baby,” I said softly. My voice was still a little raspy. “You haven’t aged either, you know.” I slowly reached my hands into the neck of her shirt, letting my fingertips trail over her clavicles and the tops of her breasts. Her eyes closed and her lips parted at the touch. We were both starving for it.

I pulled the chain of my old dog tags out through her collar. Bulshar’s ring dangled on the end of it. Its appearance was all wrong in this setting, the horror and darkness it represented juxtaposed over the hopeful, sweet promise of the first moment in our new lives together. It had to go.

She had the look of someone seeing things clearly for the first time. “I haven’t aged because…because I was immortal. Because of the ring. I’ve worn it all these years, never knowing.” I could see her making up her mind. “Nicole, I don’t want to wear this anymore,” she whispered.

“Good, you shouldn’t wear it anymore,” I said. I set it gently to the side. Of all the people in the world, Doc would understand.

“Now we can grow old together,” I told her, and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “It was what was keeping me ageless, too. You kept me alive all these years, Waverly.” In more ways than one.

“Nicole, I didn’t think I would ever see you again,” she said. Her chin was trembling.

I reached up and stroked her cheek with my thumb. “Are your new memories clear yet?”

“No, my head feels really cloudy right now.”

I pulled her down a little so I could run my lips over her ear. “It takes a few hours for the false memories to disappear and for the new ones to get sharper.” I kissed the soft spot on the side of her neck. She shivered. “Eventually you won’t even be able to access the false memories.”

I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be able to last just talking. We hadn’t even kissed yet. I still felt like I had to save every one of these little moments and hoard them away in my head, even though I knew I didn’t have to anymore.

“This has to be a dream,” she said disbelievingly.

“It’s not, baby. I promise.”

I let my head fall back on the bed and gazed up at her. I swept my eyes from her hairline to her chin, reveling in the sight of those green eyes and red cheeks and wet lips. I wrapped my arms around her lower back and pulled her into me as tight as I could.

Her face took on a faraway look, the expression of someone slowly putting together the pieces of a puzzle they’ve been working on for years. When she finally focused on me, her eyes were big and shining and when she spoke, her voice was hushed and reverent.

“Nicole, are we married?” she asked breathily, the hope in her voice evident.

The tears on my cheeks were hot, but for once they didn’t burn.

I brought both hands up and framed her face with them. “Yes, baby. We are married. We just passed our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, Waverly.”

She kissed me then and she tasted unbelievable, even sweeter than I remembered. Our third first kiss was better than the other two combined. It was better than anything I’d ever felt.

And at this point? I’ve felt a lot.

After that, there was no more softness or hesitation. I tore her clothes off like they were doing me personal harm. There were a couple of times I yelped out loud when her teeth sunk in a little too deep. The taste of her lips on mine was a heady rush, and I could have spent hours just relearning the texture and curve of her tongue. I spoke to her constantly, needing to hear the sound of our voices mingling together to reassure myself that she was real.

I ached to the marrow of my bones for her, the feeling took me all at once. After so many years it was like my desire had gone dormant, hidden away out of sight, but never quite out of mind. Feeling our bodies tangled up like this made me feel like I was finally awake, and I was on fire.

She was wet and warm and sweet and soft. She was dark and insatiable and strong and sharp.

It’s the contrast that makes life worth living.

She’s everything to me, just everything, and we made love like it was our last time, because it wasn’t.

I lost track of how many hours passed, but I noticed when the light behind the window curtain started to fade. I pulled myself back up to her face while she was still shaking and gasping to kiss her. My brain must have commandeered some of my redirected blood flow because I realized I had forgotten to do something important.

As I slipped my tongue in her mouth I pulled her left hand out of my hair and slipped her wedding band onto her ring finger.

“Waverly Haught, I love you,” I whispered against her lips.

She pulled away momentarily to stare at the ring. Her eyes were the dark blue-green of a tidal pool after a heavy rain. She tore them away from her hand long enough to look into my face and replied, “I’ve loved you always. I loved you every minute of every hour of every day while you were gone.” She rested her forehead against mine so we were eye to eye, inhaling and exhaling each other.

