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when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls

Chapter Text

It was the dream again. Which wasn’t the most accurate way to put it. More so it was a memory, clouded by her sleeping mind so that a few of the details were hazy and some of the transitions didn’t quite make sense, but otherwise relatively faithful to the truth.

She woke up in a hotel room, which was to be expected on her honeymoon with the vibrant, crazy, brilliant doctor she’d met at a concert in Vegas. What wasn’t to be expected was the sensation of bandages around her mid-section and one of her arms in a cast and a throbbing, cold pain that felt somehow newer, somehow more important than the rest, on her left shoulder.

Nicole, you’re awake, thank god.

She didn’t feel awake, her head foggy with painkillers. She turned a little, bringing resurgent aches to the forefront of her mind when her ribs protested the move.

No, sweetheart, stay still a little longer. You’re not done healing.

There was something about how she said it that seemed strange, noteworthy even.

What happened to me? she asked, mostly, her mouth a little cottony with sleep and morphine.

There was an accident while we were climbing. You’re allergic to thiopental, did you know that?

She shook her head. The words didn’t seem real.

You almost died, sweetheart. I... I panicked. I’m sorry.

For what? she asked.

Her wife’s gaze tracked off her face and slid, guiltily, to her shoulder. She turned a little more to look and found a near perfect semicircle of gouges shaped like teeth, too large, too sharp to have been human and too precise to be animal.

Shae, she whispered, fear fighting through the haze of painkillers, distant but growing more pressing. What did you do...?

I was going to tell you everything, Nicole, I swear I was. It just all happened so fast.

And then pain, silvery and cold in the burning, inevitable way of glacial ice, pulsing and spreading through her blood like fire.

The dream ends the same way it always does. Shae’s eyes, wide and tinted gold in the lamplight and hungry, watching her with a need, a fever, that isn’t real. Isn’t human.

 

Nicole woke up growling and ravenously hungry. Calamity Jane noticed the disturbance, but the only sign she was paying any attention was an imperious flick of her tail from where she sat in her perch on a carpeted tree that Nicole had shoved into a corner of her bedroom by the window the day she moved in.

She wrestled down the inhuman sound of discontent that was still rumbling in her chest and shook her head to clear off the last bits of dream-memory, like shaking water off her hair. She ran her tongue over her teeth, satisfied that they were the proper shape, and got up, stretching creakily. A quick pat to Calamity Jane’s head earned her a soft purr and a languid blink, and she headed down the hall of her small home to the kitchen to dig through whatever leftovers she still had in the fridge.

The dream was new, since she’d arrived in Purgatory, and felt like some kind of weird punishment to keep her from forgetting the crazy twists her life had gone through in the last five years or so. She’d learned of Ghost River County from some contacts in the... less than human circles Shae had introduced her to, and had been promised up and down that she wouldn’t have any trouble crossing the boundaries of the Triangle. That had mostly been true. She’d crossed physically without trouble, which was a relief, since she’d already had the transfer papers filed for joining the Purgatory police department and it would’ve been hell to explain why she was trying to reverse them. But she wasn’t convinced she’d come across unscathed, exactly, if the repeated nightmare was any indicator.

She pulled leftover Chinese off the bottom shelf and grabbed a fork, leaned against the counter, and started eating. Cold pork lo mein eaten standing in a dark kitchen was hardly the pinnacle of cuisine, but it quieted her grumbling stomach.

Nightmares aside, a little lost sleep wasn’t such a bad trade for a comfortable one-story home out past the limits of downtown where she was just at the edge of the town and the nearest proper suburb, where a soundproofed basement meant that even if her neighbors heard something weird a few nights a month, they chalked it up to wandering suburban foxes or maybe a few of the fabled coyotes that the sheriff kept blaming for some of the weirder deaths outside town.

There her thoughts turned, pivoting back to what she’d been thinking about when she went to bed the night before. Before her shift, she would drop by the bar-and-restaurant a block from the station. She knew she wasn’t the only... weird thing in town—that much had become obvious almost immediately after she got to town. But that raised more questions: what else was here? She hadn’t been here long enough to hit the turn of the month, and she wanted to know what else was local before things got ugly.

And everything she’d heard pointed to two things. First, in the broader sense, was the Earp family, which she’d heard whispers of even before she’d crossed provincial lines. Second, in the specific, was one Waverly Earp, waitress at Shorty’s and, by all accounts, a dang genius at her job and in general. If anyone was likely to have seen some weird things around Purgatory, she was betting it would be Waverly.

She looked at the clock on her kitchen wall, frowning. It was barely five in the morning. She had hours yet before her shift would start.

“Well, Calamity,” she said, if only to hear something in her home other than the creak of pipes and the central heating unit, “Guess I have more than enough time for a run.”

Her cat said nothing, but that wasn’t a surprise.

 

Nicole tipped the front of her hat down as a few civilians walked by on the sidewalk and muttered polite hellos to her. She hesitated in front of the saloon doors until they’d walked further on down the way, looked over the façade of the building, and then tested the door. It opened, and she slid cautiously inside, looking around at the warm, homey interior. The place was utterly deserted, except for a young woman standing behind the bar to clean. Just as Nicole pulled her Stetson off her head and opened her mouth to say something, one of the taps blasted open, drenching the poor woman in what looked from a distance like seltzer water.

“Gah—geez!” the woman sighed, as she finally got the tap off and slapped her hands down on the bar. “Perfect.”

“I didn’t know Shorty’s had wet t-shirt competitions,” Nicole called out, grinning as warmly as she knew how, running her fingers over the brim of her hat. What had she come in for again? She knew enough to know it was Waverly Earp behind the bar, and she remembered deciding to come talk to her, but for the life of her, looking at that face, she couldn’t remember why. Did she even need a reason beyond saying hello? “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Waverly sighed, grabbing a bar towel and mopping at her shirt. Nicole approached, a little wary, but grinning like the sun. “Just uh, a bit jumpy. Had a crazy night.”

“Sorry I wasn’t here to see it,” she said with a laugh, and offered her hand across the bar. “I’ve been uh, I’ve been meaning to introduce myself. Nicole,” she explained, as Waverly took her hand. Her fingers were a bit sticky, but gripped gently. Deep in Nicole’s chest there was a pull, for just a moment, and she wanted... something. Maybe everything. She imagined pulling Waverly’s hand to her mouth, kissing her knuckles, licking her fingers clean after the accident with the tap. “Nicole Haught.”

“Hi,” Waverly said, the words more a breath than anything else.

“And you,” Nicole continued, finally releasing Waverly’s hand as an afterthought, “Are Waverly Earp. Quite a popular girl around here.”

“Oh you know,” she said, grinning shyly, “It’s all in the smile and wave.”

This close, Nicole could smell her clothes, her shampoo, under a layer of seltzer water. She smelled incredible. It was distracting as hell, put frankly, and after a moment she realized she was staring.

“Could I get a cappuccino to go?” she asked, scrambling for something to say that wasn’t god you’re gorgeous.

“Oh,” Waverly said, and was it just her, or did she sound almost a little sad about it? Probably it was just her. “I’m really sorry, but uh, we’re not actually open yet, so...”

Nicole blinked. She could tell by sound and smell the bar was empty, but she looked around, pretending she’d only just noticed. “Right!” she said, and laughed at herself, spreading her hands. “Okay, my bad. Well, when I see something I like, I don’t wanna wait.”

Waverly watched her, her expression impossible to read, and Nicole froze.

Don’t scare the straight waitress, she thought furiously, and fought the urge to kick herself in the shin.

“And uh, your door was open,” she added hastily. “So...”

“Right,” Waverly said, looking toward the door as if she expected someone new to come barging in. She flipped the bar towel in her hand and dabbed it against her shirt, then sighed. “God, I’m sopping wet,” she said, filling the silence with a self-deprecating good humor that had Nicole laughing way too easily. Down girl. “You know, I keep telling Shorty to fix the darn taps...” She grinned, the expression somehow clumsy, but endearingly so. “I’m sorry, do you mind just, uh,” she raised her hands, shielding her eyes for a moment in a moment of charades.

“Oh! Sure, of course,” Nicole said, and turned to face the door. She waited patiently, her back to the bar. For a moment she tried not to listen, but in the otherwise silent room, it was hard not to. She heard Waverly turn, heard the shuffling of fabric on skin as she shimmied out of her shirt.

The creaking of seams as fabric threatened to tear was almost cacophonous to her ears, and she frowned. She was still trying to work out what was going on behind her when Waverly spoke again, stammering through a soft, “Oh- oh crap, uh—uh, Officer? I’m stuck. So...?”

Nicole turned to look over her shoulder, catching sight of a tangle of cloth, hair, and ensnared arms above an elegant cream bra and miles of soft tan skin.

“Oh!” she said, and hurried around the bar, reaching for the shirt wrapped up around Waverly’s elbows. “Lemme help you. I got you.” She pulled the shirt up and over Waverly’s head, then offered it back to her, trying not to look down at the poor girl’s chest for more than a second.

“Oh god,” Waverly was saying, with a smile that was equal parts uncomfortable and deeply embarrassed, “Good job you’re not some guy, right, or this would be really... really awkward.”

She ducked her head, grinning. This close, with this much exposed skin, Waverly’s scent was overpowering, and for a moment Nicole couldn’t think. Her shampoo was something strawberry, with just a hint of that chemical undertone that came with commercial hair products—her soap was something subtle, enough so that Nicole couldn’t quite pick it out of the mix, especially not with the sticky-sweet scent of the seltzer water still covering most of her skin. But she smelled soft, and clean, and warm, and the animal in her wanted to curl up in that scent and nuzzle against the hollow of Waverly’s throat, to lap at her collarbones and cover her in her own scent to warn off anyone else.

God, Haught, get yourself together, she thought, clawing through the haze of desire and interest and hunger. She’s right in front of you!

“Um,” Waverly added, a moment later. “I, I owe you one.”

“Alright,” Nicole said, and smiled. If Waverly hadn’t noticed her long pause, she sure wasn’t going to say anything about it. “Well, how ‘bout you buy me that cup of coffee?” Good, coffee is safe. “How ‘bout tonight?”

“Oh I can’t, no,” Waverly said, a little too fast. Nicole raised her eyebrows but listened patiently. “I mean, I’d love to. Like. Like to. Uh. But I have plans.” Waverly grinned, and Nicole could smell her anxiety, prickling its way across her skin, as well as something... else. Interest? “Yeah, I’m a planner! I like to know what I’m doing at least two, or, three, days in advance, and...” She shook her head, as if she’d just suddenly realized she was babbling. “I’m in a relationship,” she blurted next. “With a boy. Man.

She didn’t smell like hatred or anger, and Nicole decided that was good enough for her. Enough, at least, to fight down the jealousy that threatened to sharpen her teeth. “A boy-man,” she mused, and grinned a downright wolfish smile as she started back around the bar. “Yup! I’ve been there. It’s the worst. Okay, well.” She picked up her hat and pulled a slightly dog-eared business card from her pocket. “Some other time,” she offered, tapping the card down on the bar before starting toward the door. “I mean it.”

She didn’t stop until she was outside in the fresh, clean Purgatory air, and she took a few deep breaths, trying to clear out her nose. Instead, all she could think about was Waverly. Waverly with the long, beautiful hair and olive skin. Waverly’s scent and shy, sunny smile lingered on her like a tangible thing, and she found herself grinning to herself, nodding at passersby more openly and more warmly than she usually did. The people in Purgatory tended to be a little closed off, a little wary, and she had decided to take the more careful approach, mimicking their caution rather than trying to overwhelm them with friendly kindness. Especially until she knew what other supernatural creatures called Purgatory home, it wasn’t wise to assume anything.

Other Purgatory supernaturals. That’s why she’d gone into Shorty’s.

“Damn,” she muttered, pulling her hat lower down over her forehead and heading back to the station. “Not my best police work.”

When she got to work the place was at a dull roar of idle activity. Not many civilians around, which she was glad for, without quite being able to say why.

The station was, as it always was, a haze of familiar sounds and smells. The low rumble of voices, the whir of computer fans, and the occasional jangling of cuffs and utility belts as officers wandered from room to room. The bullpen and locker room smelled like gun oil, ink, and the warm, plasticky smell of hot ribbon in an active printer. The other officers tended to smell like fabric softener, boot polish, and their packed lunches (pastrami sandwich, leftover Italian, and a microwave burrito, today); the holding cells like unwashed human and stale beer. The sheriff’s office smelled like cologne, hunting trophies, and the very faint smell of enclosed, burning dust in his computer. Nedley was a great man and an even better sheriff but he wouldn’t know a can of compressed air if one fell on his head.

Today, though, there was something new. Two somethings, in fact. One was a woman—hair product and leather conditioner, gunpowder and whiskey. The other was... something. Something that looked, walked, and talked like a man but had something else under his skin. Something hidden, something trapped, something itching to rampage.

And damn if it didn’t have Nicole’s attention immediately. She’d heard grumblings around the bullpen about the snazzy new cross-border force using up some of the old offices on the western side of the station, but it was the first time she’d smelled them so clearly and it had definitely caught her eye. Or, her nose, at least.

“Mind if I deliver this?” Nicole had asked, picking up a box just as Nedley read the addressee and frowned.

“Be my guest,” he groused. “That Deputy Marshal is a thorn in my side as it is.”

Nicole nodded and took the box, eyeing the label. The plot thickens, she thought, and sauntered down the hall, humming to herself as if this were an utterly normal day.

She knocked on the door for the new “Black Badge Division” offices and let herself in, greeting the Deputy Marshal and the new woman with a falsely bright grin.

“Hey!” she called as she sauntered inside. “Check it out, another piping hot delivery from...” She examined the label as if she were not already familiar with it. “Wow, CSIS.” The Deputy Marshal stepped up close to her, leaning into her space, and the animal in her chafed at the display. “Oh,” she continued, as if she were blind to his leashed aggression. “I’m Nicole, uh, Officer Haught. Y’all getting settled in all right? What is all this stuff?”

It was way too easy to rile up the thing under the Deputy Marshal’s skin, when it came down to it. He had the coiled, tight look of someone who was used to keeping it under control, but her flippant invasion of his private sanctum had him on edge and he was radiating it in waves. She didn’t think his leather-clad deputy could tell, but the growling beast that lived under her skin could smell chemicals and fire and anger and could feel tension vibrating in the air between them.

“Nice to meet you, Officer Haught,” the Marshal said stiffly, and she pretended to smile when he did. “If you ever enter my offices again without knocking, I’ll have you arrested for treason.”

It was the same everywhere you went, really. There’s a reason the popular prefix for the weird and the alien is super-natural, and in Nicole’s personal opinion it was that all the core themes and behaviors you found in normal people were amplified tenfold in the non-normal ones. Wariness and seclusion tactics designed to keep communities enclosed so that no one left and no one entered? Amplified. Fear of the unknown that too readily changes to anger and hostility? Amplified. Posturing and aggression when faced with an unknown threat? Amplified so far it didn’t matter what you had below your belt—male or female or anything else, when you had something to fear from normies and from other supernatural types, you got aggressive, you claimed your space, and you let anything infringing on it know they were unwanted, right off.

Add to that the fact that he smelled like he used eau de sand and death as his cologne—at least one tour in the Middle East, probably Afghanistan, she’d stake her badge on it—and really she couldn’t even blame the guy. He was being hostile, he was marking out his territory, and he was playing it off as something based on security clearance, which was perfect for stealth. Not unreasonable. Hell, she was doing the same damn thing, if a bit more subtly. She just didn’t have a cross-border government task force to hold up her side of the threat. All she had was tooth and nail and a little less than six feet of raw physical presence.

She met his eyes, scanning, looking for any hint of what the hell it was that lurked inside him. Something in her was disappointed he hadn’t lashed out. That would’ve been more fun. More paperwork, but way more fun.

“Okay?” he asked, and she gave him a tense, uncomfortable smile that was in character for the bubbly, friendly neighborhood officer she’d come in as. He hadn’t grabbed her and leashed her, so she was willing to bet he didn’t know what she was either. Not yet.

“Nice to meet you too,” she said, rolling her eyes and spinning on her heel to head for the door.

She let it bang shut behind her and started forward, but she listened, ears pricked for what came through the door. A half second’s pause, and then the woman spoke, sounding utterly unimpressed by his display of alpha male posturing bullshit.

“She did knock, Dolls.” The woman scoffed. “You sure you don’t want to threaten her with death?”

“Penalty for treason is death,” he reminded her. “It was implied.”

Nicole snorted and headed back to her desk. Well, at least she had part of her answer. She definitely wasn’t the only supernatural thing in town.

Chapter Text

Nicole was not, as a general rule, a gossip. She didn’t like hearsay, and she didn’t like the way people talked about each other when they weren’t present. She found it distasteful, unprofessional, and, well, rude. But when your ears are good enough to pick up dog whistles, you overhear things.

A lot.

It was part of why she’d wanted out of Calgary. She’d loved the city, before Shae, but now it was just too... much. Too many sounds, too many smells. She couldn’t get anything like restful sleep, not when she could hear a bus rattling over grates a block away or smell someone burning toast two floors up from her apartment. Not when she could smell the territorial mark of every dog that had crossed her block all afternoon and hear someone talking on their cell phone from halfway down the hall. The city was alive, night and day, and where once that had made her happy, to live in such a big, vibrant place, now it was overwhelming to the point of paralysis.

So she’d kept her ears open and looked for smaller towns that were big enough to hide supernaturals but small enough to avoid the clutter that came with densely packed humans.

“Purgatory? Folks say it’s cursed,” Mike had muttered, spinning poker chips through his fingers.

“So am I, now,” Nicole had said with a wolfish smile, as she laid down two pair.

“Fair enough.”

Purgatory was pretty much exactly what she’d been looking for. Small, but not so small that outsiders would never be accepted, and just friendly enough to the supernatural crowd that a lone oddball like her could hide in plain sight, at least a little.

Plus, the Purgatory Sheriff’s Department had a couple job openings. Something about a higher-than-average casualty rate for officers.

But it was still a small town.

And in small towns, people talk. A lot.

So, regardless of her opinions on gossip, overhearing people talking was how Nicole learned that Waverly Earp’s father had been shot dead 15 years ago, the same night the eldest Earp daughter was carried off into the woods and later presumed dead after a prolonged search. It’s how she heard that the middle daughter, Wynonna Earp, had been the one to shoot the drunken bastard, and that presumably the grief and trauma had been what made the girl, who had been 12 when she shot their father, “lose her damn mind.” A couple years later she’d been institutionalized after she claimed the house had been overrun with demons. It’s how she’d learned that after Wynonna was discharged, she and Waverly got shuffled around in the system a few times until they ended up with Curtis and Gus McCready. Every time she heard the story she noted that Gus’ name was spoken with respect and familiarity, Curtis’ with reverence and sympathy for the recent dead, and Waverly’s with affection and warmth.

Wynonna’s name, however, was spoken like a curse, spat out fast and avoided as much as one reasonably could without making conversation too confusing.

The gossip was also how Nicole learned that Wynonna was back in town ever since Curtis’ funeral, that she had somehow, to everyone’s utter bewilderment, been deputized by the visiting Deputy Marshal, and that she was living on the Earp Homestead outside town again. It was how she learned that Wynonna was generally not well-liked, for reasons that sounded sensible but also smacked of small-town small-mindedness, and that most everyone in town was just waiting for the day Wynonna snapped and killed someone else, or got sick of the charade and left town again.

And, last but not least, it was how she’d learned that, to Purgatory’s continued general confusion, Waverly was going to move back to the Homestead with her sister, and had spent the last day or so packing up all her stuff that she kept in the little apartment above Shorty’s. And as a related point, she had learned that Champ Hardy had no end of negative things to say about the move, but not anywhere where Waverly might hear him grousing about it.

This last had Nicole biting down throat-rending growls all morning as she struggled to pay attention to the radio. Waverly was her own woman and could make her own choices, and while her opinion of Champ meant about as much to Waverly as a ruffled bedskirt meant to Nedley, she didn’t like the man. Boy. Whichever. Still, the fact that Nicole thought he was a brute who didn’t deserve Waverly really was a personal problem, and it was not something for her to get worked up over. Certainly not something for her to get so worked up over she almost snarled openly at a new recruit who bumped into her on his way out of the kitchen.

Dispatch finally pulled her attention, a short but gruesome report crackling over the radio. She listened, got on the wire to ask a couple clarifying questions, and then frowned, taking her notes and knocking on Nedley’s door.

“I swear, Lonnie, if this is about the coffee in the kitchen again— oh. Nicole.” He brightened considerably to see her, but then took one look at her face and frowned. “Door. Lemme see it.”

She closed the door and handed over her notes. He looked them over for barely more than 30 seconds while she shifted from foot to foot, itching to do... something. She wasn’t sure what. His mustache quivered as his frown intensified, the lines around his mouth and his eyes deepening until he seemed to have aged about 10 years in a single minute.

“Get Dolls on this,” Nedley said, his voice low.

“You sure, Sheriff?” she asked, matching his tone.

“I don’t like it, but I don’t have to.” He grunted. “This is definitely bigger than us.”

“Consider it done, sir,” she said, and nodded, heading back out of his office.

She hesitated outside the Black Badge office door. It wasn’t her intent to eavesdrop, but there was a new voice inside that made her pause.

“These will be great resources,” she heard Dolls say, his voice actually showing a trace of real gratitude, not just robotic disinterest.

“Sorry, uh,” said a lighter, familiar voice. Nicole’s heartrate skipped, then doubled. Waverly. “I spent years on that research, so...”

“Welcome to Team Shut-Up-and-Do-What-He-Says,” Wynonna countered, and there was a pause so long and mocking Nicole could practically see the wry smile on her face. “Sometimes we get donuts.”

Nicole knocked and paused, remembering Dolls’ hissy fit from the last time she’d been at this door. Beyond there was a moment of shuffling paper and creaking hinges, as of things being shoved out of sight, and then Dolls’ shoes clicked once.

“Enter,” he called, and she opened the door, staying near the doorway.

Wynonna was lounging against the table, one knee propped up on a chair and a powdered donut, of all things, in one hand. Dolls stood near her, at parade rest, his attention turned toward the doorway to watch her.

Waverly sat on the edge of the table in an awkward half-lean, as if she were trying to block some of the stacks of files from view. She didn’t smell like seltzer water this time, but sun and clean mountain air and a hint of coffee.

Nicole blinked and pushed it aside, locking her eyes on Dolls. “Hey,” she said, her tone low to keep anyone in the hall from hearing. “You asked to be alerted whenever things come over the wire that seem...” She paused, as if looking for the word she wanted. “Unusual?”

“Yeah, we’re coming,” he said lightly, then turned back to the table. “Waverly, you’re dismissed.”

Waverly made a faint sound that might’ve been acknowledgement and looked away from him, her gaze flicking to the floor, then to Nicole.

She smiled. She couldn’t help it—who wouldn’t smile under the attention of Waverly Earp? Out of the corner of her eye she saw Dolls’ gaze track between the two of them, but she couldn’t make herself care about that. She ducked out of his way when he left the room, and shut the door behind him with one last grin at Waverly. Behind her she heard the two Earps start talking, but she kept pace with Dolls and led him back to her desk, scooping up the file and leading him to another small office. This was not something the entire department needed to know. She shut the door behind them.

“So what are we looking at,” he asked, his tone just as dry and professional as ever.

“Deputy Mayor,” she said, handing him the file and pulling up photos from the scene on a projector. “He was killed at the time capsule ceremony in the city earlier today. Fileted like a salmon.” She flicked through the photos for him. She half-expected him to level her with that flat, uninterested expression of his and question why she was telling him about it, but he just nodded slowly, taking in the photos. “Shirley Dixon’s journal was removed from the time capsule, but witnesses indicate nothing else was taken.

“And there’s another thing,” she added, opening a different folder on the computer to pull up a bit of security footage. “Bus stop in the city. Came in a few days ago. We were working on it, but Nedley and I think it’s connected. How’s your stomach?”

“It’s fine,” he said drily. “Go ahead.”

She nodded and hit play on the video, letting him watch the dismemberment twice through.

“Send me these files,” he said.

It wasn’t a request, it was a demand, but she bit down a surge of frustration and nodded. “I sent them before I knocked on your door.”

He looked at her, his expression difficult to identify.

“That’s all I’ve got,” she said, shrugging one shoulder. “But if anything else comes in seems like it could be even remotely related I’ll forward it to you. We’ve been running the database to see if our knife-wielding friend from the bus stop pulls any matches, but it’s slow-going. I’ll give you whatever we find on his priors.”

Dolls nodded, evidently satisfied, and crossed his arms over his chest with the folder tucked beneath one elbow.

“So tell me, Officer Haught. What’s your game here.”

She frowned at him, wary, and kept part of her attention on the set of his shoulders and the positions of his feet. The door to the room was still shut and she couldn’t see anyone beyond it through the frosted glass, but that was both good and bad.

“Beg your pardon?”

“Your game,” he repeated, sounding almost bored. “What is it, you’re in here so you can stay one step ahead? Hide your tracks?”

Fear trickled down her spine. “I don’t know what you’re—”

“Skip it,” he said, his tone turning just a bit more sharp. “Save us both some time.”

She felt her lip pull back from her teeth for a moment in a sneer, stifled it, and stepped closer to him. She didn’t get in his face, but she came close enough that even with her voice very, very low he could hear her clearly. “Let’s get one thing straight, Dolls.”

His tone was icy. “Deputy Marshal Dolls.”

She ignored him. “I didn’t ask for this,” she said, watching his eyes. “I didn’t exactly have a chance to work it into my career choice.”

He was watching her in return, and she wondered if he thought he could sense when people lied to him. “Late bloomer,” he said.

“Sure, if that’s the BBD slang for it. But I took up my badge to protect and serve. And until a day comes when I can no longer do my job, I’m doing it. I would prefer to do so without watching over my shoulder for foreign feds, but if I have to, I’ll disappear before you can radio your bosses.”

For a long, long moment he said nothing. He just stood there, watching her face. She tried to think nonviolent things, but she could smell her own fear, cloying and trembling, just as easily as she could hear the beat of his heart. It was a bit too fast, but she’d give him credit—other than that, he seemed utterly calm.

“I see,” he mused. “And I guess it doesn’t hurt that you won’t need a bulletproof vest until someone brings silver-jacketed rounds on you.”

She stepped backward slightly, her weight shifting to give her more time to run if he pulled something.

He didn’t. He just gave her a very cold smile. “I’ve been reading up on all these ‘coyote’ murders. If any of them match—”

“They won’t,” she said coolly. “Seeing as I only got here a couple weeks ago. Check the lunar charts if you like.”

“And next week?”

“Day shifts. At night I’ll be in my basement. Like I said. Protect and serve. Including from myself.”

He watched her closely. “Wolf pelts are valuable to my superiors,” he said, his tone light, almost casual.

She stuck out her jaw and raised her chin in open defiance. “I’ve been looking through the fire marshal’s filings. Been a couple bizarre, secluded arson cases since you got to town. I can make your time here very difficult before I ghost.”

That, she thought, gave him pause. “Arson.”

“You smell like sulfur and butane, Deputy Marshal. And I’ve learned to trust my nose.”

There was another long, tense silence as they eyed each other. She thought maybe he was sizing her up. Not knowing exactly what he was put her at a disadvantage. She was no Black Badge agent trained to fight supernaturals, but at least knowing would’ve given her an edge—the same edge he had on her, by knowing what she was.

“Let’s talk truce, then.”

She narrowed her eyes, not bothering to hide her wariness.

“Extra suspicion on me by the locals just means that BBD nukes this town from orbit to keep the supernatural stuff quiet. All of it. I’m a footnote to them.” He said it mildly, but she frowned. He was giving her a lot of information, and she didn’t think for a second he was doing so unintentionally. “So here’s the deal. I make sure your containment measures are up to code, and as long as I’m satisfied, no one up my chain finds out about your... furry little problem,” he said, his expression neutral, neither friendly nor hostile. “And in exchange, you keep your mouth shut and your ears to the ground. You hear anything that sounds like our side of the street, you make sure I hear about it before Nedley does.”

She growled, the sound low, quiet, but unmistakable.

Haught,” he said, and though his voice didn’t have the quiet lingering weight of a threat, it had the absolute severity of a warning. “I’m here to contain and control, before my superiors decide the only good Purgatory is a dead Purgatory. And when they get involved, it won’t matter if it’s not silvered. You read me?”

She eyed him. “I read you. Not sure I trust you, but I read you.”

He grinned, and for a moment, he looked so human and ordinary it took her aback. “You don’t have to. But, since we’ve each got boots at our throats, might as well embrace the nihilism of mutually assured destruction.”

She frowned at him. “Deal.”

“Good. I’ll check your place over lunch, after I catch my deputy up to speed on this time capsule thing.”

 

She watched Wynonna leave first, wandering out through the hall with a pensive frown on her face and muttering something to herself about tequila. Dolls followed, jacket in hand, and Nicole got up from her desk with a slight frown.

“Uh, she all right?” she asked, bobbing her head to indicate Wynonna.

“No,” Dolls said and rolled his shoulder in a half-shrug. He said it so flatly that Nicole blinked and stared at him, trying to decide if he was joking. “Ready?”

“Uh,” she said again, the picture of eloquence. “Yeah, sure. We’ll take my cruiser.”

He looked like he wanted to argue, and she decided that it really didn’t surprise her that he was the type of person who didn’t like entrusting himself to someone else’s driving.

“I’m on shift still,” she told him flatly. “We’re taking my cruiser.”

He narrowed his eyes, but raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, or at least of grudging acquiescence. She led the way out to her car.

Dolls said nothing for the entire drive out to her home, which was neither surprising nor particularly uncomfortable. Fear was still draped around her shoulders like a stole, but it was down to a manageable level. It was still possible he was planning an ambush, but she didn’t think so. She didn’t smell the tension or hear the rapid heartbeat of someone preparing treachery. He’d gotten into her car and agreed to go to her house—her home turf—and while he could have ordered a squad to be ready around her place, there hadn’t been enough time for them to get into position before they’d arrive.

Plus, Dolls didn’t seem quite so full of leashed rage today as he did the first time they’d spoken. She wondered if he really was being straight with her, and just liked having a job in front of him. Maybe he was easily bored. There was something that seemed right about that, and also somehow amusing.

“Here,” she said simply. She pulled into the driveway and he looked over the front of the house, eyes narrowing. “Chill,” she added as she got out. “Like I said. It’s in the basement.”

He grunted, satisfied, and got out of the car, watching the corners of the house, the door, the windows.

“Mind my cat,” she said as she walked up the front steps and dug her keys out of her pocket. “She doesn’t like men.”

He said nothing, but as he walked inside she could smell his rising anxiety and hostility. She stepped aside and gestured for him to enter, waiting patiently in the entryway as he scanned the main level of the house. He moved with military efficiency, clearing each room, his pistol drawn.

“You done?” she called after him, when he’d made a circuit and returned to the living room. He frowned at her, but holstered his gun. “I live alone, other than Calamity Jane.”

He blinked, then looked to the side where she pointed, noting the ginger ball of fluff perched on the highest bookshelf in the room. Calamity Jane was watching him with wary, subdued hostility.

“Figured you were being sarcastic. How do you keep a cat?” he asked. “Thought they didn’t like shifters.”

“I had her long before I was bitten,” she said with a shrug, pocketing her keys and heading to the far wall. “So she puts up with me well enough, at least as long as I’m, oh, 80% human or so?”

He was quiet for a moment, watching her move an armchair aside. “An early warning system,” he said.

“Basically,” she said, and with a last grunt of effort shoved the armchair far enough over that a wooden trapdoor was visible and accessible. “When she starts hiding from me, I figure it’s time to hunker down.”

“Not a bad system,” he said, and she looked up at him.

“Careful Dolls, that almost sounded like praise,” she said. His expression immediately soured.

“It’s Deputy Marshal—”

“Yeah I know,” she said. “But you’ve been calling me Haught all day and I refuse to be on a titles-only basis with a guy who’s seen my secret dungeon of a basement, all right?”

He pressed his lips together into a thin line and said nothing for a moment. “Fine.”

She grinned. “Maybe hanging out with the Earp is good for you.”

He ignored her and crouched down beside the door, testing the hinges. He slid a short wooden beam back and forth, examining the old crossbar-style lock. He pulled it open, then let go and watched it spring back into place.

“Solid construction. This lock on the trapdoor is a good detail.”

She shrugged. “It’s easy enough to open with a crowbar or a screwdriver from below, but not so much with brute force. My...” She frowned, searching for an appropriate word. “The one who bit me didn’t believe in chains. I had to put a lot of thought into it, and quick.”

He nodded and gestured with a hand. She slid the crossbar aside, opened the trapdoor, and stepped down into the mostly finished basement beneath her home. The space was already a modest size, but the floor space was limited further by thick soundproofing foam and a steel cage that dominated half the space, on the opposite side from the trapdoor.

“Talk me through this,” Dolls said, running his fingers speculatively over the foam and pacing a circuit of the room.

She shrugged uncomfortably. The sound of his voice was deadened slightly by the soundproofing, and the air felt too close, a little stale.

“Cage has two locks. The primary is electronic, and set on a timer. Won’t release until the sun’s up. The mechanical lock is a failsafe for if there’s a loss of power and the backup generator fails. The mechanical lock and the bars are a steel/tungsten alloy.”

“Keys for the mechanical lock?” he asked, circling the bars and tapping his fingers on them experimentally.

She pointed to a nail in the unfinished ceiling. “Hang up there.”

He frowned, following her finger. “Seriously?”

“The bar spacing in the ceiling is tighter so I can’t get my paws through,” she explained. “But it’s possible, barely, to get up and through when I’m me. Worst case scenario, I can stretch through and get them down to unlock myself that way.”

Dolls did another circuit of the room and kicked at the bars, examining the joints.

“It’s good work,” he said finally, dispassionate.

She sighed, more relieved than she’d really expected to be. “Yeah?”

“It’s acceptable,” he said, nodding absently. “Do you change outside the full moon?”

She blew out a breath. “I try not to make a habit of it.”

He looked at her, his expression neutral again. “Why’s that?” There was something about how he said it that made her think it wasn’t part of the checklist. Like it wasn’t something he needed to know, but maybe that he actually wanted to know. It didn’t tell him anything about her kill count or her cage, but it told him how she thought about it. What she believed.

So, she thought about her answer with a little more care. She thought about how it would feel to run as fast as the wind, to leap so high and so far it felt like flight. To feel the wind in her fur and snow crunching beneath her paws as she let herself be free in that feeling, in that moment. To live that, just for a little while. To feel that alive, that vibrant, that powerful.

She shuddered, but not from fear or revulsion. God, she wanted it with a desperation and passion that terrified her.

“Mostly because up until now I was in cities, and it’s really hard to explain that one on the evening news,” she said, a little slow, a little careful. “And I knew that if I did it more, got used to it, got comfortable, it would be easier and easier to do it again, even if it was risky. If I got hooked on it...” She shook her head. “That was an unacceptable risk. If it got like that, it’d only be a matter of time before I slipped up.”

“And what about now that you’re out here?” Dolls watched her, his eyes intent with an emotion she couldn’t name. Something personal, something that was too important to answer flippantly. Something that had nothing to do with Black Badge and everything to do with whatever this deal, this... connection, was between them. “You’re not in a city anymore, Haught.”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” She let out a slow, measured breath. The animal of her wanted it. Wanted it so badly that just giving voice to the possibility, the option, felt like surrendering to it. She could feel it itching to act, to run, to change. She shook her head, pushing it down. Not now. “There’s enough secluded forest out here, that... maybe.”

Dolls was quiet for a bit longer, watching her. His hands were loose, hanging at his sides, like it would be as easy to pull his gun as breathing, but he wasn’t radiating hostility anymore. Just a calm focus that she remembered having once, before Shae, before the bite. A total evenness of intention and emotion. There was part of her that loved the animal, but there was part of her that missed that quiet, all too human calm.

“My goal here is to keep Black Badge from turning Purgatory into a crater. Ordinarily, I would hand you over to BBD and call it a day.” Her nerves jangled like struck wind chimes and she let out a warning growl before she could stop herself. “But,” he said sharply, raising an eyebrow at her until she dropped her gaze and shut her mouth, “I’m a man of my word. I can’t deputize you without drawing a lot more attention, not with them already watching me like hawks about Earp. So while you are technically not under my protection, what you do safely isn’t really my concern. As long as you’re locked up under the moon, we have ourselves a deal.”

He held out a hand and she stared at it for a moment as if she had never seen a handshake before. This was not remotely what she had expected when she’d come to Purgatory. Hell, it wasn’t what she’d expected when she woke up this morning.

“All right,” she said, and stepped forward, clasping his hand in hers and shaking.

Chapter Text

Nicole went over the conversation with Dolls in her head for the third time. Had she messed up anywhere? Left loopholes for him to exploit? There was so much she didn’t know and she was so new to the supernatural scene...

Even if she hadn’t had those handicaps, mind games had never been her strong suit. Even before the bite she’d gotten by more on direct, confident action than on cleverly worded traps. She’d talked a big game about vanishing into the wind but she only knew one person who was even remotely likely to be able to help her get out, and Nicole already owed her for the work on her cage. If she really had to ghost out of Purgatory and god forbid she had to do it without help, her odds of actually ducking BBD’s attention were so low she might as well just swallow a silver bullet and save everyone the trouble of a drawn-out pursuit.

There’s a reason foxhunting involves mounted riders and dogs, after all, and it isn’t to ensure the fox has a nice leisurely stroll through the woods.

“Haught!”

Nicole jerked in her chair, yanking her head up to look at the Sheriff. He looked a little pale, and he was radiating tension even from across the room.

“Yes sir?”

“Surplus store. We’ve got shots fired, hostages.”

As if blown away by a strong wind, all her thoughts of leaving Purgatory vanished. She stood, flicking her gaze around the empty room. “Anyone on scene?”

“We are. Get your car.”

She cursed under her breath and grabbed her hat. “Yes sir.”

When they pulled up on the street in front of the surplus store she was scant feet behind Nedley’s cruiser. She pulled left, to block part of the road, and hesitated, letting her hearing equalize in the wake of the sirens. Normally she wore ear plugs on the road, to deaden all but the nearest, most relevant sounds, but there’d been so little time. Damn, but sometimes trying to keep her job post-bite sucked.

When she got out, Nedley was headed her way.

“We’re taking our cues from Dolls,” he said, his voice low. She nodded, keeping part of her attention on Dolls and Earp. “Tac Team will take too long.”

“Hostage-taking is about bargaining, right?” Wynonna was saying, quietly, to avoid anyone eavesdropping. She and Nedley were far enough that ordinarily, Wynonna’s efforts would have been enough. “We have things they want.”

“The combination?”

“And the Earp heir.”

“No. Too risky.”

“Hey!”

“They'll kill you.”

Nedley frowned, scanning the road. “We’ve got two more cars on their way. For now, let’s keep an eye on the building.”

“We’ll want eyes on the back door,” Nicole noted, trying not to sound distracted. What the hell did “the Earp heir” mean?

“You said it yourself,” Wynonna continued, “They're trying to piece together some kind of spell. So if they think I can help them get what they want, then that's gotta be worth every person in there!”

Dolls hesitated, his face screwed up in distaste. He pulled an iPhone from his pocket and handed it to her, and now Nedley had turned to follow Nicole’s attention, frowning at the exchange happening a car length’s away.

“Give this to whoever's in charge. And–”

“Never get into a vehicle, never move to a second location.”

Nicole raised an eyebrow, just as surprised as Dolls. “You've been in a hostage situation before.”

Wynonna gave him a sly smile. “Sort of.”

“Well this time,” Dolls said firmly, “You're the law, and innocent people are depending on you. Now, your gun.”

“What?”

“They're not gonna let you in there with it. I'll get it back to you Earp. I promise.”

Wynonna hesitated, but with an expression of supreme displeasure, removed her Colt .45 from its holster and handed it to Dolls. He took it, then stroked behind Wynonna’s ear in a downright unsettling display of tenderness. Nicole narrowed her eyes, listening to Wynonna’s heartrate picking up with nerves and confusion. The moment ended, Dolls’ hand dropping, and the two BBD agents swapped places. “Here we go,” she muttered to Nedley, who gave her an odd look.

Wynonna turned and headed for the door of the surplus store, phone in hand and arms raised. Dolls raised his pistol and Nicole shifted to the side, raising her own, just as Nedley picked a position and raised his rifle to bear on the door, each of them waiting for anything remotely like a clear shot.

Wynonna’s voice was low, hard to hear at the distance, but Nicole strained and squinted, trying to listen.

“You know who I am?” she asked the man in the fringed leather jacket.

Oh yeah,” he mused, looking her up and down.

“Take me in exchange for the hostages, and I'll help you get what you need.”

The man frowned at her, glancing over Earp’s shoulder, then grabbed her wrist and hauled her inside.

“Dammit,” Nicole snapped, lowering her pistol.

Dolls pulled out his own phone and dialed, and she shifted a few steps closer, listening.

“All right, tell me what you want.”

The voice on the other end of the phone crackled and hissed through the speaker, but she could hear it clearly enough.

“I'll release some hostages, but if you try anything, people will die.”

Dolls paced a few steps back and forth, his voice turning icy. “The Black Badge Division has facilities outside the Ghost River Triangle, and if you harm one hair on my deputy's head, I guarantee you a fate much worse than death.”

There was a tense pause, and then more quietly, as if speaking to Earp, “Come on.”

Dolls hung up and she waited, glancing to Nedley. The sheriff took up a position behind his cruiser’s open door, and nodded at her, evidently satisfied to wait.

Minutes ticked by in agonizing tension. Nedley radioed their backup and while they were still waiting two more squad cars arrived, sirens off.

Finally three people emerged from the surplus store, their hands bound in plastic cording. The two officers who’d arrived set about releasing them, and she moved to Dolls’ side, holstering her pistol.

“What’s the plan, Deputy Marshal?” she asked, keeping her eyes on the building.

“We surround the store,” he said. Compared to how he talked to Nedley, there was a notable lack of ice in his voice. Maybe he really was as good as his word. There was something strangely comforting about the idea. “You get a clear shot, let me know.”

“Okay,” she said, her gaze tracking windows.

He offered her his phone, and she took it. “Call Waverly, let her know her sister's in a situation.”

“Okay,” she said again, letting her gaze slide sideways to the street. She paused, frowning. “Hey. Isn't that Champ's truck?”

Dolls turned to look where she was looking. “Waverly's boyfriend?”

A low noise rumbled in her chest and Dolls shot her a glance. “Unfortunately,” she said, and stepped away, sifting through his contacts list until she found Earp (younger).

“Pick up, Waverly,” she muttered, standing by her cruiser as she listened to the phone ringing.

“Hey!”

“Waverly, it’s—”

“You’ve reached Waverly Earp. Leave me a message, okay?”

Nicole groaned and ducked her head against the roof of her car with a low thump. Waverly’s light laugh finished out the recording, and then the voicemail system beeped.

“Waverly, it’s Nicole. Uh, Officer Haught. Listen, I wanted to let you know that Wynonna and—uh, and Champ, are in a hostage situation, but Deputy Marshal Dolls and I are on it. We’ll get her back. A-all of them. I promise.”

She hung up on the recording and cursed under her breath, kicking the back tire of her cruiser so hard the body shook. “I promise?” she hissed at herself. “You idiot!”

Nicole returned the phone to Dolls, smiling stiffly. “I’ll watch the back door,” she said, and didn’t wait for his response before she drew her pistol and moved to circle the building, waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

She stayed there until she heard shouting from the front of the building, checked the back door for signs of anyone on the other side. One of the other officers was at the opposite corner—she nodded at him to remain, then ran back around to the makeshift blockade she and Nedley had made.

“Can I at least shoot out the tires?” Nedley was asking Dolls, barely restrained fury in his voice.

“Yeah,” Dolls said drily, “If you want them to die now, go ahead.”

Nicole stopped beside them, pistol drawn as the van’s engine turned over and caught with an ominous roar. Wynonna was behind the wheel, her eyes wide with fear and focus.

“What, we’re just letting them go?” Nicole snapped, as the van rumbled forward.

“No,” Dolls said.

She raised her pistol. For a moment she imagined how this might play out differently. She was denser and stronger than she looked—if she set her boots and stood her ground, maybe changed a little, she could stop the van cold. She could see it perfectly in her mind’s eye—asphalt creaking under her feet as she braced her weight and shoved her palms against the front fender, her nails sharpening to claws with the effort and punching through the old steel, the tires spinning and spinning until rubber smoked and burned. She could picture it, the eyes of that asshole in the leather jacket so wide they would look almost entirely white, the sound of his racing, terrified heartbeat audible even over the old van’s tortured 8 cylinders.

The van rolled closer. She snarled, the sound lost under the van’s engine, and moved aside. Once the van was past them, she holstered her pistol.

They stood next to Dolls’ SUV as the van picked up speed, and for a moment, the three of them stood in a horrible silence.

“You two,” Dolls said, his voice hollow. “Clear the scene.”

Nedley glanced at him, then moved to do as he said, barking orders to the other two responding officers.

Nicole leveled him with a look that might have curdled milk, and she could feel her canine teeth sharpening and lengthening in her mouth.

He watched her right back, his expression softening by a degree. He dipped his head, just slightly. I’ve got this.

While Nedley’s back was still turned she bared her fangs to convey how little she liked this plan. He flicked his gaze in the sheriff’s direction, a silent command. She cursed and turned aside, waving off bystanders and moving into step with the sheriff.

 

The memorial at Shorty’s was nice. Understated, elegant, simple. It seemed appropriate, somehow, as a tribute to the man himself.

And it was impossible to overstate how much this was not how Nicole had imagined meeting Waverly again.

The place wasn’t packed, but there was a fair number of folks milling about, making small talk and swapping stories, sharing memories of the dead over the dead’s stock of whiskey and beer. Also, in its own way, appropriate. The air was choked with the smell of flowers, alcohol, and grieving humans. It was a heavy scent, horrible in its own way, but somehow very real, very alive. People were simultaneously never more alive and never so close to death as when they were mourning.

Nicole mingled for a few minutes, nodding and clasping hands as she went with her best professional, yet caring smile on. She spotted Waverly and moved toward her, tucking her thumbs into her belt as she snaked through the small crowd to the end of one of the long bars. Waverly stood on the workers’ side, her hands resting on the polished old wood and her head bowed just slightly. It was a posture Nicole recognized—the silent, self-imposed seclusion of someone who’s borne too much for one life and yet borne all of it alone, until it’s impossible to imagine anyone even being able to help. The long-term, bone-deep, very real grief that cannot be explained, cannot be shared.

It was sometimes easy to forget that Waverly was only 21. But now, when she looked so small, so fragile, Nicole remembered that Waverly was still so very young, and yet had seen so very, very much.

Nicole rounded the bar and moved closer to her. “Waverly.”

She looked up, her eyes red-rimmed and shiny with tears, and Nicole’s heart stopped for an agonizing second. It was hard to describe how emotions smelled—the mix of pheromone and chemical that she’d learned to tell one from another—but grief, she thought, smelled somehow, irrationally, like iodine in an open wound.

“I’m so sorry,” she breathed. What was there to say? What else could she say?

Waverly looked aside, her breath hitching audibly in her throat. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said, her voice cracking, crumbling. She closed her eyes and ducked her head again.

I’m here, she wanted to say. I’m here if you want me, I’m here even if you don’t, I just can’t leave you to suffer alone like this. Never like this.

Nicole did the only thing she could think to do. She reached out, across the bar, and took Waverly’s hands, touching her wrist for a moment and hoping against hope that even without words, Waverly would understand.

The simple contact took her breath away. Waverly’s hands were soft, impossibly so, and so small. This close the parts of her scent that were her—the shampoo Nicole recognized from before, ink and old paper, the faint scent of lingering cigarette smoke and whiskey from working at the bar—competed with the iodine smell, drowning it out until she was aware of it only as a secondary point.

And impossibly, Waverly turned her hands just a little within Nicole’s, and gripped her fingers, the pressure light but still very real. The animal in her wanted to throw back her head and howl in relief and joy and hope, but she tamped that down with a vengeance, giving Waverly a weak, supportive smile.

But as quickly as the moment had begun, it ended. Champ swooped in like a falcon, one arm coming up to curl around Waverly and cradle her face in his hand, the other looping around her shoulders as he layered wet, audible kisses over the entire right side of her face.

“Oh it’s okay,” he murmured, between kisses.

Waverly’s hands went stiff, releasing her, and Nicole pulled her own back. She glanced once at the couple, but between Champ’s possessive, insensitive kisses and Waverly’s quiet disapproval and halfhearted attempts to stop him, Nicole had to shove down the urge to growl and tear him away from Waverly by main force. Her teeth had gone sharp again, pressing into her tongue and lower lip, and she looked down, aside, anywhere but at them directly. Even without watching it, she knew the sound of his lips on her face and Waverly’s quiet hey, um, okay, would haunt her dreams for at least the next few nights.

She counted out breaths—four in, hold for seven, out for eight—until her teeth were back to normal and she didn’t feel quite so... itchy with frustration.

“Hey, um.” Waverly’s hand hit the bar, reaching for her, and part of Nicole almost took it as what it looked like, a plea for help. The urge to grab Champ by the shirt collar and yank him bodily over the bar came back in a surge of useless, misdirected aggression, but Waverly’s smile distracted her. “I got your voicemail,” she said, more softly. “About Wynonna. Thanks.”

Champ’s voice was even quieter than hers as he added, “Thank you.”

“That was really sweet,” Waverly said.

She was aware Champ had spoken, but she could only focus on Waverly. Nicole smiled, a fragile, tenuous thing, and nodded. “Yeah,” she breathed. “Sure.” Champ was still watching her and she glanced at him, sobering under his gaze. He didn’t look hostile, but she could have smelled the territorial insecurity on him from across the room. “Of course,” she said, and stepped away as Champ encircled Waverly in a more obvious hug.

“I don’t know,” he grumbled to her, and Nicole had to work not to visibly react while she listened to him. “Something about her rubs me the wrong way. Miss Officer... what’s-her-name. Tch.”

“It’s Haught,” Waverly said, an edge of disapproval to her voice, and Nicole’s heart threatened to burst from her chest, even as Champ made an unimpressed noise. “She’s– she...”

What she was, Waverly never said, and Champ returned to a more protective, comforting tone. Nicole moved further away, biting down her frustration. After her chat with Dolls and this debacle, she wanted to change and run more than ever. She stayed, lingering by the wall, trying not to watch them, before she finally picked Dolls out of the crowd and approached him.

What a twist her life had taken, that she would rather talk to the dry, humorless Deputy Marshal Dolls than Waverly Earp and her ex-rodeo-clown boyfriend doing his best impression of a koala. It made her head hurt to try to understand it.

“Hey, uh, any update on that time capsule murder?” she asked, and he turned to look at her, smirking.

“Nedley knows I won’t tell him, huh,” he said.

She grinned, looking away. God knew that was the truth. Nedley would never buy three hooligans holding up a surplus store and kidnapping hostages for a magic spell.

“It’s unresolved,” Dolls said. Nicole turned back to him, a little surprised he’d actually answered. “We’re handing the case back over to metro.”

Nicole pursed her lips, thinking. That tracked—whatever the diary had been stolen for had already gone down, so the murder wasn’t BBD’s problem anymore.

“Any connection to the kidnapping?” Nicole asked.

“None,” Dolls said immediately, and turned to look at her. By the look in his eye and the twitch of the corner of his mouth, that was most certainly a lie. She gave him a minute nod, if only to indicate she understood the unspoken.

“Poor Shorty,” she said, to satisfy social niceties, just in case someone was listening.

“Yeah.” He frowned, thoughtful. “We have his body. We’re doing a full autopsy.” Across the room, Nicole tracked Waverly, finally minus one leech, walking to stand with Wynonna. She was listening to Dolls, mostly, but the majority of her attention was on the small, fragile young woman with the saddest smile she’d ever seen. “But our best guess is the stress of the ordeal was too much for his heart condition.”

Dolls glanced at her, though she barely noticed.

“She said she was glad I called,” she said, not really thinking.

“I bet,” Dolls mused.

She glanced at him, then looked away, clearing her throat.

“I... I should go.” He didn’t stop her, and with a nod to Nedley, she left Shorty’s. She wanted to leave town, but she knew that was liable to cause more problems than it solved. She’d go back to the station and bury herself in work.

As she sat down in her cruiser, her own words echoed through her mind.

We’ll get her back. All of them. I promise.

With the car doors shut and the windows up, no one could hear the snarl that bubbled up in her chest or the thud of impact when she slammed her hand against the dashboard so hard she left a vaguely palm-shaped indent in the PVC.

With most of the town inside Shorty’s or off the streets, no one could see her curl her hands into fists until her nails broke skin and drew blood.

Dammit.

Chapter Text

Premonition, as a concept and a human phenomenon, predates written history. The ancients sometimes called it the sight, or the gift, and deemed it the purview of those who were close to the divine or, sometimes, of those who had lost their physical sight, and were given the ability to see fate as compensation. Later, with no rational, scientific explanation for epileptic seizures and drug- or fumes-induced hallucinations, some chose to believe in prophecies delivered in cryptic riddles by oracles.

Even in the modern era, superstitions grant mystic, arcane weight to foresight. Like sailors saying they can feel storms coming in their bones, or the elderly and the injured feeling approaching weather in their joints and healed limbs. Sometimes even completely ordinary, normal folk experience what they might describe as a horrible, gut-deep feeling or an unnatural, strong sense that something is coming, be it good or bad.

Nicole didn’t feel the oncoming full moon as a vibe or a vague sense of approaching doom. More so she felt it the way pets sense natural disasters—a heavy, distant thrum of imminent change. She didn’t used to be aware of the moon’s cycle, of course, but now, after the bite, she tracked it compulsively on her calendar. Not that she really needed to. She’d have known it was coming with or without a reminder on her phone. The first morning of it, as soon as she woke up, she could feel it buzzing in her teeth like they’d been struck with a tuning fork. She could hear it, like a discordant tinnitus whine in her ears that was just above the level of conscious hearing, quiet but omnipresent. It made her itch, a sensation just under the skin that wouldn’t ease no matter how much she scratched. It made her inner calm bubble and boil like a pot ready to spill over.

This wasn’t her first change, but it was the most uncomfortable she’d had since she’d left Shae’s company, and it was her first in Purgatory. And now, as she sat at her desk and scratched feverishly at her left forearm where she’d rolled the sleeve up, she wondered if coming to the Ghost River Triangle had been a terrible mistake.

Maybe it was something in the water.

“Haught.”

She froze, stiff as a board. It was a miracle she didn’t audibly growl.

“Dolls.”

The deputy marshal frowned at her, eyeing her dubiously. “You okay?”

Nicole forced herself to pull her hand away from her arm and pretended not to notice she’d scratched red lines into her own skin. She thought about giving him another monosyllabic answer, but frowned and took a quick glance around. There were a few officers around, but no one nearby enough to hear, so she looked at him plainly and grumbled, “Do I look okay?”

He watched her for a moment, then handed her a post-it. “I need you to run this plate.”

She forced her eyes to focus on the note. It took a moment before she recognized what he was handing her, but she took it, reading the string of characters. “Sure.” She jogged the mouse on her desk to bring her computer screen out of its screensaver, and started tapping in numbers.

He frowned at her, and under his scrutiny she hunched her shoulders. She hadn’t braided her hair this morning—the effort and focus involved made her want to tear it all out—and she brushed it back from her face in a nervous, fitful gesture that Dolls tracked with something that was meant to look like blasé disinterest.

“Samantha Baker,” she mused, scanning her screen. She added the address to the post-it and handed it back to Dolls with a frown. “I don’t suppose you need any extra hands on this one? I think I’m getting a little cabin fever here or something.”

He pursed his lips and tucked the note into his pocket. “Yeah, ‘or something.’ We’re just talking with Baker, so how about you sit this one out, Haught. Get some lunch.”

“Lunch?” she asked, bewildered. “It’s barely eleven.”

“You need protein,” he said. His voice said casual suggestion but his eyes said do it or I’ll make you regret it.

“Fine,” she muttered, and grabbed her hat. Dolls slid away without a word and she shrugged into her coat. “Lonnie, I’m taking an early lunch.”

“Does that mean I can take mine at 12:30?” he asked.

“Fine,” she snapped, and ducked her head, grimacing, when he flinched. “Sorry. Just hungry. Back in a few.”

“Sure thing, Nicole.”

She nodded to him and swept past the counter, dodging any curious glances as she made her way outside to the street.

There were a few places in Purgatory to get a decent meal before noon, and Nicole meant to walk toward one of them, but when she checked back into her own brain, she was standing outside Shorty’s.

“Oh. Hell,” she muttered to herself, but it was what it was. She walked inside, waving to a few of the regulars lounging at booths and tables around the place. She couldn’t see anyone behind the bar, but when she walked up to it and peered back and forth, Waverly popped up from where she’d been crouched stowing bottles beneath the counter.

“Hey!” Waverly said, smiling and wiping her hands off on her shorts.

“Wh—hey,” Nicole said, her brain short-circuiting. Waverly, maybe two feet away from her, smelling delicious like ink and paper and soft skin and beer. She was wearing the bar’s trademark shirt with the hem tied off so that a few inches of belly showed above the waistband of her shorts. Part of her brain had numerous ideas of what to do with that visual, and that outfit, but she slammed those all away and tried to look a rational human woman and not a slobbering dog with her tongue hanging out.

“You look so different with your hair down!” Waverly said, smiling, and she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “I mean good different, not bad different. You look good. I mean, it’s good to see you. In better circumstances, you know?”

Nicole’s mouth worked as she searched for something to say, a frisson of raw energy running down her spine. Not sure the first morning of a full moon is better circumstances, she thought, feeling a little delirious. Waverly thought it was good to see her. Her heart might have skipped once, but maybe that was just the moon.

“Yeah,” she said finally, hoping her grin looked somewhere vaguely in the vicinity of natural.

“Cappuccino to go, right?” Waverly said, smiling, seemingly unfazed by Nicole’s vacant expression.

“No,” Nicole said, a little too fast, then winced. “I mean, yes. I mean, not yet?”

Waverly tilted her head to one side, concern rapidly replacing the smile. “Officer Haught, are you okay?”

Not remotely, she thought, but she started to nod anyway. “Oh, yeah, I’m f—”

Waverly reached up, leaning on her toes to set the back of her hand against Nicole’s forehead like a mother checking for fever. Her eyes slipped shut and a low rumble of... affection? Pleasure, maybe? kicked up in her chest.

“Oh god,” Waverly said, without hesitation, or, for that matter, much tact. “Officer, maybe you should see a doctor. Feels like you’re burning up. And are you sure you don’t have a cough? You don’t sound so good.”

Nicole strangled the sound to a stop and forced her eyes open again, giving Waverly a clumsy, crooked grin. “Oh, uh, no, I’m alright. It’s just– uh, allergies, you know. Just need a good meal and a break from my desk.”

Waverly gave her a look of supreme skepticism, the sort of look mastered by younger siblings and the kind of children whose parents called them too smart for their own good. But she frowned, nodded in acceptance, and set her hands on the bar.

“All right,” she said. “Then what will you have?”

“I hear you guys make a mean steak sandwich?” Nicole said, hazarding a shy smile. It worked, at least a little, because Waverly’s expression softened, and she sighed.

“You’ve heard right. Goes best with beer, but it’s a bit early in the day for that. Go on and sit wherever you like, Officer. I’ll get you the sandwich, and the coffee.”

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, already reaching for her wallet, her free arm resting on the bar.

“Nothing,” Waverly said, setting a hand on Nicole’s arm. “I never really thanked you for getting Wynonna out safely last week.” Nicole froze. Waverly’s fingers brushed over the red scratches across her skin but rather than pain, she felt... peace. For the first time all morning, she felt just a little less tense, the itching, horrible weight of the moon a little more distant. “And besides, I still owe you that coffee from the first time.”

“Oh,” Nicole said lamely, and let out a breath. “Well... thank you.”

Waverly smiled, then glanced down, as if she’d only just noticed what she was doing. “God,” she said, pulling her hand down to cover Nicole’s instead, her fingertips resting just below where the scratches ended. “What happened? Did you get into a fight with a bike chain?”

Nicole laughed. It felt good, to laugh with Waverly. Which in its own way hurt more. “No, uh, my cat.”

“Aw,” Waverly cooed. “You have a cat? Have any pictures?”

“Um,” Nicole said, “I think so. On my phone?”

“You sit, and see if you can find any,” Waverly said, with the firm, patient tone of one striking a bargain, “And I’ll get that sandwich.”

“Sure,” Nicole said. Waverly walked away to put the order in, and Nicole found herself grinning like an idiot. Her stomach was doing flips, but for once it wasn’t moon-sickness.

 

After she got back to the station, Dolls approached her desk again, though this time she was centered enough to hear him coming.

“I need candles,” he said, without preamble.

She looked up at him, snorted, and glanced back at her computer screen. “You know, I really didn’t take you for the type, Dolls.”

Haught,” he snapped, and leaned forward, setting his hands on her desk so that his face was less than a foot from hers.

“Wh—” She sighed heavily and raised her hands away from her keyboard in a you win gesture. “Fine, okay, you have my attention. Lean back though, you’re gonna rile me up again and I only just calmed down.”

He frowned, but listened, leaning back a little out of her space. Not as much as she’d have liked, but it was an improvement. He kept his voice quiet. “I need ritual-grade candles. Blessed, ideally. Know any...” He paused, putting emphasis on the word, “Wiccans in the area?”

Nicole frowned at him, tensing a bit and narrowing her eyes at him. “Maybe. Why.”

“For a summ—” He broke off as an officer crossed the bullpen behind him, glancing to the side to watch until the man had walked out of earshot. “Summoning ritual. Lives are on the line.”

She watched him for a moment more, pressing her lips together. “This is about Earp again, isn’t it.”

“Does it matter?” he asked.

Did it? Maybe it did. She thought of Waverly’s soft hand on her arm and her voice, gentle and so grateful it made her heart hurt.

I never really thanked you for getting Wynonna out safely last week.

“I guess not, no,” she allowed grudgingly. “Though I don’t understand how she gets herself into these things all the time. All right. When do you need them? How many?”

“I need five,” he said immediately, “And I need them an hour ago.”

“Reasonable timeframe, Dolls.”

He huffed out a breath and checked his watch. “Eighty minutes.”

She eyed him. “Do you ever have like, a normal day? You know, without a ticking bomb clock?”

“Do you?”

She thought of the moon, looming closer, waiting for sunset. She thought of steel bars and the horrible pain of organs shredding and reforming.

“Fine, fine, I’m going.”

The Blacksmith lived well outside town limits, in a building that looked more rundown warehouse than homestead. It doubled as her smithy, and the exterior was a minor labyrinth of no trespassing signs and barricades adorned with bleached animal skulls. Nicole had been here once before, during a waning moon, and even then the primal, vibrant energy of the witch’s lair had made her hair stand on end and her skin crawl.

Now, on a full moon’s day, the thrumming power of the place drove her to her knees the moment her boots hit the earth. She fell forward, the snow immediately soaking through her khakis, letting in a bitter chill that sank all the way to her bones. She could hear the door-ajar warning chiming dutifully from the cabin of her cruiser, but it didn’t register. The radio crackled, something about Kyle and Peter York fighting in the street outside Shorty’s.

All of it was background noise.

She groaned, doubling over onto all fours, her gloves sinking into the snow. A sound tore out of her throat that was somewhere horribly in between human and animal, a tortured noise that was half shout, half howl.

She wasn’t sure how long she knelt there, fingers curling into the earth with audible creaking from her joints, her blood boiling, her whole body buzzing with the itch to change, to tear free from her own skin and run into the mountains, hunting and killing like the monstrous beast she really was.

Boots crunched in the snow nearby and she forced herself to look up, tracking along the Blacksmith’s heavy work apron until she saw the witch’s face. Her dark skin stood out against the cloudy sky, her black hair billowing in a breeze Nicole couldn’t feel. She ducked her head, more small, growling groans of pain ripping free. She touched a hand to her face, wincing. Her hair had turned thick and shaggy, shorter, more like fur. Her ears were pointed, and a bit too large, and almost all her teeth had turned, making it hard to close her mouth.

“Back so soon, shifter?” the Blacksmith asked, arching one elegant eyebrow. “If this is about the cage, I suggest actually trying to use it before you second-guess my work.”

“No,” Nicole said, the word coming out too heavy, too thick, slurred past her fangs. “Candles. For a ritual. For a friend.”

“Hm.” The Blacksmith considered that, then shut the car door with a slam that made Nicole yelp and duck her head, clapping her hands over her ears. The Blacksmith’s hand fell heavily on her shoulder and hauled her bodily to her feet, but under the witch’s grasp the overwhelming power of the land fell away. The pain of changing back so fast made Nicole’s whole world go blindingly white for a moment, but then she blinked away spots and found she could stand of her own power, and felt weakly at her face. She was human.

“Thank you,” she breathed.

The Blacksmith chuckled and rolled a shoulder. “Come inside. You may regret thanking me once you’ve heard my price for the candles.”

 

“Here,” she told Dolls, carefully setting all five of the fat tallow candles on his desk after he opened the BBD office door for her.

“What happened to your hand?” he asked, frowning.

“Her price for the candles was a werewolf’s claw,” she muttered, and left the room again without a word.

 

When Waverly arrived a half hour later, her hand didn’t ache quite so much. The witch had made her soak her finger in some kind of herbal concoction and bandaged it before she left, but the pain still lingered in the back of her awareness. The visit to the witch’s land, too, had brought the moon-sickness back with prejudice, and she felt absolutely electric with tension and frustration and the desire to run, to hunt, to kill, to... help Waverly with the enormous stack of files she was carrying?

“Oh, geez, here,” Nicole said, jumping to her feet to open a door for her, keeping her bandaged hand behind her hip and out of sight.

“Hey! Officer Haught, thank you,” Waverly said, grinning at her and sighing gratefully once she was through. “Actually I’m really glad I found you,” she said.

The animal in her perked up at that, and Nicole fought down the urge to grin in triumph.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, and her tone shifted slightly, rising in pitch. “Um, it’s kind of a big favor though, and it might be a little bit, uh, technically illegal?” she said, grinning hopefully. She waggled her body back and forth, shoulders bobbing in a pleading little dance. “But it’s totally important and you know I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t a really big deal...”

Nicole hesitated, chewing on her lip. On the one hand, Waverly wanted something illegal from her. On the other, Waverly wanted her help. No, needed her help.

Dammit.

“What is it that you need from me,” Nicole said slowly.

“Um...” Waverly set the files down on Nicole’s desk and grinned at her. “The keys to John Henry’s holding cell?”

Nicole frowned. “Wait, what?”

“Well it’s just that he’s only being held on suspicion as it is but in order to prove he didn’t do it I need him to answer a question for me but I don’t think he’ll do it if I don’t offer to let him out in exchange.”

Nicole blinked. Damn, but the girl could talk fast when she wanted to. She shook her head, thinking. Waverly’s presence was doing something to her, if the itching, rising sensation of need in her chest was any indication, and she was torn between getting rid of Waverly as fast as possible or just grabbing her and pushing her against a wall and—

Whoa, okay, pump the fucking brakes there Haught.

“Officer Haught?” Waverly asked, more gently. “Are your allergies still bothering you?”

“What?” Nicole said, then raised her hand. “Oh! Um, yeah, a little, sorry. Uh, yeah, I can... I can give you the key, but—”

“Oh god, thank you,” Waverly breathed, and she threw her arms around Nicole, hugging her tightly. “Thank you thank you.”

Nicole froze for the space of a full breath, all of her howling to hold her in return, to grab her or kiss her or hell just fucking talk to her.

“Heh,” she said faintly, and very, very gently hugged Waverly back. “Uh, no problem. And, I mean, if I’m gonna be an accomplice, just, seriously, call me Nicole. ”

Waverly laughed softly and stepped back again, grinning up at her. “Nicole. Thank you.” Nicole handed her the key, which she pocketed, and then Waverly gathered up her files again. “I’ll return it as soon as I’m done talking to him.”

“Great,” Nicole said, a bit weakly.

Waverly headed for the next hall. Nicole watched her go, then collapsed into her chair.

“That girl’s gonna lose me my job,” she muttered, and ducked her head into her hands, praying that she wasn’t getting a headache on top of everything else.

Except she was. Or rather, if she hadn’t already, she would have spontaneously developed one when Dolls returned to his offices with a crate in tow, found John Henry free and loitering in his offices, and started a goddamn shouting match while the door was still wide open. Even without supernatural hearing, she’d have been able to hear practically everything as the three of them—John, Dolls, and Wynonna—all shouted over each other.

“YOU belong in jail!”

“How are we gonna do this without him?"

“Oh you know damn well I didn’t do anything. You know that!”

“No! What was the point of asking him, if—"

“Get the HELL out of my office!”

"How are we gonna do this without—he doesn't belong in jail, he didn't DO anything!"

Waverly’s whistle was practically deafening, but at least it shut the other three up.

“Hey!” she shouted, and Nicole let her forehead thump against her desk in relief. Her head was throbbing, and so was her hand, and her skin still itched all over. “You should be ashamed of yourselves! The Barber is coming to slice up Wynonna,” Waverly continued, her voice strident and more commanding than Nicole had ever heard it, “And you guys are blubbering like a big bunch of bratty babies!”

There was a brief pause, in which no one else spoke.

Thank you.”

Nicole considered what was being said, considered her ability to help, and then glanced out the window. The sky was just beginning to darken.

“Nope,” she muttered to herself, gathering up her coat and her hat. “Nope, I’m not even going to ask. This one’s on them.” She poked her head into Nedley’s open doorway. “Sheriff, mind if I leave a few minutes early?”

Nedley looked up from his computer, took one look at her, and then nodded. “Go on. You’ve looked peaked all day. Get some rest, Deputy.”

“Yes sir,” Nicole said, and left the building.

When she got home and locked the door behind her, Calamity Jane hissed at her and bolted into the bedroom. She sighed, made herself a sandwich, and then went about moving the armchair over her basement door. The rest was an unceremonious affair: she climbed down into the basement, hung the keys on the nail, shut the trapdoor, and left her clothes near the ladder. A few minutes before sunset, she stepped into her cage.

The door shut and locked with an ominous series of whirring, thudding clicks.

Chapter Text

Nicole dreamed.

She dreamed of open fields covered in snow, of trees spaced so wide she could barrel between the trunks at top speed and never touch them. Of open skies, of mountainsides that rang when she howled, filling the air with wolfsong that set every bird, rabbit, deer, fox and weasel in five miles scrambling for their burrows or taking to the air.

She dreamed of golden eyes and dripping, bloodied fangs. She dreamed of a pain, silver-hot and piercing, in her shoulder. Of whispers in her ear, too quiet to hear and yet somehow crystalline clear.

I love you, Nicole. I’ll come back for you.

 

She woke up on the ground. Her whole body ached, and a knot of agony flared in her lower back when she tried to twist onto her side. She could feel scratches, already scabbing over, all over her shoulders, arms, hips, and upper back. Her jaw ached, her knuckles were bloodied, and when she cracked open one eye, there was a suspicious smear of blood on the ceiling of the cage. Maybe she’d tried for the keys. Damn. She might have to rethink that part. Still, it looked like the cage had worked. She was in one piece, the bars looked intact when she turned her head in each direction, and no one was hurt.

Though she smelled someone in the room with her. That was odd.

“Haught.”

Later, she would insist that she had responded with a furious and very reasonable shout of disapproval. Like any normal person would have.

She most certainly did not scream. No matter what Dolls said.

“Don’t look at me,” Nicole growled, her voice hoarse and raw.

“I’m not.”

“What the hell are you doing here, Dolls, seriously.”

“Figured you’d be hungry.” She rolled over, a little, as he grabbed her pants and tossed them backward to her. They hit the bars and fell to the ground, and she reached through, pulling them in to her and sluggishly stuffing herself back into them.

He tossed her shirt back next, then held a brown paper bag out to his side where she could see, shaking it so she could hear something rustling inside. She pulled her t-shirt over her head and sniffed at the air, and the smell of hamburger meat and grease made her mouth water.

Well, no, actually she was outright drooling. She wiped at her mouth and chin, self-conscious.

“‘M decent,” she muttered, and tested the lock. The knob turned when she reached through and pushed at it, and the door swung open, letting her step out into the room as Dolls turned around.

“Damn,” he said, taking in the lingering claw marks visible around her shirt, and handed her the bag. If he judged her for the way she grabbed it away from him, crouched down next to the bars of her cage, and tore into the bag’s contents, it didn’t show on his face.

“You can’t be here just for a social call,” she mumbled, through a mouthful of fries.

He frowned, weighing his words.

“My superiors aren’t pleased with my progress,” he said after a moment. Her blood ran cold, and he lifted a hand in a down girl sort of motion. “If I were gonna hand you over, do you think we’d be having a conversation?”

She grumbled, the sound far too similar to a displeased pet for her dignity’s sake. “You can’t pull this shit on me when I’ve only been me for like twenty minutes, Dolls. Not cool. It’s like talking before coffee.”

His mouth twisted in a wry smirk, but then he sobered.

“Thing is, Earp’s methods aren’t very good for bag and tag deals.”

“She does seem more comfortable with the direct approach,” she agreed, taking another big bite of the burger.

“Is there anyone,” he began, watching her face.

She flicked her gaze up to him, the burger still in her mouth, and slowly withdrew it. For a moment, they just stared at each other. He smelled wrong. Tense, stiff, hurting. Not sick, but something adjacent. He was sweating, shaky. He was scared, she realized suddenly, and something was wrong with him.

He was scared, and that made him weak. The part of her that was still bent to the moon’s pull, that was still all wolf and very little human, wanted to toss aside the food and take him, pin him to the ground and make him show his throat to her. She was stronger, faster, and she could be a whole lot bigger in barely the time it would take to jump at him. Her vision turned a little gold, the shadows lessening, showing her details. She could see each curve of foam along the walls, could find every bit of the outline of Dolls—the bulk of his body armor under his jacket, the blocky outline of his gun.

His weak, unprotected throat.

He narrowed his eyes, and she blinked hers a few times. The gold tint over the world faded, and the shadows deepened again. She shook her head a little, as if clearing out cobwebs, and he relaxed by a few degrees, some of the tension easing out of his shoulders.

“You’re asking me to sell out other supernaturals to Black Badge,” she said finally, when she could trust herself to speak without every word coming out as a growl.

He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to.

She settled on the floor, leaning her aching back against the bars. “Dolls,” she said, frowning at him. “Listen, if I knew any local supernaturals, civil ones, I mean, I’m not sure I’d be willing to hand them over.”

“But?” he asked, frowning.

“But it doesn’t matter,” she said, sounding tired, even to her own ears. “I don’t know any.”

His eyes turned sharp, flinty. That definitely wasn’t the answer he was looking for.

“Dolls,” she said, raising a hand to placate him and keeping her voice carefully even. “I only got here a few weeks ago. I’ve barely won over the normal folks here. Purgatory doesn’t really even have a gay bar, do you really think it’s got supernatural bars? Local freakshow book clubs, or—or Tupperware parties? We can’t exactly advertise in the local gazette. Besides which, I’m a cop. Even if I figured out where they hide and hang out, you think they’re gonna let me crash the party willingly?”

He blew out a breath and ran his hands over his head. “All right, all right.”

“I’m sorry, Dolls. I’ll keep my ear to the ground, like we talked about, but...”

He waved a hand. “Yeah. Yeah, I got it, Haught. Thanks.”

She watched him for a moment, then sighed. “No, thank you,” she said, and gestured to him with the half-eaten burger. “Seriously. It’s been a while since...” She hesitated, looking away. “Y’know.”

For just a second, the corner of his mouth quirked in a smile. “Yeah. I get it. And don’t worry. I won’t make a habit of it.”

“See that you don’t,” she said, and grinned at him. “Just. Y’know. Next time let me know you’re planning to come by. No offense, but being woken up unexpectedly by a man is not my idea of a good morning.”

He actually laughed at that, and it sounded like it surprised even him. “Yeah, all right.” He straightened, dusting off his hands, clearly intending to go. “Oh, heads-up. Something’s up with the heat at the cop shop. Furnace is running like it’s dead of winter.”

“Lovely,” she grumbled. As he stepped onto the ladder, though, she frowned, a thought crossing her mind. “Hey Dolls.”

He paused. “Yeah?”

“How’d you get into my house?”

He looked at her for a moment, then grinned, climbed up the ladder into her living room, and disappeared.

“Dammit,” she muttered, gathering up the rest of her clothes and climbing up to follow him. She had work in a couple hours, by the look of the clock on the wall. About enough time to shower and start feeling actually human again.

 

Dolls was as good as his word, at least about the furnace. The shop was absolutely sweltering, and after barely an hour she’d had enough and mimicked most of the other officers by shimmying out of her uniform shirt and leaving it draped over the back of her chair. Easy enough to put back on, but not trapping all her own heat inside canvas with her. The moon-sickness wasn’t quite as bad, now that she’d had one night to change, but it kept her body temperature a little too high. With the furnace running, it was rather less than ideal conditions.

Around lunchtime, though, she was regretting so much as being in the building at all. Her tank top was drenched, plastered to her skin, and she was sticky all over with sweat. Most of the other officers had found excuses to be elsewhere—several of them were cataloguing evidence from the trailer park raid in the archive, which had its own enclosed system to ensure the evidence locker was the coolest part of the building even in winter—but she stuck it out at her desk, her hair tied back into a tail high off her neck. She blinked at her screen, trying to keep the words in focus, and wiped her hand across her forehead for the fourth time.

“Officer—um. Nicole.”

She looked up. Waverly stood on the other side of the counter, in a denim jacket and high-waisted jeans that Nicole couldn’t help thinking she’d regret in about twenty minutes.

“Hey,” she said, and stood, moving to the counter and leaning her elbows on it. “Waverly. Everything okay?” Everything was not okay, and Waverly didn’t even have to say a word for that to be obvious. She was tense, shaking, and radiating fear so thick it was a physical presence in the air around her. Nicole reached her hand out, bandage-free now that she’d changed once and back, and set it on the young woman’s shoulder, tilting her head to one side, the gesture curious and distinctly canine. “You look pale.”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, and then frowned, shaking her head. “No. Not really. Um. I think I need another favor from you.”

“Careful,” Nicole said, pulling her hand back and letting just a bit of playfulness creep into her voice, trying to put her at ease. “Maybe I’ll start asking for favors in return soon. Pick that big brain of yours for ideas.” Waverly blinked at her, clearly surprised, and Nicole ducked her head, grinning a little. “Sorry. Forget it.”

“No,” Waverly said, and she smiled back. It was a little weak, a little fragile, but it was a smile, and Nicole’s chest felt warm, in a bright, sunny sort of way, wholly different from the oppressive heat in the room. “No, it’s fine. I um. I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

“Hm? Oh, the allergies.” Nicole rubbed the back of her neck with one hand. “Yeah, sorry, I know I was kindof a space cadet yesterday.”

“You were fine,” Waverly said, her gaze dropping for a moment to the front of Nicole’s shirt, then skittering aside. “Listen, about that favor though...”

“No more keys,” Nicole said, grinning.

“No,” Waverly said, and laughed. “No more keys. But um. There’s someone I’d like to talk to.”

Nicole frowned, glancing aside. She only knew of one person who was being held this early in the day, and she turned, looking back toward her desk at the files she’d been reviewing before Waverly walked in. “If you mean Mister Del Rey—”

“Nicole,” Waverly said, with a gasp, and she jerked back around, startled.

“What?”

“I thought you said Calamity Jane is like 10 pounds.”

“She is, yes?”

“Does she turn into a mountain lion at night? You’re covered in scratches!”

“Oh,” Nicole said, a bit weakly. She scrambled for a lie. “Um, part of that is a rock-climbing accident. It’s fine, really.”

Waverly had ducked through to the near side of the counter before Nicole could even fully track her movement, and she twisted around to stand behind Nicole, her gentle hands tracing the worst of the damage, visible around the hem of her tank top.

“Honest, it’ll heal,” Nicole added. By the end of the day, she almost added. Anything else would already have been gone, but damage from her own claws tended to heal a bit slower, for reasons she hadn’t been able to get straight answers on from Shae or other shifters she’d met.

“It looks like it hurts,” Waverly said, her voice low. Her fingers still trailed lightly over Nicole’s shoulder, and something that was part desire and part satisfaction flared through her whole body in a shuddering ripple.

“Not really,” she said, matching Waverly’s tone. Not anymore, not when you’re here. “Uh, so, what, uh, what’s the favor?”

“Oh,” Waverly said. She withdrew her hand, and Nicole bit down a whine at the loss. “Um. I need to talk to Del Rey. Please. It’s important.”

Nicole turned, her mouth twisting in a wry smile. “Come on, do you really think this’ll work a second time?”

Waverly looked up at her, her expression... haunted, somehow. Heavy with pain and loss and fear. She looked away, and hadn’t even opened her mouth to speak again before Nicole blew out a breath and slumped her shoulders.

“Dammit. All right.”

She watched Waverly slip down the hall toward the interrogation rooms. She’d barely had time to sit back down at her desk when the radio crackled, reporting a body found outside town. Responses came back—no one available. She shrugged back into her uniform, grabbed her keys and her coat, and was still buttoning her shirt back up when Wynonna stormed through like a woman on a mission, her face dark with barely leashed fury.

“Haught,” Wynonna growled, blowing past her toward the interrogation rooms.

For a moment, Nicole hesitated, then decided that if Wynonna was already in a mood, she’d probably be angry when she found Waverly talking to Del Rey.

Nicole did not want to be close enough to be held responsible.

She did not flee to her cruiser. She walked at a steady, semi-urgent pace.

And got the hell out, before anything else could go wrong.

 

The forensics techs had arrived a little before she did. That was fine by her—even from a distance, the smell of carrion had her inner wolf pacing feverishly back and forth inside the cage of her ribs, only waylaid by the stench of formaldehyde that came off the body as well. Which was a little odd.

If it weren’t for the small mob of technicians, the body, the stench of rotting meat and preservatives, and the unearthly sense of unnatural quiet over the whole scene, it might’ve been peaceful. The forest was calm, but felt comfortably close around them, and the sky was a brilliant blue, dotted with pockets of white clouds. She breathed deep for a moment, relishing the cold crisp air and the relative silence.

A little ways from the scene, a hiker was shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.

“Sir,” Nicole called, moving toward him.

“Yes! Um. Yes, Officer. Hi.”

The hiker was young, maybe about Waverly’s age, and he looked as skittish as a cat. His coat was covered in a smear of half-melted snow, mostly on the back and sleeves, and Nicole mused that he might’ve staggered backward to the ground, probably in surprise.

She pulled a recorder from one pocket and showed it to him, turning it on. “Sir, do I have your permission to record this conversation?”

“Sure,” he said, “Um, sure, yeah.”

“You’re the one who found the body?” she asked, a little more gently.

“Yeah, um. Yeah, I found her.”

She looked at him, a little surprised by his wording. “And what’s your name?”

“Me? John,” he said, and his voice shook. “West.”

“Mr. West,” she noted, nodding. “Do you recognize her?”

“Yeah,” he said, his gaze flicking toward the forensics techs. “Yeah, um, she was in my year in high school.” She watched him, waiting expectantly as he shook and looked back at her. “Um. Joyce. Joyce Arbour.”

“So what happened?”

“To her?” he asked, turning even more pale.

“No, Mr. West, no.” Nicole smiled, and his jitters slowed, at least a little. “How’d you come across the body?”

“Oh,” he breathed, visibly relieved. “Um, I was hiking, you know, in this area? It’s a nice spot. But um. I was coming down that slope,” he said, pointing, “From the north, and saw this, y’know, shape, in the snow? And so I went over, cuz I was worried maybe it was someone who’d gone hypothermic, and there she was, just... lying in the snow, coffin-style, with a lily in her hands. Like she was just in a funeral, y’know? Except she was totally naked, and... and there were incisions,” he said, gesturing to his own chest. “Like surgery scars or something. But... but open.”

She frowned at that, glancing toward the techs. “Thank you, Mr. West. I think that’s all we need for now. Can I get some contact information, in case we have any other questions?”

He gave a phone number into the recorder, and just as she clicked it off, something stirred in the brush. She jerked, scanning the treeline.

“What is it?” John squeaked, and she waved a hand at him for silence.

“Probably nothing,” she said slowly to him, her eyes still tracking the woods. “You can go, John. Thank you.”

“Sure,” he mumbled, and fled down in the direction of the main road. The techs were still working, unaware of her, and she crept into the woods, moving slow. Snow crunching under her boots was the only sound, and a few dozen yards out she paused, crouching, and sniffed at the air. Nothing. She let her body shift, slightly, her face changing shape with an uncomfortable creaking and crunching of cartilage. She touched her nose, satisfied with the longer, broader outline of it, and the cold, leathery end, and lifted her face again, sniffing more deeply.

Now she could pick out wolf fur and blood and she growled, her vision tinting gold as she scanned the woods again. A bit of cloth fluttered toward her on the wind, and she leapt ten feet as easily as taking a step, pinning it to the snow and sniffing at it.

Perfume. Jasmine and bergamot. She wouldn’t soon forget that scent.

“Shae,” she growled, and raised her head. “Shae!”