“Nicole, where were you all these years? What were you doing?”

That took me by surprise. What was I doing?

I was holding onto my sanity by my fingernails using visions of her to stabilize myself.

I was lying awake at night, in a false world of my own creation, filling my head with the image of the way her gold highlights caught the sun streaming through her bedroom window.

The way the color of her eyes changes when she’s close.

The feeling of her eyelashes sweeping across my cheeks.

The muffled sound of my own name moaned into my mouth.

The way my fingers felt surrounded by rippling heat as I pulled her over the edge and the way her hand felt between my legs urging me to come with her.

That, and so much more than that.

Her laughter, her smile, her enthusiasm, her courage, her kindness, her loyalty, her constancy, her intelligence, her patience, her honesty, her selflessness, her love.

The answer to her question grew simpler the longer I thought about it.

What was I doing all these years?

“Loving you,” I replied.

//

We were still in bed long after it got dark. Neither of us could see any reason to leave. After eighteen years in our own individual versions of purgatory (and I do not mean the town), it was like we had finally been granted admittance to heaven.

Everything was comfortable and slow and lazy and warm and the two of us were encased in a cocoon of blankets and soft skin and oxytocin. Waverly had a playlist on loop of all the songs we had ever listened to together. When “Something Just Like This” came on, I pulled her out of bed and we danced naked around the room, but only for about thirty seconds before we were horizontal again.

If it weren’t for the loud protests of both of our stomachs, I’m not sure we ever would have stopped doing what we were doing.

“We should order a pizza or something,” I muttered, drifting in and out of sleep. You’d think after my ordeal, I’d never want to sleep again, but sex with Waverly is an endurance sport that requires recovery time.

“There’s a really good pizza place on the corner,” she replied, sounding tempted. “I’ll text Alice and ask her if she’ll go grab food for us.”

I grinned. “You think Alice is willing to provide room service?” I asked skeptically.

“For anyone else? Absolutely not,” she said, flipping onto her back and grabbing her phone off the bedside table.

I lifted my head a little. “Hey, you still have a cell phone!” It made me disproportionately happy. There was something about Waverly having an implant in her head that just bothered me.

She flashed me that sweet smile of hers and I melted for the hundredth time that day. “No implant for me! After I read your journal…”

Ugh, my journal.

“…I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Gus doesn’t have one, either. Alice thinks we’re old-fashioned.”

“Alice is eighteen years old, she thinks all sorts of stuff.”

“THAT is for sure,” she said, laughing and shaking her head.

She set her cell phone down and turned back toward me. We had about a million things to talk about, but all I could do was stare at her. Every time our eyes met, all I could think about was climbing on top of her and kissing her until she was gasping for breath.

I could tell we were on the same page because she seemed unable to control the way her eyes were drifting away from mine down to my lips and chest. As usual, she succumbed first and scooted forward, pulling my lips to her mouth with a hand on the back of my head.

I allowed myself ten seconds to relish the taste of her before I pulled away and said, “Waverly.”

She already had a head full of steam, so the look she gave me was adorably indignant.

I reached out and smoothed the frown lines on her forehead with my fingertips. “Baby, I need to talk to you about something.” She was already pulling me toward her again. I had a feeling that if I didn’t put at least a foot of space between the two of us, the heat between my legs would win the battle it was waging against all rational thought.

“Waves, please?”

She relented when she finally got a good look at my face and realized how serious I was.

I licked my lips. Rip the band-aid off, Nicole. “You read my journal.” I said. Saying the words out loud felt like a swift kick to the solar plexus. I really didn’t want to open this can of worms, but I knew I had to.

She looked like this was the last thing she had expected. “Yeah, repeatedly,” she confirmed. “Didn’t you want me to?”

I nodded and pursed my lips. Took a shaky breath. “Wave, I…”

She didn’t let me finish. She placed the pads on her fingers gently against my lips.

“In the beginning, right after I thought you died, I read your journal so many times that after a while I practically had it memorized.” As she spoke, she stroked my face. Occasionally her fingers would stray too close to my mouth and I would kiss them.