She scanned the trees, but saw nothing. She sniffed the air again, but the perfume-soaked scrap of cloth was overpowering, filling her nose, and she couldn’t pick out the wolf anymore. “Great,” she breathed, slamming her fist into the trunk of a nearby tree. It creaked, cracked, and dumped a wheelbarrow’s worth of snow on the ground.

And on her head.

She spluttered and shook, scattering snow, but meltwater was already dripping under her collar.

“Just great.”

Chapter Text

Three days sleeping on the floor was hell on her back. Friday morning came all too early, and even when she’d showered, eaten, and dragged herself to the station, her whole body felt like one big all-over ache. The lingering scratches didn’t help, either, though at least the bruising was fading where she’d, apparently, been throwing herself at the bars all night.

“Anything, Haught?”

She looked up at Dolls. He was standing in front of her desk. Rather, he was looming. He was sweating, his hands trembling. With the full moon over she didn’t feel as inclined to go to his throat just for showing weakness, but she did frown at him and narrow her eyes.

“You okay?”

“Is there anything. You can give me,” he said, his voice low and intense.

“No, I don’t think so,” she said, more slowly, eyeing him up and down. “Seriously. Are you coming down with something?”

Didn’t we just do this song and dance?

“I’m fine,” he said, and without a word, turned and stalked back to his office.

She followed him, frowning more and more deeply. He stank of tension, of something chemical. The oily smell that reminded her of lighter fluid that usually lingered around him like aftershave was stronger now, dancing around his shoulders.

“Dolls,” she said, slipping into the BBD office behind him before the door could close and block her out. “Seriously. The hell is wrong with you. I heard Wynonna slam you to the mat earlier. Off your game?”

He half-turned, still on his way back to his private office. “This is classified,” he said, though it lacked the usual bite and threat.

“I don’t think I really care right now,” she muttered, and followed him into his smaller office. There was a black case on his desk that she didn’t think she’d ever seen him carrying before.

“Get out,” he growled.

“No.”

“Get out!”

Dolls was moving too slow. His timing was all wrong, broadcasting every move before he did it. But she let him, wondering just how far gone he was, how much of a fight he was going to make this. He spun and grabbed her shirt, slamming her bodily against the wall beside the doorframe. The stud behind her creaked at the impact.

“You look like you need some protein,” she said, dripping with sarcasm, calling back to his comment only a few days prior. “Tell me, what’s your poison?”

He snarled, his teeth bared, impossibly white against his dark skin.

Two could play that game.

Nicole snarled back, louder, more guttural, the sound ripping and animal even in her human throat. She slammed her arms up under his, knocking his fists away. He was still reeling when she shoved both hands hard into his chest, pushing him back three stumbling paces. His hip hit the desk and he staggered, his eyes flashing with rage.

She grabbed him, her fist curling into the front of his shirt, and pulled him close, nose to nose with her as her canines grew and sharpened.

“Get yourself together, Dolls,” she growled, and he pulled at her fist without managing to get purchase on her fingers. “This isn’t you.”

He groaned, the sound raw with agony. He dropped his head forward, and she leaned away from him, watching, waiting.

“All right,” he breathed. “All right. I need to make a call.”

“Okay,” she said, frowning, but satisfied. She let go of him, stepped back a pace, and watched him tug his shirt back into place. “Just. Jesus, Dolls.”

“Go,” he groaned, and she raised her hands in surrender.

“I’m going,” she muttered, and headed back out into the hall. Behind her she heard him pick up his phone, dial, and then mutter a passcode to whoever picked up on the other end.

The door shut behind her, muffling his conversation enough that she couldn’t understand or pick out words, and she sighed, shaking her head and heading back to her desk.

“Hey, Haught,” Wynonna called, standing by Nicole’s desk as Nicole headed back into the room.

“Wynonna,” Nicole said, narrowing her eyes in thought. John Henry stood behind her, and when he saw Nicole he tugged the brim of his hat down in greeting. “Henry. Hey. Can I help y’all with something?”

“Yeah,” Wynonna said, rocking back on the heels of her boots for a moment. “Boss-man in there?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, looking over her shoulder as if she might see Dolls from here. “Yeah, he’s in there.” She shot Wynonna a wary look. “Is he... okay?”

Wynonna made a dismissive scoffing noise and spread her hands, palms up. “Honestly? Who the fuck knows.”

Nicole chuckled and moved to her desk. “Fair point.”

“Ma’am,” Henry said, nodding to her as they went by and into the hall, headed for BBD’s door.

She watched them go, noticing that there were hints of Wynonna—a distinctive gun-oil-and-leather scent—on Henry’s coat and belt, and traces of Henry, who smelled like his favorite bourbon and road-dust-coated-wool, on Wynonna’s leather jacket.

“Huh,” she muttered, grinning despite herself, and sat down at her desk. “I suppose I should’ve seen that one coming.”

 

There was an almost unearthly calm to be found, in the day the moon started to wane again. The wolf was pacified, at least for the moment, and she felt almost normal. Not human, exactly—she felt most human at the new moon, at the furthest point from transformation—but herself. Peaceful, but powerful. Confident, but not aggressive.

That feeling almost made the painful transformations worth it. That feeling of complete and comfortable right. The way it tugged at her, pulled her into a warm easiness like shrugging into a blanket on a cold day or cupping her hands around a warm mug of coffee. She worked late into the evening and didn’t even feel the overwhelming ennui that drove her away from work in a rush when a slow day finally ended.

And slow it had been. A few calls came in, all routed to officers already on the streets, leaving Nicole time to catch up on paperwork she had neglected in the haggard, confusing rush of the last few days. She organized her notes on the Joyce Arbour case, grouping it with a couple other similar cold cases she’d found squirrelled away in the PSD archives.

And then, in that small but terrible window between the end of the day shift and the start of the night shift, a call came in.

“Dispatch says it’s a drunk and disorderly,” Lonnie called from the counter. “Shorty’s.”

“Huh,” she said, grabbing her coat and her keys. “Did they say who?”

“Champ Hardy.”

Nicole snorted and headed out, passing Lonnie. “What, did he get overly emotional about his old glory days again?”

“Nah,” Lonnie said with a shrug as he got the last few details. “Sounds like heartbreak.”

Nicole stopped, almost to the door, and turned to look at him. “Beg pardon.”

“Oh yeah,” Lonnie said, his eyes alight with the glee of small town gossip. “Didn’t you hear? Waverly dumped him this morning.”

Her heart stopped, then double-beat for a few seconds.

“Uh, no, I hadn’t heard that. She did?”

“Yeah,” Lonnie said, excited, then frowned. “Um. But Champ’s still a problem, so...”

“Right,” she said quickly, lifting her hands. “I’ll handle it. Thanks.”

“Sure thing!” he called after her.

It took her the entire drive to Shorty’s to replace her grin with a façade of professional calm. When she got inside, the bar stank of alcohol, unwashed humans, drunken joy, sorrow, and an underlying thread of fear. She scanned the room, noting the crowded tables, but there was no sign of Champ, until her gaze tracked back to the bar. There was a small cluster of young men beside it, standing in a tight circle with the exaggerated calm of a detail of bodyguards. In the midst of them, she could hear—and smell—the shouting, sobbing, booze-soaked form of one heavily intoxicated Champ Hardy.

Gus McCready, de facto owner of Shorty’s now that the man himself was gone, was standing a few feet away, a pinched look of distaste on her face as she watched Champ.

“Officer Haught,” Gus called, raising a hand in greeting. “Thanks for coming by.”

“Not a problem,” Nicole said, flashing a smile. “All right, move aside, gentlemen.”

A few of Champ’s friends frowned at her, clearly crunching the numbers, but then they parted, giving Nicole a clear view of the man of the hour.

“Champ Hardy,” Nicole called out, voice clear, but not overly loud. No matter how badly she might want to, there was really no reason to embarrass the man more than he’d already done on his own. “How about you come down to the station with me and sit a while. Give you some time to sober up.”

“Fuck off,” Champ said, with frankly astonishing clarity. He actually sounded mostly comprehensible. He turned, glaring at her, his eyes red and puffy with drink and tears.

“I’d rather not,” she said amiably, and gestured behind her to the doors. “Let’s get out of here, Champ. There’s no need to make this a problem.”

“No need to—” He made a series of spluttering, dismissive noises, and slid off the bar stool he had been, well, not sitting on, but using to stay vaguely upright. He stumbled once, but one of the boys on his right side caught his arm and kept him on his feet. “S’already a problem,” he told her, pointing. “You come along an’– an’ Waverly—”

“Come on, man,” one of the others muttered to him. “You know she’s got nothin’ to do with that.”

“Like hell,” Champ said, and shoved one of them away. He stepped forward, and Nicole moved closer, frowning. If he was going to fall over, she’d rather he fall into her. It’d make it easier to carry him out of the building after.

But Champ, it seemed, could still surprise her, at least where rampant stupidity was concerned.

He swung at her as she closed the distance, one hand out to catch him, and his fist crashed into her face. He may have been drunk, but he was still an ex-rodeo-clown and farmhand, and the hit was clean, well-aimed, and a hell of a lot harder than she would have expected for a man with that much beer in him. She staggered, knocking over a stool as she fell, and one of the wooden legs snapped under her weight. Pain lanced through her side, between two ribs, white-hot but blessedly temporary.

She cursed under her breath and levered herself back up. Once she was upright she dusted off her hands, ready to grab Champ and ask a little less nicely this time, but two of his friends stepped back from her.

“Oh. Shit,” one of them said, his voice hoarse.

She looked down, taking stock, and found a dark wet patch soaking into her shirt. “The hell,” she muttered, feeling around with two fingers. The cloth had torn a bit, and there was a thick splinter of broken wood about the length of a ballpoint pen sticking out of her side. She pulled it out with a sigh and pocketed it.

“Sorry Gus,” she called, shaking her head. “I’ll make sure you get compensated for that.”

Gus was staring at her, her eyes very round. The bartender then looked at Champ, her mouth dropping slightly open.

Three of Champ’s friends were holding him steady. He kept jerking, as if to run, and he was staring at Nicole as if she were a ghost. One of his friends was talking to him, low and fast, and Nicole pretended not to watch, dusting herself off as she listened.

“Stop! Stop, man, just fuckin’ stop. Run now and you’re just making it worse. You’ve already assaulted an officer, man, just fuckin’—just stop.”

“It’s fine,” she said, dusting off her hands. There was still blood on them, which she wiped on her shirt. The khakis would show too much.

“What?” Champ asked, at the same time as one of his buddies.

“I’m not gonna press charges,” she said, keeping her voice even and smooth. She could feel the torn flesh and muscle in her side knitting back together. It was a sensation that never got less weird, the feeling of blood congealing and healing at ten times the normal speed. Within a minute, there’d be no indication she’d been harmed at all. She looked around, finding a whole lot of eyes on her, but even with a room full of witnesses, “assaulting a peace officer” wasn’t going to stick if there were no injuries to show for it. “Let’s just head down to the shop and sit a spell, Hardy. Come on.”

He looked at his friends, who all looked back at him with their faces showing variations on do it, man, before she changes her mind.

“Okay,” he mumbled, and stepped closer, offering his wrists.

“You gonna come along in peace?” she asked.

He nodded, his lip trembling but his gaze relatively steady.

“Then go on and put your hands down. Come on, let’s just get to the car.”

He breathed out a heavy sigh, but nodded, and followed along beside her as she headed for the door. He stumbled once, and she steadied his shoulder with a hand.

“Sorry about the mess, Gus,” she called over her shoulder.

“No problem, Officer,” Gus said, her voice a little thin, maybe in shock. “No problem.”

 

“So here’s something kinda weird,” Lonnie said as Nicole sat down at her desk to file the paperwork on Champ’s stint in the drunk tank, his voice a conspiratorial whisper.

“What, Lonnie,” Nicole said, trying not to sound completely uninterested as she started typing.

“Got a call of shots fired near Tatenhill Farms’ ranch house earlier.”

“Yeah?”

“Guys on scene found a single bullet casing, but no bullets, and no sign of a struggle or blood or nothin’.”

“Probably just Herman doing target practice again, Lonnie. It’s fine.”

“That’s just the thing,” he said, staring intently at her. “No sign of any of them. It’s like they all just disappeared.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Lonnie, an old woman like Mama Olive and her two adult kids don’t just vanish into thin air.”

“I know,” he said. “Except the diner’s empty, and the house is cleaned out. But the cars are still in the garage. Weird, right?”

She looked up at him finally, frowning a little as she mulled it over.

“All right,” she said, a little grudging. “Yeah, that’s pretty weird.”

Nedley’s voice rang out just as Lonnie opened his mouth to say more. “Nicole!”

She jumped, frowned at Lonnie, and went to Nedley’s doorway. “Sir?”

He sighed and rubbed a thumb and finger against his eyes. “I’ve got two officers out tomorrow night on family emergencies. I need you on the night shift tomorrow.”

“I wasn’t supposed to switch till Sunday,” she said, frowning.

“I know,” he said, and waved a hand. “I know. But I need you on. I’ll have someone cover your afternoon.”

She nodded. “Sure thing, Sheriff. I’ll be here.”

He blew out a breath, looking relieved, as if he’d actually been worried she’d refuse.

“Thank you, Nicole. It’s good to have someone reliable around.”

She thought of bruises and scratches and night shifts she’d never be able to take, no matter the emergency.

“Yeah,” she said, and if her voice came out a little strained, he didn’t seem to notice. “Glad to help.”

Chapter Text

It was nice to sleep in for once. To spend a lazy Saturday morning in bed, cuddling her cat and watching daylight slant in through the blinds over her window. There were books she’d been meaning to read, supernatural research she’d meant to look at. But she let herself put it off a little longer. She let her mind wander, thinking over the last week, the last month. Hell, the last year.

Her thoughts returned over and over to Waverly, but also to Shae. Why had she come to Purgatory? And during the full moon, specifically? Sure, there were jokes to be made about jealous wives, but she hadn’t ever expected it from Shae. And while she preferred to think of herself as the sort who wouldn’t really be all that defensive, the thought of Shae roaming, hunting, maybe killing in or near Purgatory set Nicole’s teeth on edge. These were her citizens, dammit. Even if Shae only hunted game in the woods, it still felt like an invasion. This was her town. Her land. She would not let some other wolf hunt on her territory.

Hold up.

Her “territory”? God, when had she become a walking cliché.

The hours ticked by. Eventually Calamity Jane tired of lounging with her and departed for more interesting climes—probably the kitchen, and her food bowl within—and Nicole took it as a cue to get up and start her day.

She stopped at Shorty’s for dinner on her way to work, paid Gus for the broken stool, and learned, partially by overhearing and partially from Gus making small talk, that Waverly was off for the evening to throw some shindig up at the Earp Homestead.

“I’ll tell her you said hi,” Gus said, with a wink at Nicole that left her feeling wildly out of her depth with the entire Earp extended family.

Once night had well and truly fallen, the station was ominously dark, most of the lights off except for her desk lamp and a couple of the hall lights. The place was as quiet as the grave. Other than her desk chair squeaking if she moved too much, the background noise of the fluorescent lights, the air conditioning, and the occasional creaking of pipes was almost cacophonous in the absence of other sounds.

So, as she sat, poring over the Arbour case file and rubbing a crick out of her neck that hadn’t completely gone away after only one night in a real bed, the light clicking of boots in the hall was almost comforting, just for it being some other sound.

The mild but clear scent of whiskey and leather told her it was Wynonna, though it was interesting that she hadn’t heard Dolls moving around anywhere. She didn’t look up until the boots paused, doubled back, and a fist rapped against the window of the open door.

“Saturday night,” Wynonna chided, raising an eyebrow and stepping into the doorway to chat. “I’m the town pariah with ten years of bad deeds and social suicides to make up for. What’s your excuse.”

“Nedley,” Nicole said, smiling and leaning her elbows on her desk.

“Say no more, bosses are the worst,” Wynonna said, her voice light in the way only buzzed-but-not-fully-roaring-drunk-yet Wynonna could be. “Also I’m scared mine might be dead,” she added, still sounding light, but the words and the double-beat of her heart made Nicole snap her gaze back to Wynonna’s face, alarmed simply for the fact that Wynonna was. “Oh,” Wynonna said blithely, waving a hand and raising the bottle to take another drink, “Kidding.”

Nicole watched her for a moment, not buying it. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Wynonna made a face as she swallowed down whiskey, gesturing to herself vaguely as if to say who, me? She gave Nicole a thumbs-up and cleared her throat of alcohol burn.

“Mm,” Nicole said, and looked down. “Well, at least I’m not the only one who wasn’t invited to the party. Makes me feel better.”

Wynonna’s face turned thoughtful and she stepped closer, setting the whiskey bottle down on the edge of Nicole’s desk with a heavy, hollow thunk.

“What party?”

Nicole shrugged a shoulder. “Something up at the Homestead. Waverly didn’t tell you? I was kidding about me, but I figured you would’ve known.”

Wynonna let her head fall back against her shoulders with a disgusted groan. “Ugh. She said something about having some friends over, yeah. Well, to hell with that. Here, sit with me,” she said, flopping down onto the floor next to Nicole’s chair, her back against the next desk. “Have a drink. Screw working on a Saturday night.”

Nicole looked at Wynonna, then at the case files on her desk. Better Wynonna didn’t drink alone, right?

She pushed her desk chair aside and settled down beside Wynonna.

“All right,” she said, smirking. “Hand it over then.”

For a few minutes they drank in companionable silence, swapping the bottle back and forth. Nicole tried not to think about the fact that this was the first time she’d swapped spit with a woman in months, and managed, narrowly, not to start snickering to herself over it. Definitely not something she wanted to explain to Wynonna.

“You know exactly who she invited, too,” Wynonna said a little later, with absolutely no logical segue.

“Hm?” she asked, rolling her head along the surface of the desk behind her to look at Wynonna. Nicole’s head was pleasantly fuzzy, her body warm, but not oppressively so.

“Chrissy Nedley.”

“What?” Nicole asked, stunned. “Sheriff’s daughter?”

“Mmhm!” Wynonna chirped. “And Stephanie Jones. You know, one time,” Wynonna said, a touch of pettiness in her voice, “Stephanie told me, that I,” she rolled the word across her tongue, speaking in what Nicole presumed was an unconscious imitation of the woman, “Should think about getting a butt lift.”

“What?” Nicole barked, and screwed up her face, offended on Wynonna’s behalf. She gestured with one hand, trying to convey anger and praise at the same time. “Your ass is like... it’s top-shelf, man. It’s top-shelf.”

“Thanks,” Wynonna said, her gaze sliding aside, her thoughts clearly elsewhere. “Have I pulled Waves too close?”

The part of Nicole that was sober and aware thought the question was remarkable in its clarity, and spoke volumes as to Wynonna’s real self. The part that was drunk thought it was adorable, but also very silly.

She thought of Champ, drinking until he practically couldn’t stand, all because Waverly had finally realized she could be so much more than Champ Hardy’s girlfriend. That she had, at least on some level, decided she could be more than just Purgatory’s town sweetheart.

“You know, I think,” Nicole said, and some part of her was aware that she sounded wobbly and entirely too cheerful for the circumstances, “That Waverly has spent her whole life tailorin’ who she is to the people she’s with.” She thought of a smile and mind brighter than the sun, thought of the sly, clever young woman who had charmed her way to a police officer’s key and answers from a con man. She was smiling, dopey and smitten, and she couldn’t do a damn thing to stop herself. “She’s only now just startin’ to figure out what she really wants.”

“Dude,” Wynonna said, disgusted. “You’re like a walking bumper sticker.” Nicole laughed, then a little harder when Wynonna slapped her arm and added, “Who’s armed! Waverly should be hanging out with you.”

“I agree,” Nicole said, taking up the whiskey bottle again with a grin.

Wynonna made a faint noise of interest, then leaned forward to reach under Nicole’s desk, bobbing woozily as she did so. “Who’s this?” she asked, as Nicole hooked a hand into the back of her belt to keep Wynonna from smashing her face into the floor. “Who’s this lady?”

Nicole laughed and hauled her back up once Wynonna had gotten hold of the photo, but as she realized what it was that had caught Wynonna’s interest, she sighed and set down the bottle. “That is victim number three.”

“Same guy killed three women?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, frowning, her voice still betraying the whiskey in her system as she spoke. Even to her own ears she could hear the resurgence of her country accent, but she couldn’t seem to wrangle it down again. “Killin’ ‘em was only the start. Joyce Arbour,” she noted, reaching up to grab the case file off her desk, flipping it open for Wynonna to look at. It had occurred to her that this might be a BBD case. She’d been waiting for Dolls to show up to talk to him about it, but, hey, his deputy was close enough, right? “She’s 22. We found her Wednesday morning, and the cause of death appears to be multiple lacerations, but of course the autopsy report is practically illegible.”

Wynonna pulled a crime scene photo of the woman’s face and neck out of the folder, staring at it for a moment. “Dolls picked a great time to go AWOL,” she muttered.

Nicole frowned at that, looking over at Wynonna again and eyeing the photo.

The scent of coppery blood filled her nose, and she blinked at the sound of liquid hitting paper. A tiny splatter of blood lay on the printout in Wynonna’s hand.

“Um,” Wynonna said, glancing nervously up at Nicole. There was another drop of blood running down from her nose, and Wynonna’s expression had turned to something like terror, dulled only marginally by alcohol. “I... need to see the body.”

“Uh,” Nicole said, staring at the blood on Wynonna’s face. “Right, follow me, I guess.” She got up, dusted off her pants, and offered a hand up to Wynonna. “Morgue’s downstairs.”

“I thought medical examiners usually worked offsite,” Wynonna muttered, dabbing at her nose a moment longer before taking Nicole’s hand and hauling herself up.

“Town the size of Purgatory,” Nicole offered by way of explanation, trailing off absently as she gathered up the case file and headed for the stairs. “C’mon. Le’see what’s up with your face.”

“With what?” Wynonna asked, following.

“With this case,” Nicole said hastily, looking over her shoulder to wait for Wynonna to catch up. Her head was starting to clear, unnatural metabolism working faster than she would have liked. There were upsides and downsides to that, she supposed, as she headed for the stairs and listened to Wynonna weaving along behind her. Upside: clarity of mind for conducting a somewhat unconventional investigation.

Downside: all of this was a lot less fun when you looked at it sober.

She sifted through her keyring to get them into the morgue, glancing around as they entered the room. The stench of death and formaldehyde was so thick here it was like walking into a wall, and Nicole grimaced, shaking her head. Wynonna made a faint horrified noise, gagging, and Nicole glanced over her shoulder. Morgues were not, as a general rule, where one went to have a good time, but there was something very innately and endearingly human about Wynonna having such a visceral response.

“Yeah,” Nicole said, if only to break the oppressive, sepulchral silence. “They say you get used to the smell.”

Wynonna flapped a hand dismissively, but the muffled noise of her churning stomach and her too-fast heartbeat betrayed her. “I spent a summer’s probation on roadkill removal. This is nothing.”

Nicole glanced over at her as she checked toe tags, sobering in a way that had nothing to do with alcohol. Wynonna was power and strength and recklessness incarnate, but she was still, at her core, a human woman. Capable of moments of great vulnerability and tenderness, of a very human response to death, and loss, and fear. Nicole was capable of some of those things, but it hit home, not for the first time, how inhuman Nicole had become since Shae’s bite. Sometimes it felt like every time the moon waned, it took a little bit of her with it.

“And here she is,” she said, a little more softly, approaching a table. “Joyce Arbour.”

Wynonna stepped closer, setting the whiskey bottle heavily on the table with an impossibly loud thunk. Nicole frowned, muttering to herself about respect for the dead, and removed the bottle, setting it on the ground. Wynonna spared a glance back at her, shrugged one shoulder, and started folding back the sheet over the dead woman’s face, pulling it down to a few inches below her collarbone.

Joyce, she thought, might have been beautiful in life. She had, once, had an elegant face, and long, voluminous curls that hung down well past her jaw. But now, looking at the real Joyce, Nicole saw something that she had never noticed in the photos. And it made her blood run cold.

“She... she kind of looks like you, Wynonna.”

“Jesus Christ,” Wynonna whispered, scanning the incisions on the corpse’s chest, the stitches to hold the torn skin closed, the bruising. “Who did this?”

“Someone who knew what they’re doing.”

Nicole spun on her heel, hand flying to her pistol, teeth sharpening to biting-strength. Without even thinking about it she twisted, blocking Wynonna from the newcomer with her body.

A medical examiner in scrubs, all salt and pepper hair and utterly irreverent Twizzler in hand, blinked at her.

“Dude!” Wynonna snapped, leaning around Nicole’s elbow to give him an ugly look. Nicole kept her mouth very near closed, licking nervously at her lips and trying to focus on breathing until her heartrate went back to normal and her teeth shrank to human shape. “This is a morgue! Wear a bell or something, okay?”

“Sorry,” the M.E. said. “Once a ninja, always a ninja.”

“God,” Wynonna breathed, lifting a hand to check her pulse. Nicole could hear it hammering away, and, with her face back to normal, she worked on getting her fingers to unclench from around the grip of her sidearm.

“Plus I forget I'm wearing these cotton balls for shoes,” he continued. “They uh, help absorb the smell.”

Nicole gave him a wan smile, trying to look polite, but she still didn’t quite trust herself to speak.

“But you two pretty ladies don't care about that. Um, I'm Dr. Reggie. The uh, unlucky SOB who has to make sure the dead don't rise again?”

“You suck at your job,” Wynonna muttered, and turned back toward the corpse.

“Uh, excuse me?” Dr. Reggie said.

“Never mind.”

Nicole shifted so she was standing between them more, and showed the folder to Dr. Reggie, putting on her best I’d like to speak to a manager voice. “Did you do this autopsy report?”

“Uh...” He took the file, flipping through it. “If I’d done this, I wouldn’t have misspelled ‘breasts,’” he said, and she blinked, looking at the page again. How the hell had she missed that? “I can tell you something about the body,” he offered, looking at Wynonna. “Did my own examination.”

Wynonna watched him, pressing her lips into a line. “Anything unusual, or... creepy? About the wounds, or the way she died?”

“Well,” Dr. Reggie said, “She died because humans can’t survive when their organs are removed.” He took another bite of the Twizzler, and Nicole fought the urge to rip it out of his hands.

“She,” Wynonna looked vaguely queasy, “She was alive when he took them out?”

“Correct,” Dr. Reggie said, and pointed to the body with the half-eaten licorice. “The incision isn’t what killed her. Nah, he drugged her, hooked her up to an IV, a blood bag... just like any surgeon would doing open heart or intestinal surgery.”

Nicole frowned, listening to him but watching Wynonna. There was something about the way he talked that was almost... fascinated. Like he thought the killer’s actions were interesting. She tried to make eye contact with Wynonna, to gauge if she was getting the same vibe, but Wynonna was just staring at the man in blank horror.

“But,” Dr. Reggie continued, “Here is the uber-weird part.” He bent over the corpse, indicating the incisions. “The wounds? Were cauterized as they were made.”

“So he cut her open with something...” Nicole grimaced. “Hot?”

“Like lightsaber hot,” Dr. Reggie said.

“Hellfire hot,” Wynonna said, her voice barely above a whisper. Nicole stared at her, but Wynonna was no longer being forthcoming, and she turned her attention back to the M.E.

“Alright, so you remove the organs if you’re gonna sell ‘em on the black market. Why would you take ‘em out and then put ‘em back in?”

“Maybe somebody was looking for something.” Wynonna was staring down at the woman, her expression impossible to read. Her heart was still beating way too fast, and she looked vaguely ill. Nicole found herself wondering if Wynonna had been doing this job long, but then again, she knew that she hadn’t. Wynonna’s humanity was so often masked, but tonight, Nicole felt like she was seeing it on full display. It was comforting, somehow. If a woman like Wynonna, who everyone else wrote off or dismissed as a loose cannon, could be so inherently real, so alive, then maybe there was hope for everyone else. For her.

Dr. Reggie frowned, thoughtful, flicking his gaze between the corpse and Wynonna, standing beyond her. “You keep looking at her neck.”

“Hm?” Wynonna glanced up. “Yeah, there’s a welt,” she said, pointing.

“Wha–?” Dr. Reggie circled the table as Nicole blinked and leaned over to look as well.

“Dude,” Wynonna said, unimpressed. “I saw it on the photos. It’s the shape of a spade, like on a deck of cards.”

“Sweet crickets,” Dr. Reggie breathed. “I missed that entirely.”

“What woulda caused that?” Nicole asked, frowning. Leaning over the body, the smell of formaldehyde, disinfectant, and barely disguised carrion was so thick she felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“Well, she was hit by something in the shape of a spade, right?” Wynonna asked, gesturing helplessly at the body.

“I mean, sure, yeah,” Dr. Reggie said. “Um, or it could have been prolonged pressure. Did, uh, you study forensics?”

There was a distant sound, like footsteps, and Nicole stiffened, turning her head. Then, again, more loudly, enough that Wynonna flinched and started looking around too. For a moment the three of them stood there in tense, rabbit-like stillness, and then there was a mechanical beep, and a blue signal light flicked on behind them, mounted on the wall.

Nicole shot a look at Dr. Reggie, who blinked.

“Someone just went into the cooler,” he explained. “You guys come alone?”

Wynonna looked at Nicole, her expression speaking volumes. “I don’t know,” she said, voice low. “Did we?”

Nicole unsnapped the strap on her pistol and rested her hand on it.

Wynonna mumbled to herself, thinking, then looked at Dr. Reggie. “There more than one way of getting inside the cooler?”

“Uh, yeah,” he said, looking between them. “A rear exit.”

Nicole pulled her gun from its holster and held it low, close to her leg. “Alright. I got it.” She started toward the hallway door and noted Wynonna pulling her Colt .45 from its position on her thigh. “Don’t shoot me, Earp,” she muttered.

She slipped out into the hall and slid down it to the next turn, laying her feet carefully in a rolling gait that kept her upper body steady, lifting her pistol as she turned the first corner. The next hall was empty, and she prowled down that as well, turning once more before she found the cooler’s rear door. She set a hand to the knob and pushed, but it didn’t move.

“Dammit,” she snarled, jiggling it, but it didn’t give. She pressed her ear to the door, and further off she heard another door slam shut, and then Wynonna’s voice, a little high, a little panicky.

“Nicole?”

She jerked her head back, pressed her shoulder to the door, and tried the knob again. “Wynonna!” she yelled through the door, then heard the other door open and shut again. “Damn,” she muttered, jogging back around to where they’d originally entered.

She slammed through the morgue’s main door, panting. “The door was locked, I couldn’t get in—” She stopped short, spotting Joyce’s corpse from between Dr. Reggie’s and Wynonna’s shoulders. The corpse’s head was turned toward them, the eyes wide open and glassy blue, and there was a playing card, a Jack of Spades, sticking out of Joyce Arbour’s open mouth. Nicole gasped, the sound terrifyingly audible, and Wynonna spun around to look at her. Her nose was red with blood again.

“Jesus, Wynonna,” Nicole breathed, lifting a hand toward her mouth. She got it, immediately, checking her nose with one finger as she turned away again. Nicole didn’t have to see her face to know she was panicking—Wynonna’s breaths were coming in haggard, sharp gasps, and her heartbeat had picked up again.

Wynonna turned toward Nicole again and shouldered past her, heading for the hall. Dr. Reggie watched her go, spreading his hands in a shrug, and Nicole gave chase, jogging every few steps to keep up with Wynonna as she blew up two flights of stairs and headed for the Purgatory Sheriff Department’s tiny kitchen.

“No one keeps booze in here, Wynonna!” Nicole called, shoving the kitchen door open again after it shut in her face. “Except you.”

Wynonna didn’t seem to be listening, checking wall cabinets in a harried, desperate, unorganized search.

Nicole leaned on the table by the wall, watching. “You want to tell me what the hell is going on?”

“Yeah,” Wynonna said glibly. “Dry morgue air is murder on the schnoz.”

Nicole bit down a growl of frustration. “Bullshit,” she snapped. “I think somebody’s trying to scare you, or– or toy with you. Why?”

Wynonna checked another cabinet, spluttering, shocked that Nicole would ask. “I picked up this case, like, an hour ago. How could—”

“It be connected to you?” Nicole finished for her. She wanted to pace, but she kept herself where she was, trying to keep from standing over Wynonna. It would satisfy the animal to loom, to be bigger, but it would just make Wynonna close off faster. “Yeah, I would really like to know that too. People getting eaten by something? Call Wynonna!”

Wynonna went very still, evidently giving up on finding a bottle, and slowly turned to look at Nicole.

“Guy gets murdered by a man in a mirror?” Nicole snapped, gesturing widely with both hands. “Yep, Wynonna to the rescue.”

Wynonna shot Nicole a dry, excessively patient look. “Black Badge specializes in cases that are uh... too complex for rookie flatfoots. So it makes sense that you’re a bit confused.”

Nicole snarled, her vision flaring gold for a handful of heartbeats. “I’m not,” she spat.

Wynonna froze for a breath, then two, then narrowed her eyes. “Alternately,” she said, and slowly stepped closer, her hand twisting to hang near her .45 as she moved. Nicole could smell a new, very real fear, hidden under two or three layers of bravado, and for a moment, just a moment, Nicole wondered if she had gone too far, betrayed too much. Wynonna smelled and sounded like she thought Nicole might actually physically rip off her face, though the panic didn’t show in her posture. “I don’t suppose you have a deck of playing cards in this utility belt, huh?” she said, reaching to grab at her holster.

She jerked away, furious, and then she did stand, looming over Wynonna, bristling. “Excuse me?”

“How do I know you didn’t double back to mess with the body?” Wynonna said, leaning up, unfazed by Nicole’s greater height and mass. Nicole looked away, struggling to regain anything remotely like calm, and Wynonna moved even closer, leaning into her space, daring Nicole to pick a fight. “Yeah. You’re awfully interested in me and my sister. Maybe I should be grilling the shit out of you. Maybe you’re the crazy one.”

Nicole bit down a growl, but she could feel it rumbling in her chest. She knew it was audible, but she couldn’t bring herself to care, too angry to worry about it. “You of all people should know better than to try to make me question my sanity,” Nicole said. She headed for the door, fighting down the snarling, roaring wolf in her chest that wanted to stay, to fight, to throw Wynonna to the ground and make her scream.

She didn’t go back to her desk. She couldn’t bring herself to look at the case files, and instead she stalked the halls of the station until she heard Wynonna running, racing out to her truck in the parking lot. She heard the pickup’s door slam, then the rumbling of the engine, then tires crunching on slush.

Only then, when the station was quiet and no one was there but her, did she start to steam with it, her blood boiling with her anger.

She stalked down to the interrogation hall, turned off all the microphones and cameras, and ducked inside one of the rooms, letting the rage twist her body until she could howl and roar with real, satisfying volume, her own voice echoing off the walls.

 

Her phone rang half an hour before dawn. Not the station line, but her direct phone.

“Haught.”

“Wynonna?”

“Somebody sent hitters to the party here last night,” she said, the words clipped and a bit stiff with something that Nicole thought sounded like an unvoiced apology. “Mind coming down to take statements? Or whatever it is real cops do when they’re not putting up with drunk asshole deputies?”

For a moment she considered telling Wynonna to fuck off.

But if someone had tried to hit the party, Waverly’s party...

“I’ll be there, Earp.”

 

The Homestead’s aftermath was a puzzle. Four dead, all seemingly having moved from the positions in which they had died, but not by being dragged, carried, or thrown. There were meandering furrows in the snow, as if from sluggish, dragging footsteps, and Nicole had seen enough zombie movies to have some guesses, even though all her theories sounded so utterly bonkers that even just speaking them aloud might get her institutionalized. Two of the dead she didn’t recognize. One, Wynonna identified as Stephanie Jones.

The fourth was the Blacksmith, which made Nicole’s stomach churn. Who—or what—was big and bad enough to take down a witch?

Chrissy Nedley, Nicole learned, was good at giving witness statements. Not out of practice, at least not so far as Nicole knew, but out of listening to her father’s lectures. Nicole let her go back inside as Wynonna approached, phone in hand.

“Your sister okay?” Nicole asked, trying for mild and getting something at least in the neighborhood of civil.

“Eh,” Wynonna said, a bit too casually. “She’s being Waverly.”

“Yeah, well,” Nicole said, raising an eyebrow. “Chrissy says she ‘scissored a stripper.’”

Wynonna’s mouth quirked in a grim half-smile.

“So?” Nicole asked. “Any idea why your homestead was targeted? I mean, besides the fact that it’s yours?”

Wynonna watched her, her expression back to guarded, but not openly hostile. “You know what,” she ventured, her voice falsely bright. “We should get some breakfast. I could murder a stack of pancakes.” Nicole eyed her. “And then we’ll talk. Really talk.”

“Mm, okay,” Nicole said, still a bit cool. “You gonna help me understand why some of these cases are a little too complex for local flatfoots?”

Wynonna gave her a wry smile, nodding slightly as if to say yeah, I deserved that one.

“Do my best,” she said.

Nicole raised an eyebrow and glanced down at the phone in Wynonna’s hand. “Your boss gonna be okay with that?”

Wynonna looked down too, then met Nicole’s gaze steadily. “Boss isn’t here.”

“Okay.”

Wynonna nodded toward the cruiser. “Guess you’re my ride.”

Nicole nodded, and as Wynonna moved around to get into the passenger side, Nicole’s gaze tracked to the house’s front porch, where Waverly was ushering Chrissy indoors. Their eyes met, and Waverly raised her hand in a tiny wave, her wrist stiff, as if it pained her. Nicole mirrored it, smiling, and kept watching as Waverly glanced aside, then back at her, her mouth curling in a very slight, very gentle smile.

Nicole turned, trying not to smile too widely as she got into the cruiser.

“Everything cool?” Wynonna muttered, eyeing her as Nicole started the engine.

“Yeah,” she said, and pulled out onto the dirt road that led away from the homestead.

Wynonna was silent all the way off Earp land, but then she sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “Hey, uh...” Wynonna stared out the side window for a moment. “Nicole.”

Nicole glanced over at her, raising an eyebrow. “Nicole, huh.”

“For this, yeah. I guess. Nicole.”

Nicole watched the road, navigating the occasional patch of frozen slush, the cruiser rolling along at a decent clip. “Hm?”

“You hear a lot in town, right?”

She pursed her lips, choosing her words carefully. “Well, Purgatory is a small town, so, people talk, if that’s what you’re asking. I try not to listen, but.” She shrugged a shoulder. “I hear things, sure.”

Wynonna’s mouth twisted in a knowing smirk. “Yeah. Well. Did you hear about the Banditos?”

“The who?” Nicole asked, brow furrowing. She flicked her gaze over to Wynonna, then forward again.

“Guess not. So, I rolled with them for a while when I first left Purgatory. Literally, I guess, since they were a biker gang.”

“Seems like your kind of crowd,” Nicole mused.

She laughed, a coarse, uncomfortable sound. “More than you know. They were a bunch of oddballs. Like. Real odd.”

There was a trembling, nervous sensation in her chest. “What, like six-toed, bearded-lady odd?”

“Like magic spells and curses odd,” Wynonna said. She was staring out the windshield, resolutely avoiding Nicole’s eyes. When Nicole didn’t say anything, Wynonna snorted. “You don’t believe me.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Hm.” The corner of her mouth pricked up. “Well there was this one guy. A couple guys, actually. Real bad anger management problems.”

“Biker gang,” Nicole said, the strange, fluttering feeling getting worse. Her voice shook, just a little. “Suppose that’s not surprising.”

“Sure,” Wynonna said, and now her gaze slid left, watching Nicole for her reaction. “But I mean real bad. And I’m talking, like, it was like clockwork. Those guys had cycles more regular than I did, and I was on two kinds of birth control.”

She couldn’t possibly mean... could she?

“Nicole,” Wynonna said, and she sounded light still, but her heartrate was picking up, hammering with nerves. Her tension became a palpable thing, clouding the air in the car until it was all Nicole could smell. “If you...”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, the word coming out as a whisper. She cleared her throat, trying again. “Wynonna. Yeah.”

She was quiet for a moment, then nodded. “Okay.”

“One rule.”

“Just one? Wow, you must be off your game, Haught.”

She ignored that. “You get one PMS joke.”

“What?” Wynonna drawled, aghast. “Come on. One?”

“One,” Nicole said, nodding. “So you’d better make it a good one.”

“Your rule sucks,” Wynonna said, but shrugged. “Fine. It’s—Christ!

Nicole glanced forward again and slammed on the brakes, twisting the wheel when the tires slid. Snow kicked up in a cloud, fogging the back window to solid white, and she stared out the windshield, grunting in disapproval. She would’ve sworn there hadn’t been anyone there a second ago, but now a tall man was standing in the middle of their lane, an arm raised to flag them down. He had an elegant black cane in one hand, resting on the ground, and his face was shadowed by the sun.

“Where the hell did he come from?” Wynonna groused.

The scent of copper hit her again, and Nicole glanced over at Wynonna. “Shit. Earp. Your nose,” she whispered.

Wynonna looked at her, then swiped her hand under her nose and pulled it away bloody.

“Oh,” Wynonna said, her voice rather small. “Yeah, that’s what I needed today.”

Chapter Text

“If that shithead thinks he can screw with me today,” Wynonna snarled, fighting her way free of her seatbelt. Nicole growled, agreeing, ripping off her own belt and pushing the driver-side door aside.

The man in black was waiting when she opened the door. “He’s fast!” Nicole shouted, as a warning, and his walking stick hit her in the face just as something impossibly hot slashed across her palm, tearing off patches of skin and searing as it went. She twisted under the force of the pair of blows, struggling to catch her balance. Her hand fell against the clipboard on the center console and for a moment the paper stuck wetly to her, adhering to her blood where it was pulsing out and soaking her whole hand.

“Not surprising!” Wynonna shouted back as she kicked her door open and crawled out on the passenger side. “He’s a demon!

“Wynonna!” she shouted, as the man grabbed her by one flailing leg, hauling as if to pull her entirely out of the car with a strength his narrow, lean frame simply should not have had. She scrabbled, grabbing at the steering wheel, then the frame of her door, and somewhere in the back of her mind she registered that she was leaving streaks of blood everywhere. Her head hit the edge of the door as he tossed her down to the ground and she rolled into the snow. She could feel blood smearing into her eyebrow and coating the left side of her face. Head wounds did always bleed like a bitch.

He leaned over her and sprayed something into her face, something that stank acrid and chemical. Her vision swam, turning to a blur of grey and black, and she listened to his footsteps as he peered into the cruiser’s cabin, then ducked aside, bending out of the way of a bullet from Wynonna’s .45. Nicole came up into a crouch, snarling, and just barely made out his eyes, glowing red, before the image swirled and spun into incomprehensible shapes.

A flash of insight swept through her and she laughed, giddy and unrestrained and a little manic. Wynonna knew. Wynonna knew, and now she was fighting a supernatural. All bets were off.

She shrugged out of her jacket, letting it drop behind her into the snow, and pushed her sleeves up to her elbows. She felt the blood dripping down over her eye, heard the soft sounds of it landing in the snow. Her hand ached and throbbed, and for a breath she waited for the sensation of her skin healing, sealing closed.

It never came. She’d have to worry about that later.

“Big mistake,” she snarled at the man in black, turning her head back and forth, searching for a visual. She couldn’t see, but she could hear, could smell. He was watching her, intrigued, but said nothing. Smart enough to avoid giving her a target. That was fine. She could play dirty.

For the first time in months, she let the wolf come out to play.

She roared, the sound building from a hollow imitation to a real, full-throated bellow as her throat and chest changed first. Her upper body stretched, broader, heavy with muscle and raw, primal strength. Her uniform shirt’s seams groaned under the effort and a few of them popped outright, the fabric clinging to her larger body. She didn’t have a second uniform in the car, so she stopped herself there, her face partially shifted, halfway to a muzzle, her too-large jaw full of heavy teeth.

Good enough for government work.

“Interesting,” the demon murmured, thoughtful.

His boots crunched in the snow again, and Wynonna’s gun barked, the sound like a small cannon to Nicole’s half-wolf ears. The next shot went wide, sending up a puff of snow in a drift twenty yards off the road.

“Nicole!” Wynonna shouted, not angry this time, not commanding, but terrified, her voice hoarse with strain.

She took it as a warning and spun halfway around, snarling, teeth bared to rip and tear. The man in black smashed the handle of his walking stick across the side of her head again. She staggered to one side, hitting the rear fender of her car and then dropping down into the snow, and he was above her in the time it took her to blink.

Casually, as if it were nothing, he slammed his foot into her ribcage. His boot was hot, impossibly so, as if the leather itself were boiling. Under the impact she heard bones crack and buckle, and she howled, high and desperate and pure animal. Wynonna screamed her name again. Nicole struggled to get her hands under her, leaving more bloodied handprints, but the pain made her head spin, made her bones feel like jelly. Even the change itself didn’t hurt so bad as this, and she suddenly felt very out of her element. Nothing she’d ever fought had dealt out raw pain like this, not even the one time someone nicked her with a silver knife.

Damn, she thought distantly. Maybe I really am a rookie flatfoot.

The Colt fired another round with no corresponding sound of impact. Wynonna had missed again—he was too damn slippery. There was a horrible thud of a human skull slamming into steel and then the heavy, dull sound of Wynonna’s body falling limply into the snow.

Dizzy, Nicole tried to keep track of what was happening. The demon gathered her up and slung her over his shoulder—she let out a hollow, agonized scream as her ribs creaked and groaned from the way he held her—and then scooped Wynonna up under his other arm, carrying them out into the woods away from the road. He smelled like rotten peaches and sugar, and for some reason she thought of the brewing station her father had once set up in their garage to make homemade beer. It had been a weirdly distinct odor—the smell of gas from the power mower mixing with the wort as he boiled it.

He walked for about ten minutes, until they were well out of sight, and then dumped them down into the snow again.

“Get away from her,” Nicole slurred, rolling her head to look around. Her vision was still hazy and unclear, but she could smell Wynonna a little further off, could hear fitful, half-conscious movements as she twitched in the snow. Words took way more effort than they had any right to, and she coughed, her whole chest flaring with pain.

“Easy, now,” the demon murmured, and she felt the end of his walking stick press to her cheek, turning her face. “You are interesting.” He let her head flop back down, then pressed the stick to her shoulder, rolling her onto her back. Agony rippled outward from her cracked ribs. “You’re an absolutely fascinating creature, you know. If I had the time, I’d love to make a study, but... well. I haven’t, and you’re not who I need.”

He kicked her in the ribs again, and this time she didn’t have the energy to scream, the blow forcing a broken, hollow sob from her chest. The pain spiraled up until she thought she would be sick, and her awareness of him went hazy for what could have been seconds, or maybe whole minutes. Something pinched in her arm, maybe a needle, and he picked her up again, carrying her somewhere else as her vision blurred and spun even more.

“It’s a shame, dog, but there’s nothing for it. You’re the wrong kind of woman for what I need.”

He dropped her into a snowbank, and she listened, numb, as he walked away, his boots crunching through slush and ice.

 

She lost time. She wasn’t sure how much. When she came awake again she was looking up, but the only way she could tell was that her vision was a pale grey blur instead of a dark grey blur. Snow was drifting lazily down, touching her face in tiny frozen pinpricks. She was shivering, her teeth chattering violently. For a moment she couldn’t remember where her coat was. She took stock of herself, dimly aware that she was her normal size again, and all human—that much at least was obvious from the way her torn shirt was letting frigid air and half-melted snow touch skin instead of fur.

She struggled to take deep breaths, and her nose filled with jasmine perfume.

Oh. Perfect.

“Shae,” she whispered, and shut her eyes, blocking out the blur.

“Shh.” A warm, lithe body pressed against hers, impossibly soft and gentle. She was naked other than a small cloth bag hanging from her neck. It was a trick Nicole had seen her use before—the bag would be holding her phone, the cord of the necklace long enough to accommodate her wolf-form once she’d shifted up. Warm lips pressed to her unbruised cheek. It could’ve been a hallucination, but the scent, the sounds... it was all so horribly familiar. “I’m here, Nicole. I’m here.”

“Why?”

“I told you,” she whispered, pressing gentle kisses to Nicole’s cheek, her nose, her temple. “I told you I would come back for you. I’m looking out for you, sweetheart.”

“More like,” Nicole panted, trying to turn her face away. “Lingering around me like a vulture, waiting for me to be beaten down.”

Shae clicked her tongue against her teeth and rested her chin on Nicole’s shoulder. “Nicole, don’t be like that, please. I’m not here to bring you home. Not right now. I’ve called an ambulance. Someone will be here soon to take care of you.”

“They’ll ask questions.”

“To them I’m just some motorist calling in an injured pedestrian on the side of the road,” she murmured. “I’ll be gone before they get here.”

“And where will you go?” she asked.

“Elsewhere,” Shae murmured. “For now.”

“I told you I didn’t want to see you again,” Nicole said, gritting her teeth. “Not if you’re still associating with them.”

“They want to take care of you just like I do,” Shae murmured, and settled in against Nicole’s side. She wanted nothing more than to push the woman away, but Shae’s body heat was a balm against the ice and cold, so she lay still, the only motion her full-body shivers.

“Like hell.”

Shae laughed softly. “Something like that. Rest now, sweetheart. I’ll see you soon.”

 

More lost time, but this time there were fluorescent lights, white walls, and the overwhelming, sharp smells of disinfectant and morphine drips and physical and emotional agony. Doctors and nurses came and went, and she felt horribly exposed, lying in a hospital bed in a tank top and boxer shorts, an IV in one hand and the other swathed mummy-style in bandages. She could see where blood had soaked through the dressing and it mystified her. She kept staring at it, trying to understand.

“Nicole.”

Why was there still blood? Shouldn’t it have healed by now?

“Nicole quit touchin’ it, you’re a grown woman, you know better.”

She looked up, bleary-eyed and confused, suddenly aware there was someone else in the room with her. Damn, she really was off her game today.

“Sheriff?”

Nedley set his hand on hers, firm, but gentle. It was a father’s touch, and it made something in her soul hurt.

“Good to see you awake, Haught.”

She tried a grin, though she thought it might have averaged out at a clumsy half-smile. “Yeah. Thanks.”

In the hall she could hear Waverly and two men talking. She realized belatedly it was Dolls and Henry. She looked up right as Nedley turned around, saw her visitors, and sighed.

“Sit tight, Haught. I’ll be right back.”

“Not going anywhere,” she murmured, but smiled at him as he walked away.

Dolls hadn’t so much as opened his mouth when Nedley spoke, leaning his arm against the doorway to block the Deputy Marshal’s sightline into her room. “I know Deputy Earp is still out there, and we’ll continue the search. But we agreed. My officer—”

“Is our only witness,” Dolls finished for him, his voice level, but edged with tension. “I need to question her before her memory becomes more clouded than it is.”

“Well, I’d feel more comfortable with a greenlight from her doctor,” Nedley grumbled. The old man was soft on her. Nicole couldn’t hide a smile.

“Sheriff,” she called. The smile gave way to a frown of concentration—the effort just to raise her voice was incomprehensible, her torso still aching. Why? Surely she should have been better by now. He turned to look at her, leaning against the doorjamb, and she didn’t think she’d ever seen the old man look so warm, so... afraid. “I’m good. Okay? I wanna help.”

“Well, I’ll...” He sighed, stepping into the room again, turning his hat in his hands to have something to do with them. “I’ll swing by and make sure that cat of yours is fed.”

She chuckled faintly. “She doesn’t really like men.”

“Well, who does?” he countered, and the laugh she gave then made her ribs twinge.

“Okay,” Dolls said, moving closer to stand beside her bed. His expression was guarded, but there was concern behind his dark eyes, and not just for Wynonna. “So what was the last thing you saw?”

Her gaze slid aside from Dolls. Waverly stood in the doorway, watching them. Her left arm was in what looked like a makeshift sling, but her gaze was gentle and so very, very sad. Nicole wanted to give Waverly reasons to look happy again. She had such a wonderful smile, it wasn’t right she spent so much time lately looking so upset. Even just that morning, she’d looked happy, just for a moment.

“Waverly Earp,” Nicole murmured, remembering that little smile and the tiniest wave. “Smilin’ at me from her front porch.”

Waverly’s expression turned soft, and Dolls gave her an impatient, unamused look.

“And, uh,” she said hastily, looking toward the blanket draped over her legs. “A man. Steppin’ out on the highway. Flaggin’ us down.”

Dolls tapped his pen against a little notebook. “Description?”

She thought of a tall, narrow skeleton of a man, a black walking stick. She thought of glowing red eyes and Wynonna’s fury, her voice ringing out like a rung bell.

He’s a demon!

She grimaced. “No,” she said. Henry and Waverly were there, and they certainly didn’t need to hear her talking like a lunatic. She glanced toward Dolls, then away again. “Just blank space after that.” She considered that, then remembered more—trees and snow and a needle pinching her arm. “Until the woods.”

Dolls frowned, but didn’t press. “So uh, what happened?”

“Somebody was carrying me,” she said, looking at him, willing him to understand how absurd that seemed. She looked lean, but she was dense and strong and heavier than she seemed like she ought to be. “I was blindfolded, I think,” she added, then frowned, thoughtful, trying to lay out the events in sequence in her mind. “Or just really drugged.”

Henry and Dolls were quiet, listening patiently, but she was dimly aware that Waverly was looking away now, her face twisted in pain and fear.

“Next thing I know,” she said, electing to skip over the few shards she recalled, if only to avoid dragging Waverly through the details, “I’m freezing cold, covered in dirt, in a ditch by the side of the road.”

No, that wasn’t true either. She remembered jasmine and bergamot, a warm body pressed to hers, and a honey-sweet voice whispering in her ear. But Dolls didn’t need to know that part. Or maybe he did. But she didn’t want to tell him. Shae was her problem.

“What about Wynonna?” Dolls pressed, gentle but desperate. “Do you remember anything about Wynonna?”

“No,” she said, struggling not to growl out her own frustration. She’d failed to protect Wynonna. She didn’t need the reminder, not so soon after waking up. “I couldn’t see anything.”

“Sight ain’t your only sense, Miss Haught,” Henry said.

The irony in that single statement was so immense she couldn’t wrap her mind around the full breadth of it. She glanced to Dolls, who pressed his lips together in annoyance. He glanced to Henry, though, and stepped aside, letting the man step up to her bedside. He smelled like horse, Nicole thought, which made no goddamn sense at all.

“What did he smell like?” She sighed, thinking about it, and Henry continued. “Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in. Let the memories come.”

She did, tilting her head back a little, but all she smelled was the hospital. Rage, sorrow, terror. Disinfectant and bandages and metal and soap. Dolls smelled like sweat and stress and government-issue gear. Henry smelled like horse and wool and dust and whiskey, and Waverly, further off, smelled like coffee and oatmeal and painkillers in her blood and raw, horrible tension.

She thought of what she’d smelled before, during the fight, and tried to pick out the details a normal human might have noticed. Details that wouldn’t make her sound utterly crazy.

“Sour,” she said finally. “Musty.”

“Like death?” Dolls prompted.

“No,” she said, and frowned, just a little. “Spoiled fruit. And gasoline.” She paused for a moment, more memory coalescing as she thought about it. “He kicked me,” she breathed.

“What?” Dolls asked, watching her.

“Still couldn’t figure out why my chest was hurtin’,” she whispered. She almost moved to touch her side but the mere thought of moving made pain wash through her, even through a haze of morphine. “He threw me down, and he said...” She looked up at Dolls. “You’re the wrong kind.”

“‘You’re the wrong kind,’” Dolls murmured, pacing and tapping his pen on his notebook. “You’re the wrong ‘kind’? ‘You’re the wrong kind,’ uh... Serial killers. They um, often have a type of victim that they prefer.”

Nicole fought the urge to growl and looked away from him, her gaze falling instead on Waverly, whose expression of fear had turned to something deeper, something horrible and unfathomable.

“And Wynonna?” she said, her voice breaking.

Dolls slowly looked away from Nicole and faced Waverly. “Must be exactly what ‘Jack’ is lookin’ for.”

“Waverly,” Nicole said, searching for something to say. “I’m so sorry.”

“No,” she said, and her voice was trembling, her eyes red and too wet and Nicole could hear the hitch under every breath. “Just. I’m glad you’re okay.”

She turned, moving away so fast Nicole couldn’t say anything else. Henry sighed heavily, glancing at her again as Nicole let out a shuddering, furious breath, and then he left too, following Waverly into the hallway.

Dolls lingered, keeping his notebook at hand.

“You okay?”

“I’m in a hospital bed for the first time since I was bitten,” she said, though she hastily lowered her voice halfway through. “Of course I’m not okay. What the hell is wrong with me, Dolls?”

“You’re not healing?”

“No,” she said, clenching her unbandaged hand into a fist in the blanket, the IV line creaking. “And unless that red-eyed freak was using silver weapons, that shouldn’t be happening.” His jaw worked, but he said nothing. “Dolls, please,” she said, looking him in the eye. “I ran in blind on this and now Wynonna is—”

“Going to be fine,” he said, cutting in over her. “She’s got all of us on the case, Haught. You worry about yourself.” She opened her mouth to protest and he raised a hand. “Listen. I’ll do what I can.”

Dolls.

“I’m not sure yet,” he said, firm. “But when I’ve got more than just some theories, I’ll do what I can to bring you in.”

Nicole heaved a sigh and leaned back into the pillows behind her. Frustration turned her voice hard. “Where were you, Dolls. We needed you.”

He blew out a slow breath. “I was buying time. With my bosses.”

She snapped her gaze to him. “Dolls, you didn’t.”

“Shh,” he said, and flashed a roguish grin. “Relax, Haught. We had a deal. I gave them something else, something that will keep them interested long enough for me to do the rest of my job. Now. Rest up. If I’m right on my guess, this’ll pass, it’ll just take longer than you’re used to.”

“Like silver.”

“More or less, yeah.”

Now, with the room otherwise empty and the hallway in organized chaos, she let herself growl, the sound reminiscent of a motorcycle's engine turning over.

“I know,” Dolls said. He stepped closer, squeezed her shoulder, then turned toward the door.

“Dolls.”

He looked back.

“Get her back,” she said, her voice low, but deadly serious. “And rip his goddamn head off for me.”

Dolls grinned, the expression somehow both comforting and terrifying. “Haught, when we find him? He’ll wish that’s all we’d done.”

She grinned, fangs bared. He winked, and turned to go, and she let her head tip back against the pillows, more exhausted than she’d felt in a long, long time.

 

They released her that afternoon, mystified that she was already on the mend, for all that it was taking way longer than she would have liked. She allowed Nedley to take her home, but once he was gone she just sat, sullen and skin crawling with tension, on her sofa. She sat there for what felt like hours, but wasn’t, simmering with frustration and waiting for news.

Cats may not like shifters, but they know when their people are sick, and while no one would accuse the average cat of being big softies, they care. They just have their own ways of showing they care, and do it on their own terms. Calamity Jane didn’t come right away when Nicole got home, other than to briefly investigate, but maybe an hour after she had sat down on the couch with a glass of water and a bottle of painkillers in easy reach, the ginger beast made her way back into the living room, hopped up on Nicole’s coffee table, and stared at her, as if taking stock.

“Hey,” Nicole said, but there was enough weariness and warmth in her voice that the little ball of fluff offered a soft mew of solidarity. Calamity Jane hopped onto the sofa, walked over to sit beside Nicole, and flopped herself down into the space against her thigh, tucking her nose against her paws and settling in as if she had all the patience in the universe. Nicole stroked behind her ears, and the little cat set to purring loudly against her hip, rumbling away like a tiny motor. It was a small thing, but it was enough—the small, warm presence calmed her enough that she could think more clearly.

She unwound the bandage from her hand and frowned at the torn, blistered skin. “Cauterized as it was made,” she muttered, and a thought, a bit of memory, crossed her mind. Wynonna’s voice, low and skittish, whispered into the chilly air of the morgue.

Hellfire hot.

“A demon,” she muttered, frowning and carefully wrapping her hand back up before she reached for her phone, dialing a familiar number.

A chilly voice answered, flavored with just a touch of a Scandinavian accent. “This had better be good, ja, it is daylight now.”

She breathed a sigh, glad he’d answered. “Mike. Hey.”

“Nicole?” The voice on the other line brightened considerably, turning suddenly warm. “Ahh, Nicole! It has been ages. I was worried about you.”

She snorted, then cringed when it made her chest hurt. “You? Worried about me?”

“You went to Purgatory,” he said, as if that explained everything. Then again, with the kind of Sunday she’d had, maybe it did. “Of course I worried.”

“I’m fine, Mike.”

“You’re lying to me. I can hear it in your voice.”

She pressed her lips together. “Mostly. Mostly, I’m fine.”

“Tell me.”

“Job’s going well. Your contact here, that witch. She was as good as her word. Full moon was fine.”

“Good, good,” he murmured. “I am glad the name of Mikael von Holstein still means something.”

“Well,” she said, drawing out the sound.

Mikael’s sigh crackled in the receiver. “What happened.”

“I’m glad you settled your debt. She uh. She’s dead. I’m not sure how.”

For a long moment he was silent. “Something in Purgatory killed an Iron Witch, and you, hjärtat, are too stupid to listen to me if I tell you that you should leave.” She said nothing, but she didn’t have to. He sighed. “All right. Tell me what it is that hurt you, then.”

“How do you know I was—”

“I can hear it in your voice, Nicole,” he murmured.

“Predatory instinct?”

“No,” he said, chiding, “It is because I know the sound of your voice when you are well and when you are hiding pain, like that cat of yours. You are hurting.” He was quiet for a moment. “Also yes, a little of the predator, but you are much too far away for me to bite, girl. And besides. Wolf’s blood.” He made a disgusted noise. “Only once, when I was very, very desperate.”

She chuckled, then winced, letting out an audible noise of pain.

“Nicole?” he murmured, concern leaking into his voice.

“Bastard kicked me in the ribs,” she explained, sighing as she tried to settle in and get comfortable against a throw pillow. “Also slashed my hand open. And none of it’s healing.”

Mikael hummed in thought. “Silver? Though if it were silver I imagine you would not have called me. You know how to clean silvered wounds.”

She grimaced at the implication in his tone. “You’re worse than a Jewish grandmother,” she groused, frowning at the bandages. “But no, I don’t think so. Not unless he has silver-tipped nails.”

“Mm. And while the Europeans tried to figure out silver-toed boots in the late 1700s, they didn’t ever quite manage to make it work,” he mused.

“Sometimes I forget how old you are,” she muttered. “Anyway. I actually have a more specific question.”

“Mm?”

“What if it was hellfire?”

Mikael went unnaturally quiet. She had seen him do this once before, his body going absolutely statue-still. It was damn eerie to witness. Humans are alive. They’re always moving, at least a little. Blinking, breathing. Involuntary, unconscious muscle spasms. But men like Mikael weren’t alive. Sure, they were only a couple steps removed, and usually you had to really be looking to notice that he was entirely too pale, or that he never seemed to look any older, or that when he spoke in Swedish his grammar was about three centuries too old. Now, without being able to see him, he was so still and quiet she actually pulled her phone from her ear to make sure the call hadn’t dropped.

“Hellfire, you said?”

“Yeah,” she said, getting concerned. “Is that... does that matter?”

“Yes,” he said, then sighed. “I forget you know so little of the old myths.”

“I know, I know,” she said, rubbing her fingers over her forehead, wincing when she touched the tape holding closed the cut over her eye. “Sh– She said she’d tell me, but.”

“But you left before she taught you. I know.”

She blew out a breath. “So, tell me. Why does hellfire matter?”

He inhaled, thinking, then made a faint noise like he had decided on something. “You must understand, the oldest werewolves were not moon-cursed, slobbering creatures.”

“That’s rude. I don’t slobber.”

“Hush, hjärtat. Many of the old wolves were wisemen, like the Celtic Druids, who wore wolfskin belts or wolf-pelt cloaks to adopt the strength, ferocity, and stamina of the wolf to serve some singular purpose. Many of them took it up in order to protect their clan, their tribe.”

“Like superheroes,” Nicole mused. “Hell, or a badge. Take up the mantle and protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

“Mm,” Mikael said. “The curse came later, and of course, like with any myth, there are a hundred explanations for why. A popular theory is hubris, of course. Ambition and power-lust corrupting once good and wise men.”

“Okay, so why hellfire?”

“Because,” he said, his tone patient, even gentle. “Werewolves are, at least in some deep, core way, aligned with good.”

He said it like it was simple. Like it was obvious. But it struck her like a bullet, the words somehow profound. It curled around her throat like fingers and squeezed. She choked on it, her voice coming out strangled, pained.

“What?”

Mikael’s laugh was soft, musical. “Nicole. You are the one who calls it your curse. But it is so much more than that.”

“Then... then hellfire hurts, and stops me from healing, because...”

“Because you are not of hell. It is at direct conflict with your nature.”

She considered that for a long moment, quiet. She stared at her bandaged hand, curling her fingers absently.

“Okay. Okay, that all makes sense. But then why is silver a problem?”

He made a low, thoughtful noise. “Things are so rarely black and white. Even among our community, few can agree. But the explanation I prefer is that while there is still something fundamentally good in the nature of werewolves, they are also cursed. The Druids knew no harm under the moon, after all. Something did change, even if no one can agree on precisely what. So, since there is also something fundamentally tainted in the nature of werewolves, silver, an alchemical purifier, burns.”

She tilted her head back against her sofa and blew out a breath. “Wow.”

“You think you were attacked with hellfire?”

She frowned at the ceiling. Dolls said he had theories, and Wynonna had known the man in black was some kind of demon. It stood to reason that if Wynonna knew, it was something Dolls would know also. If he knew any of what Mikael had just told her, he probably had much more than theories. So he was hiding things from her, probably, but that wasn’t exactly news.

“Yeah,” she said finally, thinking of red eyes and surgery incisions cauterized as they were made. “Yeah I think I was.”

“And you will not leave Purgatory.”

She frowned. It was tempting. God, was it ever tempting. To just leave, to get away from whatever hellspawn wandered this crazy town. To run where Shae couldn’t find her again. To leave Dolls and Wynonna to their insane Black Badge mission.

Black Badge. Which Waverly was helping with.

Waverly.

Did she know? Did anyone else know?

“I can’t,” she breathed. “There are people here, Mike. Good people. People who have no idea their town has honest to god demons wandering around in it cutting up co-eds and pulling out their organs.”

“You lost me, hjärtat.”

“I need to know who else is aware of this,” she said, half for his benefit and half for her own. “There are so many people here who have no idea.”

“They can’t know,” Mikael reminded her, his tone gentle.

“No,” she agreed. “No, they can’t. But that doesn’t mean they have to live their lives under a spectre of death with no one standing between them and Hell itself.”

Mikael was quiet for a moment, and then he chuckled. “Now you sound like my Nicole. Just promise me you will rest until the hellfire is turned to smoke? Once it has faded, you will heal normally.”

“No promises,” she muttered, and he sighed heavily, resigned. She grumbled to herself, wordless, and then tapped her unwounded hand on her leg, thinking aloud. “My first step is to figure out who’s in the know.”

“Be careful,” Mikael warned her. “Would not do to tip your hand. Subtlety has never been your best suit.”

“No, it hasn’t,” she said, and sighed. “Wish you were here.”

“Why, so you could lose all your salary to me at poker?”

She laughed, then groaned. “Ow.”

He chuckled, but when he spoke, he sounded concerned. “Please be careful.”

“I will. Thank you.”

“Good hunting,” he said, his voice shifting to a lethal purr.

She grinned, and Calamity Jane made a faint grumbling noise when she bared her fangs.

“You too, Mikael.”

 

That evening Nedley came back from happy hour at Shorty’s and frowned so deeply Nicole could feel it even before she looked up from her computer screen.

“Haught. The hell are you doing back here already.”

She gave him a tired smile. “I’m feeling better, Sheriff, really.”

“You cracked ribs, Haught. I saw the x-rays.”

She blinked, then waved a hand, though she sat back gingerly, to show him she was being careful. “No, uh, no, it was just some minor fracturing. It’s fine. Listen, Sheriff, I’ll stay on desk duty, I just couldn’t sit in a bed for one more hour.”

She watched her, still frowning, his eyes narrowed to slits. “Fine, fine. Just tell me you’re not workin’ on that case.”

“No, sir, just writing up a report on the abduction.”

“You left hospital-ordered bed rest for paperwork?” he asked, then shook his head. “All right, all right, fine. You aren’t gonna listen to me. But if I hear so much as a peep from you about the pain, I’m taking you back to your damn house and barring the door.”

She grinned. “Understood, sir.”

He heaved a sigh and shook his head, but headed for his office. “Good.”

Chapter Text

Nicole went home when Nedley forced her out the front door. She slept on the couch, where she wouldn’t have room to roll around, and in the morning she took her time, very gingerly putting some breakfast together and taking a shower. She still felt heavy and foggy with the effects of the hellfire, but her ribs were considerably better, and when she unwrapped her hand, it was healed enough to wrap it in some gauze and call it good. Even the scratch over her eye was nearly invisible, when she squinted at herself in the mirror. Very slowly, very carefully, she set herself to the task of braiding her hair.

When she got back to work in the morning, she printed out a draft of her report and settled into her chair, moving like a woman four times her age. Nedley wasn’t in yet, and the room was fairly empty, until Wynonna and Dolls’ voices filled the space. She wouldn’t have been able to ignore it even if she’d tried, though to be fair she wasn’t really trying.

“All you did was watch,” Wynonna snapped at him.

“I couldn’t burst in. It would’ve made you look even worse.”

Wynonna’s voice trembled, sounding more vulnerable and small than Nicole had ever heard her.

“You’re supposed to be my goddamned friend.”

“Yeah?” Dolls said, pivoting to look at her. “I’m your boss.”

“You– You know what I mean!”

“We need to be careful, all right? B–” Dolls sighed and headed into the BBD’s office. They left the door open, and Nicole could still hear them as clearly as if they were standing in the room. “You’re not even a real deputy, Earp, come on!”

Nicole frowned, staring at her computer screen without seeing anything on it.

“No!” Wynonna countered, seething, “I’m just the one with the big-ass gun who sends the fiends of Hell to their deaths.”

Nicole dropped the paper in her hands and the pages scattered. She stared in the direction of Dolls’ offices, her eyes gone very big and very round. Wynonna was what?

“Well technically it’s not the gun that kills them, it’s—”

“Oh my god,” she said, her voice shaking. “You stupid government lackey. You left me in there with a bureaucratic sadist, and I was alone, and scared.”

Something protective and furious coiled tight in Nicole’s chest. That Wynonna was capable of feeling either of those things was terrifying. That she was admitting to it was heart-wrenching. She carefully lowered herself to the floor on one knee and started gathering up the pages of her report, wrangling down the wolf’s instincts. Wynonna is like us, she thought at it, as loudly as she could. She’s a hunter and she doesn’t need a pack. Not until she asks for one.

Their conversation dropped to a softer level, and she couldn’t make out the words for a minute or two, until Wynonna paused in BBD’s doorway.

“Perfect,” she snapped. “Have fun with your girlfriend.”

Nicole flinched at the venom in her voice and banged her head against the underside of her desk, cursing. There was a jangle of leather and metal and then footsteps prowling closer.

Jesus,” Wynonna snapped, as Nicole emerged from under her desk with her hands raised, papers in one of them. She was holding her gun, her hand shaking. “I could’ve shot you, you idiot.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Nicole said, and dropped the papers on her chair, setting both hands on her desk to stand.

“You–!” She seethed. “You are ruining my dramatic exit,” she whispered, furious, but she moved closer and grabbed Nicole under the shoulders, lifting her to her feet.

“I’ll wingman you, Earp. Next time, I promise.”

“Whatever. I suppose you heard that too.”

Nicole set a hand to her side, wincing, and kept her voice low, full of a secondary message. A promise.

“Heard what?”

Wynonna frowned at her for a moment, doubt and suspicion chasing each other across her expression before she saw whatever she was looking for in Nicole’s eyes, and softened, just slightly. She blew out a breath. “Right. Okay.”

“It’s good to see you in one piece.”

Wynonna snorted. “Save the social play-nice, Haught.”

“I am,” Nicole said, meeting Wynonna eye for eye. “I mean it.”

Wynonna mirrored her gaze, scanning again, looking for anything less than real. “I...” She holstered her gun and moved toward the door. “I can’t deal with this right now. Just. Glad you’re not dead.”

She stalked out the front door, nearly bumping into Nedley as he arrived, and the sheriff turned to watch Wynonna go.

“Haught,” he said, frowning when he turned around again and saw her. “I swear.”

“About done with the report,” she explained, showing him the papers. “I’ll drop it off in an hour or so?”

He sighed, but waved a hand and headed for his office. “Fine.”

She did, and after maybe another half hour, while other officers milled about, Nedley got up and stalked to his door.

“Haught!”

She flinched. Moment of truth.

The report was a gamble, and as Mikael had pointed out, subtlety really wasn’t her game.

She got up, and when she walked up to him he pointed at the chair across from his desk, holding the report in one hand. She sat. She moved almost normally as she did it, her body only a little sore now, and Nedley’s gaze tracked her before falling back to the page in front of him.

“Unnatural, otherworldly, potential Jack the Ripper,” he read off, walking toward his chair, his voice low and irritated. He looked at her, frowning. “Really, Nicole? I like a joke as much as the next guy, but.” He wrung the report in his hands and she flinched at the sound, watching the paper crumple and crease. “I don’t have time for this.”

“Look, it– it wasn’t easy to write any of that down,” she said, eyeing him, playing the part of a beleaguered officer. That part, at least, was easy, solely for being based so much in truth. “But it is what I experienced. I swear.”

He heaved a sigh and leaned his hands on the desk, lowering his voice. “Look. I know you’ve had a hell of a time. You wanna take a day or two, I understand.”

“This isn’t about getting kidnapped,” she said, immediately. “Okay? It’s not just that. I mean Sheriff, come on.” She steeled her nerves and readied her trump card. Whatever came next, it would tell her a lot about Sheriff Randy Nedley and what part he had to play in all this. “You gotta admit, this– this place is... weird.”

“It’s a small town, Nicole,” he murmured. “It’s quirky. It’s called Purgatory, for chrissakes. Look.” He sat down again, and a knot of anxiety grew and tightened in her chest. Was he that deep in denial about his town? Or worse, was he in on it, and covering it up? She thought she might have been able to tell, if he was from her side of the street, but if she couldn’t... Or worse, maybe he wasn’t, but was being paid off? “If you think it’s anything more than that, you might as well put in your resignation.”

“I don’t want to resign! I... I like it here.”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she found that the answer was more true than she’d even realized. She liked this weird town—she liked its streets, its shops, its suburbs, its farms. She liked the regulars at Shorty’s and the staff at the diner and her fellow police officers. She liked Nedley and his family, she liked the Earps, hell, even Henry and Dolls.

And when it came down to it, it was the fact that she liked Purgatory so much that made the idea that Nedley was keeping something this big in his pocket so scary.

He watched her steadily, his face unreadable. She didn’t smell fear, or anger, and his heartbeat was normal, calm. Or as calm as anyone can be when chastising one of their best employees for trying to explain an abduction as an under-the-bed monster.

Good,” he said.

She looked away, seething. She pushed down the nagging fear that he knew far, far more than he was letting on until she could trust her voice. “I’ll redo the report,” she said, and got up from her chair.

He let her get all the way to the doorway before he slapped a folder down on his desk, clearly moving on, and called out, “Door.”

Nicole turned back, almost growling, and shut the door behind her.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she snapped, mostly in the direction of Sarah, an older woman sitting at the counter for the morning.

“We’ll miss you,” Sarah said, with a warm, gentle frown. “But you rest up, Nicole.”

The sincerity of it made her pause. She sighed, offering Sarah a more genuine smile as she gathered up her coat and her hat. “Thanks.”

“You be good,” she said, as Nicole headed for the door.

It was a little after noon, the air cold and biting. She barely noticed it, fully prepared to stalk all the way home and leave her cruiser in the parking lot, just to be contrary, but when she hit the sidewalk and turned, she nearly bumped into Waverly.

“Whoa!” she said, with a wide grin. “Whoa, where’s the holdup?” Nicole stared at her. Why was she here? Now? Waverly held her hands up in a robber’s victim’s pose. “Yeah, ‘cause... you’re a cop?”

Nicole blinked. “Right,” she said, and set a hand on Waverly’s elbow, tugging her away from the door. “Sorry. Um. Can we talk?”

She thought of Wynonna shouting that morning about sending fiends back to Hell and wondered, for the second time, if Waverly knew anything about what her sister was really doing in Dolls’ company.

“Y-yeah,” Waverly said, walking along beside her. Nicole slowed her steps to match Waverly’s. “Yeah, god. We’re totally overdue.”

“Okay,” Nicole said, and stopped when they’d reached the corner of the station building. She looked around for witnesses. “I’m not... I’m not crazy, right?” She wrung her hands together, trying to think of how to say what she meant without saying what she meant. “There’s something going on here.”

“No,” Waverly said, her tone gentle. “No. You’re not crazy.”

“Okay,” she said, relieved. She kept her gaze on the road, scanning every few seconds. This was far from the ideal place to have this conversation, but it would do, so long as no one was listening.

“Well, I’m not sure I’m really ready to...” she trailed off, making a faint whoof noise, to convey magnitude. She was grinning, but she radiated discomfort, her shoulders tense and her heart pounding. “Get into it.”

For a moment Nicole just frowned at her. “Why.”

“Because,” she said, her gaze flicking down for a moment. “It’s different for me, right? And, y’know, it’s... it’s really personal.”

“Uh,” Nicole said, glancing around and leading Waverly across the street. There wasn’t anyone coming, but she felt antsy just standing in one spot. “But it’s personal for everybody, right? I mean, they must know? People must...” She trailed off, gesturing and then tucking her thumbs into her belt to keep her hands from visibly shaking. “Whisper about it?”

“Oh my god, I hope not!” Waverly protested, horrified. Her heartrate jumped again. “No, uh... I kind of only just discovered it.”

Nicole frowned. Was Wynonna keeping that many secrets, even from Waverly?

“When I met you,” she added, looking away.

Scratch that. Panic snarled through Nicole’s chest like a living thing. She’d only learned of it when Nicole arrived? How? Nicole frantically thought through the conversation in the bar. She didn’t remember any partial shifting or audible growling, but maybe she’d forgotten?

“Me?”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, and Nicole caught her looking over at her, then away.

“Uh,” she muttered, searching for something to say.

“You’re kinda special.”

“Oh, okay, uh...” God she wished she were a better liar. “Maybe I’m a bit more open-minded, but it’s not like I have some mystical gift or something.”

Well, if Mikael was to be believed, maybe that was debatable. But that wasn’t the issue here.

“Oh! No, I get it.” Waverly turned to face her on the sidewalk, beaming. “You’re a lesbian, not a unicorn, right?”

Hold on. A unicorn?

“What?”

Waverly blinked. “What?”

She stared, too stunned to really make sense of any of it. “You’re making fun of me.” And riling up my wolf in the process, too, she thought, trying to slow her pulse down by sheer force of will.

“No!” Waverly said, aghast. “Sorry, don’t you... want to talk?”

“I want the truth.” None of this made any goddamn sense. She shouldered past Waverly and headed down the sidewalk. Somewhere behind her, she heard Waverly’s voice, soft and confused.

“Huh! I think I’d do better with the unicorn.”

She headed down the road to the parking lot and threw herself into her cruiser without really being aware of what she was doing.

You’re not in a city anymore, Haught, Dolls had said. What you do safely isn’t really my concern.

She wanted to go for a run. And by god, this time, she was going to do it.

 

The Pine Barrens was a bit of a drive, but for what she wanted, that was just fine. It was dusk when she arrived, and she stuck to the edges of the woods, but parked her car out of sight from the main roads. It was horrendously cold, what with it being the tail end of November, and there was part of her that was all too aware of how crazy she looked, standing in the snow beside her car at sunset, stripping out of her uniform. She pushed her clothes and boots and hat into the passenger seat and hid the ignition key under a floormat.

For a moment, she just stood there, ankle-deep in snow, feeling the biting wind chewing at her bare skin, closing her eyes against the drifts and icy gusts. She closed the car door and stepped back, her body twisting and bending under the immense pressure of transformation as she let it spread through her. It was exhilarating and terrifying, like holding your fingers too close to a flame, aware that a slight change of wind would make it burn, that you were on the knife’s edge. In danger, yet safe. A contradiction incarnate.

Her body rippled, limbs contorting and stretching as she grew, doubling in mass. She slammed her hands down into the snow just as they crossed the line from hands to paws, her nails dragging furrows into the frozen ground.

She threw back her head and howled, the sound primal and ancient. Birds took to the air in small clouds of wings and drifting feathers and in the distance she could hear deer, or maybe elk, starting from their dens, bolting for better cover.

God, it felt so good.

She inhaled and every breath filled her with clear, cold forest air. She could smell everything. The gasoline and oil in her cruiser’s engine. The faint afterthought of snow melting under hot rubber. Every rabbit, deer, and bird in a quarter mile. A hiker’s campsite, now abandoned but still carrying scents from this morning.

With a roar of joy and challenge she threw herself forward into the woods away from her car, moving at a loping, easy pace. After maybe half a mile she put on more speed, racing through the trees, dodging trunks and leaping fallen logs in jumps that would’ve made steeplechasers jealous. She felt alive in a way that she hadn’t in months. Years, maybe. She was fast, and powerful, and nothing in this forest could stop her.

She ran, and let the wolf guide her feet. With it watching for danger, she let her mind, her human mind, wander. Even thinking of the conversation with Waverly couldn’t dampen her spirits now, not when she felt so free, and she went back over it in her mind as she raced against the very wind itself. She knew what she had been talking about, and everything Waverly had said seemed to fit. But what if she looked at it again, different. What if Waverly hadn’t been talking about the supernatural? Nicole had never brought it up, now that she thought about it more closely. She’d never said anything specific. By design, but if Waverly hadn’t been expecting it, maybe she wouldn’t have guessed it on her own.

I’m not crazy, right? There’s something going on here.

No, you’re not crazy. Well, I’m not sure I’m really ready to... get into it.

Even the wolf got interested then, and she almost hit a tree. As it was, she tripped over her own paws, tumbling into a disorganized, cacophonous somersault that scattered snow and fallen, now broken branches in every direction. She came up sitting vaguely like a dog, shaking snow from her head and flicking her ears to get snowmelt out of them.

Jesus, had Waverly been talking about... about them? That changed everything.

A bark of challenge cut through her thoughts and she spun, growling, looking for the intruder.

A wolf stood in the snow a few dozen yards away, under the shadow of a tree. Its hackles were up, its fangs bared, ears pinned in open defiance.

Nicole growled back, but then paused and looked around. It hadn’t occurred to her that she might be on someone else’s territory. She stood up in a loose crouch, tilting her head to the side.

The wolf stiffened, clearly startled that conversation was on the table, but advanced a pace, ears pricked forward.

Nicole was not exactly fluent with speaking to wolves, but there was something intelligent in its eyes, something almost human. She frowned, looking around at the woods, asking questions with her mouth, her ears, her tail. The wolf approached to within a dozen paces, then stopped, watching her.

The creature’s form shimmered, sliding, somehow reminding Nicole of soup pushed around a bowl with a spoon. In the span of a few breaths, the wolf was gone, and where it had been standing was an enormous brown bear, its eyes shrewd and its body of an equal size with Nicole.

She did not go so far as to bare her throat to the creature, but she dipped her head, pressing her chin to the snow and looking up at the other shifter.

The bear grunted, seemingly satisfied, and sat back on its haunches, eyeing Nicole with wary interest. She backed up a few steps, and the bear sat, patient, watching.

She thought that maybe she had heard of this before. Shae had spoken of the old Native shapechangers in reverent, whispered tones. If she had learned anything about them, it was that one did not speak of them, and especially not their names, without reprisal. But if that was what the creature before her was... it was very, very far from home.

Nicole huffed out a breath and withdrew, watching the shifter until she was well out of sight. A crow followed her out of the woods, but she went further, away from the Pine Barrens and her cruiser. At the edge of the woods, the crow stopped following her, and she found a good spot to hunker down for the night, sheltered beneath some boulders and a handful of fallen trees that kept the worst of the winds off her.

It wasn’t the first time she’d slept out in the wild as a wolf, and she figured it wouldn’t be the last. But, it was certainly more comfortable than the last time.

It had been raining then. Mikael had complained that she smelled like wet dog for days.

In the morning she sulked back to her car. She changed back with her eyes on the woods and slipped into her cold clothes, shivering a little in them until she could get the heat running. She didn’t stop watching the woods until she was on her way back to the road, and even then, she checked her rear-view mirror for crows a few dozen times.

Chapter Text

The drive back to town was almost uneventful.

Keyword: almost.

Nicole was at the town limits when she noticed a small form, a pedestrian, walking with purpose away from town. There was something almost familiar about them, but she cut across an embankment and turned around to catch up.

And found one Waverly Earp, bundled up in a thick coat and positively sulking as she walked.

Excitement coiled in her chest. Maybe they could talk. Make things right. She still felt good, incredibly good, full of the forest and the freedom of the wolf. Even with the new moon coming, she felt positively alive with it.

She rolled up slowly alongside Waverly and rolled her window down.

“Waverly?” she called, trying not to smile. “Waverly, what are you doin’.”