“It was all I had left of you. I was desperate, so desperate, for any little piece of you. When Jeremy gave me your journal, it was the most unexpected and precious gift I could have received. It was as if the universe was taking pity on me, you know?” She shook her head. “All I know is that reading that journal was like getting a piece of you back.”

I hadn’t expected this at all. She looked so sad and I wanted desperately to kiss her but I wasn’t done yet. “But the things you read in there…they didn’t upset you? Make you angry at me?” I dropped my eyes and decided to just say it. “I was afraid, in the end, that you’d read it and not want me anymore.”

I’m not sure if it’s a characteristic of what she is, but sometimes I can actually watch the color of her eyes change. I watched them shift from the blues and greens I drown in when we’re intimate to the dark gray of a hard metal.

“Nicole, what in the world would make you think that reading your journal would make me not want you?” There was an edge to her voice.

My jaw dropped open and I made some unintelligible noise in disbelief. I cleared my head and my throat and tried again. “Baby, I lied to you pretty much nonstop the entire time we were together.”

She propped herself up on her elbow and grabbed my wrist, hard. “Nicole, you LOVED me nonstop the entire time we were together. Your love is woven through every word of your journal. You saw me for exactly who I was, without ever asking for a thing in return. Everything that you did ‘wrong’ in your estimation, you did because you genuinely believed you were protecting me and it was your duty.” She let go of my wrist and laced our fingers together.

“I’m sure it wasn’t your intention to fall in love when you were assigned to me, but we were made for each other. You couldn’t help it.” Her expression softened and strands of blue started to creep back into her irises.

“I don’t like that you lied, Nicole. But it’s perfectly possible for me to not like it and understand it at the same time.”

As it turns out, both of us have changed quite a bit in the last eighteen years.

“What about the agreement I made with your father? The false memories, forcing you to believe Wynonna and I were dead?”

I was desperate for her absolution.

She gave it to me.

“It’s forgiven. It’s BEEN forgiven. I never loved you more than I did the moment after I finished reading your journal for the first time.”

My heart lurched.

“Nicole, all I want to do now is put this behind us. Can we please do that? Can’t we just shut the door on this awful stuff? You’re real and you’re here and we are wasting time talking.”

She was right. I pushed my tears away and did as she asked. I shut the door on all of it.

Then I closed the foot of space I had put between us and crushed her lips to mine.

And then…

“AUNT WAVERLY!” ***KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*** HELLO, AUNT WAVERLY, THIS IS ALICE!” Pause. “COME RETRIEVE YOUR FOOD BECAUSE I WILL NOT BE COMING IN THERE.” Pause. “Ever.”

Waverly threw on her robe and ran to the door to get our food from Wynonna, Jr. Before she left, Alice called through the crack in the door, “Don’t you dare get used to this, Aunt Nicole. This is a one-time-only, ‘thanks for keeping me safe for eighteen years’ deal.”

Waverly pushed her backward playfully and shut the door, laughing. Alice’s footsteps stopped about halfway down the hall and for good measure she added, “I am not room service!”

Wynonna must be so proud.

//

Alice’s Journal: Entry #1 (2?) (3?)
Early September 2035

So, I don’t know what journal entry this is, technically. When the big rescue of Mama and Nicole was happening back in March, I thought it would be smart to write stuff down as it happened. I didn’t want to forget any of it. I never intended it to become an actual journaling hobby, but Aunt Nicole read what I wrote and said it was great and decided to encourage me to write by buying me a journal.

To like…write in by hand. Like a medieval monk. When I commented on the archaic medium she had chosen for me in which to impart the innermost workings of my genius, she replied that I shouldn’t have a problem with it, considering there wasn’t a single page in her old journal that I hadn’t scribbled all over.

Fair enough.

Anyway, the last time I wrote was March of this year, so I have a lot of ground to cover. I guess the first piece of pertinent information is that I start classes at UIC in the city tomorrow. When I got my acceptance letter and told Mama, she was all dimples and smiling eyes until I told her I would be majoring in criminal justice.

She banged out our front door and went charging down the street toward Aunt Waverly and Nicole’s house, yelling, “HAUGHT!”