“Being alone,” Waverly called back, her expression sour, even petulant. “I wanna be alone!”

“All right,” Nicole allowed, and looked around. “Well, you’ve reached the edge of town, so, any further out and you’re gonna freeze to death.” She looked out again, watching Waverly’s face as best she could. “Just get in the car.”

“No thank you,” Waverly said. Her voice was almost musical as she said it, and Nicole felt warm, even despite it being a rejection. She watched the girl walk, considering her options. Waverly was talking big, but she had her arms crossed tight across her chest to keep the warmth in, and was shivering.

“I’ve got a Taser,” Nicole advised her, all bright optimism and good humor. “Don’t you make me use it.”

Waverly slowed to a stop and turned, leveling her with a flat, utterly frustrated frown.

Nicole smiled up at her, impish and unrepentant.

Waverly rolled her eyes, but moved around to the passenger side, muttering to herself about the nerve and I cannot believe. Nicole pretended she couldn’t hear and unlocked the doors so that Waverly could get in, leaning over to turn up the heat toward the passenger side. Once Waverly had gotten in, closed the door, and spitefully fastened her seatbelt, Nicole turned the car around. She drove a little ways, thoughtful, then slowed, pulling over to the side of the road.

Waverly shot her a dubious look.

“I’d like to talk,” Nicole explained, and leaned back in her seat, turning off the engine. “But if you decide you’re done, you can get out and walk, any time, no questions. I’m not trying to trap you.”

Waverly let out a slow, forcedly even breath. She unbuckled her belt again, which Nicole tried not to take as a threat. “All right.”

“Okay,” Nicole said, inhaling slowly and gathering her nerves. “So, I’ll start: I’m sorry, for being such an asshole before.”

“First you wanna talk,” Waverly noted, frowning at the windshield. “Then you don’t wanna talk, then you tell me to talk, so I talk—”

“Okay, well,” Nicole grinned a little, high on the feeling of having been right. “Maybe we should figure out what exactly it is we’re talking about.”

“Gus is selling Shorty’s,” Waverly blurted out next. “She acts like she won’t, but she is. And everything’s changing around me, but it’s all too fast, you know?” She turned slightly, looking at Nicole. She almost spoke, but Waverly was still going, and she bit her lip, waiting. “And it’s like, nobody ever asks me if I’m okay with it! It’s like, could everybody just stand still for one frickin’ minute?”

She sighed, her heart audibly pounding, and Nicole found herself face to face with the deep, impossible well of things that Waverly had on her plate. And she hadn’t even mentioned the supernatural stuff. God, no wonder she was upset.

“Hey,” she said, gentle, and after a moment of hesitation, reached out and set her hand on Waverly’s arm. “It’s gonna be okay.” Waverly stared at her, then looked away, and Nicole reluctantly pulled her hand back.

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

Nicole scoffed. If she ever figured out who made Waverly feel like being upset and overwhelmed meant she didn’t deserve to be treated with respect or with care, she’d personally throttle them. “You know, I think you’ve just been dating too many shitheads.”

Waverly’s voice was like a whipcrack, sudden and absolute.

“We’re not dating.”

“I know,” she said, startled by the sharpness of it. “God, Waverly, I would never ask you to be someone you’re not.”

Good. Just don’t ask me to be anyone at all.”

Nicole frowned. “Fine.”

“Fine.”

Nicole glanced at her, then sighed and looked forward again. Maybe she’d been wrong after all. Or maybe she’d messed things up irreparably the day before. The wolf whined somewhere in her chest and she tried not to think about it. If she did, she might actually whine aloud, and that would just be embarrassing.

“Well,” Waverly said a moment later, cautious. “Maybe just friends.”

Nicole glanced at her. “Yeah,” she said, feeling heavy again, shackled under the weight of three words. “Sure, Waverly. Whatever you want.” She leaned forward and started the car again, heading back toward town. She had given Waverly the freedom to leave the car, but there was a certain irony in the idea that in the end she was the one who was trapped.

She dropped Waverly off at Shorty’s for her shift, then headed for the station. She heard Dolls rustling around in the kitchen, but elected to ignore him, focusing on her work.

Sort of.

“You’re sulking, honey.”

Nicole looked up, frowning at Sarah. She was sitting at the counter in her uniform and a knit sweater, and was watching Nicole with a patient, knowing look on her face.

“No ma’am, I’m fine.”

Sarah pressed her lips together. “Are you?”

Nicole considered pressing the lie, then sighed. “Physically? Yes.”

“I wasn’t asking about physically, hon.” Sarah smiled. “What’s on your mind.”

Nicole sighed and leaned her chin in one hand. “Relationship trouble, I guess.”

“I didn’t realize you were dating,” Sarah said, eyebrows rising.

“Yeah,” Nicole said, sour. “That’s sort of the trouble part.”

Sarah laughed, but it was honest, without malice, and Nicole couldn’t help chuckling a little too.

“Oh Nicole,” Sarah said, shaking her head. “It’ll work out. You’ll see.”

Nicole sighed. “I dunno. Sh— this. Um. This person I’m interested in. They’re sort of going through a lot. They’ve got family in town and work is sorta crazy and...”

Sarah gave her a cryptically knowing smile and nodded. “I see.”

She felt heat crawling up her neck. “It’s complicated.”

“Oh hon,” Sarah said, and laughed again. “Love always, always is.”

 

After Nedley and Dolls left—together, which made Nicole sit up and watch, bewildered, because she thought they didn’t really get along—she took over at the counter for Sarah, going over department vehicle reports. Sarah leaned her elbows on the other edge, going over some notes with her for a minute on her way off shift.

Nicole smelled Waverly coming maybe ten seconds before the younger Earp rounded the corner, back in her outfit from this morning, a thick wool sweater and scarf and a big blue down coat. She lingered behind Sarah for a moment, waiting. Sarah glanced over her shoulder, noted the new arrival, gave Nicole an absolutely triumphant smile, and promptly left, pulling her keys from her pocket as she went.

That was odd, Nicole thought, but she looked up when Waverly leaned against the front of the counter, her eyes skittering between Nicole and the door of Nedley’s office.

“Hey,” she said. “Nedley out for dinner?”

Nicole smirked and rolled her eyes. “You mean happy hour at Shorty’s?”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, her gaze flicking to the sheriff’s door and back again. Her heart was pounding, and Nicole frowned at her, trying to work out why she was so jumpy.

“Same time every day,” she said, “Kinda like clockwork.” She opened her mouth to ask how Waverly could possibly not know that, since she worked there, but just then Waverly pushed through the swinging door and strode into Nedley’s office, and Nicole turned, startled. “Hey–” She heard Waverly set her purse on the sheriff’s desk, and started to get up. “Wave’!”

Waverly shrugged off her coat and tucked it into a corner, closing the blinds one by one as Nicole moved to the doorway, watching in confusion. “Hey!” she protested.

Waverly got to the third set of blinds, closed them, and then pushed Nicole over to the side, out of the doorway, with a soft “Excuse me.”

What is your problem?” Nicole demanded, though she moved where Waverly put her, not really interested in a shoving match. “I don’t understand why you—”

The door clicked shut and with barely a breath between one moment and the next, Waverly threw herself at Nicole, one warm hand around the back of her neck, the other grasping at the collar of her shirt. Her aim was good, though who the hell practiced for this sort of thing, and her lips hit Nicole’s mid-word.

Nicole’s attention narrowed to a fraction of its normal breadth and scale. All she could think about was that Waverly was here, was kissing her, was grabbing at her like she were a life vest and all the ocean surrounded them. She curled a hand around Waverly’s wrist but she didn’t have the focus or strength of will to actually push her off. She wasn’t even aware of the wolf anymore, beyond the joy and animalistic hunger of how desperately she wanted, how much she longed to just accept this and take without question, without wondering why or how or how long. Waverly’s kiss was hard, uncoordinated. She kissed like she expected Nicole to return it in kind, and she almost wanted to laugh with the clarity of it. Waverly kissed her like she would a man.

Waverly pressed herself against Nicole and she stumbled back under the force of it. It was a primal thing, tidal in its inevitability and strength, and Nicole kept moving until she hit the couch cushion and collapsed onto it, with Waverly riding her all the way down. Nicole slid her hands down to a relatively safe spot, Waverly’s ribs, and while she wanted nothing more than to let Waverly keep kissing her, let her work out the differences between men and women with a lot more practice, she pressed up against her, pushing gently until she could lever Waverly off her. “Hold on,” she mumbled, almost laughing against Waverly’s mouth, and she tried to be careful, searching for the balance of how much strength she needed to push Waverly away without hurting her in the process.

Nicole pushed until Waverly pulled away, hurt and fear of rejection flashing across her face. Nicole panted for breath, fighting down the whine of want that was curling in her mouth. “What happened to friends?” she breathed.

Waverly pulled back entirely, until she was sitting over one of Nicole’s knees.

“You know what I’ve always wanted?” she asked, her gaze intense, her body trembling with a tangible, physical need that just made Nicole want her even more.

“What?” Nicole asked, a little wary, but she pushed herself up to rest on her elbows.

“To parachute out of a plane at fifteen thousand feet,” she said, and Nicole blinked at her. “Yeah. To swim, far, far out into the ocean so that I can’t see the bottom anymore. To eat geoduck.”

Nicole frowned, thinking. “Isn’t that the one that kinda looks like a p—”

“Yeah it is,” Waverly said, immediately. Nicole nodded, bewildered, trying to piece together how this was relevant to why they were lying on the couch in her boss’ office with all the blinds closed. “Point is,” Waverly said, as if she had also realized how scattered she sounded, “I’ve always wanted to do things that scared me. But. Well. It’s not so easy to be brazen, when...” She looked down, noticing that her hand was resting on Nicole’s thigh. She pulled it back, skittish, and Nicole twitched at the loss of it, letting out a breath. “When the thing that you want, that– that scares you to death, is sitting. Right in front of you.”

She blinked, understanding dawning finally, and she smiled, almost a little sad.

“I scare you?”

“Yes,” Waverly said, and smiled, so soft and aching that Nicole wanted to reach out and touch her, just for the sake of it. “Yes, you do. Because... I don’t wanna be friends.”

Waverly swallowed, hard, and now her own heartbeat was the one going way too fast.

“When I think about what I wanna do most in this world,” Waverly said, and her lips twisted in a wry, almost sardonic smile. “It’s you.”

Nicole grinned, and for the first time since Waverly had gotten into her car she felt light, like she could walk on clouds if only someone gave her a ladder.

“Oh god,” Waverly said, and closed her eyes. “That sounded so much more romantic in my head.” Nicole bit down a chuckle, forced herself to stay quiet and patient, even though the last thing she wanted to do was be patient. Waverly shook her head and rubbed her thumb over her fingers. She was tense, shaking, an exposed nerve waiting for pain. “Just uh. Jump in, any time, Nicole. Because I really, really don’t know how to do this.”

“Oh sure you do,” Nicole said, and in any other circumstance, she might have been embarrassed by how low and gravelly her voice had gone.

“Maybe I should just... stop talking,” Waverly said.

“See?” she murmured. She took up the ends of Waverly’s scarf, slowly winding it around her hands to pull her closer. “You’re gettin’ better at this already.”

Waverly braced a hand against the sofa’s arm behind Nicole’s head, pulling up short. Nicole leaned forward, trying to close the last few inches, but Waverly licked her lips and watched Nicole’s face. She smelled like the bar, she smelled like soft wool, she smelled like Waverly.

“Maybe you should stop talking too.”

Well with a line like that, how could she fail to deliver?

“Well maybe you should make me,” Nicole said, and grinned, bright and so happy she felt like she’d explode, and maybe just a little smug.

Waverly’s gaze flicked down, to Nicole’s lips, then up again, and she surged forward, pressing her mouth to Nicole’s. It was gentler this time, softer. Before had been a frantic, harried wartime effort, a planned but chaotic assault, backed by timing and coordination and maybe even an exit strategy. This, though. This wasn’t Waverly the planner. This was just Waverly, meeting her on an even field with an unknown result.

Nicole sat up, pushing toward Waverly with a hand braced behind her. Waverly moved with her, more than ready to let Nicole take over, let her lead, and Nicole was all too happy to oblige her. She lay Waverly down against the sofa, pressing quick, fluttering kisses to her mouth as she shifted, settled, found a position that worked. She slid a hand down a strong, lean thigh to hitch Waverly’s leg over her hip, giving them a little more room on the narrow sofa, and Waverly inhaled sharply, immediately tucking herself around Nicole like she was made to fit there, her knee pressed against Nicole’s waist.

It was overwhelming, kissing Waverly, and utterly intoxicating. She wanted—wanted so much and so desperately and with such a heat it was almost scary to face it head-on—but she kept her kisses quick, soft. She couldn’t catch her breath but she focused on the feeling of Waverly’s mouth under hers. She never wanted to forget this. Waverly tasted like mint, and Nicole had the distant, endearing thought that she really had come prepared for this. She could feel Waverly’s hand at the back of her head, then touching, fever-hot and impossibly soft, against the back of Nicole’s neck, nails tracing along her skin under the collar of her uniform.

She slid a hand up Waverly’s thigh again, over her hip to her lower back, her fingers curling into wool and pressing Waverly closer to her, holding her tight against her body. By the soft, warm sound Waverly made, she didn’t mind, and Nicole reached up, touching her jaw, her chin, wanting, maybe needing, to confirm that this was real, that Waverly was actually here.

Waverly broke from her for a moment, as Nicole touched her, and she could feel Waverly’s gaze like a physical weight as she set a finger under Waverly’s chin and turned her face up again for another kiss.

Light fingers rested against the back of her head, curling into her braid, and she huffed out a sigh. She wanted Waverly’s fingers combing through her hair, wanted to let her touch and explore with all the time in the world.

But she was still at work, and they were still on the sheriff’s couch. She stayed where she was as long as she could, until a clock chimed somewhere in the building, and she sighed, resting her forehead against Waverly’s.

“I uh,” Waverly said, breathless and flushed and so alive with energy it made Nicole want to kiss her again. Not to mention the fact that by the look of her, eyes wide and dark and smelling of... well. Nicole was reasonably sure she would’ve been all too happy to stay right where she was for another hour. “I guess I should go, huh.”

Nicole made a soft, disgruntled noise that rumbled in her chest. “Don’t want you to.” Waverly smiled as bright as the sun and ran a finger down Nicole’s cheek to her jaw. “But... yeah. Guess I should uh. Get back to work, too.”

“Oh, yeah,” Waverly said, and now the flush of pink across her face darkened, from embarrassment rather than desire. “I guess this um. Wasn’t really appropriate for work hours.”

Nicole laughed, feeling more at ease than she had since she’d arrived in Purgatory. “No, not really,” she said, and leaned in to kiss Waverly again, just once. She dragged herself up, standing and offering Waverly her hand. “But that definitely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it again. And soon.”

“Is that so?” Waverly murmured. “Shame on you, Officer Haught. I thought you were a by-the-books sort of woman.”

Nicole grinned, wolfish and just a little hungry. She set a hand at the small of Waverly’s back and pulled her in tight. She traced her nose across Waverly’s cheek until she was speaking into her ear and let her voice drop until she sounded like smoke and raw heat.

“You might be surprised, Wave. There’s a lot more to me than just some straight-laced cop.”

“Oh.” A visible shiver ran through Waverly’s body, and her voice was a little small, a little hoarse with barely restrained desire. “Well then.”

Nicole kissed her cheek just next to her ear, and then pulled back, heading for the door. “Just a sec,” she whispered, grinning, and opened the door enough to stick her head out, peering around. The room was still empty, though the clock on the wall showed her that wouldn’t last much longer. Waverly grabbed her coat and her purse and followed, tiptoeing out into the bullpen with her as if she expected someone to leap out and photograph her.

“Hey, Wave,” she said, once Waverly was on the civilian side of the counter again.

Waverly turned, a soft “Hm?” escaping her before Nicole leaned over the swinging door and kissed her lightly.

“I’d really like to take you to dinner sometime,” she said, and reached up to stroke a bit of Waverly’s hair back behind her ear. “How’s your Friday look?”

Waverly beamed up at her. “Friday sounds perfect.”

Chapter Text

It was Tuesday, when they’d argued in her car and kissed in Nedley’s office. Three days to Friday.

It came too fast, but also not fast enough.

When Nicole pulled into the Earp’s makeshift driveway, Waverly’s Jeep was parked near the barn, but the blue pickup truck Wynonna seemed to be semi-permanently borrowing from Gus was nowhere to be found.

Thank god. She really didn’t feel like having that conversation just yet.

She made her way to the front door, nerves jangling, and smoothed invisible wrinkles out of her shirt. It was one of her nicer ones, a soft blue that, Shae had always said, set off her hair like a halo of fire. It was time to make nicer memories in it. She fussed at her sleeves, the wide cuffs rolled up once so that they framed her elbows, and wondered for the third time if she should have worn a necklace, running her fingers over her hollow of her throat where the top buttons were undone.

Nope, no more time to waste. She knocked.

She heard Waverly’s shoes first, along with a nervous, soft noise that was hard to put a word to. The door snapped open, and Waverly’s face lit up when she met Nicole’s gaze. Then her eyes tracked down, taking in the shirt and the black slacks.

“Oh, wow.”

Nicole grinned and ducked her head. It was hard not to feel good about yourself when you got a response like that.

“Oh wow yourself,” she murmured, looking over Waverly’s outfit in turn. Most of her was covered in a black wool coat, for the weather, but beneath was a silver top and a dark grey skirt. A gold belt caught the light, drawing her eye down for a moment, and when she looked up again Waverly was biting her lip. “You look incredible.”

Waverly’s face went a little pink, and she beamed. “Thank you.”

Nicole offered her hand and Waverly took it, closing the door behind her as Nicole drew her across the porch and down the front steps. She brought Waverly around to the passenger side of her cruiser and helped her in, and the whole time she thought her chest might burst from joy.

She’d only just closed the door and started around to the other side when she heard, just dimly, Waverly mutter “Wow.” She didn’t look directly at Waverly, but she kept an eye on her periphery, and noted that as she circled the hood of her car she had a pair of eyes locked on her like a homing beacon.

It was a struggle not to grin as she settled into the driver’s side and started up the car. “I’ve been told I dress up nice.”

“That’s a bit of an understatement,” Waverly said, chewing on her lip. “Aren’t you cold, though?”

Nicole grinned, heading for the road off Earp land. “I’ve got a coat in the back.”

“What if I’d taken longer to answer the door?” Waverly mused, raising her eyebrow with a faint smirk. “Then you’d have been suffering.”

For values of ‘suffering,’ with her wolf’s internal temperature, but she laughed. “Maybe. Still, worth the risk,” she mused, and winked at her. “To get that smile when I opened the door.”

Waverly flushed again and hid her face in her hands, laughing. “Honestly. You are too much.”

Nicole chuckled and offered her hand across the center console. Waverly slid her fingers into Nicole’s without hesitation, and warmth spread through Nicole’s belly.

“So?” Waverly asked as Nicole pulled onto the highway. “Where are we headed? You’ve been awfully secretive about our plans tonight.”

“Was that okay?” Nicole asked, glancing over at her once, though she didn’t release the small hand in hers. “I know you’re—”

“If you say ‘a planner’ I think I might die,” Waverly said with a groan, tilting her head back, and Nicole couldn’t stop herself from laughing. “How did you not just laugh in my face right then? I can’t believe I actually said that.”

“Do you want the real answer or the teasing one?” Nicole asked, still chuckling.

Waverly mulled it over, tapping thoughtfully on her chin as if she were really considering it. “Let’s hear both.”

Nicole grinned. “Fair enough. Well, the real reason I didn’t laugh at you was context. I mean, I’d just met you. It’d be rude to laugh in your face, regardless of how funny what you said might’ve been. Which, I’ll add, it wasn’t.”

Waverly was watching her—she could feel the younger woman’s gaze on the side of her face as she drove. Headlights from passing cars occasionally lit up slices of her cheek and shoulder, and Waverly was staring as if entranced.

“Okay, well what’s the teasing answer?”

“The teasing answer is: trust me, I have definitely been in your shoes before, saying something that I think sounds dumb in front of a girl I thought was pretty.”

“Pretty?” Waverly echoed, and looked away for a moment, her voice soft. “Don’t sell yourself short.”

“What was that?” Nicole murmured, grinning.

“You heard me,” she muttered, huffing out a breath. Nicole laughed and gently squeezed her hand, and Waverly blushed more deeply. “You walked in and changed everything, Nicole.”

She smiled and let her gaze slide right for a moment. Waverly was watching the road, her face lit up by the dashboard lights. She looked ethereal that way, a technological angel in human form.

“So did you,” she murmured. “Change everything, I mean.”

Waverly’s gaze turned toward her again, quizzical and beautiful in her curiosity. “Surely you knew...”

“That I—?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I did. I mean, I knew that part.” She grinned. “But even so.”

Waverly smiled at her and squeezed her hand, imitating Nicole’s gesture.

“Flatterer.”

Nicole flashed her a bright grin. “Yeah, sorry. I’m insufferable that way.”

Waverly grinned at her, and the rest of the way to the restaurant, they held hands over the console, only letting go when Nicole needed both hands on the wheel. Each time they reconnected as soon as it was safe for her to let go, drawing together like magnets.

It was hard to put into words what Waverly made her feel. Some pieces of it were easy—warm, comfortable, like she didn’t have to be anything but herself—but some were harder. How did one explain how it felt to feel safe, but also powerful, protective? The two points should’ve been opposed, but all the same, she felt them both all at once. She felt strong, felt alive, in a way that she usually only associated with her wolf-form. Waverly looked at her like she were made of magic, like Nicole was an angel sent personally for her, and that attention was both immensely flattering and somehow mind-boggling.

The restaurant she’d chosen bore an exterior façade of rustic charm and hospitality. Peaked wooden roof, half-stone walls, and big, clean windows that showed glimpses of a warm, private interior. Still, as soon as she got out of the car, she remembered why she avoided cities—the night was full of sounds and scents. Hundreds of people. Urban foxes. Pigeons. A dumpster a block away. A takeout restaurant a few doors down, where three of the kitchen staff were conducting a furious argument in at least one, possibly two languages that Nicole didn’t understand.

“The LeVilla?” Waverly murmured to her, as Nicole opened her door and helped her out. She focused on Waverly, and let the rest fade into the background. “Really?”

“Is that a good ‘really’ or a bad ‘really’?” Nicole asked, and grinned. “Cuz if it’s a bad ‘really’ then, uh, no, of course not!”

Waverly slapped a hand lightly against Nicole’s shoulder. “Don’t be silly. No, it’s definitely good. I always wanted to come here but...”

She trailed off, and Nicole thought she could guess what had crossed her mind. Champ.

“Well then,” she said, pulling Waverly’s focus. “Guess I owe Nedley a beer. He was the one who recommended it to me.”

“Guess I do too,” Waverly said, and looped her arm into Nicole’s when she offered it. “Well aren’t you gallant.”

Nicole winked and led her to the front door. The interior really did match the exterior, complete with lighting that reviews probably called romantically dimmed and candlelit tables. The polished wooden floors gleamed in the low light, and a fireplace flickered in a stone column, warming the air even beyond what the heating vents could provide.

When they’d ordered, Nicole rested her hand on the table, close enough that it was an invitation but far enough that it wasn’t an obligation. Waverly watched her, then looked at her hand, and Nicole could see the debate raging behind her eyes, could hear the staccato beat of her pulse.

“You don’t have to,” she whispered, just to be sure that was clear.

“I know,” Waverly murmured, but then she frowned, brow furrowing in thought. “But this isn’t Purgatory, and...”

Nicole smiled, encouraging but patient.

Waverly’s voice dropped even lower, thoughtful, speaking with the rhythm of a mantra. “Now you can do whatever it is you want.

She reached out across the table and Nicole slid her hand a little closer, letting Waverly tangle their fingers together. When Waverly looked up at her, she was beaming, and Nicole smiled right back, and didn’t even hear the conversations happening at other tables, no matter how loud they were.

 

Pretty much everyone has first date stories. They’re awkward, they’re easy, they’re perfect, they’re a disaster. There’s social contracts to consider and motions to go through but at the same time, the only rule about dating is that there are no rules. Every person, every couple, every date is different. And that’s what makes them fun.

There was something perfectly imperfect about Nicole’s first date with Waverly. Doubly so since this wasn’t about testing the waters anymore, it wasn’t about learning their compatibility. They knew the waters, or at least the shallows, and they knew they would be making a proper go of it.

So it was a first date, but really, this dinner was about them. Spending time together, eating together, getting away from town and into the city for an evening, together. Without Wynonna, without Dolls, without work and without fiends from hell.

And Nicole loved every damn second of it. She loved the way Waverly looked at her, like she still couldn’t quite believe this was happening. She loved the way Waverly read the menu in English, ordered in French, and thanked the waitstaff in Latin, not to show off, but because she was distracted, or so engrossed in something she’d been saying right before that it just came out without thought. She loved the way Waverly made vaguely offended noises about Nicole covering the check before finally lifting her hands in defeat, then pointing and murmuring next time like a villain you’d see in a Saturday morning cartoon. She loved how the light glittered on Waverly’s jewelry and turned her hazel eyes green and fire-warm.

She loved looking at Waverly. It was the one downside to heading back outside—once she was driving, she’d have to look away.

“Up for coffee?” she asked, as she helped Waverly into the car.

“Absolutely,” Waverly said, smiling.

Nicole grinned and shut the door, heading around the hood again.

A sound caught her attention then, distant, but unmistakable. It was a hunting cry, but of no animal Nicole had ever heard. She froze, listening. Another sound: a half-scream, the sound suddenly breaking off into a low, wet gurgling sound. Nicole took a few steps, peering around the front corner of the restaurant. Almost a block away a person, a man based on size, was shoving something that looked suspiciously like a dead human woman into the back of an SUV. He shoved a few limbs inside, then slammed the door.

She took another step and let her vision shift, her sight tinting gold, turning the shadows lighter so she could see further in the dark. The man turned away from the trunk, and she made out the outline of his face. He was too gaunt, too sharp to be human, and when he took a cursory glance around, his eyes flashed silver in the night. Definitely her side of the street.

She growled. Warning. Furious.

He turned, and his silver eyes met hers. He winked. She took one step, but he pulled something out of his coat—a handgun, glinting under a streetlamp.

She could try to rush him, but he’d get a shot off well before she could get near him, and there was certainly no way to get shot and not get dragged to a hospital, not in the middle of a street like this.

He opened his mouth in a wide, toothy grin, and she could almost imagine the words he would say if he were in earshot. If she called the police, he’d just eat them. She needed BBD, but Dolls and Wynonna would never come fast enough even if they believed her the second she got on the phone.

He turned to loop around to the driver-side door and she focused on the car. A gunmetal grey Ford Expedition. She committed the plate to memory, then spun around as the door of her cruiser opened.

“Nicole?” Waverly asked, poking her head out over the roof of the cruiser. Nicole hastily shifted her vision back to normal, the gold filter over the world fading with it. Waverly blinked, then shook her head slightly, as if clearing a bit of dust from her vision. That was close. “Everything okay?”

Nicole smiled and stepped back toward the car. “Yeah, Wave, I’m sorry.” She climbed into the driver’s seat as Waverly slid back inside and shut her door, and watched as Nicole wrote down the plate number on a post-it.

“What’s that?”

“Something weird,” she said with forced calm, tucking the post-it into her pocket. “I’ll look into it later.” She pressed her hands together, looking at Waverly directly, over the console. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to go all work-mode on you when we’re supposed to be out here for us.”

Waverly smiled and leaned across the console, resting her elbow on it so she could lean up and press a kiss to Nicole’s mouth. It was short, but sweet, and so warm Nicole shivered a little when Waverly pulled back.

“You don’t need to apologize, Nicole.”

“Well sure, but—”

Waverly set her hand over Nicole’s and she shut her mouth with a snap.

“Listen, I went into this, whatever this is exactly, with my eyes open. I know your job, and I know that means you’ll work crazy hours and maybe get hurt on the job sometimes.” Like before was written on her face but she didn’t say it aloud. “I know all that, and I still want to. Don’t ever apologize for being a good cop.”

For a moment, the urge to tell Waverly everything was overwhelming. To just come clean, right then, tell her about the bite, the curse, the moon. To tell her she knew some of whatever was going on with the Earps, that she knew Wynonna’s gun was special, or that Wynonna herself was, or whatever the exact specifics were. To tell her that this wasn’t just about being a good cop, not really.

But if Waverly didn’t know the truth, this was not the time, nor the place, nor the way to fill her in.

“Well,” Nicole said after a moment, and bit her lip, trying not to just look at Waverly’s mouth. “How about that coffee, then?”

 

The little coffeeshop was small, only a couple blocks away, and when they walked inside, the heat was cranked to a dull roar that overlaid the rest of the background noise in Nicole’s awareness. For a Friday night in December the place was surprisingly empty, and within only a few minutes they were tucked into a little booth in the corner, sitting side by side with heavy, artistically mismatched ceramic mugs of steaming coffee on the table in front of them and their coats piled on the opposite bench. Waverly had her hands around her mug to warm them, and Nicole idly twisted the handle of hers back and forth before she, with maybe a little more caution than required, looped an arm around Waverly’s shoulder to hold her close.

Waverly turned into her, cheek pressed against her chest, the chilly tip of her nose finding the open collar of her shirt, and Nicole felt so warm at the ease of it she half-expected the contrast of cold skin to hers to bring up steam of its own.

“So,” Nicole said, as Waverly took a sip of her coffee.

“So?”

“Mind if I break date etiquette a little bit and ask about the elephant in the room?”

Waverly set her mug down and looked up at her, her eyes warm, curious, and unconcerned. “All right, shoot.”

“Walk me through Monday and Tuesday?” she asked, smiling and gently rubbing Waverly’s shoulder with her hand. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond happy to give this a go, to... to be more than just friends,” she said, looking for the words Waverly used, “But that brilliant brain of yours did some loops around me I think.”

It seemed to land all right, if Waverly’s soft laugh and shy smile was any indicator, and Nicole grinned, a bit relieved.

“No, no, that’s fair,” she said, tapping her nails on her mug. “And I did kinda throw a fit in your car.”

“Hey,” Nicole interrupted. “Lemme say something right up front if you’re gonna be on that one again.”

Waverly looked up at her, brow furrowing in concentration. “Hm?”

“You’re allowed to be upset,” Nicole said, letting her voice drop to a lower, more intense tone, hoping Waverly would listen, would understand. “You’re allowed to be overwhelmed. I know there’s a lot going on but if nothing else, I want to be a safe place for you.”

Waverly’s mouth quirked in a smile. “Like playing tag.”

“Exactly,” Nicole said, and grinned at her. “I’m home base. You can always come back to me and sit and catch your breath. Always.”

Waverly was quiet for a moment, absorbing her words, and looked back at her mug, twisting it a bit on the table. “God, you’re more right than you know,” she whispered. “But. Right. Well, it’s like you said, honestly. With Curtis, and then Wynonna coming back all of a sudden, and all this stuff with Dolls...” She sighed and leaned her head back against Nicole’s arm. “And then what happened to Shorty, and Gus selling the bar? There was just so much. And it never seemed to stop. Every day something new was happening, or someone else was in danger. Someone new was was shooting at me, or at Wynonna, or.” Nicole frowned at that, concerned, but didn’t interrupt. “Or you. When I saw you in the hospital.” She shook her head, steadying herself. “But when I was around you,” she said, and trailed off, making a thoughtful noise, like she didn’t know what to say.

Nicole picked up her mug and sipped, hoping the gesture came off as unhurried.

“You were just there. You came in, and, I mean, it was obvious you were interested,” Nicole blushed a little at that, and hid in her mug. Yes, she had been, and no, she really hadn’t been making any attempt to hide the fact. “But you never pushed, you never... you never asked anything of me. Even after I broke up with Champ.” She snorted, a derisive, dismissive noise that made Nicole glance at her again. “You know Stephanie told me that nobody would want to date an Earp? Complete with ‘no offense.’ She thought I should’ve stayed with Champ because he was reliable. As if that’s justification for a relationship.”

Nicole bit back a grumbling noise in her chest and sipped again to drown out the wolf with hot coffee. It was easier than she expected, really. With Waverly sitting next to her, pressed into her side, it was almost possible to forget that she wasn’t just a woman on a date, with a beautiful girl alongside her. She could forget the rest. Here, like this, she could just be herself. She wasn’t a supernatural monster, she wasn’t from Dolls’ side of the street. Here, tonight, she was just... Nicole Haught. It had been a long, long time. It felt good.

“Never mind the fact that that wasn’t true,” Waverly added, pursing her lips. “Even not counting you. Pete York tried to ask me out the morning I met you outside the station.” Nicole choked on her coffee and Waverly glanced up at her. “Oh god, sorry.”

“No,” Nicole said, shaking her head and hastily pressing a napkin to her mouth. “Nope, that’s on me. Keep going.”

Waverly smirked a little and kissed the corner of her mouth, then sighed, settling back down beside her. “What was I saying. Oh, Steph.” She waved a hand vaguely. “Just... I d’know. I liked you. Like, the moment I saw you. I just didn’t know how to...” She trailed off again, looking for words, and Nicole squeezed her shoulder gently.

“Reconcile it?”

“I guess, yeah.” She frowned, still looking for words. “I mean I’d always thought...”

Nicole smiled, waiting. This part at least, was all too familiar to her. She remembered that, the fear, the doubt. She’d always thought that it had been the worst to be 15 and kissing a boy and wondering why she hated it, to be so young while she was figuring out she wasn’t like the girls she saw in TV shows, but at least she’d gone through college and the academy knowing, basically, who she was and what she wanted. Maybe it was worse to be 21 and comfortable before someone strode into your life and shook up everything you thought you knew.

“You’re doing it again.”

“Hm? Doing what?”

Waverly chuckled and looked up at her. “You’re so patient. I don’t understand how.”

The answer, the real answer, hit her like a shot, powerful for its abruptness, for its complete clarity.

“Well, Waverly Earp, you’re worth waiting for.”

Waverly stared up at her, her lips parted on a soft, stunned little breath. “How could you know that?”

“Hm. I didn’t,” she said, then pursed her lips, thoughtful. “I mean, not at first.” Waverly watched her, quiet. “But I see a lot more than people think I do.”

“You are a cop,” Waverly noted.

She chuckled. “True. But... I see that you see, too. I see that you try, that you always put others before yourself, even when it hurts you to do so.” Waverly went very still beside her, her breath coming a little faster, a little shallower. Nicole didn’t look directly at her, allowing her the illusion of invisibility. “I see that you hurt. A lot. But you still give so much. And I think maybe something you need is someone who lets you hurt, who lets you cry, who lets you need things. Someone who can give when you can’t anymore, and who doesn’t ask for more than you can give.” She turned and faced her, and smiled, just a little. “And I think that maybe I can be that. If, that is, that’s actually what you want. Don’t let me put words in your mouth.”

Waverly met her gaze and scanned her face, reading, and it struck Nicole how similar the two Earps were—they looked for lies the same way.

“Wow,” she said finally, on a low exhale. “I. Wow. Was that just, uh, off-the-cuff?”

Nicole laughed softly and pressed her nose to Waverly’s cheek, nuzzling. “I might’ve practiced it a little in my car.”

“It paid off,” Waverly muttered, and she leaned her head so their foreheads were resting together.

“So what’ll it be?” she murmured, and Waverly tilted back just enough to look up at her. “I know you said in the car that me being a cop doesn’t scare you, but...”

Waverly smiled. “If me being an Earp doesn’t scare you,” she countered, and Nicole shook her head no, “Then I think we’ll be pretty darn okay together, Nicole Haught.”

Nicole grinned, a fluttering, bright sensation filling up her chest, warm and airy.

“Good,” she said, and pressed a kiss to Waverly’s mouth. She tasted like coffee and a joy so intense it was a tangible sense against her lips.

Somewhere behind them two hands slammed down on a counter and a man growled, his voice raw with frustration, “Oh what the fuck.”

Waverly spooked like a horse beset by a snake and broke from her with a gasp, the sound almost inaudible. Nicole gripped her tighter, turning around, fury burning through her chest. Only no one was looking at them. The proprietor of the shop, a harried, middle-aged gentleman, was standing behind the bar. He looked exhausted, and was raising his hands from where he’d hit the counter, rubbing over his face and thinning brown hair, all his attention on a customer sitting on the other side of the bar, on a stool. The customer was a younger man in jeans and a hoodie, maybe in his mid-20s, and sat in a loose slouch, both hands hugging a mug on the counter. His dark hair stuck out around a blue knit cap, and he sighed in response to the outburst.

“Come on, Barry, chill out.”

“I just!” Barry rubbed at his eyes with his fingers. “She disappeared. Just, fucked off mid-shift.”

Waverly was trembling, relaxing only by degrees, but she ducked her head against Nicole’s chest with a shaky, self-deprecating laugh. Nicole rubbed her shoulder and held her tight, letting Waverly calm down at her own pace, but she also kept part of her attention on the conversation at the bar.

“Another one?” the customer asked.

“Yeah.” Barry sighed and leaned his hands on the counter again. “Mark, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. That’s the third one. Asked her to take out the garbage and she just vanished.”

“You went to the police?”

“Yeah, but the first two times they said they can’t accept a missing persons report for 24 hours. Told me it should come from family or friends, too.”

Mark sighed, leaning his chin in one hand. “S’pose they figured you were being paranoid.”

“Yeah. ‘Relax, Mister Harper, this is common when you hire teenagers. They probably just couldn’t keep up with the job and wanted out.’ Bullshit. Jess, Kara, and Allison, none of them gave any sign they wanted out.”

“It’s hard to tell with girls sometimes,” Mark said, but he didn’t really sound like he believed it.

Waverly shifted inside the circle of her arm and Nicole glanced down, keeping her voice low. “Hey. Did you wanna go?”

Waverly shook her head slightly, not taking her gaze away from the two men at the bar. She was listening too, Nicole noted, and couldn’t quite help a wolfish grin as she looked up again. Waverly’s hand fell to rest on her thigh, idly tracing her fingers over the fabric, and for a breath Nicole almost stopped listening, distracted.

“Like hell,” Barry said. “That morning Kara’d come in an hour early. Said she wanted to get some writing done before her shift started. Said it felt safer here than at home.”

Mark grunted and drank from his mug.

“And Allison, she was talking two hours ago about how she was actually excited to switch to mornings. Give her reason to get up before noon, she said.”

“Hm.”

“I don’t buy it as them wanting to quit. Not for a damn second.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t hire so many strays, Barry.”

Barry sighed. “Maybe. But I like these kids, Mark. They just need someone to take ‘em seriously so they can get their feet under them. And if it turned out to be a bad fit, okay, fine. Once, I’d understand. Hell, from how she talked about her friends, Jess might’ve been mixed up in some shit. But three of ‘em? I dunno what to do.”

“Me neither, Barry.”

Nicole frowned, and, perhaps sensing her unease, Waverly looked up at her.

“Wanna get his number on our way out?”

“Hm?” Nicole looked down at her, then chuckled. “Yeah, if that’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay,” Waverly said, and squeezed gently with the hand still on Nicole’s leg. “I told you. Don’t apologize for being a good cop.”

Nicole smiled and pressed a kiss to her temple as she eased out of the booth, offering Waverly a hand and gathering up their coats. Nicole offered Waverly’s to her and folded hers over her arm as she approached the bar, Waverly following a step behind.

“Mister Harper?”

“Yes ma’am? Did you need a refill?”

“No, thank you though. Actually I’m with the Purgatory Sheriff’s Department.” She fished a business card from her wallet and handed it to him. “I overheard some of your conversation. Would you mind if I took down a phone number so I can get in touch with you tomorrow to discuss your missing employees?”

Chapter Text

“Miss Haught.”

Nicole glanced up from her studious notetaking and blinked tiredly.

“Henry!” she said, trying to inject lively energy into her voice, and not doing a very good job. “Hey. Can I help you with something?”

“No ma’am,” he said, with one of his trademark sly, easy grins. “But you might wanna do something for yourself.”

She squinted at him, trying to figure out what he meant.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you leave this fine constabulary longer’n four hours at a time since Saturday mornin’. What, may I ask, has got your nose so very, very close to the grindstone? By all accounts, it is not somethin’ that quite falls under the eye of our esteemed local sheriff.”

She shot him a frown, and he spread his hands in a peaceable, placating gesture.

“Surprised you’ve been here this much.”

“Well,” he drawled, “With everyone’s favorite bar under...” He clicked his tongue against his teeth, looking for the politic way to put it. “New management, I find myself rather less welcome there, and slightly more welcome here.”

“Huh,” she said, then looked at her notes. “It’s a personal project,” she said. Then frowned, considering it. “For now.”

“Fair enough,” he murmured, and tugged on the brim of his hat as he headed toward the main door. “Remember, you have friends in this buildin’, Miss Haught. On both sides of that door.”

He left, whistling, and she returned her attention to her computer screen and her notes. She’d spent the better part of the last five days following up on Harper’s employees and chasing the Ford’s license plate through three different shipping companies. She’d spoken at length with Harper, the coffeeshop owner, and had even canvassed every tenement building, shop, and restaurant in about a three block radius around his place, trying to catch wind of any other missing persons, reported or otherwise.

She’d found four. Three young men and another young woman. Cross-referencing dates against camera footage, she’d never seen the grey Expedition she’d been looking for, but she’d caught a couple other vans parked in discreet positions.

“Fine,” she grumbled, and gathered up her notes.

When she knocked on BBD’s office door, Dolls answered, and actually smiled at her.

“Haught,” he said, warm. “What can I do for you.”

“Uh,” she said, eyeing him dubiously. “You can tell me who you are and what you’ve done with Deputy Marshal Dolls, to start with.”

He rolled his eyes, but the gesture was good-natured.

“Seriously. What’s up.”

“I think I have something for you,” she said, keeping her voice low. His eyebrows rose slightly. “From our side.”

“I see.” He glanced over his shoulder, then nodded, satisfied, and opened the door. “We’ll talk in my office.”

She stepped in and glanced around as he closed the door. It was instinct, rather than nosiness—one did not become a good cop by indulging in a lot of tunnel vision after all—and found that Wynonna was lounging in an armchair across the room, cleaning her Colt, while Waverly sat at the conference table surrounded by no less than four open books, each of which looked like they belonged on a set for a performance of The Crucible, or perhaps Macbeth.

“Hey,” she said, very softly. Waverly looked up, surprised, and then grinned at her.

“Hey! What brings you into Dolls’ domain?”

Nicole grinned and lifted her file. “Business, unfortunately.”

Waverly clicked her tongue disapprovingly, but she was smiling through it.

“Hey Haughtstuff!” Wynonna called, gesturing with the big revolver. “Don’t see you in here much.”

“Nah, most of PSD’s work has been pretty normal lately,” she said, and Wynonna lifted an eyebrow in a silent question.

Dolls cleared his throat and Nicole glanced at him, feeling a little bit like a child called on the carpet.

“Right, sorry. Duty calls,” she said, smiling at Waverly as she headed into Dolls’ office. Waverly smiled back, and Nicole thought maybe there was a glint of appreciation in her eyes when Nicole turned around.

Just before the door clicked shut she heard Waverly say, with a tone of exhausted amusement, “Haughtstuff? Really?”

“Even my own sister! Everyone’s a critic.”

Dolls shut the door and she handed him the file without hesitation. He flipped through it and unconsciously she found herself standing at attention, her hands behind her back, speaking with the dry, military efficiency of a war council briefing.

“Seven missing persons in the city. All within the Triangle, each one taken on a Friday night over the course of the last couple months. Four women, three men, ranging from 19 to 24 years old. No one heard a disturbance or a struggle. One of the guys’ friends said the victim heard his mom calling and went outside and never came back. One of the vehicles involved is a grey Ford Expedition, but I’m having trouble pinning down who might be using it—it’s registered as a fleet vehicle that’s swapped between two shipping companies that have a sort of...” She frowned, looking for the word. “Rideshare program, I guess, for their light cargo vehicles.”

He frowned at the pages of her notes and looked up at her. “What do you think is doing it?”

“That’s what I can’t work out. I’ve only managed to visually clock this guy once. Male, I think, possibly 6 foot 3, 110.”

“Is that in—”

“Sorry,” she said, and ducked her head to hide a laugh. “Kilograms.”

He thought for a moment, running the conversion. “Got it.”

“For being a big guy though, he’s narrow. Pointed face. Predatory. Silver eyes.”

“Silver?” he said, glancing up at her. “Hm. Doesn’t do much for our list of suspects.”

“No, it doesn’t. But I’m running into walls, so I figured—”

“Pool our resources,” he finished, nodding. “Good call. I’ll get Waverly to start digging and I’ll check the BBD archives. See if I can’t find any similar hunting patterns.”

“I want in,” she said.

He paused, looking at her. “I told you before. I can’t deputize you, Haught. Not without my bosses and your boss, for that matter, getting involved. And I’ve already got a consultant.”

“I don’t need a star,” she said, and her voice turned to gravel, not shifting but something close. “And I won’t do it in uniform. But I watched this guy shove a girl into a car and couldn’t—” She stopped, took a breath, and looked him in the eye. “I had to let him go. I don’t want him pulling this shit again.”

Dolls frowned, but tapped the file against his hand. “If,” he said, and pointed at her. “If I can even use you on this, you’d be dealing with my team.”

“You and Wynonna?”

“Yes. That’s gonna be a problem.”

“Uh,” she said, and cleared her throat. “Actually, no, it won’t.”

He watched her for a moment, then tilted his head back, almost laughing. “She didn’t tell me.”

“You didn’t tell her,” she pointed out, and he sighed, waving a hand.

“No, it’s cool. Fine. Well, it sounds like we’ll need as many eyes as we can get on this, with his hunting grounds this wide,” he said, tapping the map in her file. “And with this Friday pattern he’s got, he’ll move tomorrow night. We don’t have much time.”

She blew out a breath and nodded.

“Does Waverly know?”

Guilt flashed through her when he asked. “Uh, no, she doesn’t.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll tell her. Just.” She sighed. “We don’t have time right now.”

“Then I’ll bring you in after she’s gone.”

She sighed, but nodded, and left his office.

Wynonna watched her go, eyes narrowed. Waverly, similarly, shot her a curious look, then surreptitiously picked up her phone as Nicole smiled and left the room.

As soon as she got to her desk, her phone buzzed, and she flipped it over, reading the display.

What was that about?

She chewed on her lip, weighing her words.

Remember Friday? The weird thing I thought I saw outside LeVilla?

She set down her phone, but she might as well not have done so, because it buzzed again immediately.

Yeah. It was Dolls-level weird? Is it connected to those missing coffeeshop people?

Guilt curled up in her stomach again like a coiled snake.

I think so. Maybe? Handed it off to BBD for now. Figure you guys might be able to get further than I did.

There was a longer pause, probably because Dolls was catching them up to speed, but as she got back to work, her phone buzzed once more.

We just might. Thanks. <3

Nicole grinned, feeling impossibly lighter for that simple message.

Come over after work?

Immediately, one more message.

Definitely.

 

“Did you know,” Waverly said, sitting cross-legged at Nicole’s kitchen table with a ball of ginger fluff in her lap, “There’s a myth that started in India and Ethiopia—it spread everywhere though—about this monster that’s a cross between a wolf and a dog. Or, in the African version, a lion and a hyena.”

Nicole looked up from her stove, where she was mixing up a stir-fry. “Lion and hyena? Those would never mate though.”

“Well sure,” Waverly said, and laughed, petting Calamity Jane absently with one hand. “But I mean, that’s where most myths come from, right. Things that shouldn’t have happened, as an explanation for things that do.”

Nicole wondered idly if Dolls had expected Waverly to report their findings in the guise of a folklore show-and-tell. For that matter, she wondered if this thing was what they were dealing with, or just something Waverly had learned of during the search, but which wasn’t actually related. Without asking directly, it would be hard to guess, and for now she felt like she and Waverly were in a strange, tenuous balancing act where there was some kind of silent understanding that they each had at least an inkling of BBD’s real mission, but they weren’t sure how much the other knew, and so were reluctant to be the first one to say something that broke BBD’s nondisclosure rules.

“Okay,” Nicole said, checking on a pot of rice. “So what’s this weird hybrid creature? What’s it do?”

“It’s called a crocotta,” she explained, gesturing with her free hand as the other stroked the purring cat in her lap, her voice growing more animated as she spoke. “Or a leucrocotta, depending on who you talk to, I guess. That’s what you get for having a myth go global. Anyway, they’re mimics. They can imitate sounds and voices and they do it to lure in victims.”

“Wow, that’s pretty messed up,” she said, meeting Waverly’s gaze, in part to confirm she was actually listening. “So it calls to people, and they just follow the voice?”

“Exactly!” Waverly said, beaming. She looked like she’d never had someone engage with her before, and it broke Nicole’s heart as much as it made her happy to make Waverly look that excited. “The legends describe them being able to perfectly imitate the voices of loved ones, and it uses that to lure people out of their homes to rip them apart and eat them. Some legends say they can imitate sick or injured humans, too, to lure out actual dogs and eat those.”

I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too,” Nicole rasped, raising her hands into crooked witch claws, and Waverly laughed. “Seriously though. Eugh. Man, but ancient cultures sure had some imagination.”

“Right?” Waverly said. “Some of the myths out there are crazy. And that’s without even getting into the infinite variations.”

“What d’you mean?” Nicole asked, looking over at her as she pushed a spoon through the pan to move sizzling meat and vegetables around.

“Well, okay, take vampires, right. If you look up vampire myths, you can find like four different eras worth of lore. There’s the really old myths, where supposedly you could distract a vampire by spilling, say, beans in front of them because they’d have to stop and count them. That was the best way to stop one, in that iteration of the myth, because if you could make them count till sunrise, the sun would turn them to dust. And then there’s the more modern versions, of course, like the Dracula-style ones that are bested with garlic and wooden stakes and crosses.”

“Counting,” Nicole said, desperately struggling not to laugh as she imagined Mikael bested by a spilled bucket of peanuts. Then again, maybe that explained his skills at poker.

“Oh yeah,” Waverly said, not seeming to have noticed Nicole’s difficulties. “Actually, stopping monsters by making them count things was a pretty common tactic, up until the 15, maybe 1600s. There’s some evidence that this one Greek demon, which may be the origins of some werewolf mythology, could be stopped just by putting a colander out on your porch so he’d stop and count all the holes.”

Suddenly this was a bit less funny. Nicole glanced nervously at Waverly. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” she said, chuckling. “Weird to think of modern-style werewolves being stopped by kitchenware, huh?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, uncomfortable. She felt like a teenager in the middle of an I have a friend lie. “Especially, I mean, werewolves are still monsters, right? The worst of mankind’s animal side, distilled into a mythos?”

Waverly was quiet for a moment, considering it. “I guess it depends on how you see werewolves.” Nicole realized belatedly that she was holding her breath. “I mean, the myth,” Waverly added, a little too quickly.

There it was again, the balancing act.

“Right, of course,” Nicole said. “We’re just talking myth.”

“Right,” Waverly said, and relaxed slightly. “I mean, okay, so zombies are a metaphor for mindless obedience and the sort of... collective hivemind of a mob, right. Angry villagers during a witch hunt. Or, in modern times, it can kind of be a way to talk about, like, the nationalist ‘us-versus-them’ mentality of the Red Scares, especially the one in the 50s.” She paused, thoughtful, then added brightly, “Or, if you ask a Marxist, it’s consumerism!”

Nicole blinked. She’d never thought of it that way, but suddenly she wanted to watch Night of the Living Dead again with a new perspective. “Sure, okay, that tracks.”

“Right! So then, vampires, I think, are a metaphor for how people can kill without violence,” she said. “Sucking the life out of someone by being a weight on them, financially, or domestically, or emotionally. I think that’s why a lot of vampires are portrayed, now at least, as sort of dark and decadent. I mean the old myths of vampires were basically just walking corpses, but now we sort of paint them as seductive and taboo. You could also take them as a metaphor for drug addiction, really. Eternal life and youth and vitality, but with a cost: you have to keep hurting people, have to keep killing, to keep the high.”

Nicole watched her, belatedly realizing her mouth was hanging slightly open, staggered by the breadth of Waverly’s mind.

“And in the same vein,” she said, unfazed by or perhaps simply unaware of Nicole’s awe, “I think werewolves are a metaphor for the duality of mankind. Sure, there’s violence, aggression, territorial urges. We as people seek to control our world, to rationalize, but we also tend to destroy it in the process. In that sense I think you can see werewolves as a metaphor for physical abusers, sometimes, because werewolves can kind of tap into that ‘he’s only like this when he’s been drinking’ mentality. They can sort of...” For the first time she hesitated, and Nicole wasn’t sure she wanted to know why. “In stories, werewolves can kind of expose that phenomenon in abusers where they feel out of control, like it’s inevitable they’ll hurt someone again no matter how much they might want to be better.”

Nicole felt a little sick, and focused her attention on the food.

“But,” Waverly said, and her voice brightened a little, like a cloud passing from in front of the sun. “A lot of werewolf myths weren’t about people who were cursed or had, I dunno, forsaken god or something. Some of the old myths were about guardians. The Norse actually drew parallels from their bear-hide-wearing berserkers to warriors that wore wolf-pelts to become faster, more agile. I mean, sure, people can be inherently violent. But there’s also a nurturing side to humanity. We grow things, build things. And both those things are true, at the same time. I mean, you have to cut down trees to build a house, right? ”

“Sure,” she said, and turned off the stove, watching Waverly’s face as she spoke. She wasn’t looking at Nicole—her gaze was distant, lost in thought.

“I think werewolves are meant to stand in for that contradiction. They’re a symbol of that core truth: that people can be monsters, but they’re still also people. People have forced that idea onto modern vampires, especially in the last twenty years or so, but I think werewolves have always had that quality. People just overlook it, because, I dunno. They think vampires are sexier or something.”

Nicole knew, in that moment, what she should do. She should speak up, she should own up, she should let her kitchen be a tiny safe haven for the truth. But there was also fear, because all of this was still so new, so fragile, and if she did it wrong, said it wrong, it would be all too easy to watch this whole fledgling thing fall apart before it’d even begun to fly.

Plus, Nicole knew that tomorrow night she would be hunting something in the dark with Dolls and Wynonna. If the confession with Waverly went poorly, she’d be distracted, and in a fight like the one coming, distractions could be very literally deadly.

It was a thin excuse, but for now she was gonna take it.

So she said nothing. Instead she gave into a warm, terrible feeling in her chest—deep, ancient, animal—a part of her that was overcome, laid waste by Waverly’s insight, her knowledge, her heart.

Nicole closed the distance between them in two long steps, leaned down with one hand on the back of Waverly’s chair and one on the table, and kissed her. For a moment Waverly jumped, startled, but then she chuckled softly against Nicole’s mouth and raised her free hand to rest against her cheek, her lips soft and warm.

“Well,” she murmured, when Nicole pulled back. “If I knew waxing poetic about supernatural monsters was going to get that response, I’d have done it a lot sooner.”

Nicole ducked her head, laughing, and ran a hand through her hair. “Sorry, just... you’re really amazing, you know that?”

Waverly’s expression changed slightly, somehow sharp and fragile and gentle all at once, like glass shards covered in satin. “People said that to me a lot,” she said, “But I didn’t really know how to believe them. You say it different, somehow.”

“Well then I’ll keep saying it,” Nicole said, low, reverent, with the instinctive hush of standing in a museum or a chapel. “Until you believe it a hundred percent of the time. Because you really, really are.”

Waverly chewed on her lip and leaned up to kiss Nicole again, laughing softly when Calamity Jane took her cue to leave and hopped down from her lap. “Oops.”

“I think that was the feline equivalent of ‘get a room,’” Nicole said, laughing. “Here, dinner’s just about done.”

Chapter Text

Friday afternoon was cold, but she didn’t really feel it. It was a passing thing, something in her awareness but distant, far away, like the sound of a train miles away in the night. She was in a sensible outfit, dark but heavy enough for the weather, and occasionally when pedestrians wandered by, like Moira out walking her dog, she waved and nodded and pretended she wasn’t sweating under the down coat.

Dolls pulled up along the curb once pedestrians were out of sight again. Wynonna rolled her window down, a donut in one hand, and she looked up and down at Nicole, taking in the coat, the blue jeans, the heavy workboots, and the duffel bag Nicole had over one shoulder.

“‘Sup, Haughtdog,” she said, chewing.

“Wynonna.”

“Hey,” Wynonna protested, pointing at her with the donut, one powdered finger extended. “Your rule was extremely specific. One PMS joke. Which, I will remind you, I have not yet cashed in. You said nothing about dog puns.”

Nicole groaned, shaking her head.

“Get in, Haught,” Dolls said. She obeyed, climbing into the back seat behind Wynonna and stashing her bag beside her.

“What’s with the bugout bag?” Wynonna asked, looking over her shoulder to peer at it as she rolled her window back up, her hair flicking about in the breeze until it shut.

Dolls answered before Nicole could as he turned down a side road and headed for the highway. “We’re gonna need some muscle.”

Wynonna’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh shit, we’re going full K9 for this?”

“Earp,” Dolls said, but he sounded like maybe, maybe, he was trying not to laugh.

“I’m just sayin’, if I’d have known we were gonna go all bomb-sniffer on this I’d have brought Scooby snacks. Or Beggin’ Strips. Ooh, or one of those little training clickers.”

“I can feed myself, Wynonna,” Nicole said, but she leaned forward so she could stick her head between the seats, giving Wynonna a sly little smile. “Besides. I have a discerning palate. You wanna impress me, bring cubed steak. Raw, too, none of that partially-seared stuff they teach you in the obedience schools.”

Wynonna narrowed her eyes, humming thoughtfully. “I’m genuinely not sure if you’re joking, but now I’m really tempted to find out.”

“Try it,” Nicole said, and grinned, toothy and wolfish. “Just make sure you throw high. I jump.”

“Jesus, Haught,” she said, but she laughed. “I’m glad you’re on our side.”

Nicole waited until they were on the road out of town before she stripped out of her coat and boots, wriggling around in her seat to do it.

Wynonna glanced back, confused by all the rustling, and caught an eyeful of Nicole pulling off her t-shirt. She cursed and hastily looked forward, and Nicole smirked at the sound of her heartbeat jumping. “You could’ve said something.”

“Well it’s a bit hard to change shape in a bra, Wynonna,” she noted, pretending she hadn’t noticed that Wynonna was now resolutely looking out the windshield—as was Dolls. “Or rather, it’s very easy, but you won’t have one afterward.”

“Right,” Wynonna said with a falsely casual tone. “Yeah, of course.”

She shoved her shirt and bra into the duffel, replacing it with a grey sweatshirt that was about two sizes too large for her. With a quick glance at the front seat to make sure they were still avoiding looking at her, she wiggled out of her jeans and underwear into a pair of old dark sweats.

“Done,” she announced, put all her clothes into the duffel, then pulled out a long leather cord with a bag at one end and slid it over her head.

“Kit’s in there,” Dolls said, jerking a thumb back over his shoulder to indicate a black plastic case in the backseat.

Nicole grunted in acknowledgement and leaned over the back of the middle row to open the case. She pulled out a small receiver and as she settled back into her seat she slipped it into her ear, setting it and fiddling until the chatter coming through was just barely above human hearing. Then she removed it and slid it into the bag.

“All right, I’ll bite,” Wynonna said, watching as Nicole tucked the bag under her collar. “What’s that for.”

“To stay in radio contact,” she said, and Dolls nodded. “Won’t stay in my ear if I need to change in a hurry, so, this way it’s close by. If I’m in a position to change completely, I’ll ditch the clothes, but the bag stays.”

“And if you’re not in a position to change completely,” Dolls said, with the air of a warning. “Then—”

“Then the bad guys get to tangle with an angry chick in workout clothes with more fur than a bears-drink-free night in San Francisco,” Wynonna interrupted. “That about right?”

Dolls sighed heavily, but Nicole didn’t even try to hide a bark of laughter.

“My favorite way to spend a Friday night,” she said, and Wynonna grinned.

They’d been on the road for maybe half an hour when Dolls pulled into a parking lot for a shopping center that was near the edge of the creature’s hunting grounds. The engine whined and started to cool as he turned to look at Nicole.

“What did Waverly tell you. Anything?”

Wynonna glanced at him. “Did you send my sister to do mission briefings?”

“She came over for dinner last night,” Nicole told her, shrugging. “Hung out, watched some TV. Shared some wacky ‘myths’ she’d been researching.”

“Oh,” Wynonna said, nodding, and Nicole presumed they’d been cleanly categorized in the gal pals column. “I was wondering what that text meant.”

Nicole looked at Dolls again, satisfied Wynonna wasn’t going to press the issue. “A uh, a crocotta? Voice-mimic, lures out their prey with familiar voices. And then eats them. Hybrid creature. That’s all she said.”

Dolls nodded. “There’s no record of them being shapechangers. Just that composite beast form. However, BBD had a couple crocotta sightings about 30 years ago. Files said they have wide mouths and multi-colored eyes.”

“But the guy I saw, I just saw silver,” she countered, frowning.

“Exactly,” he said. “But it’s common for tapetum lucidum to start reflecting silver when it’s under a glamour.”

“A tap-uh-what-now?” Wynonna interrupted, glancing at Nicole, who shrugged.

“It’s the reflective surface behind animal eyes,” Dolls explained, pinning Wynonna with an exasperated frown. “Helps them see in the dark. Can I continue?”

“Oh shit,” Wynonna said, and jerked a thumb at Nicole. “So that gold thing?”

Nicole blinked. “What gold thing?”

“No, that’s—” He sighed. “Basically.”

“Rock on,” Wynonna said, and offered a hand to Nicole for a high-five.

She frowned, confused, but clapped her hand, and Wynonna immediately returned her attention to Dolls.

“The glamour is what matters here,” Dolls said. “That’s how this crocotta is pretending to be human. But that’s not something it should be able to access easily. Glamours like that, especially one powerful enough that it doesn’t block its innate powers? We’re probably looking at this thing being in league with a sorcerer. Maybe a witch.”

“Shit,” Wynonna said, voicing Nicole’s thoughts perfectly.

She frowned. Something about this all felt familiar, but she couldn’t decide why.

“Haught?” Dolls prompted. “You listening?”

“Yeah,” she said absently, then frowned and looked up. “Sorry, just thinking. Don’t think it’s relevant. So what do we need to know?”

 

“You remember the codewords?” Wynonna asked for the third time, her voice tinny and a little distorted where the receiver was partially muffled by the bag.

“Yes,” Nicole said with a sigh. She was perched at the edge of a rooftop, looking down at four city blocks, the sidewalks, walls, lamps, signs, and parked cars all tinted golden under her wolfsight. Her bare feet rested on the gravel lining the rooftop, and a scattering of half-hearted snowfall was clinging to her hair. She’d been there for a few hours. Her legs were starting to cramp.

“Okay,” Wynonna said. “Good. I don’t wanna hurt you, Haught.”

“You won’t,” Nicole said. “Not unless you’re packing silver bullets.”

There was an uncomfortably long pause, and Nicole started to frown.

“I mean, you aren’t, right?”

“No,” Wynonna said, but there was caution to it. “But uh, Peacemaker’s sort of. Special?”

“Well, fine,” Nicole said, and scanned the road. “Then it’s better I don’t find out the hard way that you’re the exception to the rule.”

“Good plan,” Wynonna said.

“No unnecessary radio chatter,” Dolls hissed, the radio turning his voice husky and commanding, even more than usual. “Shut up, Earp.”

“Come on, she keeps answering, this isn’t all me.”

Nicole growled. “Hey!”

“Shut up, both of you!”

Nicole sighed, then frowned, leaning forward on the low wall bordering the roof. “Hold up. I’ve got movement.”

A grey SUV pulled slowly up to the light from across the intersection, moving slow, like the driver was looking for a turn.

“Ballsy,” she said. “He’s re-using the Expedition.”

“Hold position, Haught. We need to know where he’s taking them.” She growled and his voice cut in again, sharper. “Haught, you agreed to work with my team. That means you follow orders.”

Wynonna sighed. “It sucks, but this time I agree with him, Rover.”

“Rover,” she said, her voice all gravel and smoke, but she kept her eyes on the car.

“Growl at me again and I swear to god I’ll start calling you Wishbone.”

The crocotta left the engine running as he got out of the car and peered in through the window of a ground-floor apartment. She watched him lurk away from the wall to stand behind the Expedition, and then the trunk opened, the door standing open. A soft sound, a man’s voice, came to Nicole on the wind, and she narrowed her eyes, tracking the sound. A young man came to the window, scanning the sidewalk, then vanished. Less than a minute had passed when he stepped out the front door, bundled up in a coat and fluffy slippers.

“Victim in sight.”

“Shit,” Wynonna said.

“Hold position,” Dolls said again.

Nicole growled low in her chest but did as she was told, waiting and watching, her nails sharpening to claws and digging into the stone under her hands.

The crocotta called again, and the young man went around to the other side of the car, out of sight. There was a soft yelp, then a distant thump. She spotted a flailing limb, then the trunk door slammed.

“He’s got the victim in the trunk,” she reported, watching the crocotta move swiftly to the driver’s side door and climb back inside. “He’s moving. Dolls?”

“Follow him. Do not engage.”

She snarled, waiting to stand up until the car had started to turn down the next block. She tracked its trajectory, then let her body partially shift. The change burned through her, prickling and boiling her blood as fur sprouted from her arms, her face, her shoulders, filling out the sweatshirt a little better. Her body grew beneath the fur, stronger and denser with muscle.

“In pursuit,” she reported, her voice huskier with the change settled in her throat and chest. She took a few steps back from the edge, blew out a breath, steadied her nerves, and then bolted toward the edge of the roof. She planted both feet on the low wall and leapt, flinging herself across the street.

She hit the next rooftop in a roll and came up running, leaping ten feet straight up to the next rooftop and jogging along the edge facing the street, keeping an eye on the Expedition as she ran. She grasped pipes with clawed hands the size of catcher’s mitts and threw herself over alleyways, and snarled in triumph when she saw she was keeping pace.

Until she realized she was running out of rooftop.

“Dolls,” she said, and it came out as a thick growl. “He’s heading into the shipping district. I have to go to the street.”

He made a faint, furious noise, quiet for half a second.

“Do it.”

She snarled, viciously excited, and when she reached the last rooftop she threw herself forward, rolling into the shadows under a storefront’s awning. The streets were empty, and she hopped a low fence to run along the sidewalk, keeping out of the sight of streetlamps as best she could. The Expedition’s engine coughed and she closed a little more, growling.

A voice called out to her then, high and thin with terror.

“Nicole! Nicole, help!”

Waverly.

Wynonna’s voice crackled through first. “Holy shit, was that my sister?”

For a moment, her vision turned red.

“Haught!” Dolls was shouting, but she couldn’t focus. “Haught don’t! He’s a mimic!”

There was a part of her that knew he was right. A part that knew how implausible it was. Waverly was at home. Kilometers away, in Purgatory. Probably doing some research, safe at home in her room at the Homestead.

But what if, she thought.

Waverly’s voice rose even higher. “Nicole!”

“Haught!” Dolls roared.

“I have to be sure!” she shouted back, and threw herself forward, leaping up onto the roof of the Expedition with a heavy thud of impact. The car swerved under her weight, tires squealing, but she dug her claws into the fiberglass and plastic, stabbing straight through like it was made of cloth. The car kept moving, even picked up speed, and she dragged herself forward hand over hand until she was roughly over the driver.

She heard a gun’s hammer cock back somewhere below her but she held her ground. Bullets punched through the roof of the car, some of them whizzing past her into the sky. One hit dead-to-rights in her shoulder, another grazing the outside of her thigh, and she howled, part from rage and part from the sharp physical pain of it. They weren’t silver, at least—she was reasonably certain the bullets were solid steel, and while she had never felt an armor-piercing round such that she’d be able to tell one from a standard lead bullet, she was pretty sure she’d just found out the difference. She could feel the open, horrible gore of the exit wound as it stitched shut again.

“Haught!” Dolls yelled, right as Wynonna shouted, “You stupid animal!” Very dimly over the receiver she heard a car engine starting.

She crawled closer to the driver’s side door and reached over the edge, lifting one hand free and slamming it down into the driver’s window. It shattered into a rain of safety glass, some hitting the pavement while most cascaded into the cabin. The driver, the crocotta, ducked out of the range of her swipes, then threw the wheel to the left, careening down a side street. The car turned so hard she slid halfway to the other side, only hanging on by one hand. Which, since it was the one attached to her wounded shoulder, hurt like a bitch.

She hauled herself back up, half-crouched on the roof of the car, and was readying another blow when the car swerved again and slammed into the wall of a warehouse. Already loosened so she could move, her claws came completely free this time. She flew off the car and into the wall, falling to the ground in a heap of disorganized limbs and blood and fur.

Her head was spinning like a carnival ride and she struggled to get all her paws under her. She heard the car door open, then slam shut, and then woozy footsteps weaving back and forth as the crocotta dizzily ran for the warehouse door, flinging himself inside. She scrambled to her feet and gave chase, lurching around the corner of the building and dragging herself into the big open storage space.

The crocotta was maybe thirty feet off, pistol raised.

“What, don’t you know how to knock?” he said, and grinned, and his mouth opened, and opened, and opened, until his smile went very literally from ear to ear.

The gun barked and another round ripped through her, around the level of her ribs. She hit the ground on one knee and heard her own blood splatter across the pavement behind her, felt the sweatshirt sag under the weight of gore and soaked cloth. It burned, but the wound started closing almost immediately. He hadn’t expected her to just take it, evidently, because he cursed and skittered back a few more steps as she dragged herself back up to her feet again and ran at him.

He pulled the trigger again but the hammer clicked on an empty chamber.

“Don’t you know how to count rounds?” she snarled, rolling her injured shoulder.

He opened his mouth to say something else, but she leapt at him, hitting him full in the chest with both hands. He hit the floor beneath her with a sickeningly wet sound, and she dug her claws into his body, flesh squelching and tearing under her grip.

The crocotta screamed.

Somewhere in the distance she heard the roar of a car engine.

The crocotta laughed, labored and bloody-mouthed. “They send their regards,” he said.

“Who?” she demanded, then growled, curling her claws into him and shaking his whole torso like a doll. “Who?”

“They needed... humans,” he wheezed, and laughed. “Let me eat a couple. If I sent them... sacrifices.”

A chill went through her body. Them.

“Why did you come here?” she snarled. “They could’ve had bodies from anywhere. Why did you come to the Ghost River Triangle?”

He laughed again, blood welling up and soaking his clothes. “Why else?” he said, and lifted his head, leering at her. “They wanted you to know. They know you know where it is. They’re coming for you.”

He moved too fast for a creature so badly hurt. He pulled a knife from his coat and the presence of silver sang along her senses like a discordant clatter half a second before the blade dug in deep, a little below her ribs. She thrashed, ripping away from him, howling in rage and terror as pain flared through her belly, furiously cold. The stench of burning fur and hair hit her nose and she staggered back a step, tripping on something. Maybe nothing. She hit the concrete floor shoulders first and writhed, clawing at the ground around her. She reached for the knife, to pull it out, but it seared across her palm and she yelped, a string of horrible, choking whines and yowls tearing out of her throat.

The crocotta laughed, the sound wet and choked with blood. “They send their regards, bitch! You can’t stop them!”

“Oh yeah? Well maybe I can,” Wynonna said, and Nicole had never been so grateful to hear that voice. “Make your peace, asshole!” It was loud and echoing, bearing a weight of authority that belonged to a forgotten time.

That was it—that was the codeword. She had to drop, she had to get out of the way. Or, no, she was already on the ground? Maybe that was fine then. It was getting a little hard to think.

There was a strange, whining hum, like electricity gathering to strike, and then the Colt’s hammer struck like a bell. The boom of the gun going off echoed through the warehouse and made her ears ring. She heard the sickening impact of a bullet striking flesh and then there was a horrible roaring sound and a wash of heat that Nicole felt even from ten feet away. She wanted to look, to figure out what that horrible yowling cry of despair was, but she just lay there on the frigid floor, whining and twisting.

“Dolls!” Wynonna hollered, and there was an answering clatter of footsteps from outside. Wynonna ran closer and hit the ground beside her and she felt hands on her face. “Nicole. Nicole! You stupid mangy mutt, wake up!” Wynonna slapped her and turned her face the other way but Nicole’s vision was blurry and gold and too bright.

She had to warn them. Words formed in her mind, but somewhere between her brain and her mouth it came out jumbled, disorganized. “Watchers in the dark,” she mumbled, frantic, grabbing at Wynonna and ending up with her claws tangled into the shoulder of Wynonna’s jacket. “Watching. Hunting, they’re coming, they’re looking for him.” Agony crawled into her chest and squeezed around her lungs and she thrashed, groaning. “Followed me here. Eyes in the shadows. Wynonna!”

“Dolls!” Wynonna snapped, and cursed under her breath. “What the hell is she talking about?”

“She’s delirious,” Dolls said. He flashed a penlight in her eyes but it all blurred together into the golden brightness. “Pull that knife out.”

“Moonwater, Shae said,” Nicole mumbled, but they either weren’t listening or wrote it off as nonsense. “Clean it with moonwater.”

“Is it dangerous?” she asked, but Nicole felt three hands on her stomach and another curling around the handle of the knife, making the blade shift inside her. She screamed.

“Only to her, it’s silver. Earp, pull it out, now.”

Wynonna yanked and Nicole’s whole body jerked with it, pushing against the weight of Dolls’ hands, howling until the sound turned into hollow sobs. The searing pain flared and then subsided, just a little. Her gut burned and she could smell the gore but she couldn’t think about it, couldn’t process it.

They worked in relative silence for a moment and she lost track of what was happening. Dolls was holding her down, keeping the wound closed with his hands while Wynonna tore off a leg of Nicole’s sweats and used it to hold it shut for the short-term. Wynonna was cursing and grunting as she tried to get Nicole mobile enough to get the makeshift bandage around her gut and tie it off. Dolls was checking in her eyes, nose, maybe her mouth with his penlight.

The gold in her vision finally started to fade, leaving a lingering, growing blackness in its place.

“We can’t take her to a hospital, Dolls.”

“I know,” he said, sharp. He sighed. “We’ll take her back to BBD for now.” He gestured with something Nicole couldn’t make out, then Nicole felt the prick of a needle in the side of her neck. “Under sedation.”

“You brought tranquilizers?” Wynonna asked, then added, with a smirk audible in her voice, “You must be a hoot at parties.”

She felt hands under her, lifting her.

“Dolls. What do we tell Waverly?”

There was a low, dull roar in her ears and Nicole’s vision went all the way black.

 

Waverly’s phone beeped and she jerked up from the book she’d fallen asleep on, blinking blearily and trying to get her bearings. She was in the kitchen at the homestead, that was familiar enough. A book of lore was open beneath her face, and she wiped at her cheek with one hand, confused by the texture of wrinkles left by soft vellum on her skin. She looked at the pages, frowning, trying to remember why she was looking at a page full of illustrations of monsters’ eyes.

Her phone beeped again and she took a look at the screen, her attention falling on the time first. Almost four in the morning, Saturday December 10th.

Rather than beeping again with another text, it started to ring in her hand. Wynonna was calling, and she swiped her thumb to answer it, yawning.

“Wy? What’s the matter? Did you pass out in an alley again?”

Her sister’s voice was too calm, too even, too sober.

Waverly shot up from her chair, her vision blanking out for a moment, blind with something like fear.

“What do you mean Nicole’s been poisoned?”

Chapter Text

There was something awful about being in the police station in the middle of the night. Regular people weren’t supposed to be here after dark, and like when you were anywhere you weren’t supposed to be, after business hours, there was a charge in the air, a pulse, as if the building itself was trying to say Go away. Come back in daylight when you’re actually allowed to be here.

Waverly’s footsteps echoed as she slipped in through the front door. She knew Wynonna had left it unlocked for her, that she was allowed to walk inside, but the sound of it shutting behind her had the finality of a coffin lid slamming closed; the click of her heels the nails to seal it shut forever.

“Wynonna?” Waverly called, keeping her voice hushed, as if raising her voice would disturb the place more than was safe. From further off she could hear low, tense voices, and she crept closer, peering around corners and over counters. Nicole’s desk was empty, the door to the sheriff’s office closed. Of course they were, it wasn’t even dawn, but the sight of it made her heart beat faster, harder. It had been what, a week since she’d hauled Nicole into Nedley’s office to kiss her? Too soon to have so many memories turning bittersweet, too soon to feel a pang of physical pain in her chest at the sight of Nicole’s empty chair and the folders organized neatly on her workspace.

A fear that was arguably illogical curled around her throat and she hurried past and into the hallway.

BBD’s office door was open and the lights were on.

Wynonna turned to look at her when she walked in. Her face was drawn, but she smiled. It was her worst smile: the awful, fake smile that she used whenever she wanted something she didn’t think she’d be given.

“Hey baby girl,” Wynonna said, with a cheer that didn’t meet her eyes.

“Wynonna,” Waverly said, and her voice shook. She cursed the sound of it, ducking her head. “Where is she?”

Wynonna pressed her lips together and looked over her shoulder.

“Can I see her?” Waverly said, and she wished she didn’t sound so desperate.

“Dolls?” Wynonna called.

“Yeah?”

“Waverly’s here.”

One of the smaller offices on the far wall had a light on in it, the door half-open. Dolls leaned into view. Behind him Waverly could see that two desks had been cleared off and shoved together and a thin mat, like a futon maybe, had been laid out across them. On top of that lay Nicole, most of her body blocked by the wall, but Waverly could see part of her, hip to calf.

Dolls waved her over and Waverly slid past Wynonna with a tense half-smile that she hoped looked grateful.

When she stepped into the doorway Dolls leaned out of her way and let her enter. Nicole lay there, limp, with the boneless, effortless grace of the deeply asleep. Part of her body was covered with a blanket, but it was more of a formality and it didn’t quite hide the bandages wrapped around her belly. There was an IV linked to her hand—why the hell did Dolls have one of those here, she wondered in the back of her mind—and Nicole was only mostly dressed. She was in a pair of dark jeans and a t-shirt that one of them had folded up away from the bandaging for decency’s sake, leaving stripes of bare, clean skin around the white gauze. Her long hair was sprawled around her head in a curtain of red gold, her face slack, pale. She looked somehow ethereal, untouchable.

Untouchable, Waverly thought, Like hell. Waverly stepped forward, spitting in the face of god, and ran her fingers across Nicole’s forehead, tucking strands of fire back behind her ear. Nicole didn’t so much as twitch at the touch.

This was all wrong. They’d only just started, they’d only just had their first date and their first deep scary conversation over coffee. She wanted... maybe that was the relevant point. She wanted, full stop. She wanted to learn more about Nicole. She wanted to know what her favorite color was, what movies she’d fallen in love with as a kid. She wanted to memorize the sound of her laugh, the startled, unexpected genuine one that always made Waverly’s chest ache. She wanted to see what Nicole looked like when she slept, but not like this. Never like this.

“What’s wrong with her?” she asked, her voice hollow, hoarse with a dozen unvoiced screams.

“We’re working on that,” Dolls said. Gentle, warm, and so unlike the Dolls she knew. “But she will be fine, Waverly.”

Waverly looked up, blinking the burning sensation out of her eyes. Dolls smiled at her, calm, assured, and something in it made her think he knew everything. All of it, even the parts Wynonna didn’t know—maybe even the parts she herself didn’t know.

“How can you be sure?”

His jaw worked and he looked at Nicole again.

“It’s not mine to say,” he said, “But she will, Waverly. She’s tougher than she looks.”

Anger came next and it was almost a comfort. Anger was easier to deal with than fear. Fear for a woman she barely knew but who had crawled into her chest and made herself a home in her heart when Waverly wasn’t looking. Fear for a woman who was all swagger and confidence in her boots and her uniform, but never made demands, never used her badge or her strength to take something she could just ask for with a smile and a soft “please.” Fear for a woman whose hands were strong, and capable, but so very, very gentle. Fear was choking, creeping, crawling up her throat until she couldn’t breathe.

But anger. Anger was hot and alive and vicious and she could twist it, turn it, point it at the cold creeping fear until it burned away.

“Not yours to say?” she spat, frustrated, and she didn’t realize her fingers had curled into the blanket lying over Nicole’s body until she felt the rough fabric rasping over her skin. “You can’t seriously stand there and hide behind your stupid black badge to keep secrets from me right now.”

Wynonna stepped into the doorway and her voice was patient, but firm. “Baby girl, please.”

“Wynonna,” she protested, turning to look at her. “What is this? You– you what, you took Nicole on a BBD job? Without me even knowing. And she got hurt.”

Wynonna shifted guiltily on her feet.

“And now,” she said, looking from Wynonna to Dolls and back, “You’re expecting me to take your word, just– just take on faith, that she’s actually going to be okay. Do you even understand what you’re asking me?”

Wynonna frowned. Opened her mouth. “Not r—”

“Earp,” Dolls said, shooting her a look.

Wynonna pursed her lips, glaring right back, but then she moved into the room, softening a little, and stood in front of her. “I understand you’re upset, baby girl,” Wynonna said, tilting her head to look Waverly in the eye. “But she came with us voluntarily. She helped, too. A lot. She knew the risks. She got hurt, yes, but she will be fine. I promise. We’re not gonna let you lose another friend.”

Friend. She almost laughed, caustic and sharp and humorless. She almost blurted out the truth, all of it, just for the vindictive pleasure of winning, of getting the last word, of making Wynonna understand why this was different, why this was so much worse than watching a zombie snap Steph’s neck in the driveway.

But winning wouldn’t make Nicole better. Winning wouldn’t make it hurt less.

“Did you at least stop the crocotta?” she asked.

Wynonna set her hands on Waverly’s shoulders, rubbing gently. “Damn right we did. Followed it straight to its lair. Nicole gave him a hell of a beating and then I sent him downstairs for an encore.”

Waverly shook her head, trying to push fear and anger to the side long enough to think. “Um. Okay, well, what was it doing?”

“Hunting,” Dolls said. “And shipping snacks home, apparently.”

“What?” Waverly said. “What do you mean, shipping?”

“We found evidence of containment, food stores, sedatives.”

Wynonna nodded. “And I think that little weasel said something to Nicole. Before she went under she was talking about someone coming. Watchers in the dark, eyes in the shadows. Cryptic bullshit.”

Dolls looked at Waverly, intent. “Which is the exact kind of half-delirious nonsense that usually has portent written all over it. I want you to look into it for us.”

Something to do. Something concrete. Oh thank god.

“Okay,” she said, and wiped at her face. “Okay, yeah. I’ll see what I can find. What are you gonna do?”

“Work out what this poison is,” Dolls told her, gentle. “It’s not gonna kill her, but she is in pain. So we’re gonna figure out how to get it out. If we can’t, we’ll keep her under until it’s out of her system.”

She’s in pain, she thought, the knowledge somehow acrid and bitter on her tongue. Waverly looked down at Nicole again and smoothed her fingers over pale skin beaded with sweat. This time Nicole did move, twitching, brow furrowing just slightly. Waverly took her hand and Nicole’s fingers, those long, clever fingers, curled around hers, blind, but taking comfort in the contact. She took a deep breath, steadying herself, and nodded. “Okay. I’ll hit the books.”

Wynonna watched her go and then stepped closer to Dolls. The last thing they needed was Waverly overhearing.

“I hate this,” she said.

“I know you do.”

“If we got her looking into silver poisoning, you know she’d be able to find something.”

“Sure,” he said, but he kept his voice low and even. “But I made a deal to keep this secret, and if we tell Waverly what to look for, we’ve as good as told her.”

“Hell of a time to stick to the letter rather than the spirit,” Wynonna groused, though she kept her eyes on Waverly. “Shit. I don’t want to keep her in the dark but Haught isn’t even conscious.”

“So we wait. The only way to kill a lycanthrope is silver through the heart, Earp. This won’t kill her. It’s just a waiting game now. We’ll keep an eye on her, keep her under as long as we can, but she’ll be fine.”

“Full moon’s in like three days, Dolls.”

He sighed. “If she’s not better by then, we’ll just have to take her to her place and let her burn off the rest of it in her cage.”

“She has a cage?” Wynonna said, incredulous. “Did you make her—?”

“She did it on her own.” Dolls frowned at her, pressing his lips into a line. “She is a werewolf, Earp. One who doesn’t want a body count. I’m surprised you care.”

“It’s just.” Wynonna turned, looking at Nicole’s face, her expression hard as she turned away again. “It’s just bullshit that someone that incessantly decent should know how it feels to be behind bars, that’s all.”

 

Waverly Earp was pretty much the nicest person in Purgatory, probably in all of Ghost River County. Everyone in Purgatory knew that. Waverly was also pretty much the best thing to come out of the Earp family in two generations. Everyone in Purgatory knew that too, and there was even the occasional joke (never made where an Earp might hear, of course, for fear of injury and/or death) that she couldn’t possibly be a real Earp: she was far too sweet to be Ward and Michelle’s daughter.

But that did give her an advantage. Sure, usually Waverly relied on honey rather than vinegar—sweet, honest smiles that made her eyes sparkle and soft words put in the right ears and occasionally the appropriately placed gentle hand on someone’s shoulder or wrist—but she was still an Earp. She was still fire and gunpowder in a human shell casing. She could burn hot and turn water to ice with her words when she needed to. She just didn’t need to as much as Wynonna did, as much as Willa and her father had.

But that was what everyone in Purgatory didn’t know. Which meant no one was ever expecting it.

So when Dolls leaned into the doorway of the makeshift infirmary at 2 in the morning on Monday and said, with what was supposed to be authority in his voice, “Waverly, go home. I’ll text you if something changes,” he wasn’t expecting her to turn in her chair to face him, her eyes hard and her voice sharp enough to cut glass.

“No, Deputy Marshal. I’m staying. And you damn well know why.”

He blinked, and for a moment she had the bizarre pleasure of having stunned Deputy Marshal Xavier Dolls to actual speechlessness.

“All right,” he said finally. “Just don’t burn yourself out. That won’t help her.”

As fast as it had come, the fury guttered out. She sighed. “I know. Just. Please.”

He showed her where the tranquilizers were, made sure she had his phone number (she did, she’d had it ever since Nicole had called her using his phone), and then left, leaving her alone with her sleeping... girlfriend?

What were they? God, they hadn’t even talked about it yet.

“Dolls had better be right about you,” she muttered to the unconscious woman in front of her. “You better bounce back. And then you’re gonna tell me what the hell is going on with you.”

She settled in to wait, flipping through a little notebook that she’d already partially filled with thoughts, dates, and cross-references. It would have looked like gibberish to anyone else looking at it, but she knew the truth:

Most of it actually was gibberish.

Not for lack of trying, of course. But without having heard Nicole’s alleged cryptic bullshit in person and having effectively no context, it was hard to link the words to anything. Watchers in the dark could’ve been any of maybe a thousand different things. Ancient gods, demons, cults, witches, earthbound monsters like the crocotta itself, who was to say?

There was a low, desperate whining sound, like a puppy stuck on a set of stairs, and Waverly snapped her book shut, sitting up straighter. If she hadn’t known there were four closed—and locked—doors between her and the outside of the building, she’d have thought an actual dog had wandered into the station. Nicole shifted, a small, fitful gesture that made Waverly stand so fast she almost tripped over her own feet.

“Hey,” she whispered, leaning over Nicole. The woman’s face twisted, tortured and exhausted. She groaned, and Waverly stroked her fingers across Nicole’s forehead, her thumb tracing the line between her eyebrows.

Nicole turned her face toward Waverly’s hand, searching out that small physical comfort, and Waverly set her other hand gently on Nicole’s cheek, fingers dancing across smooth, too-pale skin. Her eyes fluttered once, almost opening before they shut again, fast, like she’d looked into a lightbulb.

“Hey,” Waverly said again, and kissed Nicole’s forehead. “It’s me.”

“Wave?” Nicole mumbled.

“Yeah,” Waverly said. “Do you feel okay? Does it still hurt?”

“Wave,” she said again, and god, she sounded relieved. “You’re okay.”

“Me?” Waverly said, and she had to laugh or she’d cry. “What about you?”

“Thought he had you,” Nicole said, though the words slurred together.

“Who, the—” Waverly hesitated. No, she’d gone on the mission. She knew. Right? “The crocotta?”

Nicole nodded, loose and woozy. “Mmhm.”

“Nicole,” Waverly said, and it came out almost scolding, like an exhausted parent. “They’re mimics, I told you. They use the voices of—”

Loved ones.

Waverly swallowed, her throat suddenly very dry. Nicole raised a hand, the one with the IV plugged into her skin, and gently curled her fingers around Waverly’s hand, not tugging, just holding, like she needed to know it was real, that Waverly was really there.

“You idiot,” Waverly whispered.

“Mmhm.”

Waverly leaned down and pressed her lips to Nicole’s. As kisses went it wasn’t fireworks and a rising strings section as the credits rolled, but that didn’t much matter to her. Nicole’s lips were cool, a little dry from being functionally asleep for almost a day.

Waverly pulled away and looked into Nicole’s eyes, brown and so warm that looking at her felt like holding a cup of warm cocoa by a window in a snowstorm. It was hard to believe she’d once seen Nicole’s eyes flash gold in the dark, not when she looked like this, sleepy and soft and drawn with pain.

“Does it still hurt?” she asked, stroking a hand along Nicole’s hair.

She half-expected bravado, or a lie that was supposed to keep her from worrying. But Nicole never stopped surprising her.

Nicole’s voice came out soft, fragile, and it broke Waverly’s heart.

“Yes.” She sighed, shaky. “And the drugs are– are wearing off. It’s going to get worse.”

“What can I do,” she asked, and found Nicole’s hands with hers, squeezing gently.

Nicole inhaled, slow, like the effort of speech was too much, or like she knew she was crossing a line. “Water. Gathered outside, when the moon is reflected in it.”

Waverly thought she could feel her heart dropping into her stomach like a physical weight. “Nicole,” she whispered.

“I know it sounds—” Nicole hissed, her fingers suddenly curling tight around Waverly’s, gripping hard as a spasm of pain wracked through her. “I know it sounds crazy, but—”

“That’s not– it doesn’t sound crazy,” Waverly said, and closed her eyes, willing her voice not to shake. “But it’s. It’s like -10 out there. If there’s any groundwater it’ll be frozen by now.”

Nicole groaned, the sound too guttural, too grinding to be human.

“Do you... do you want me to put you under again?” she asked, trembling, raising her voice slightly to make sure Nicole could hear her over the low wavering sound she was making.

Nicole twisted, turning her head to face Waverly and for a moment she thought she was going to say no, but Nicole’s hand curled tight into her wrist, her nails sharper than usual, and she panted, looking up at her. “Please,” she whispered, then released her arm with a sound that was so inhuman and in so much agony it made Waverly’s heart skip painfully.

She fumbled with the clasp on Dolls’ case, pulling out another dose.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Nicole’s gaze fell on her again, wet with tears and something like relief.

“Don’t be. Much rather fall asleep with you.”

“Hush,” Waverly said, sniffling and setting the used syringe aside. “You don’t get to say sappy shit like that till you’re better, okay?”

“‘Kay.” Nicole grinned at her, and kept grinning, even after she’d fallen back under.

Chapter Text

It was the dream again. Or... no. It was something similar, but it wasn’t the same one.

It was a couple days after their wedding. She was sprawled out on a sofa in their hotel after a long, satisfying day of climbing, her head in Shae’s lap. Shae was roughly her match in height, which made normal furniture a challenge. Nicole’s feet were propped up on the far end of the sofa, one arm sprawled up over her head, against Shae’s thigh, the other running idle tracks up and down Shae’s forearm.

“I keep weird hours,” she’d said, her voice soft and her fingers carding through Nicole’s hair—it was shorter then, had fallen just to her shoulders. “I’m busy a lot, I’m gone for days or nights on end sometimes... not everyone is okay with that.”

“Well, I’m not everyone I guess,” Nicole had said, grinning up at her. There had been a teasing lilt to it, an ignorance. She’d still thought Shae was just a doctor then.

“No,” Shae had said, and smiled so wide her teeth shone with it. “No you really aren’t. But I just... I wanted you to know I appreciate it. When you find someone who accepts your crazy, you shouldn’t let go. You don’t find that just anywhere.”

Nicole woke to the sound of a hushed argument taking place maybe 10 feet off, with a mostly shut door in the way, likely meant to act as a barrier, or at least an illusion of one.

“It’s Tuesday, Dolls. We can’t keep her here for another day. People are getting twitchy out there.”

“That’s why we talked it out with Nedley,” Dolls said. “He’ll keep them from asking any real questions.”

 “You trust him?” Wynonna asked, incredulous.

There was a pause, as Dolls considered it. “On this? Yeah. He’s not stupid, and Haught is too important to him.”

“He seemed really damn pissed at us,” Wynonna countered.

“Well, I would be livid if he’d taken you on a stakeout without telling me and let you get mysteriously injured in a way that took you out of commission for four days.”

Wynonna grumbled, but didn’t immediately answer.

“Fine. All right. So what do we do now.”

“Guys,” Nicole said, her voice a meager croak. She coughed and tried again. “Guys.”

The door suddenly snapped open, and Wynonna stood in the center of it, her eyes wide. “Shit, she’s awake. Hey, Kibbles’n’bits. If you’re gonna start screamin’, speak up, it’s kinda business hours and the less attention we draw the better.”

“Kibbles’n—” Nicole sighed and inched herself up onto her elbows. She felt stiff, and her whole body ached, but the burning pain of silver in her gut was gone, and when she gently worked a finger under the bandages, she couldn’t find torn skin. That said, her teeth were vibrating. Of course. The moon. “I’m fine, Wynonna.”

Wynonna visibly slumped, sighing. “Jesus. Finally.”

Dolls leaned into view and nodded at her. “Glad to see you among the living, Haught.”

She snorted and carefully sat up, groaning at the effort on tired muscles and stiff joints. “Come on, I wasn’t gonna die that easy.” She twisted her head back and forth, her neck crackling. “What does Nedley know?”

“That you were poisoned with something BBD had an antidote for, but that it was a long recovery time. I’ll tell him you can be back to work today.”

She grunted and set a hand to her lower back. God, she felt so old, like a 25-year-old trapped in a 60-year-old body. “Tell him tomorrow. Between this and the moon I’m gonna be useless today.”

He nodded and left. She could hear his footsteps tapping out a rolling drumbeat as he headed for the door.

She took stock of herself—she was still wearing the clothes she’d been wearing when she got into Dolls’ car, though she could tell they’d been removed at times, maybe even rinsed once. Fair, she doubted she smelled like a breath of fresh air just now. She rolled down the t-shirt. The bandages were unnecessary now, but they’d sell the story as she left, if anyone saw her on her way out.

“So,” Wynonna said, drawing out the word till it sounded like it had about eight o’s.

Nicole looked up, winced once, then nodded. “Hm?”

Wynonna clasped her hands together, considering her words and then evidently thinking better of them. “Waverly’s unofficially quit at Shorty’s so she’s back at the Homestead now, resting, finally, but she said something about a spare key? She took care of your cat the last few days.”

That knowledge came with an almost bizarrely strong sense of relief. “Oh, good,” she said. “Good.”

“We need to talk,” Wynonna said, forcing herself to just say it.

“About what?” Nicole asked, nerves playing the xylophone up and down her spine.

“About you and my sister.”

Nicole wasn’t sure her face could get much paler, but she swallowed and nodded. “Right. I... meant to tell you, or, I mean—”

“No, wait,” Wynonna said, and cut her off. “Listen, I just, there’s something I wanna say first.”

“Uh, sure, yeah.”

Wynonna inhaled, looking for how to start. “I haven’t... Listen, I know I’m not exactly gonna win any sister of the year awards.” Nicole frowned, but listened. “She needs more people who care about her. Not the way people in town care,” she said, waving a hand vaguely. “I mean, they care, but they don’t care. Not in a I’d-fight-a-creepy-mimic-monster-from-the-top-of-a-moving-car-for-you kind of way. I mean, you sure wouldn’t see Champ-asshole-Hardy pulling the shit you did.”

“No, no you wouldn’t,” Nicole said, a little slowly. She turned, so that her legs hung over the edge of her makeshift infirmary bed. She tilted her head just slightly to one side, still not sure where this was going.

“So, thank you,” Wynonna said, clumsy. “For giving a shit about my sister. I’m really glad she has a friend like you.”

A friend. Oh. Then Waverly hadn’t said anything yet. Nicole blew out a breath, a little relieved. This was not how she would have wanted to have that conversation with her... girlfriend’s? sister.

“Me too, Earp.”

Wynonna nodded, quick and jerky. “Well. Anyway. Normally I’d be pissed about my baby sister being friends with a werewolf, but I guess I don’t have much room to judge and... well, you’re a good person. If a bit slobbery.”

“I do not—why does everyone think I slobber,” Nicole protested.

Wynonna laughed, the sound a little frantic, a little surprised, but genuine. “All right. Well. One more thing.”

“Hm.”

The laughter vanished like a leaf blown away by a stiff wind. Wynonna leveled her with a sharp, piercing look, her gaze suddenly glacial cold. “Know that if you ever hurt her, we’re gonna find out if Peacemaker can kill werewolves.”

Nicole inhaled, sharp, but found no snarling wolf, no answering growls in her chest.

“Wynonna,” she said, and met the Earp’s cool gaze without flinching.

“What.”

“If I ever hurt Waverly,” Nicole said, and she wished her voice hadn’t shaken on the words, “Then I’ll want you to.”

 

Nedley had taken one look at her limping out into the bullpen, rolled his eyes, and waved her away. Dolls drove her home, but, to his credit, did not baby her or walk her inside, just waited patiently as she gingerly gathered up her duffel bag, fished out her keys, and carefully made her way up the front walk. It had been salted and shoveled, which she assumed was Waverly’s doing. She waved at Dolls from the doorway once she got it open, to give him the okay to go. He lifted a hand in acknowledgement, then started his car, and was leaving her driveway when she closed the door and locked it.

Calamity Jane rubbed against her ankles, mewing plaintively.

“No fooling me,” she muttered, smiling at her cat. “I know Waverly fed you.”

The little cat persisted for a few more minutes before, begrudgingly, abandoning the charade, and instead leapt up to sit on the back of a chair, watching Nicole move slowly around her living room. She left the duffel on the couch, after confirming that her bloodstained clothes were not inside it—those had probably been burned, which was fine, they were meant to be discarded anyway—and sat down only long enough to pull off her workboots, leaving them in the middle of the room. Normally she might’ve cared about keeping them near the door, but right now she just didn’t have the energy.

Her skin sang with the itching, brooding song of the moon, and she stripped off her t-shirt, pulling off the bandages and shoving them into a trash can.

Nicole navigated her small home in a bit of a daze. She was awake, aware, but everything felt a little cloudy with lingering painkillers and the moon’s pull, and she felt vaguely like she were walking through a dream, moving slowly even though time was ticking along at its normal pace. She ate some leftovers cold from the fridge, but she wasn’t very hungry. She examined the thin silvery-white scar on her belly where the knife had gone in, trying to figure out by sight if the strike had actually perforated any organs. She surmised that it had not, or if it had, Dolls knew a lot more than just basic first aid. Either way, she was damn lucky. A silvered gut wound would be hard-pressed to kill a wolf, but it wasn’t impossible, not if the wound was bad enough that sepsis set in while the silver kept you from healing.

It was all about time tables at that point—if the infection was mild enough when the wolf’s healing was restored, it could be burned out pretty quick, but if there was enough damage and the silver took long enough to burn out... she’d heard of it happening. Not often, but it had. Or at least, so Shae had told her. It occurred to her now that maybe Shae only said it to scare her, like boogeyman stories told to children to make them take safety rules more seriously.

She was stiffly starting to peel off her jeans when her phone buzzed, the sound so strange and surprising she didn’t realize what it was at first. Only when it happened a second time did she head back out to the living room, her jeans undone and clinging to her hips, to dig her phone out of her bag.

Hope you’re doing okay. <3

Dolls said he took you home?

She smiled, taking her phone with her as she headed back to her room.

Yeah, just got some food. was about to take a shower.

It wasn’t meant to be anything special, just informational, but she choked when Waverly’s answer came a moment later.

Oho. ;) Shame I can’t watch.

Heat raced through her, the moon’s low pulse just adding to the effect.

Sorry, that one was too easy. You feeling ok?

Nicole ran a hand through her hair and tried to rein in her pounding heart.

Yeah. Stiff from sleeping on a desk for 3 days tho. Thanks for taking care of cj

She sat down on the bed to pull her jeans off, resisting the urge to just crawl into bed and sleep the rest of the day away. On the one hand, the moon was making her whole body itch; on the other, she’d been sleeping for days. The appeal of a midday nap was a bit mitigated when you’d been unconscious for something like three and a half days.

Of course. Taking the day off?

It was just a text, she shouldn’t read into it, right? But somehow she felt like Waverly wasn’t just asking.

Yeah, Nedley said I can come back in tomorrow. Was thinking I’d just take it easy and go to bed early. She chewed on her lip, then sent, Want to come over?

The reply was immediate. I’d love to.

Regret slithered across her mind a second later. Maybe this was a mistake. It was a full moon, and it was Waverly. She thought of Wynonna’s threat.

Well, shit.

But it was too late now.

Waverly knocked just as Nicole was rubbing a towel through her hair, dressed in a tank top and jeans. When she answered the door, a blast of cold air filtered in first, enough to make her shiver once.

“Hey,” she said, and stepped out of the way so Waverly could step inside. She closed the door behind her, and Waverly looked her up and down, her eyes narrowed skeptically. “I’m okay,” she said, grinning. “Promise.”

“Hm,” Waverly allowed, and looked up at her face. “I just—”

It was ill-advised, it was bad timing, it wasn’t exactly polite, but Nicole took Waverly’s face in her hands and leaned down, pressing her mouth to Waverly’s, the last few words of whatever she was going to say muffled.

Waverly’s fingers curled into the ends of her towel where it was resting across her shoulders, pulling Nicole a little closer, and she obliged, stepping forward into the languid arc of Waverly’s body, her clothes chilled from the wind and snow. She looped her arms around Waverly, holding her tight against her, and for a moment, an impossible, calm moment, it was just them, in her house. There was nothing else, no BBD, no injuries, no poison, no moon, just Waverly, in her home, smelling of paper and ink and the crisp, clean wetness of country snow. Just her, just soft lips under her own.

Nicole curled her fingers into the back of Waverly’s coat and earned a soft, pleased noise for the effort, felt Waverly’s lips part a little against hers, felt the tip of Waverly’s tongue tracing the curve of her lower lip, an invitation if she’d ever felt one.

God, she wanted to take it. All of her howled for more, to take, to taste her, to press herself against every inch of Waverly’s body, to know her, to love her in every way. To make Waverly hers in all the ways that mattered.

Whoa. Hold up.

She pulled back, making a faint noise of dismay at the effort it took. She was not the wolf. She was not.

“Well,” Waverly said, catching her breath and licking idly over her lower lip, kiss-bruised and beautiful. “Now I don’t remember what I was going to say. You jerk.”

Nicole laughed, ducking her head against Waverly’s shoulder. “Sorry. I just...”

Soft hands framed Nicole’s neck above the towel, Waverly’s fingers cold but so very gentle. A shiver ran down her spine that had nothing to do with the cold.

“You don’t have to explain, Nicole. That was uh. A very nice greeting. But. I guess I should take my coat off. And my boots.”

“Probably,” Nicole said. She leaned forward a few inches, nuzzling her nose to Waverly’s. She hesitated, recognizing the gesture as being blatantly canine, but Waverly beamed, pleased, and nuzzled back, her eyes squinted shut in amused joy.

“That’s really cute,” she said as she pulled back. “I like when you do that.”

“You do?” Nicole asked, and found herself smiling as Waverly nodded. “Well then, I guess I’ll have to do it more.”

“Oh,” Waverly said, with exaggerated despair. “What a burden.”

 

Nicole had forgotten how nice it could be to just spend time in idleness with someone. They didn’t really do anything all day—just sat on her couch, watching TV and holding each other. And other than the occasional prickle of hunger and desire, the animal of her was fairly well behaved. That said, she struck a compromise with that part of herself early on in the afternoon when, after a quick do you mind if in Waverly’s ear, she allowed herself to tuck a hand up under the hem of Waverly’s shirt, her fingers warm against Waverly’s ribs.

(Waverly had been more than happy with the compromise, if the soft breath she let out and the way she leaned her head back into Nicole’s shoulder was any indication.)

They sat that way for hours, with no pressure, no tasks to do, and Nicole couldn’t remember the last time she’d spent a full moon’s day so at peace.

Until it was getting deeper into the afternoon and evening started crawling across the sky in visible gradations of purple and red. Calamity Jane, who had been curled up in a little loop on the arm of the sofa, flicked her ears back and forth, as if sensing a distant sound, and then hopped down, vacating the living room without so much as a backward glance. Waverly noticed, but said nothing.

Nicole yawned, the gesture slightly exaggerated for effect. “All right, I think I gotta kick you out.”

Waverly sighed and leaned her head back into Nicole’s shoulder, pouting magnificently. “Really?”

“Yeah,” she said, pressing her lips to Waverly’s forehead. “I wanted to wait to keep from messing up my sleep schedule, but I’m definitely fading.”

“Oh boo,” Waverly said, but leaned up, kissing Nicole briefly. “Well, I can’t really argue with that.”

Nicole smiled, cupping Waverly’s cheek in one hand, holding her a moment longer and kissing her again.

“Got plans tomorrow?” she asked, her eyes flicking across Nicole’s face.

“Mm,” Nicole said, frowning. “Work will probably be real busy, especially since I’ve been gone for the last few days.”

“You don’t believe in those superstitions, do you?”

“Hm?”

“About more bad things happening under the full moon. You know, they always say that about emergency rooms being super busy.”

Nicole sucked in a breath and tried to play it as thoughtful. “I dunno. It does seem to get pretty crazy with the moon out, but I wouldn’t say I believe it’s true to the extent of it being inevitable.”

Waverly nodded absently and watched Nicole’s face. “Right, yeah, that makes sense,” she said, and kissed Nicole once more before she got up and stretched. Her shirt rode up in the process, and Nicole had the sudden, strong urge to press her lips to the sliver of tanned skin in front of her. She wrestled that down, got up, and circled the table.

“Here, I’ll get your coat,” she said.

“Thanks,” Waverly said, smiling. She didn’t take more time than Nicole would have expected to get her boots on and slide into her coat, but Nicole could’ve sworn there was a low thrum of tension between them, like a lie threatening to spill. It put her on edge, but she tried to push it down. She was just being paranoid.

Right?

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Waverly said, smiling and leaning up on her toes to kiss Nicole goodbye. “Around the station.”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, nuzzling their noses together one more time. “I’ll miss you, ‘til then.”

Waverly grinned. “You big sap.”

“That’s me,” Nicole agreed, grinning down at her.

“Sleep well,” Waverly murmured, leaning up for one more kiss before she slipped outside and down to her car. Nicole lingered by the window, watching, until Waverly was in the Jeep, waving and pulling out of the driveway.

Nicole couldn’t shake the sense that Waverly knew something and wasn’t sharing, but it wasn’t anything concrete, just a strange, quiet feeling that something had been weird between them. She frowned, but went about locking up her doors and checking all the windows, left food out for the cat. She pushed the armchair aside, opened the trapdoor, and climbed down into her basement, leaving her clothes by the ladder.

Without Waverly present, the moon itched its way under her skin, her blood too hot, or maybe too cold. She ground her teeth and stepped into the cage, only letting the change overtake her once the door had clanged shut and the bolt slid home, the display beeping over to engaged.

Chapter Text

Come Nicky. Let me teach you the pentacle.

What is this, Daddy?

Five points. Fire, water, earth, air, and spirit. Bound within a circle of human will, of the magician’s mind.

Behold, humanity: the seal upon the stuff of creation.

 

Dad’s basement. She’s 18. About to leave for university.

He tells her to come downstairs, like she used to when she was little.

Musty air, choking, cloying. Incense forming a thin grey haze over everything, too thick to breathe. Buckets of paint. Brushes soaked in something that looks like paint, but isn’t. The quiet moaning of the suffering. The hissing, crackling-fire voices of the damned. A circle the size of a car, inscribed on the bare concrete floor in red. Hope it’s paint, but can't quite be sure. Runes, ancient lettering, marking the outside, the inside.

A star, five-pointed. But this star is too big. It breaks the circle. The elements breach the binding.

You did it wrong, Dad.

No Nicky. Look, it’s exactly right.

There’s something lying on the floor within the circle, at the center. A body. Arms and legs sprawled so that it fits along the lines of the pentagram. The head, for spirit. The arms, for fire and air. The legs, for earth and water. Blood leaks out from each point: slit throat, slit wrists, slit Achilles tendons. The body’s face is slack, relaxed, eyes closed, lips just slightly parted. Composed like a painting.

Nude in repose, mixed media (2010).

A figure floats in the air above the body. A ghostly silhouette, indistinct, wavering. The binding isn’t enough to contain it, maybe because the star is too large—the binding isn’t precise, isn’t perfect. The figure flickers and gutters like a candle flame in a breeze. Not enough to destroy it, not enough to unleash it.

Dad? Dad! What is that thing?

That’s the creature that will tell us how to find Him, Nicky. Do you want to watch?

 

As awful Purgatory moon-dreams went, recollections of her father might’ve been her least favorite to date.

Nicole woke by degrees, aware of a very distant thumping noise. It was soft enough that, after considering it for a moment, she decided it wasn’t important. Somewhere her phone was ringing—that probably mattered more, but she was still too groggy and in pain to want to try to figure out where she’d left it the prior evening. Her whole body ached, her shoulders and back stiff with dried blood and muscle fatigue.

Her stomach growled. Hunger. It was always sharpest the morning after the first change. She’d been in the cage all night, so she hadn’t hunted, she hadn’t killed, she hadn’t devoured something. And the wolf, the animal side that prowled inside the cage of her body, that sat quiet, waiting, patient, for the rest of the month, that part of her wanted it. Wanted blood and death, wanted to win, wanted to prove it was better, stronger. It wanted to be nothing except itself: an animal, created solely to fuck and to kill and to survive. And it was under the moon that it clawed its way out of the cage. The moon was its compensation for the prison: sit quiet during the day, during the night, but under the light of the full moon, that was its time. Except she denied it even that, inside a cage of steel. And it chafed.

She heard meowing next, which was a bit more concerning, but if Calamity Jane was yowling for food before she’d gotten out of the basement, it wouldn’t be the first time.

The noise that did worry her was a distant creak of hinges, then footsteps on her floorboards, then a soft, familiar voice.

“Hey Calamity Jane. Where’s Nicole?”

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Even the wolf knew this was wrong: it had stopped scratching at her thoughts, stopped trying to win over her rational side. It whined and paced and talked in musical strings of anxious sound.

“Nicole?” Waverly called, and Nicole listened to Waverly’s footsteps as she moved around the living room, peering down hallways and through open doors. She pitched her voice to carry as she moved around the main floor of the house. “Listen, Nicole, I’m really sorry for just, y’know, barging in, I just. I need to talk to you. And I meant to say it yesterday, but I got distracted, and then it was never the right time...” She heaved a sigh. “And I figured you’d be awake by now but you weren’t answering your phone, so then I started to get worried...”

Nicole lay on the floor, paralyzed. She couldn’t possibly crawl out of the basement in her current state and not have Waverly ask a million questions. But if she pretended she wasn’t home, would Waverly actually leave? She’d come all this way, she’d even dug the spare key from the planter on her front window, or maybe just kept it from the last few days. Enough weird shit happened in Purgatory that if Waverly was that worried, she wasn’t going to just leave. Not with Nicole’s shoes in the entryway and her car outside.

There was a faint, unmistakable scratching noise at the trapdoor, and Nicole cursed under her breath. That stupid cat.

“C.J.?” Waverly called, and then the footsteps tapped overhead again. “What’s that you’ve got there, sweetheart?”

No, no no... this wasn’t how this was supposed to go! God, she should’ve said it before, should’ve said it when she could control it, but now it was too late.

“Well,” Waverly muttered, and Nicole cringed as she heard the crossbar slide, wood scraping on wood. “Nicole, what have you got under your house?” she mused, talking to herself. “And why is it locked from this side?”

The ladder creaked and Nicole physically flinched, pushing herself weakly backward, deeper into the cage, trying to find a good shadow to hide in.

“No, don’t,” she said, her voice weak and rough with misuse. Waverly didn’t react, maybe hadn’t heard.

“Nicole?” Waverly called, and she paused under the ladder, looking around and muttering to herself. “I swear, if this is what I think it is...”

“I can explain,” she croaked. “Please, just—”

Waverly spooked then, jumping, and took a few hurried steps closer. She smelled like warmth—like hot air on your face when the oven door opens or sheets fresh out of the dryer. She smelled like the wildflowers that grew along the dirt lane across Earp land, like home.

She smelled like concern, so thick and heavy it made Nicole’s heart ache.

“Oh my god, Nicole,” she whispered, fingers curling around the bars.

“Please,” Nicole whispered. She tried to sit up, but it was so early, still so dark outside. Pain wracked along her spine in a full-bodied convulsion and a snarl, a real, animal snarl, tore out of her throat, too-long teeth flashing in the light leaking in from the open trapdoor. Waverly leapt back so fast it might have been a gunshot. “Please! Waverly, I can explain—”

Waverly was back across the small space before Nicole could even reach a hand out, and she doubled over against the floor. She let out an anguished howl—she couldn’t hear Waverly’s feet on the ladder, couldn’t hear the door open and slam shut again, but she could imagine the sounds so clearly she wasn’t quite sure what was real and what wasn’t.

She curled up on the floor, shaking, silent. Hot tears ran down her face. The salt of it burned across an open scratch on her cheek, a new pain that didn’t quite distract from the deeper one. Shae’s words rattled around in her brain like a handful of ball bearings, and she felt sick.

When you find someone who accepts your crazy, you shouldn’t let go.

Waverly laughed, the sound a little high, almost hysterical.

She jerked her head up so fast her neck creaked, the sound of Waverly’s voice deafening in the horrible still, musty air of her basement.

“Wha– Waves?”

Waverly stalked closer again, standing in an angled patch of light where dawn peeked in past the trapdoor and an open curtain. “I knew it,” she breathed, and her expression was almost triumphant. Vindicated. She pointed at her, still laughing, breathless with excitement. “I knew it! At first I thought maybe the book was wrong, or that maybe I hadn’t seen what I thought I’d seen, but– ooh! I knew I was right!” Nicole opened her mouth to say something, and Waverly frowned. “Aaand, um. That’s not important right now. Right. Nicole. Where’s your first aid kit?”

Panic lanced through her chest as a physical pain. “Are you hurt?” Nicole asked, crawling forward again and pulling herself upright against the bars, trying to see her, sniffing the air for blood.

Waverly stared at her in utter disbelief, silent, then laughed and crouched down and pressed her fingers against Nicole’s, warm and soft. “No. No, you impossible woman. For you.”

“Oh,” she breathed, and let herself drop a little along the steel bars, until she was sitting again, leaning on one hip. “Oh. Um. Under... under the bathroom sink.”

“Okay.” Waverly was quiet for a moment, agonizingly long seconds. She watched Nicole, and Nicole watched her back, and when she spoke again, her voice was firm. “I’m gonna go and get it, and... and I’m going to patch you up, and while I do, you’re gonna tell me what the hell is going on, Nicole Haught.”

“Okay. Yes,” she said softly, letting her head droop forward. “I promise. Um. Before you go upstairs though...”

“What?”

Nicole cleared her throat, and felt a flush of heat spreading across her chest and shoulders. “Would you toss me my jeans?”

 

This was not how she anticipated sitting half-naked with Waverly Earp for the first time. Specifically, she did not anticipate it being while she was sitting on a towel on the floor in nothing but a pair of jeans, with Waverly sitting behind her on the armchair, a steaming bowl of water and a first aid kit on a side table. Reheated food was sitting within reach to quell the grumbling of her stomach, but she couldn’t focus enough to eat. Not when the hot water Waverly was using to rinse out the cuts sent thin rivulets of bloodied water down her back, or when the burning sting of peroxide made her snarl and growl.

“Hush,” Waverly said, amused. “This isn’t a Disney movie.”

“What?”

“Oh come on, tell me you saw Beauty and the Beast.”

She had, many years ago, but it took her a moment to remember the scene Waverly was talking about. “I suppose that tracks.”

“Hm?”

Vous êtes une beauté.”

A fingernail flicked across the back of her ear and she yelped. “Ouch!”

“Your French is awful. So,” Waverly said, and Nicole laughed. Waverly set the bottle of peroxide aside and started laying out gauze pads across Nicole’s shoulders, the roll of medical tape scraping and creaking as she tore off strips. “Talk.”

“I meant to tell you earlier,” Nicole said, rueful. “I swear.”

“Tell me what,” Waverly prompted.

Nicole ducked her head. They both knew she already knew, but Waverly deserved to hear it spoken plainly. To hear it from her mouth.

“That I’m...” It occurred to her that she’d never actually said it out loud. Not to Dolls. Not even to Mikael. It was hard to make it come out as anything above a whisper.

“That I’m a werewolf.”

Waverly said nothing, just focused on her work.

“And, uh, that Dolls and your sister already know.”

“Mm, I figured that too, actually.”

“Yeah?” Nicole said, twisting to look over her shoulder.

“Dolls was lying about not knowing what poisoned you,” she said simply, then tilted her head in mock thoughtfulness. “And Wynonna was acting really suspicious when I said I wanted to swing by this morning.”

Nicole chuckled faintly and shook her head. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“I’m not upset you didn’t tell me,” she said, her voice soft.

She couldn’t have heard that right. Nicole turned a little more, earning a small, irritated huff—Waverly hadn’t finished.

“You aren’t?”

“I kept things from you too, Nicole. About BBD, about... Wynonna.”

“Sure, but that’s a government agency. And your sister. Who’s kind of scary.”

“Yeah, but. Jack.”

“Well,” she said, but the protest was half-hearted. She could still remember all too well the feeling of a hellfire-infused kick snapping her ribs. “We weren’t dating then, though.”

“No,” Waverly allowed. “But we both kept secrets. Not ideal, maybe, but understandable. And yours is... well, pretty personal.”

Nicole ducked her head again, smiling a little. “Yeah, I guess.”

“But you don’t have to do this alone anymore.”

Nicole looked up.

Waverly’s gaze dropped a little, then came back up, a slight flush across her cheeks. Right. Still no shirt.

“I just... I hate the idea of you doing all this by yourself. You work so hard as it is, and then to have to come back here and– and lock yourself downstairs, and then get up the next day and clean up and go to work, and do it all over again.” Nicole stared at her. “I know you’re fine, that you’ve probably been doing this for a while. Just...”

Nicole turned around fully, rising onto her knees, and set her hands on the arms of the chair to brace her weight. Waverly was fussing with the front of her sweater, her gaze somewhere around her knees, though it strayed to Nicole’s bare chest now and then.

“I’m sure you have a system. And– and I’m not trying to imply you can’t do it alone. I don’t want to insult you, you’re plenty capable, I just—”

“Waverly,” Nicole murmured.

“I just feel awful thinking of you putting yourself back together every morning alone, having to– to feed yourself and clean yourself off with no one to help you or talk to you or anything—”

“Waverly,” she said, with a little more force.

She dragged her gaze back up to Nicole’s face, her breath a little too fast, her heartbeat a little too loud. “I should stop talking,” she mumbled.

Nicole grinned, recalling the last time Waverly had said that, and shifted up a little more. “Yeah,” she said, and leaned in until her mouth was so close to Waverly’s that she could feel Waverly’s breath against her face. “You should.”

Nicole kissed her, and Waverly tangled her hands into Nicole’s hair, desperate and relieved and maybe a little manic, dragging her closer until Nicole had all but crawled into Waverly’s lap. The touch of Waverly’s tongue against hers was electric, a heat so raw and vibrant and alive that a sound rumbled in her chest, half moan and half possessive growl.

Waverly’s hands slid down from her hair and fluttered across her shoulders, as if trying to find a safe spot. Her fingers were warm from the cloth and the bandages. Waverly stiffened, then, as if she’d just noticed something, and pressed against Nicole’s shoulders until they parted. The soft wet sound of it was intoxicating, and Nicole let out a faint whine of displeasure at the loss.

“You aren’t done explaining,” Waverly said, though it lost some of its impact, since she was panting. “And you distracted me.”

Nicole grinned, but tried to look appropriately sheepish. “Right, right, sorry.”

Waverly ran a hand through her hair, sweeping it back from her face. Her gaze dropped to Nicole’s mouth, betraying how badly she didn’t want to keep talking, not when there were so many other, better uses for their mouths.

“All right. So, tell me.”

Nicole smiled and got up, offering a hand. “Mind if I multi-task? I need to start getting ready for work.”

“Right,” Waverly said, and followed her to her bedroom, sitting on Nicole’s bed as she started gathering up her uniform.

For a moment, Nicole was quiet, just absently folding and refolding a t-shirt as she tried to work out how to start. Maybe Waverly could tell. She smiled, just a little, and tangled her fingers together, and said softly, “How long?”

“A little less than a year,” Nicole said, glancing over at her. She sighed, and gave up the prospect of getting dressed to sit on the edge of her bed. Waverly shifted a little, sitting a bit closer, not touching, but so near she almost could have. “My...”

She hesitated, and Waverly set a hand lightly on her wrist, patient. God, it almost burned, how patient Waverly was, how understanding. She’d already thrown her one bombshell, even if it was something Waverly had already worked out on her own. To throw her another just seemed unfair.

“My lover, at the time,” she said, and shook her head. “She’s the one who bit me.”

Waverly inhaled. “Had you known?”

“No,” Nicole said, and found that there was a bit more bite in her voice as she said it. “I hadn’t. She hadn’t told me.”

“How long had you been together?”

What had it been? Weeks? Not long, objectively. But they’d ridden the high of a great concert and a big win at the slots and yet somehow, in all the time between the rock climbing trip and the detour into the city proper and that messy, hilariously unorganized visit to a Vegas chapel, Shae had not seen fit to share the punchline to her joke about preferring her steak rare.

Or a few other things, for that matter. But that reminded her of her dream, her father’s basement. She shoved those thoughts aside, hard.

“Long enough,” Nicole said, and sighed. She considered getting up, fishing out a bra that wouldn’t irritate the bandages, buttoning up her uniform shirt, swapping slightly bloodied black jeans for khakis. Just thinking about it was exhausting. She flopped backward onto her bed, looking up at the ceiling, one hand resting idly on her stomach. Waverly moved closer to her, lying down alongside her, and rested her head on the quilt next to Nicole’s. “Long enough for her to have mentioned it.”

Waverly nodded, watching her face. She reached out, gently stroking hair away from Nicole’s cheek. “Was it an accident?”

“No,” Nicole said, frowning at the ceiling, then waved one hand in a vague circle. “Or... yes? I guess she would say it was. We’d been rock-climbing. I fell. Wrecked my shoulder, fractured a whole lot of myself. It was... it was pretty ugly.”

Waverly inhaled sharply, maybe imagining it. She leaned up on her elbow then, running her hand over Nicole’s shoulders one at a time, as if looking for the wound, looking for any sign that the body beneath her fingers had once been so shattered the doctors thought it would be a miracle if she regained the ability to lift her arm over her head.

“You can’t even tell,” she mumbled, then frowned, her fingers finding the silvery pockmarks on her left shoulder, where a wolf’s fangs had torn into her skin. “Is this?”

“Mm.” She turned her head to look at her, gave Waverly a sort of crooked  smile. “While I was in surgery, I had some allergic reaction. Nearly died on the table, I found out later. My lover,” she said, and couldn’t help herself—the word came out on a low, ripping growl. “Decided to save me.”

Waverly looked up to her face again then, her eyes very round, but she didn’t look like the sound had scared her. “She just...”

“Bit me while I was unconscious,” Nicole said. “I woke up after it had happened. Whole, alive, able to move, but... different.”

“God,” Waverly said. “I can’t even imagine.”

“I was angry,” she said, unnecessarily. That much was obvious from the low, persistent motorbike-engine growl grinding in her chest. “Very angry. But I stayed with her for two lunar cycles. I didn’t know enough, didn’t trust myself not to hurt someone by accident.”

“Hm.” Waverly’s fingers strayed away from Nicole’s shoulder, gliding along her collarbone, then down, just barely tracing the curve of her breast. Nicole let her eyes slip shut, let a low, pleased noise rumble in her chest. It made Waverly’s breath hitch, though, Nicole noticed, it did not make her pull her hand away.

It wasn’t how she’d pictured having this conversation, but then, Waverly never stopped surprising her, really. For a moment neither of them spoke, the tips of Waverly’s fingers touching, gently, with the lightness of a feather, dancing along a line neither of them knew the whole shape of. Then Waverly hummed softly, a thoughtful, curious sort of sound.

“But you left after that?” she asked, though her fingers stayed, still roaming over Nicole’s skin.

She let out a breath, shifting a little to try to alleviate the low smoldering heat deep in her belly. “Um. Right,” she said, gathering her thoughts. It was rather more difficult now. “She introduced me to some friends she had, some people she knew who were good at hiding from, well, groups like BBD. I found out that she was associated with some...” She frowned, thinking again of her dream, but Waverly’s nail traced the hollow of her throat, driving away the thoughts of blood and death. She tilted her head back, baring her throat to Waverly. The wolf itched, so very, very aware of the power of that one gesture, but grudgingly allowed it.

“Hm?”

“Some really bad people,” Nicole said, a little too fast, her breath a little sharper, a little quicker now. “Soonest chance I got, I got away from her. Got help from a vampire, of all things, and skipped town. Kept running until I learned about Purgatory. I still had friends at the academy, so I went through some back channels to get my name on Nedley’s desk, and he did the rest of the work himself. And, well, the rest is history.”

“Wow,” Waverly said, stunned, and finally let her hand trail down to rest on Nicole’s belly. Her fingers were warm where they rested on Nicole’s skin. She never wanted them to go away. Nicole took a deep, slow breath, regaining her focus in the absence of that light touch.

“Sounds nuts, right?”

“Yeah,” Waverly admitted. “If I hadn’t seen your cage myself I’m not sure I’d believe it.”

Nicole chuckled and rolled a hand. “Yeah. Well. I don’t blame you.”

“How’d you get it? The cage.”

“Called in a favor of Mikael’s with the Blacksmith,” she said, then sobered. “Rest her soul, I guess.”

“What does Dolls know?”

“Actually? Almost nothing. I made a deal with him last month that I’d give him any supernatural leads I found, and in exchange, he wouldn’t tell BBD about me.”

Waverly nodded, fitting that in with everything else she’d known. “And Wynonna?”

“Figured it out the night before the kidnapping. Not quite sure how, but she kinda got in my face that night. I was pretty mad. Sounds like she’d run with wolves before, so I guess she knew the signs.” She blinked, suddenly curious. “How’d you figure it out?”

“Mostly your eyes, at the restaurant,” she said. “Did some research.” She chewed on her lip, thinking. “And other little things, I guess. I’d never heard of moonwater for silver wounds though.”

She blinked. “I told you about moonwater?”

Waverly chuckled. “Well, that answers that. Wasn’t sure if you remembered waking up in BBD.”

“Maybe a little.” She smiled faintly. “I think I do remember you being mad at me.”

“You let the voice-mimic trick you,” Waverly said with an absolutely exasperated sigh. “Even after I’d told you what their big ruse is.” Nicole grinned. “I’m just glad all he did was stab you,” Waverly said. “If something happened to you...”

Nicole reached up, running her fingers along Waverly’s jaw, until she could slide one under Waverly’s chin. “Hey,” she said. “It’ll take a lot more than one measly little dagger to take me down, silver or no silver. Okay?”

Waverly smiled, and nodded. “Okay.”

“Guess I should get ready,” she said, though she didn’t want to get up.

“I guess so,” Waverly agreed. “Can’t really help you get dressed. Or, I can, but that seems a little bit much.”

Nicole grinned, laughing softly. “Yeah, maybe.” She paused. “Though, there is something you could help me with.”

“Hm?”

“How good are you with braiding someone else’s hair?”

Chapter Text

Walking out of her house with Waverly lingering beside her, watching her lock her door, felt... right. It felt easy, in a way that was maybe a bit too fast, for having only been together for, what, two weeks?

“Hey Wave,” Nicole said, as she walked Waverly around to the passenger side. “Have you given much thought to... you know, what we are?”

Waverly looked up from her phone, blinking owlishly. “Hm?”

“I mean, if you’re gonna be helping me with my uh, issues, at home, we’re gonna get pretty close, pretty fast,” she said, a smile curling across her mouth.

Waverly’s face went a little pink, though not from the cold.

“And, I mean, given what we talked about in the sheriff’s office, and... at the café?” she said, trailing off a little.

Waverly chewed on her lip, shuffling a little in place where she stood beside the car. Nicole stepped a little closer. For warmth, of course.

“I had, yes,” Waverly murmured, tilting her head back to look at her. “Did you have something in particular in mind?”

Nicole grinned and shook her head. “Nope. This is new territory for you. You call the shots here.”

Waverly blinked, surprised. “What?”

“You know I like you,” Nicole said, earning an amused little well yeah, “And I know you like me, at least enough to drag me into my boss’ office to make out on his couch.” Waverly’s face turned red and she bapped a gloved hand harmlessly against Nicole’s chest, making her laugh. “But I’m not going to push you to use particular words or to tell anyone else, or anything at all that you’re not ready for. Okay? We’re following your lead here.”

Waverly was quiet for a moment, reading her face, and then leaned up on her toes to kiss Nicole. “I don’t know if I’m ready to tell anyone,” she said softly, ducking her head for a moment. “But it is kind of nice, in my head, anyway, um, using the word girlfriend. If that’s okay.”

Anyone who says that happiness doesn’t feel warm is lying. Nicole was pretty sure she could’ve stood in the midst of a blizzard and not felt even a little chilled.

“That’s definitely okay,” she said, and opened the door for her so that Waverly could settle into the front seat.

“Hm,” Waverly murmured, reading texts on her phone as Nicole started up her cruiser and pulled out of her driveway.

“Hm?”

“Looks like Dolls is a no-show,” Waverly mused. “Not to like. Completely change the topic.” She hummed, still reading. “And Doc has been staying at the Homestead, so he’s out of the way for today.”

“Doc?” Nicole asked.

“Oh, uh, Henry.” Nicole nodded and Waverly scrolled through the messages again. “So Wynonna and I will hit Shorty’s after I get in.”

“Hit Shorty’s?” Nicole frowned. “Why?”

Waverly looked up, as if she’d only just remembered where she was. “Oh, um, we need more information on Bobo.”

“Del Rey?” Nicole asked, frowning. “How’s he factor into this?”

“Oh,” Waverly said, and winced. “Right. My turn I guess.”

Nicole raised an eyebrow, but kept her eyes on the road. “Is this about the demons?”

“Yeah. They’re sort of...” Waverly laughed a little, maybe amused by her own hesitation. “The resurrected 77 outlaws that Wyatt Earp killed back in the 1800s? Cursed to rise from Hell whenever an Earp heir comes of age.”

Nicole considered that, weighing it against what she knew, what she’d seen. “That... actually explains a lot.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, and laughed. “Yeah, actually.”

Waverly exhaled heavily. “That’s a relief.”

“Wait,” Nicole said, frowning. “Are you saying Bobo del Rey is a demon?”

“Eh,” Waverly said, hedging. “It’s not quite accurate to say that they’re demons. They’re people. You know. Damned, but still basically people. They come back a little... demon-adjacent, though.”

Nicole frowned. “Can they all wield hellfire?”

Waverly considered that. “I think it’s just the ones who’ve been down and back a few times. Or maybe the ones who’ve been sent back the least. It’s a little unclear. Why?”

“Would rather not tangle with that again,” Nicole said, frowning. “Once was enough.”

“Oh,” Waverly said, then again, with dawning understanding. “Oh. That’s why you... in the hospital?”

Nicole nodded. “Not a fun time.”

“No I bet not,” Waverly said. “Well, that’s good to know.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Waverly said. “It’s good to know what your limits are, is all,” she said, and reached out to set a hand on Nicole’s thigh, warm through the khakis. “If you’re gonna help Black Badge sometimes, especially.”

Nicole chuckled. “I’m pretty sure if Dolls has his way, that was a one-time thing.”

“Fair,” Waverly mused. “Fair.”

 

Maybe it was the moon that made Nicole itch to touch Waverly, to pull her body close and taste her mouth again. Or, maybe it wasn’t, and Nicole was just riding a high of energy and affection she hadn’t really felt for anyone since Shae. It crawled across her senses like a hard-to-identify smell, omnipresent but difficult to put words to. It started as soon as she saw Waverly leave with Wynonna, wearing her Shorty’s shirt again and an expression of pure defiant determination. It didn’t go away all morning, especially not when the Earps returned not even an hour later, looking a little rattled.

Nicole noticed that Waverly was missing her necklace, but elected not to ask—Waverly looked unsettled, and her unease made Nicole want to grab her and wrap her up in her arms and shut out the world even more.

BBD had been quiet for maybe an hour when she heard Waverly sigh, her footsteps ticking toward the door.

“Surveillance,” she was saying, complaining to Dolls and Wynonna. “Mucho taxing on my bladder.”

Nicole glanced up as BBD’s door opened, then shut, and then Waverly slid across the hall toward her and ducked around the counter. She grinned, sly as a fox, and glanced around for witnesses before she sat on the corner of Nicole’s desk.

“Hey,” Waverly said, bright and cheery. “Work going okay?”

That delightful little sneak.

Nicole smiled, leaning back in her chair. “Yeah. Yeah, it is. How about you guys? Anything good?”

Waverly rolled her eyes. “Men,” she said, by way of explanation.

Nicole laughed. “The worst,” she agreed.

“Anything I can do to help out here?” Waverly said, looking around. “I’m going a little stir-crazy in there I think.”

“Actually,” Nicole mused, looking around. “I did have a file I was thinking of giving Dolls but I might have misplaced it. Want to help me look?”

Waverly glanced at her, momentarily dubious—the look on her face read you never misplace anything as clear as if she’d actually spoken the words aloud—before her eyebrows rose and she grinned.

“Oh,” she said, feigning thoughtfulness. “You know, that’s a good idea.”

“Great,” Nicole said, and let her fingers brush the inside of Waverly’s wrist as she did.

Waverly grinned, but stepped away from her with a sly, teasing little smile. “Maybe... you left it in the sheriff’s office?” she suggested, backing up until she was standing by a worktable, running her fingers over a clipboard.

“Maybe,” Nicole murmured, reminding herself to breathe.

Footsteps clicked in the hallway and Nicole cursed, ducking her head to pay attention to her desk. She heard Waverly hastily scoop up the clipboard, reading over it. Dolls stalked by, then out the front door, and Waverly slid a file over to the near side of the worktable.

It was something like an invitation, Nicole thought, and grinned as she rose from her chair, scooped up the file, and crossed the room in a few long strides. She curled her fingers around Waverly’s wrist, tugging her along as she opened the door to Nedley’s office. She heard the clipboard hit the table again as Waverly left it behind, and then they were face to face, in Nedley’s doorway.

Nicole made a soft sound in her chest, a rumbling burr that made Waverly lean up to kiss her, smiling like she was all too proud of the effect she had.

Except that then Nicole heard boots clicking on the linoleum and smelled whiskey and gunpowder. She pulled away as fast as was reasonable, turning toward Wynonna and trying to look casual, leaning one arm against the doorframe and holding the file in her free hand while Waverly squirmed and leaned against the door.

Wynonna leaned against the counter and gave them a bewildered frown.

“Why are you guys in Nedley’s office?”

“Well,” Waverly started, just as Nicole said “Cuz, when...”

“Uh, yes.”

“So...”

Wynonna ignored them. “Okay, uh, here she blows.” She inhaled, clearly distracted, and set her hands on the counter, then sighed, shaking her head. “Doc and I slept together.”

“And that’s news? Really?” Nicole asked, almost laughing. Waverly blew out a breath next to her and she hesitated, looking down. “To... you. To.” A phone was ringing somewhere, hopefully hers. “Okay.”

When she got to her desk, regrettably, her phone was not ringing, but she sat down, quiet as a mouse, and tried not to listen too closely.

“Waverly,” Wynonna said, her voice low with warning. “We are both grownups.”

“Yeah, well,” Waverly said, and kept her voice lower. “One of you’s a little bit more grown up than the other, don’t you think?”

The hell did that mean?

Wynonna exhaled and rolled her eyes. “Little bit,” she allowed.

“So why are you telling me this now?” Waverly asked.

“Cuz it’s out there,” Wynonna said, and sighed. “Thanks to Bobo.”

Bobo knows?” Waverly said, and Nicole could hear the cringe in her voice even without seeing her face.

“Yes,” Wynonna said, stiff, and then jerked a thumb over her shoulder toward the BBD office. “And Dolls.”

“Uh-oh,” Waverly said, shifting on her feet. She was quiet for a moment, then asked, “Well... do– do you love Doc?”

Wynonna groaned and turned to go. “It’s just sex, Waverly. God.”

“That’s– that’s not a ‘no’!” Waverly called after her.

Nicole tried to hide a laugh behind her hand and Waverly turned to look at her, sighing. “Really?”

“Sorry,” Nicole said, and raised her hands in surrender. “Sorry.”

“Seriously, how long have you known?” she asked, making her way back over to Nicole’s desk.

Nicole stood, leaning her hip against her desk. “Mm, since it started, I think. Give or take a few days.”

Waverly raised an eyebrow. “How?”

Nicole smirked. “Do you really want to know?”

Waverly narrowed her eyes. “Is this something that’ll make me want to bleach out my brain for thinking about my sister knocking boots with Doc?”

Nicole offered her a very innocent shrug, then leaned closer, her voice low, conspiratorial. “I have a really good nose.”

“Tell me you didn’t smell—”

“No, no, just smelled them on each other,” she said. She watched Waverly’s face for  a moment, then decided to take a gamble. She grinned, all tooth and wolfish hunger, and leaned forward, her voice low and husky in Waverly’s ear. “On you, however.”

Waverly inhaled sharply, her heartbeat picking up, and went rabbit-still.

“Oh,” she said, with a shaky breath. “Well, that’s a little embarrassing.”

“Not at all,” Nicole said, and was suddenly glad Waverly had left her hair down—it perfectly hid the moment she let her lips brush the curve of Waverly’s ear. “It’s nice, knowing when someone wants you. Very good for the ego.”

“God,” Waverly breathed, and Nicole chuckled, finally pulling back. “You,” Waverly said, a little sharp. “Are unbelievable.”

Nicole grinned, and winked. “If it’s too much...”

“No,” Waverly said, maybe a bit too quickly. “Um. No, it isn’t.”

“Tell me if it ever is,” Nicole murmured, still grinning, but squarely meeting Waverly’s eyes. “I might get a little mouthy, especially uh, under the moon, but any circumstance, any time. You say no, and I’ll stop.”

Waverly inhaled, then nodded. “Right. Okay. I will um. I will keep that in mind.”

“Good,” Nicole murmured, and nudged her nose against Waverly’s.

Waverly grinned, nuzzling back, then sighed. “How many hours till you’re off for the night?”

“Three. It’s four to sundown,” she said, without even looking at the clock.

 

Waverly left for a bit, to fetch some things from the homestead, and when Nicole headed home for the afternoon, she found Waverly’s Jeep in her driveway and the scent of meat cooking coming from her kitchen window.

“Wave?” she called, as she came inside and toed off her boots.

“In here!”

In the kitchen she found Waverly, turning steaks over in a pan. Nicole lingered in the doorway for a moment, watching, and only noticed she had her mouth hanging open when Waverly looked over her shoulder, laughed, and gestured at her face.

“God,” Nicole said, hastily wiping her chin. “Maybe I do deserve all the slobber jokes.”

“I guess it smells good, then,” Waverly said, still laughing.

“It smells delicious,” Nicole assured her, stepping up behind her and looping her arms around Waverly’s waist. “Thank you.”

“Not too domestic?”

Nicole laughed. “No, not at all. I know usually giving your girlfriend a spare key is a big step and all but in the circumstances, I’d give you a key a dozen times if it meant a real, hot meal before a night sleeping on the floor.”

“I’ve been wondering about that,” Waverly said, and looked up over her shoulder to Nicole’s face. “Do you have to?”

For a moment she was very quiet, and she let go as Waverly started moving pans around and plating food. “Shae didn’t believe in cages,” she said finally, leaning back against the counter. “Said it was wrong to muzzle such an exquisite beast. She’d go out into the woods, run free across the tundra. Said she’s killed elk, even moose before.”

“Shae, huh,” Waverly said. “Then, I guess you disagree.”

“I do,” Nicole said, and sighed. “Never quite understood how she meshed full moon hunting with the Hippocratic Oath, but, I guess sharing your body with a primal ancient hunter for a decade changes your stance on certain things. I just... I don’t like the risk.”

Waverly frowned at her, but if she wasn’t following something she didn’t ask.

“It’s too easy to mess up. What if there’s hikers, or other human hunters?” She shook her head. “I can’t accept that margin of error.”

Waverly set plates on the table and Nicole belatedly thought to grab silverware. There was something bizarre, almost comical, about the contrast.

“Have you?” Waverly asked.

“Hm.”

“Hurt anyone?”

Nicole hesitated, and Waverly bit her lip.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”

“No, it’s. It’s fine.” Nicole hazarded a smile and sat down at the table. “I just don’t have an answer for you. I don’t know.”

Waverly tangled her fingers together, her expression not afraid, but very, very sad, and when she spoke, her voice was almost a whisper. “I’m sorry, baby.”

Nicole smiled, and reached out to curl a finger around Waverly’s, tugging her closer so that Waverly was standing beside her chair.

“Baby, huh?”

Waverly blushed. “Sorry, is it too...?”

“No,” Nicole murmured. Then pursed her lips. “Much better than Wynonna’s nicknames. I swear, I’m just waiting for her to bust out a dog whistle.”

At that Waverly laughed, brightening. “Yeah, well, puppy might raise eyebrows.”

“Probably, yeah,” Nicole said, laughing.

Waverly pulled a chair over, sitting within arm’s reach. “So, question.”

“Go for it.”

“Would you like me to stay?” she asked, soft, watching Nicole’s face. “Downstairs, or upstairs. I brought some clothes and books to read.”

Nicole inhaled, thinking. “I am open to you staying,” she said, slowly. “But if it gets... weird, or scary. I don’t want you to stay downstairs if you don’t feel totally safe.”

Waverly smiled. “Okay. I’ll give Wynonna a call then.”

“Maybe don’t tell her you’ll be in the basement,” Nicole said, wincing.

“Oh not a chance,” Waverly said, laughing, and pulled out her phone as Nicole picked up her fork and knife. She set it on speaker and put the phone down, giving Nicole a slightly wry smile as it rang.

Wynonna picked up, and in the background she could hear the growling grumble of a car that wasn’t, Nicole thought, Gus’ borrowed truck.

“Hey baby girl! Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, chewing on her lip. “Yeah, but I wanted to let you know I won’t be home tonight. Gonna stay with a friend.”

Wynonna snorted. “I knew it. You’re in too good a mood this past week. I knew you were getting laid again. Just please, please tell me you didn’t get back with Champ.”

Nicole almost choked on her food and Waverly yelped. “Wynonna! S-shut up! No, I’m not. And um. I’m gonna stay with Nicole.”

There was a very, very long pause.

“It’s uh,” Wynonna said, and Nicole could almost picture her leaning to look up through the windshield. “Are you sure? Seems like um, maybe tonight’s not a good night?”

Nicole cleared her throat and cut in to save Wynonna some dancing, as fun as it was to listen to her squirm. “I told her, Earp.”

Wynonna gave an absolutely explosive sigh. “Oh thank god.”

Waverly rolled her eyes. “I’ll be safe, Wy, I just want to be around and... you know. Help. If I can.”

“Honestly, Waverly, that helpful streak is gonna be the death of you someday. Haughtdog? You so much as breathe in her direction I’m gonna go all Old Yeller on your fuzzy ass.”

“That’s fair,” Nicole said, but chuckled. “Maybe not your best reference though. Points off for a weaker connection.”

“Oh go chase your tail or something.”

Nicole laughed and put her plate in the sink.

“I’ll text you, Wy, and keep you posted.”

“Okay. Just as long as you’re being careful, that’s all I care about. Oh, and Haught?”

Nicole leaned over Waverly’s shoulder. “Mm?”

There was a pause, maybe a little awkward. “Hope your night is... okay.”

Nicole smiled faintly. “Thanks, Wynonna.”

Waverly hung up and stood, squeezing Nicole’s hand. “You go on. I’ll lock up and feed Calamity Jane.”

Nicole smiled and leaned down, kissing her once, then went to change clothes and climb down into the basement. Her nerves hadn’t subsided at all, but the thought of dozing on the floor with Waverly close enough to smell her, to hear her voice... maybe tonight wouldn’t be so bad.

Chapter Text

Nicole left the trapdoor open when she went down into the basement, and for a minute or so Waverly was alone on the ground floor. Calamity Jane had long since vanished into the bedroom like a puff of smoke, and once the kitchen was more or less clean and pans set in the sink to soak, Waverly stepped into the living room.

She had said she wasn’t afraid of Nicole, and that was true. But at the same time, one did not just blithely walk down into a confined space with a moon-bound shapeshifter without at least a little bit of sensible, rational fear prickling around in one’s chest. Waverly wasn’t afraid that Nicole would hurt her, but she was also a little too aware that there might be a very significant difference between Nicole and the creature that she would become. Nicole’s preferences might not matter so much when the time came.

So, although she was definitely not paralyzed by fear, she did hesitate at the open trapdoor.

“Leave it open, when you come down,” Nicole called, and she heard the cage door clang shut. “I don’t want you trapped down here. Just in case.”

“Right,” Waverly breathed, then said more clearly, “Right, um, sure, yeah, I’ll do that.”

“It’s okay if you want to just sit up there, Waverly. Like I said, only if you feel safe.”

“I’m fine!” she called down.

And she was almost convincing, except that then a cell phone rang and she jumped, letting out the smallest yelp.

For a moment it just rang, and she could hear Nicole rustling around.

“Is that your phone?” Waverly asked.

“Yeah. On the coffee table.” Nicole’s words cut off with a growl, a sound vaguely like paper going through a shredder, and she was panting when she added, “Go ahead and answer it, baby.”

Waverly fumbled for the coffee table, scooping up the phone before it could go to voicemail.

“Um, hello?” she asked, just as there was a terrible roaring sound from below, like a car engine revving inside a garage, echoing and furious.

There was a moment of silence, and then a man spoke, cold with disapproval and a touch of an accent—Norwegian? Swedish maybe?

“You are not Nicole.”

“Oh, um, no, I’m not,” Waverly said, and jumped when there was another terrible sound from the basement, this one anguished and wracked with pain. “I’m Waverly. She’s um. A little busy. Can I take a message?”

“If you have imprisoned her,” the man said, his voice absolutely arctic. “You will regret it by sunrise.”

“What?” Waverly said, startled. “No, um. I’m her... friend.” She considered her words for a moment, then said slowly, trying to infuse the words with extra meaning. “She’s in her basement...?”

For a moment she thought he would press it, but she heard him let out a slow breath. There was a sickening set of noises from downstairs, squelching and cracking and then a howl of pain that, judging by the way he inhaled sharply, she thought maybe he had heard.

“Sorry,” she said, trying not to listen to the sound of Nicole crying out, one moment too human and the next all animal. “Um. Who is this?”

He was quiet for a moment longer. “My name is Mikael.”

“Oh!” she said, and ran a hand through her hair, pacing nervously around the living room. “She’s mentioned you.”

“She did not mention you, but I am glad she has someone,” Mikael murmured, and he chuckled, the sound like chocolate—sinful and smooth. “My hjärtat forgets that wolves are pack animals.”

“Hjär– right, um, well, I should probably check on her, but uh, did you need something, Mr. Mikael?”

He laughed again, a little more earnest. “I see why she likes you, little ocean-child.” She mouthed the word ocean-child to herself but elected not to question it. “Please, just call me Mikael. Mr. von Holstein was my father.”

“Right,” she said slowly.

“And my father has been dead since the 1600s.”

She made a faint choking noise, which must have been the reaction he was hoping for, because he laughed again.

“You’re the vampire,” she said softly. “The one who helped her get away from her lover.”

He made a soft, intrigued noise. “Ah, she told you a great deal then. Well then. Tell her this, when she is once again herself.” She nodded, though he couldn’t see it, and when he spoke again, his voice was deadly serious. “They move in the shadows. The night-barker was only the first. They seek the tomb. She is with them, and her lie runs deeper than even you know. When the seals break, she will be their hands.”

“Oh,” she whispered. “That’s not ominous or anything.”

“Repeat it back to me, child.”

She did, then once more, until he was satisfied she’d committed it to memory.

“Now,” he said, more brightly. “Look after her. She will make noise of it but she will appreciate the company.”

“Who, Nicole?” she asked. “I know, that’s why—”

“No, child,” Mikael said, and laughed. “The wolf.”

 

Waverly left Nicole’s phone in her pocket and very carefully climbed down the ladder. The horrible noises had ended before she got off the phone, but when she got down into the basement, there wasn’t much light to see into the cage, but she could see, maybe more so she could sense, an enormous thing within the bars.

“Nicole?” she said, her voice a rough whisper. “Baby?”

The thing in the cage huffed out a little growl, and she saw a flicker of movement, perhaps an ear.

Feeling very much like she had walked into a horror movie she wanted no real part of, she pulled out her phone and turned on the flashlight, cautiously tilting her phone up to face the bars.

The werewolf within snarled and pivoted, so that her flashlight glinted off a huge, bright golden eye and a row of wet, shining fangs. She squeaked and skittered back a step on instinct, then eased forward, forcing her breath to even out again.

“Hey,” she whispered, and now she was sure, a large ear flicked, listening. The werewolf was enormous, all shaggy russet fur and massive, rounded shoulders. It was hard to tell with the beast cooped up in the cage, but she tried to find the line of its spine, of its hips, and gauge how tall it might be standing. Easily ten feet, she thought, though she wasn’t sure exactly. A low snarl rumbled out of the cage, the sound so much deeper, so much bigger now that it was coming from a chest as big around as a horse.

“Hey, baby, it’s me,” she said, inching closer until she was maybe five feet from the bars. The creature shifted within its confines, growling still, but it wasn’t, she thought, an aggressive sound. It seemed almost more thoughtful, like a car idling, like it was just automatic, a side effect of breathing.

The wolf’s head tilted just slightly, golden eyes glowing slightly, but narrowing in suspicion.

The creature pressed its nose between two bars, snuffling audibly.

Oh this is a bad idea, she thought furiously, This is such a bad idea.

Wynonna would kill her if she found out about this, but Waverly stepped a little closer, raising her hand to offer it to the wolf’s nose.

With a faint growl of frustration the wolf pressed a little further between the bars and Waverly took another step, until her palm almost touched the big wet nose.

Golden eyes flashed and she yanked her hand back just as fangs slashed the air and closed together with an audible snap, inches from where her fingers had just been. Before she could even think to scream or speak the wolf had yanked away from the bars, grabbing at its head with both paws, snarling and growling in a cadence that almost sounded like conversation. The wolf threw its head back, howling a long, mournful wail that made the soundproofing along the walls tremble. Waverly dropped her phone and clapped her hands over her ears to block out some of the sound, but even for that her ears rang when the howl faded out.

Her phone’s flashlight faced the ceiling of the tiny basement, giving her only a vague silhouette of the creature in the cage. But when she looked at it again, the wolf was safely back from the bars, and eyes that were warmer, more like honey or caramel than gold, watched her.

“Hey,” she said, one more time, and the wolf nosed at the bars, the gesture so much like Nicole’s little nuzzling touches that Waverly bit down on her lip to keep from sobbing, happy, or maybe relieved. “There’s my baby.”

The wolf made a grumbling noise, but then settled back on her haunches, and Waverly scooped up her phone, settling in on the floor a few feet from the cage. Ears flicked and the wolf tilted her head, then, evidently satisfied, got up on all fours, turned in a circle, and curled up within the bars, head on her front paws, warm golden eyes watching her.

“So,” Waverly said, and swiped through her phone. “Thought I might read to you some, or... something. Any requests?”

The wolf let out a huge doggy sigh, and Waverly bit her lip, trying not to laugh.

“Right. Sorry. Well, let’s um. Let's see what I’ve got.”

Chapter Text

She dreamt of fire, of grasping clawed fingers that tore at her skin, of whispering voices and of a breeze rustling through long grasses and tree branches.

Right at the end of the dream a phrase echoed in her mind, spoken using Shae’s voice.

The sleepers wake; the mind recalls. The eldest first, then the Old One wakes them all.

In the morning Nicole woke to the smell of coffee and sausage and eggs. A plate sat on the floor just outside the cage, with a bathrobe folded neatly to one side. Waverly was moving around upstairs, and the sheer immensity of that single, tiny gesture made it difficult for her to even get up at first, literally floored by Waverly’s compassion. When she did get up, she found that she was still sore from sleeping on the ground in a little coil, but not as badly scratched up as usual. That probably tracked. She never remembered much of what happened under the moon, but she didn’t think she’d spent the whole night clawing at herself in frustration for being bound and leashed, the way she had the month before.

She crawled out of the cage and pulled the robe around her shoulders, devouring most of the food and climbing back upstairs with the coffee in hand. Waverly stopped her when she was halfway to the shower, kissed her cheek, and then went to the couch to sip coffee from a mug she’d borrowed from Nicole’s cabinet and read the news on her phone.

For a moment Nicole just reveled in the utter normalcy of it all. Even though it had only happened this once, Waverly made it all feel routine. Ordinary.

She could definitely get used to this.

 

Other than Mikael’s cryptic warning, which Nicole decided she would mull over more once the full moon wasn’t looming over her, Thursday was uneventful. The station was quiet, too—Wynonna and Dolls had gone out to the Pine Barrens in pursuit of some lead, Waverly wasn’t quite sure what. Nicole considered texting Dolls to warn him about the shapeshifter living out there, but by the time she learned they’d left, they’d been gone long enough she knew their phones wouldn’t be getting good service.

Friday morning on the way to work Waverly teased her about wearing dresses more often, which Nicole begrudgingly allowed might, in some circumstances, be easier to shift out of than pants. When they got to the station they parted to focus on their own workdays with a kiss and promises of reconnecting the next night. Nicole could actually do things after sundown, but Gus wanted to have dinner at the homestead. A family thing, Waverly said.

Wynonna swept through the station like a storm, a stained bit of paper in her hand, but didn’t acknowledge Nicole on her way into the BBD offices.

She smelled kind of weird, but Nicole elected not to think about it, and chalked it up to her nose being off after the moon. Or she did, until Wynonna came back out maybe 20 minutes later. There was a mark on her face, two parallel lines drawn in what looked almost like charcoal, and she stank of herbs and something earthen, like animal musk, maybe.

“Hey.” Wynonna flashed Nicole a grim, fake smile as she headed for the front door, and Nicole gave a vague hey in response, watching her go.

Waverly walked up to the counter and Nicole smiled, immediately distracted.

“Okay, so, where were we,” she murmured, teasing, “Because I seem to think it was something about, like, candles, you trying to get me into a sexy black dress...” She hesitated, noticing the strain around Waverly’s mouth and the tension in her shoulders as she leaned her arms on the counter, hands clasped together. “Something’s wrong.”

Waverly sighed and shook her head. “A lot of things might be wrong,” she agreed, closing her eyes. “Dolls, and Wynonna, and her gun...”

Why did it always come back to that Colt? “Okay, what is the deal with that gun, anyways,” she said, half-joking, but Waverly just shook her head, distracted.

The radio crackled, the dispatcher’s voice coming through tinny and a bit bewildered.

“We have reports of a pink four-doored sedan, driving erratically on Highway 81, please respond.”

Nicole raised her eyebrows, confused, as Waverly shot her a startled frown.

“Did she say pink?”

“Yes...?” Nicole said. Someday, she thought. Someday, this town would stop getting weirder by the day.

“That’s gotta be Doc,” Waverly said, and sighed, burying her face in her hands.

“Why does he have a—” Nicole exhaled slowly. “All right, well, let’s go get him then, before he crashes into a fence.”

Waverly was tense the whole way out. She didn’t wring her hands—just as well, wringing her mittens wouldn’t have looked very impressive—or grind her teeth, but just sat, silent and trembling with barely controlled energy. Nicole tried twice to start conversation, but Waverly didn’t really respond, so Nicole left her to her thoughts and maneuvered the cruiser along snowy backroads.

The first thing she noticed after she pulled over the pink sedan, after its color at least, was the license plate.

“Well this oughta be good,” she muttered, grabbing her book and a pen as she got out of her car and walked the short distance between the pink sedan and her cruiser.

Sure enough, Henry sat behind the wheel. When she approached him, he grinned up at her, dopey and a little too eager. He chuckled at her, the sound itself guilty with the knowledge of having made a grave set of mistakes.

“You were doing 140 in a 50 zone,” she told Henry. He blinked uselessly at her, grinning, and she was reminded of an 80-some-year-old man she’d pulled over once. “License and registration?”

That, perhaps, finally gave him pause. “Well it’s me, Officer Haught,” he explained, as if maybe she was asking because she had not recognized him by face alone. “And I have neither of those things, no,” he explained, furrowing his brow and frowning. His mustache made him look a little like a confused walrus.

The cruiser’s passenger door slammed shut and Nicole glanced back at her small, angry girlfriend stomping across the snowy road toward the sedan.

“Oh boy,” she muttered.

“How about a frickin’ explanation, huh?” Waverly shouted, when she was still half a car length away.

Henry turned to look over his shoulder, noting the small thunderstorm of a woman, and looked up at Nicole, rather more alarmed now. “If there is any kindness in you,” he told her, “You will arrest me, and quick.”

She snorted and finished writing his citation. “Sorry there Stone Cold,” she said, tearing off his copy and handing it to him. “Not gettin’ off so easy.” He took it, wrinkling up his nose as he examined it. She wondered if he’d never seen one before in his life, but that seemed laughably unlikely.

Waverly’s eyes were on Henry, but as she headed back to her cruiser, Nicole lifted one shoulder in a gesture that radiated He’s all yours babe.

She sat in the car eating a sandwich as Waverly spoke with him, but to be polite she kept all the windows rolled up to keep out their voices. After a few minutes the sedan pulled away, and Waverly lingered in the road, watching him go.

Minutes passed. Nicole waited until she saw Waverly start to shiver a little even in her thick coat, her mittens, and her earmuffs.

She climbed back out of the car, standing with one boot on the ground.

“Baby?”

Waverly turned, wiping her face, and nodded, returning to the cruiser.

Nicole held her gloved hand all the way back to town, and let Waverly think without pushing her to talk about it. She didn’t.

 

That evening, Wynonna called her from Dolls’ phone.

“Haught.”

“Earp, hey.”

“You on shift?”

“Yep,” Nicole said, glancing at the clock. “Couple more hours.”

“Good.”

“Why?”

There was a pause, some shuffling sounds, and Nicole realized that behind the rumble of a car engine and Dolls’ quiet voice speaking to someone else, she could hear a group of people in the background, young women, maybe more than 10 of them.

“Wynonna, what’s with the sorority hanging out in your car?”

“I need you to call some parents,” she said, and her voice shook a little. “Bunch of girls we picked up in the Pine Barrens—some have been missing for months,” Wynonna said. “You got a pen?”

Sometimes BBD drove her crazy. Sometimes the paranoia got under her skin, sometimes Dolls’ attitude pissed her off, sometimes Wynonna’s insistence on secrecy that had nothing to do with government clearance and everything to do with being annoying made Nicole want to claw off her own face.

But sometimes.

Sometimes, BBD were big goddamn heroes. She’d never been so happy to be even tangentially associated with them as when she started placing phone calls, asking mothers and fathers and fiancés to come down to the station.

She’d also never seen something quite so odd in that station as a gaggle of 20-somethings in long white fur robes milling about in confusion before spotting family members or friends. Nicole lingered in the midst of it, signing paperwork and taking down names. She spotted Wynonna, standing in the hallway, looking absolutely shell-shocked.

“Earp,” Nicole said, stepping past another little cluster of young women, keeping her voice low. Wynonna didn’t even blink. “Wynonna.”

“She’s...”

Nicole frowned and looked back the way Wynonna was looking, spotting a taller woman, about Wynonna’s height. She looked lost, but in a way that was deeper than the others. She was visibly scanning faces, looking for recognition, looking for someone who recognized her.

“Who is that?” Nicole asked, glancing down at Wynonna. “You didn’t give a name for her.”

“She doesn’t remember,” Wynonna said, cautious, fragile, like she were made of cracked porcelain held together only by hope and a bit of glue. Like if she raised her voice or looked away from the woman across the room, she’d come apart into tiny pieces. “They called her Eve.”

Nicole frowned and looked at Eve, then back at Wynonna. “You look like you know her though, Earp.”

Wynonna blinked a few times, her eyes wet and shiny with emotion in a way that was almost unsettling. Nicole had never seen her so... so small.

“Maybe,” she said. “I don’t know. God, Haught, I don’t know.”

Nicole frowned and set a hand on Wynonna’s shoulder, squeezing gently. She heard Dolls’ footsteps, familiar and heavier than the strange, soft sounds of the missing women’s furred boots, and smiled at her. “It’ll be okay, Earp,” she said, waiting for Wynonna’s faint nod of acknowledgement before she stepped away.

She met Dolls’ eye and nodded, only looking away from Wynonna when she knew he’d stepped up beside her and taken over her post. She went back to work with the few remaining parents, but kept her ears open, listening to their quiet conversation.

“So I found an old photo in Waverly’s research of Lou’s first wife,” Dolls said quietly. “Her name was Tadewi. She was a horse whisperer of sorts, and uh, there were whispers about her. Lou was likely using her as a weapon for over one hundred years. An actual Skinwalker.”

Nicole tried not to audibly inhale as she listened to a father thanking her and shaking her hand. If what Dolls was saying was true, she had really cut it close that evening in the woods.

“Seems like the Ghost River Triangle is playing host to a whole realm of supernatural phenomenon,” Dolls murmured. “This... This is huge.” There was a pause as Dolls realized Wynonna wasn’t really listening. “She didn’t remember anything since Lou found her, huh?” Her reply was so soft Nicole didn’t catch it, but Dolls’ voice was low, gentle. “Yeah. Prolonged psychological trauma can cause amnesia. She may have been brainwashed, or...” He blew out a breath and turned around, so that no one might watch his lips. “She’s lying.”

“She’s not lying,” Wynonna said, and Nicole could hear it in her voice, the tears finally starting to fall. “We thought she was dead.”

“Wynonna,” Dolls said quietly.

“We gave up,” she insisted. “We stopped looking for her.”

“Wynonna. We don’t know anything for sure. There could be a thousand reasons why Peacemaker worked in her hand, you hear me?”

Nicole frowned, filling out paperwork in a moment’s pause at the counter. She wondered if she’d ever get the full story on that gun.

“Or there’s one,” Wynonna said, and crossed the hall. “Eve?”

The last woman in furs turned to look at her.

“Come on,” Wynonna said, and offered a hand as Nicole glanced toward them. “You’re coming home, with me.”

Nicole watched them walk out, noting the way Wynonna had said home.

 

It was maybe an hour before she got a text from Waverly.

Gus thinks that Eve woman is our older sister.

Well. Shit.

Chapter Text

Nicole stood in the hallway and squinted at the work schedule, feeling very strongly like she might be misreading something.

Nedley’s voice rumbled from down the hall and she half-turned even before he’d called out, “Nicole.”

“Sheriff? What the hell is a Poker Spectacular?”

He made a vaguely amused noise and lifted his mug in her direction. “Come on.”

She followed him down the hall and they settled in his office. His chair creaked when he sat down in it, and she tried not to visibly wince when she sat down in the little chair on the opposite side of the desk. Not exactly comfortable furnishings.

“Big event Judge Cryderman’s cooked up. He does it every year.”

She grunted, acknowledging it.

“We’ll be running security detail on the hotel, as the venue, but I need you on tonight. We’re running down a tip about some poaching and illegal sale of meat uptown.”

She narrowed her eyes. Something about it smelled wrong, but she wasn’t sure how to say so.

“I know what you’re thinkin’,” Nedley said. “Awful convenient timing.” She blinked, startled, and if she didn’t know better she’d have said the corner of his mouth ticked up, half-obscured by his mustache. “It is. But, gotta run it down anyway. And if it turns out to be a good lead, we’ll follow. So go on and git. I’ll see you back here at 4.”

She shrugged, but nodded as she got up from her chair. “Sure thing, sir.”

As she headed out to her car, she plucked her phone from her pocket and texted Waverly. By the time she’d gotten home, Waverly had crowded her message inbox with approval, though she noted it was more muted than she would have expected. Which she presumed was at least partially due to the text several rows up, almost like it were whispered between other messages, that Dolls had come back with test results. Eve really was Willa.

Nicole got out of her car and sent back, How are you holding up?

It’s a lot to process came through a minute or so later, as she was unlocking the front door, and after she stepped inside, she leaned against the door to close it.

I know

Waverly’s replies were quicker now and Nicole guessed she was heading out—she was usually a little slower when Wynonna was in the room.

She’s been gone almost my whole life, as far as I remember

Nicole went to make coffee, frowning at her phone and shooting Calamity Jane an amused frown when the cat nearly tripped up her feet. I can’t even imagine

In other news, Wynonna asked me if we’re “best friends”

Nicole snorted and nearly dumped coffee grounds all over the floor.

...whaaaa?

Waverly sent her back a text devoid of words, just a single emoji: a tiny unicorn’s head. Nicole laughed, taking that as a sign Waverly was on the road, and sat by the window with her coffee, sipping now and then and waiting for Waverly to arrive.

When the Jeep pulled in, she perked up, grinning, and pressed her nose to the glass, and didn’t really think much of it until Waverly stopped halfway up the driveway, leaning on the hood of her car because she was laughing.

Nicole frowned and went to the door, pulling it open. “What the hell, Wave.”

Waverly was slow coming up the front walk—she was still laughing.

“You just– you looked like– like a puppy,” she wheezed, wiping her face with a gloved hand. “Waiting by the window– for her human to get home from school. Cutest thing I’ve ever seen!”

“Oh shut up,” Nicole grumbled, but she was grinning as Waverly stepped inside, nudged her chilled nose to Nicole’s, and stomped snow off her boots in the entryway.

 

“Haught.”

Nicole almost tripped over her own shoes as she slipped behind the counter toward her desk. Nedley was standing in his doorway, looking more grim and angry than she’d ever seen him.

“Sir? Did that poaching thing turn out?”

He shook his head and pointed to a side room. When she stepped inside she found Dolls sitting at a small conference table, frowning at a series of photos.

“Game face, Dolls?”

He slid one of the photos to her and she grimaced. A motel bed, covered in blood.

“Jesus,” she breathed, as Nedley walked in behind them.

“He’s got nothin’ to do with this,” Nedley grumbled, settling into a chair and sliding over a laptop in a plastic evidence bag. He tossed a pair of latex gloves to Nicole. “You’re better with the technical stuff.”

She looked up at Nedley, then at Dolls, then shrugged. “Not going to question this allegiance between PSD and BBD,” she muttered, and started pulling on the gloves.

“Sheriff Nedley believes this one might have some... relevance to us,” Dolls noted, his voice back to its usual professionally dry tone.

She glanced up at him, reading the expression on his face, and nodded.

“Fair enough,” she said, and sat down, powering up the laptop. “Bradley Stokes,” she noted, paging through some of his apps.

Dolls frowned. “Stokes, Stokes... Don’t know that I know him.”

“He’s one of Cryderman’s buy-ins for the poker game,” Nedley said. “Hedge fund type. Got to town just this morning.”

“I thought Cryderman had PSD running in circles today,” Dolls mused, eyeing Nedley with something like intrigued respect.

“I like to keep my eyes open,” Nedley said. “‘Specially when someone tells me, direct or otherwise, to keep ‘em shut.”

Dolls grunted, approving, and Nicole frowned at the laptop display. “Sheriff. Dolls. I’ve got an active connected device.” Nedley gave her an absolutely bewildered look, but Dolls leaned forward in his chair, elbows on his knees as she clarified, “Looks like it’s a smartwatch.”

“Tell me you’ve got a bead on it?” Dolls asked.

She flashed him a grin. “Have a little faith, Deputy Marshal.”

 

Waverly hadn’t texted all evening, though that wasn’t, all by itself, cause for alarm. Dolls hadn’t said anything about how the search went—that was also not cause for alarm, on account of Dolls still being kind of an asshole, no matter how much progress he might make in his friendships.

Which was sort of an odd thought, taken independent of anything else. Did she consider Dolls a friend? He was brusque, invasive, and demanding, but she’d give him this: he was reliable and true. And that was more than could be said for some of the people she’d known in the last few years. And some of the non-people, besides.

When she stepped into her house that night, her cell rang. It wasn’t a number she recognized, and for a moment she considered ignoring it, but something told her that might not be a good idea.

“Haught speaking.”

“Hjärtat, so business-like.”

She grinned and hung her hat on its post, shrugging out of her coat. “Mike, hey. I presume you’re calling because you want to discuss your incredibly cryptic warning from the other night?”

“I do, ja. I figured I would give you a couple days with your new ah... friend, first.”

“Mike,” Nicole warned, but she was laughing.

“Well?” the vampire demanded. “Who is she? Tell me about this fine young woman who has charmed you such that you let her in your home on the full moon?”

“Why were you calling right as the sun was setting?” she countered. “You know better than that.”

“I was going to leave a voicemail,” he said, with a disdainful little sniff. “I did not anticipate someone actually answering. No dodging questions, you little rascal. Spill.”

She sighed and settled on her couch, looking for the words. Mikael was so distant she knew he was hardly a security risk, but it still felt weighted to say aloud. “Waverly is my girlfriend. Though she’s a little new to the whole...”

“Supernatural scene?” he mused.

She laughed. “No, actually. That she’s got plenty experience in. It seems her family is the axis on which this whole crazy town’s supernatural scene spins.”

Mikael was quiet for a moment, sounding sad but also as if he were struggling not to laugh. “Oh, hjärtat. You didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”

“You fell for an Earp?”