Anyway, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Back to Mama and Nicole’s homecoming day. A whole lot happened in a very short time, so I’ll try my best not to forget anything.

I’m going to break this down by people, because I’m not very good with chronology.

When Aunt Gus got home that night from binko or whatever, Mama and Jav hid in my bedroom and worked themselves into a tizzy about how they were going to tamper with her memories so Aunt Gus wouldn’t realize anything was out of place. While they argued, I went downstairs, sat with Aunt Gus on the couch, and gave her the low down on every single thing that had happened leading up to the reappearance of Mama and Nicole.

When I got done, she asked me to fetch her the bottle of whisky from under the sink, thanked me for “not bullshitting her” and went back to cursing at the Blackhawks. She was thrilled to see both Mama and Nicole and we never spoke of it again.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, the most straightforward solution is usually the correct one.

Aunt Waverly and Nicole didn’t leave the house (or Aunt Waverly’s room, for that matter) for a full twenty four hours. Any concerns Nicole had about Waverly’s reaction to reading about her hidden occupation in her journal were apparently moot.

I got REAL tired REAL fast of delivering takeout, bottles of Gatorade, bowls of cereal, Reese’s cups, and girl scout cookies to Aunt Waverly’s room. Finally, Mama booted the door in and told the two of them that if they didn’t shower, get dressed, and come downstairs within the next five minutes, she and I were going to drag the garden hose up the stairs and blast them out.

Jeremy came over the next day with Henry. Nicole hid upstairs in Aunt Waves’ room with music blasting until I fixed Jeremy a stiff drink with Mama’s expert supervision and he was seated firmly on the couch. Nicole came down and sat beside him. About five minutes later, he downed his entire drink in three gulps, handed me the glass and asked for another one, and then hugged her for an additional five minutes.

Nicole seemed really happy to meet Henry and winked at me A LOT (even for her.) It wasn’t until I caught her and Jeremy hiding around the corner when Henry and I were trying to talk that I realized Jeremy knew I liked Henry. FML.

Dolls was overseas doing some…you know, secret agent stuff when he found out they were home, so it took him a couple days to travel. When he got to the house, I was the one to answer the door. He came in soaking wet and I don’t know how he got a pilot to land in a blizzard. You know what? I don’t want to know.

Anyway, he came in, said, “Hey baby girl,” patted my shoulder, and shoved a box of donuts in my arms and said, “Hold this, don’t let your mother see.” I followed him down the hallway into the kitchen where everyone was sitting, and I munched on a donut while he and Mama attacked each other’s faces.

He stared at her for an eternity, remembered what he was supposed to be doing, and said “stay right here.” (Like she’d leave when there were donuts in the building.) He scampered back over to me, opened the box, and pulled out a chocolate glazed donut with a ring sticking out of it.

Oh man, I am so glad I didn’t accidentally eat that.

He went right back over to Mama and proposed. She said yes. We all cheered.

(He had texted me for my permission two days prior. I’m pleased to report that his Alice approval rating is currently hovering right around 100%.)

I live with the two of them now in a little house in the suburbs. Dolls works a lot, so it’s frequently just me and Mama, but we kinda like it that way. We live only a few doors down from Aunt Waverly and Nicole, so Mama and I are always scheming against them. None of their lawn ornaments are safe.

Aunt Waverly, Nicole, and I have joint custody of CJ. While she was very happy to see her, Nicole absolutely refused to take her back at first, insisting that she had lived with and loved me for much longer. I told Nicole she was absolutely insane if she thought that cat’s loyalty was to anyone other than Aunt Waverly. CJ proves it by escaping and high-tailing it back to their house every time it’s my turn to keep her.

When I got a moment alone with Aunt Nicole after a couple months had passed, I asked her about her people. When I was at the cabin I had wondered about Beth, which later caused me to wonder about what Shae thought of Nicole’s sudden disappearance, too. Turns out Javion took care of it, without even having to be asked. He told them both that Nicole had gotten a special assignment and would be gone for a long time. (It’s really nice to see him and Nicole back together all the time, thick as thieves.)

After they’d been home a few weeks, Nicole took Aunt Waverly to visit the Eppersons and Shae.