That made her pause, both that he could tell that just from one comment, and that he said it like it was, in fact, a bad thing.

“Is that a problem?” she asked, wary, maybe warning.

“No,” he said. “But it means you will have no shortage of interesting days ahead.”

“Great,” she said, sighing. “As if your warning about the seals breaking wasn’t bad enough.”

“I know.”

“Did you know he’s in the Ghost River Triangle?” she asked him. “Did you know, when you told me I could come here?”

“If I say yes, would it make you regret going?”

She growled into the receiver. To his credit, he let her.

“Mikael, if I’d known...”

“You would never have gone,” he said. “Why do you think I did not tell you? Something is coming, hjärtat. And not just Legion.”

“Why not come yourself? Why send me in, half-blind and looking for a way out of all my history with them, with Shae?”

“The Triangle guards its treasures jealously, hjärtat. Inhuman creatures cannot pass the borders.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

“You are human.” At her derisive scoff he chuckled. “All right, mostly. You are mostly human. You hold more within you than that, but your outsides are still quite ordinary. The Triangle’s walls cannot bar out humans.”

She frowned and picked at a loose thread on the seam of her khakis. “Why are you telling me this now? Why wait?”

“I think it may be obvious why I waited,” he said. But then he was quiet for a moment, considering. “On Longest Night, the walls are at their most weak.”

“You think this Legion thing is coming to awaken—”

“It tries every year, hjärtat. It sends agents when it can, in order to bypass the walls, but the Triangle has its guards as much as its prison gates.”

“Any time you feel like talking sensibly, Mike, I’m listening.”

“Just, be careful, hjärtat. This year feels different.”

“How so?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “But I can feel it in the air. I know,” he said, before she could respond to that, “That is unhelpful.”

“No kidding,” she muttered. “Say, here’s a question for you.”

“Hm.”

“If something perhaps may have referred to an awakening, specifically that of something called the Old One, would that uh, maybe be relevant?”

She could hear his frown through the phone.

“Hjärtat, where did you hear this?”

“A moon dream?”

He cursed, something long-winded and possibly in more languages than just Swedish. “What did you hear?”

She pressed her thumb between her eyes, frowning and trying to think. “Um– mind recalls... eldest first, then the Old One wakes them all.”

“I am not sure who this eldest could be, hjärtat, but if they were named in conjunction with him...”

She groaned. “Awesome, so I need to keep an eye out for this ‘eldest’ and Legion and mostly-human agents of the great darkness that might seek to awaken—” She caught herself a moment before she could speak its name. It usually wasn’t wise to do so, especially not over a telephone. His followers had a way of overhearing things one really did not want them to hear. Some of those ways she was even personally familiar with. “The Old One.”

“It seems that way,” he murmured.

Her phone pinged and she frowned, pulling it away from her ear to see. A text message from Waverly popped up on the preview screen. I fucked up. Willa ran off. I’ll keep you posted.

“Oh, shit,” Nicole whispered, and Mikael grunted, curious. “I might know who the eldest is.”

 

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Nicole didn’t sleep well that night. Waverly hadn’t texted back after Nicole’s response, probably busy with Wynonna, and Mikael had left her with a laundry list of things to do. People to call, leads to follow, and ancient texts to read. That last, since she wouldn’t really have direct access to it personally, would fall to him, and he would send her updates once he knew anything concrete.

All told, not conducive to good rest.

So when Lonnie leaned over the edge of his desk to talk to her after lunch, it was kind of a miracle she didn’t bite his head off. Literally or otherwise.

“Did you hear?”

“Hear what, Lonnie.”

“There was a fight at Shorty’s a couple hours ago. Or, well, Bobo’s. Not that anyone called it in. Del Rey’s handling it himself I guess.”

“Big surprise,” she muttered.

It didn’t take him long to realize she wasn’t particularly interested in the gossip, and he went to find something to do. After a couple minutes she was alone in the bullpen.

Her phone went off—the short musical ringtone she’d set for Waverly.

“Hey baby, I can spare a couple minutes but I’m on the clock right now,” she began, with a smile that vanished when Waverly’s breath hitched. Nicole didn’t know the sound by heart yet, thank god, but she knew the sound of a woman in pain well enough. “Waverly? What’s wrong?”

“Uh,” Waverly said, and then there was a sound of pillows shifting and a low hiss of pain, maybe as she adjusted her position on a couch? “So, um, don’t panic.”

“Waverly.”

“Mercenaries hit the house,” she said. “Gunning for Dolls. Military grade gear.”

“Jesus,” Nicole said, and got up from her chair, reaching for her keys.

“I’m not calling it in,” Waverly said, firm despite the strain in her voice, and Nicole begrudgingly sat back down with a heavy breath. “Not until we know more. But I just wanted you to know that we’re fine. Dolls, Wynonna, and Willa are all unharmed, and aside from a few broken windows and bullet holes, everything’s okay.”

“I can hear in your voice,” Nicole whispered, “That you’re not.”

“Well, um,” she said, with forced brightness. “About that.”

“Waverly, please.”

“I was grazed, Nicole. Rifle round, Dolls thinks. It’s fine, just...”

“It hurts?” Nicole prompted, and Waverly let out a very slow, shaky breath. “It’s okay, baby, tell me.”

“Yeah,” she whispered, and Nicole could hear the strain in her voice, the desperation not to break in front of anyone else. It made her ache, made the animal of her shake with powerless fury, not only that she was hurt, but also that she trusted Nicole to know the truth. “It hurts a lot. Dolls gave me some painkillers but I didn’t want to take them, and...”

“No one else is there right now, right?” Nicole asked.

“No, the others are looking into how this happened. Who might’ve paid them.”

“Then I want you to take the medicine, baby. Please?” Waverly sighed, so fast that Nicole knew she’d just needed to be told it was okay. She wasn’t really going to fight. “For me?”

“All right,” Waverly said, pretending to grumble to keep up the façade. “For you, I suppose.”

“Good.” For a moment she was quiet, and listened to Waverly moving around the house, pouring a glass of water, opening up a bottle, swallowing some pills. When she finally did speak, it was a struggle to sound normal, even. “Did any of them get away?”

“No,” Waverly said. “We got them all.”

She didn’t manage to bite down the vicious, rumbling snarl in her chest, and was glad no one else was around to hear it other than Waverly.

“Good.”

Chapter Text

Two days passed in a haze of almost normalcy. There was a certain comfort to it, a certain routine. Wake up, see Waverly before work, then again after. Research the strange warning and Mikael’s leads in the off-moments. Waverly could have helped, but Waverly still tired pretty quick, and Nicole decided she’d wait until things were a little calmer. Even if it meant preparing for the Winter Solstice and whatever it would bring on her own.

When she got the invitation for Del Rey’s big night, she wanted badly to ignore it out of principle, but Nedley made it clear that was not an option. He would be expected to make an appearance, and he insisted that Nicole be the one to accompany him as his right hand, representing the department at his side.

Well, at least she had a nice dress she could use for it. That purple one would do—she hadn’t gotten to wear it in ages.

Still, something about the whole scenario bothered her. She woke up early and couldn’t fall back asleep, though maybe that was all well and good. Dolls called her a little after dawn.

“Dolls?”

“Haught,” he said, and he sounded exhausted. “Mind if I call in a favor?”

She frowned at that, looking up from some of the emails Mikael had sent her. “Sure.”

“We’re at the shop. I’ve spent an hour with Willa trying to access old memories but she’s wiped. Mind taking her home?”

She stiffened and was quiet long enough that he noticed.

“Haught, I wouldn’t ask, but...”

“No,” she said, and sighed. “No, it’s fine. Sure. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Thanks.” He was quiet a moment. “Besides, I’m sure Waverly’ll be happy to see you.”

She grunted, intending to convey disapproval, but he chuckled.

“See you, Dolls,” she grumbled, and hung up on him, swapping a tank top for a thick red sweater—more than enough to keep her warm even in the snowy weather. The roads were slick, a bit icy with re-frozen meltwater, but the snow crunched satisfyingly under the tires of her cruiser as she pulled up at the station and waited for Wynonna to help Willa into the passenger seat of her cruiser.

“Thanks, Haught,” Wynonna said, with a curt nod. Nicole noted the lack of canine-related humor, and found herself immensely grateful that Wynonna had not seen fit, at least so far, to bring her older sister into the loop on that one.

“No problem, Earp,” she said, leaning her head down to meet Wynonna’s eye for a moment. “I’ll get her home safe.”

Willa shot her a look that might have been slightly irritated, but waited until Wynonna had nodded, shut the door, and stepped away.

“You don’t need to talk about me like I’m not here,” Willa said.

“Sorry,” Nicole said, though she only barely meant it. “Didn’t mean anything by it.”

Willa subsided, evidently appeased, and was quiet for a few minutes as Nicole navigated the snowy streets, heading for the roads out of town.

“I’m sorry,” Willa said, her voice different now, softer. This, Nicole thought, was the part of her that was still Eve, the strange, confused girl from the forest. “Sometimes it’s... hard.”

Nicole blew out a breath. She wasn’t quite sure how to feel about Willa, but that, at least, she could understand.

“I get it. Feeling out of touch with yourself, out of control.”

Willa looked at her, eyes narrowed. “You hardly seem the type to be out of touch with your emotions, Officer Haught.”

She shrugged one shoulder. “I might surprise you, I guess. But trust me, how I seem now is the product of a lot of work. And I still have my moments.”

“Hm,” Willa said, though she wasn’t sure if it was a sound of agreement. “You strike me as a passionate woman.”

There was a part of her that was embarrassed, thinking of certain things—in particular people—she was very passionate about. But another part of her was suspicious, wary of Willa’s attempts at insight or psychoanalysis.

“I don’t think that’s inaccurate,” Nicole allowed. “And sometimes that makes it hard to keep myself level. But I try anyway.”

Willa nodded, turning to look out the windshield again. “What’s your read on the Deputy Marshal?”

Nicole glanced toward her, then forward again, making a faint humming noise to indicate she’d heard, and was thinking. “I think in general he’s a good man.”

“I don’t trust him,” Willa said, her tone harsh again, cold.

“Anything in particular?”

Willa, she realized, was very hard to read. She was so cold, so level, that her heart betrayed very little—her pulse never raced with anger, only excitement, and only sometimes. It was hard to tell what she was thinking, even when Nicole could hear the rise and fall of her voice, of her breath.

Waverly was kind, unsubtle. An open book. Wynonna wore her heart—all the jagged pieces of it—on her sleeves, and wasn’t ashamed of it. But Willa. Willa was quiet, and slow-moving, like the placid surface of a river hiding a vicious riptide that would dash you against jagged stones and carry your bloodied body out to sea without a care.

“I’m not sure,” Willa lied. “It’s nothing concrete I guess. Just a general sense.”

“Hm,” Nicole said, the sound vague and appeasing.

They finished the drive to the Homestead in silence, and Nicole didn’t think she’d ever felt so uncomfortable in her life.

Waverly was sitting at one of the small tables when they arrived. There was a cup of tea on the table, and her phone, and the various medical supplies. Willa went upstairs first, giving Nicole a moment to look. Waverly was smiling, but there was a tension in it, a strain that Nicole hated seeing. Only when she heard the sink running upstairs did she allow herself a small, muted whine of frustration.

Waverly looked up, a small but more genuine smile curling her mouth. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Nicole murmured, moving to sit next to her. Waverly’s fingers ran along her hair from ear to shoulder, and Nicole leaned her cheek into Waverly’s hand.

“Wasn’t expecting you till later.”

“Dolls asked me to drive Willa home,” she explained, and reached for the first aid kit. “Have you fixed it yet?”

“No,” Waverly said, smiling. “I hate doing it myself.”

Nicole smiled and gathered what she needed as Waverly pulled her shirt up to give her space. There was a moment, just a moment, as Nicole peeled off the bandages, where she pushed down the animal, the side of her that wanted so badly to just press Waverly to the ground and lick the scraped and healing skin until it was clean, but she shook her head and gently cleaned the wound the sensible, modern way.

She almost didn’t hear the footsteps, and when Willa came around the corner with a jar in hand, Nicole fought the urge to sigh.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Willa demanded, the harsh Earp version of her back again. “That stuff is poison.”

Nicole stared at her, not sure what surprised her more, but glanced at Waverly and then back to Willa. “I’ve been dressin’ her wound for the past two days,” she noted.

“Yeah,” Willa said, her sarcasm a palpable thing. “And I’ve been re-dressing it.”

Nicole looked to Waverly for confirmation, and pressed her lips together when Waverly looked away, regret flickering over her face. What the hell did Willa put her through?

“Coconut oil,” Willa explained, as she crouched down next to Waverly and started applying it with a touch that wasn’t rough, but wasn’t gentle enough for Nicole’s preference. “We used it on everything at the commune.” Switching focus as fast as a breeze, she turned cool eyes on Nicole. “You know you don’t have to be here every time. I know what I’m doing.”

Nicole stared at her, stunned. “Okay—” she started, looking for an argument.

“Uh,” Waverly said, interrupting, “Hey, why don’t you...” She flicked her head toward the barn. “Pop out, and... I’ll talk to you later?”

Nicole frowned, reading Waverly's intent across her face. “Yeah, sure,” she muttered, tossing down the gauze she’d been holding. “I’ll just... pop out.”

She headed for the door, but the two Earp sisters said nothing until she’d closed the door and lingered on the porch, her head tilted slightly toward a window.

“I was rude again, wasn’t I,” Willa muttered.

“No, it’s fine,” Waverly said, but even from here Nicole could hear the strain it put on her to lie.

“On top of everything else,” Willa mused, “I have to learn how to be around regular people again.”

There was a moment’s pause, an awkward moment stretching out like a cat.

“Until then,” Waverly said, “You’ve got me.”

Nicole sighed and headed for the barn. Her girlfriend was, sometimes, entirely too kind for her own good.

For maybe ten minutes she paced in the barn, growling softly for the comfort of hearing her own voice, and muttering wordless frustrations against the eldest Earp, until she heard footsteps crunching in the snow, and then the barn door creaking open. She leaned against the wall, silent, hoping she looked normal, just in case it wasn’t Waverly who’d come looking.

Waverly looked at her, eye contact standing as the acknowledgement of everything that was hanging between them, but said nothing. She crossed the barn, sat on the end of the bed Henry had, until recently, been using, and sighed, hugging her arms around herself.

For a moment, neither of them spoke.

“I’m exhausted,” Waverly whispered, with the dusty church-air weight of confession.

“Hey,” Nicole murmured, and moved to sit a little to her side, her hip pressed to Waverly’s. She kissed Waverly’s jaw, looking at her, watching the tired tilt of her head, the crease of strain at the corners of her eye and her mouth. “I know, baby.”

Waverly turned toward her then, a little, as Nicole brushed strands of Waverly’s hair away from her neck, kissing behind her ear, then at her temple as Waverly turned the rest of the way, eyes still closed but seeking her out, like a blind dog following the call of its master. Their noses touched first, and only then Waverly lifted her hands, framing Nicole’s face between her palms.

The brush of her fingers was like sunlight through blinds, warm and soft, and was simultaneously ephemeral and delightfully tangible. Her kisses, delicate and a little quick, sent heat racing through Nicole’s whole body, like napping in a sunbeam, her lips so familiar it was like coming home after a long trip. Nicole couldn’t speak to exactly what Waverly felt, but she thought she might understand, as Waverly’s hands trailed down across Nicole’s chest, her fingers snagging on the knit of her sweater.

Nicole curled her arm around Waverly, holding her close, trying not to let her hand rest over the bandages under Waverly’s shirt. She was so small, and now, though Waverly was still an Earp, still whiskey and flint and gunpowder, now she felt terribly fragile in Nicole’s arms. A few inches and a few seconds difference and Waverly wouldn’t be here at all and that—that singular thought—was so unacceptable it was almost paralyzing.

Waverly’s hand slid up under the hem of her sweater and her breath caught in between kisses. Warm fingers slid across her belly, tentative touches over smooth skin, and Nicole pulled back only far enough to pull the sweater over her head before leaning back in.

“Yeah?” she breathed, plucking once at the hem of Waverly’s shirt.

At Waverly’s small, quick nod she pulled the shirt up and over Waverly’s head, setting it aside as she leaned back in. For a moment, she thought, Waverly wasn’t sure where to put her arms—hesitating for fractions of seconds before she let her arms drape over Nicole’s shoulders, one of her hands tangling for a moment in Nicole’s hair.

There was something decidedly youthful about it, something about it that belonged to teenagers learning each other for the first time. A heat, a desperation for each other that Nicole hadn’t felt in so long it didn’t bear wondering long enough about it to count the days. One of Waverly’s hands skimmed down Nicole’s back, brushing over the lace of her bra and down, just alongside her spine, to curl into the waistband of her pants while their lips met in an ever more urgent string of kisses.

Footsteps outside. Snow crunching under soft fur boots. The creak of the barn door.

“Shit,” Nicole whispered, pulling back, and she felt worse when she saw the evolution of hurt to confusion to understanding flicker across Waverly’s face in that clipped, slow, too-few-frames-per-second way of early film.

Waverly spun around, her eyes finding Willa, and Nicole heard her hoarse whisper.

“Oh God...”

“S–” Willa said, hesitating backward a half-step. “Sorry.” Nicole watched her, wary. “Wow,” Willa added, though her gaze never left Waverly’s face. “Wynonna never said anything about you being a... a gay.”

She had tried. She really had. She’d tried to be patient, to be kind, to not cause trouble. But at Willa’s words, Nicole glanced to Waverly, who looked down, straightening her shirt out a little as a prelude to putting it back on.

She felt it, more so than she heard it or even allowed it—the beginnings of a rumbling growl deep in her chest. Who was this woman, who dared to speak this way, to make Waverly feel so small, to doubt herself like that? She’d known all too many people like Willa, and it was the last thing she wanted for Waverly, for whom this was still so new, so fragile, so surreal.

Waverly’s hand found her wrist and tightened, once. Not gently, not soothing, but a sharp, hard grip. A warning. She’d heard it too.

“Oh geez,” Willa added, her tone lofty, somehow, maybe at the edge of disapproval. But not, Nicole noticed, in regard to her. She hadn’t heard anything. “You haven’t told her.”

An almost sound in her throat. Another sharp squeeze.

“I have to go,” Nicole bit out, struggling to keep her voice level, to keep from snarling at Willa, to keep from flashing fangs in open dominance.

The thought that revealing herself to Willa, now, like this, might result in a Colt .45 bullet ripping through her chest, seemed very distant. Irrelevant. What mattered was this, now, here, this audacity, this insult that she’d been given, as soon as Willa started talking down to Waverly. She couldn't sit by while someone talked this way to her girlfriend.

Which... was all the more reason she needed to leave. Now.

Waverly glanced at her, relieved, and didn’t speak as Nicole got up and headed for the barn door, pulling her sweater up to her elbows to put it back on. “Call me later?”

At Waverly’s tiny nod Nicole looked to Willa again, biting down every animal instinct—even ones she hadn’t known she’d had—as she swept past and shoved her way outside. For a moment, just a moment, she hesitated, standing in the snow, and listened.

Willa’s voice was level, casual, dangerous for how normal it sounded. “Wynonna’d probably be pretty pissed if she found out you didn’t tell her something like this, wouldn't she?”

No. No, she couldn’t do this. She couldn’t listen, not without getting even more angry. Nicole forced herself forward, throwing herself into her cruiser and slamming the door shut, and only when it was closed did she allow herself to snarl, to bare her teeth. Her jaw rippled as it started to change in response, in support, more of her teeth sharpening, and the pain was sobering. She bit it down, forcing it back, and a moment later, she watched Waverly leave the barn, stomping back to the Homestead and throwing herself inside, phone in hand.

what the hell

In any other circumstance, Nicole might’ve laughed. Oh my god

oh my god Waverly’s text came immediately, and Nicole watched the barn door for a moment, half-expecting Willa to come back through.

OH my GOD, she sent back, because that was better than sending “I really wanted to rip off your sister’s face right then so it’s probably a good thing you stopped me.”

OH MY GOD

Okay, now this was getting silly.

Well that was strange

Even through text she could imagine Waverly’s frustrated sigh. She’s going to tell Wynonna

Is that...bad?

She didn’t mean it to be a leading question, but Waverly’s reply came after a moment’s pause, as if after some real thought.

I don’t...know?

That was a good sign, she thought, but didn’t press the issue. I didn’t think it was possible for another of your sisters to be more socially awkward, yet here we are

NOT HELPING OFFICER SMARTASS

Nicole grinned at her phone, glancing up when she heard Willa’s boots crunching on the snow. She didn’t look around, and Nicole didn’t think she’d noticed the cruiser was still there. She headed off the property, out beyond the house.

That’s Officer Haughtass to you

Oh my god. So not ready for jokes

Nicole waited until Willa had been walking for a couple minutes before starting her car.

See you tonight?

Of course

Chapter Text

Looking at her now, it was hard to believe that at university Nicole had partied like a champion. Formal or informal, it didn’t matter. Hosted by the school? By a fraternity? By some kids living just off-campus where they could start an honest-to-god garage band? Any event, she could blend like a chameleon and make herself at home. She was, after all, a bright, warm person, and it didn’t take that much effort to get other people to see it too. She’d been able to flit between social circles with ease, making friends in every group until she could sit at the center of her complex web of contacts like a spider. She’d loved the music, the dancing, the games, the drinks. All of it.

Now, though, everything was different. Now it wouldn’t be hard to mistake her for a very agitated wall decoration.

She’d once been caught in an elevator with a psych student high on too many painkillers and exam stress. The poor kid had stood there for five floors, insisting, vibrantly, that the term agoraphobia was constantly incorrectly defined. That it was not a fear of open spaces, rather the fear of having a panic attack in an open space. She’d been drunk at the time, but it had certainly made an impression.

She wasn’t agoraphobic, as a rule, but replace “panic attack” with “fit of wolfish berserker rage that would make Bruce Banner a little nervous” and that was definitely the gist of her current problem.

The Wainwright was beautiful, as ever. Wood floors and paneling, elegant furnishings, well-dressed guests, the whole nine yards. But there were too many people. She was too much in the middle of it. It wasn’t even that it was so loud the voices blurred into each other, either. That happened occasionally, and that she could deal with. After a certain level, noise was just noise. But with the Solstice drawing nearer she was on guard, tense, and the overload of trying to track fifty different conversations all at once made her head ache and made her grind her teeth together.

And that didn’t even acknowledge the smells. The cleaning agents that had been used to scrub every surface this morning. The food two rooms away. The musty, close scent of heavy curtains that had been upkept but not replaced since maybe the late 80s. Some kind of cheap air freshener that made her skin itch. All beneath a hundred or more different iterations of cologne and perfume.

It made her head spin. She’d been hugging a wall and holding a flute of champagne for probably half an hour now, pretending to make conversation with anyone who spoke to her. Every time she raised her glass the scent of peaches and fizzing alcohol made her stomach turn, and she never seemed to manage to actually take a sip.

She’d stopped looking up when she heard footsteps on the stairs, but there was a shift in the rhythm this time that caught her attention. A step, then two, then a pause. A soft murmur of other guests on the stairs, then another step, and another.

Nicole looked up and her eyes snapped to the woman descending the stairs. Waverly. She took in details in a haphazard scattering of data: seafoam cloth and beading that looked too intricate to be real; hair drawn up tight and leaving bare shoulders that all but invited a soft, roaming kiss; ruffles that immediately reminded Nicole of crashing waves.

And for just a moment, the rest of the world fell away. She stopped listening, stopped noticing every puff of air from every corner of the room. She ducked her head, aware she was grinning like a fool, but even then she couldn’t keep her eyes off Waverly for long, and she looked up as Waverly crossed the small entry hall to stand in front of her.

That beautiful creature is mine, she thought.

“You,” she said instead, and for a moment words didn’t come. What words were good enough to express what she thought? “Are a vision.”

“Oh please,” Waverly murmured, looking around, scanning the crowd, but her eyes crinkled on a smile. “I didn’t even have time to accessorize.”

“Ah,” Nicole said, and winked while no one was paying them any mind, “See, I knew I wore this bracelet for a reason.” It was a small thing, a delicate loop of gold. Waverly smiled as Nicole closed it around her wrist, and she tried not to think of it as anything more than a loan. Gifts, and the bonds they bore, were the realm of faerie, not werewolves. It wasn’t a wedding ring, it was just a bracelet. No more, no less.

So why did it feel like something important, like a step?

“Thanks,” Waverly murmured, as the clasp clicked shut, then looked Nicole up and down, her gaze warm and appreciative. “Hey, if we get out of here, we are getting dressed up way more often.”

Anxiety ratcheted around Nicole’s heart like a pinball. Did Waverly know something was up too?

“What do– what d’you mean if we get out of here?” Nicole asked, grinning and hoping she looked casual.

“Um,” Waverly said, and her eyes scanned Nicole’s, as if looking for reassurance, or trust, maybe. “Just... stay by the exits, okay?”

To say Nicole did not like what she saw in Waverly’s face would be a vast understatement of fact.

Nicole heard someone new on the steps and glanced up. She exhaled slowly, to steady her nerves. “Willa.”

The eldest Earp waved Waverly over, mouthing a request to her, and Nicole frowned when Waverly started to turn away, flashing Nicole one last small smile. But there was a tension there, she noticed—and Waverly’s expression was troubled, a little stiff. She was hiding something. Maybe several somethings. Nicole watched her as she started up the stairs, fear and nerves chasing each other like fox and hound around her guts.

Before she could work up the nerve to follow her and to hell with what Willa might think, she smelled cheap cologne, rented tux, and way too much peach-tinged champagne.

Champ Hardy. Of course.

“I saw all that, y’know,” he mused, and leaned his elbow against the wall next to her, trying to loom over her. Not that it was very effective, seeing as he could barely stand up straight.

“Not now, Champ,” she said, and later she would pat herself on the back for not growling in his face. He stank of champagne and insecurity.

“So you two are like, together now, eh? That’s disgusting. Disgusting.”

“What’s it matter to you, Champ?”

He drank from his flute of champagne, gulping down a little less than half of it.

“What’s it matter?” he slurred, and she flicked her gaze up to the second floor, where Waverly was lingering with her sister. If she could keep him busy here, he wouldn’t try to go upstairs. The last person she wanted to spend an evening talking to was Hardy, but at least if he made a scene with her, it was just with her. She didn’t want Waverly to have to deal with this. “It matters because Waverly’s not like you.”

Nicole didn’t quite manage to bite down a low scoff and he took that as invitation to continue.

“She’s not,” he insisted, leaning more into her space. She let him, to let him think he had the upper hand. “S’just new and fun, y’know? Experimentin’ and all. She’ll wise up.”

“Right,” Nicole muttered, “Because you know the inner workings of her mind so well.”

“Yeah I do,” he said, gesturing in her face with his half-full flute of champagne. The scent of peaches was stronger now, clinging to his mouth and his glass alike. If she didn’t smell a peach for another year, it’d be too soon. “You know how long we were together?”

“No,” she mused, “But I suspect you’re gonna tell me.”

“Three years,” he said. “Three years, and it ends like this? Listen, I fucked up sometimes but that wasn’t as bad s’all that.”

From what she’d heard around town about just how many times Champ had been in the doghouse, and in particular how many times other women had been seen leaving his apartment, she wasn’t sure she believed that. But she made a faint noise of acknowledgement, just to keep him vaguely on-task, and started looking for a way out.

He followed her through three rooms, whining like a child and generally being so exasperating that she wanted desperately to just fling him out a window into the snow and let him sober up out there. Except that would probably qualify as assault, or at least endangerment. Damn.

Champ even followed her as she headed for another set of stairs, setting down his emptied champagne flute as he went. It gave her a moment in which to take a deep breath, and remind herself that this was only one night, that she would never have to listen to this shit again, and that ultimately, she still came out on top. She had what he wanted, and while she was, in general, not an overly petty person, she took some comfort in that.

“You know,” he continued, as if beginning a new point that was somehow not exactly the same as the one he’d been on for ten minutes, “As soon as we break up, you swoop in and steal my girl?”

“Okay,” she said, rounding on him. She didn’t look directly at him—it would just rile her up more—but she stopped at the foot of the stairs and, barely, kept her voice to a human-level sneer rather than a snarl. “Lower your voice. Waverly doesn’t belong to anyone.”

“Oh blah blah blah,” he muttered, taking her flute from her hand, drinking from it as she gaped at him. “Feminism, blah.”

She was so frustrated she didn’t even notice Waverly on the stairs until she spoke, pausing on the first landing of the stairs.

“Champ!” she snapped, in that tone of disapproval that sounded more like an exhausted mother than an ex-girlfriend, and which, in Nicole’s opinion, spoke volumes of the various dysfunctions of their relationship. “You’re drunk. And apparently a raging homophobe.”

“Oh!” Champ groused, and Nicole settled against the railing, curling one hand around it to keep from cuffing him and knocking him down the stairs, no matter how much she might want to. Nedley was a few steps above Waverly, and regardless of how much the washed up rodeo clown might deserve it, she really shouldn’t hit a civilian in front of her boss. “You think this is ‘cuz she’s a girl?”

“Okay,” Nedley said, his voice level as he stopped a step above Waverly, with Chrissy standing beyond him. More witnesses. Perfect. “Champ. I think you’ve had enough.”

“Oh of course you’re gonna take her side,” Champ said, and Nicole wondered idly if she’d ever seen a man act more like a child than in this moment.

Waverly, she noticed, was standing very still, and very tense. Nicole knew that, if necessary, she could get between Champ and Waverly if he was actually stupid enough as to lunge, but she knew her own capabilities a lot better than Waverly did, and for the moment Waverly looked like she was expecting this to escalate, as if she was doing the math, trying to find where the line was between Champ being rude but harmless, and being actually violent.

“You know, every time I failed that preliminary law enforcement exam?” Champ added, turning to face Nicole, directing this delightful little anecdote at her, as the new kid on the block, “She would say ‘It’s okay Champ, you’ve got nothin’ to prove.’ But apparently that was a lie.” He swallowed, and Nicole realized too late what he was about to say as his hand swept out to indicate Nicole. “She’s datin’ a cop.”

A chill like icewater shot through her, trickling down her spine. She looked to Nedley, and knew, with no mirror required, that fear was plain on her face, then to Waverly, who looked a little like she might be sick. She watched the old man’s gaze flick from Champ to Waverly and then to her, doing the math.

Randy Nedley was no slacker.

“Well,” Nedley said, his voice softening slightly in a way that was entirely for her and Waverly’s benefit, and not for Champ’s. Champ scoffed and drained the champagne Nicole had been holding all night. “I guess that would be their own private business.”

The sensation of warmth, of support, of upheld trust, was so overwhelming Nicole couldn’t even find the outer edges of it. She pushed it to the back of her mind, trying to focus.

“Come on son,” Nedley continued. “Let’s get you out of here.”

“No!” Champ said, the sound half protest and half pain. Nicole looked at him again, almost gagging on the smell of peaches and blood and that acrid, sharp smell of chemicals. His hand gripped tighter and tighter around the flute until it shattered, sending bits of glass everywhere, and foam was building up at the corners of his mouth like an honest to god rabid beast. The animal of her cringed back, furious and terrified, and she hesitated a second too long.

“Champ,” Waverly asked, eyeing him, “Are you... on something other than bubbly?”

Champ lurched up two steps toward her while Nicole was wrestling with the wolf and as Waverly leapt back, alarmed, Nedley moved to intercept him.

“Ho!” Nedley snapped, warning him back with both hands. “Ho, ho, ho.”

Champ whirled around again, drunken and blind with something that smelled like rage and fear and panic and something else, something sick and wrong.

Somewhere else in the room people were shouting in alarm at his outburst. Though she wanted to, there was no time to change, to bite, to claw. And she had witnesses. So Nicole did the only thing she could think to do.

She decked him, smashing her fist into his face so hard he staggered back and hit the stairs, collapsing in a heap. Nedley held his shoulders so he couldn’t get up and she fished a set of handcuffs out of her clutch while Champ choked on foam and spit and despair. The sound of the cuffs ratcheting shut didn’t fix this mess, and she wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but it did make her feel a little better.

When she looked up she barely registered Nedley or his mask of professional calm. Instead she looked to Waverly, who was inhaling slowly and watching with... well, the only words that came to mind were undisguised desire. In any other circumstance, that might have seemed at odds with the situation.

Well. Duly noted, getting all gallant and aggressive was not something Waverly found distasteful. Maybe the complete opposite, in fact.

“What are we gonna do with him?” Nicole muttered, as Waverly and Chrissy headed upstairs out of the way.

Nedley sighed. “Bathroom upstairs. Work out the details after.”

She rolled her eyes, but nodded, and with a little grunting and cursing they each looped an arm under Champ’s shoulders. In theory, they were guiding him up the stairs, but he was so clumsy and uncoordinated they were more carrying him than anything else, his shoes striking the wood with the clumsy, clopping gait of a newborn foal.

They’d barely gotten him all the way up to the second floor when she heard someone shout further off in the room, and she spotted Henry, angrily gesturing at Wynonna with an empty flute of champagne.

“I’m too late goddammit,” he said, and gestured around them. “We got to stop all these people from drinking the champagne now.”

“Sir,” she started to say, to make sure Nedley was paying attention, but Del Rey stepped up behind them on the stairs, grinning like a jackal.

“Good evening! Is everyone having a good time? Well I hope so,” he said, wandering amongst the crowd with a leisurely little spin. He oozed smugness and confidence and she wanted to slap him down just for the principle of the thing. “Because I’m only gonna say this once. Maybe twice. I haven’t decided yet.”

Nedley was watching him, skittish and tense, and Nicole realized she could smell blood. She tightened her grip on Champ’s arm and glanced at him, noting the smear of red around his nose.

“I,” Del Rey continued, and Nicole wondered who had hated him enough to trick him into thinking fur coats were a good idea, “Have some good news, and I have some bad news.” Champ staggered and she gripped his elbow. Del Rey scanned the room, then sauntered through a gap in the crowd to stand beside Willa, reaching up to run two gloved fingers over her face. And against all reason, Willa didn’t pull away. Not because she was frozen with fear or even bloodlust, no—god, she leaned toward him, just an inch or two, drifting closer in that way that lovers do, aware of each other, moving around each other’s body with the practiced grace of those who’ve learned every inch of each other with touch and tongue.

“The good news,” he murmured, as his fingers cupped Willa’s chin, “Is there’s an antidote.” He snapped his teeth shut with an audible click that made Nicole’s hair stand on end.

Nicole knew, in that moment, with a clarity born of blood and fear, the difference between them. She was a wolf borrowing a human vessel, a case study in contradictions and willpower and restraint. But Del Rey... Del Rey was all beast. A hyena, wearing a suit of human skin, solely to fool those who looked at him into letting him lurk closer to the campfire.

The urge to abandon Champ and move forward, to grab Waverly and pull her away from the demon prowling through the crowd, was so strong she caught herself leaning forward. She only stopped when Champ groaned and ducked his head, blood still running from his nose.

“To what, you ask,” Del Rey added, moving among the gathered crowd again. He paused in front of a woman who was bouncing on the balls of her feet like a rabbit preparing to bolt.

“Hi,” he growled, and she tensed, clutching at the champagne flute in her hands until it exploded, shattered glass scattering across the floor.

“Oh hell,” she muttered to Nedley, as she started to see the breadth of Del Rey’s plan. Nedley glanced to her and she leaned over Champ’s head to whisper in his ear. “That’s what’s wrong with Champ.”

Nedley grunted as Del Rey scooped up an unopened bottle of champagne, flipping it once in the air.

“Well, you see, that’s the bad news. All this delicious bubbly that you’ve been drinking, like drunken pigs, has been poisoned.”

A murmur went through the crowd and Nicole grimaced as the stench of human panic started to rise up, overtaking the fog of cologne and perfume as the dominant scent in the room.

“You will all slowly go batshit crazy,” Del Rey continued, and stepped up beside Wynonna. She flinched as he pointed past her to where Nicole and Nedley stood. “Exhibit A: Champ Hardy.” He crossed the room toward them as Champ doubled over, retching and coughing up foaming spit and stomach acid onto the floor. Nicole and Nedley tried to keep him vaguely on his feet, but it was a struggle.

“How ya feelin’, Champ?” Del Rey asked, crouching down to be on eye level and grabbing Hardy by the hair to lift his head. His nose was still bloodied and Nicole could smell where the skin around his wrists had started to tear as he struggled against the cuffs. “Not good!” Del Rey crowed, and shoved Champ’s face away.

He was so close. She forced herself to keep a hold of Champ and not to just grab Bobo’s stupid coat by the ruff of its fur and shred his skin from his bones with her teeth and her claws. As bad ideas went, that would’ve been pretty high up there.

Del Rey turned to the crowd again, looking around the gathered townsfolk like they were sheep and he the hungry wolf.

“One lucky contestant will receive the antidote,” he continued, and Nicole struggled to keep a hold on Champ as he doubled over again, his whole body convulsing. “All they have to do is bring me one person, dead or alive, and that one person is...” He spun in a lazy circle, pointing into the crowd, until he stopped, like some horrible game of spin the bottle, with one finger directly at his target.

“Ms. Wynonna Earp.”

Nicole stiffened, shifting her weight to move, but there were so many civilians in the way, and the other guests were already starting to close ranks around their target, blocking her from running forward through the crowd.

“Have fun,” Del Rey purred, and slipped out of the closing circle before he could get stuck on the other side.

Nicole saw Doc and Dolls move to take up positions around Wynonna. Dolls had drawn a pistol. She growled faintly, the sound lost in the din of maddened voices and pained groans. Somewhere within that circle was Waverly, Wynonna, Doc, and Dolls, and she was on the outside, stuck with the sheriff and a foaming-at-the-mouth Champ Hardy.

“Well this is a right mess,” Nedley muttered, and pulled a phone out of his pocket.

“No kidding,” Nicole growled, trying to see over shoulders to pick out her friends’ faces among the crowd.

Yeah sure, “if we get out of here,” Nicole thought, scanning the crowd as Nedley called the station. To hell with dressing up, if we get out of this we have got to talk about sharing notes.

Chapter Text

When Pompeii burned it was a marvel of destruction. A city that had stood for some six hundred years, and in an evening, every citizen was incinerated. By some accounts it took only months for the entire city to be buried in ash. A marvel of human engineering, a vacation spot that had drawn hundreds of Roman citizens, and in a season, it was gone, not to be seen again for more than a thousand years.

That’s the funny thing about societies. They take ages to build, and mere moments to tear apart.

The Wainwright fell the way all societies fall. In seconds, into chaos.

The room was crowded with people, many of whom were now starting to foam at the mouth like Champ as the poison really took hold. Somewhere on the first floor a woman screamed, the sound answered by a man’s panicked bellow of rage, then more screams. The throngs of people on the second floor were more sedate, perhaps calmed slightly by the fact that their target—Wynonna, who had never looked so vulnerable as she did now standing in her bright red dress, unarmed and unarmored—was, in theory, within arm’s reach.

The clamor of a few dozen voices made it hard to pick out any one in particular, but Nicole partially saw Wynonna push Waverly away and then huddle a little more in between her two guardians. That was more sobering than anything else: if Wynonna was willing to hide behind Henry and Dolls, she was more afraid than Nicole had ever seen her.

Nicole was scanning the crowd, looking for escape routes for her friends when Waverly slid out of the press of people, Willa in tow.

Waverly slid to a stop in front of her, all business. “Uh, Nicole, come with us.”

Nicole was vaguely aware of Willa a few feet away, but she focused her attention on Waverly—Waverly who was not combat-trained, who was just a consultant, who was not ever meant to be a curse-breaking Earp heir and had no preparation for this. Who was standing in the middle of a crowd of poisoned townsfolk, some of whom, Nicole noted, had started scratching at their faces as if to pull the poison out of their blood, leaving angry red lines over any part of them they could reach. Waverly was small and still wounded under her clothing and not at all dressed for fending off a mob, but she was fierce and strong and Nicole had never known she could be impressed, full of admiration, and maybe a little aroused, all at the same time.

“Champ’s right, Waves,” she murmured, and there was something amusing at how fucked the night had become, because if she didn’t laugh she’d scream. Was it even 1 in the morning? “You’re dating a cop now, and we go where the danger is.”

Waverly inhaled, sharp and a little manic. “God that’s sexy,” she muttered, almost as if she hadn’t meant to say it aloud, and Nicole grinned.

“Look, Nedley’s calling backup,” she said, leaning a little closer, eye to eye, so that Waverly would keep focused on her. She could smell the mix of determination and panic in her and the latter wouldn’t help anyone, Waverly especially. “We’re gonna contain this, okay?”

“Okay.”

She didn’t smell peaches on Waverly but a passing thought brought on a wave of anxiety. “You didn’t drink the champagne, did you?”

“No,” Waverly said. “You?”

“No.”

“Okay,” Waverly said again, and her eyes flicked down, the only warning Nicole got before Waverly curled a hand around the back of Nicole’s neck and kissed her, hard, full of a desperation and leashed fear that made Nicole ache to put her at ease. There were people around, but with all of them addled by poison and champagne, did it even matter? What were the odds any of them would notice, or even remember it if they did? She grabbed Waverly’s arm, squeezing gently, trying to say I’m here with just that one gesture.

“Okay,” Nicole whispered, pulling back. “Go.”

Waverly nodded and turned, eyes scanning the crowd. “Shit. Willa?” She gathered up her skirt and headed for the stairs. “Willa!”

The screaming was getting louder and Nicole snarled, the sound low but loud enough to get a few people to slip aside, giving her room to shove through. Nedley slid in behind her, taking up a position near the table Wynonna was using to guard her back. Nicole stepped back toward Wynonna and the almost bizarrely elegant ice sculpture of an elk wobbled for a second when her hip hit the table. Right in the middle of the circle of rabid citizens.

It was exactly where she’d been trying to go, but now that she was here, she realized just how much this was not where her wolf wanted to be. She fought its pull to bolt, to put nose to ground and tail between her legs and flee because to the animal part of her foam and blood and wide-eyed madness was a death sentence. It was contagion and fear and despair in the form of a rhabdovirus and every bit of that side wanted to be very literally anywhere but within biting range, even though the human part of her knew it was poison, not illness.

“It can’t be true,” she snapped, and the wolf’s panic had started infecting her voice, scrambling her thoughts. She knew the answer, but she asked it anyway, backing up till her shoulders hit Dolls, holding both arms out to hold off as many of the guests as she could. “How could he have poisoned the whole town?”

“The champagne!” Wynonna called back, without quite turning around, her eyes scanning the crowd just as much as Nicole’s were.

A man’s voice, one Nicole almost thought she recognized, called out “We need her!”

One of the guests wandered past Dolls and started slamming her head repeatedly into a column, and at the sight Nicole lost her grip on the nearest guests. A few of them surged forward, pushing her into Dolls again before she could regain her balance and shove them back.

“Now– now everybody just stay calm!” Dolls shouted, brandishing his pistol so it was visible, but still pointed at the floor.

A woman—god, it was Moira, wasn’t it, though she looked so different now with her eyes a little wild and her lip pulled back so all her teeth showed when she grimaced—was pointing at Henry. No, wait—slightly over his shoulder, at Wynonna.

“We give this Bobo fella exactly what he wants,” she insisted, looming closer.

Someone across from Wynonna lurched toward her, hands outstretched like claws. “What he wants is our resident bitch!”

“Not now, Alan!” Wynonna snapped, slamming her knee into his gut and tossing him aside like he were nothing more than a mild annoyance. “You left,” she snapped at Henry.

“Why, I came back,” he reminded her.

“Why? You miss me?” Wynonna asked, and if Nicole hadn’t been so busy holding back townsfolk she might have growled at them to stop flirting and do something.

“I never miss,” he said, and in a quickdraw that was so fast even Nicole barely tracked it he pulled a pistol and fired low. The roar of the revolver was deafening in the close space and Nicole yelped half a second before someone, Henry’s target, shouted in pain and hit the ground. How the hell did he move that fast?

“Doc!” Wynonna snapped. “You can’t shoot them! I hate them and they hate me, but they’re still humans.”

Three thoughts crossed Nicole’s mind simultaneously. First, she would never doubt Wynonna’s capacity for compassion ever again. Second, damn, but you really wouldn’t hear that kind of sentence anywhere but Purgatory.

Third: if she got out of this, she was going to lay ground rules. No more brushes with rabies. She was starting to lose ground with the wolf, a low, frustrated whine clicking in her chest whenever someone lurched a little closer or drooled out foam onto her bare arms.

“Hey, listen,” Dolls said, looking over his shoulder at Wynonna even as he kept his gun pointed toward the crowd. “We gotta get you out of here.”

“I hope my sisters made it out okay,” Wynonna said, though she let the two of them move her, the group of them stepping away from the table in a haphazard stumbling scramble. Nicole kept pace with them, holding her line. She looked over her shoulder, squinting through the crowd until she caught sight of Henry’s target: a window that led out toward the side of the hotel.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find them,” Dolls told her.

“No, I’ll find them, you find something that will turn the townspeople from rabid, drugged-up assholes back into regular assholes!”

Nicole almost laughed, high and a little frantic, and shifted her position a little more until she had a low table at her left. She set her heels against the floor, arms spread wide to hold off five or six people, giving Henry enough space to yank open the window.

Moira was jockeying against the crowd around her, throwing out a hand like some horrible half-crazed warlord. “Get her!”

Nicole only barely caught Henry’s voice behind her as he looked away from the crowd. “I’m sorry about this,” he said.

“For what?” Wynonna asked.

“Me too,” Dolls said, and a quick glance over her shoulder told her they’d grabbed her by the waist and knees.

Wynonna yelped out a confused little “What?” as they levered her out across the windowsill, and Nicole heard Wynonna’s scream as she flew out the window and hit a snowbank with a soft distant whump of impact.

For a moment, Nicole thought very, very hard about following suit.

“Antidote?” Henry asked Dolls.

“Weapons,” Dolls said, agreeing.

“Angry townspeople,” Henry noted, and went for his revolvers again. “I like where this is headed.”

Nicole glanced over her shoulder, catching Dolls’ eye.

“One,” he said, and she nodded, turning back to the crowd. “Two.” There were at least fifteen people between her and the stairs, but she snarled in their faces. A few of them growled back, too drugged or too stupid to recognize that it was like a cub threatening a lion, and she bared her fangs, her growl grinding in her throat.

“Three. Go!”

Nicole shoved forward step by clawing step, letting the sound of her threats drop into her chest so they became a full, if muted roar. That got some more attention, and a few people actually peeled away from her like falcons pulling out of a dive, muttering to themselves and skittering backward out of her path. She pushed the advantage, shoving more people out of her way and trusting Dolls and Henry to follow her. She heard Nedley’s labored breathing somewhere behind her and the hammers on Henry’s revolvers ratcheting back as she hit the stairs and kept pushing, driving guests out of her path like a battering ram so that her friends could follow her.

She didn’t stop until they’d hit the front door and lurched out into the snow and ice. Nicole leaned a hand on the railing, sucking in clean air that was so cold it almost hurt to breathe. Henry and Dolls stumbled out behind her, then Nedley. Henry clapped a hand on her shoulder, eyeing her, and she waved him off, straightening. Now that they were outside, away from the stench of peach-tinged poison and human despair and induced psychosis, the wolf eased back, the pressure of its terror fading to mere unease.

Dolls caught Henry’s eye and they moved toward the street as Nedley caught up beside Nicole.

“All right,” he said, the words a low but very human sort of growl, all gravel and gravity. “Haught, I’ve got cars on the way but it’s not gonna be enough. Did you drink any of the champagne.”

“No.”

“Good.” He looked back at the front doors, now closed—there were so many people trying to get out that no one could manage to work in concert enough to actually get the door back open, but that wouldn’t hold them forever. He looked at her, his eyes red-rimmed but utterly without fear. “Get to the shop, get into uniform, and get your ass back here. Dolls is gonna need us and if they can get an antidote, better everyone’s in one place.”

She nodded, moved to go, and then hesitated as an all-too familiar scent of fruit slapped her in the face. She snapped her gaze back to him, eyes widening slightly.

“Sir...”

“Didn’t have much,” he said. “Just one glass. Move quick, Haught. I need every able-bodied officer we’ve got.”

She nodded and waited until he’d turned back to the hotel to yank off her shoes, letting her feet shift, just a little, until she had nails and pads enough to weather the snow. A few townsfolk were wandering, having clearly escaped the lower floor of the Wainwright while her group was getting Wynonna out the window, but they didn’t pay her any attention. She ran, flying over the ice-slicked streets as nimbly as a hound, only slipping once as she rounded the corner and hastily shoved her shoes back on as three squad cars roared out of the parking lot, sirens blaring. Once they were past she shifted her ears a little under her hair—the last thing she needed was someone getting the jump on her.

She threw herself into the station and followed voices—she recognized the low rumbling tones of Henry and Dolls, and caught just a bit of conversation when she paused in the entryway.

“—a drugged up mob is not our only problem,” Henry noted. “Where are the revenants?”

She resolved to have a conversation with Dolls after this about his alleged confidentiality clauses. Did everyone secretly know the truth about this crazy town? Or was it just Earp’s friends?

“Oh I doubt they’re having tea at the trailer park,” Dolls noted.

“You never know,” Henry mused. “We all have our vices. I think it is time we talked about yours.”

“It’s not what you think. It’s just medicine.”

“Now see, that one I have heard before,” Henry mused. “I am a doctor.”

“Look, I’ve taken it since I was a kid,” Dolls said, sounding drained and mechanical, like it was a rote answer. “It helps keep me alive. And some parts of me dead.”

She headed into BBD’s rooms without even pausing at the open doorway and hit Dolls’ personal office. If she’d walked a little faster, let her shoes click a little louder, to help give Dolls an out from a conversation he clearly didn’t want to be in, well. Let it not be said she didn’t look out for her friends.

“Have you seen what’s going on out there?” she asked, leaning against the doorframe. “The whole town’s gone 5150.” Dolls gave her an absolutely exhausted look and when he turned, nervous, she caught sight of his open gun safe. “Whatever you’ve got planned,” she added, stepping into the room, “I’m game.”

“Hey,” Dolls protested. “This is classified.”

It was a bit weak, considering she’d already worked with him once as it was. Though maybe it was more for Henry’s benefit than for hers.

Henry, for his part, glanced to Dolls and rolled his eyes so hard she thought he might strain something.

“Purgatory’s overrun by demon revenants, a.k.a. Wyatt Earp’s resurrected outlaws,” he explained, and she opened her mouth to let him know that she already knew that part, but he was still going, “Bobo Del Rey is their leader, I am Doc Holliday—yes, that Doc Holliday—and Dolls here, he is just a dick.”

She blinked, startled, as all the missing pieces fell into place, answering questions she had only just begun putting together enough to ask. Why the Earps called him Doc when he was clearly not a practicing physician, why he talked like he’d fallen out of a Clint Eastwood movie, why he hadn’t had a driver’s license or known that he was actually supposed to pay the fine on the citation she’d given him, and how the hell he was so fast with a six-shooter that she couldn’t track his draw.

“Finally,” she said, shaking her head. “Thank you. It– actually it makes perfect sense.” Dolls shot her a wounded look. “Except for the last part,” she added, and cleared her throat.

He pressed his lips together, maybe stifling a laugh.

Doc tossed her a shotgun and she eyed the length of it, impressed.

“You still in?” he asked.

She worked the action, the sound almost deafening in her shifted ears, and grinned at him. “Like Flynn.” She turned to Dolls. This was probably not what Nedley had in mind when she said Dolls would need PSD’s help, but it was too late for that. “What do you need?”

“Okay,” he said, and straightened, perhaps accepting that these were weird enough times he needed to just go with it. “Find the Earp girls. See if Nedley’s still vertical.” He looked to Henry and tapped his shoulder before locking the cartridge into his gun. “We’ve got an antidote to steal, people.” He tucked the gun into his bag and looked up, buttoning his jacket. “And Agent Haught?”

She looked up, noting the change in title and standing a little straighter, tightening her grip on the shotgun.

“Welcome to the Black Badge Division.”

 

When Nicole found Nedley again he was, indeed, still vertical, but he was looking a bit worse for wear. She told him what she’d learned and he muttered to himself as he weighed options, as if his head was too crowded for more thoughts.

“Fine,” he said. “I think we’ve got the hotel pretty well locked down, at least for now, but if one of them finds Wynonna, it’s over. Go and git.”

She didn’t hesitate, jogging back to her cruiser and stashing the shotgun on the passenger seat, just in case.

The roads were icy and slick but she prowled through town, scanning every street corner and alleyway for signs of any of the three Earps, and starting to regret the decision to put on her vest. It chafed, it was heavy, and it wouldn’t bear up well to a shift if she needed one. But the last thing she needed was for someone, especially someone on the force, to notice that she’d taken bullets on the job without wearing it.

Worse than that would be if someone noticed she’d taken bullets without a vest on and walked away from it.

So she sat in her cruiser with the vest under her uniform, crawling down main roads and side roads with the patience of a consummate hunter.

Hours passed as she canvassed the town and doubled back to do another loop. She’d seen no sign of Waverly, Wynonna, or even Willa, who as far as she knew had been missing since Waverly first lost sight of her.

For that matter, she hadn’t seen Waverly since they parted ways at the hotel. Doubt crawled up her throat to sit and choke her and she struggled to keep her breath steady. Waverly was fine. Waverly had to be fine. Anything less was unacceptable.

Dawn was creeping over the horizon when she turned back for another loop and noticed Wynonna’s borrowed blue truck sitting outside the station, and she jerked the cruiser to the curb, flinging herself out into the road. She grabbed her phone and headed inside, scanning each closed door as she headed up the back hallway.

“What I am’s the goddamn Earp Heir,” she heard Willa saying, a few doors away, and the unmistakable sound of a gun leaving a holster made her hesitate, listening. “And I’m running out of goddamn time. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

“Nobody’s getting hurt on my watch,” Wynonna said.

“Nobody else, you mean,” Willa said, and even from down the hall Nicole could hear the sneer in her voice. “Daddy? Me? Everyone else out there? When are you gonna take responsibility for all that you’ve done!”

Willa’s shout made Nicole tense, and she shifted forward a step, trying to gauge by sound alone if it was safe to round the corner, safe to announce her presence. If she walked in too soon, Willa might startle, and there was no way Willa didn’t have her finger on the trigger. If she fired...

“Why did Bobo save you at the Homestead?” Wynonna asked, cautious, slow. There was anger there—though really when wasn’t there, with Wynonna—but it was deep, like she wasn’t sure yet if it was the right emotion to go with. Nicole grabbed her phone and dialed. “Why did you save him?”

Waverly’s phone rang and there was a lull in the conversation. Nicole rounded the corner, grinning and feigning innocence. “Hey!” she called, pocketing the phone. “Knew I recognized that ringtone.”

Willa’s revolver was heavy, big, maybe a .33 but probably a .45. As soon as she entered Willa snapped over to point it at Nicole’s chest.

“Whoa,” she said, continuing the charade. “Okay, okay.” She raised her hands, gun belt hanging from her palm. Waverly’s face twisted with fear, and Wynonna was still staring at Willa, waiting for answers.

“Give me Peacemaker,” Willa said, her voice low and cool and Nicole had never imagined she’d someday be held at gunpoint by a woman in a red peacoat and a fluffy knit scarf, but this was Purgatory and really, what else was new. “Or I punch a bunch of holes in Waverly’s girlfriend.”

Oh, hell.

Wynonna glanced to Waverly. “Girlfriend?”

“Uh, kind of,” Waverly muttered.

“Kind of?” Nicole asked, trying to pull focus back to her, looking at Waverly and willing her to read her thoughts in her face. Better me than either of you.

“I know you won’t shoot,” Wynonna said, and something in Nicole’s heart broke for her, because even from thirty feet away she could smell the rage and the hate coming off Willa in sickening waves. She would, she absolutely would, and Wynonna didn’t see it. Maybe couldn’t see it.

“What do I care about some ginger butch cop?” Willa said, with something like a smirk on her face, and Nicole bit down a low growl.

“Wynonna,” Waverly said, stiff with terror, “She’ll do it.”

“Waverly...” Nicole said, wishing that lycanthropy could have come with something actually super useful for once, like telepathy. It’s okay if she shoots me, she thought, as loud as she could, watching Waverly. It can’t hurt me, it’s okay, let her do it, just don’t give her what she wants.

“If I don’t have it in three...” Willa murmured.

“No, please,” Waverly said, begging, her voice cracking.

“It’s the only thing that’ll stop Bobo,” Wynonna said, glancing toward Waverly.

“Two...”

“Wynonna,” Waverly said, and Nicole almost spoke, almost gave away her play, just to keep Waverly from sounding so broken.

“I can’t.”

“Please,” she whispered, and Nicole wondered if they were both so past the point of reason they forgot she was more than able to hear them, with her ears. Waverly’s gaze flicked to Nicole and back to Wynonna, words coming out as little more than a breath. “I love her.”

Nicole froze. It shouldn’t have been like this. It shouldn’t have been something she overheard, it shouldn’t have been something confessed like a terrible secret, shouldn’t have been something said because she was begging for a life.

Wynonna went very still, and Waverly looked as though she wanted to keep begging but had no idea what else to say. Waverly wasn’t much of a gambler, throwing away her best cards on the opening hand.

The hammer of Willa’s revolver pulled back in a horrible click-click-thunk.

“One.” The word was almost a purr, lethal and utterly merciless, and Nicole looked at her again, steeling herself.

This was gonna hurt.

“Okay,” Wynonna snapped, and Waverly’s shoulders slumped in relief. “Okay.”

Willa extended a hand for the purse containing Peacemaker and Nicole exhaled, frustrated, watching as Wynonna offered out the bag. Willa snatched it away, and finally dropped her arm.

“So naïve,” Willa breathed, chastising somehow, like she was disappointed that her sisters weren't as callous with human life as she was. “So emotional.”

“This isn’t over,” Wynonna said. “I’m coming for you.”

“Then I better slow you down,” Willa said, and before Nicole could quite prepare herself for it, the eldest Earp raised her revolver, sighted, and fired, the bark of the gun deafening in such a small, empty space.

Waverly screamed as the round hit Nicole dead center in the chest. The concussive force—even dispersed by the vest—drove her back, her back hitting the wall and her head striking the doorframe. She felt ribs crack, first at the impact of the round and then again, when her already damaged body hit the wall, and she collapsed forward, her head spinning and her vision blurring, dizzy and confusing. Fever heat slammed through her body, maybe some after-effect of the wolf scrambling to heal the damage, but bones had always been harder than tissue and it burned, her whole chest ached horrendously and she felt like she was on fire. She let her forehead hit the ground, though even that minor thump tallied on top of the budding concussion and made her whole head throb. The tiles were blessedly cool against her face and for a moment she just lay there.

She heard Willa’s boots on the floor, coming closer, then passing her.

“Now you know what it feels like when people take your things,” Willa snapped as she slipped out into the hall, though the words were a little wobbly as they filtered into Nicole’s aching head and so... so older-sister-being-petty she felt like she couldn’t have possibly heard it right. Waverly collapsed to the floor next to her, fingers gently running over her hair.

“Come here,” Waverly whispered. She grabbed Nicole’s shoulders and started turning her over and Nicole let out a mewling cry of pain, struggling for breath—her ribs hadn’t sealed back together yet and the pressure of turning onto her side sent waves of agony flaring through her whole body.

“I’m– I’m w—”

“I know. I know,” Waverly whispered, and Nicole tried to take a full breath, tried to say no, you don’t know, it’s gonna be fine, but the words wouldn’t string together in the correct order.

“No blood,” Wynonna said, somewhere above and behind her as Wynonna moved slowly closer. “There’s no blood,” she insisted, though Waverly was only barely listening, and knelt at Nicole’s other shoulder. Wynonna grabbed her head and her arm to haul Nicole up onto her thigh, and Nicole’s cry of pain came out as an inaudible croaking noise as one of her ribs sealed together with a snap that she felt more than heard.

“Shh,” Waverly was whispering, both hands on Nicole’s face, and Nicole wanted to tell them both to get back from her, to let her breathe for a second, because she still ached and her head was spinning and her chest felt too tight where the vest kept her and the wolf contained in a prison of plates and ballistic weave.

“If my sister joined the dark side and if you’ve been a revenant this whole time, I’m just gonna call in sick tomorrow,” Wynonna growled, and now Nicole was sure they’d lost any sense of what was happening, because they both knew better, but neither of them was thinking clearly.

Waverly still sounded on the verge of tears. “She—”

“No, I’m—” Wynonna took hold of her uniform shirt and yanked, and there was a sound of ripping fabric and buttons scattering across the floor. Both Earps stared, and she adjusted her next words. “Wearing a bulletproof vest,” she noted, as if that had not become abundantly obvious. Waverly let out a short, wordless little cry of relief. “It’s kind of standard operating procedure when we’ve got a 404 on our hands,” Nicole continued, because one did not comfort an Earp without making bad jokes. She was pretty sure it was in their blood. Or maybe the fine print of their curse. She plucked the squashed round off the vest and tossed it aside, then looked up at Wynonna, who was staring, mouth hanging open. As if the confusion was about the police code, and not the near brush with death, she explained, “Buncha crazy hicks off their rockers?”

Waverly laughed, the sound broken and so relieved it made Nicole want to hold her—though she didn’t try, her whole torso still burned while her ribs creaked and healed—and Wynonna sighed.

“Finally picked the smart one,” she murmured, and Nicole glanced up at her, pretty sure that was the nicest compliment she’d ever gotten from Wynonna. And without any jokes about obstacle courses involved, which was probably a record.

Waverly ran her hand over Nicole’s hair, looking very much like she was still somewhere between sobbing and laughing. “I’m gonna get you to the hospital, okay?”

“No, no,” Nicole breathed, shaking her head. “I’m just a little bit bruised.” That was a lie, but there just wasn’t time to sit here and remind them that she could take lead rounds all day and be fine. Waverly’s hand slid under her head to support her. “You gotta go with Wynonna and stop your sister. Sorry, but...” she muttered, glancing to Wynonna as her face twisted, something like grief sitting just behind her eyes. “She’s kindof a dickhead.”

“Wish Doc and Dolls were here,” Wynonna murmured.

Another rib sealed whole again and she struggled not to growl through it. “They went to raid Shorty’s,” she said, panting. “Somethin’ ‘bout an antidote?”

“See?” Waverly said, looking to her sister and then back down. “Super smart.”

Wynonna smiled, nodding, and Waverly leaned down, holding Nicole’s head in both hands to kiss her. Her mouth was cool, and a little salty from tears. Even with the pain in her chest Nicole found herself pushing closer.

“Yeah, alright,” Wynonna muttered, scrambling to her feet. “You guys do that.”

Nicole grabbed for Waverly’s arm, squeezing the way she had at the Wainwright as Waverly looked up, tracking her sister before looking down again.

“I’m okay,” Nicole whispered, and Waverly’s coat struck them both where Wynonna dropped it on them.

“Time’s up, let’s go!”

Nicole let out a breathless little laugh and Waverly leaned closer again.

“Okay,” Nicole murmured, “Go.” Waverly kissed her again, hard, like it was a promise to come back, and then pulled away, grabbing her coat as she jogged to catch up to her sister.

Once they were gone Nicole let herself drop back to the floor and groan, twisting and wriggling out of the vest until she could roll over and brace herself on hands and knees. She growled in frustration and pain as her chest and back rippled, half-changing as the wolf snapped her ribs back into place with a crackling noise like a kids’ cereal gone horribly awry.

Nicole just knelt there for a second once it was over, panting, the pain finally fading to the background. Her head still throbbed but that would pass. When she got to her feet she swayed only once, which was gonna have to be good enough. Somewhere in the near distance she heard semi-automatic gunfire. Dolls must’ve brought his big guns out to play.

Nicole went to the sheriff’s office first, following a lingering scent of blood, and found Chrissy sprawled in the corner, unconscious but arranged like someone had been trying to make her comfortable. She lifted the young woman and set her on the sheriff’s couch instead, then frowned, taking stock of the station. Her shirt buttons were a lost cause, so she zipped up her jacket for decency’s sake, grabbed her gun belt, and headed outside again to her car. She’d need to find Nedley, figure out what was going on at the hotel, and then figure out where she was most needed.

She saw Shae barely a second before the wind brought the scent of fur and blood and hunger to her nose. Her wife was leaning against the hood of the cruiser, dressed in only a loose robe that looked insane in the cold weather and a small leather bag hanging down between her breasts. Her eyes slowly turned gold, glowing like the heart of the sun in the bright dawn light, and her voice was a low, absolutely lethal drawl.

“Hello, lover.”

Chapter Text

Shae smiled, twirling a finger in the cord hanging down her chest. “You know sweetheart, I think I’m disappointed. I thought you were a better cop than this. This place is an absolute madhouse.”

Distantly she could hear the sounds of the townsfolk, maybe even Nedley’s voice, but they were moving further away, not coming closer. Nicole growled, the sound low and resonant, chopping in her chest like helicopter blades. She narrowed her eyes at Shae and let her vision tint gold.

“Why are you here, Shae.”

“I told you,” she murmured. “I’m just looking out for you. It’s the Solstice, you know. Incredible things can happen when the Triangle’s walls are weak. Wouldn’t want you to get caught in the crossfire.”

“The seals are intact,” Nicole called to her, sneering. “You can’t free him.”

“No,” she agreed, and let a finger trail down her chest, the robe slipping along her shoulder. Despite the snow and the cold she seemed comfortable that way, even with so much dark skin exposed to winter air. “But that comes in time. For now, the eldest Earp fulfills her part in all this.”

Nicole snarled. “What does Willa have to do with this?”

Shae laughed, the sound bright and mocking. “Oh sweetheart, tell me you didn’t get close to them. You always did have terrible taste in friends.”

“You would know.”

Shae’s smile was all wolf—sharp fangs and glinting white.

“Come now, I didn’t lie to you.”

“Maybe,” Nicole said, and she couldn’t keep her words to anything less than a low, ripping growl. “But you certainly left out some key details.”

“What,” Shae murmured, “That I was involved with that little cult your parents are in?” Nicole growled, but Shae ignored her. “Or did you mean how your parents asked me to track where you’d run off to? That it was their idea for me to get close to you, to win you over, to get married in some little Vegas chapel?”

For hundreds of years adults have taught a little rhyme to their children. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. They arm their offspring with it like swords, let those little voices sing it, chant it at top volume, and in the shouting of it they build, brick by brick, the walls that will ward off the agony of words shaped into catapult stones. They strap on layers of armor to turn aside the poisoned blades that will bring down hearts and souls.

But adults lie.

Even the strongest armor cannot protect against the sharpest blades, and words hurt, will always hurt, when they’re the right ones, when they’re wielded by a master. It had been only a year since Nicole let Mikael help her, since she ran from Shae in the middle of the night, but even now, even after all that time, it cut into her like a blade, terrible and icy cold.

Nicole choked on her own breath. “What?”

Shae laughed at the look on her face. “Come on, you didn’t think it was a little too convenient? Your first trip away from home, out of the country, and you just happened to meet someone who was so incredibly into you? Who suggested getting married to piss off your parents just a week after meeting you? I worked hard not to let on but I figured you’d get wise eventually. You were always too sharp for your own good, Nicole. Or you were, when your heart wasn’t involved. Then you were just entirely too blind.”

“Shut up,” Nicole said, though it was barely audible, even to her.

“Well, if that isn’t what you meant, I guess those key details you’re talking about was something else. Maybe how every time you said you weren’t on good terms with your family, I already knew, because I know your father better than you ever will?”

“Shut up,” she said again, a little louder.

“Oh it was so hard not to laugh,” she murmured, standing up away from the car and strolling forward a few steps, sauntering along the edge of the sidewalk. “Every time you talked about them it was like this horrible burning secret—you’d only talk about them when you’d been drinking, did you think I wouldn’t notice that? Even if I hadn’t already known the truth, it was pretty obvious. You only talked about them when you were too far gone to censor yourself.”

“Shut up!” Nicole snarled, her whole body trembling as changes swept through her. Her nails turned sharper, longer, her teeth went jagged in her mouth, her nose flattening a little as a precursor to a muzzle.

“Temper, temper.” Shae smiled and Nicole bared her fangs in warning, eyes flashing brighter gold. Shae’s hand strayed to the belt of her robe, sliding across the knot of it. “Come now, you don’t really think you could take me in a fight, do you? You’ve never fought another werewolf, sweetheart, and if you lose now, no one will be here to protect your little town from the big bad demon cult. No one will be here to protect your cute little girlfriend. She’s darling by the way. So very unlike her sisters.”

Nicole snarled, so loud it echoed off walls, flexing her hands into fists.

“I’ll take that bet.”

They were roughly of a height and even as wolves they were more or less evenly matched for mass. Shae was older, more experienced, but Nicole had the advantage of youth and home turf advantage.

Or she should have. Shae was just so damn fast.

Shae changed in the span of a breath. It seemed like one second she was herself, her robe falling open, and the next she was halfway between, a foot taller and contorting, growing, and in the third, a thousand pounds of muscle and jet black fur and fangs slammed into Nicole with the force of a speeding car. Nicole had barely started to move forward when Shae struck her and she flew back into the station wall, brick crunching under her back. She felt her healed ribs creaking, threatening to re-break, but as soon as she hit her feet she was shifting again, letting the wolf shore up the damaged parts of her even as her chest expanded, the zipper of her coat groaning as she grew to fill it.

Her face shifted, more subtly than Shae’s, to account for a larger bite, but before she could so much as pounce Shae hit her again, slamming a fist into Nicole’s gut and sending her tumbling down the sidewalk another fifteen feet. She wheezed, crawling upright again, and gingerly touched a hand—halfway to a paw—to her chest. The pain was lingering, tallying one on the other in a way that it shouldn’t have.

She thought of all the scratches that didn’t heal for hours during the full moon and cursed under her breath as Shae moved to charge her again.

This time she dodged, rolling into the street to let Shae sail by her, but she slid on the ice and heard claws scratching deep gouges into concrete, recovering way too fast. When Nicole got to her feet Shae hit her from behind, one of the wolf’s huge shoulders hitting her square in the back. She flew across the street, nearly clipping a bench with her shoes, and slammed her head into a shopfront window.

She was halfway up to her feet again when Shae’s voice carried across the road, guttural and loud where Shae had down-shifted to get back a human larynx.

“Give it up, sweetheart. You can’t win. You have no idea what you’re doing.”

Nicole panted, set her hands on her legs to brace her weight, and felt her car keys in her pocket. A brief flash of fantasy—hitting Shae with the cruiser like it was a ram—went through her mind, but she doubted that would do much more to stop Shae than it would a charging bull.

Then again... she had more than just a car at her disposal.

She leaned upright again, staggering across the street, down-shifting until she was entirely human.

“You’re right, Shae,” she called out, and coughed. Her vision was still swimming and the cold air bit at her chest where the jacket fell open. When she looked down she could see her skin was already swollen and reddening toward purple. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Shae watched her, gold eyes narrowed.

Nicole crossed the street and kept the car between her and Shae, groaning as she leaned a hand on the hood of the car for effect. Well. Mostly for effect. Her whole body throbbed with her new injuries, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to pretend.

“I don’t like that you’re here, but, you’re right, I can’t count on beating you in a fair fight. You’re faster, you’re bigger, you’ve been doing this a lot longer. You were bitten what, when you were in high school?”

Shae growled, but didn’t answer, and Nicole stopped by the passenger door. “Listen, I’m just– let’s just talk. If you’re so keen to keep me from interfering in what the Earp is doing. Just. Fine. We’ll talk. Just lemme get some painkillers.”

Shae’s growl faded off, and she took a step back. Permission, of a sort.

Nicole opened the door and leaned over the console, setting a hand on the shotgun Dolls had given her.

Shae snarled, maybe sensing the trick, and lunged as Nicole spun and pulled the trigger right as Shae’s claws curled into her hair, tangling and yanking. Without being properly braced against her shoulder the shotgun kicked, hard, but Shae roared in pain, rearing back as she got a belly full of buckshot. It wouldn’t do much more than slow her down, but then, that’s all Nicole really needed.

Nicole let her hand change again and swung, raking her claws across Shae’s face, and the werewolf howled, retreating around the corner of the station and into an alley. She heard claws on stone, then nothing, and she picked up the shotgun, working the action to chamber a new round. She panted, trying to catch her breath, trying to hear past the ringing in her ears from the shotgun blast, trying to keep her eyes on every direction at once.

God, she ached. Her whole body was a mass of pain and bruising and throbbing where bones had started to fracture. The scrapes and scratches from sliding across ice were healing well enough, but the wolf was struggling to recover all the blunt strikes of Shae’s fists and body.

She leaned back against the door of her cruiser and slowly slid down to sit in the snow. Keeping the car at her back should at least narrow the angle of approach Shae could use. It wasn’t much, but anything was an improvement at this point.

But now that she’d stopped moving, stopped fighting, there was room for her thoughts to creep in, crawling into her heart like shadows.

Shae hadn’t even wanted her, not once. It had been a trick from the very start. All this time she’d at least taken some comfort in the knowledge that it had been what it was—even when she learned that Shae was involved with her family, Nicole had assumed it was some star-crossed thing, messy, unplanned, but at least genuine.

As if mocking her, a thought skittered around in the back of her mind, Mikael’s words relayed through Waverly’s mouth.

Her lie runs deeper than even you know.

“Hey!”

She lifted her head as Wynonna and Doc jogged down the sidewalk. Wynonna detoured, crouching down in front of her.

“Haught? Holy shit.” She pulled at the front of Nicole's jacket, taking in the bruises. “What happened to you?”

Nicole blearily opened her eyes, alarmed that she had let them close. God, how much time had passed since she’d sat down? She was still clutching the shotgun across her chest like a lifeline, but she couldn’t say for sure how long she’d been sitting here in the snow. Her ass was numb with the cold though, which probably wasn’t a good sign.

“Wynonna?”

“Yeah. Willa only shot you once, what’s wrong with you? I’ve seen you take armor-piercing shit before, don’t wuss out on me now.”

“Oh now you remember,” she grumbled.

“Shut up, Haught, I was.” She huffed, bobbing her head. “Distracted. Listen,” she said, and patted Nicole’s cheek to make sure she was awake and paying attention, then frowned, brushing bits of frost off Nicole’s skin where tears had started to freeze. “Balto, listen. You better hunker down. Dolls called in the cavalry.”

Fear pricked down Nicole’s spine and she looked at Wynonna. “He did?”

“Yeah. Needed their help with the antidote. You better keep your nose down.”

Henry—no, Doc—looked at Nicole over Wynonna’s shoulder, frowned, then glanced around. “Wynonna we had best be hurryin’.”

“I know,” she snapped, then looked at Nicole again. “You got me, Haught? Make yourself scarce. You don’t wanna be downtown when they stomp through here in their jackboots.”

“Okay,” she said, and accepted Wynonna’s hand to get back up to her feet. “Okay.”

“Good. And don’t think we’re not gonna talk about my sister.”

God, she’d already forgotten about that. Nicole winced. “Yeah. I know.”

Wynonna went back into the station, and Doc followed after tipping the brim of his hat to Nicole. Thank god he hadn’t asked any questions. Yet, at least. She’d work out what to tell Doc later. Apparently he was far more wrapped up in all this BBD shit than she’d thought, so maybe he’d need to know.

Shit. Right. Black Badge was coming, and in force.

She turned back to the car, stashing the shotgun, but hesitated with her hand on the door. She looked around once, then tilted her head back, howling a mournful two-note call. It wasn’t something she’d had to use before, thankfully, but it was one of the few things Shae had taught her before they’d... split up.

A code, of sorts, among supernaturals in general and lycanthropes in particular. A warning: mortal hunters are coming. Get out.

After a moment, she heard the long one-note reply that meant Shae had heard, and would listen. Nicole looked up, following the sound, and saw Shae watching her from the roof of the police station. Her robe flicked out in the breeze, and from this distance her expression was impossible to read.

Then she slipped away, and Nicole was alone in the street again. She pushed her dark thoughts aside and circled to the other side of the cruiser. She’d have time for that later. Or preferably never.

She drove home, and didn’t quite stop looking over her shoulder until she was inside with the door locked.

 

Nicole had been home for maybe an hour, standing under the scalding spray of her shower to wash off the lingering feeling of Shae’s words. She felt slimy, and she shook with nerves. Sorrow she could deal with, if slowly, but once that was pushed back a little more, fear crept in to take its place. How had Shae known about Waverly?

A ripple of power skittered across the earth like a minor quake and she braced her hands on the walls of her shower to keep herself standing. The wolf scratched and dug at her with all the strength of sunset on a full moon’s night, not in panic but in hunger, powerful and desperate and aching for blood. She gasped at the onslaught, curling her nails against the tiles until she thought she might scratch them. Water was pouring down her face but she barely registered it even as it burned her skin pink. Seconds dragged on like minutes, minutes like hours as the wolf fought her for control, fur growing across her arms and shoulders and spine, then fading away every time she wrestled the beast back down.

A minute had passed, maybe two, when that ripple came again, louder, harder, like a door slamming shut after creaking open, and the wolf subsided, whining at its defeat but docile again.

“What the hell,” she muttered, spluttering as she got a mouthful of water for her trouble. She knew, though she wasn’t sure how, that Willa was involved. Was this what all this had been about? What Shae wanted? What Willa had needed Peacemaker for?

The walls are at their most weak on the Solstice, she thought, thinking of Mikael’s warning. Damn. He’d been right.

She just hoped nothing had slipped through while the gate was open.

 

Around noon, Waverly texted.

Cavalry’s still in town. Wynonna shot willa and stopped some weird tentacle monster from crossing the border. I pulled strings with nedley. Lay low for now

Mikael called, though he was no less cryptic.

“The gate opened,” he said, as soon as she picked up.

“Hello to you too,” she muttered. “Yeah, I think so. Briefly.”

“Be careful, hjärtat. Hard to say what might’ve gotten in.”

She was quiet a moment, and he let her think.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

The noise he made wasn’t dismissive, but maybe a little sad. “Whatever for?”

“I didn’t stop it. Jesus, I mean Shae batted me around like I was an unruly puppy.”

“I never expected you to stop it, hjärtat, to stop her. So much is in motion. One wolf, no matter how strong, could never have stopped it.”

“Then why even send me here, Mikael?” The use of his full name made him inhale, swallowing whatever he was about to say. “Why bother?”

“This game is not yet over, Nicole.” She could hear his smile in his voice. God, she missed that stupid vampire. “Not yet over, and not yet lost. This is just the opening move.”

“Queen pawn to D4,” she muttered.

“Exactly. There is more to be done. They must find the seals, and break them. In the meantime, we prepare. Ready our defenses.”

“But I’m just ‘one wolf.’”

“Wrong,” he murmured. “You are you, Nicole. You are always just you. You have a sharp eye and a strong heart, and you will fight until the day silver pierces your heart. And that is enough. More than enough.”

 

It was almost four when Waverly called her, and Nicole swiped to accept it before she even realized it was a video call.

“Whoa, Waves, hey,” she said, fumbling her phone to pull it up to her face, her ribs twinging as she did. She winced, and Waverly squinted at her screen.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” she said, a little too fast. “Yeah, um, I’m still a little sore, but it’s... it’s just a bruise. I’m fine.” For a moment Waverly said nothing, and she frowned. “Waves, are you okay?”

“Y-yeah,” she said, her eyes skittering to the side. “Of course I am. Wynonna shot that big... ugly thing before it had time to do any real damage to Purgatory, so...” For a moment, just a moment, Nicole found herself wondering if she meant the tentacle monster or her sister. Waverly shook her head. “Anyway, how’s my baby really feeling?” When Nicole mumbled her way through shrugging her off again, Waverly bit her lip. “I got you something that’ll make you feel better.”

Nicole raised an eyebrow and felt a smile curling her lips. “Oh? Well, I like the sound of that.”

“Yeah?”

Nicole chuckled. There was something so normal about it, so completely ordinary, that she couldn’t help but go along with it. Maybe after all this, Waverly needed a little normalcy.

“Come over?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, laughing still. “Yeah, okay. I’ll be right there.”

She took backroads, to keep out of Purgatory proper, though she still found herself watching the roadsides for ambushes, chokepoints, and snipers. She knew it was paranoid, but she did it anyway, and didn’t really start to relax until she was driving onto Earp land.

Waverly poked her head out through the front door when Nicole pulled up in front of the house and stepped outside, and Nicole grinned, calling out, “Now who’s the excited puppy?”

“Oh shut up,” Waverly said, and there was just a little edge to it that made Nicole blink. Waverly grinned, the moment passing as quickly as it had come, and waved her up. “Come on then.”

Nicole stepped inside, noting that Wynonna was upstairs. She heard bootsteps wandering from room to room, and Doc raising his voice just a little every time Wynonna changed venues.

“Here,” Waverly said, waving her into the kitchen and pulling a chair aside. She patted the table, and Nicole rested against it, blowing out a breath as she settled.

Waverly set a small jar behind her and stood in front of Nicole’s knees, taking stock of her and looking her over. She brushed her hands over Nicole’s forehead and down the sides of her face. “It still hurts?” Waverly murmured. “I know you were in the vest but...” She frowned. “It should’ve healed by now, right?”

Nicole let a smile tug at her lips. “Got into a fight with someone else, after you guys cleared out.”

“What?” Waverly’s eyes searched hers, startled, and touched her shoulders with each of her hands, not grabbing, maybe nervous to, but touching, feeling the heat of Nicole’s body through the knit. “God, baby, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said, and hoped Waverly wouldn’t look at her back. “It just... it’s just taking a bit longer than it should.”

Waverly chewed on her lip, then sighed, reaching past her. “Right, well, then I’m glad I picked this up after all.”

“Hm?” Nicole started to turn to look at the jar, then hissed, stopped short, and turned forward again.

Something flickered across Waverly’s eyes—pain, perhaps, something just a little dark—and she uncapped the jar. It didn’t smell chemical, the way she expected, but herbal. There was something bitter in it, and a little sweet, maybe St. John’s Wort and a few others, mixing together into something she hadn’t really encountered before.

“Sweater up,” Waverly murmured, and Nicole obeyed, leaning back on one hand as she pulled the knit up with the other.

Waverly’s eyebrow went up when she noted the lack of anything beneath the sweater, and Nicole flushed a little. “Too tight,” she muttered, as an explanation.

“Mm.” Waverly scooped a little of the salve onto a finger and dabbed it across the one of the darker lingering bruises along Nicole’s chest, making her hiss softly and squirm.

“S’cold,” she grumbled.

“My poor brave baby,” Waverly cooed, somehow both teasing and heartfelt all at once.

“We sure do a lot of patching each other up these days,” Nicole noted, glancing up at her with a wry smile.

“Yeah,” Waverly said, her gaze tracking up from Nicole’s chest to her face. “When there are so many other things that we should be doing.”

For a moment, neither of them moved, though Nicole itched to grab her. There was something hot and a little too alive lingering in the gaps between them, and Waverly was so close and yet somehow so very far away. This morning she’d lost her sister, a sister who had also shot someone she loved—god, she’d said she loved her and Nicole hadn’t even had time to begin unpacking that—and nearly lost friends and neighbors to a mad demon’s scheme. Why wouldn’t she feel distant, cool, like a comet passing overhead?

Besides which, maybe it was just her. Maybe everything seemed a little cold, a little too out of reach, now that she knew Shae had been very literally laughing behind her back for how much of a trusting idiot Nicole had been when they were together. She knew she could trust Waverly, but there was that little nagging voice now, that asked are you sure.

Waverly moved first, grabbing her by the back of the neck and pulling her closer, her lips hot and urgent and not at all comet-like against Nicole’s. All her darker thoughts flickered away like dust in a breeze. Waverly’s hands slid around Nicole’s neck so that there was always one above her collar, and like a cub carried in the mouth of its mother the pressure of Waverly’s hand behind her head settled her, grounded her, just as much, maybe, as the kiss grounded Waverly—reminded her that she was still here, she was still whole.

Waverly’s hand dropped, skimming across her sweater and her hand until warm fingers brushed up her belly and Nicole yelped, breaking away.

“Oh sorry,” Waverly breathed, grimacing.

“Sorry, still tender,” Nicole murmured, and Waverly flashed her a pained, sympathetic smile. Her gaze flicked down, both looking at the bruise she’d touched and, maybe, admiring the exposed skin where Nicole still hadn’t straightened her sweater.

But there was something else Nicole noticed. A faint... almost aftertaste, like a single note of bitterness that was left in her mouth.

“Hey Waves...”

“What?”

“You taste, um.” She frowned, trying to put words to it. “Different.”

Waverly pulled back a little more, blinking, and ran a thumb over her lip. “What?”

Behind them Doc cleared his throat. “I’m just here for the sweet tea,” he explained, and Nicole glanced over her shoulder at him. “I am in the kitchen,” he muttered, resolutely keeping his gaze on the fridge as he opened it, “I am now... in the kitchen.”

Waverly huffed a little laugh and stepped around the table behind Nicole. “When did you become such a prude, huh? Didn’t you own a brothel?”

Nicole pulled at her lip. Had she imagined it? Maybe she was just stressed. She still hurt from the fight with Shae—physically, not to even mention emotionally—and so much had happened today. Plus Dolls was still MIA... maybe she was losing her edge. She probably just needed a good night’s sleep.

Right?

“It was a bordello,” Doc grumbled, though it was a little hard to maintain one’s air of offended dignity when one was holding a whiskey glass and a carafe of tea, “And it is called being a gentleman.”

Nicole chuckled, setting her worries aside for the moment as she got up and turned to look at him. “Well, I appreciate it, Henry. I’m gonna go,” she said, glancing from him to Waverly. “Feed the cat.” And probably take a long, long nap in her bed until this day was well and truly over, but that was a secondary detail. She smiled, watching Waverly’s face as she went. Waverly watched her in turn, fiddling with the jar of salve between her hands, but she was smiling. “I’ll see you later.”

“Okay.”

“Officer Haught,” Doc murmured, reaching for a hat he wasn’t wearing as she headed for the door. As she grabbed her keys, she heard him tell Waverly, “She’s a lovely girl.”

She paused maybe a moment longer than she needed to just outside the front door—long enough to hear Waverly’s response, which she said a little bit loud, as if she knew Nicole was listening and wanted her to hear.

“Yep, which makes me the luckiest.”

She smiled and pushed thoughts of bittersweet kisses aside for further thought later. Waverly was fine. Or at least as fine as she could be in the circumstances.

They’d be fine.

Chapter Text

As soon as Nicole stepped into the station the next morning, the cloying stench of industrial cleaners hit her in the face, so thick in the air it was like walking into a physical wall. She stopped short, sneezing and coughing and trying not to gag. Tears blurred her vision and before she could get them clear enough to see, warm hands touched her shoulder and her elbow, guiding her back outside. Out in clean air she could smell coffee and bourbon and she wiped at her face with one hand.

“Sheriff?”

Nedley chuckled. “Haught.”

She winced, blinking her streaming eyes. “What the heck’s goin’ on in there, sir?”

“Dolls’ people came to pack up all his stuff,” he explained, though he kept his voice so quiet it was almost sub-vocal. She leaned toward him slightly, the way a normal person would have. “Tell you what. Get out on the roads today. Need another set of eyes on the west side of town.”

She blinked again, though this time less to clear off tears and more in confusion. He didn’t... did he?

“Uh.” She nodded. “Sure, of course, I’ll do that.”

He smiled. “Good. Go on. And take your lunch off-site, Haught. They’re supposed to be here all day.” She watched him, wary. “Smell won’t do anyone’s appetites any favors.”

“Right,” she said, a little slow. “Right, yeah. Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t mention it,” he said, nodded, and headed back indoors.

Great. More mysteries. And more BBD people. Exactly what she needed.

A few hours later, she had a text from Waverly. Come by after work? News on Dolls.

 

Today was apparently a day for new smells, because when she walked through the Earps’ front door she smelled a new person in the house. She narrowed her eyes, sniffing the air a little. A woman, for sure, and... there was something inhuman but familiar about her. More and more odd.

“Down girl, she’s friendly,” Wynonna muttered, sifting through folders full of loose paper in an armchair in the house’s small living room.

“Who’s that?” Nicole asked, pocketing her car keys and hanging her coat on the rack by the door.

“Out getting shit from the car,” she said, seemingly not noticing that it was the answer to the wrong question. Wynonna jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the kitchen. “Waves is in there.”

Nicole cleared her throat, a little embarrassed that her priorities were so well known, but headed into the kitchen. Doc, she noted, was by the stove, and made a point of not turning around right away when he heard her enter the room.

“Hey baby,” Waverly murmured, sitting up a little straighter to meet her halfway for a kiss. She tasted mostly like herself again, but there was just a tinge of that weird aftertaste still, and Nicole ran her tongue over her lip afterward, trying to work out what it was.

“Hey.”

“Are you okay?”

Nicole smiled a little. “Yeah. All healed up. Your salve helped.”

Waverly beamed up at her. “Good. I just... wanna know that you’re okay. Really okay.”

She didn’t say you still haven’t told me who you fought that could hurt you so badly and it worries me but she didn’t really have to. Nicole glanced over her shoulder at Doc, then back to Waverly. She nodded, understanding the underlying sentiment of yeah but not now and not here, and curled her fingers into Nicole’s, squeezing gently.

Wynonna cursed and levered herself up from the armchair, stomping over to the table. “All the files from Dolls’ motel room,” she groused, and tossed the folder down on the table. Waverly picked it up and started paging through it. “And nothing on where they might have taken him. The location of Black Badge satellite offices are kept secret, even from one another, so it just makes it way harder to track their movements, activities...”

The front door opened and shut as she was talking and Nicole stiffened a little, the butane and leather smell coming through stronger as the new contact strolled in.

“Paranoid much?” Waverly mused, glancing at Wynonna.

“And with good reason,” Wynonna’s new friend said. “Black Badge is so far off the government grid they’re sub-Atlantis.” She grabbed the remaining chair, turning it to sit down backward in it. Nicole forced herself not to bare her fangs, settling instead for eyeing the blonde woman with extreme skepticism. “If you only knew the stuff they were into.”

“I do not believe we have met,” Doc said, smiling his trademark old-timey-flirt smile. Nicole would give the man his due—for being over a hundred-fifty-some years old, the man had game.

“Yeah, okay,” Wynonna said, rolling her eyes, “This is Eliza, she’s a... friend of Dolls.”

Waverly glanced at her sister. “Dolls has a friend?” Wynonna very unsubtly mouthed the word friend at her and Nicole bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. “Oh,” Waverly said. “A friend.”

“Oh mercy me,” Doc said. “How complicated.”

“Yeah, okay,” Wynonna said again, a little quicker, “So this is my sister Waverly, and her...”

She looked to Nicole, then to Waverly, and Waverly smiled. “Girlfriend.”

“...Nicole Haught,” Wynonna finished, as Nicole glanced down at Waverly, trying not to smile quite so widely as to attract undue attention. God, she’d never get tired of hearing that word from Waverly’s mouth. “And that’s—”

“John Henry,” Doc supplied. “But you can just call me Doc.”

Eliza raised an eyebrow. “As in Doc Holliday?”

“Well now,” Doc said, and winked. “That would be ridiculous.”

Nicole turned toward him while Eliza watched Wynonna. She smirked at him, and he flashed her a quick grin.

“Okay,” Wynonna said, interrupting and walking away from the table, buzzing with nervous energy. “So! How do we spring Dolls. Uh, well, Eliza, Doc and I need to find the latest coordinates from the local BBD safe house.”

Eliza lifted a hand. “I can use my credentials, but here’s the thing. There are no guns allowed on site. Not even their own security uses them. It’s just plastic cattle prods and baseball bats.”

“Old school,” Doc noted, with a hint of satisfaction. “Means we got a fightin’ chance.”

“And they’ll have metal detectors,” Eliza noted, nodding at Wynonna, in particular the hip where she normally wore Peacemaker.

“We’ll adjust,” Wynonna said, exhaling heavily. Nicole frowned, watching her—the elder Earp sounded exhausted, drained, like she were operating at half her usual speed and wearing concrete blocks for shoes, but she came back in toward the table again. “Waverly.”

“Hm?”

“There are still sixty-two revenants trying to kill me.”

“Aw,” Waverly teased, “You did math.”

“I cannot believe I’m saying this, but without Bobo keeping them in line, who knows what they’re up to.”

“Yeah. Bobo,” Waverly said, and there was a tone in her voice that made Nicole frown and glance down at her. A darkness, somehow, an edge, like speaking his name made her sick. Nicole caught Wynonna’s eye across the table as Wynonna’s brow furrowed for a moment—she’d noticed it too.

“Well, Waverly can suss out the trailer park,” Doc suggested, and nodded his head toward Nicole. “She can go with Officer Haught.”

It occurred to her, just for a moment, that Doc was unknowingly giving her an out. All she had to do was agree and she would be in the clear. No one else knew that Dolls had, if unofficially, pulled her into this weird BBD family. If she kept her mouth shut, she could go back to being a regular, normal-looking cop who just happened to be dating a BBD consultant.

But, well, Nicole had never exactly been willing to turn away from something just because it was dangerous. Plus, if she wanted to be able to be any real help to Waverly and the others in whatever was coming, she needed to stay close.

And if Shae was right about anything, it was that she had never had the best judgement where her heart was concerned.

“Agent,” Nicole said, and Eliza looked up.

“Yeah?”

“No, it’s...” She pressed her lips together. “It’s Agent Haught. Dolls deputized me before.” She looked to Wynonna and then to Doc, looking for backup. “He did. Right?”

“Indeed,” Doc murmured, smiling, and she realized it hadn’t been so unknowing after all. He’d been giving her space to choose. That sneaky bastard.

“Just... Just–” Wynonna was seething, Nicole realized, so tense she and the wolf both wanted to back away a little to get out of her blast radius. Wynonna on her best day was a time bomb in a human shell but this was different somehow, new and dark. “Just, find out where the revenants have gone. We need to make sure that they’re... not regrouping, or... or planning something.” She hissed out a breath. “God. Is it hot in here or is it just me,” she said, pulling off her jacket and scarf. All three of them—Doc, Waverly, and Nicole—were watching her, and Waverly shifted in her seat.

“Hey, can I... Can I talk to you? Somewhere private?”

Wynonna looked like she was considering refusing, but pulled a face and shrugged. “Yeah.”

The two Earps went upstairs, and Eliza flicked her gaze from Doc to Nicole, suddenly very attentive and very tense, the smell of butane and blood sharpening to a hostile edge.

“So, Agent Haught,” Eliza said, her voice cool but her gaze smoldering. “Tell me about yourself.”

“Purgatory Sheriff’s deputy,” she said drily. The animal part of her itched to show, not tell, but she eased it back. Mostly. She kept it near at hand this time, in case Eliza decided it was worth getting acquainted up close and personal. “Been in town since late last fall.”

“Mmhm,” Eliza said, and looked her up and down. “And did Dolls know you’re a—”

“An incredible asset to the team? I am sure he did,” Doc said, interrupting with a grin that was just this side of uncomfortable. “Now, ladies, no need to pick a fight—”

“Yes,” Nicole said, ignoring him and keeping her eyes locked on Eliza’s so she’d know exactly which question Nicole was answering. “He did. I take it he knew you’re—”

“All right that is quite enough,” Doc said, interrupting again. He stepped closer and set a hand against Nicole’s chest, the other extended to warn off Eliza, as if he expected the woman to leap from her chair at the slightest provocation. “Listen I know we are all a mite tense today but let us just keep this conversation to a sensible volume to avoid disturbin’ our friends upstairs. And perhaps we should also stick to topics of which we are all actually in the know, shall we?”

Nicole glanced toward him, then back at Eliza, who had the decency to look a little guilty, dropping her gaze and some of her hostility.

“Right, Henry. Sorry.” Nicole leaned back, finding that she actually had to lean pretty far—she wasn’t sure when she’d set her hands on the table, but that did explain some of Doc’s tension. She cleared her throat. “Eliza here is like Dolls.”

Doc’s gaze flicked to her, then to Eliza. His face gave away nothing, but he nodded his head, slow and thoughtful. “I see,” he said, and looked to Nicole. “How, may I ask, did you know about Dolls?”

She pressed her lips together and glanced aside, aware they both were watching her.

“I heard your conversation, on the Solstice,” she explained.

“You have mighty keen ears then,” he mused. “I took you for the most normal of us, Miss Haught, but you continue to surprise me.”

She flashed him her most wolfish smile, short of actually growing fangs, and Eliza gave a derisive little snort.

“Oh don’t worry Henry. I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.”

 

After Wynonna left with Doc and Eliza, Waverly changed a little. She got... smaller, somehow, softer, finally removing the face she’d put on for the others now that she was alone with Nicole. It wasn’t something she heard or even something she saw or smelled. It was just that once the door closed and the truck’s engine turned over and tires crunched on snow, Waverly drifted into her like a wayward balloon, her arms sliding under Nicole’s to curl tight around her waist.

“Hey,” Nicole murmured, dipping her head to kiss the top of Waverly’s. “What’s wrong, baby.”

Waverly sighed, her breath warm against Nicole’s shirt. “Can we just. Sit, for a bit.”

She smiled, combing her fingers through Waverly’s hair. “Sure.”

She settled on the small sofa in the living room, across from Wynonna’s armchair, and Waverly crawled up to lay against her, her head tucked against Nicole’s chest so her ear was pressed over Nicole’s heart. For several minutes they sat in silence, Waverly listening to Nicole’s heartbeat as Nicole gently rubbed a hand over Waverly’s back and shoulders.

“I can’t believe it’s barely been a day,” Waverly said. “Since... since everything.”

“It’s okay to not be okay, you know,” Nicole murmured. “To mourn her. She was family.”

“We don’t have time to,” Waverly said, and that weird edge was back in her voice, but just as quick she eased back off the tension and sighed. “Wynonna said we’ll grieve after we have Dolls back.”

“Mm.”

Waverly slid a hand up to tangle, a little, into Nicole’s braid. She tensed for a second, irrationally expecting her to pull. It didn’t hurt as much now as it had after the fight with Shae, but it was still a little tender. She’d spent most of the night wondering if it was worth it to cut it again. It’d been a while.

“You okay?” Waverly said, glancing up at her.

“Yeah,” Nicole said, and forced herself to calm. “Sorry, I’m fine.”

Waverly was quiet for a moment, then shifted a little, like she couldn’t quite settle. Nicole made a soft rumbling noise deep in her chest, hoping it was at least a little soothing, but Waverly’s pulse was a little too quick, a little too... sharp.

“What’s wrong?”

“What if I don’t?”

Nicole glanced down, brow furrowed, but Waverly’s gaze was still off to the side, somewhere along the wall.

“Don’t what?”

“Mourn her,” Waverly said, though her voice cracked halfway through, the words just above a whisper.

“If you’re saying that because of the whole thing where she shot me, I mean, I’m fine, Waves.”

“No,” Waverly said, then paused. She sighed. “Or rather, it’s not just that. It’s... more that her shooting you is just another example of– of everything about her.”

Nicole frowned. “What do you mean?”

“She...” Waverly hesitated and Nicole said nothing, giving her time. “I wasn’t quite being honest when I said I didn’t remember much of her. It’s just that everything I do remember was bad.”

“Older sisters,” Nicole said, agreeing, but Waverly sat up a little, propping herself up on one hand.

“Don’t,” she said, and her voice cracked again. Nicole frowned, reaching up to touch her face, tucking strands of hair behind her ear. “Please don’t say that. That’s not what I mean.”

“Okay,” Nicole said. “Okay. Then... then tell me what you do mean.”

Waverly bit her lip and looked aside.

“Waves? What is it?”

She sighed and shook her head, shifting back to sit in Nicole’s lap, leaning her arm on the back of the couch. “It’s just... stuff like the beam in the barn. The one she made me walk across when I was four. Or– or the lake, or...”

Nicole frowned. “What lake.”

“It was frozen. Or, it was, but when I ran out onto it to get Mr. Rabbit back from where she’d thrown him...”

She didn’t have to finish that sentence for Nicole to get the gist. If the ice hadn’t been thick enough to support Waverly’s weight, even as a child, and she’d fallen in...

She tried to keep the furious growl down but it came out anyway, crackling and rumbling in her chest until Waverly winced and set a hand where Nicole’s shirt fell open, feeling the vibrations of sound through her fingers. Nicole couldn’t quite put words to it—or at least not words that didn’t sound a bit too sappy, even for her—but that one touch soothed her, enough that she could quiet down and keep watching Waverly’s face.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to upset you with it, I knew you’d be mad,” she said, and let out a fragile, broken little laugh, wiping at her eyes with her free hand. “And I shouldn’t say that about her, I shouldn’t– I shouldn’t talk that way about the dead, right? But I just feel like...”

Nicole sat up a little more, pressing her forehead to Waverly’s so their noses touched. “Like what, Waves.”

“Like maybe what happened at the boundary isn’t that surprising. Not to me, at least. Wynonna wouldn’t talk about it but I could see it in her eyes—Willa tried to hurt her before the creature grabbed her. Tried to kill her, maybe. And I wish I could say I’m surprised but I’m not, because... because maybe she was always a little wrong. A little broken.”

Nicole let out a breath and pressed a little harder to Waverly’s forehead.

“And I can’t... I can’t say that to Wynonna, I can’t, because it would break her heart to think that Willa had always been like this and that she’d never seen, never... never known that Willa could be like that, that she hurt me like that.” The growl redoubled, completely without her intending it, and Waverly’s breath hitched. “And now you’re upset or– or your wolf is, I don’t know, I didn’t want you to know, or- or not like this anyway, and—”

“Hey,” Nicole said, and reached one hand up to cup Waverly’s cheek. She leaned into it, closing her eyes, her cheeks wet with tears. “Hey. Remember what I said, okay? I’m home base. You can always tell me stuff like this, Waves. Always. I can handle it. Me and the wolf part of me too. Okay?”

Waverly nodded and rested her cheek against Nicole’s hand. “Okay.”

“And I’m glad you told me,” she said, kissing the tip of Waverly’s nose and earning a fragile little smile for it. “You don’t have to carry stuff like this alone. Okay?”

“Okay.”

She smiled and nuzzled against Waverly’s nose, and the smile grew, cracking into a soft laugh. “How much longer till we gotta get ready to hit the trailer park?”

“Couple hours,” Waverly said. “Wynonna wanted us to wait till the sun’d gone down. Better odds they’d have hunkered down for the night then.”

Nicole smiled and pressed her lips to Waverly’s for a moment. “Okay. You look wiped. Think you could sleep a little?”

“Maybe,” Waverly said. “If you’re here, maybe.”

“Okay,” Nicole murmured, and kissed her nose again, tugging her down against her as she lay back on the couch. “Then I’ll be right here.”

 

The first thing she noticed in the barn was the stench. Something dead, maybe, and in particular, something that hadn’t been dead very long. It smelled... wrong, maybe non-human? Still, she tabled that for a moment, looking around the barn. It looked the way it had a few days ago, and for a moment, Nicole was struck by the inexorable press of time. Just a handful of days before she’d been sitting here with Waverly when Willa had walked in on them. Who could have guessed, then, that Willa would not only out them, as Waverly had feared, but would do so in a fit of pique, just because she was angry? Just because she had in secret gone absolutely off-the-deep-end evil?

Then again, after everything Waverly had told her that afternoon, maybe it was only astonishing to Nicole. Maybe Waverly had known all along that it was possible, even if she hadn’t wanted to believe it would actually happen.

“All right,” Nicole said, frowning and looking around. “So we’re here for weapons. Where...”

Waverly pushed a barrel into the corner, its metal contents glinting in the lamplight, and nodded toward the far wall. “Check those crates first. Dolls gave them to us.”

Nicole nodded, setting down a duffel bag and crouching to open one of the boxes. “Jesus,” she muttered, levering open the lid and pulling out what looked suspiciously like a tactical shotgun. “Dolls provided you guys with guns I’ve never even heard of,” she said, turning the gun over to inspect the stock. “What is this, Russian?”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, with an oddly casual tone to her voice. “We’re not taking any guns.”

Nicole glanced up and found that she had picked up an axe and was examining the blade with something like reverence, running her hand over the wooden haft like it was ritual. Preparation for combat, maybe?

“Okay,” she said, shrugging, and Waverly nodded.

“Hey,” Nicole said, and stood. “You gonna be okay with this? You and I working side by side for Black Badge?”

“Hmm,” Waverly said, as if she were considering it, “Having to stare at your gorgeous smile and pretty French braid around the conference table...”

“Actually,” she said, though she didn’t think Waverly had entirely heard, “I’ve been thinking about cutting it.”

“...think I’ll manage.”

“I don’t know what we’re gonna find at that trailer park,” Nicole said. It was a bit of a topic shift, but she was getting a little antsy. Something had the wolf on edge, but she wasn’t sure what it was. “All I know is with Bobo gone, those revenants are gonna be desperate.” Her gaze skipped around the barn again and fell on a strange, misshapen form under a thin brown sheet. The stench of death and decay was strongest there, and she leaned closer to it, frowning. “And desperate things make desperate decisions.” She wrinkled her nose, grunting in disapproval.

“We’re not going to the trailer park,” Waverly said, though Nicole was only half-listening to the words, wincing as she examined the purplish stains on the sheet.

“What is this?” she muttered, starting to pull back the sheet. Something demonic and very dead was beneath it, all tooth and red, meaty jaw.

“This, Nicole?” Waverly said, and swung the axe up over her shoulder. For once the wolf reacted even before Nicole herself did—yelping so loudly in her mind that she jerked back from the thing under the sheet and sprawled across the closed crate of Dolls’ weapons—and Waverly brought the axe down with a sickening squelch on the monster’s neck. “Is for the greater good.”

A severed head, about the size of a basketball, rolled free onto the barn floor with its open maw facing upward, its eyeless face slack-jawed in death. Nicole sat for a moment, catching her breath and staring at the thing. Waverly scooped it up and as Nicole got back to her feet, her girlfriend tucked the grisly trophy into a small travel suitcase, leaving the axe aside.

Waverly looked up at her, noticed Nicole’s expression, and hesitated. “What?”

“Okay,” she said, and managed not to growl. Barely. “If you want me to trust you, you’ve gotta tell me the plan. Preferably before I find you holding an axe over my head.”

“Wynonna made me promise not to,” Waverly said, though her expression had turned appropriately remorseful. “She’s my sister, Nicole. I have to protect her now more than ever.”

Nicole nodded, though she didn’t like it, or even quite understand it.

“Hey,” Waverly added, and stepped a little closer, lifting Nicole’s chin with a soft, gloved finger. “Just like I need to protect you.”

By all rights, it should have been comical. This tiny, firecracker of a woman, bundled up in so many layers her coat dwarfed her a little, protecting an honest-to-god werewolf. But there was something endearing about it, something that made Nicole smile, because even for all her talk about being home base for Waverly, it was nice to have the tables turned on her. She’d spent so much time doing everything for herself, believing, just a little, that the tooth-marks on her shoulder meant no one would be willing to get close enough to really help ever again. But here was the living, walking proof that it wasn’t true. That at least one person thought Nicole shouldn’t have to do everything by herself either.

Besides which, none of the Earps knew how to pick fights in their weight class. Waverly included.

“Yeah,” Nicole said, and Waverly ran a hand down her arm to curl her fingers into Nicole’s. “Okay. I just– I just wanna make sure that you’re okay, you know? That deep down you’re still...” She thought of bittersweet kisses and a new, harder edge. “My Waverly.”

“Totally,” Waverly said, and smiled, looking so utterly normal, so utterly herself, that suddenly Nicole felt a little silly for having doubted her at all. “But first... will you help me be somebody else?” she asked, and where she had managed to keep that pair of red cat-eye glasses, Nicole would never guess, but she put them on and flashed a sheepish grin. “We’re sort of Wynonna’s Plan B to get into BBD. If... you’re okay with that.”

Nicole inhaled slowly. “Me, in a BBD blacksite. Are you sure?”

“We thought of that,” Waverly said, and set her hands on Nicole’s. “So... how do you feel about being a getaway driver?”

Chapter Text

Nicole leaned forward in her seat until her nose almost touched her steering wheel, looking up at the ominous industrial plant looming above the cruiser. A palace of death in concrete clothing.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Waverly asked. It wasn’t the first time she’d asked it, and frankly, it hadn’t gotten much easier to answer with each successive iteration.

“Yeah,” Nicole said. “It’s fine.”

“Really? Cuz um. You’re whining.”

Nicole snapped her mouth shut and strangled down the low, nervous noise she was making with a grumble. Waverly’s hand settled gently on her wrist.

“It’s okay if you’re scared, baby.” Nicole sighed and forced herself to look Waverly in the eye. “I am too, and I’m just human. If you wanna leave...”

“No,” Nicole said, and sighed. “No, I don’t. You guys won’t be able to get out with Dolls without a car.” Not that they’d fit well into the cruiser with five passengers, but that was beside the point. They had to work with the cards they had.

“Okay.” Waverly leaned up to kiss her cheek. “See you in the garage then.” She got out of the car, taking a piece of Nicole’s heart with her, and gathered up her suitcase from the backseat. Nicole carefully drove into the garage to find a hiding spot for her car, and engaged the speaker, listening to Waverly’s heels click on the cement floors as she headed into the plant.

She kept the truth to herself. It would only add more stress to Waverly’s already difficult job, and besides, she didn’t fully have it all straight in her head as it was. It was more a confusing mush of emotions. Because no, she didn’t want to be inside a Black Badge blacksite. She didn’t want to be anywhere near this stupid building. But she wanted to be near Waverly, within range to take a bullet or a beating, and that far outweighed her fear of being caught. She was the super-durable one. Waverly was small, and fragile. She was an Earp, yes, and that counted for a lot, but she was still human. She still bled and bruised like a human.

She heard new footsteps as she turned off the engine and doused the lights.

“Liz Wallis Windsor,” Waverly crooned, her voice suddenly brighter, lighter, and lilting a little in... was that supposed to be a Londoner’s accent? “Scotland Yard. Here with the delivery? One ore daemonium? Jolly big mouth-demon?”

Nicole bit down on a finger to keep from laughing.

There was a high-pitched whine of an electronic engaging, then Waverly’s soft “Ah, of course.” She heard shifting fabric, maybe taking off her jacket, and then the hum of the metal detector hovering over her arms, and Nicole held her breath.

“Ah, the shoes, don’t forget the shoes.”

“The thing is,” said a man’s voice, nasal and pinched, like maybe his glasses didn’t quite fit, “Is there is no visit from Scotland Yard scheduled in the log.”

“Listen,” Waverly said, with a tone of exhausted impatience in the face of incompetence that was somehow distinctly English. “I know the location of the Black Badge safe house, I have a stonking great demon head stuffed into a wheelie bag, and I’m due on a plane back to London in three hours.” Her tone was part ice, part exaggerated patience, and there was a faint sound as if maybe he’d just looked in the bag. “It’d be one remarkably elaborate con, right chap?”

There was a faint beeping noise from the metal detector.

“Silver bullets,” she explained, still managing to sound very much like she intended to take up his lack of intelligence with his manager at her first opportunity. “You want to dig them up and see?” There was no reply, and Waverly sighed, satisfied. “Brilliant. Uh, laboratory?”

Nicole wasn’t entirely sure how she managed to say it like there were four syllables in it.

“Left, right, and right again.”

“Marvelous,” Waverly said, and her heels clicked again, along with the low rattling noise of the bag’s wheels. “Toodles!”

Nicole pressed her lips together and struggled not to snicker, bringing her walkie-talkie up to her mouth. “Toodles? Really?”

“It just– it just slipped out!” Waverly whispered, sounding normal again and a bit embarrassed. She kept her voice low, so low that the speaker almost didn’t catch it.

“Waverly,” Nicole teased, “That is the worst British accent I’ve ever heard.”

“I improvised, okay?”

“Look,” Nicole said, and bit her lip, rubbing her hand over her forehead. “Stay safe in there, okay?”

“Keep that getaway car running,” Waverly murmured, with another slide of cloth like she was putting her jacket back on. “Agent Haught.”

Waverly’s voice did things to her, it always did, but tonight the anxiety that something would go wrong, that she was too far away to do anything but listen, was a creeping ivy of dread along her spine.

She listened as Waverly walked down concrete halls inside the plant, then entered the lab—even without sight or smell she could hear the way the echoes changed, hollowing out and growing deeper, bigger as the space around Waverly opened up.

“Hellooooo?” she called, and there was a distant, eerie scuttling sound, perhaps a prisoner of the lab. “Hello? Uh, here to drop off a—whoa...” Nicole listened to her heels clicking, slower, as Waverly explored, and Nicole felt tension rise in her gut like acid. “What is...” A louder snarling noise came then, though not so close as to make Nicole panic. Waverly’s utter lack of concern made her think there must be a barrier between her and whatever was thrashing around and making that high, odd noise. She moved a little more and Nicole heard a faint noise like a child giggling, then a distant, throaty roar.

Waverly gasped and Nicole flinched at the sound.

“Oooh,” Waverly said, rather more nervous now. “Oh. But you guys already have one. A big one.” There was a very, very soft buzzing noise. “Shit,” Waverly whispered, and then Nicole heard the unique shuffling noise of someone digging for a phone.

“Plan B here,” she said, back in her accent, “Good for eliminating all unwanted problems quickly.”

Nicole choked, depressing the button on her radio by accident as she laughed out a strangled, “Oh my god, Waverly!”

“Oh,” Waverly said, more to Nicole than to whoever had called, “Yeah, okay, no. That was inappropriate.”

“Waverly,” Wynonna said, sharp, cutting in, and Nicole was suddenly grateful Waverly had put her phone on the same ear as the receiver so she could hear both sides of the call. “Listen—”

“Yes, I have delivered the package,” Waverly said, with the forced, even calm of someone giving code under duress.

“Why are you giving me the full Middleton,” Wynonna muttered.

“And yes, I’m on my way to the getaway car, far, far away from the danger.”

“Nonono, no,” Wynonna said. “Not that. Yet. Plan B, AKA you, needs to become Plan C.”

There was a momentary pause and Nicole struggled to keep her breathing steady as her nerves doubled up on each other, the wolf chafing under the pressure of her rising panic.

“Tell me what you need.”

“We need all the doors unlocked. All of them.”

“What, why?”

“We’ve been locked in.”

“Ah. Shut down all the garbage-mashers on the detention level, got it.”

“I swear, baby girl, sometimes I think you’re speaking a different language.”

Waverly hung up the phone and pocketed it, paused for a moment, maybe thinking, and then moved forward—click click click—and tapped someone on the shoulder.

“Excuse me?” she asked, back in the accent. “Hi. Yes. Liz Wallis Windsor. Scotland Yard. I’m a bit new here, but I thought a gallant young man like you might be able to show me the ropes?”

“Oh!” This voice, Nicole noted, was younger and had considerably more energy. “Hey. Uh, yeah, sure, I guess. Sorry, didn’t see you come in.”

“Not a problem at all,” she said. “So, tell me about your system here, won’t you?”

Nicole tuned out most of the technical talk, and she imagined Waverly wasn’t retaining much of it either, but as the young man spoke, she started to notice that Waverly was laughing more often and with a forced ease. It didn’t take long to work out the shape of Waverly’s plan, and to say that it made her and her wolf unhappy was a vast understatement. It was one thing to know Waverly was flirting with someone just to get Wynonna out of a bind—it was quite another to have to sit there listening to it.

“So– so in London,” Waverly said, after another loud and just slightly manic laugh, “We uh, we have an R-500?”

“Uh, do you mean the S-550?”

“Right, yes. Um, but I mean... Your system is– it’s just– it’s so...”

At a faint sound of fabric rustling Nicole curled her grip around the radio again and let out a low, grinding growl of disapproval, noticing a little too late that she’d pushed the button again.

“Bollocks!” the lab tech complained.

“Pardon?”

“Yeah, I agree. The schematics suck. Cellular monitoring is so buggy it gives malaria a good name, the C-MOS is ‘mo’ pathetic, and the firewall is less likely to show up to play than Kanye.” Waverly gave a soft, afterthought sort of laugh and Nicole heard him shift, maybe look over at her. “He’s uh, he’s an American rapper.”

She could almost hear Waverly’s bewildered blink. “I’m British, not elderly,” she said.

“Oh wow!” he said, though he didn’t sound like he was paying much attention.

“No, listen, our system gives us trouble when it comes to... opening security doors?”

“You mean like...” She heard keys tapping. “This?”

“Can you open all of them simultaneously?” Waverly asked, feigning professional interest.

“Within the entire facility?” he asked. “Yeah, Option-J-3. Pretty basic stuff mate,” he said, and Nicole decided she owed Waverly an apology—his was the worst British accent she’d ever heard. “Oh not that you’d ever wanna do that,” he noted, just as Waverly grunted with effort, and there was a terrible clang of metal on bone.

The tech shouted in pain, and she heard Waverly’s breath pick up, ragged and tense, and her heels clicked a couple times.

“Ow!” he shouted. “What the hell!” For a second she just heard Waverly’s breath and the tech hissing a faint pained noise, and then she heard his breath pick up too. “We can’t bleed in here!”

“Why not?”

“Because it’ll smell it,” he said. Somewhere far too close for Nicole’s comfort there was a shattering of glass and that deep, terrible roar again, then a clattering like a chain link fence rattling against its posts. “That is a Hala,” the tech noted, even as Waverly’s breathing had picked up to a speed dangerously near hyperventilation. “A Bulgarian devourer of souls!” She heard a distant—but now slightly closer—roar. “And it’s mean.”

“Oh,” Waverly moaned, “And very mad!”

Another crash, metal shearing free, and the distinctive sound of a lightbulb shattering. Waverly screamed and the tech yelped.

“Yup! Yup, real mad! Okay, run!”

“Where?”

“Here!”

“Wait!” Nicole heard her heels click a few times and then Waverly struggling with something, and the horrible roaring was louder, far too close. Nicole clutched the radio in one hand and had the other on the door of her car, weighing her odds and trying to reconcile the absolute uselessness of following Waverly inside. She didn’t know where the lab was, she didn’t know how many guards were between her and Waverly, she didn’t know what a Hala even was or how big it might be...

“Leave it!” the tech was shouting, and Waverly was panicking still. The chaos of the demon wrecking jars and flinging objects onto the floor was deafening as Waverly broke away from it, running across the room and through a door. The demon struck the other side, roaring and wrenching more screams from both Waverly and the tech, but they must have blocked it out, because the tech was shouting again. “Okay why did you hit me!”

“Okay!” Waverly gasped, struggling to breathe in the rush of getting all the words out, “My name is Waverly. Waverly Earp!”

“What happened to your accent?”

“And I’m not here with Scotland Yard. I’m here with my sister and Doc Holliday, and—”

“Doc Holliday?” he snapped, “Doc Holliday, are you high too?”

“—and some super fit secret agent, all to rescue... all to rescue Dolls.”

In the pause as he registered what she’d said even Nicole held her breath.

“Dolls?”

“Yeah.”

“Agent Xavier Dolls?”

“Yes! Please– please, he’s our friend,” Waverly whispered, as the demon roared and slammed the door again. “Can you help us?”

“...yes,” the tech whispered, though he sounded furious with himself for saying it. “Okay!”

Waverly gasped out a breath, and Nicole exhaled too, shifting in her seat with nervous energy. Nicole heard him tapping keys—god, had Waverly gone back for his laptop? They really needed to talk about priorities in combat.

He finished tapping keys, and for a few minutes they waited, the demon still pounding against the door. After a short eternity the roaring eased off as the demon finally worked out it wasn’t going to get through by brute force.

“Maybe,” the tech whispered, and she heard them moving, standing. “Shh...”

The demon bellowed and hit the door and Waverly fell back to the floor with a tiny scream.

“Okay, okay,” the tech snapped, and Nicole could hear the fear and jackhammer of his heartbeat even from a foot away and through the communications receiver, “If we don’t get some real help, we’re gonna get super eaten!”

“Devourer of souls, eh?”

“Yeah it’s not just a cute nickname!” he growled.

The demon slammed the door again, then moved away, the sound distant and dulled by the door.

“Yeah we are not gonna make it,” the tech grumbled.

“Well then neither will they!” Waverly said, and took a breath. “I’ll take my chances.”

Nicole sat up in her seat again and clicked the button on her radio. “Waverly...”

“What?” the tech breathed, though he got up after she did. “Oh god.”

They were both quiet for a moment, and then Nicole heard the creak of hinges as they pushed the door open.

“Okay,” the tech said, his voice very quiet. “Shh, shh, shh. Real slow...”

Nicole heard the door click shut, then the heavy impact of a body dropping down from a short height and the Hala’s horrible roar. Waverly and the tech let out clipped screams and the demon lumbered closer.

“Hey hey hey!” the tech shouted, as Waverly screamed again. “Take me, okay! Devour my soul, just let her go!”

“Wait, no!” Waverly said, and Nicole shoved the radio away from herself to make sure she didn’t whine and growl in Waverly’s ear—the last thing she needed to do was distract her more. “Nobody’s getting devoured,” she said, her heels clicking.

Static crackled through the radio.

“At least,” she said, though the words came out a little garbled, a little too deep to be Waverly’s voice, maybe distorted by the feedback. “Not today.”

The demon growled, though it was almost... curious, hesitant. It leaned closer, making a snuffling noise as if it were scanning Waverly, then a fainter growl as it pulled back from her.

“Whoa,” the tech said, much more muted. “Okay what... what did you do?”

Waverly didn’t answer, and Nicole stared at the radio, confused, as the static sound faded back off. She scooped up the radio again, fiddling with it.

“The hell was that,” she muttered, though she kept her finger off the button this time. She heard new footsteps, boots, and then the familiar sound of Peacemaker’s hammer clicking back, and she blew out a breath. “Thank god.”

“Not today, Satan!” Wynonna shouted, and the demon roared, the sound dimming as the creature turned away from Waverly. The old Colt barked once and the demon collapsed with a strangled gurgling shout.

“Are you sure you’re not Scotland Yard?” the tech asked.

“Plan B,” Wynonna said, and Nicole could hear the grin from here, “When you don’t have a choice and you gotta get rid of—” She stopped abruptly. “Yeah. I hear it now.”

“Right?” Waverly said, with an audible wince.

“You okay?” Wynonna asked, stepping forward as Waverly ran toward her—there was a faint noise of fabric on fabric as they embraced, Waverly whispering, “Yeah.”

“Who are you?” Wynonna asked, but interrupted as the tech started to answer. “You know what! I don’t care. We gotta go.”

“Okay,” Waverly said, following Wynonna as the elder Earp headed for the door. “Wait, Dolls! Where’s Dolls?”

“Doc’s on it!”

Nicole listened, all but vibrating with tension as they ran down another hallway. By the sounds of the echoes, the tech must have been running alongside them. There was a sound of scuffling, and then the noise of their steps changed from concrete to steel, and a smaller space—maybe an elevator.

“How do we get out?” Waverly asked.

“We go down,” Eliza said, hoarse with exertion.

“What about me?” the tech said, a little high and manic with fear.

“Ride or die, dude!” Wynonna shouted, tapping a button.

“Okay sure yeah, no problem! Oh god...”

Nicole heard the elevator doors slide shut and the gears and cables grinding.

“Comin’ your way baby,” Waverly breathed, and Nicole exhaled.

“Ready when you are.”

“Thank god,” Waverly muttered, and Nicole heard Wynonna catching Eliza up somewhere in the background. “Also, for the record?”

“Yeah?”

“About that jealous streak you have.”

Nicole winced. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. Maybe not the best time for it, but when you get all... y’know. Kinda hot.”

“Oh my god, Waves.”

“Just sayin’.”

 

Nicole slammed her fingers on the steering wheel in a clicking, staccato drumroll as she listened to the group of the four of them sprinting through cavernous spaces full of wheezing machinery and steaming vents. She listened as they muttered instructions to each other, navigation and warning and tense, wordless nothings in a shuffling sequence.

And then she heard Waverly’s gasp and a chorus of shoes skidding to a stop.

“Hey, Lucado,” Wynonna said in that tone of forced ease and sass she always seemed to bring out at the worst possible times. “You look pissed, someone mess with your shoulder pads?”

“No more bullshit.” Lucado’s voice was cold and hard and full of a bone-deep bitterness even therapy wouldn’t unpack. “You failed, Earp. Say goodbye.”

A pistol’s slide ratcheted back.

“No, no!” Wynonna shouted. “Listen, just. Let them go. I... blackmailed them into it, I told them if they didn’t help me, I– I’d... I don’t even know this guy!”

Nicole set her radio aside to keep from engaging it by accident and kept her frustrated furious growling to herself. Of course Wynonna would turn all noble and heroic now, when Nicole couldn’t even thank her for it or do anything about it.

“Jeremy,” the tech muttered. “‘Sup.”

“Shhhhut! Up!” Wynonna hissed.

“Tell you what,” Lucado said. “You can watch the rest of them die first.”

Waverly gasped, Wynonna screamed, and there was a low sound of impact as Wynonna hit Waverly. Nicole didn’t have to see it to imagine Lucado snapping the sights of her pistol over to the younger Earp and Wynonna leaping to put herself in the line of fire. She was making a low, tense, whining sound, but she couldn’t stop herself. Fur rippled across the back of her hands as the wolf struggled to keep her calm, and the role reversal almost might’ve been funny if it weren’t so stressful.

A small noise came then, so soft it almost might’ve been static, but there was no report of gunfire, no deafening boom, no screaming.

“Stand down, Agent Lucado.”

There was a long pause and more distant footsteps, then the sound of a body being dropped on the ground.

“Oh good,” said the man who’d interrupted. “The gang’s all here.”

“Doc,” Wynonna breathed, half-relief and half-terror.

“It’s nothin’, darlin’,” Doc said, though his voice sounded rougher than usual. “You know how easily I bruise.”

“Sir, I can explain,” Lucado said, tense and hoarse with strain. “These traitors tried to get—”

“Oh they did more than try. Agent Dolls has gone AWOL.”

Waverly hissed out a faint “Yes!” and Nicole was inclined to agree, but also really hoped the BBD brass didn’t take that as an excuse to start shooting.

“Doesn’t make a lick of difference in the end. We’ll find him.”

“He doesn’t deserve this,” Wynonna insisted.

“Well, Xavier used his one freebie to save your little town from a nuclear mishap.”

Waverly’s voice carried enough shock and horror for both her and Nicole. “You were going to bomb Purgatory?”

“Seems you need to be reminded about your use of contraband weapons in general, Agent Lucado.”

A soft clack-clack of shoes, and then the low thunk of a pistol being placed on a table. Waverly and Wynonna both exhaled audibly but Nicole stayed tense, stiff, waiting for it all to go to hell.

“Now yours,” the brass said, and she heard Wynonna’s leather jacket creak as she stiffened.

“You can pry Peacemaker from my cold dead hands.”

“Hm,” he said, amused. “I think I’ll let one of the boys here do that for me. So you brought your magic gun just in case there was a demon attack, hm?”

“I brought my magic gun to remind you all that I’m the goddamn Earp heir and the only one who can send Wyatt’s revenants back to hell.”

“I think revenants are the least of your problems,” he noted. “Or haven’t you seen any of the new beasts that have flooded Purgatory?” Nicole flinched. Just how many things had gotten through the barrier on the Solstice? “But yes. You will continue to patrol the Ghost River Triangle, and you will do it on behalf of Black Badge. All of you.”

Doc stood, jangling a little, and she heard his suit jacket snap as he dusted himself off. “You can respectfully,” he said, and Nicole would never quite understand how the late 1800s managed to make fuck you sound so even-tempered, “Kiss my lily white ass.”

“Doc!” Waverly snapped.

“I tried being a lawman,” Doc told the Black Badge brass. “It didn’t take.”

“Okay,” Lucado cut in. “This is treason.”

“And you’re a dumpster fire,” Eliza cut in, her shoes clicking once. “Don’t sign anything, they’re liars.”

“What?” Waverly breathed. “Sign?”

“Somebody has to pay, Moody!” Lucado snapped. “Sir.”

“Someone will,” Moody said, and Nicole inhaled. Waverly and Wynonna both let out soft, panicking sounds, shifting against each other.

Moody’s pistol barked. Waverly gasped, and then a body hit the floor.

Nicole snarled and had the door half-open when she realized she could still hear Waverly and Wynonna’s ragged breathing.

“I can’t kill the heir,” Moody noted. “But the rest of you are expendable. Got it?” He paused, to let his words sink in. “Agent Lucado, the contracts, please.”

No one spoke. Who had he shot? It wasn’t Wynonna or Waverly, because she could hear them. Wynonna would have raised hell if it had been Doc, and Waverly, she thought, would have said something if it had been Jeremy, the lab tech, solely out of outrage. Jeremy was little more than innocent bystander in this.

Then it had to have been Eliza.

Of course. The only one poised to speak the truth about the danger of signing a Black Badge contract.

And Nicole was yards away in a police cruiser waiting, unable to step in, unable to do anything. No guns allowed on site meant no silver bullets—maybe she could have done something if she’d just swallowed her own goddamn fear and gone in, but now it was too late, and she had failed to protect the Earps from this, from... whatever this was.

Wynonna’s footsteps pulled away from Waverly, a little quieter as she walked forward.

“You want us to sign in blood?” she said, gasping out the last word on a low noise of pain.

“It’s how it’s done,” Moody informed her. “How it’s always been done.”

Nicole growled, pressing her hands over her face. What kind of medieval vampire bullshit was this Black Badge deal?

“Who are you people, really?” Waverly demanded, and Nicole heard the soft sound of a hand grabbing Waverly’s. A low clicking noise, and Waverly let out a pained gasp that had Nicole snarling.

“Does it matter?” Moody asked.

“Don’t talk to them anymore,” Wynonna murmured to her.

“Cheer up Wynonna,” Moody said, sounding anything but cheery. There was a very soft grunt of pain that she thought was Jeremy’s voice. God, were they making him sign too? “I’ll sweeten the pot for you. You play ball, I’ll help you break the Earp curse.”

Wynonna scoffed. “I already know how to break it.”

“Bobo Del Rey has been dispatched,” Moody reported, as casually as he were discussing the bill for lunch. “And his revenants are all scattered. You’ll never find and kill them all, not in your lifetime. I’m being generous, Wynonna. You deal with the dozen or so demonic horrors that got into the Triangle when your sister opened the border, and could be we help you find a way. Lift your family’s burden for good.” Another pause as he surveyed them, perhaps reading Wynonna’s thoughts on her face. “Now get them out of my house.”

Boots thudded on concrete and then Wynonna and Doc let out soft grunts of disapproval, maybe shrugging off thugs who’d moved to grab them.

“Oh one more thing,” Moody said. “Is there anyone else who knows about this mission. About Black Badge’s assignment in Purgatory.”

Nicole inhaled, slow and careful, as if even that might be audible.

“Of course not,” Waverly said, immediately, and Nicole blew out a breath. Dammit. Dammit. If she’d just gone in, she’d have been pulled in on the inside of this. Could help from within. Now she’d be just out of arm’s reach again, unable to do anything except move in secret from the outside. “I– I swear on our mother’s grave.”

There was a moment’s pause and Nicole wondered if Wynonna was thinking the same thing she was—but Mama Earp’s not dead.

“Seriously,” Wynonna said, playing along. “How stupid do you think we are?”

Nicole stopped herself from listening to whatever Moody said in response and started her car. She left the garage, forcing herself not to tear out of the structure so fast her tires screeched, cursing at her windshield the whole time.

Dammit. They had to sign in blood, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

 

Nicole beat them back to the Homestead, unsurprisingly, but when the three of them—Wynonna, Waverly, and Doc—all trudged up the driveway to the house, she got out of the car, trying to keep her frustrated whining to a low rattling sound deep in her throat.

“Hey,” Waverly said, breaking off from the other two to linger by her car.

“Hey,” Nicole said. “Um. Nice walk?”

“Awesome. Very bracing. Walking through the snow in heels, y’know, my favorite.”

Nicole chuckled a little and leaned against the bumper of her cruiser. “You hate the cold, I know.”

Waverly smiled a little, but there was an edge to it, a coldness that didn’t make Nicole feel any better about the whole night.

“At least Dolls got away,” she said.

“Yeah, but who knows where he’ll go now,” Waverly muttered.

“He’ll stay close,” Nicole said. “Dolls wouldn’t stray too far from Wynonna. Not after all this. But he can’t come back, not while Black Badge is watching for him.”

Waverly sighed. “Yeah. Do you think he’ll be...” She trailed off, looking for words. “Close enough for you to, you know, find him?”

Nicole hummed in thought. “Maybe. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Cool.”

For a moment neither of them spoke, and Doc walked by them on his way to the barn.

“I’m sorry I left,” she said.

“No,” Waverly said. “No, you had to. I... I wanted you to, of course.” She looked over Nicole’s face and she thought of what Waverly had said in the barn, just hours ago. Just like I have to protect you. But at what cost? “I didn’t have a choice, right? He would’ve killed you.”

“Or made it official,” Nicole said, but the excuse sounded weak even to her. The unspoken or he would’ve tried, found out lead rounds won’t kill me, and kept me for experimentation hung between them like a stormcloud. “Signed me up too.”

“In your own blood,” Waverly reminded her, and Nicole sighed.

“Look,” she said, shaking her head. “I better get back to the station. I’ve still got so much paperwork to do.”

Waverly glanced toward the house, and there was a quiet strain in her, an almost hostility, that made Nicole uneasy.

“Yeah, I... I best check on Wynonna.”

Nicole nodded, and Waverly stepped toward her, leaning up to kiss her. The thought of kissing her now, of learning her mouth still had that strange, bitter taste to it, made Nicole’s stomach churn with fear and stress. After this whole debacle, she didn’t think she could bear it. She turned her face, so that Waverly’s lips touched her cheek, and tried not to notice when Waverly pulled away, clearly confused.

An apology was hovering at the tip of Nicole’s tongue as Waverly went inside, and she growled, more at herself than anything else, and threw herself back into her car.

Chapter Text

In the couple weeks that followed their return from BBD’s blacksite, Nicole kept Waverly slightly at arm’s length, too frustrated by how everything played out to add more variables to the mix. It wasn’t fair to take it out on Waverly, and she knew that, but it was so hard to feel so powerless.

The irony that she felt that way even though once a month she transformed into a giant monster that could bench press a small car was not lost on her, but she needed some space to get her head back on straight.

Well, that, and to look for Dolls without giving Wynonna undue hope or the new BBD additions chances to realize she was looking.

That space, though, gave her the room to see what was happening to the two Earps that she might not have been capable of perceiving from up close. Namely, that they were a goddamn mess.

Waverly, who had gained so much ground as a consultant for BBD the prior year, was now sliding back down the chain under this new BBD overseer Lucado, and it was clear to Nicole that it bothered her. Wynonna, similarly, wasn’t remotely dealing with Willa’s death—and that wasn’t a surprise, this was, after all, Wynonna Earp—but without Dolls to keep her on her feet she was actively falling apart. So much so in fact that she didn’t seek Nicole out to talk about the whole dating my baby sister thing, and after a week, Nicole realized that if she didn’t bring it up, Wynonna wasn’t going to either.

And while she didn’t actually want to have that conversation, she knew they needed to or it was just going to come out later and inevitably be a thousand times worse.

So, against her better judgement, she visited the Earp homestead one evening while she knew Waverly was in the city to pick up some new research texts she’d ordered.

“Wynonna?” Nicole called, easing open the front door and poking her head through first. If she was skittish, well, who could blame her? “Hey, Wynonna?”

“In here.”

Nicole blew out a breath and shut the door behind her, following the sound of Wynonna’s voice. She was in the kitchen, sober, astonishingly, but staring down into a glass of whiskey.

“What do you want, Haught.”

Nicole hesitated in the doorway. “Mind if I sit?”

Wynonna shrugged one shoulder. “Go for it.”

She did, tugging the chair out and gingerly sitting down. “You wanted to talk, Wynonna.”

“I did,” Wynonna said, half a question, and then recognition came in a flash, along with a healthy dose of anger. Which was actually sort of reassuring—it was more familiar than apathetic fugue. “I did. About you banging my baby sister.”

“Okay, easy,” Nicole said, raising her hands.

“God dammit, Haught!” Wynonna shoved herself up out of her chair, brandishing the whiskey glass like a weapon. Nicole stayed in her chair, letting Wynonna have the high ground. “When were you gonna tell me? Hm? After I specifically told you not to hurt her and you just, what, decided this detail wasn’t relevant? And you let her into your house– you let my baby sister sit there while you were– were going all Benicio del Toro in your basement!”

Nicole leaned back in her chair, slow, like a pipe-player in front of a serpent. “Do you wanna keep going or can I offer counter-points, Earp.”

Wynonna seethed, but grunted. “No that was the gist. Fine. The floor is yours or. Whatever.”

Nicole ducked her head, hiding a brief grin. “Look, Wynonna, first off, I haven’t hurt her. Believe me or don’t, but I didn’t jump onto a moving truck that I thought Waverly was in because I think she’s kinda nice. I did it because—” She hesitated, and Wynonna frowned. “Look, I did that because I want her safe just as much as you do. I don’t know that me telling you we started dating has much to do with her safety, but I want you to know that I didn’t tell you because she wasn’t ready to tell anyone.” Wynonna made a face. “And I wasn’t gonna say anything to anyone until she was ready.”

Granted, she still wasn’t sure how Shae knew, but that was an issue for a different time.

“Well,” Wynonna grumbled, looking away, searching for words, “Then. I guess, that’s. Fine, I suppose.” She screwed up her face into a frown, then sighed through her nose. “Thank you. For. Y’know. Respecting her wishes. And her social... whatever. You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I do. And for the record, Earp, I’m sorry that you found out like that,” Nicole said. “And I know Waverly is too.”

Wynonna sighed and leaned against the wall. “Yeah, well, I’m sorry she shot you.”

“‘Preciate it,” Nicole said, and grinned. “But hey, no real harm done. Though I haven’t forgotten that you were willing to let her shoot me to keep the gun, before Waverly started begging.”

“Oh for– it was you or the whole Ghost River Triangle, all right?” Wynonna glared at her, lips pressed into a line.

Nicole laughed and raised her hands in surrender. “All right, all right. Fair enough.”

“Listen, I said I’ll lay off this thing of you dating my baby sister, and I will, but don’t press your luck, Rin Tin Tin.”

“You know at some point you’re gonna run out of dog names.”

“Try me, Toto.”

 

It was maybe a week and a half after the blacksite mission when she got a weird missing persons case, and she found herself frustrated, yet again, that she couldn’t just walk into the Black Badge office and hand it off. If Dolls were still here, it would’ve been easy to get help and the right people on the job. Instead, she was stuck at her desk while a construction foreman insisted one of his workers vanished off the grounds, and Lucado would never take her seriously. For that matter, revealing to Lucado that she had any inkling of what was really going on in Purgatory would prove Waverly a liar, and possibly out herself in the process.

Worse still, with Jeremy the tech-expert now on the job, for all she knew the whole damn station had been bugged. It put her on edge every time she was at work. What corner might be hiding a camera or a microphone? What could or couldn’t she say to civilians, to other cops, to Nedley, hell, to Waverly, that might look conspicuous if Jeremy overheard and reported it to Lucado like a lab-coat-wearing lapdog?

Which brought on new questions. Was Jeremy a lapdog? She didn’t know, but it was hell on her sanity to play mind games. God, she’d forgotten how good it was to not feel constantly paranoid. She wanted Dolls back, as soon as possible. But so far, keeping her ears to the ground had yielded jack shit.

“Mr. Kowalski, I– I walked the whole site myself, okay?” she explained, for the third time. “There’s no evidence of foul play.”

She hated lying to citizens. Sure there was evidence—the stench of blood and fear, the unnatural sense of sickly dread. Or the way her hair stood on end whenever she walked the perimeter of the grounds near the toilets where Jesus had gone missing, a human manifestation of the wolf’s hackles rising. But supernatural evidence wouldn’t exactly fly with a judge.

“What about the blood?” Kowalski asked. “The– the creepy noises? The shrieking! Jesus hasn’t even come back to work.”

Waverly appeared beyond the counter and waved. Nicole bit the inside of her cheek. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy to see Waverly, but her girlfriend was, for the moment, living proof of how fucked the BBD mission had been, and it still chafed to think about. She nodded at Waverly, acknowledging that she’d seen her, but kept her attention on Kowalski.

“Well, Ms. Gardner says he’s unreliable,” Nicole said. “He working under the table too?”

Kowalski’s gaze skittered to the side and she noted Waverly had sat down behind the counter. “Yeah...”

“I’ll file the report anonymously,” she told him, leaning a little closer to keep her voice low, “And I will keep an eye out.”

“Alright,” Kowalski grumbled, getting up.

“But unless there’s a body or a missing persons report,” she continued, following him out, “That’s really the best I can do. See or hear anything new, you give me a call, okay?”

“Fine,” Kowalski grunted, and headed out the doors.

Nicole sighed and watched him go.

“I love watching you work,” Waverly mused, smiling and spinning a little on the chair, which was high enough to let her shoes dangle. “Professional, but caring.”

Nicole smiled and pretended she couldn’t feel her wolf chafing and grumbling at the tension. As she moved to walk back to her desk, Waverly propped her heels on the table to block her path with a grin. All of this fighting or... near-fighting, whatever it was, it was stupid, she knew that, but she couldn’t bear talking to Waverly about light, happy news when she still had no clues on where Dolls had gone. Add the paranoia that discussing anything in earshot of BBD’s doors might have Lucado crawling in their shadows, looking for the slightest transgression to report back to top brass, and it just made chatting with Waverly at the station immensely uncomfortable. She didn’t know if there really were cameras in the station, but sometimes she felt like she could feel eyes on her.

And until she had something useful to give Waverly, talking to her just felt like reminders of all the things she’d failed at.

“This is my job,” Nicole reminded her, moving her feet off the table.

“Hey...”

Waverly’s soft protest made Nicole feel worse, but she stuck to her position. They needed to pretend to be professional with each other, at least for now, until Lucado wasn’t looking for BBD leaks.

“I know it doesn’t seem like anything special,” she said, “Convincing Bill Lippencott to stop driving without a license or looking through security footage to figure out who was flying a drone over the girls’ dance studio, but...”

“But what?” Waverly asked.

It made her chest ache, to pretend it was about the job, to pretend it was anything other than her own frustrations that Moody had suckered them into a binding contract while she sat by and listened to it without being able to do a damn thing to get them out of it, but it was easier, at least right now, until she could think through everything. Until she could get her thoughts straight.

“Nothing,” Nicole said, and shook her head, gathering up files off the table. “Forget about it.”

“Look,” Waverly said, stepping a little closer. “I’m– I’m sorry about the whole... BBD un-deputizing thing, okay? But please. Don’t shut me out.”

“I’ve got cases to track,” Nicole said, and glanced at Waverly once, hoping she would recognize that she meant it partially as code—I’m looking for Dolls but Lucado can’t know that—and then offered her another folder. “Looks like you might too.”

It wasn’t the same as handing off leads to Dolls, per their old agreement, but it was the best she could do in the circumstances.

A couple hours later, as the afternoon waned toward evening, she passed the BBD office and found herself walking a little more slowly, as if she were expecting to hear familiar voices and feel a little better.

Well, one out of two wasn’t bad.

“I don’t know how things were run around here before, but—”

“There were a lot less thumbs up asses,” Wynonna said.

“He’s gone,” Lucado snapped. “Dolls is gone. He’s alone, he’s injured, and he has a lot of enemies who want him dead.”

“Finally,” Wynonna said, all sugar. “Something you two have in common.”

Nicole, however, had stopped dead in front of the door, narrowing her eyes. Dolls was injured? How could Lucado possibly know that?

Unless...

“Sheriff,” Nicole said, knocking on his door and leaning her head into his line of sight. “Going undercover to follow up on a lead. Off-books case.”

Nedley glanced up, eyes narrowed in confusion.

“It’s about your mug, sir.”

Nedley glanced down to the black mug with the silvery-grey X on it that he’d nicked from BBD’s offices before they were emptied, and she watched the gears turn in his head.

“Get it done,” he said, nodding. “Look forward to losing your report.”

Nicole flashed him a grin and headed out to her cruiser. At home she changed into a nondescript outfit that was a couple sizes too big for her—jeans that didn’t fit well without a belt and a hoodie that draped on her like a trench coat on a scarecrow, and a pair of men’s boots a size too big. She slipped across the road and back toward town, partially shifting as she did until she filled in the outfit. She let some fur grow out on her face and let her head shift, just a little, to distort her profile, though most of that was covered by the hood besides.

She jogged downtown toward a bar she’d never been into, but which Dolls and Wynonna had visited once—a dingy little biker bar that doubled as a chapter house for the Machetes.

The exterior was watched over by a couple bikers in black leather vests and great big boots, but a quick growl and a flash of golden eyes glowing beneath her hood had them waving her inside.

It was almost homey on the inside, all well-worn wood furnishings and thick animal-skin rugs and leather sofas along the walls. An enormous icon was painted on one wall, the heraldry of the Machetes done in spray paint. The place was relatively empty when she arrived, only six or seven people milling about, which wasn’t surprising for early afternoon. A few women were dressed the way she pretty much expected for the territory—all short skirts and leather vests and tattoos—and the men were mostly jeans and fringe and cowboy boots.

Except for one guy, sitting in the corner in military fatigues that looked like they hadn’t been in rotation since the early days of Iraqi Freedom. He was nursing a black eye and a broken nose with a big slab of frozen steak. Old school. Huh.

She headed toward him, and one of the men in cowboy boots got up and shoved a broad hand with tattooed knuckles against her chest to stop her.

“Hold up,” he said. “No fightin’.”

She looked around at the evidence of a brawl still littered around the room. Bits of broken glass swept into corners, sawdust where a table had been broken, a mismatched set of chairs where a couple had to be replaced. It had still not quite been neatened up, and if she had her guess right, that was Dolls and Wynonna’s doing. She looked back at him, one brow rising.

He narrowed his eyes.

“I’m not here to pick a fight,” she growled, her voice too deep and too guttural to be recognizable as hers. “But I could be persuaded.”

He watched her through beady little blue eyes, but when she shoved his hand off, he didn’t press the issue, and watched her go. She walked up to the guy in fatigues.

“Looks like you’ve had a rough day,” she growled.

“Get fucked.”

“Let me guess,” she said, and leaned in real close. She grinned, letting her teeth catch light, and waited until she saw his eye flick down and then go wide in recognition. “You’re the last dude on your squad, because the rest of your guys got torn apart by a single dude out in the woods that y’all went to kill.”

He spat on the floor in front of her. “Get fucked, dog-breath.”

She grabbed the steak from his hand and slapped him across the face with it, the thick weighted smack of it satisfying. She dropped the steak on the bar and licked her hand clean.

“Try again.”

“I said, get f—”

She grabbed him by the back of the head, her hand—paw, really—large enough to cup the back of his skull like she were testing the ripeness of a cantaloupe, and she slammed his face down into the bar. Somewhere behind her a couple men shouted and got up, and she looked over her shoulder, letting her golden eyes catch lamplight. A few of them skidded to a stop. She snarled, baring fangs, and then returned her attention to the injured soldier. “Listen. I don’t want to do this, and neither do you. So how about you tell me what happened and maybe I leave here in a good mood. Cuz trust me, as much fun as it would be to smear your blood all over this room, violence does not make me feel better.”

Someone slammed a short club against her back. She grunted at the impact, rocking forward an inch, and then slowly turned.

A single man was in striking range, still clutching the baton. He’d seen combat before, that much was clear in the harsh, cold cut of his face, the scar that ran down his cheek, and the fact that he wasn’t fazed by her shrugging off the first blow.

“I wouldn’t,” she growled.

He twisted back and swung at her again, and she roared, letting it hit her arm. She snatched it from his hands and sank her fangs into the reinforced plastic, biting down until it splintered and fell apart into shards.

He crouched down, yanking a knife from a sheath mounted to his calf. He flicked it out at her in a practiced swipe, keeping the blade in close until he was ready to hit. He knew how to use it. The move was quick, striking-snake-fast, but the glint was wrong for silver. Steel then, hardly a concern. The blade scored across the front of her hoodie and ripped it open, spilling crimson blood. She grabbed his wrist, squeezing until he dropped the blade, and rammed him head-first into the bar. He went down in a heap, groaning and writhing but only barely clinging to consciousness, and she turned back to the Machete at the bar.

“Well?”

“All right,” he wheezed. “All right.”

She grunted and waited, listening to the sounds of muted chaos and scuffling behind her. The door opened and shut a few times as patrons made a break for it, and she rolled her shoulder, ignoring the uncomfortable burn of her skin sealing shut.

“Yes, we took a job. No questions asked, simple hit on some dude out in the woods. Sent a squad of five, and I’m the only one who came back.”

“Where?” she growled.

“Out by Falls Point but I dunno what way he went after that. I booked it and didn’t look back. Reported it to the buyer and let it drop.”

She snarled, clenching her hands into fists.

“She planning to hit him again?”

“I dunno,” he said, though his heart was pounding too loudly to be telling the truth. She shoved herself at him, slamming her paws on the bar on either side of him to trap him against the wood. She roared in his face and he cursed, leaning as far back from her as he could. “Okay! Okay! Jesus, okay, yes, I think she’s planning to bring in someone else! Jesus Christ, get the fuck off me!”

She pulled back, snarling. “Who’s she going to hire? You couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to try a third time.”

“No, fuckin– no, it won’t be us. Buyer’s bringing in out of towners or something.”

“You keeping track of it?”

He looked away, but she bared her fangs.

“Yes, God, dammit,” he wheezed. “Yes, we’re keeping track.”

She scribbled her cell phone number on a napkin and shoved it at him.

“When you know who they are, and where they’re hitting, you’re gonna tell me.”

“Why?”

“Because I know who the buyer is and she’s got the poker face of a child at Christmas,” she growled. “I will know if you fuck me. If the target dies, I will hunt you and your whole goddamn family and leave your entrails across Highway 81. Am I making myself perfectly fucking clear.”

He opened his mouth, then shut it with a snap when she flashed her fangs at him and snarled.

“Yes! Fucking Christ. Yes.”

“Good.” She growled at him, then turned toward the door, snarling at the few patrons standing between her and the exit. They dispersed, and she grabbed the denim jacket off the guy who’d fought her. She left the building, and at the first alley she found, swapped her hoodie for the jacket, leaving it in a dumpster. She flipped her t-shirt around so that the bloodied side was at her back and covered by the jacket, and she down-shifted to finish her jog back toward her house.

Though as she walked, she found herself thinking again of the ankle-mounted knife. She pulled her phone and called a familiar number.

“Hey Mike,” she said, when she heard his smooth voice on the other end. “I’ve got a favor to ask you. I think I’ve got an idea for dealing with certain agents who've been giving us problems, but I’m gonna need some of your resources for it.”

“You sound in a good mood, hjärtat.”

“I’m really not,” she said, and chuckled. “But you know me, I always have fun when I get to beat on thugs who don’t know better than to play rough with me.”

“You always did like to pick the honorable fights,” Mikael said, laughing. “So tell me. What do you have in mind?”

“Something custom, and a little bit unique. Do you know any other blacksmiths?”

Chapter Text

The lingering irritability with BBD’s changes and the blacksite mission did not mix well with the morning of the full moon. She felt on edge from the moment Calamity Jane jumped up onto her pillow to meow requests for breakfast and the feeling just intensified the longer she was awake. Her skin prickled, her teeth felt like they were vibrating, even her nails felt fragile and somehow tender, like someone had been striking tiny mallets against them all night.

Nedley called her into his office to talk about a break-in at the hospital and she could barely keep focused. She thought maybe he noticed. Or maybe that was just the paranoia? It was hard to say.

She’d just sat down at her desk to gather up what she’d need for the investigation when her phone rang. The ringer was so piercingly loud she nearly grabbed it and threw it against the wall just to let it shatter.

“Hello?” she asked, trying to sound casual and trying very hard not to grind her teeth together.

“Hi,” Waverly said, subdued to an uncharacteristic degree. “It’s me.”

“Hey Waves,” Nicole said, and despite the lingering tension between the two of them, she felt the pressure ease back, just slightly. “What’s up?”

“W– Thank you, for... giving us that case earlier. Um. Lucado doesn’t think it’s anything, but Wynonna just left to check it out, so...”

“Okay,” Nicole said, and forced herself not to look up from her desk toward BBD’s office. “Well, um. Let me know?”

“So,” Waverly said, after a moment. “Wh... what are you doing later?”

“Oh, Nedley’s got another break-in, so,” Nicole said, and sighed, gathering up the file as she talked. “I’m gonna go check it out.”

“Oh,” Waverly said. “Okay.”

For a moment, the crackle of the phone receiver stretched between them like a physical wall.

“I could uh, come by after?”

Waverly’s voice brightened immediately. “Yes please!”

Nicole chuckled. “Okay. I’ll text you when I’m done? I’ll see you later.”

“Bye,” Waverly murmured, and Nicole set down the phone, gathering what she’d need. Despite her misgivings about everything, and her lingering concerns, it would be good to see Waverly again. Maybe... maybe it would be easier finally.

 

It started out that way, at least.

“Hey,” Nicole said, as Waverly opened the door, but the look on her girlfriend’s face made her hesitate. “What’s wrong?”

Waverly took one look at her and gave a rueful little laugh. “That obvious, huh.”

“Kinda, yeah.”

“Come upstairs with me?” Waverly asked. “Wynonna will be home in a bit, I just.”

“Yeah,” Nicole said. “Yeah, of course.”

Despite the request, Waverly moved closer, tucking her face against Nicole’s sweater.

“I’ve got you,” Nicole said, keeping her voice low.

“Still home base?”

“Yeah.” She sighed and kissed the top of Waverly’s head. “Just... been dealing with stuff. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Waverly lied. “You know that goes both ways, right?”

“I know. Just... it’s a lot to unpack. And I’m not much good at thinking aloud.”

Waverly sighed, but wrapped her arms around Nicole’s waist. “Okay.”

“Let’s go upstairs.”

“Right,” Waverly said, and led Nicole up the steps.

Willa’s room—now Waverly’s, which seemed sort of odd, had she never had a room of her own?—was still a lot like it had been. Not identical, no, but the Earps still hadn’t changed much of it, and it was bordering on eerie. The furniture was mostly still the same, the stuffed animals were all still there, the posters of horses, the clothing... a shrine to a dead version of the dead. The ghost of Willa’s childhood was what was idolized here, not the woman she had become, and that was in its own way unsettling.

Nicole shuddered as she stepped inside, feeling something of the specter of death that crawled along the walls. The place wasn’t haunted, not really, but it was all too easy to imagine it becoming so. Perhaps if Willa really had died that night at age 13, her spirit might’ve returned here.

But she hadn’t. She’d been locked in a treehouse like some fucked up modern Rapunzel, with Bobo as both her witch and her terrible prince.

Even the bed was the same, and that made Nicole more uncomfortable than anything else as Waverly settled onto it and patted the space beside her for Nicole to sit. Still, being so close to Waverly, even with all the tension, even with all the mess, settled the wolf. God, she’d forgotten how much better it felt to have Waverly nearby during the moon. She felt more herself.

“Guess you haven’t had much time to redecorate.”

Waverly sighed. “No, not really. But... that’s actually a pretty good segue.”

“Yeah?”

“There’s something I wanted to show you,” Waverly said, frowning. “Something I found in Willa’s stuff.”

Waverly dug a small diary out from under one of the pillows, and opened it to where an ancient photograph was tucked into the pages. A picture of two young girls, dressed in white and carrying flowers, maybe middle-school age. There was something about the eyes of one, the mouth of the other, that told her it was Willa and Wynonna. But the edge was torn, where perhaps a third girl would have been standing.

“That’s a beautiful photo,” Nicole murmured.

“The one I’ve been cropped out of?” Waverly said, and Nicole winced, looking away, because she could swear the edge was back. But it wasn’t the strange, hostile ice that had been making her so uneasy, this time, it was pain, something so deep and so unfathomable that Nicole only glimpsed it on occasion, like spotting a leviathan lurking in deep sea. Waverly hid it well but every now and then it escaped her grasp, running hot and cold like a bad water main. Nicole wasn’t sure how to help this pain, this old, deep thing that twined around Waverly’s bones like choking vines. She hadn’t been sure what to say when Waverly spoke of frozen ponds and balancing acts, and she wasn’t sure now.

“Here, listen to this: ‘I hate that they brought the baby into the house. There’s something wrong with it.’” Waverly’s voice cracked and shook and Nicole shifted her arm a little to press herself closer, letting her warmth keep back the icy blackness trying to swallow up her girlfriend. “‘Mama told Daddy that we have to do what is right,’” Waverly continued. “‘What does that even mean. And why does she get the pretty name? Waverly. Whatever. She’ll never be one of us.’”

“Willa was just a kid,” Nicole said, at a loss for what else to say.

“Yeah,” Waverly said, and slowly closed the diary. “She didn’t think I was an Earp.” Nicole waited, listening, because Waverly was vibrating with tension. “And neither did Bobo.”

A low grumble rolled in her chest at the name, and Nicole snapped her attention back up to Waverly’s face. “Bobo?” she asked, grasping at her thoughts, trying to push back anger and respond in a rational, useful way. Waverly made a face, like she knew how crazy it sounded, even though it didn’t keep her from believing it. “What wouldn’t that gaslighting sociopath say to freak you out?”

“There was another side to him, okay? A side that... that wouldn’t lie to me.”

“This– this is crazy,” Nicole said, and shifted, turning a little to look her in the eye. God, if Willa and Bobo weren’t already dead, she’d rip them apart for making Waverly feel so excluded, so much an alien in her own home. That, at least, she could relate to. “Hey, look, you,” she said, catching Waverly’s gaze and holding it. “Are the... Earp-iest Earp of them all.”

Waverly leaned into her, their foreheads resting together, and Nicole traced her nose along Waverly’s until Waverly shifted closer, tilting her head back to press her lips to Nicole’s. The bitter taste was back, stronger now, but Nicole forced herself to ignore it, because if this is what Waverly needed, she had to at least try.

But there were footsteps on the stairs, and Wynonna’s voice a second later, and Nicole pulled back, a little too grateful for an excuse to stop.

“Oop. Guess we’re still fighting,” Waverly said.

“Nope,” Nicole said, looking to the door. “Someone’s just coming up the...”

“Do you have any idea when Doc’s planning to—” The door snapped open and Wynonna abruptly pulled herself back toward the doorway. “Shit.”

“...stairs,” Nicole finished. “Hi Wynonna.”

“Sorry.”

“I’m gonna go,” Nicole said, and glanced down to Waverly.

“Cool kicks,” Wynonna muttered, as Nicole headed for the door, and as Nicole went by she muttered, “Sorry...”

“Okay.”

“Don’t even worry about it,” Waverly said, sighing, her voice carrying a little as Nicole headed down the stairs, already pulling her phone from her pocket. “She wanted to leave.”

She winced. It hadn’t been her intent, but it wasn’t strictly speaking inaccurate. She stopped beside her cruiser, her thumb hovering over Mikael’s contact to call him, but just as she tapped the screen it rang. It wasn’t a number she recognized, and when she picked up she waited for a moment, silent.

“Hey. Dog-breath.” She snarled in response. “It’s Jackson.”

She shifted a little, pain flaring through her chest as it expanded, but when she growled “Who?” she sounded like gravel and chain-smoked cigarettes.

“Do you make a habit of threatening ex-Rangers so much that you can’t fucking remember which one you gave your number to, asshole?”

“Ah. Machete. Got it.”

“Clocked your hit squad,” he said, lowering his voice. “They’re moving on Beyers’ Ridge. Expecting to make contact at 1545.”

She growled and pulled her phone from her ear to check the time. A little after 2.

“If you’re playing me, Jackson...”

“I know, I know, Highway 81. Jesus.”

The phone clicked dead on the other end and she looked at her phone again. To make it in time she’d have to drive, and then run the rest of the way on foot. But if she moved quick, she could make it. She tossed the phone into the passenger seat of her cruiser and started the engine, peeling out of the Earp driveway in a little cloud of snow. She’d just have to wait to call Mikael.

 

When she reached the woods she was cutting time far narrower than she wanted. She’d never make it in her boots. She stripped out of her uniform, attaching her keys to a long bit of leather cording to hang them around her neck, and locked up the car, stumbling away into the snow to shift. The snow was frigid against her bare skin, but she closed her eyes and let the wolf out, bit by bit.

Or at least, that was the plan.

And it almost worked, except it was late afternoon on the first night of the full moon, and the wolf wasn’t satisfied with bits. It slammed the bars of its cage—her body—and wrenched free.

It started in her chest, her heart pounding faster and faster until she thought it would burst outright. Raw pain cascaded down her spine like a bucket of icewater as it rippled and lengthened, her bones crunching against each other as her skeleton warped and stretched and grew to fit the ferocity of the beast. She could feel it, the crackling sound of her skull changing shape, nose ridge protruding, jaws expanding, and she collapsed into the snow with a strangled howl of pain. Her skin felt too tight, too enclosed, and she found herself tearing at it, her long, dark nails pulling away chunks to reveal glossy russet fur beneath. She howled, throwing her head back to let the sound free, and when she crawled free of herself and into the woods, she left the cruiser behind her without a thought.

Her vision had gone entirely over to achromatic, with just a slight filter of gold. She sniffed at the air, and smelled everything. Deer and elk and rabbit to hunt. The laughable markings of other predators, none of whom would be able to compete with her if she took something from them. And in the distance, gunpowder, wool, and hatred. Butane and fear.

She remembered. She had armed prey to hunt. Prey that, for once, the human sharing her body had fewer qualms about killing. These were different. These were fair game, because they were lethal, they were dangerous. Because they were cruel.

Because she had a packbrother to protect.

Chapter Text

Dolls was pretty sure it had been nine days since the team had sprung him from BBD’s safe house at the edge of the Triangle. The only reason he wasn’t completely sure is that his hylophobia had been making it a little tough to keep track. Plus he lost some time after the Machete raid.

The bullet to his calf wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, but it did slow him down, and speed wasn’t something he could afford to sacrifice, not out here in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles from civilization. Still, he kept Wynonna’s advice from the Pine Barrens to heart, and found a good cave to hunker down in on a ridge that crawled through a stretch of forest. All told, he’d been doing pretty well for himself.

Other than the lack of his meds, which was starting to make him very shaky, but not as bad as it would get in a couple weeks.

Also the lingering fear he felt being out in the woods.

And the gunshot wound.

Okay objectively, this was pretty bad. Really, at this point, he was just stalling the inevitable. Either the cold, the hit squads, or the beast inside him would kill him. But Xavier Dolls was no quitter.

Which is how he came to be crouched in the rocky crag above his temporary home, flat on his belly and clutching one of the M16s he’d lifted off the Machete squad that hit him a week before. He knew Lucado wouldn’t stop at one team, so he’d been splitting his time between the cave and the exposed rock above, keeping watch for more Machetes, or possibly someone new.

He checked his watch. 1540. Movement in the trees made him train the M16 on the woods, scanning the treeline. Another bit of movement. Ah, just as predicted.

They were well-trained, he’d give them that. They tossed a canister into the cave first, trying to smoke him out with thick green clouds, but they hadn’t seen him above the cavern’s opening. They closed in just a handful of breaths after the smoke choked the cave mouth. He tracked the chest of one of the men in back, keeping the sights just a bit above the man’s sternum, and squeezed off a quick burst of four shots. He let the rifle’s recoil carry the muzzle up, burying lead from the man’s collarbone to his nose in a spray of blood and gore that soaked eight feet of frigid white snow behind him.

A chorus of shouts and new orders went up and bullets struck the rocks around him as he picked a new target. He didn’t have as much time now, having lost the element of surprise, but he put two rounds into a man’s throat and shoulder.

Somewhere in the distance he heard a wolf howl, mournful and eerie. Odd, given it was the middle of the afternoon, and the gunfire should have sent prey and predator alike running for the hills.

He swept his gaze right to left across his killbox. There were three more. No. Four. There was another still at the trees, scanning the scene with a set of goggles.

A frag grenade bounced up toward his position and he swore, grabbing it and tossing it back down. The hitter who’d thrown it was already moving and the blast as the grenade detonated sent up a cloud of snow, but no bodies—they’d all moved out of the blast radius by the time it hit the snow.

He tracked his rifle sights back to the scout and clocked a hulking form in the trees just seconds before it grabbed the scout’s leg and yanked him back into the forest where Dolls couldn’t see.

A strangled shriek echoed across the frozen ground, and he saw a couple of the squad glance back.

The thing that had removed the scout roared, a barrel-chested call of challenge that belonged to something in the size range of a grizzly bear. Dolls lowered the sight of his rifle just an inch or two, keeping both eyes on the field.

A lycanthrope stepped out of the woods into the open space between the trees and the cave. It was leaner than the specimens he’d seen in the past, all corded muscle and sleek reddish-brown fur. Female, then, and tall for her sex. Based on the trees around her and sizing her against the blood splatter he’d spread in his first hit, she was ten feet at the shoulder, probably twelve at the head, if she stood up fully straight. She had the basic shape of a human, if a human could be covered in thick shaggy fur and exaggerated out in every direction: thighs so thick around that he’d have trouble getting his arms around one, broad, heavy shoulders, arms that looked like they’d belong on an NFL quarterback, and huge, clawed hands that were about as big across as a car tire.

She got less human at the edges. Huge paws sprawled flat across the snow without crunching all the way through, and a thick tail swayed behind her. The head was all canine, with sharp, luminescent eyes and a ruff of fur like you’d find on a German Shepherd. Her snout was a foot long, at least, maybe closer to two, and two big ears flicked forward and back together, pivoting to listen to the woods as she settled into a loose crouch.

Dolls watched her gold eyes track the field and pick out the nearest gunman. The squad had, for a moment, gone very still, as if waiting to see if she could see them in their white gear, but then the werewolf’s upper lip pulled back to reveal rows of shining white teeth, dripping with scarlet gore, and she snarled, the sound so loud and so unquestionably violent that it shook the snow from nearby trees.

She moved then, far too fast and too graceful for a beast her size, and the first gunman’s shots went completely wide, scattering across the trees and snow behind her. She hit him like a train, and Dolls heard bones crunch under the impact. She had ripped his head from his shoulders with the ease of a child dismantling a Barbie doll before he even had time to scream, and the two remaining hitters opened fire.

Dozens of rounds hit home and gore splattered around her in clouds of red spray, but all it really did was piss her off. She turned and roared as the bullets kept coming, staggering under the onslaught until hammers clicked on empty cartridges. She stood for a moment as her body healed itself, skin squelching as it knit back together, and then she was moving again, claws the length of bowie knives raking through body armor like it was made of paper and carving into flesh as easily as a Christmas turkey.

Her next target fountained blood and hit the snow as she moved to the last. She grabbed his rifle even as he reloaded and crunched it in one huge paw, bending the barrel into a right angle. She tossed it aside and picked him up with her paw around his shoulders and his throat. She shook him like a ragdoll and threw him into the cave wall so that his bones snapped and crackled and he hit the ground in a heap, screaming with the only air he had left in his lungs.

She closed on him and tore into his body, shredding his armor and his clothing and biting down when she bared his chest to the air, ripping out chunks of meat and sinew. Blood coated her fur, dripping down her throat and across her chest, and Dolls stayed very, very still.

Gold eyes tracked to him like searchlights. He flicked the rifle’s safety back on with a low clunk that made the wolf’s ears flick forward, then back.

“Haught?” he called down. The wolf growled, the sound thunderous and brutal, and he raised one hand, palm out. “...Nicole?”

The werewolf snarled, again, the sound shorter, smaller somehow, and then she blinked. The eyes dimmed to a softer, darker color, more like caramel, and the big head tilted to one side like a hound’s.

“Oh wow,” Dolls breathed. “What uh. What big ears you have.”

Those ears flicked again, maybe unamused, but the wolf eased back, away from her final kill site. She looked down at herself, as if only just now noticing the thick coating of blood down her front, and then looked around, snuffling at the air.

“I’m coming down,” Dolls said, waiting until the wolf had looked at him and tilted her head back the other way before he actually started moving. He gingerly climbed down from his perch, favoring his left leg where the calf was still bandaged, and as he hit the ground the wolf narrowed its eyes, watching him closely and in particular noting his injury. But she didn’t move, only sat dog-style in the snow, considered her situation, and then flopped down, rolling back and forth to smear cold frost into her fur, letting it drip off her in bloodied rivulets.

“Whoa whoa whoa,” he called out, as she stood back up. “Hold on!” He remembered Wynonna’s advice—never get anything wet—and dove back into his cave just as the wolf shook, fur fluffing in all directions as bloodied snowmelt splattered everywhere. The green smoke had mostly cleared out, but when he could no longer hear motion and a jangling set of keys, he poked his head back out, coughing. “You’re gonna get me hypothermic, Haught.”

She whined at him, the sound surprisingly expressive, and lumbered into his cave, flopping down on the other side of his campfire.

It was still daylight outside, so he offered her one of his blankets and turned aside, trying not to listen to the sickening squelching and crackling noises as she changed back. Even for the effort he jumped when a howl of agony petered off into a very human cry of pain and something like despair.

He listened to her panting, and then the rustling of his blanket.

“‘M good,” she said, and he turned again, settling down on the other side of his fire. He fed a few more pieces onto it and looked across at her. She looked like hell. There was blood smeared around her mouth, and several healing bullet holes still sealing themselves closed across her shoulders and arms and calves where he could see some of her past the blanket. Her car keys hung limply down her chest on a leather cord, clinking whenever she moved.

“Thanks,” he said.

She looked up at him, her eyes, brown and warm now, and so very human, spoke volumes to her exhaustion.

“Yeah well,” she said, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. “Purgatory’s not the same without you.”

“How’d you know where to find me?”

“The guy you let get away,” she said. “Got him to feed me info about the next squad.”

He grinned. Letting that weasel go had been a gamble, but it looks like it had paid off. “How’d you get that guy to talk?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “Oh, y’know. The usual.”

“Threats of violence? For shame, Officer Haught.”

She grunted and stared into the fire.

“You okay?” he asked.

For a while she said nothing, and he started to wonder if she’d even actually heard him. Then she hung her head forward, talking to the ground.

“Everyone hates Lucado. Wynonna’s coming apart at the seams since she killed Willa and lost you. Waverly’s acting funny and I dunno if it’s grief or anger or something else. Henr—Doc’s playing something close the vest, even more than usual. Jeremy’s an unknown quantity. Nedley’s playing everything safe now that Lucado’s invaded his domain. Me and Waves are fighting. I think. That one’s my fault.”