She told me Beth cried for almost twenty minutes over how beautiful Aunt Waverly is and then yelled at Nicole for a solid hour for scaring her half to death. Nicole still has swat marks on her arm.

Shae, however, had known better than to entirely believe Javion. She suspected something bad had happened, so she started keeping regular contact with Nicole’s sister, Hayley, to make sure she was holding up okay.

After Nicole got in contact with Hayley to let her know she was fine and arranged a trip to see her, the rest of her family reached out and asked to speak to her as well.

Nicole refused.

When Mama found out, she hugged her so hard that she had to tap out and mutter, “Wynonna, I’m choking. Wynonna…” before Mama would let go.

Aunt Nicole has the family she deserves now.

Speaking of picking your own people, I finally got the ovaries to ask Henry out. We were walking to a party together one night in June and I told him I’d been crushing on him for years but I just figured he never liked me.

First, he tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and face-planted.

After I got done crying laughing, I tried to help him up but he pulled me down there with him and told me he’s been in love with me since we were four and made out with me right there on the sidewalk. We eventually got to the party and maybe more things happened, but this journal will remain strictly PG.

Unlike some other journals I’ve read.

(I’ll still be avoiding his dad at all costs from here on out, forever.)

And that’s what you missed on GLEE!

(Aunt Nicole and I have been marathon watching it for a week. She informed me that “Brittana is her OTP.” I don’t even know what that means but I cringed anyway.)

Goodnight, world! UIC, here I come!

//

Alice’s Journal
Entry #6
Late September 2035

Mama and I took what we had left of Daddy home.

Well, their former home. Purgatory.

Mama likes to tell me that home isn’t a place, it’s a person, and her home will always be where I am. She says she’s sure a part of Daddy lives in her heart, so really, the three of us are always together.

She said another part of him deserved to be with Wyatt, his best friend, and the one person aside from me that he probably loved the most.

Mama and I drove down a long stretch of endless and empty road and passed a sign that said “Welcome to Purgatory.” We drove to a ramshackle little house with a ramshackle little barn and a mailbox that said “EARP.”

Mama told me Daddy put it there.

We didn’t bury the ring on the property. She said if any part of Doc still lived in that ring, he would haunt her forever if she buried him down in some small, tight space. We walked through the trees until Mama stopped suddenly, closing her eyes, the wind lifting her hair, taking a deep breath. She turned to the tree beside her. It was a twisty old thing, and she slid the ring over one of its branches.

“There,” she said, dusting her hands off. “Immortal tree.” She was joking to take the edge off, to stop herself from crying. I know, I do that, too.

“Ma,” I said, sliding my arm around her waist and tipping our heads together. “You don’t have to be brave for anyone right now.”

When the dam broke, she leaned on me.

She’s not that heavy.

The very last stop we made before we left was the barn. Mama pushed the door open and the rusty hinges squealed for miles around us. It’s so empty out there. We brushed aside cobwebs and walked in and Mama started feeling all up in the rafters, sticking her tongue out in concentration. Finally, she found what she wanted. It was a box.

She opened it and pulled out a gorgeous tooled leather gun belt, two antique but immaculately maintained revolvers, and a hat.

Probably just the coolest hat I’ve ever seen. Mama dusted it off and stuck it on my head.

When we get home, I’ll set it next to peacemaker on the mantle.

Thank you, Daddy.

//

Nicole’s Journal
Entry #28
Mid May 2035

Waverly has a PhD in English Literature, teaches at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, is a black belt in muai thai, raised an amazing person named Alice, and is almost finished writing a novel, but by the time I returned, she had still never seen the ocean.

I made it my mission to rectify that.

Shae is living in San Diego now with her husband and three kids, so after we went to visit them, I booked six nights for the two of us in a little cottage right on the water for a much belated honeymoon.

The whole drive there she kept trying to insist that she sees Lake Michigan every day, isn’t the ocean just about the same? But when she walked up to the surf and got her toes wet and saw the way the whitecaps glowed in the setting sun and the sand shimmered like a million diamonds, she decided the comparison wasn’t quite accurate.