He blew out a breath, but she wasn’t done, because her hoarse whisper cut through his thoughts before he could say anything.

“And I just killed four people.”

“Hey,” he said, and caught her eye when she looked up, dull eyes finding his face. “You killed four violent men carrying grenades and assault rifles who were trying to kill me. When you get into BBD, you cross outside the lines of what’s covered under Academy rules, okay?”

She sighed. “Yeah, well. Pretty sure I got kicked out of BBD once the others all signed a contract and I bolted.”

Well, shit. He considered that for a moment, watching her face.

“To hell with that,” Dolls said, shrugging one shoulder. “You were BBD when I said you were BBD, no paper required.” He considered her for a moment longer, then nodded. “Besides. Having you on the outside helps.”

She looked up at him, frowning. “What do you mean?”

“If you were on the inside and getting information to me, Lucado would figure it out eventually. This way, you’re not under her supervision. Sometimes the most helpful thing someone can do is peer in through the window and talk where those inside can’t hear.” She grunted, but it was a less hopeless sound now, and he nodded, satisfied. “Now. You better get outta here. It’s getting late.”

She shuddered. “No, it’s too late. I’ll never make it home in time.”

A prickle of fear ran down his spine. If she went full wolf now, there wasn’t much he’d be able to do to hold her off, and he was not quite confident that the wolf agreed with her about keeping him alive. He’d only gotten this far because it had been daylight.

“All right. What’s the play, Haught.”

“I’ll go north, as far as I can. Far enough that you’re not in my radius. And then tomorrow... I’ll figure out tomorrow when it comes.”

“Good a plan as any,” he said, and got up, favoring his leg. He extended a hand. She stood and took it, holding the blanket around her. Her grip was strong, and as he clasped her hand in his something in her warmed, and a smile curled across her mouth, fledgling, but real. “Thanks, Haught.”

“If you stay around here, I should be able to find you again. I’ll try to bring you news,” she said. “Once I have any. Supplies too, if you need.”

“I’ll try, but yeah, supplies would help a lot. I think there’s a cabin near here I can squat in for a bit too. Look for me there.” She nodded and he turned toward his cot, shuffling through his bag and giving her some privacy. After a moment he heard the blanket drop to the ground behind him, but when he looked over his shoulder, she was already out of sight, jogging out into the snow and, by the sounds of it, shifting as she went.

A minute later he heard a low, crooning howl, and then she was gone.

He kept watch all night, just in case, but the wolf never came back for him.

Chapter Text

For once, Nicole didn’t dream.

She woke up under a fallen log, and surprisingly, she wasn’t sore. She didn’t ache, she didn’t feel open scratch marks on her body, and when she stretched out in a languid sprawl, there were no complaints from her spine and hips. She stood and stretched out her shoulders, rolling her head back and forth and feeling her keys jangle against her chest. She examined her hands—relatively clean—and rubbed them over her face, feeling dried blood around her mouth.

Shit.

She looked around, but she couldn’t quite summon up real dread. The wolf sprawled in her thoughts like a cat in a sunbeam, content and unconcerned, and when she found the remains of an elk, mostly eaten, sprawled a few dozen feet from her napping spot, she let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and laughed at herself a little. Just an elk. She hadn’t killed anyone else.

Anyone else. Dolls’ words came back before she could quite go down that rabbit hole. She had killed to protect someone who couldn’t have survived without her intervention. She had killed after shots had already been fired. Really it was no different from shooting a man who was seconds from rushing a police line or opening fire into a crowd of civilians. She just... hadn’t used a gun, that’s all.

Guilt prickled at the edges of her mind, but didn’t come pouring back in to choke her. Which, in the circumstances, she took as a win. She left her hiding spot, peering up at the sun to place herself and orient back toward the south. It was only a little after dawn, and it was freezing, but she found she didn’t really notice the cold. She scooped up a handful of snow to start scrubbing at her face, cleaning off the blood and gore as she went.

It was a long walk back to her cruiser, but once she found Dolls’ campsite it was a little easier to orient. His fire had gone down to embers and he looked to be asleep, sitting against the wall of his cave with his stolen M16 across his lap, so she gave him a wide berth, noting he had already disposed of the hitters’ bodies. Lucado wouldn’t be pleased, but at least Dolls would get credit for the victory.

And even that couldn’t hurt her good humor. Who knew spending a night out in the woods instead of cooped up in the cage was this good for her mood?

Then again, maybe that explained a lot about Shae. That was probably a dangerous track to go down.

When she got back to her car she checked her face in the mirror, then crawled back into her uniform. She let the engine idle for a bit until the heat kicked in, warming her body and her clothing until she didn’t feel quite so much like a popsicle in human guise.

And then a little guilt did creep in. How many times had she told Waverly she could weather any news, any crazy twists her life took, and be her rock through it? And then when confronted with I might not be an Earp, her response was to brush it off, to dismiss the fear as irrational. Not cool, Haught. Not cool.

She drove back to the station, arrived a little after 10, and snuck in during a shift change. Nedley was the only one in the office, and he gave her an absolutely bewildered look when he saw her. She stopped and glanced down at herself, taking stock of what she must look like to him. A rumpled uniform that looked rather like she’d slept in it, her hair tangled and unbraided (and please god let there not be any leaves in it, she had forgotten to check), her face clean, unbloodied, but surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed considering she otherwise looked like the picture on an advertisement for hangover remedies.

“Haught?” he said. “Wasn’t expecting you in today.”

“Just came by to pick up some forms,” she said.

He grunted something inquisitive and sipped coffee from Dolls’ mug.

She flushed and shuffled her feet a little, and considered lying to him before discarding the idea. “Friend of mine wants to clear up some paternity concerns. Figured I could help.”

Both his eyebrows rose then. “Is that so.”

“Yes sir.” She held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t push.

“Fair enough. How did that undercover job go?”

“Thought you lost my report, sir,” she said.

“I did.”

She grinned, then looked around her for a moment. “Got good intel out of it.”

“Oh yeah? Any results?”

“Positive contact.”

“Good,” he said, and nodded, with surprising warmth in his tone. “Well done, Haught.”

“Thank you, sir.”

He drew back into his office, and she gathered up the forms she needed, tucking them into a manila envelope. She went home, showered, changed clothes, and then she headed to the Earp homestead.

She found evidence of a bonfire in the front drive, smelled charcoal and whiskey and burnt clothing on top of the strange, slightly off smell of burnt paint. She examined the fire, peering into it and poking at the remnants of... a chair? She picked up a scrap of fabric and noted it looked familiar, just a little.

She rang the doorbell, but there was no answer. Gus’ truck was gone, but Waverly’s red Jeep was parked off to one side, so she should be home. She tucked the envelope under her arm, waited a little longer, and then knocked, hard.

Still nothing. She tried the knob—it opened, and she stepped through. She smelled whiskey and food and there were plates in the sink. She headed up the stairs, trying to avoid the ones that creaked the worst. A light was on in Willa’s—Waverly’s—room, and she eased the door open. The place was completely transformed. The posters were gone, though the wallpaper on half the room remained. The bed was the same, and most of the furniture, but the various trappings were gone, the belongings replaced. It no longer felt like a shrine to the dead, but a place of transition. This room was not finished changing, but it was changing all the same, becoming something new, like a cocooned caterpillar halfway to a butterfly.

Like Waverly herself, really.

Who, she noted, was standing on the bed, hanging bits of drapery across the windows. And who, after a moment, started to turn, and finally noticed Nicole standing in the middle of the room.

“Oh jeeze!” Waverly gasped.

Nicole raised her hands, still holding the envelope. “Okay, I rang,” she said, in her defense. “And then I knocked,” she added, as Waverly laughed and set a hand to her chest, as if to ease her racing heart. “So...”

Waverly grinned and stepped forward to where she didn’t have to bend her head where the ceiling sloped down to the wall.

“Waves, this room!” she said, looking around. “It’s really ‘you.’ But... different.”

Waverly smiled, still standing on the bed. “Yeah, well. I feel different.”

Nicole nodded and tracked the slope of a long, tan leg where Waverly’s skirt ended. Before she could start drooling she pushed the wolf aside, back into its sunbeam nap.

“Are you still mad at me?” Waverly said, finally stepping down off the bed, her hand lingering on the footboard.

“Girlfriends fight,” Nicole said, as if that was even close to being an adequate apology. “It’s... it’s okay. It’s– it’s uh, it’s normal.”

“It’s kind of the worst,” Waverly said.

“It’s totally the worst, yeah,” Nicole said, grinning, and even if she hadn’t been in such a good mood already, she thought she would’ve hit it now, because it felt like she were talking to Waverly again, her Waverly, the one with no edge, no cold undertone. Waverly’s eyes flicked down to the envelope in her hands, and Nicole stepped forward. “So, I got you something. Ironically I hope it doesn’t make you mad?”

“Hm?” Waverly took the envelope from her, her expression flickering once in confusion until she turned the papers over and read the header of the first page. “Application forms? What– what for?”

“Birth certificate,” Nicole said, easing forward slightly so that she was just a little more in Waverly’s space. “Medical records, school documents...”

“Anything that could prove I’m an Earp,” Waverly said, glancing up to Nicole. She smiled, and Waverly’s gaze slid away again a moment later, down to the forms. “Or... not.”

“Hey,” Nicole said, tilting her head to catch Waverly’s eye again. “I know that going down this road is really important to you. And...” She looked down and felt Waverly’s gaze on her still, realizing almost as an afterthought how big what she wanted to say was, how much more significant it was than just an apology. After almost two weeks of cold shoulders and not-quite-arguments, after a sidewalk fight with her wife and a half-failed rescue mission, after cages and teeth and near misses with death, this was so much more. “And as long as you want me,” she said, forcing herself to look up again, “I will be by your side.”

For a moment, just a moment, she feared Waverly wouldn’t understand, wouldn’t see all the words that were lined up behind those ones like dominoes, but a smile cracked Waverly’s face, widening into something bright and warm, and Nicole stopped worrying. Waverly found Nicole’s hands with one of hers and turned to set the envelope aside, without breaking contact, and when she turned back, running her hand up to curl around the back of Nicole’s neck, Nicole pressed a tiny kiss to the tip of Waverly’s nose.

Waverly smiled and leaned up, and Nicole kissed her, feeling a little like she were holding her breath as she did it. That bitter note was all but gone, and when Waverly ran a finger under her jaw, drawing her in, she went all too willingly, letting their lips touch and linger, letting Waverly’s hands curl warm and gentle around the back of her neck. Waverly’s heartrate was picking up, a beat or two at a time, and Nicole tugged Waverly closer against her, her hands curled around slim hips.

Waverly’s fingers trailed to her shirt, sliding buttons free one after another, and Nicole kissed her forehead, letting her own hands stray to undo the few buttons holding Waverly’s shirt closed and untangling the ends where they’d been tied together. Waverly smelled like sunlight and clean fabric and toothpaste, with just a touch of lingering woodsmoke from the bonfire.

When those clever fingers tugged at her belt, the ringing of metal on metal felt very tangible, very real, and Nicole looked down, almost startled. There they were, Waverly’s hands inches from her belly and Waverly’s bare skin just behind, too, and she exhaled, sharp, thinking of words she’d said what felt like months ago, but could only have been weeks.

Your pace. Our pace.

“Okay whoa– whoa, whoa wait, Waverly, wait,” she said, and set her hands on Waverly’s wrists to hold her at bay. She tilted her head back and took a second just to breathe. It wasn’t enough distance to clear Waverly’s scent from her nose, but it was enough to give her room to think, just a little. The leather and glass of Waverly’s watch was cool, somehow reassuring under her touch. “Are you sure?” she asked, looking down again. Waverly was meeting her, gaze steady and her heart still pounding, her breath thin with desire and something so delightfully like hunger.

“Yeah,” she breathed.

“Yeah?” Nicole echoed, and grinned, biting her lip as Waverly smiled and lifted a shoulder in a shy little shrug.

“I mean... the best sex is– is makeup sex, right?”

Nicole’s laugh came out a little too breathy and a little too heated, and she looked down, listening to Waverly’s heart beating and watching the play of light through the windows on Waverly’s chest as she breathed.

“And I,” Waverly added, soft, like it was an afterthought, “I– I like you.”

It felt like code, somehow, since Nicole knew what she’d said in the station. It felt like the clumsy, uncoordinated confessions that came before the truth.

It felt like testing the waters.

So Nicole kept what she knew to herself, let out a breathless little chuckle, and lifted Waverly’s chin when she tried to look down. “Oh, I like you too,” she murmured, and leaned down to kiss her, and while she’d meant it when she said your pace, now she took the lead. Waverly let her, mostly, but her hands skimmed across Nicole’s shirt, not nervous this time but urgent, pulling open the collar a little more and then pushing the cloth back at the shoulders. Her gaze fell to Nicole’s chest, and Nicole heard her breath catch.

Nicole scooped Waverly up into her arms, laughing, and lithe legs looped over her hips for stability, even though it was only a few steps to Waverly’s bed. She lowered Waverly onto the quilt like she were made of glass, breathing in the rich, fever-warm scent of Waverly’s skin. Waverly leaned up into her for another kiss and Nicole obliged her, reaching back to slide her shirt off her arms and let it drop somewhere to the floor. Waverly’s hands roamed up her back, tracing her spine, the blades of her shoulders.

The wolf stirred but stayed quiet, languid, and it hit her, really hit her, that she could take this slow—it was the day of a full moon but it didn’t even matter. She hadn’t felt so calm, so utterly at peace, in so long. Maybe not even before the bite. Waverly lay beneath her, leaning up on her elbows where her shirt had caught and gathered, watching her with her lip between her teeth, and when Nicole slid her knee up between Waverly’s thighs she squirmed, letting out a breath that sparked a low burr in Nicole’s chest.

She leaned down again, kissing along the column of Waverly’s throat, as sculpted as any statue but soft and so deliciously warm, and Waverly flopped back against the bed at the attention, tilting her head back to give her room. Nicole let out the rumbling noise in her throat and trailed her teeth along Waverly’s skin, feather-light, pressing kisses across her collarbone and then down, tracing the curve of her breast with the touch of her mouth until Waverly’s breath caught, high and desperate.

“Nicole,” she whispered, and Nicole grinned against her, looking up.

“Hm?”

“How... I mean, what should...”

“Nothing, baby.”

Waverly picked up her head, a frown turning her mouth and drawing lines between her brows. “But—”

Nicole winked up at her, letting her tongue slide across her lips, and she grinned when Waverly sucked in a breath.

“Let me take care of you, Waves. You’re a quick study, I’m not worried.”

Waverly let her head flop back to the bed with a faint groan and threw one arm across her face. “God, Nicole...”

“Oh trust me,” she murmured. “You’ll say that again before I’m done with you.”

 

It was early afternoon when she woke up in Waverly’s bed with a blanket draped over her, a distinctly Waverly-shaped hole beside her on the bed. Not that it was an easy fit, as the bed was, objectively, sized for someone much smaller than Nicole, and certainly not for two people. She was yawning when she heard footsteps on the stairs, and picked up her head, listening as Waverly’s footsteps padded down the hall to the bathroom—the sink ran, and then the familiar sound of a toothbrush.

She had settled and was dozing again when Waverly slid into the room, sat on the edge of the bed, and traced her fingers along Nicole’s hair, brushing it back from her forehead. Nicole couldn’t remember where her hairtie had gone—the thought of cutting her hair came back with force, and even more tempting this time—but she cracked one eye open to look up at Waverly and smiled.

“Hey beautiful,” Waverly said, grinning.

“Hey yourself,” Nicole murmured, stretching her arms out and wrapping them around Waverly to tug her down next to her, nuzzling into the crook of her neck and tracing her lips down the strap of Waverly’s nightgown. Waverly sighed, content, and ran her fingers along Nicole’s hand, tracing the curves of her knuckles and following the lines of tendons.

“When do we need to go back to your place?”

Nicole smiled a little, lifting her head to catch Waverly’s eye. “You wanna come tonight?”

“Yeah,” she said, and turned to nudge her nose against Nicole’s. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there last night. Wynonna was freaking out about Willa haunting her, and then we got wrapped up into that case you gave us...”

“No, it’s okay, I—” She stopped short, almost laughing. “Hold on, Wynonna thought she was being haunted?”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, and grinned too. “We took care of it though.”

“Aha,” Nicole said. “The bonfire.”

“Mmhm!” Waverly grinned and kissed Nicole’s nose. “Anyway. Gonna make it up to you tonight.”

“Sounds good,” she said, smiling. “Will you read to me again? That was nice.”

“Of course, baby. When do you wanna go?”

“In a bit,” Nicole said, trailing her nose up under Waverly’s jaw. “Too comfortable to get up just yet.”

Waverly turned to face her and tilted her head, pressing a warm kiss to Nicole’s mouth. “Well if it’s in just a bit, I suppose I shouldn’t distract you...”

“Mm,” Nicole murmured against her lips, grinning. “No, probably a bad plan.”

“Earp or not, I grew up with Wynonna,” Waverly murmured. “Trust me, I wouldn’t know a good plan if it kicked me in the face.”

Nicole laughed, but Waverly muffled it with more kisses, and Nicole let Waverly roll her onto her back, the silk of her nightgown trailing along Nicole’s bare skin.

Chapter Text

The full moon. A time of mysticism, of ancient rites, of power. Waverly found the full moon fascinating, like so many women who shared her age and her, hmm, let’s say interests. Due to its metaphysical strength and its penchant for cycles, the moon was designated a symbol of femininity back when humanity was barely in its infancy, and even now in the modern age, it still held much of that power. Sure, it had lost some of its gravitas under the bonds of patriarchy and reason. Those who sought to weaken the feminine icon of the night forged terms like lunacy to describe the mad and the strange, and in so doing, relegated feminine strength into the same category. But even now, when most have forgotten the semantics of it, the moon still holds a great deal of power, of charisma. And Waverly was as enamored with it as any other woman.

This interest, of course, had only intensified in the wake of certain... discoveries about her new lover.

Disgusting.

Since the boundary arch, it had bided its time. Since the wolf had tasted some lingering afterthought of its essence, it had waited. But now. Oh, now it would see the beast for itself.

It was around 2 am when it took over Waverly’s body by main force, after Waverly had gone upstairs to make herself some coffee. It was a narrow thing that it didn’t drop the mug out of her hands. It set the ceramic down, pocketed a teaspoon she’d just used for sugar, and headed back into the living room, making its way down the ladder.

The wolf, which had been dozing comfortably in a coil in the cage when Waverly left, suddenly leapt up to her feet, a grinding, ripping snarl bubbling up in her chest like a pot of water boiling on a stove.

“You’re beautiful,” it murmured, using Waverly’s mouth, and made its way closer, placing Waverly’s feet with all the elegance of a model on the runway. “It’s a shame, you know. If it wouldn’t be so crowded, you’d make such a good host.” It turned Waverly’s head, exerting its will into the space between them as it had done in the Black Badge lab. “But, well, failing that, I need a good bodyguard, and your kind is so useful as raw muscle.”

The Hala had been strong, but just seconds under its gaze and the old Bulgarian demon had quailed before it like a mouse. This creature, however. Oh, this one was exciting. The force of Legion had subdued lycanthropes before, but this wolf fought. She fought like a desperate, rabid thing, and she might as well have been stone for all the progress it made in conquering her. The wolf snarled in open, violent defiance of the strength of its will.

The wolf roared and threw herself at the bars, sending up a ringing clang as her heavy body struck the metal. It stopped trying to win the creature, intrigued by her stamina, and placed Waverly’s hands on her hips. It took another step, and one large paw shot out between the bars, clawing at the space just in front of Waverly’s body, dark nails flashing in the little bit of moonlight angling down through the trapdoor.

“Oh Waverly. You silly little girl. To think you’ve charmed both the woman and the monster.”

The werewolf snarled, reaching as far as she could and baring her teeth from behind the bars.

“Even the beast wants to save you,” it murmured. “But what a shame... Nicole locked it up. And now it can’t do anything to protect you.”

The wolf reached through one more time, but when her claws hit open air she sagged back behind the bars, whining, as if she had finally registered the words and accepted them as fact. The wolf threw her head back in a howl so full of primal, unfathomable despair that it couldn’t help but laugh, turning Waverly’s voice caustic and razorblade-sharp.

“Be a good girl,” it murmured, leaning a little closer to the wolf. “And maybe when the storm comes, we will add you to the Legion instead of stripping your fur from your flesh with these very hands.”

The wolf pressed against the rear side of the cage to get away from Waverly’s body with a halfhearted gnashing of fangs and a low, muted little growl.

It laughed again. It had gotten what it wanted. After a moment the black left Waverly’s eyes, and Waverly blinked, looking around the basement.

“Wasn’t I just...” She frowned and looked into the cage, realizing with a start that she was, in fact, directly next to the cage, with her hands on the bars. “Nicole?”

The wolf crept forward, slow, cautious, and nosed at her fingers, licking her hand when Waverly cautiously offered it through.

It took her a moment to realize she was looking at wolf-gold, not the warm, honey color she associated with Nicole—with her wolf. Or the version of it that was still mostly person, at least. She tensed for a moment, expecting another snapping of teeth like the month before, but the wolf just licked at her fingers again, nuzzling, and Waverly settled next to the bars.

“Maybe I’m losing my mind,” Waverly whispered, and the wolf whined, pressing her nose into Waverly’s palm. “But I guess I shouldn’t look a gift wolf in the mouth.”

The wolf huffed out a breath and settled. She stuck her nose out through the cage so that her chin rested on Waverly’s knee, with one big paw curled around Waverly’s hip. She waited, patient, watching, until Waverly had lay down on the floor before the cage and fallen asleep.

 

Nicole woke up with her fingers tangled into Waverly’s jacket and one of the beltloops on her jeans. They were mirrored, Waverly’s hand through the bars so that she could rest a hand on Nicole’s calf.

She didn’t understand how neither of them had any scratches, but after checking for bites and finding none, she took Waverly upstairs to her bed. Waverly never woke up as she moved her, and Nicole curled up around her like a watchdog, grumbling at every noise from outside as the rest of Purgatory began to stir.

The wolf was quiet, only grumbling when she grumbled, whining when she whined, and while it didn’t make sense, she felt... not at peace, exactly, but united. Unified in purpose, maybe. Sharing some goal that neither could articulate to the other, but which they both could feel humming through their shared nerves.

For the moment, she decided not to think about it, or at least not to question it, and just hugged Waverly a little tighter, listening as she mumbled in her sleep and tucked her face against the hollow of Nicole’s throat.

Chapter Text

After another hour or so of dozing in her bed, she sent Waverly home. She was halfway into her uniform when she went into the kitchen to get breakfast, and found a mug sitting on the counter, full of cold coffee and completely untouched. It smelled fine, it looked fine, it didn’t even seem that out of place.

But something about it bothered her.

She pulled out her phone and dialed.

“...leave a message after the tone.”

Nicole frowned down into the mug and listened to the soft beep of Mikael’s voicemail.

“Hey, Mike. It’s uh. It’s Nicole. I’m calling on the 13th, if that matters. I’ve got some questions I need to talk to you about. Call me back, okay?”

 

Beep!

“Mike? Nicole again. It’s 8 pm on the 14th. I figure you should be awake by now? Well um... shoot me a text or something, okay? We need to talk.”

 

Beep!

“Mikael I swear to god if you’ve been staked or beheaded or something, I’m gonna dig up your coffin and slap you with your own stupid hand.”

 

“Still nothing?” Waverly asked, as Nicole hung up her phone and shoved it into a pocket. It was far too cold to be standing on the Earps’ front porch in just a t-shirt and jeans, which was why Waverly was bundled up in a thick parka and a scarf that was doing its best to cover her face. Waverly handed her a mug of cocoa and Nicole took it. She scowled, but let the steam wash up across her face as she sipped from it.

“Nothing,” she said, and looked out across the snowy plain before the house.

“I mean, he’s a vampire, right? I suppose radio silence isn’t really that weird.”

Mikael hadn’t sent an email about the seals or new texts he was reviewing since a few days after the Solstice, just a little before she’d called him to ask for a favor. She hadn’t heard a peep from him since that phone call, other than a single text to confirm her mailing address.

“Maybe,” she said. “But... he’s never ghosted like this before. Not to me.”

“He cares about you that much, huh?” Waverly asked, and there was an ice to it that felt right at home with the biting January wind. It made Nicole shiver, just a little.

“I think so,” she said.

Waverly chewed on her lip. “Maybe you should go look for him,” she said.

Nicole glanced her way.

“It’s just, if you’re so worried,” Waverly said. “He means a lot to you, so... don’t leave it to chance, right?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, cautious. “Maybe.”

“I guess Black Badge can’t really help though,” Waverly said, frowning into her own mug. “Even if they could help find him, they wouldn’t be satisfied with just chatting with him.”

“No,” Nicole said, and sighed. “And I know where to start looking. Starting isn’t the hard part.”

“What is?” Waverly asked.

Nicole bobbed her head a little, weighing her words.

“Convincing his sister to tell me where he is.”

 

Loretta von Holstein wasn’t hard to find. She ran clubs in almost every big city across the country, and it usually wasn’t very hard to get in touch with her if you could find some of her assistants.

The nearest of Loretta’s clubs was a few hours’ drive outside the Triangle and looked like it belonged between the covers of a William Gibson novel, not on the streets of a Canadian metropolis. It lurked like a crouching tiger along half a city block: a palace of neon and chrome, an ode to a time that everyone felt like they’d lived through even though it had never actually happened.

Even wearing earplugs Nicole heard the bass thumping from four blocks away, a low, pulsing beat that she could feel in her ribs as she got within a hundred yards, thrumming and vital. The club catered to supernaturals, adjacents, and humans alike, and while there was nothing supernatural about the music, it spoke to a deeper, more primal force. Nicole took a deep breath of city air to fill her lungs, then showed golden eyes to the bouncers and slid inside.

The air was a grey haze of several different kinds of smoke, some of which might have even come from some kind of smoldering djinn, but even for all that, none of the smells in the club were too much. Loretta wanted her supernatural clientele to be comfortable, and while Nicole didn’t have the vaguest notion how she did it, she was as good as her word. Somehow it wasn’t overwhelming, even though Nicole could smell smoke and alcohol and fruit juice and soda, could hear the pounding music that pulsed in time with lights of every color that shone down over the dance floor. She could smell cologne and perfume and sex, could hear clubgoers dancing, singing, laughing, moaning, the sounds loud and muffled by each other all at the same time.

Wherever she looked she saw the mixing of cultures. There, a vampire teasing kisses and nips along the shoulder and throat of a young human, here an immortal knight discussing fencing strategy with a faetouched graduate student. It reminded her that the supernatural world didn’t have to be all bad.

It also reminded her that a lot of it was no good.

She prowled the edges of the crowd, avoiding excessive eye contact and the attention of the bartenders. When she found an employee access door she slipped through and came face to face with a man that was no man at all, but something with ogre’s blood and a suit that looked like it came straight off the runway.

“Stop,” he said, without actually holding up a hand or moving at all. He filled the hallway, his shoulders hunched just by virtue of the fact that he didn’t quite fit.

Nicole backpedaled until her shoulders hit the door she’d come through.

“You’re not employee,” the ogre-blooded guard said.

“Uh, no,” Nicole allowed, raising her hands. “But I need to speak with Ms. von Holstein. It’s kind of urgent?”

The guard narrowed his eyes.

“What’s your clan.”

She let her vision tint gold and smiled at him, showing him her fangs without real malice in it. “Moonsinger.”

The guard grunted, but withdrew a radio from the breast pocket of his jacket and spoke into it in a language she didn’t understand. She waited, smoothing her hands down the front of her white shirt, which looked luminescent under the blacklights, and fussed with the cuffs where they fell at her elbows. He listened to the response in his radio, then grunted again and turned aside.

“Go,” he said.

She nodded and went past him, though she had to turn sideways to fit alongside him in the hallway. The concrete hall led down a few dozen more feet before it hit a stairway leading up, and she followed it, climbing until the distant pulse of the music had faded out to almost nothing.

The hallway led in a couple directions, but she turned left, following light and the sound of soft, idle conversation.

Another guard, this one significantly smaller and probably human, or near-human, met her in the hallway and raised a hand to signal her to stop. He stepped forward and patted her down. She’d left her small boot-mounted sidearm at home, knowing she wouldn’t need it in a supernatural fight, and after a moment he pulled away from her, satisfied the only weapon she possessed was herself.

He opened the door for her and let her into a moderately sized room of glass and chrome that overlooked the dance floor. The walls didn’t look like they could possibly be soundproof, yet she could hear nothing of what was going on downstairs through the thick plate glass, and the lights dulled the potential glare of the colored lamps to something negligible. Thick red carpet muffled the sounds of her shoes and made the dark black leather chairs look positively luxurious.

As Nicole stepped in Loretta herself rose from her chair behind a chrome and black steel desk. She ducked her head in something like deference as Loretta took her in, and compared to von Holstein’s red silk dress and long, elegant blonde curls, Nicole suddenly felt very shabby in her black jeans and white shirt. Loretta looked like something out of a magazine—too perfect to be real, with a gentle face and thick, soft lips. But her eyes, a shade of violet that made Nicole think of the reflected light caught in a glacier, or the dancing ribbons of an aurora, were so cool and imposing it was like looking into the eyes of a cobra.

Her presence was a physical thing, a force of nature bound inside the walls and ceiling of the room. She was a storm in the shape of a human, thunder and lightning and wind contained within the cage of ribs and sternum. She was something ancient and everlasting, forgotten and unforgettable. She was Loretta von Holstein, a creature of night and blood. A vampire who had seen the rise and fall of nations, who had seen the birth of American empires and the death of European juggernauts. Who would, if nothing else changed, watch as humanity devoured itself.

Even just being in the room with her was oppressive and heavy. The force of her will, of her very being, was like the crash of a wave. Trying to hold steady against it, similarly, felt like standing on a beach, stubbornly driving your feet into the sand for traction even as the pull of the tide pulled more and more sand away, until there was nothing left around your ankles.

“Nicole Haught,” Loretta said, somehow managing to suffuse her name with both warmth and contempt. Unlike her brother, Loretta had made almost no effort to hide her Scandinavian lilt, and Nicole imagined it did not hurt her efforts with young men who found her exotic and appealing. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”

She scrambled to remember the words she had been taught and nodded her head more deeply. “The pleasure is mine, Lady Loretta. I apologize for my indiscretions. I did not expect to speak with you in person.”

Loretta laughed, the sound musical and maybe only a little mocking. “I see my brother has taught you well, little wolf. Tell me, then, if you did not come here to speak to me face to face. What could you possibly have expected to find in my halls? Surely you are not here in some... official capacity. We are quite outside your jurisdiction, I should think.”

Nicole swallowed down a lump of anxiety and chose to believe that Mikael had told his sister about her job, and not that Loretta was spying on her. The last thing she needed was more supernatural heavyweights watching her.

“No, Lady,” Nicole said, and stood a little straighter, her hands at her back. “I merely hoped to speak with you.”

“Without knowing I was here? You mean to say that you came all this way to place a phone call?” Loretta laughed. “What on earth could be so important?”

Sometimes, even to the most blunt and cavalier, one can feel the gravitas of a statement before it’s given voice. The words feel heavier somehow, weighted as if with concrete blocks. This, for Nicole, was one such moment. It hit her like a breeze, sudden and whisper-quick, that the words at the tip of her tongue might change things, warp events and fate into unrecognizable snarls. She stood at the crossroads of a choice, but to her, there was only one option.

“Lady Loretta,” Nicole said, though she said it with a little care, and a little more slowly than she might have otherwise. “When did you last speak with your brother?”

Loretta’s smile wavered, just a fraction.

“I beg your pardon?”

Nicole stood her ground, though she could feel ripples of tension making her whole body tremble. “I’ve been trying to reach Lord Mikael by phone for several days,” she explained. “I was hoping you knew where he was.”

Loretta’s violet gaze turned absolutely arctic and the force of her in the room sucked the breath from Nicole’s lungs. She took an involuntary step back.

“You have neither the gall nor the spine to play tricks,” Loretta mused, her eyes narrowed almost to slits. “And neither the experience nor the face to tell lies. So I must presume, wolf, that you tell me this in good faith.”

“I do,” Nicole said, and it was a struggle not to gasp the words like a prayer.

Loretta turned aside to look out over the dance floor of her club and Nicole staggered forward a step at the sudden absence, like a kite when the wind suddenly dies, and fell to one knee.

For a minute, maybe two, Nicole focused on breathing silent, haggard breaths, and Loretta stared out over the sea of grinding, mindless bodies below. She cast no reflection in the glass, but Nicole could see the play of colored light over her face and bare shoulders.

“When last I heard from him,” Loretta said, “He was heading north, to the wildlands, to see the Night Mare for advice.” She didn’t turn back to face Nicole, but looked over her shoulder, her visible eye glowing faintly where the lights from beyond threw Loretta partially into shadow. “Do you know what it means, wolf, to hold my title?”

Nicole watched her for a moment, frowning. She spoke slowly, weighing her words against Loretta’s expression, watching for minute shifts that might tell her she was on the wrong track.

“It means that... you have other courtiers to consider. That there are people—other vampires in particular—watching what you say, and what you do.”

“And?” Loretta prompted, her eyebrow rising.

“And,” Nicole echoed, thinking as fast as she could. “And if they saw what was going on...” She sighed, pretty sure she understood. “If Lord Mikael is gone, some will try to take his spot. If he isn’t but they see you rushing off to help him, they’ll take it as proof that one or both of you are weak. Which means I need to handle this. Without your help.”

“Perhaps you are what my brother says you are,” Loretta mused. “Let us hope that is enough.”

Chapter Text

It didn’t take long for Nicole to turn her living room into something that belonged on a tv set. At Waverly’s suggestion she’d hung a cork board on the wall across from her couch so they could pin up a map of everything north of the Ghost River Triangle, in particular the wildlands Loretta had mentioned. The map was almost entirely obscured by notes, pages from ancient texts that Waverly had duplicated by borrowing Jeremy’s special scanner, and even a few newspaper clippings. A complex web of string connected pushpins to each other, an elaborate three-dimensional map of data that even continued across the room. Waverly had pinned a clothesline across to the wall by the kitchen and had clipped up more pages along it. Closer to the other wall there was even a small tapestry that looked like it belonged in a museum.

“Baby,” Nicole said, running a finger along a red string that connected two pages that looked an awful lot like BBD case files. “What’s this?”

Waverly looked up from the book she was sifting through and blinked a few times while her eyes refocused. She was bundled up in one of Nicole’s old university hoodies and a mug of coffee sat beside her, still steaming.

“Red’s the more reliable accounts,” Waverly said.

“No I remember,”  Nicole said, pointing elsewhere on the board. “And blue means it’s local research or eyewitness—the stuff we probably shouldn’t trust. But this looks like BBD stuff. How’d you get this?”

“Oh!” Waverly said, and grinned, leaning her chin in her hand and beaming with pride. “Borrowed them from Jeremy.”

Nicole glanced over at her, one eyebrow raised. “Borrowed, huh.”

Waverly winked.

“Honestly,” Nicole said, grinning. “Where’s the tv police procedural about us?”

Waverly laughed and sipped from her coffee. “Well I’m clearly the hot brainiac one.”

Nicole set a hand to her chest and gasped as if offended.

“No no, it’s perfect! You’re the world-weary veteran who’s seen it all and I’m the new recruit who’s all gadgets and technology while you do it the old-fashioned way.”

“What old-fashioned way?” Nicole laughed. “I’m the most tech-savvy officer Nedley’s got.”

“Well obviously it’s a metaphor,” Waverly said, and sniffed. “Besides, the title is super obvious.”

“Oh?” Nicole said, moving to stand in front of Waverly and perching her hands on her hips. “Do tell.”

“Hm, well there’s two,” Waverly mused, and tucked a finger into one of Nicole’s belt loops. “Haught to Trot or CSI: K9.”

“Oh my god, Waverly!” Nicole laughed, though she didn’t exactly fight as Waverly pulled her down, tugging at her shirt to get her into range for a kiss. She’d forgotten how nice this stage of a relationship could be. The part where it was a miracle they got anything done with their hands so inclined to wander along skin and clothing alike. Where it was a wonder they hadn’t both passed out from oxygen deprivation. Where Waverly still surprised her with her interest and her eagerness to experience everything Nicole had to show her. Waverly’s lips found hers and held her like a tether, her mouth warm and familiar and soft against her own, her teeth catching Nicole’s lip and tugging, teasing.

Waverly’s kiss, bitter aftertaste or not, was a drug all its own—sweet and intoxicating and never quite enough to satisfy her.

So much so in fact it took her a moment to realize Waverly had stopped kissing her to say something.

“What? Sorry.”

Waverly laughed, musical and so very much like wind chimes that Nicole felt dazzled by it for a moment.

“I said I think I have a lead,” she said, and shifted to one side of her chair, patting the space beside her for Nicole to sit. She did, wrapping herself around Waverly in the process, since the armchair wasn’t really big enough for them both. Waverly didn’t seem to mind, and she and her wolf didn’t either, a pleased little rumble picking up deep in her chest as she set her chin on Waverly’s shoulder and looked over her shoulder at the folder of notes and newspaper clippings she was holding.

“So these are all from...” Waverly pulled a smaller copy of the map out and traced a loose circle around a wide patch of forest. “This region. Accounts of a strange equine figure in the trees,” she noted, flipping through the clippings, “As well as a high concentration of supernatural phenomena in the nearby towns. BBD even took out a coven of witches up there in 1958, and then a nest of harpies in ‘96. Looks like everything else was small-fry enough that BBD didn’t bother, but it looks like they investigated a couple other times.”

“Hotspot,” Nicole said, nodding. “Think the Night Mare is attracting it?”

“Probably. If this Night Mare is especially powerful, it might attract followers, or it might just put out a strong enough aura that other things are attracted to it. Sort of like magnets.”

Nicole nodded. “Loretta said Mikael went to the Night Mare for advice. If it’s reliable or strong enough that he picked it, we’re definitely looking at something that packs a hefty supernatural punch.”

“I agree. So I think you should start up here,” she said, tapping the map again. “People in town might have local myths or legends, too, that didn’t really get shared elsewhere.”

Nicole glanced down at her, surprised. “You don’t want to come?”

“I figured you’d tell me I couldn’t,” Waverly said, shrugging one shoulder.

Nicole chewed on her lip. “I mean, it will be dangerous. If Mikael went out that way and he went missing...”

Waverly made a derisive noise and Nicole flinched at the bite in it. Inexplicably the wolf bristled at it too, but when she turned her head to look at Waverly’s face, Waverly just sighed and leaned against her chest, inadvertently blocking Nicole from seeing her.

“Sorry. Just starting to get a little tired of being boxed out.”

“Hey,” Nicole said, and kissed the top of her head. “You know I’d take you in a heartbeat if I could. But since I can’t bring BBD, the fewer the better. Besides. Wynonna would definitely shoot me if I brought you so far outside the Triangle for something like this.”

“Yeah,” Waverly sighed. “I know.”

“Just for now,” Nicole said, and stroked a hand through her girlfriend’s hair, trying not to think about the fact that part of why she wanted to talk to Mikael in the first place was her lingering uncertainty about Waverly’s safety. She couldn’t very well ask Mikael hey so if someone’s taste suddenly changes and then they exhibit weird personality fluctuations that’s normal right when Waverly was in the same room.

Provided Mikael is even still alive, she thought, and immediately shoved that down. He was definitely fine. Definitely.

 

Nicole had to take off work and rent a car—Waverly offered the use of her Jeep but that would invite all kinds of questions she wasn’t really interested in answering—and drove up to the region Waverly had marked on the map. It took the better part of the day, and it was mid-afternoon when she arrived. The sky was a blanket of heavy grey clouds threatening gloom, but a sniff of the air made her think there weren’t any significant storms coming. That, at least, was a relief. The last thing she needed was to get snowed in some six hours from home.

She’d booked lodgings a bit south of the wildlands in a suburban sprawl that was halfway between glorified road stop and actual town. There were a few shops and a handful of chain restaurants in town, as well as a local diner. That was where she went first, walking down the block from her motel. The streets were sheeted in half-melted snow and she placed her feet deliberately to avoid slipping. It was cold enough that even with the wolf’s insulation her trousers felt bitterly cold against her skin, and she found herself wishing she’d kept at least one proper parka rather than just the fur-lined denim jacket she’d brought.

When she opened the diner's front door, she realized she’d been so focused on where she was going and her footing that she’d missed something of particular interest.

The inside of the place reeked of the unique energy and scent of non-humans.

The customers all looked relatively ordinary at first glance, of course, but when she looked a little closer, let her eyes go a little more gold, she noted interesting little details, some of which were hidden under minor glamours. The host behind the cash register was a changeling, with just a little of the lingering scent of faerie on him. An entwined couple in the booth nearest the door looked like a pair of retirees in their early 50s but were actually jackalopes. She might not have caught it except they smelled like rabbits, and when she glanced their way they watched her with beady eyes and twitchy little noses, and she noticed the man’s hat was floating just slightly above his head, suspended on short antlers.

A few tables away from them was a tapir-looking young man in a long coat and a wide-brimmed hat that she could have sworn was a baku. There were a handful of young men with whiskers, cat ears, and letterman jackets sitting in a booth further back, who were engaged in the most casual fry-flinging foodfight she’d ever witnessed. One of the waitresses passed by and flashed Nicole a professionally warm smile and a wink, and Nicole spotted the glint of scale mail under her uniform. Nicole watched her for a moment, looking for reasons to believe the woman’s decidedly Slavic features, imperious gaze, and armor meant something other than an honest to god Valkyrie.

She dipped her head politely to the jackalope couple, hoping she looked relatively nonthreatening, and approached the host first. There was something about him the wolf felt kinship with, and he perked up a little as she approached, showing a bright-eyed enthusiasm that reminded her of a puppy.

“Hey there!” he said, extending a hand. His nametag read Hi! My name’s Peter! “Don’t recognize ya. New in town? Almost thought I was gonna have to engage the repulsers.”

“The what?”

“Magic,” he explained, with a grin that showed very slight fangs, small enough that he could probably pass for human if he needed to. “Makes outsiders feel uncomfortable here and move on.”

“Ah,” she said, and grinned right back at him. “Nice trick.”

“Helps keep out the normies,” he said. “So! What can I getcha? Special today is Maxwell’s silver meatloaf. No actual silver, of course!”

“That sounds great,” she said, and leaned her elbows on the counter next to the register. “And Peter, I’ve got a question for you, if you don’t mind.”

He shrugged. “Don’t mind ya askin’ ma’am, that’s for sure!”

“Great,” she said, and leaned a little closer. “A friend of mine might’ve come through here sometime in the last few weeks. A vampire. He might’ve been on his way through to chat with the Night Mare. Did you see him?”

The diner around her went quiet. Not in the idle, slow way of a group of people distracted by activity outside or falling into order, but in the haphazard, clattering way that one would expect to follow a mug shattering or an unexpected scream of pain.

She tensed, but didn’t take her eyes away from Peter. His heartrate and breathing had very suddenly sped up, his eyes wide and very round.

The Valkyrie waitress thumped a heavy hand down on her shoulder and Nicole turned to look at her.

“You should go,” the woman said. More she mouthed it, barely a whisper escaping her lips. “Now.”

Nicole narrowed her eyes. “I need to find my friend.”

“Go north,” the Valkyrie said, marching her back to the door as she did. “Follow 63 and go through the woods to the river. There you will find the Night Mare.”

Nicole set her feet when she reached the doorway and narrowed her eyes. “And why should I trust you? You’re awful quick to share.”

The Valkyrie winced and glanced back and forth as if looking for witnesses. Nicole scanned the room again and noticed the jackalopes had taken great and sudden interest in their coffees, and the letterman panthers were suddenly very absorbed in their fries. The baku had disappeared, a few crumpled bills and a handful of coins sitting at the edge of his table.

“Listen, they’re not really interested in ‘chat first, stab later’ policies, so the less it seems like we helped outsiders, the better.”

Nicole frowned as the Valkyrie shoved her back out the door of the diner.

“Who the hell is they?”

The door slammed in her face and she sighed, turning back toward the motel. Maybe she could find something halfway decent to eat at one of the fast food joints, but she wasn’t exactly holding her breath.

Chapter Text

“And then she kicked me out of the diner!” Nicole complained. She sat against a small horde of pillows heaped up against the headboard in her motel room. It wasn’t anything special, but she’d slept in worse after Mikael helped her get away from Shae. Waverly laughed and shook her head a little at Nicole’s antics, and when Nicole saw her on her phone screen, she huffed out a little breath, pretending to be more annoyed than she actually was. “Don’t laugh at me.”

“I’m not, baby, I’m not,” Waverly said, though she was still laughing. “It’s just cute when you get all huffy like that. Like a grumpy puppy.”

Nicole grumbled, but settled into the pillows and smiled a little when she caught Waverly watching.

“How’s the search going otherwise, baby.”

Nicole gave a faint grunt of disapproval and settled down against her pillows more, making a comfortable little nest of them. “No other leads, so... I guess I’ll be following it. It’s a place to start, at least. Though I’ll leave tomorrow. She didn’t say how far up the highway it is, and I don’t think it’s that far, but if this all goes sideways the way it seems like it will, I want to be able to bail. For now though, gonna do some more research on this Night Mare thing. You sent me some files while I was on the road, right?”

Waverly nodded and smiled at the camera. “Good thinking. Yeah, there should be a few in your email right now. Let me know if you don’t have them, I can resend it.”

Exhaustion didn’t hit her like a wall—rather it crept up behind her like a thief and smacked her across the back of the head. Nicole yawned, the sound a little squeaky at the end, like a puppy, and she half-expected Waverly to call her out on it.

“Nicole,” Waverly said instead, concern drawing out the syllables. “It’s like. Two in the afternoon.”

“Been on the road all morning,” Nicole muttered, waving a hand vaguely.

“Yeah, but you said when you first got on the call that you had too much coffee at the restaurant.” Nicole hummed, to show she was listening. “You said you were gonna read what I sent you until you were actually tired enough to fall asleep. You haven’t even opened your eyes in like a minute.”

Nicole tried to do so, just to prove she could, but they just seemed so heavy. “It’s fine,” she muttered, and lowered her arm, getting comfortable against the pillows. She’d just nap for a few minutes. It’d be all right.

“Babe–”

“S’fine,” she said. “S’fine, just gonna nap for a minute.”

“Nicole—”

 

She was dreaming. Huh. That was fast.

It wasn’t a good dream though, and it had happened awful fast for this to be a nightmare. And yet, here she was. It was her father’s basement again. The summoning circle was there, the one with the imperfect binding from when she’d been 18. But this time there was something in the basement with her—not the ghostly figure, but something darker, something hungry. Her senses felt dulled by sleep, maybe, or maybe just by being human, because this was before the bite. Before so much had changed.

She could hear voices.

The first was her father’s, low and commanding.

The second was her own, higher, more frantic, more alarmed than she’d usually been when she spent time in the basement, but this was different. This was scary in a way that all her father’s other work hadn’t been. (This wasn’t right, he’d done the binding wrong, it was going to get loose, it could hurt someone; this isn’t okay, Dad, what are you doing, Dad, what have you done.)

The third voice was the creature, speaking in riddle and rhyme, in the ghostly, rasping voice of a thousand cicadas singing all at once as her father asked it questions and god, god, it just kept answering, it kept speaking, offering an oracle’s mad prophecy in answer.

“Where does the lord sleep? How do we free him?” Her father asked and it babbled a nonsense answer. It was garbage, it was complete gibberish, but god, her father listened to every word as if it were gospel and that scared her almost as much as the creature’s voice itself.

He sleeps in Limbo: he is in Limbo as he sleeps. Wall of stone binds him as much as wall of bone, guarded by dying phoenixes. The dead are his keeper and he keeps the dead; dancing until the end of time, they dance, in fire and in floodplain. Bullet for a bullet, daughter after son! He cannot wake. He shall not wake, not till the shackles of iron and silver are cracked open and all the earth cries out.

The creature sang to her father and he listened. And here the memory and the nightmare diverged.

In the memory, she had just stood by, watching, in horror and in awe, frozen with fear and with confusion. But in the dream. God, in the dream she was in multiple places at once.

She was standing behind her father, listening.

She was her father. Standing before the creature, listening, memorizing. His—no, her—hands were stained with blood and dried flowers and spices. Sage and jasmine and nettles ground into a powder, mixing with the blood on his—her—fingers until it became almost like a paint across his—her—skin.

And she was on the floor beneath the ghostly figure, dying, pouring out blood onto the concrete floor where her father had carved open tendon and artery for his horrible spell.

And she was the spirit, flickering and burning. Hot and cold, suffering and in ecstasy. She was high, she was crashing to earth. She was flying, she was falling. She was all things, and nothing.

The beginning and the end.

She was also a wolf, 12 feet tall and ebony black, lurking in the shadows.

In the memory, there had been only her father’s voice, and hers, and the spirit’s.

But now there was a fourth voice. A familiar voice.

The spirit vanished and that part of Nicole’s awareness went with it. The body on the floor choked, convulsed, died, and it took a little more of her away too. The version of her that was 18 fled the room, and that took just a bit more of her.

But she was still her father, bloodstained and high on power.

She was still the wolf.

Her father turned from the improper circle to the werewolf in the corner and said do it, we need her contained.

The new voice spoke in a throaty purr she remembered all too well from rock climbing, from hotel rooms, from post-op recovery rooms.

Yes. Your daughter, caged in wolf’s fur and steel, as you command.

 

A different voice cut in. Waverly’s, but darker, harder, sharper at the edges and carrying another sound underneath, like static, like reverb.

“Nicole Haught. You will wake.”

She jerked, contorting on a full-bodied convulsion that left her sitting upright, bewildered and off-balance. The wolf was snarling, furious, but they didn’t have a target, there was no identifiable source to blame or maim, and that futile rage just boiled and bubbled with nowhere to go.

Nicole sat for a moment, panting and wiping cold sweat from her forehead.

“Nicole?” Waverly said again, sounding perfectly ordinary. Nicole fumbled for her phone, patting across the quilt for it until she could pull it out from under a pillow and look at the display. Waverly’s eyes were wide as discs. “Oh my god, baby, what happened?”

“I dunno,” Nicole muttered, running a hand through her hair and patting down her chest as if checking for a wire. “I dunno, I just... I just passed out, and god, that dream...”

“Dream?” Waverly said, confused.

“It was awful, it was—” She stopped short, understanding slapping her across the face, and she twisted her mouth up into a scowl. “It was that baku from the diner,” she growled, and her wolf chafed at the realization, snarling and pacing inside the cage of her ribs. “That little shit.”

“A baku?” Waverly asked, still lost. “I thought they eat bad dreams. They’re supposed to be good, aren’t they?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, holding her phone out so she’d still be visible as she stood and started gathering up her coat and her boots. “But I bet it wouldn’t be too hard for one to get its Linda Blair on if he had enough incentive.”

“What do you mean, incentive?”

Nicole shoved her feet back into her boots, leaving the laces partially untied so she could slip out of them if she had to shift in a hurry, and frowned at her phone screen.

“Say if they’re working for some shady group that has an entire town’s small supernatural community shaking in their collective boots?” Nicole said, frowning.

Waverly was no slouch—she mulled that over, then wrinkled her nose, mirroring Nicole’s frown. “Damn. Off to the Night Mare then?”

Nicole bobbed her head in a nod and sighed. “Yeah. Looks like I don’t have as much time as I hoped. I’ll take my car as far as I can and then just hike it the rest of the way. Shift if I have to, once I’m off the...” She waved a hand.

“Beaten path,” Waverly provided, and nodded. “Okay, well... text me when you’re back out, okay? I’m gonna worry about you till I hear from you.”

“Promise,” Nicole said. Despite everything, she smiled, and blew a kiss to her phone’s camera. “See you soon, baby.”

Waverly beamed. “You too.”

 

The roads weren’t great, but she managed to find the wildlands the Valkyrie had told her about without too much trouble, and parked her rented car just off the highway where it wasn’t immediately visible from the road. The woods yawned out around her, ominous and silent in the snowy gloom of an overcast afternoon at the end of January. Once she got under the canopy, even more so.

The darkness fell around her like a cloak dropped from overhead, heavy and dismal. She smelled damp earth and dying trees, but no squirrels, no rabbits. Nothing moved in the distance, except the occasional waggle of bare branches as a north wind swept through. She pulled her coat a little tighter around her to ward off the chill and forged deeper into the wildlands, heading west toward the river.

She’d been walking for an hour when she heard a sound she had not expected, even knowing what she was looking for.

A dry dying branch snapped with an audible pop and she froze behind a tree, immediately abandoning human guise to bring up wolf’s ears and a thick, black-tipped nose, her eyes sharpening to gold.

There was a faint swishing sound and then a voice. A woman’s voice, lurking out from the woods around her, soft and somehow coming from everywhere, so that Nicole couldn’t triangulate the speaker’s position, even with better hearing.

“Come out, shifter. We must speak, you and I.”

Nicole growled once, half warning, half alarm.

“I know you’ve come. I always know.”

Nicole lurked forward a step, scanning the treeline again, but she didn’t have to look far. Before her, in a pocket of empty ground amidst the thick trunks of oak trees, stood a creature even Nicole had never seen outside movies. The body of a horse, except from the shoulders curled the upper body of a woman, wild-haired and bare-chested.

A centaur. Nicole gaped, and didn’t even bother to hide it, her mouth hanging open as she stared in something like awe.

The centaur’s skin was dark, almost black in the afternoon’s poor light, and the horsehair looked grey—maybe a blue roan. She wore nothing other than a leather harness, from which a handful of javelins hung over her human back and across the shoulders of the horse, but parts of her body were concealed with bloodstained bandaging. The massive left thigh was heavily bandaged, with a matching blow across the thick left shoulder. Her right eye was entirely covered in a bloodied makeshift eyepatch, and there was something like a splint around the forearm of her human arm, fashioned from branches and maybe a bit of old tin siding, bent by human hands, albeit using inhuman strength.

The centaur watched her, waiting, with the kind of patience that could sit and watch the end of the world.

“You...” Nicole worked her mouth once, then again. “You’re the Night Mare.”

“Of course.”

“I figured you were a horse,” she said. “Or... something like it. A demon maybe, but. Still. Like. An actual horse.”

“Obviously.”

“But you’re...” Nicole gestured uselessly at her. “You’re the Night Mare.”

“Yes.” One of the enormous hooves—the front right, which so far as Nicole could tell was one of the few uninjured legs—pawed at the earth, digging a long furrow into the dirt. “If you are quite done gawking, perhaps we might do something useful.”

Nicole shut her mouth with an audible little click. “Right.”

“You have come for answers,” the Night Mare said. “As do all.”

“I did. I– I mean I do!” Nicole stepped forward, spreading her hands in what she hoped looked like polite supplication. “Did Mikael von Holstein come here? Where is he? Is he all right?”

“I am an arbiter of fate, when fate deigns to be controlled,” the centaur said, her eyes hard, her voice like chips of ice, cold but transient, echoing on the dying trees around them. “I speak truths, when there are truths to be spoken. I see that which lies before, and that which lies behind. I answer questions, when it is right for me to answer.”

Nicole chewed on the inside of her cheek to avoid badgering her with more questions. The woman’s strength and age and aura was strong. Not as heavy as Loretta’s, but powerful all the same.

The Night Mare watched her with that terrible patience again, for long, aching seconds, then turned, gesturing into the woods. “Follow,” she said.

Nicole obeyed, and as she walked behind the enormous centaur, she consulted the wolf. It was relatively docile, so soon after the new moon, and only interested in what was going on in the most vague sense. It seemed a bit uncertain, but if it was worried about anything that was happening, it wasn’t piercing through the beast’s general and cyclical languor.

So... not very helpful.

“Should I take this to mean he’s alive?” Nicole asked.

The horsetail before her swished back and forth as if dispelling something annoying, like a fly, but the Night Mare said nothing.

“Of course,” Nicole grumbled. “You’re an oracle. Which means you’re basically allergic to giving straight answers.”

The Night Mare gave a derisive little snort, glancing over her shoulder, but still she said nothing.

They walked for something like half an hour, plodding through the brush with Nicole drifting along behind the centaur in the path she formed simply by walking, dodging the occasional broken branch. As they neared their target she could hear the nearby chatter of a partially frozen river—the creaking of ice floes and the babbling of active water. The wind swept west, coming from behind her, but just before they emerged from the treeline, Nicole smelled... something. Something inhuman.

She froze. “Wait.”

The centaur stopped, hooves tapping the hard earth.

“What is it.”

Nicole turned halfway around, scanning the trees. “Something following us.”

“We have little time,” the Night Mare said.

“Shh,” Nicole snapped, holding a hand out behind her to bid the creature for silence.

Somewhere before her she heard movement, as of something lurking and settling in to wait. It was a patient hunter. She heard the centaur shifting behind her, the creak of leather as the Night Mare drew a javelin from her harness.

And then the sharp tip of a spearhead touched the bare skin at the back of Nicole’s neck, angling down past the collar of her coat. It burned against her skin and she tensed as the discordant notes of silver jangled across her senses like an afterthought. The metal drifted away, just enough to avoid burning, but still more than close enough to be threatening.

Nicole slowly raised her hands, then turned her head, just enough to see the hard, cold face of the Night Mare beyond the butt of the javelin. Her hands were firm on the haft of the weapon, even the splinted one, and there was no hint of mercy or compassion in her dark face. The wolf stirred now, lethargic but growing more and more concerned as it woke and grasped their predicament.

“I thought oracles were supposed to be impartial,” she said, keeping her voice as level as she could.

“We are,” the Night Mare said. “And there was a time when impartial meant that one was willing to sacrifice oneself to maintain that neutrality.”

“But times change?” Nicole suggested.

“Indeed, shifter. Indeed.”

“Where is Mikael?”

The Night Mare made a faint sound of disapproval, maybe at herself. One of her hands moved down to curl into the back of Nicole’s coat—the javelin remained near at hand, poised to drive deep into her heart if she so much as moved. She turned, starting to march Nicole out toward the river.

“Turned to ash a fortnight hence, after he came to me. The Watchers in the Dark ensured his destruction.”

Nicole walked, obedient, her hands still raised. “And why did he come here?”

“He sought advice about keeping safe the Three Seals of the Demon that lie within the Sanctuary.”

Nicole tracked the riverbank as they emerged from the forest onto open ground. Five figures, all wearing heavy black robes that shrouded their bodies and faces alike, stood at the points of a pentacle that had been carved into the frozen mud. A sixth, also in robes, stood just a bit distant from the circle, waiting, with a heavy knife in one hand.

“I don’t suppose you feel like sharing what you told him?” Nicole said.

“I hardly see how it matters,” the Night Mare said, and released her coat collar. “You won’t have time to share what he learned.”

“Please don’t say ‘because you’ll be dead,’” Nicole said with a groan, though she kept her hands about level with her shoulders. “Please. It’s just so tired.”

The sixth robed figure chuckled, the sound familiar to her, as if she’d heard it many years ago and almost forgotten it.

“We’re not here to kill you, Nicky. We’re just going to bind you to a higher purpose and bring you home.”

Chapter Text

For a moment, Nicole’s heart stopped beating, and her mouth dropped open. She lowered her hands a few more inches.

“Dad?”

The figure in robes spread his hands—the knife still in his right—and she could hear the smile in his voice.

“Nicky. It’s good to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” she said, and a growl rose up in her throat. “How are you– I called the cops. You couldn’t have... I mean you shouldn’t have had time to—”

Her father laughed. Not a villainous I have you now laugh, but his laugh. The same paternal chuckle that she’d heard after every tasteless joke he’d ever told. The one she’d heard at every summer block party while he was manning the grill.

She almost would’ve preferred the maniacal cackle.

“Honey,” he said, all warmth. She might as well have been five years old, for the way he said it. “Did you think we had Henry and Marsha over for dinner twice a month because they used the same pharmacy we did?”

Nicole felt her stomach twist up into icy knots. “Officer Thornton,” she whispered. “He’s in your... He’s in on it? All of it?”

One of the other robed figures, the one standing at the water point of the pentacle, lifted a gloved hand in greeting.

“Hey Nicole.”

“Hush, Brother Henry,” her father said, turning to wave a placating hand, but he sounded like he was trying not to laugh as he did it.

The Night Mare stomped a hoof against the riverbank, interrupting. Nicole jumped at the sound—she’d almost forgotten about the other woman behind her.

“I have fulfilled my bargain,” she announced, and slammed the javelin tip-first into the earth, letting the haft tremble like a struck guitar string. “It is time you fulfill yours.”

Nicole glanced over her shoulder. The centaur did not look at her. She kept her dark, unknowable eyes trained on the cult’s leader.

Her father dipped his head in what she supposed was some sort of magnanimous bow, and the Night Mare turned aside, heading north along the riverbank. In the distance Nicole could almost make out the shape of a structure, maybe a small house. She listened to the clopping of hooves and turned back to face her father as he stepped closer to her, one hand extended.

“Come, Nicky. We can leash the wolf for you. We can help.”

“What?” she asked, lowering her hands all the way. “How?”

She couldn’t see her father’s face, but she could hear the smile in his voice as he kept his arm outstretched, an offer of aid if she just took his hand.

“It’s a demon, of course, just like any other. We can bind it with blood and power. I know you’re tired, Nicole. It will always fight you, always. Even if the two of you could agree on a goal, you’d never agree on the method. That’s what being a lycanthrope means. An eternal fight between man and beast. But we can ease your burden, Nicky. We can force it to bend. It just takes a little blood.” He showed her the knife, like a promise. Like playing poker open-handed with a child as they learn the rules. See, I’m not hiding anything from you, was what that one little gesture meant. I’m telling you the truth.

Her wolf was quiet. So quiet it was almost odd. It offered no rebuttals, no protests. It just waited, and let her think. And god, what he offered was tempting. To stop fighting, to be able to master the beast in full? To not need a cage? To break the power the moon held over her by tipping the scales in her favor, so that the wolf never won, because it never even tried to take control?

But everything her father said was couched in lies. She thought of Waverly, unharmed, unbitten even after a night spent within arm’s reach of the wolf, a night she couldn’t remember because she hadn’t even been there for it. She thought of Shae, laughing at her because all of this had been orchestrated, all of it.

She thought of Mikael’s soft, musical voice in her ear.

You are not of hell.

The wolf was dangerous, it was violent, it was always going to want to be in control of their shared body, but it was no demon. The only thing her father meant to bind was her.

Maybe he sensed it, the moment where she decided not to go willingly. He tensed, just a little, and pulled his hand back a few inches. The wolf came to her slowly, in pieces, because the moon was at its darkest, but it still came. The ears it had loaned her before twitched. She gained a few inches in height, her claws sharp and lethal-dark. She took a step back, out of her boots, and her bare feet were heavy on the frozen mud. Her nails grew longer, darker, digging into the earth for traction as she let out a terrible, ripping snarl. Her teeth lengthened, sharpening to cruel white points.

“No more lies, Dad,” she growled. “I’m done.”

He stepped back, closer to the pentacle and the other five cultists. She heard motion in the trees behind her again.

Her father shouted something, a name maybe. She reached back, yanking from the earth the javelin the Night Mare had left (had left for her, because even in the modern day impartial didn’t mean aligning with evil, not even for survival) and spun. She braced the butt of it against the earth with a snarl and something—something furry and vicious but too small to be a lycanthrope—struck it dead center, the silver spear-head puncturing its chest. Its momentum carried it forward another foot and a half along the wooden haft of the weapon until it was in striking range, and it flailed out with its claws, yowling like a fiend.

Impossibly sharp nails struck her face and shoulders, its claws splitting open her left shoulder and the better part of that side of her face. She felt chunks of her hair fall away in wet clumps, soaked in blood where the creature’s claws had snipped through it as easily and as cleanly as a pair of scissors. Its thrashing made it sink another few inches onto the javelin, until she could see the silver spearhead rising up out of its back, and she watched golden blood turn to smoke where it touched the gleaming metal.

The creature’s face, which was reminiscent of a hyena, blocky and heavy and full of too-long teeth, went slack then, its crimson eyes wide in shock as the creature’s mind caught up to what its body was telling it: it had suffered a mortal wound, and was actively dying.

It let out a terrible, choked whine of fear, and Nicole stood, flipping the javelin over so that the creature—which was a bit bigger than a bobcat—slid off the shaft and crumpled to the ground, twitching and still smoking from the contact with silver. Nicole turned back around, still clutching the javelin, to find four of the robed figures running down the riverbank away from her. The two that remained were drawing guns from beneath their robes, and it hit her, like a slap in the face, that her father was thorough. Worse, he was smart.

The odds that their guns were loaded with silver was entirely too high to ignore.

She moved almost without thinking, borrowing a little of the wolf’s speed and instincts. Her shoulder ached horrendously, even as it started to stitch back together, and she could feel blood gushing out through her wounds, soaking down her back and chest and into her ruined hair, but she drove the spear through the throat of one of her opponents. She shoved her other hand into the hood of the second gunman until her claws met skin, then pulled, ripping away skin and muscle alike in a spray of blood that earned her a frantic, high pitched scream as her target collapsed in a heap of fabric.

A woman’s scream. God, who was she even fighting?

The wolf didn’t think in words, but it didn’t need to, because she was thinking the same thing: no time. She yanked the javelin out of her first target, earning a tiny gurgling noise, and bolted after the other four. Two were piling into a pickup truck, the others climbing up into the truck’s bed and positioning themselves behind what looked terrifyingly like automatic rifles mounted over the rear tires.

She cast back to her track and field training in phys-ed and hefted the javelin in one hand, tossing it up once to learn the weight and balance. She braced her back foot and hurled it full-bodied toward the truck, taking one of the cultists in the shoulder. The man—and she knew it was a man, based on the deep bellow of pain that he made on impact—twisted under the blow and toppled out of the truck to the ground as the engine coughed and caught.

The remaining gunman settled into position and Nicole froze for the space of a breath, panicking, scanning the ground around her for anything remotely like cover as the rifle’s muzzle tracked up toward her.

A thumping of hooves came up behind her and she dove out of the way as the rifle started chattering, spitting bullets for a terrifying ten seconds. Too many of the bullets found a target—she could hear the meaty thuds of rounds hitting flesh, then a grunt of effort. A woman’s fragile scream echoed across the landscape, and then there was a crunch of a body hitting earth.

The rifle stopped firing but the truck’s engine roared, kicking up earth and gravel as it tore out along the riverbank and into the woods, then out of sight.

Nicole looked behind her as the Night Mare fell to the ground, knees buckling and body twisting, as the centaur toppled over onto her side. Her human torso sprawled across the mud. Nicole went to her first, but even before the Night Mare spoke she knew there was precious little to be done.

“Don’t bother,” the Night Mare coughed. Every breath sent spurts of blood out of a dozen or more bullet holes. “Make sure the others are dead.”

Nicole hissed in frustration, but obeyed. She checked the two gunmen first—Henry and Marsha, she found, when she pulled their hoods back to check their pulses—and when she was satisfied they had breathed their last, she checked the other two she had taken out first. Her father was not among the dead.

The wounds in her shoulder and across her cheek were slowly stitching back together and it burned uncomfortably as she crouched in front of the dying centaur.

The woman offered a hand, and Nicole took it, gripping it tight.

“Thank you,” she said.

“We are even?” the centaur asked.

Nicole sighed, almost a laugh, and shook her head. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess so.”

“Good.” The centaur’s breath was a deep, terrible rattle in equine lungs.

“Please,” Nicole said. “What did you tell Mikael?”

“The seals will break,” the Night Mare whispered, weaker now as her body failed. “There is no stopping it. There is an evil loose in the sanctuary that will have its way. There is only the effort to be made, and the choice.”

“What choice?” Nicole asked.

“Choose to fight,” the Night Mare said, “Or to flee. Find your family, or abandon it. Each of you will choose, in your own way. What will you choose, shifter? Who will you choose?”

The grip on Nicole’s hand slackened, her gaze unfocused, and Nicole sat on the frozen earth, watching as the pulses of blood from open wounds faltered, sluggish, and then slowly changed to more of a trickle, a side effect, rather than a symptom.

 

Nicole wasn’t sure how long she sat there, but it couldn’t have been more than an hour. When she regained a sense of time, she realized her blood was drying on the inside of her coat, and there were dead humans around her. She braved the icy river to rinse her healed skin, and got the majority of the blood out of her coat before hanging it on a tree as she went around gathering up the dead and heaping them together to burn. This far out she really didn’t anticipate anyone finding the scene any time soon, but... well. Better safe than sorry.

She took her battered, bloodied, beaten self back to her car, swapping her bloodstained clothing for what she’d brought in her backpack. She sat in the driver’s seat for long, horrible minutes while she waited for the cabin to heat up a bit and chase off the lingering, frigid feeling of failure.

Mikael was gone, and she hadn’t even learned anything particularly useful, either, other than a dying oracle’s cryptic promises that nothing would stop the inevitable.

And to add insult to injury, when she peered in the rear-view mirror she realized a third of her hair was chopped short where that strange bobcat creature had slashed across her face. There were angry pink lines of healing cuts across her jaw and shoulder and the side of her neck, but the wolf couldn’t do much for hair. Suddenly “go and actually get a haircut like she’d told Waverly she might” jumped to the top of her to-do list for when she got back to town.

She went to the diner first, and didn’t even care that she looked like an unholy mess. Peter was still working the counter, and when she walked in, her hair matted with blood and her t-shirt not doing much to hide the healing scars the creature had given her, he met her with a deeply uncomfortable smile.

“H-hello ma’am,” he said. “Would you um. Like a menu?”

“No,” she snarled, letting the wolf scratch its way into her voice without even a moment’s second thought. She slammed her hands down on the counter and he jumped. “I want a coffee for the road and I want to leave a message for that baku that was in here before.”

Peter gulped and relayed her order to the Valkyrie. “What’s um. What’s the message?”

She leaned closer over the bar and bared her fangs. “Tell him that if I find out he’s still running with the Watchers, I know his scent. I will find him.”

“R-right.”

The Valkyrie set down her coffee in a to-go cup and Nicole dropped some coins on the counter for Peter.

“And tell him that the nightmare he used was a cheap shot. It’ll take a lot more than that to scare me.”

“Right,” Peter whispered, though it was clear he had no idea what she was talking about.

“Keep the change,” she told him, nodded to the Valkyrie, and went back out to her rental car. She scowled, sipping her coffee—it needed sugar desperately but she couldn’t exactly go back inside after that melodramatic exit—and texted Waverly as she’d promised.

Made it out alive. Am heading home.

Waverly’s reply came almost immediately. You okay?

No.

She had just pulled up the route home on her phone when it pinged again. A call, rather than another text message.

She accepted the call and sighed into the receiver.

Waverly’s voice was soft and felt like home. “I’m sorry baby.”

Nicole leaned her head against the driver-side window, letting it chill her forehead. The glass fogged around the point of contact. She was running entirely too warm with the wolf still working on the lingering damage in her shoulder.

“Thanks.”

“It’s six hours to home, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll meet you at your place tonight. I was gonna be over to feed CJ anyway.”

It occurred to her to tell Waverly not to come, to lie, to push her off, to tell her she was too tired, or too hurt, or too... something. She still didn’t know what might be wrong with her, and now she’d never know.

But when it came down to it, she didn’t want to be alone.

“Unless you don’t want me there,” Waverly said, slow, like it hurt to admit that might be the case.

“No,” Nicole said, and sighed. “Waverly, I... I’d like to see you.”

“Yeah?”

The hope and happiness in her voice made a small smile crack through the layers of Nicole’s pain and frustration.

“Yeah.”

“Cool. Well, then, I guess you better get on the road.”

“Yeah,” she said, and started to reach for the gear shift. “Actually.”

“Hm?”

“Any chance you’ve got experience cutting hair?”

Waverly was quiet for an almost comically long moment.

“Um. A little? Why?”

“Could you bring scissors with you?”

Nicole could practically hear the confused blinking through the phone.

“Uh. Sure. I’m a bit worried, but, yes?”

“I’ll send you a picture,” Nicole said, chuckling.

“Okay,” Waverly said, a bit slow. “I’ll see you soon baby.”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, and smiled more genuinely. “Soon.”

“Drive safe.”

“I will.”

She hung up and took a photo of her hair, trying to angle the camera so the damage to her shoulder was less visible.

Waverly’s response was almost immediate, and full of a handful of teary-eyed emojis.

Oh my god! Your face! I mean also your hair, but still! Baby! Don’t worry, I’ll fix it right up. <3

Nicole laughed, and when she pulled away from the diner’s parking lot, she found she was in a considerably better mood than when she’d pulled in.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t that Nicole had been worried Waverly wouldn’t like her hair so short, but she wasn’t not worried, either. On some level she knew that was silly. For some reason that she couldn’t quite wrap her head around, Waverly liked her even when she was twelve feet tall, covered in fur, and had a tendency to start slobbering, so it wasn’t like something as minor as a haircut was going to bother her.

Still, it was a balm to her ego and her pride that even after she’d finished fixing it, Waverly couldn’t seem to keep her hands out of Nicole’s hair. Waverly got done working on it close to midnight, and then they sat on the couch together, Calamity Jane in her lap and Waverly’s fingers threading through her hair as it dried into wavy curls. There they sat, for maybe ten minutes, until Nicole couldn’t bear to keep looking at the conspiracy-map hanging around the living room.

“I’ll take it down for you tomorrow, baby,” Waverly murmured, as they moved to Nicole’s bedroom.

Unprompted, Waverly pulled Nicole’s shirt off her, running her fingers over the now-faded lines where just hours ago had been open wounds and a frankly alarming amount of blood. She said nothing as she examined the healed skin, though Nicole half-expected her to ask questions or demand explanations. Something. But she didn’t. She stripped Nicole down to her jeans so she wouldn’t overheat, tugged her into bed, and then tangled them together like a pair of headphones fished out from the bottom of a bag.

Waverly rested her head on the pillow and let Nicole decide where to put herself. If she thought it strange that Nicole ducked her head down until her forehead was against Waverly’s chest, she didn’t say so. Waverly just rested her chin on the top of Nicole’s head and looped her arms around her big lycanthrope girlfriend, and held her.

Every now and then, Nicole remembered Waverly’s promise that the whole home base thing actually was a mutual arrangement.

Waverly’s hand ran idle patterns up and down Nicole’s back, tracing her spine, her shoulder blades, drawing nonsense patterns that were probably some sort of ancient hieroglyphs that Nicole didn’t recognize. Her other hand was entwined in Nicole’s hair, fingernails scritching at the base of her neck until a low, rumbling burr picked up in Nicole’s chest.

Still, even with all the physical comforts, the day started to crawl back into her thoughts, harder than ever to ignore.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Nicole said, and damn it, but her voice cracked, just at the end. “That’s it, just. He’s dust, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye or... or anything.”

Waverly didn’t say anything, just held her a little tighter and kissed the top of her head.

“I sort of figured he’d always be there, you know?” Nicole sighed and pressed her face against Waverly’s chest. Words got a little harder, her throat trying to close around them, hoarding her pain for herself. “I guess everybody says that when someone dies. He was just so old, I just. I figured, y’know, you don’t get to be something like four hundred years old without being crazy powerful. I figured he was invincible. Or as close to it as he could get.”

“I know,” Waverly said, and the hand in Nicole’s hair slid to cradle her head, holding tight. “It’s okay, baby.”

Sometimes the worst thing in the world you could receive was permission. The jumbled-up confusion of feelings in her chest welled up at Waverly’s words, until there was nothing for it to do but spill over. She hid her face and curled her fingers into the back of Waverly’s sweater but she couldn’t stop the tears or the haggard sobs that followed. At some point, she wasn’t sure when, the wolf joined in, adding its quiet, whimpering whine to the noises she was making, letting its grief mix with hers.

Somehow that was even harder. Grieving twice for a single person.

Waverly never moved, except to scoop up a box of tissues from Nicole’s side-table to put them in easier reach. She lost track of time, but Waverly never complained, and once she had wrangled down both herself and her wolf she groaned. Her whole face hurt. And there was something like a headache trying to form between her eyes.

“My dad was there.”

Waverly tensed, but not with anger. Interest, maybe. It occurred to her, in the back of her mind somewhere, that she’d never talked about her family with Waverly before.

So there, Shae, she thought, with the acrid taste of hatred in her mouth. I didn’t even have to get drunk this time.

“Your dad knows about—?”

“Oh yeah,” Nicole said, and it came out more bitter than she’d intended. “He knows entirely too much. How to bind demons, how to ritually slaughter humans to summon creatures that tell you basically how to bring about the end of the world...”

“Oh, Nicole,” Waverly said, and to Nicole’s great surprise, it didn’t feel like pity.

“I haven’t seen him in almost ten years,” Nicole said. “Him or his cult. I thought. I thought I’d gotten out, I thought I’d finally lost them when I came here to Purgatory.”

Part of her knew she was throwing a lot of wrenches at Waverly all at once. But Waverly had grown up an Earp, no matter what the DNA tests might come back with, and she took it all in stride.

“But here they are anyway, dogging my every step. Sending people to harass me on the solstice, hurting people I—” She stopped and flinched at Waverly’s sharp inhale.

“That’s why, after the station?” Waverly said. “You never told me how you got hurt. You fought someone from your dad’s cult?”

She nodded. For a moment Waverly didn’t say anything, maybe thinking it all through. She didn’t push, but she did hold Nicole a little closer and kiss the top of her head again.

“They were waiting for him, Waves.” She let out a shaking breath that was one step removed from another sob. “They knew where to find him and they staked him, or... or dragged him into the sun, I don’t know.”

“I’m so sorry, Nicole.”

“And then they waited for me to come looking for him. They knew I’d go, so they knew at least that much about us, that we were still talking. God, they must’ve known we were working together against them. So they knew eventually I’d go to Loretta—oh god. Loretta. What am I going to tell her.”

“We’ll think about that later,” Waverly said, gentle but unyielding. “Do you think they’ll follow you here?”

“I’m not sure they can,” Nicole said. “Or... at least there’s a lot of limits. Any of them that aren’t mostly human can’t cross the boundary, for one. That’s why that thing always tries on the solstice.”

Waverly was very quiet, very still.

“But Wynonna took care of it, you said. So at least we know that’s not in play. But the rest of the cult...” She sighed. “I’m not sure. And now I can’t ask—” She cut off with a sharp little sound, and Waverly held her closer. Her sweater smelled like wildflowers. “I’m on my own. Dolls is in the woods somewhere, Lucado runs local BBD, and Mikael is.” Waverly stroked her fingers through Nicole’s hair and she forced herself to say it. “And Mikael is gone.”

“You still have me,” Waverly reminded her. “And Wynonna. And that’s not nothing.”

“Yeah,” she said. Tears burned in her eyes and trailed fire across her skin where they slipped free. Her face still hurt. “Yeah, you’re right.”

 

A couple days before Homecoming she went looking for Dolls again. She tried the cave, and then scouted around for the cabin he’d mentioned, but she found nothing. Rather, she did find the cabin, but it was empty. That by itself wasn’t too alarming—it’d been almost three weeks since the ambush, and in the middle of winter, Dolls’ scent wasn’t exactly going to just hang out and party until she could come pick it up, like a teenager waiting for their mom.

She arrived for work still smelling like pine needles and motor oil, and Henry hesitated in the hallway as he passed her.

“Officer Haught,” he mused, reaching on instinct for a hat he still hadn’t replaced, even as his eyes roamed over her, looking for something, some clue as to where she’d been.

“Henry,” she said in return, narrowing her eyes in question.

Something occurred to him, and he walked with her a little ways, until they were out of the shadow of BBD’s closed door. “Say, Officer Haught, I do not suppose you might have a moment to spare? I know your schedule is quite busy.”

She eyed him, then frowned. “I might,” she allowed. “What is it you want?”

He flashed her that roguish smile of his, the one that had won over Wynonna and Waverly alike. “I seem to recall you saying you have quite the set of ears on you.”

“The better to hear you with,” she said, without thinking. He raised an eyebrow and she grimaced, immediately regretting it.

“Right,” he said, drawing it out. “Well, I was wondering if by chance you had ah... heard anything about our mutual friend.”

She frowned at him and he raised his hands, peaceful as you please. She nodded toward the hallway and led him back outside into the cold February air. He walked with her, his boots thumping a drumroll as they went, and only when they were outside and a few meters from the doors did she look at him and gesture for him to continue.

“If your ears are as good as you say,” he said, his voice very, very quiet. “I would presume to believe that you can hear a liar’s heart poundin’ away in his chest.”

She grinned at him, in lieu of answer. There was a lot more to sussing out a lie than that, but she didn’t need to tell him that.

“Then I hope you will know that I am bein’ quite honest with you, Officer, when I say that I am attemptin’ something moderately dangerous on his behalf. But I am comin’ rather close to when I would be needing to make the drop and I am pattin’ my pockets and comin’ up mostly empty.”

Nicole inhaled, slow. “I did,” she admitted. “Find him. But that was on the full moon. I lost track of him after that.”

“And I suppose you losin’ him has nothing to do with that little errand you were just runnin’ recently?”

“I don’t think I like your tone, Doc,” she said, letting her own voice go arctic and a little rough with leashed anger. “I helped him take care of the second team your boss sent, and then dealt with some personal business. It seems pretty clear you can understand what that might be like.”

He watched her, shrewd eyes tracking her face, looking for her tell, and she had no doubt he found it. The infamous Doc Holliday had been playing poker for a hundred some years and she’d never been very good. She’d hardly hold up against him.

Mikael probably could’ve though.

The thought made her falter. She broke eye contact with him, hissing out a frustrated breath. She shut her eyes and forced back the grief.

“I see I have overstepped,” Doc murmured, and he set a hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently, as if she were a favored daughter. As if she were one of the Earps. The Night Mare’s ominous prophecy rattled around her brain like loose ball bearings.

Find your family, or abandon it. What will you choose?

“It’s fine,” she lied, and he patted her face once with his other hand.

“Lost far too many friends to not know the look,” he said. He squeezed her shoulder one more time and then let go. “But it is only the fear of the same that leads to me puttin’ my foot in my mouth like this. If you happen to uh, hear anythin’ else, may I count on you to tell me?”

She chewed on her lip. “Yeah. I will.”

“Thank you kindly, Officer Haught.” He gestured by his forehead again in what should’ve been a slight tip of his hat. “Damn.”

She chuckled and watched him go down the first few steps down to the sidewalk. “It’s Nicole, to my friends,” she offered.

He looked up at her, pensive for a moment, before his face split in a grin. “Nicole it is, then.” She smiled at him, and he took a couple steps away, then stopped and turned back. “Oh, and Nicole?”

“Yeah?”

He gestured to his head, to indicate his meaning, then gave an approving little nod. “You look beautiful.”

“Thanks, Doc,” she said. At first every time she saw herself in the mirror it brought up memories of lethal little claws, but bit by bit in the last couple days she’d been replacing them with the sensation of Waverly’s fingers tangling in her hair. Replacing the look on Peter’s face with comments like Doc’s.

When she got to her desk, she had a text on her phone from Waverly.

Hey, Friday you should come by the Homestead. Got a little surprise for you before work.

 

A surprise, it turned out, that involved a close-fitted blue top with logo letters across it and a skirt so short it ought to be criminal. If only so Nicole had an excuse to press Waverly to the wall and rumble half-hearted threats of handcuffs in her ear.

Down, girl, she thought, for the millionth time.

Waverly didn’t offer much of an explanation when Nicole walked in and stopped dead in the entryway. She didn’t say a word, just raised her eyebrow until Nicole reached back, blindly pawing for the door until she could get it to close behind her.

“Stay right there,” Waverly murmured, and Nicole tucked her thumbs into her belt to keep them safe, swallowing hard and standing where she’d been told to stand.

Waverly winked, tapped a button on her phone to start up some music, and picked up a pair of silvery-blue pom-poms.

And for about a minute, Nicole wasn’t sure how fast time was moving. She was hyper-aware of everything, every step, every skip, every flex and roll and snap. She—and the wolf too, if she were honest with herself—were watching in awe, their shared mouth hanging open.

Waverly ended the routine with a cheer, as if to remind them both what the premise of this whole thing was, but Nicole wasn’t even sure she’d registered what team it was for.

It took her another handful of seconds to realize that Waverly was watching her, grinning, and waiting for a response.

“Wow,” she said, just to have said something, but it felt stupid even as it was coming out of her mouth.

Waverly bit at her lip and turned to stash the pom-poms on a chair.

“I– I didn’t know if it was your thing,” she hedged.

Nicole shook her head, trying to clear out thoughts (were they hers, or were they the wolf’s, she wasn’t sure and for the first time she was having trouble finding the line between them) of Waverly moving in a similar but distinctly different way somewhere a little more private and with less clothing involved.

“Uh,” she said, struggling for something at least vaguely eloquent to say. “Baby, that’s... that’s everybody’s thing.”

“Yeah?” Waverly said, grinning and tugging at the back of her skirt, looking so small and shy and vulnerable Nicole couldn’t tell if she wanted to reassure her or just pin her to the wall and eat her up.

Okay, that one was probably the wolf’s.

Maybe.