For a long time she just looked out at the horizon and didn’t speak. The wind blew the smell of her hair across my face and it made me nostalgic for the beginning of our relationship. I thought of her sitting over me on the couch in Sheriff’s office. Everything had felt so new. Everything felt so possible.

I ran over to her and scooped her up in my arms, so we were facing each other. Then I just started walking out into the surf. The deeper we got, the bigger her eyes became. When I was on my tiptoes to keep our heads above water, she let go of me and started to paddle.

“Can we keep going?” she asked. Exhilaration with just a touch of fear danced in her eyes. She was looking down at her feet, clearly noting that we could still see the bottom.

I laughed at her enthusiasm. “Sure, baby.”

We swam out and out. Occasionally she would look at me, but mostly she kept her eyes steadily on the horizon, all determination. Every few strokes she would stop to look down.

Because of the sandbar, the slope is very gradual until a point where there’s a sheer drop-off. One moment you look down and see sandy bottom, and the next, nothing but inky blackness. When we got to that point and I glanced back at the shore, the people were nothing but specks in the distance.

Waverly gasped, swallowing a little water. She looked down into the abyss and then back up at me, over and over again.

“Gosh, it’s so dark,” she said reverently. “I feel so…insignificant”

Insignificant is not a word I would ever use to describe Waverly, but I knew what she meant. “Makes you feel small, doesn’t it?”

“Not with you here,” she replied adorably, shooting me a mischievous grin.

The ocean is not a safe place to swoon. Get it together, Nicole.

I kissed her and asked her if it was everything she had imagined it would be, and she very earnestly replied that it was so much more than that. The way she responded, I’m not sure she was still talking about the ocean.

We headed back to shore shortly after because we were both getting tired. When we flopped onto the beach and laid back on the sand, it was already getting dark and the stars were overhead.

“You were right,” Waverly acquiesced. “Way better than Lake Michigan.”

I smiled and turned to face her. “Told you.”

She watched the stars come out and I watched her. When I saw her shiver a little, I rolled on top of her and kissed the saltwater off of her lips.

After a couple seconds, she pulled away gently and when I looked down, I could see the stars in her eyes.

She held my gaze for a second and then asked me softly, “Nicole, can we have a baby?”

I was so happy I just buried my face in the side of her neck and cried.

//

Nicole’s Journal
Entry #68
March 2036

The nurse set our baby in my arms, all wrapped up in a blue blanket. It felt a little like déjà vu. As soon as I looked at her face, I was enamored. She had ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. I counted each one. She was beautiful.

Waverly craned her head up to see and I sat down so we could marvel at her together. The expression on my wife’s face reminded me of the way she looked at me the first time we met and I’m sure I looked the exact same way.

Stunned adoration.

I looked down at our daughter and she looked up at me with big round eyes, seeing the world for the first time.

Or maybe not.

I had expected to see Waverly’s ever-changing green and gray and blue mosaic, or the donor’s caramel-colored eyes that matched mine.

My daughter’s eyes were neither.

They were sapphires. They were the blue of the vast Georgia sky.

“Oh,” Waverly said softly, smiling and reaching for her. “I didn’t expect her to have blue eyes. The donor must have recessive genes in his family.” I nodded but couldn’t say anything.

I reluctantly relinquished her so she could nurse. My vision got blurry and I could feel tears starting to spill down my cheeks, watching the two loves of my life falling in love with each other.

Finally, I found the ability to speak.

“Katie,” I said.

Waverly glanced at me inquisitively, rocking her gently.

I cleared the lump out of my throat. “Katelyn Marie Haught. I know we were going to decide on a name together, but…”

“No,” she interrupted, “I like that name. Katie.” Waverly smiled and gently stroked the palm of her hand over our baby’s damp blonde hair. I never thought I would be so happy to see her look at another girl like that.

“For your best friend,” Waverly said. I kissed the top of her head and I wrapped my arms around the two of them. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before,” she added.

Because I hadn’t met her yet. I didn’t know it would be her.

My guardian angel.

I don’t know much, but there is one thing I do know, beyond all shadow of doubt.

The ones you love are always with you.