“Yeah,” she said, and looked down along the length of her girlfriend’s body again. In that outfit it was easy to remember how young Waverly was, how recently she might have been dancing in that uniform at Purgatory High games.

Which brought on a surge of jealousy and wolf-like possessiveness so violent and sudden that it almost knocked her over.

“Yeah,” she added, struggling not to growl audibly. “The cross-eyed hooligans at the Homecoming game are...” She forced herself to smile and swallowed down the acidic fury that was definitely only partially wolf, no matter how much she wanted to believe otherwise. “Gonna love it.”

“No, silly,” Waverly said, almost purring the words as she stepped closer, her hands brushing Nicole’s before sliding up to her elbows. “No, this is a private show. For you.” She let her mouth twist in a slight pout that made Nicole smile, mostly because they both knew it wasn’t totally genuine. “Before you have to go off on patrol.”

She was a little embarrassed to admit that the realization Waverly had no intention of putting on the uniform for anyone but her immediately soothed her. Even the wolf seemed satisfied with that as a compromise.

“Ah, well, Nedley figures the streets will be awash with booze and urine all weekend, so,” Nicole grinned and watched Waverly keep up the fake pout. “It’s all hands on deck.”

“Hm,” Waverly allowed, pretending to look thoughtful. “You guys need to get some more hands. So that yours can stay right here,” she said, sliding one hand up to curl around the back of Nicole’s neck, her fingers twining into her hair. “On me.”

It was a good thing Waverly’s mouth found hers in that next moment—it muffled the faint sound of desperation and need Nicole made against her lips. Waverly pulled back with a soft laugh.

“Okay,” she said, pulling back, and Nicole let her hands follow Waverly’s until she was out of reach. “Ready?”

No, but I sure don’t intend to stop you.

Waverly bobbed her hips back and tucked her hands together, and Nicole didn’t hear boots on the front porch or a hand on the doorknob until it was entirely too late. “Time for: one more cheer,” she chanted, and spun, launching into a high kick that showed Nicole that maybe the dance routine wasn’t the actual surprise Waverly had planned. “Come on boys, from here to there—!”

“Girl!” Wynonna shrieked, and Nicole leapt back a step, the rush of guilt, fear, and lust all mixing together into a confusing and dangerous cocktail as she tried not to look directly at the elder Earp. “Put on some underwear.”

“Hah. Wynonna,” Waverly said, her voice shaking with a mixture of guilt and embarrassment. “Hi,” she added, tugging at the hem of her skirt.

“Hullo,” Wynonna said. “Just. Passing through.” She turned and shut the door, and Nicole glanced to Waverly, looking for cues. “You guys can resume your... panty-less roleplay.”

“You know what,” Nicole said, a little too fast, “I gotta get to work. So.” She ducked around Wynonna and grabbed her coat. “You gonna come by?”

“Hanging from afar while my lady works?” Waverly asked, and clicked her tongue, miming finger guns. “That’s my jam.”

“Okay,” Nicole said, on a long, uncomfortable exhale. She looked to Wynonna, who glanced up at her and gave her an equally uncomfortable smile. “Yep,” she said, and promptly let herself outside. Waverly cast her a brief wink and she returned a somewhat guilty grin, then pulled the door shut with a click behind her.

“So, now that I know your whole situation,” she heard Wynonna saying, as she stepped off the front porch and beat a hasty retreat to her cruiser. “Should we institute a knickers-on-the-doorknob policy? Since you’re not using yours?”

Whoops.

Chapter Text

Nedley stopped in the doorway between BBD’s door and the bullpen smelling like stress and burnt coffee. “Wynonna,” he said, as the Earp went to slip down the hall toward the kitchen. “Haught.” Nicole looked up, trying not to imagine her ears twitching up to listen like a German Shepherd’s. It was a week to the next moon, and the wolf was starting to get antsy again, more alert than it had been the week prior. “Got a scene for you.”

“Both of us?” Wynonna asked, almost whining.

Nicole rolled her eyes and gathered her gear, grabbing her coat as an afterthought. Most Purgatory SD officers don’t walk out into February without one, after all.

“Yes, both of you. School gymnasium. Earp, you’re riding with me.”

He headed out to the front doors and Wynonna shot Nicole a look that was two parts bored for every one part frustrated. Nicole shrugged, spreading her hands to indicate hell if I know and headed out after him to her own cruiser.

It was a Friday, but the school administration had blocked off the hall in question, and the place was deserted, their footsteps echoing off lowest-bidder’s tile floors and interior brick. Hundreds of students’ hopes and dreams had come here to die, and she could feel it in the air as they walked inside—the ghosts of students past.

As soon as they entered, Nicole smelled blood, sweat, and fear, and for a moment she wasn’t sure if that was the crime scene or just high school. She thought of Shae, teenage werewolf, coming to terms with the changes and the advanced senses in a place like this, and Nicole almost felt a little bad for her. At least being bitten as an adult, she’d never had to deal with pubescent bullying, prom dates, and studying for midterms all while also resisting the urge to very literally bite off the faces of anyone who looked at you crosswise.

“Over here,” Nedley said, waving them in past the trophy case to where a man in his 20s was lying dead on the floor in a pool of blood, his bloodied hand resting on his chest holding what looked and smelled suspiciously like his own liver. His eyes were half-open, fixed on the central hockey championship trophy behind the glass, and there was an almost-empty bottle of whiskey sitting next to the case, as if he’d set it there before being attacked. Or... whatever it was that had happened to him. Even now, hours after he’d died, he stank of booze and blood and decay and drunken terror. She wrinkled up her nose as she pulled on gloves and moved to crouch beside him, carefully extracting his wallet from his pants pocket. Wynonna stood off to the side, munching on a donut and, as far as Nicole could tell, texting.

“I’ll check his ID,” she announced as she rose to her feet, flipping his wallet open.

Nedley looped around behind her, interrupting before she could even find the victim’s driver’s license.

“Bryce Cooper,” he noted. “Star right wing of the ’07 champs. The last Purgatory High School team to not only win the cup, but a single game.” He looked at Nicole. “I’m gonna pass this off.”

Nicole glanced past him, noting Wynonna still lounging against the brick. It was too far to the moon to blame her surliness on the wolf, but something about the whole situation chafed. Dolls’ reassurances and everything that had happened since the botched rescue mission had helped put to rest her insecurities, but giving over a case to Lucado just because it smelled a little funny felt like giving up, somehow. Revenants or no, Purgatory crime was still Purgatory first.

“To Black Badge?” she asked. She frowned at Nedley, trying to figure out how to convey just because this seems unnatural doesn’t mean I can’t solve it to him without saying anything, well, particularly incriminating. “This is straight up homicide. It’s ours.”

“No,” he said, looking up at her for a moment before fixing his eyes back on Bryce Cooper. “We’ve got people coming home from all over for the game. This news gets out, it’ll be pandemonium. Just examine the scene, then scrub it.”

“You mean cover it up,” she said, shooting him an absolutely incredulous look. The thought she’d had weeks prior, that maybe Nedley was in on the supernatural and running interference to keep the normal folks from finding out, came back with friends.

“Tomato, potato,” he told her, and turned to Wynonna. “Earp?”

Wynonna snapped a few shots of the body on her phone, and with each one it made an absolutely gaudy shutter-clicking sound. She met Nicole’s eyes and smiled, indulgent, maybe a little smug, and at the sheriff’s direction, she headed for the door, snapping a few more shots on the way.

Nicole tapped the wallet against her hand, to quell the urge to chuck it at a wall, and set about gathering everything she could before calling in a team to move the body and wipe down the scene. She lingered, helping where she could, and let her mind wander as she worked.

That was a mistake—the wandering led her back a scene so horrifyingly similar to this, and yet so very different. A full moon’s day, now, what, a year ago? She and Shae had gotten separated sometime during the night. She’d woken up in the woods in the snow, alone, with long, brutal cuts across her chest, as if Shae’s wolf had taken a swing at her to put her in her place. When she’d found her way back to her clothes and her phone she found two texts: an SOS and a set of coordinates.

She’d arrived at a cabin in the woods. Shae was sitting on the front porch in a robe that wasn’t hers, picking at her teeth with a toothpick and waiting for Nicole.

The inside of the cabin was a nightmare. Blood was splattered on the walls and there was a half-eaten corpse of something Nicole had refused to let herself identify as human in one corner. Shae’s eyes were cold, but hiding a little fear as she followed Nicole inside and leaned against the wall.

I fucked up, she’d admitted. Will you help?

Shae hadn’t verbally threatened that she’d take Nicole down with her if Nicole didn’t help her, but there was a cruel, jagged edge to her request. Nicole had learned the hard way not to assume she understood Shae at all, and so she agreed, hating it every second.

It had taken her months to go anywhere near a bottle of bleach without the smell making her physically ill.

When the gym looked clean and smelled like ammonia and industrial disinfectants she nodded to the rest of the team, trashed her gloves with the rest of the medical waste, and headed back to her cruiser, feeling like a stormcloud in human skin. She headed back to the station and knocked on BBD’s door, the weight of three months of memories perching on her shoulders like crows.

“Uh... come in?”

Nicole let herself inside, the folder of notes and photos tucked under her arm, and then looked around, frowning around the room. She could only catch traces of Lucado’s scent—when was the last time she was even here?—and the Earps and Doc were in short supply as well.

Jeremy poked his head out from behind a filing cabinet. “Oh hey! Um. Over here, sorry.”

Nicole pressed her lips together and made her way across the room, noting the layout had changed substantially since the change in command.

“Hey,” Jeremy said, hastily stashing whatever he was working on and closing some folders to hide their contents. “You’re Officer Haught, right?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, trying not to roll her eyes as she did. “That’s me.”

“Ooh,” Jeremy said, and motioned for the folder she was holding. “Is this that homicide thing we’re picking up?”

Nicole blinked, then looked around again. Wynonna had not been here since the day prior, and Nedley probably hadn’t been in here in weeks. So who the hell had told him BBD was going to pick up the case? “Yeah,” she said, slowly, and eyed him. “Didn’t think you left your little cave here.” He looked at her, tilting his head slightly, and she sighed, handing over the folder. “Vic’s Bryce Cooper.”

Jeremy nodded, taking the folder, and for a moment she thought his eyes unfocused, almost like he was listening to something far away. “Aha, the ’07 championship team, huh?”

“Yeah,” she said, and this time she did roll her eyes. Did everyone know more about Purgatory’s one lucky year than she did? “Didn’t think you cared about sports, Jeremy.”

He beamed, like he hadn’t expected her to know his name. Oh if only you knew.

“Oh I don’t really care that much,” he admitted, “But it’s on the Purgatory High School website. Guess it was a good year, huh.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Oh huh,” he said, not really listening as he started flipping through the folder. He got to one of the photos and grimaced. “Yikes.”

“Yeah. Pretty ugly scene,” she said, leaning over to look at the photos in his hands. He was looking a little green, and she bit down the urge to smirk at him. “Field work not your cup of tea, huh?”

He pressed his mouth into a line and glanced up at her. “If that was everything, Officer Haught...?”

“Yeah, that’s all,” she said, and spun on her heel. “Have fun.”

“Note to self,” she heard Jeremy muttering as she headed for the door. “Ask Wynonna if Officer Haught is usually like that or if I need to be staying out of Waverly’s way for a few days.”

 

Security detail for the pre-game bash was not exactly high on Nicole’s bucket list, but even so, she found herself making idle loops of the room, generally being a visible peacekeeper presence as players, players’ families, and fans milled about, laughing and chatting and snacking on carnival fare. To think that just hours ago this place had been a grisly crime scene made Nicole’s stomach churn, but at least with all the foot traffic and crowded halls, the place didn’t still stink of ammonia. Even for her, that might’ve been too much. And she really didn’t want to be here as it was.

Nor did her wolf, if the way it chafed and itched at her was any indication. Ever since the solstice crowds had not exactly been a favorite pastime for either of them, the wolf in particular, and it was coming to a head now. She kept to the walls, watching and making small talk only if someone singled her out for conversation.

Which is exactly what she’d been doing, when she heard the click of heels behind her and then felt a finger tapping her shoulder. She caught the scent of wildflowers and leather and turned around, smiling at Waverly. And promptly blinked, bewildered, as a blob of pink cotton candy smacked into her face.

“Boop!” Waverly said, grinning, and Nicole fought the wolf’s urge to sneeze and paw sugar off her nose.

“Waverly, um,” she said. There was a part of her that was 17 again, standing in a high school hallway with her girlfriend. That part really wanted to just haul her off into a broom closet and blow off work. The rest of her, the part that was 27 and had at least a lick of sense in her head, held Waverly at arm’s length and bit the rest down, offering her a slight smile as a consolation prize. “As we speak, Shorty’s crowd is staggering over here for sports-yelling and down-falling.” She scanned the crowd, and Waverly looked back also, her gaze focusing for a moment on the trophy case. “Look, baby, I’m off in a couple hours,” she said, more quietly. “Can’t you...” She looked for the words. “Entertain yourself?”

Waverly turned back around, her expression intense and almost frightening. She stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Nicole to tangle fingers into the back of her jacket. She pinned Nicole against a snack table, forcing Nicole to rock back on her hip and thus bringing her down to the same height. Nicole grabbed at her arms, but Waverly was surprisingly strong, her grip bruising.  She tasted like lipstick and something awful, something dark and bitter and caustic that sent the wolf into a fury. It scratched and clawed at Nicole’s thoughts, wrestling free in tiny ways as Nicole tried to fight both the wolf and her girlfriend. Waverly’s tongue pressed against Nicole’s lips, demanding and unyielding, until she could lick along Nicole’s teeth and find the sharp edges of her fangs.

Nicole pushed her back, scrambling through her thoughts.

“Wave,” she whispered, frantic, angry, forcing the wolf back down. Nedley walked up in her peripheral vision and she wanted to curse the timing, curse the circumstances, curse everything. “Not in uniform, okay? Not in public.”

“Not good enough,” Waverly told her, sharp-edged and dismissive and so patently unlike Waverly it made her angry all over again. Nedley walked by them, feigning disinterest, and Nicole watched him, then looked to Waverly, searching for compassion, for some measure of understanding that would tell her Waverly understood what she’d just done.

Her gaze slid past Waverly to a young man, sitting on a bench. A couple of the Purgatory High cheerleaders were standing above and behind him, next to the trophy case, and he was smiling, his gaze unfocused as he held his phone back behind him.

The wolf was still howling rage and uncoordinated frustration in the back of her mind but she couldn’t bear to bring its strength against Waverly. She re-focused and strode past her to man on the bench, radiating anger and aggression.

“Hey,” she called, pulling up the mantle of a peace officer like a cape as she walked up in front of him. “Gimme your phone.”

“You must be new,” he drawled, and twisted his phone around to face Nicole instead.

“If I find upskirts on there,” she said, trailing the words off into a threat as Waverly slipped up beside her, wringing her hands.

“You might,” he said, and rose from the bench. He was a little taller than her, and the wolf snarled at it, that she had to look up to make eye contact with him. He flicked the phone in his hand to draw her attention. “Also the video of you and Waverly making out. I don’t think that’s allowed.”

“Okay,” Nicole bit out, reaching for her handcuffs.

“No, let him go,” Waverly said. “It’s not– It’s not worth it.”

“Excuse me?” Nicole said, and the effort not to growl at her girlfriend was downright Herculean.

“It’s Tucker,” Waverly explained. “He’s a Gardner.”

“I don’t care what he does,” Nicole snapped, for a moment genuinely not understanding what his career choice might have to do with avoiding arrest. She looked at the young man again—Tucker, who was grinning at them like their fight was the funniest thing he’d seen all day—and leaned forward. “Give me your damn phone.”

She reached for it and his fingers went slack. When she made contact he let it drop limply out of his hand to clatter on the floor.

“If that’s broken you’ll pay for it,” he said, with the ghost of a smile still dancing around his mouth like dust motes.

“Okay, you know what?” she snapped, and reached for his wrist again. “You’re under arrest for obstructing a peace officer.”

“What?” he said, raising his voice so that the crowd would hear him—building a case for himself, even now. “Why?” She shoved him around to get to his other wrist as he called out, unhurt but playing it up, “Ow. Ow!” She turned him around again and marched him toward the door. “She’s hurting me. Waverly!” he called, still in that even, almost bored tone.

“Nicole,” Waverly said, raising her voice to follow them without actually moving. “Nicole you don’t wanna do this!”

Nicole turned around with a snarl in her chest and fury on her face and barely, barely, managed to keep her voice to a human level.

“Don’t tell me how to do my job!”

Tucker complained and whined all the way to her cruiser, though he, thankfully, shut his mouth when they got into the car. He sat in the back, radiating smugness but wearing only a slight frown, as if this was little more than a mild inconvenience on his day.

Nedley found them as she was booking him, and she had never seen Nedley look so much like a disappointed father.

“Sit,” he commanded, pointing to a table. Against her preference, she sat.

And sat.

And sat, waiting, as he made a phone call. She waited as he stood by the front desk until a woman in a frankly childish braid arrived. She waited as Nedley brought the woman into his office, chatting with her for a few minutes as he sifted through a desk drawer full of confiscated electronics. She strained, trying to listen, but it was mostly just apologies on Nedley’s part while the woman feigned patience and offered fake laughter.

When Nedley emerged from his office with a ring of keys, Nicole finally got up and went to his side, frowning. “Who is that?”

“Hm?” He looked up at her, still sifting through the keyring. “Oh, that’s one of Tucker’s older sisters, Beth Gardner.”

Gardner, not gardener, she thought, grumbling to herself.

“You’re letting her bail him out?” she asked, keeping her voice down but trying to inject her words with all the disapproval she could muster.

“There’s no bail required,” Nedley reminded her. “He’s not being charged.”

“Wha—!” she squeaked, following a step behind him as he headed for the holding cell. “He was taking photos of teenage girls. His phone was practically up their hoo-has.”

“Ooh!” Nedley exclaimed, shooting her a look of supreme disapproval. “Language.” She forced her mouth shut and stood still as he turned to look at her. “Nicole, you are a Sheriff’s deputy.” He sighed. “Not gonna win Cop of the Year, mind you, with that public display of gal-pal-itis.”

“I’m really sorry about Waverly,” she said, following behind him again as he went to unlock Tucker’s cell. “But those photos are—”

“Love the initiative,” Nedley told her, as she lingered at the doorway. “But the Gardners,” he said, and she suddenly remembered she was in a small town. A small town where a single wealthy family might start a legacy of corruption, even by mistake. “Tucker’s parents were good people,” he said, as he opened the cell door. As if that excused the derangements or the vices of a brat. Not quite mature enough to be a man, too old to be a child. “Important people to this town.” Nedley stepped back out of the room and Nicole thought that she heard self-loathing and disapproval in his voice as he offered, “Boys will be boys.”

“Whoa,” she gasped, moving to keep pace with him. “I’m sorry, did I...” She waved her hands, trying to capture the breadth of the stupidity she was facing. “Hit my head, and wake up in Patriarchal Bullshit Land?”

“No,” Nedley said, his tone betraying just the faintest trace of his sarcasm. “It looks fine to me.” In her peripheral vision she saw Tucker emerge from the holding cell, and Beth handed him his phone. “That reminds me though,” Nedley continued, his voice loud enough for the Gardners to hear. “The first aid kit needs restocking.”

Nicole bit down disbelieving, spluttering remarks about sexist nurse stereotypes as Tucker looked her up and down.

“I want her charged with harassment,” he told Beth.

“Oh you have not seen harassment,” Nicole muttered under her breath, earning another disapproving-dad look from Nedley.

“Such a nasty woman,” Tucker mused, as Beth led him around the two officers toward the door.

“I know, baby, I know,” Beth said, and Nicole had to suppress her gag reflex.

“Look,” Nedley said, as they moved out of earshot. “You cool your heels while you take a chunk out of those reports in there.”

“You’re putting me on paperwork?” Nicole protested.

“They’re the Gardners,” Nedley said, his tone brooking absolutely zero argument as he leaned in a little closer and lowered his voice. “Nicole, keep your head in the game,” he said, and for a moment she wondered if he was referring to her spontaneous trip out of town. Had she been off, since she got back? Maybe that was reasonable, but she couldn’t exactly request bereavement time for the 400-year-old vampire friend she’d known for less than a year, either. “You’ll learn how this town works,” he told her, turning aside. “It only took me 30 years.”

For a moment she just stood in the hallway, trying not to audibly growl.

Fine. If she was going to be saddled with paperwork, she’d do it. Even though she desperately wanted to claw something’s eyes out. The last thing she needed was coffee—more caffeine was probably not the answer here—but it would give her something to do. So she headed for the kitchen first.

And found Wynonna fiddling with the coffee machine, jabbing buttons.

“It’s probably out of water,” Nicole noted, pulling out the reservoir.

“One of the two ingredients in coffee?” Wynonna quipped. “That’s a fail.”

Nicole went to the sink, focusing on what she was doing. If she just could keep her brain on the tasks—turn on sink, fill tank, replace—she could keep her emotions out of play for a few minutes longer.

But Wynonna was still in the room. So all bets were off.

“Yep,” Wynonna noted, as if she needed to justify her presence in the station. She didn’t, she worked here, but maybe the silence bothered her. “Just came by to get some books for Waverly.” She patted her hands against the covers to prove it.

“So she wouldn’t have to come herself,” Nicole translated, and looked over her shoulder. “And risk running into me.”

Thoughts rushed back. Waverly, kissing her so hard it knocked her backward. Waverly’s mouth tasting of hate and ichor and way too much lipstick.

“Uh, I mean, she didn’t– didn’t say that, so...”

Fill tank. Shut off sink. Replace reservoir in coffee machine. Don’t think about Waverly, don’t think about whatever’s wrong with her, don’t think about any answers Mikael could have given dead and turned to dust along with him. Don’t think about how much she missed the sweet taste of Waverly’s kisses that weren’t saturated with toothpaste to cover up evil aftertastes.

“Anyway,” Wynonna said. “Gotta jet. Kinda dealing with a demon scarecrow thing.”

“Wynonna,” Nicole said, and finally turned around. Wynonna pivoted back around to face her, eyes narrowed. “Have you noticed any...” She searched for the words. “Like. Changes? In Waverly, lately?”

Wynonna’s expression could’ve curdled milk. She set the books down on the table and rested a hand on them. “Are you hoping for some?”

“No,” Nicole insisted, immediately. “It’s just um.” She looked around, then stepped closer, keeping her voice down. “Ever since Willa was... sent down, she’s been acting not-herself.”

“Hmm,” Wynonna said. “Well, one sister kills the other, might rattle your cage a bit.”

“No, of course,” Nicole said, trying to be gentle with the way she chose her words. “It’s just, what I really love about Waverly is...” She thought of Waverly’s voice, hard and edged with malice. Not good enough. “It’s like it’s sometimes missing. You know, the sweetness. And she’s become hard.” She frowned, looking away. “Cruel, almost. More like—”

“Like me?” Wynonna suggested, and scoffed.

The words died on the tip of her tongue. Like me. Moon-sick and ravenous and desperate for death and blood and all the things I can’t get.

“Is this because she kept you out of Black Badge?” Wynonna continued.

“You know what,” Nicole said, feeling hot and cold all at once. “Forget it.”

“I think we both know I won’t,” Wynonna said, snatching up the books and leaving the room.

“Awesome day,” Nicole growled, after she couldn’t hear the clicking of Wynonna’s heels in the hall. “Perfect.”

Chapter Text

True to her word, she sat at her desk and worked through a backlog of paperwork for Nedley.

For hours.

Sometime during that grinding monotony an officer came in with Skip Morgan to stash him in the drunk tank until his wife could come by to get him. Nicole had smelled him long before she saw him—whiskey and tequila and the sharp, coppery smell of drying blood—and shot the arresting officer an absolutely bewildered look when he frog-marched Skip in. The man was still in his Blue Devils sweater, though with the addition of a splotchy red stain roughly level with his stomach, and his left hand was coated in blood. There was a symbol drawn on his forehead that smelled—she sniffed at the air as he went by—like rabbit's blood?

“Okay,” she muttered, as Skip mumbled and complained in slurred, disorganized sentences to his arresting officer, “This day just keeps getting more and more stupid.” As the officer walked by she nodded at Skip. “What’s his problem?”

“What isn’t,” the officer said with a chuckle, and handed over a few forms. “Sorry, no time to chat. It’s a madhouse out there. Got a call about the hockey team starting a brawl with an adult in the school halls again.”

She shook her head, but waved him on, flipping through the citation the officer had written. “Seriously?” she muttered, leaning back in her chair to look at Skip, who was sitting on the bench in the holding cell and muttering to himself, rubbing occasionally at the blood-mark on his head.

For a few minutes he was quiet, but then he got up again, leaning against the bars, hollering incoherently.

“I have to get out of here!”

“You stole a vehicle and ruined a perfectly good oak,” she reminded him, collating forms together. “While under the influence.”

“That tree came right at me!” he protested, smacking a hand into the bars for emphasis.

She leaned back in her chair so she could see him, trying not to roll her eyes. “Sure Skip. Okay.”

“Officer please,” he said, his tone shifting to something more earnest, not asking now but actually begging. “It’ll hurt my wife. Anyone near me.”

“Look, dude, the straw man argument?” she said, leaning back in her chair again. “Just. Is really not gonna work on me. So.”

He looked past her, his eyes wide and fear coming off him in palpable waves.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, as she flipped through the next case file.

She looked up as she finished a page and found him standing, stock still, his mouth hanging open slightly.

“Skip,” she called, frustration rising in her chest. “Are you gonna puke?”

He snapped his hand up, bloodied fingers trembling as if he were struggling against some great pressure.

“Skip,” she called again, and sniffed at the air. There was something else here, she thought. But it didn’t quite smell like one of the officers. Her wolf seemed... confused, searching just as much as she was.

Skip slammed his hand into his gut and screamed.

A voice came from behind her, hollow and decrepit, terrible and ancient and unthinkable.

“I come for what’s mine!”

Nicole looked over her shoulder to find the shadowy outline of a humanoid figure behind the frosted glass door. She leapt from her chair, yanking her sidearm up to follow, and locked it on the glass window.

“Hands on your head!” she shouted. “Now!”

The creature turned slightly, looking at her. She couldn’t make out features. There didn’t seem to be any hair, but it also didn’t seem to have ears.

“Move or die.”

She firmed up her grip on the gun, wishing she were not in the station, not in front of a civilian, because she really didn’t expect regular 9mms to do anything against whatever was behind the door.

But when it came down to it, she wasn’t just a werewolf, she was a cop.

“I am a Purgatory Sheriff’s Deputy,” she shouted, and kept her pistol trained on the figure as it moved from one door to another. “And if you think you can come in here in my office and mess with one of my citizens, you are underestimating the day I’ve had!”

The creature emerged into an open doorway and for the first time she got a good look at it. It seemed mostly in the shape of a human, but where its head should have been was just a burlap grain sack, with thick stitching across the dark hollows where its eyes and mouth should be. Insects crawled constantly in and out of the sack, buzzing and chirping as they crept along the surface of the creature’s face.

Demon scarecrow, she thought, somewhere in the back of her mind. Right.

It snapped up its hand to point at her with long, burlap fingers that ended in sharp pointed nails, and her wolf snarled in challenge... but she couldn’t move. She could feel its will, its power, curling around her body like strings, like the stitching that marked out its face, binding her in place. It wasn’t hellfire, not exactly, but it burned like ice, tearing into her and crawling into her soul like maggots and the wolf howled in fury and pain, the creature’s strength sapping out something of her, pulling at whatever made her... her.

The creature jerked its hand like a tennis player in a backhand swing and she flew backward, thrown bodily from the ground. Nicole tumbled across a table, knocking aside two boxes, and hit the floor behind it shoulder-first. She slid a few more feet on sheer momentum, tucking her head in close to her body to try to shield her skull with her arm.

It hurt to move, it hurt to breathe, and part of her wished she’d never come to Purgatory, because there was just so much here, there was so much going on, and she was a goddamn puppy in the face of all this power being flung around like confetti by supernatural heavyweights.

She pushed herself up on her hands, panting, and peered out around the table to look at the creature.

“Oh,” she muttered, if only to fill the ominous silence with something comforting, specifically the sound of her own voice. “We did not cover this at the Academy.”

It growled as she stood, bracing her feet and reaching for her holster. She patted a hand across it, realizing her pistol had fallen elsewhere when she’d flown halfway across the room, and she tried to track distances, trying to guess how fast she could possibly move. If she shifted, could she reach the demon? Setting aside the possibility that Skip would see (and did it really matter, because chances were he was too drunk to remember anyway), she wasn’t sure she could reach it before it could attack her again.

Or maybe it didn’t even matter, because just as she was trying to gauge the speed she’d need to clear the table and engage with the creature, it grabbed her with its power again and pulled her to the right. She screamed and stumbled across the floor until she went head-first into Nedley’s office door, pulled about by the creature like she were a marionette and it some deranged puppet-master. The glass shattered around her, collapsing to the ground in huge shards, and she hit the floor again, grunting and growling as she struggled back to her hands and knees.

The creature moved toward her and she bared her fangs at it, hoping to at least give it pause, but if it noticed her challenge it ignored it, and came closer still, its burlap feet padding silently across the tile and the broken glass.

Her ears were still ringing, both with the demon’s low growling and the sound of glass shattering, and she didn’t hear footsteps coming, but a firearm boomed like a tiny cannon, and the demon jerked as a round slammed into its shoulder. It grunted, roaring, and threw itself into the next room, rolling over the counter as it went, and Doc stood in the doorway behind it, pulling the hammer back on his revolver to ready another shot.

Wynonna ran in behind him, lugging the giant hockey trophy from the gym, along with some man she recognized dimly as Perry Crofte.

“Are we too late?” Wynonna asked Doc, then her eyes lit on Nicole and she inhaled, sharp and genuinely alarmed. “You okay?”

“I had him,” she mumbled, dragging herself up to her feet on the table. “Right where I wanted him.”

“Where is he?” Wynonna asked, and Doc gestured with the revolver.

“Holed up.”

Crofte darted around the counter to the next room as Wynonna struggled after him.

“Hey! Perry! No!” she growled, sounding a bit like a mother chasing a toddler that had gotten loose with an uncapped sharpie.

“You sure can pick ‘em,” Doc noted, holstering his revolver.

“Shut up,” Wynonna groaned, going after Perry as Doc moved to grab Nicole’s arm, helping her along into the next room. She felt clumsy and a little cold, like she’d given blood. Like the demon had sapped out something vital and inherently her. The wolf grumbled, as if it were unconcerned by the damage, but simply impatient for recovery.

In general, she was inclined to agree.

Wynonna made her way to the BBD office door, still holding the trophy, with Doc and Nicole just behind her. She banged on the door with her free hand, shouting through the glass.

“Perry! Open the door! Let me in, dum-dum!” She turned back as Doc and Nicole caught up, frowning at them. “Where are the keys?”

“I’ve got this!” Perry shouted from the other side of the door, and Nicole leaned on Doc, fumbling through her utility belt to get to her keyring.

Beyond the door Perry was chanting, something old, something Nicole thought sounded vaguely reminiscent of Mikael talking to himself as he played poker, but different.

They burst in a few moments later, and Nicole was still leaning on Doc, getting increasingly frustrated with her sluggish recovery time. Wynonna stood a few steps behind Perry, frowning at him.

“What are you doing?”

“A spell,” he said, interrupting the chanting. “In Old High German... I think.”

Wynonna sighed. “Where’s Waverly when you need her.”

“I thought she was with you,” Nicole panted, a flash of fear running through her chest at the thought of Waverly on her own somewhere while this thing had been running around.

She refused to consider the other frightening thought that crossed her mind: what could Waverly be doing while alone and unsupervised.

The creature extended a hand toward Perry and Nicole growled in useless warning, the sound lost amidst the demon’s rumbling noises and Perry’s aborted incantation. Well. Mostly lost. Doc shot her an alarmed frown, even as he continued to hold her up.

Perry staggered back a couple steps, his hand turning inward, digging the talisman in his hand into his chest.

“Hey!” Wynonna lurched forward. “No! Mm-mm!” She held up the trophy, clearly trying to figure out how to do... whatever it was she was trying to do. Which with Wynonna, was a pretty mixed bag.

“Uh,” she said, motioning to the trophy in what could only be described as an after you gesture. “There’s no place like home!”

“I shall have my pound of flesh!” the demon roared, still clutching one hand to its injured shoulder. It waved its other hand, and Perry dug the talisman harder into his chest, screaming in pain.

“Deal’s off, homie,” Wynonna snapped, cocking the hammer back on Peacemaker.

“Wynonna!” Doc warned, even as the barrel of the Colt began to glow with orange sigils.

She hesitated, and the demon lowered its hand.

“Spare me, and I shall grant you what you most desire. Anything.”

Wynonna didn’t move, but Nicole thought her gun hand might have dropped half an inch.

“Doc, there are other demons.”

“And ours is dang near out of time,” Doc insisted.

Nicole looked up at him, confusion giving way to understanding, and then to alarm. Dolls.

“You know what I wish?” Wynonna said, a little more quietly, and finally lowered her gun. “I wish you’d get back in the goddamn trophy.”

Without another word the demon turned into a swarm of flies and swept back into the trophy. The tension on Perry’s arm lapsed and he jerked the talisman free of his chest, panting, but alive. Doc patted his arm, then turned away from him, helping Nicole keep her feet and holstering his revolver.

“You alright?” he asked, his voice soft, so soft she didn’t think even Wynonna would have heard. It was a remark meant only for her.

She grimaced and leaned back against the wall as Wynonna headed for the door, Perry only a few steps behind her.

“No,” she admitted, wincing. She fluttered a hand over her chest and shoulder, looking for where to put pressure to alleviate some of the lingering ache of the demon’s attack, but it wasn’t localized anywhere, it wasn’t precise. It was bone-deep. No, maybe soul-deep. “But I think it’ll pass.”

He looked her over and glanced aside to where Wynonna had let the door close behind them.

“Good. Sounds like I have got some things to get to lookin’ after, but you take care of yourself. That cough sounded pretty bad.”

She jerked her head down from the wall to look at him, chewing on the inside of her cheek. He didn’t seem to be pulling her leg or leading her along, but he was one of the Old West’s most famous gamblers... “Right. I’ll. Be sure to do that, Doc. Thanks.”

He nodded and slipped out to follow Wynonna, and she, after another minute of leaning against the wall and generally feeling sorry for herself, went back out to face the music.

And in particular, to roll up her sleeves and start cleaning up the bullpen.

Nedley found her a little while later with coffee in hand and a folder under his arm. She looked up when she heard his stride skip a step, and saw him pausing in the doorway, taking in the aftermath of the fight with an expression of mild alarm.

“Looks like you had a little trouble with the paperwork,” he mused.

“Look, I’ll clean up the mess,” she said, sweeping glass into a dustpan. “And file the report.”

He was quiet for a moment, then leaned down and offered her one of the coffees he was carrying.

“You wanna know how Purgatory really works?”

She looked up, surprised to see the cup hovering a foot from her head, and took it, gingerly pushing herself back upright, her whole body stiff and aching.

“Okay,” he said, and settled against the table as she dusted off her pants and tucked hair behind her ear. He let out a deep, tired sigh, which she echoed before she could really stop herself, and he met her gaze. “Everyone pretends the whole goddamn town isn’t overrun by demons.”

She knew her complete disappointment showed on her face, and she glared at him.

“That’s it?” she asked. “That’s the big secret?”

“The people who choose to live here,” he continued, as if she had not sassed him, “They want a simple life in a small town with a shitty hockey team and a view of the Rockies. And some of us feel that’s worth ignoring the occasional mermaid poltergeist.”

“Okay,” she said, almost laughing. “Yeah, now I’m– I’m sure. I’ve hit my head.”

“I sure hope not,” he said, watching her face. “You graduated top of your class in the big city, and I need someone smart to take over when I retire.”

She blinked at him, startled. “You... want me to be Sheriff?”

“Why do you think I worked so hard to recruit you?” he asked, and it occurred to her that while she had gone through her own back channels to get her name on Nedley’s desk, it had been surprisingly easy to get hired once she did. Maybe it wasn’t just luck or Purgatory being desperate. Maybe Nedley had actually wanted her. Really wanted her.

“Look,” he continued. “I know that Black Badge seems like a hot-shit covert operation.”

“And they don’t have to wear khakis,” she pointed out, mostly to cover up her moment of hesitation. Well. That and she was really tired of trying to wash blood out of tan pants. Being a werewolf and a Purgatory cop both seemed to invite an awful lot of contact with massive blood loss, whether it was hers or someone else’s.

“But who’s gonna keep the drunks off the road?” he asked, and she shut her mouth. “Who will referee the neighborhood feuds? Who will keep the ordinary, everyday, non-werewolf citizens of Purgatory safe, Officer Haught?”

She froze, and for a second she would’ve sworn even her wolf was holding its breath. But he just watched her, waiting, and she realized he was actually expecting an answer.

“We... we need more manpower, okay?” she told him. “And we have– we’ve gotta work with BBD to stop pretending there is nothing paranormal goin’ on around here.”

He sighed. “Okay. You got permission to intervene on the wacky stuff when it’s necessary. The Lord knows they could use your instincts.”

She eyed him for a moment, and decided to press her luck.

“And the khakis?”

He sniffed. “They’re a classic trouser.”

She glowered at him.

“Fine. Fine. Just... be a good cop. It matters.”

She nodded. “Yeah,” she said, her voice coming out hoarse and a bit too thin. “Yes,” she said, more firmly. “It does.”

“And Nicole,” he said, and took the folder out from under his arm, handing it to her. She eyed the cover, noting Tucker’s name. “It’s called a long game. I’ve been playing one for a while.”

Something like glee and vicious excitement for the hunt coiled in her chest, but that got her thinking. Nedley started toward his office, but she turned to him, clearing her throat.

“Uh. Sir.”

He turned, sipping his coffee. “Hm.”

“About what you said.” He raised an eyebrow. “About. Non-werewolves.”

“I remember.”

“We...” She hesitated, looking for words. “Purgatory, I mean. Do we have any?”

“A few.” Nedley noted, leaning against the frame of his door, his expression turning thoughtful. “Ten, maybe twelve years ago we had this young couple. Nice folks. Lived out in the suburbs.”

“Oh,” she said, trying for conversational and ending up with something strained and palpably uncomfortable.

“They weren’t here too long though. Skipped town after a few years. Think they had family up in Winnipeg.”

“Oh,” she said again, and this time might have sounded a bit disappointed.

“Been a while,” he said. “Haven’t thought about them in years.” He shook his head. “Now we’ve just got the one.”

A chill swept into her gut like a winter breeze sneaking in through a cracked window.

“Oh?” she said, her voice squeaking just a little. “Which one’s that?”

He smiled, and so fast she almost missed it, he winked, raising his coffee cup to his lips.

“Just the one that can’t take night shifts for me once a month.”

Thoughts raced through her mind like rabbits—the surprising ease of making schedule requests, Nedley’s efforts to keep her away from BBD, even the way he looked at her now and then when she was getting particularly agitated and growl-y.

“But, sir.”

“Hm?”

“You...” She stepped a little closer, glancing around even though she knew no one was anywhere nearby. “You know? And you still– you still want me to be sheriff.”

He looked at her, reading her face for a moment. Whatever he saw made up his mind, because he sighed and looked her in the eye.

“Like I said, I need somebody smart, and I need somebody reliable, and I need somebody who’s a damn good cop.” Her eyes burned and she looked down, and she could feel the moment the wolf’s opinion of Nedley switched from potential inconvenience to pack. “Maybe I’m just some small-town sheriff, but I know smart, reliable, and good cop when I see one. I don’t care about the rest.”

She nodded, clearing her throat when it was too tight to speak.

“Okay,” she said.

“Go on, Haught. I’ll see you tomorrow. And we’ll talk about the khakis.”

She grinned, and ducked her head. “Yes sir.”

 

“I think I’m going crazy.”

Nicole stiffened, fingers stalling where they were stroking through Waverly’s hair. They were curled up on her couch together, Waverly lying on top so that her head was resting on Nicole’s chest, their legs twined together and Nicole’s arms looped around Waverly’s shoulders. It was one of Waverly’s favorite positions to be in, because it let her listen to Nicole’s heartbeat.

She wasn’t sure why, but sitting that way, with Waverly’s warm body weighing her down... it pushed the lingering ache of the demon’s attack away, the simple contact a balm on Nicole’s very soul.

“Why do you say that, baby.”

Waverly sighed and shook her head, the gesture tucking her nose in against Nicole’s shirt. “I dunno, I just... I’m losing time. Like there’s holes in my memory, as if I was asleep, and I’ll wake up somewhere else, in the middle of doing something.”

Nicole thought of the coffee left on her counter, thought of Waverly being so aggressive at the school, but said nothing. She curled her hand around the back of Waverly’s neck, warm and solid, a reminder that she was there.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Her voice cracked. “I don’t even remember filling out the forms you gave me but they’re gone too, like, I must’ve mailed them? I’ve even got the receipt from the post office but... I don’t remember doing it.”

Nicole sighed and kissed the top of her head, thinking. She hadn’t thought about the forms. The whole not-an-Earp thing shouldn’t have changed her taste, she didn’t think, but then again, how much did she really know about the connection between that and a person’s health? Mental health was still health—wasn’t it possible that these weird fugue states were causing biological changes? Or vice versa. No one else would have noticed. It was just a fluke that Nicole could pick up on them. Maybe that’s all that was off?

Now that she thought about it in those terms, that could explain a lot. The wolf felt irritated, unconvinced, but without verbal communication, they couldn’t do much more than grumble and growl at each other.

“Maybe it’s just stress,” she suggested. “I mean, you’ve been through so much in the last two months, Waves. Willa, and... and Bobo, and everything with Black Badge. Maybe it’s just too much.”

“Yeah,” Waverly whispered, and sighed. “Yeah, maybe.”

“Tell you what,” Nicole said, and leaned her head back, twisting to look at Waverly’s face, waiting until she looked up. “Let’s get out of the Triangle for a bit. Soon. Just, like, a weekend trip or something.”

“Nicole, the full moon’s like. This coming weekend.”

Nicole wrinkled her nose. “Shit. Okay, well, the weekend after. How’s that sound. We can get out of here for a while, just... hit the road. You and me. Go somewhere nice, and just not be.” She waved a hand. “Here. In the thick of everything. Just for a bit.”

Waverly’s expression softened, a small smile curling her mouth.

“That sounds nice.”

“Yeah?” Nicole said, smiling.

“Yeah.”

“Want me to plan it?” Nicole said, teasing, and Waverly slapped her hand gently against the side of Nicole’s face.

“Oh shut up!” Still, it got her laughing. “I’m never going to live that down, am I.”

“Nope,” Nicole chirped, and slid a finger under her chin, pulling Waverly up to kiss her.

Waverly didn’t stay long, maybe only till 11, since Wynonna was expecting her back at the Homestead. After she left, Nicole went about tidying up her home and getting ready for bed, but just as she was heading toward her hallway, she heard a soft scraping sound, like a window being wedged open. She turned, frowning, and surveyed her living room, sniffing at the air. She didn’t smell anything out of the ordinary at first, but just as she took a step, following the sound of a cold breeze where it was leaking in through a window, she realized what she was smelling. It was the absence of scent, a hole in reality where she couldn’t smell anything at all—something actively, and presumably magically, blocking her senses.

“Who’s—” she shouted, but was interrupted when something small, maybe about the size of one of her fingers, hit her solidly in the neck. She cursed and yanked it out, but even as she examined the tiny cylindrical syringe and the short needle extending from it, her vision was blurring. She was dimly aware of her knees hitting the ground, and then she flopped to her side, the dart rolling away from her fingers.

“Shit,” she mumbled, as two pairs of heavy boots moved across her living room floor. A blurry man-shaped blob leaned down and rolled her onto her back, sticking something into her mouth, maybe to make sure she didn’t choke on her own tongue. His cufflinks glinted under the lights, and it was the last thing she saw before a dark hood was pulled over her head.

“Should’ve had a Rottweiler ‘stead of a cat,” she slurred, and the man in the suit made a faint noise that she thought was a stifled laugh.

“Let’s move,” someone said, and several hands hefted her up off the floor so that she was vaguely upright on her feet. They half-walked, half-carried her outside, and she finally really lost track of what was going on when she was placed in the back of a car, her head lolling back against a seat cushion.

“Drive,” said a rough, low voice, and then she let her mind drift off.

Chapter Text

“She’s waking up.”

To accelerate the process a bucket of water was poured over the top of her head, and Nicole coughed and spluttered, squinting through rivulets of cool water dripping down across her eyes. The room she was in was fairly large, the distant walls layered with soundproofing that dulled the thumping sound of club music. In keeping with the theme, the space was lit with a scant handful of red lights, leaving much of the room in shadow. Nicole looked around, becoming aware that she was sitting in a chair, her hands tied together behind her back. She tugged at the bindings once, then a second time with more of her strength, but even with the wolf’s help she couldn’t get the metal cuffs to budge.

Nicole forced herself to settle, to calm. Panicking wouldn’t help. She needed to know more. For one, she needed to know how much time had passed. She looked around again, for anything out of place, then closed her eyes, breathing in deep gulps of air. It smelled stale, unused. A storage room, maybe? She could smell humans standing behind her, two, in rich suits and leather shoes that stank of high-end boot polish.

She also smelled blood. Not strong, not like someone was bleeding, but still cloying and noticeable.

Nicole let her vision tint gold, let the shadows quail back from her improved sight, and caught the silhouette of a woman just beyond the edge of the furthest lamp. A vision of loveliness, all slink and saunter.

Loretta von Holstein stepped into the light. This time she wore a tight black skirt that stopped just above her knees and a crimson blouse that was missing half its buttons. The outfit left a generous portion of her chest and her long, svelte legs on display, her creamy white skin and long blonde curls more at home on a runway than in a storage room of a nightclub.

Fear—real, honest fear—curled up in Nicole’s chest like a cat around a favorite toy.

“Lady von Holstein,” she said, shifting in her chair again. She was suddenly glad she hadn’t actually changed into pajamas yet—the last thing she needed was to be dragged before Loretta in a tank top and old sweats.

As it was, barefoot and wearing jeans and a plaid shirt that had seen better days, both of which were now sticking to her and dripping with water, did not exactly a befitting outfit make. She shook her head, trying to flick sopping wet hair out of her face.

“How good of you to accept my invitation,” Loretta said, her voice a purr that was as much sultry heat as it was lethal threat.

Nicole gritted her teeth and turned her head, finding two men in suits standing a few meters behind her. One of them smirked at her.

“Yeah,” Nicole muttered. “I guess Evites aren’t really your style.”

“I would have come in person,” Loretta mused, twirling her long fingers through the air as she spoke. “But, well. That pesky sanctuary keeps me out.” She gestured to the men standing behind Nicole. “My pets, though. They suffer no such restrictions.”

“I see,” Nicole noted, trying to maintain an air of courtesy. “Lady Loretta. Please. Let’s just, uh, talk. Ideally without the, you know.” She struggled against the cuffs so that the metal jangled and clinked to illustrate her point.

Loretta moved, so fast Nicole almost didn’t see it. One second she was at the far edge of the light, then she was right in front of Nicole’s knees. She didn’t touch Nicole, perhaps didn’t deign to make physical contact with a lowly werewolf, but she didn’t have to. The raw force of her will, her anger, her innate power, was as strong and as crippling as if the furious vampire had wrapped her cold pale fingers around Nicole’s throat. She felt like she couldn’t breathe, like Loretta’s will was bearing down on her, pinning her into the chair. She felt, irrationally, incomprehensibly, like a butterfly pinned into a frame, on display and vulnerable.

“Do not play at parley with me, moonsinger,” Loretta said. She sneered, her lip pulling back from her teeth, baring long, pearlescent fangs. Nicole and her wolf both pulled back, as much as they could under the weight of Loretta’s strength, until she was pressed back against the chair, trying to hide in it. “I will not hear it. Not from your ruinous mouth.”

“Lady Loretta, please,” Nicole said, her eyes searching Loretta’s. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I was going to, I swear—!”

Loretta slapped her, letting her nails slash red lines open across the side of Nicole’s face. For a moment, she was surprised that Loretta had actually touched her, had actually struck her herself instead of having one of her goons do it. But it occurred to her, a moment after, that if one of the goons did it, Nicole would heal. If Shae and the demons she’d fought were any indicator of pattern, Loretta’s attacks would be worth a lot more than anything one of her human pets could dish out.

“Do not dare to come into my presence,” Loretta hissed, “And make excuses.”

“Please,” Nicole said, and the wolf surged in her thoughts, not angry, but protective. Fur grew in little tufts at the sides of her face, along her hands, and along her arms beneath her shirt sleeves. “I had no idea they had gotten to him until I got to the Night Mare’s home. Loretta, you have to believe me.”

You are the one who led the demon’s Watchers to Purgatory. You are the one who involved my brother in your family’s petty feuds!” She grabbed Nicole’s hair and yanked her head back, forcing Nicole to bare her throat, and for a single, terrifying moment Nicole was sure Loretta was about to bite her. “And it is you and your friends who released the demon’s fell wives to stalk the Triangle. If you had not dragged my brother into that hellscape, he would still be alive!”

Nicole’s throat worked, searching for words. They came to the tip of her tongue, and stalled. Mikael was the one who chose to help. It was Mikael who had consulted ancient texts, who had gone out seeking the Night Mare’s prophecies. It had been his choice to help Nicole. His choice to help her escape Shae, to help her hide from her family’s cult, to help her enter the Triangle and make Purgatory her home. He had chosen for himself at every step.

But when she searched for blame, for denial, she couldn’t find it. She was the one who had asked him for help. She was the one who had called him with the issues that she ran into in the Triangle. She was the one he’d put his neck out for. She let Loretta hold her head back, her vision blurring as tears burned in her eyes.

“I know,” she whispered, more to the ceiling than to Loretta.

“No. You don’t,” Loretta spat, leaning closer. Her breath came in hot gusts against Nicole’s neck and she shuddered at the sensation. “You have no idea. Your feeble mind cannot even grasp the scale of what has been lost. Can you even attempt to imagine it? The worlds we saw together? The empires that rose and fell as we danced across the ashes of history? The people we knew? The places we saw, the moments we shared? Four hundred years. Four hundred years, thrown away for a wolf.”

“I’m sorry,” Nicole whispered, sucking in a breath that wanted desperately to turn into a sob. “Loretta, I’m so sorry.”

“No, no, shh, shh, darling. You have to make me believe it,” Loretta said, and released some of the pressure on Nicole’s hair, letting her head tip forward slightly. Loretta’s eyes found hers, glinting dangerous and mad in the dark. Lithe fingers found the buttons of her shirt, and began slowly undoing them. Nicole blinked, looking down as Loretta opened her shirt, pushing the wet cloth down off her shoulders until it gathered around her elbows. Loretta reached behind her back, but as Nicole tried to see what Loretta had picked up, the vampire held her gaze, twisting the hand in Nicole’s hair to keep her from looking down.

“Convince me. That you understand.”

Nicole barely had time to process the threat for what it was before Loretta had moved again, dragging a small, short blade across Nicole’s bare chest with exaggerated slowness, the blade lingering a centimeter deep within her skin. Silver seared across her senses, burning along every inch of the cut, and she howled, the shock of it forcing the wolf’s voice out through her mouth.

Loretta pulled the knife out again and Nicole sagged against the chair, gulping in breaths of air. The silver burned even after it was gone, but the cut was so shallow that it was bearable. She yanked her head up, her vision golden, her fangs digging into her lips as she struggled to speak. The wolf was struggling, pushing against the imagined wall between them, and she had the oddest sensation it was trying to wrap its paws around her and shelter her under itself.

“Loretta, please. This won’t bring him back.”

Loretta cut at her again, leaving a mirrored line across the left side of her chest, from her collarbone to the edge of her bra, and Nicole screamed. Her cuffs jangled as she writhed and thrashed, trying to get away from the knife. Loretta set the blade flat against her stomach, letting the silver burn her skin, and curled her free hand around Nicole’s throat, squeezing. Nicole couldn’t tell the difference between the sensations—her skin burned where the silver touched it, and her lungs burned with lack of oxygen, struggling to inhale. Loretta kept the blade there for what felt like an age, and then it was gone, and so was her hand, and Nicole coughed, wheezing in desperate, frantic breaths.

“You have no idea what this world lost when you allowed my brother to oppose the Watchers,” Loretta said, her voice calm. Casual, even. She might as well have been talking about the stock market. “When you allowed the Night Mare to be drawn into this web of terror and despair. The Night Mare, a centaur older than the fall of Rome, and my brother, slain, and yet here you are. Alive.”

“You say that like I got out easy,” Nicole bit out, between desperate, ragged breaths. It hurt to speak, her throat aching. She could still feel the phantoms of Loretta’s fingers crushing her windpipe. “You say that like I don’t care that Mikael is dead.”

“You?” She laughed. “You mourn like a dog when its master is gone. You are transient. A speck on a timeline that even my kind can only hope to master.”

Loretta raised the knife and slammed it down into Nicole’s thigh, scraping bone, and Nicole screamed, her voice hoarse from overuse, cracking and splintering like dry wood. For a heartbeat, then two, then three, Loretta left the knife in her, fire scorching across every inch of the entry wound and the blade where it was buried into her muscle. Then Loretta pulled it back out, languid, slow. She released Nicole’s hair and her head slumped forward. She sobbed, too tired to care or feel any shame for it. Pain licked through her whole body, the silver eating at her body and her wolf’s resolve.

“Hm.”

Nicole lifted her head, feeling very much like it was made of lead, and watched as Loretta eyed the blade, licked the edge, and smacked her lips once. Nicole hung her head again, and missed Loretta gesturing to one of the goons.

“Chin up, dog,” Loretta said, and Nicole struggled to look up again. She was holding another bucket of water, and just as Nicole dragged her eyes up to the level of Loretta’s shoulders, the woman splashed the bucket against her, letting it splatter over her lap and her bare chest.

She’d only encountered moonwater once, when Shae was trying to prove a point, but the sensation was hard to forget. It felt so cold it burned, made her teeth chatter and her fur stand on end, the sterilizing feeling of it chasing away the silver burn. It left a hollow emptiness in its wake, like a lake after a storm’s finally moved out of range. Like the silence that follows an earthquake. It felt like aftermath. It ached, and it probably would for a few more days, but at least she didn’t feel quite so much like she wanted to die.

“Why?” she asked, feeling sluggish and slow-witted with the pain.

Loretta leaned forward, her face very close to Nicole’s.

“Why what, why offer a balm?” With effort Nicole nodded her head. “Because no matter how much I hate you, my brother loved you,” she said. “We are even now, shifter. Do not speak to me. Do not seek me out. If you come anywhere near me or one of my clubs again, I will kill you and mail what’s left of you back to your precious little girlfriend in a martini glass. Have I made myself clear.”

Nicole inhaled, and even the wolf was quiet, almost meek.

“Yes, Lady.”

“Good,” Loretta said, dropping back to a business-like, matter of fact tone. “Luke, darling, won’t you unlock this wretch and take her home. Samuel, a towel please. Let’s not have her bleeding and dripping all over the car.”

The goons sprang into motion like clockwork dolls, and within a few seconds the cuffs had been unlocked from her wrists. She was promptly wrapped up in a towel and ushered away, and she didn’t spare a glance back at Loretta. She didn’t really feel like finding out the hard way that Loretta’s command took effect immediately.

She was not hooded for the ride back to Purgatory, thankfully. She checked her phone, alarmed to find that it was about 2 in the morning on Monday. She’d been gone more than 48 hours.

“Hey,” she said, though it lacked some of the venom she was hoping for, since she was slumped in the back of a sedan, her head resting on the window. The driver grunted, to let her know he was listening. “I’ve been gone two days?”

“Your employer was contacted,” he reported, sounding bored. “Death in the family.”

She fiddled with her phone and found an email from Nedley. It was written the way only a 50+ father would write an email, mostly talking about paid time off and an offer to check on Calamity Jane for her, but even through the filter of bad letter-writing she recognized that he was concerned, both by her sudden disappearance and by whatever he’d been told by Loretta’s goons. Nicole knew he was aware she wasn’t on good terms with her family, so there was no way he wouldn’t have thought that explanation was fishy. Rather than his usual signoff he ended his email with a single message: Will move if I don’t hear from you for 36.

Apparently hers weren’t the only instincts BBD needed.

Nicole debated replying to his email, then decided he’d mistrust something so easily faked. She’d call in the morning.

She spent the rest of the drive back to Purgatory trying to figure out how to phrase a text to Waverly to let her know what had happened, but in the end, she decided not to say anything. If this whole weird behavior thing was just stress, the last thing she needed was for Nicole to add more on.

Besides. This Loretta thing was resolved now. No point dredging it up.

Right?

 

Loretta’s men dropped her off at her house, and as she started up the front walk, she frowned, sensing... something. She turned around as the goon squad left her driveway, and found a red sedan she didn’t recognize sitting on the other side of the road. She tilted her head, frowning at the out-of-place vehicle, and a moment later, the driver-side door opened. Doc stepped out, shutting the door behind him and crossing the street, dipping his head in greeting.

“Nedley?” she asked.

“Indeed,” he said, and tucked his hands into his pockets. “The Sheriff asked me to keep an eye on your place, just in case.”

“Surprised Wynonna was okay with that,” she said, and rubbed a hand down her face.

“Oh she does not know,” he said, with an easy grin. “Sheriff figured she and Waverly would go all rampagin’ angel on the issue if they found out before he was sure it was something you could not handle.” She grunted, satisfied with Nedley’s assessment. “Nicole,” Doc said, his voice turning pensive. “I suppose I do not know much about modern funerals, but I am reasonably certain they do not involve knife-fights. And I should think most folks do not go to them barefoot, I should think.”

She blinked, then looked down at herself. She hadn’t had the energy to close her shirt, and besides which, the left thigh of her jeans was soaked in blood, standing out starkly in the glare of a nearby street lamp. Truth be told she didn’t have the energy for it now either, but she had to do something.

“Oh,” she said, and frowned. “Right. Maybe... you should come inside.”

“I believe I shall,” he said, and followed her as she led him indoors. Her door, she found, had been left unlocked—just as well, since she hadn’t exactly had her keys when she was taken—and she waved a hand for him to follow her. She headed for her bathroom, fishing out her first aid kit, and set about cleaning herself up. The moonwater had helped clear out the worst of the silver, but her wolf was noticeably lethargic, and it would take hours, maybe even a whole day, before it could start healing with any real power.

“Fuckin’ vampires,” she muttered under her breath as she dabbed hydrogen peroxide on her chest and hissed at the burn of it.

“Beg your pardon?” Doc asked, leaning against the wall so that he could hear but not see her. The man sure did put a lot of stock in propriety.

She heaved a sigh and lay gauze down over the mirrored cuts, taping them in place.

“Doc, it’s... probably time I tell you something.”

“Oh I reckon so, grandmother.”

She blinked and leaned her head out through the doorway. “Uh. What?”

He grinned at her. “I may have been down in a well for a hundred-some years, Nicole, but I feel I should remind you that Little Red Riding Hood is an old, old story.”

She cleared her throat and ducked back into the bathroom, reaching for aloe for the burn on her stomach.

“Right. Um. Well, then, I guess... do you have any questions?”

“Not too many,” he mused. “I presume the Earps already know, given some things they have done and said, and Dolls too, seein’ as while he may be an asshole, he is a clever asshole, and I figure he would have had you pegged for a good while now.”

“Correct on all counts,” she said, and stripped out of her jeans to treat the deeper wound on her leg.

“Which,” he continued, “Tells me that you are not the grandmother-eatin’ variety of wolf, elsewise neither Dolls nor Wynonna would abide you wanderin’ ‘round Purgatory as you are.”

“No,” she said, and snorted a laugh that turned into a pained hiss as she wrapped up her thigh. “No grandmothers for me.”

“It has taken me a good long while to give any of my trust to the Earps,” Doc admitted, waiting as she put on a pair of sweats. She hung her drying shirt up over the shower rod, slipping into an old t-shirt instead. “But I do trust them, and their judgement. Waverly’s in particular.” He met her eye when she re-emerged from her bathroom, and he stood away from the wall, filling the hallway. She looked at him, really looked at him, and saw, maybe for the first time, that he was a lot more than just an Old West gambler and pistolero transplanted into modern day by a fluke. He was lean, scrappy, and while he talked a good game of only looking out for his own skin, there was good in him. The kind that was liable to get him killed protecting someone he deemed one of his.

It was a little like looking into a mirror, really.

“So if Waverly believes that you are one of the good hounds, well.” He winked. “Then I will put out some steak for ya and call it good.”

She ducked her head, trying to hide a chuckle. “Thank you. Just... so long as Lucado doesn’t find out.”

Doc grinned and offered her his hand to shake. “Oh trust me, Nicole, if a day comes that I tell Lucado somethin’ she actually would want to know, hell will freeze right up.”

Chapter Text

When Nicole woke up Monday morning, her wolf felt... well, the only way to put it was “passed the fuck out in the back of her mind.” Her face mostly just looked like maybe Calamity Jane had gotten particularly exuberant asking for breakfast and when she checked the cuts on her chest, it looked like she was healing at a rate you would expect from a human. Which was about what she’d expected, but still a little bit frustrating. There was visible bruising on her neck where Loretta had choked her, which took a few extra minutes and a healthy amount of concealer to hide before she changed the bandages and dressed for work.

She shot a text to Waverly to say hello, which got a muted, idle hey in response after a couple minutes. Nothing else, though. She frowned, but decided not to push it, and headed in a little early so she could check in with the sheriff before her shift started.

If she hadn’t already known Nedley cared, the blatant relief on his face would’ve reassured her. She smiled a little as she shut his door (with newly replaced glass) behind her, and sat across from his desk. His gaze tracked her as she sat down, noticing when she winced, the wound on her thigh aching at the use.

“Death in the family, huh.”

She grimaced. “Someone’s idea of a joke, I think. Sir, I’m—”

“Uh-uh,” he said, raising a hand, “I don’t need to hear it, so I don’t want to hear it. All I need to know is if it’s gonna happen again and if I should be concerned.”

She gave him a thin little smile and ducked her head. “No, and no. One-time deal. It’s been resolved.” For a moment he just watched her, and she raised her hands. “No, um. Not like that. Just. She’s said her piece. So.”

“Good,” he said, and nodded. “G’awn then, git.”

She grinned and let herself out of the office, and for a few hours, she just worked, like a normal person, doing a normal job. With a normal lunch schedule.

She went to the kitchen on instinct, but having been gone for two days, the only thing she had in the station fridge was a box of microwaveable pizza that bore a post-it with her name on it.

“What?” she muttered, looking the box over. She didn’t remember buying it. She sniffed at the box, but she didn’t smell anything terribly wrong about it. Though, then again, her wolf was still so out of it she wasn’t really able to use its senses. Just for a second she smelled jasmine, like Shae’s perfume, but the scent was gone as soon as she thought it, and she made a face. There was a tiny part of her that wanted to believe it had been Shae, planting some kind of poison or... something. Trouble is, the human mind is so damn open to suggestion. All it would take is the idea.

When the microwave beeped she pulled a bit of the cheese off with her fingers, taste-testing it, and wrinkled up her nose. She heard footsteps in the kitchen, though she’d heard nothing ahead of time in the hall. It was weird, having human senses again. Nice, but weird. She hadn’t realized just how much she’d been using them lately. More than that: she hadn’t realized how much she’d been relying on them.

“Dude,” Wynonna said, disapproving, and leaned over to eye the plate. “That s’posed to resemble a pizza?”

Nicole turned around, paper towel in hand, and chuckled. “Yeah, it gets worse. It’s gluten-free.”

Wynonna set a mug next to the coffee-maker and tapped idle, nervous fingers across the top. “I’m sorry.”

“Eh, it’s okay,” Nicole said, eyeing the pizza with renewed skepticism. “It almost tastes like real cheese.”

“No,” Wynonna said, and sighed. “I’m. Sorry. That weirdness in Waverly, you were trying to...” Nicole sobered, concerned. If it was bad enough Wynonna was noticing, it must be getting worse. The weekend after the full moon couldn’t come fast enough. “Yeah. Kinda finally noticing now,” Wynonna said, pouring coffee.

She thought of Waverly’s voice, cracking and afraid, and of forms in the mail to a handful of government agencies.

“I can’t betray her trust,” Nicole said.

“I.” Wynonna shrugged, reaching for the cup of sugar. “I would never ask you to.”

“But,” Nicole said, weighing her words. “Yeah. Waverly is... struggling a little with. Who she is.”

“That struggle is gonna get her hurt,” Wynonna said, and Nicole frowned. “I mean, going undercover for Lucado?”

Nicole’s eyes widened and she leaned closer, setting her hands on the table. “What?”

“Mmhm,” Wynonna said, shaking her head. “Not to mention the... the short decisions, rash tempers, sleepwalking...” She scanned the table, then moved to the counter, opening drawers.

“Sleepwalking?” Nicole echoed, turning to keep Wynonna in her line of sight. “In the winter. From Ms. Four Blankets, Plus a Bonus Blankie.”

“This morning, there she was,” Wynonna said, waving her hands for emphasis. “Traipsing through the snow in nothing but a nightgown.”

Nicole frowned, adding that to her own tally of weird things she’d seen Waverly do. For a second she actually reached across the mental barriers that separated her and the wolf, looking for its weigh-in on the issue, but it was too lethargic and unfocused to understand the question. Frustrated, she grabbed the pizza and headed for the door. She needed to start writing this all down, try to piece things together the old-fashioned way.

“Look, I’d maim a duck for a spoon right now,” Wynonna said.

“Oh, yeah, good luck,” Nicole said, turning when she was almost to the door. “All of the cutlery has gone missing, including the fork with only one tine.”

Wynonna’s expression went a little blank, like she’d just put something together, and she reached into her coat pocket, producing a slender knife.

Nicole blinked at her. “You?” she asked.

Wynonna shook her head. “Waverly.”

Nicole frowned, and Wynonna set down the silverware, checking her other pocket. She pulled out a pair of dog tags, squinting at them to read the engraving.

“Oh,” she said, the sound almost more like a muted little moan of fear, which was so unlike Wynonna that Nicole stood up a little straighter and paid attention. “My god.”

Shit, she thought, as Wynonna ran past her into the hallway. Dolls.

Armed with new knowledge, she sent Waverly another text when she reached her desk. Hello? And within a minute, she got back a simple Hi.

Wanna hang out tonight? she sent back, but Waverly must have set down her phone, because nothing else came through. Nicole rubbed her face and forced herself to eat some of the pizza, praying that whatever it was that Lucado needed Waverly for, it would turn out all right. She’d been temporarily demoted to normal mundane cop, which rendered her slightly less than useful where assisting BBD was concerned. At this point, if Waverly got into much trouble, Wynonna would be way more useful than she would.

Since going off half-cocked searching for Wynonna or Lucado would A: not help Waverly and B: probably get her a chewing out by Nedley, especially so soon after their heart-to-heart and Nicole’s unplanned weekend getaway, she stayed in the station. The afternoon was fairly quiet for Purgatory, and she spent the better part of her shift poring over Nedley’s file on Tucker Gardner.

Who, as it turned out, had a rather substantial list of prior, mysteriously dropped charges, up to and including a breaking and entering case from four years ago.

And who, evidently, could be summoned by the power of thought. She looked up from the file as Tucker entered, scanning the room for an officer with the lost, interested look of a dog trying to figure out who it could bite.

“And I thought that pizza sucked,” she muttered under her breath, as his gaze swept the room and stalled on her. She leaned forward in her chair and raised her voice, as polite as she could stomach. “Tucker Gardner. How can I help you.”

“My sisters,” he said, and even without the wolf’s senses she noticed his shifting gaze, his tense shoulders. He was the walking posterboy for white privilege: even with all his prior run-ins with Purgatory law enforcement, something spooked him and he came straight here, so confident that his status and his wealth would protect him from any backlash that he had no fear of crossing willingly into enemy territory. He possessed unshaken faith in a system that promised to protect him from people exactly like him. “Acting weird.”

“Well,” Nicole drawled, getting up from her chair, taking great effort not to wince or limp as she walked toward him. “I mean, I’d take the weird? Because they saved you from being charged.”

He approached the counter, wearing a heavy denim jacket and a striped shirt with a cat on it that looked almost comical on his lean, boyish frame. The thought that he might shop at thrift stores for the novelty, rather than the need, crossed her mind, followed almost immediately by the thought that maybe it was some Asian brand she had never heard of. That seemed like something Tucker would be into.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and against all sense, she thought maybe he meant it. At least insomuch as it got him what he wanted: her ear.

She raised her eyebrows, easing a bit closer to keep their conversation somewhere in the neighborhood of private.

“Did you apologize to the girls you were photographing?”

“You’re Waverly’s...” He paused, as if looking for the word. “Friend.”

She let ice creep into her tone, her gaze hard and locked on his.

“That’s not super relevant.”

“She’s been acting weird too, hasn’t she?” he asked, and a chill ran down her spine. She swallowed, and she watched his eyes track it—she really didn’t have anything like a poker face. “One minute dear sweet Waverly, the next...” His gaze was inscrutable, empty. “She nearly choked me to death,” he said, gesturing to his throat, where days-old bruises lingered on his skin in the shape of fingers. She narrowed her eyes, gauging the color of the marks. There was no way Waverly could have exerted that much pressure on a man Tucker’s size.

“Nice try,” she said, her voice a bit raspy and strange without the wolf’s growls to back it up.

“I figure that’s why you’re so angry,” Tucker said, as she headed back to her desk. She turned back at his words, glaring. “Because she’s been acting strange around you too.”

A man as scummy as Tucker really had no business being that damn intuitive.

“I think you should get out of here.”

“I don’t wanna cause trouble,” he insisted, but there was the ghost of a smile around his mouth as he said it that made it oh so hard to believe him. “But if our Waverly’s dangerous, it’s a town issue, don’t you think?”

The way he said our Waverly made her skin itch and she knew if the wolf had been coherent for this it would’ve been snarling, but instead she just felt hollowed out, empty, with ordinary, human rage bubbling into the gaps, filling in the holes the wolf left behind. It was just a temporary fix, and it felt wrong. Like a cheap knockoff of the real thing.

“I could always talk to her for you,” Tucker said.

“I said get out.”

“I’m trying to help,” he said, with that smug little smile still on his face. “I’m not a bad person. And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop treating me like one.”

He stepped back and left the room, and she let out a breath she didn’t fully realize she’d been holding.

 

Around 8 Waverly finally texted her.

OMG, how did I miss this? I'm sorry!!!

Nicole frowned, reading the message over and over. Tucker’s words echoed on loop in her head. One minute, dear sweet Waverly, the next?

She tapped out a response, discarded it. Then another, which she discarded again. Then a third.

Finally she wrinkled up her nose and forced herself to finish a damn answer and send it without second-guessing it.

It's okay Waves. Talk tomorrow?

Definitely!

Chapter Text

Life without the wolf was strange, but as her evening wore on it started to swing around into uncomfortable. When she checked back in mentally she was lying on her couch, a bit listless, staring at the ceiling. Calamity Jane lay curled up in a little ginger loop on her stomach, her rumbling purr startlingly loud where it vibrated through Nicole’s ribcage.

“Didn’t think I’d miss it,” she told the cat, frowning at the ceiling. Her cat just purred a little harder. If someone had told her, two months after Shae bit her, that there’d come a time where she was wishing the wolf would come back faster, she’d have laughed herself stupid. And yet, here she was, one hand resting over one of the bandaged cuts on her chest and wishing there was some way to make the cuts heal faster. To wake the wolf up from its silver-induced coma.

Maybe, she thought idly, this was what Shae was trying to teach her back at the start. Days after their first moon together Shae had cut her arm with a silvered knife, her own hand wrapped in a thick scarf to do it.

To teach you what it feels like, is what Shae had said as she poured moonwater over the open gash and stroked her fingers along Nicole’s sweat-soaked cheek, as if that touch was meant to ease the deep, pained lines carved into Nicole’s face at the sheer physical agony of the silver burning in her skin.

But maybe it wasn’t just about the silver. Maybe it was supposed to teach her to appreciate it, to grasp what she’d been given, once it was taken away. You never know what you have until it’s gone, right?

But Shae had always moved too fast, when it came to things like this. Sometimes it was impossible to forget that she had been turned as a teenager. Nicole could almost imagine it—Shae, brilliant but still too young for medical school, maybe in pre-med prep programs, twisting to see bite marks on her hip in the mirror. Shae not as she would become, but rash, impulsive, maybe adjusting to the wolf at an intense speed, because after all, what better way to arm a 15 year old girl against the world but to share her body with the soul of an ancient, hungry, powerful hunter? There would be no stories of Shae cornered in locker rooms or dragged beneath bleachers by boys full of enough testosterone to kill nearby plantlife. No, anyone who tried to take Shae somewhere she didn’t want to be or do something she didn’t want to do would find out the hard way that Shae seemed cool and calm but was a pot seconds from boiling.

She was power and strength and fire, and at 15, maybe she reveled in it.

But Nicole was not 15. Bitten at 26, with her whole life ahead of her, she’d never been ready for this, and it had been Shae’s biggest mistake to demand that she be okay with it within mere weeks.

It had been what had forced Shae to tip her hand. Her father was impatient for results, and Shae didn’t know how to win Nicole over slowly, not anymore.

But that was a year ago. Now, Nicole had adjusted. Had learned more, knew more. She and the wolf were... she wasn’t sure what they were, but they weren’t quite rivals anymore. It wasn’t as clean as that. It was fledgling and hard to define, but it was something else, now. Something more like partnership.

And now the wolf was asleep, and she had to just wait, until it was ready to wake up. And it chafed her.

Someone knocked on her door, two heavy thuds, and Nicole jerked up off the couch, a snarl too pitifully human to be anything like threatening catching in her throat. Calamity Jane leapt to the back of the couch, her tail all bottlebrush and her back arched, just a little.

Nicole went for her gun first, holding it stiffly beside her hip as she headed for the door. Her guest knocked again, two more heavy thumps that would have raised her hackles if she’d been able to change. On instinct she paused behind the door, sniffing, but all she could smell was the room.

She cracked the door open, just an inch, then blinked.

“Dolls?”

He grinned, white teeth flashing against his skin, and shrugged a shoulder. “Hey.”

“Jesus,” she said, stepping back and opening the door all the way. She scanned behind him, but didn’t see anyone else, and closed the door as soon as he was inside, flipping the deadbolt with a quick twist of her hand.

He glanced down at the pistol she was holding and raised an eyebrow.

“Expecting company?”

“After the weekend I’ve had?” she muttered, returning the gun to its usual hiding spot. “I’m not sure what to expect.”

He frowned. “You’re not having trouble with Lucado?”

“No,” she said, and sighed. “No. My side of things. BBD’s still in the dark.”

“Good,” he said, his shoulders sagging a little in relief. “Good. Well, not good that you’ve had trouble, but.”

“Yeah.” She hazarded a grin, and took a moment to survey him. She would’ve killed for the wolf’s senses, because he just seemed... himself. She couldn’t smell that lingering scent of butane he always gave off, or blood, but he seemed in relatively good shape. He was standing normally, if more relaxed than she was used to, and didn’t seem to be in any pain. “You look good.”

“Feel pretty good too,” he noted, then frowned, his eyes tracking her in much the way hers had just done him. She found herself wondering what he saw. “You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve got bandages under your shirt and you’re...” He waved a hand, as if he were looking for words. “Standing different. What happened.”

She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. “Long story,” she muttered. “Can I get you anything?”

“No,” he said. “Just give me the gist.”

She told him most of it. Mikael’s help, and disappearance, what she’d found in the wildlands, and Loretta’s personal vendetta.

“Did you ever get to ask him your question?” Dolls asked when she was done. They’d migrated back to her couch, with him sitting on the trapdoor-hiding armchair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.

“No, I didn’t.”

“What were you going to ask him?”

Nicole considered refusing to answer, but it was Dolls. He was a friend, and besides, he knew more than any of them now that Mikael was gone.

“Waverly’s been acting... weird.”

He said nothing, but just for a second, she thought he tensed when she said it.

“I don’t know why, I just.” She rubbed her face with both hands. “She’s been strange and– and cold, and even Wynonna thinks maybe something’s different with her, and I don’t know if it’s just the stress of everything and Willa or something bigger or...”

“Hey,” Dolls said, and moved to crouch next to her. “Hey. You’ve been wounded, and you’ve been through a lot since I left. It’s okay.”

She looked at him for a moment, then let her head hang forward.

“I’m glad you’re back.”

“Yeah, well,” he said, and grinned. “Chances are I wouldn’t be if you hadn’t come to help up on that ridge. Tell you what.”

“Hm.”

He set a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Get some rest. Heal up. I’ll see if I can’t find anything out about what’s up with Waverly, and I’ll touch base with you tomorrow.”

Nicole looked up at him, not surprised exactly but grateful, and a little startled. He’d just gotten back to town, and judging by his behavior he’d just dosed back up, and yet the first thing he offered to do was help her? Sure, anything that helped Waverly helped her and Wynonna both, but even so, it felt big. Significant.

“Thanks, Dolls.”

He squeezed her shoulder again. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Haught.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“You sleep,” he said. “I’ll lock up on my way out.”

She smiled a little despite herself and nodded. “Okay.”

And with that he was gone. She listened to his boots as he left the room, listened to the door shut, listened to him scrabble around for the spare key, and then listened to the deadbolt slide.

The idea of having to get up off her couch in order to go to bed seemed somehow illogical, and she instead just wriggled out of her jeans and dragged one of the quilts Waverly had brought over on top of her to ward off the chill, now that she didn’t have the wolf’s heat to help.

Just before she lay down, she frowned, pawing at her phone.

Hi! This is Waverly, leave a message!

“Hey Waverly it’s... me,” she said, rubbing at the back of her neck, but even the sound of Waverly’s voicemail message lifted her spirits somewhat. There was a brightness to it, a cheer she’d half-forgotten in the last two months. Armed with that and Dolls’ promise to investigate, she felt momentarily invincible. “I just wanted to say hi. ‘Kay, call me?”

 

In the morning she woke up a few minutes before her alarm in a state of confusion, tempered by warm drowsiness. It took her a minute to realize she was firstly, on the couch, and secondly, cocooned in a thick quilt that smelled, even to her human nose, like Waverly. She woke by degrees, remembering that she was supposed to go into work today, that she was probably going to be very stiff if she didn’t get up and shower soon to let the hot water work out any kinks she’d worked into her back by sleeping sprawled out on her sofa, and that she had talked with Dolls the night prior.

And then the alarm clock in her bedroom went off. It wasn’t terribly loud—after all, the wolf would hear it even if it wasn’t much louder than normal speaking volume—but she grumbled and dragged herself down the hall to her bedroom as a man and woman bickered about some huge storm. She stopped beside her bed, frowning and listening to them.

“Looks like we’re looking at an absolutely massive storm, Sandy, that big front coming down from the north is bringing a potential 4-6 inches of snow—”

“And where it meets that front coming up from Montana, John, we’re looking at thunder and lightning—”

“A thunder-snowstorm? Well you won’t catch me going outside tonight that’s for sure!”

Nicole clicked off the radio and went for her phone again, an idea starting to coalesce.

Hi! This is Waverly, leave a message!

“Hey! Me again. There’s a big storm comin’ tonight. And I was thinking,” she said, letting her voice turn soft, and maybe trying to be a little enticing. Since she was still half-asleep, she was pretty sure her voice sounded particularly warm and husky, which worked in her favor. “That you and I could hibernate, at my place.” She chuckled, feeling a little silly for trying to seduce a voicemail machine. “Okay, baby. Gimme a call.”

 

The roads were slick and icy as she headed into work, and for once she went out in gloves and her coat zipped up properly, and even then her ears felt like icicles and her fingers were stiff with the chill. It was downright unpleasant, actually, and she found herself wishing for the wolf all the more. As she drove by Shorty’s she spotted Dolls slipping out the back door toward what looked like a rental car. Though how he might have paid for one without BBD catching up to him, she wasn’t sure. He waved a hand to her in greeting, and she nodded in response. Hopefully he’d uncover something while she was at work.

To that end, when she parked her cruiser she tried Waverly’s phone one more time, but she got the voicemail again.

“Hey, uh, it’s me,” she noted, squinting through her windshield at the station. “Again. Um. I... I haven’t heard from you, so I just wanna make sure you– are you okay? How ‘bout tonight? Comin’ over? Uh, gimme a call.” She frowned, glancing at the clock on her dashboard. It was getting more and more odd that she hadn’t heard anything, not even a text to let her know why she couldn’t call. “Okay, bye.”

Nedley passed her on her way inside. The station felt... empty. Not just that there was hardly anyone inside, though that didn’t help. But it was quiet, calm. She couldn’t feel the buzz of energy in the place, couldn’t smell other people, couldn’t hear the pipes or the central heating or any but the loudest of the machinery inside. When Nedley caught her arm, pulling her back to talk to her on his way out, she could smell a little bit of the coffee on his breath, but nothing else. It was like he was still himself, but... less. She couldn’t smell his aftershave or his clothes or the last lingering scent of the sausage he ate for breakfast every morning. It was strangely hollow, even though Nedley himself was absolutely the same as he ever was.

“Nicole,” he rumbled.

She blinked away the feeling of strangeness and nodded. “Sir. What’s the situation?”

“Covered, mostly. Got a few officers on-scene, I’m heading out to oversee it. But I’ve got a puzzle I want your brain on.”

“All right,” she said, eyebrows rising. “What’s on your mind?”

“I’ve got a map of part of the county up on the easel and some reports from a few months back on the table that I want your eyeballs on. Truth is, I need a better plowin’ plan than the one we’ve got. You tested well in city plannin’, didn’t you?”

“I did, sir.” There was something about how he said it that made her think he wasn’t telling her everything, but she nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good.” He nodded, settled his hat on his head, and slipped out past her toward his cruiser, leaving her in the station to puzzle through a short stack of paperwork and maps of varying levels of detail, some of which bore notes scrawled across the town in red ink.

Which is what she was doing when Wynonna sauntered into the bullpen an hour later with her hand halfway into her shirt.

“You know the last major storm we had in Purgatory?” Nicole noted, shaking her head, “The mayor’s street was plowed before the hospital.”

“Natural selection in action,” Wynonna quipped, an edge to her voice that Nicole knew all too well. Wynonna was still rooting around in her shirt, tugging at her bra and giving Nicole an eyeful, and Nicole raised an eyebrow, bemused.

“You okay there?”

“Underwire my ass,” Wynonna grumbled, “I swear this thing fit yesterday.”

“Hey did Waves uh,” Nicole said, biting the inside of her cheek, “Pop in without me seeing her?”

“She’s home sick,” Wynonna said, a bit icy, her eyes tracking Nicole.

“Really? Cuz I spoke to her last night, she sounded fine.”

Wynonna turned a slow, casual spin as she stepped closer, leaning back against the table, and Nicole pulled away, half-heartedly sniffing the air for a scent of whiskey. She got nothing, but that didn’t mean much.

“She’s a good faker,” Wynonna mentioned, a bit wild-eyed, her smile cruel and a little too broad. “Or hadn’t you noticed.”

“It’s– it’s just I left three messages, did she get them, or...”

“Three unreturned messages?” Wynonna murmured, pulling back to the end of the table. “Waverly needs space.”

A shred of unreasonable doubt curled up in Nicole’s chest like a stray cat, unwanted, unasked for, but somehow very real. Wynonna’s words shouldn’t have bothered her, but there was a weight in them, an edge, that made her stomach twist.

“She’s dying under the weight of your... expectations.”

Nicole fiddled with the marker in her hands, half-wishing for the wolf’s strength just so she could snap the stupid thing in frustration. But instead it was just her. Human weakness, against the cold march of Wynonna’s words. She watched Wynonna head to the counter, picking a pen out of the cup and clicking it twice.

“Waverly’s not the... white-picket-fence-in-Purgatory girl you want her to be anymore.”

“You know Wynonna,” Nicole said, and against all sense, her voice wavered. “You’re really mean, when you drink before noon.” Wynonna didn’t answer, though Nicole saw her head turn slightly, a good enough indicator she was listening. “And you drink before noon too often.”

Nicole snatched up her coat and headed for the door—she’d work on Nedley’s puzzle after Wynonna was gone. For now she’d take a walk.

“Hope your Tinder game’s solid,” Wynonna purred after her, and Nicole shoved back out through the door into the cold, the blast of sharp winter wind taking her breath away. She went to her cruiser, trying to figure out where she’d left her gloves, the cold biting into her fingers until she shoved them in her pockets.

Her radio crackled the moment she sat down in her cruiser and pawed through the front seat for her missing gloves.

“Haught. Officer Haught, come in.”

She frowned, pulling the receiver on her shoulder down to where she could speak into it. It wasn’t as easy to tell, without her better hearing, but she was pretty sure it was Nedley’s voice coming through.

“This is Haught, go.”

“Got something. 428 Cherry. Crime scene techs are wrapped up in the city, we’ll never get a team out in this weather.”

“On it, Sheriff,” she said. She went back inside for supplies, and discovered an oddity: a pen, standing on its tip by the sign for Reception. She frowned, investigating that first. It was a silver ballpoint, jammed so hard into the leather blotter that it was standing perfectly upright. There was a bit of drying blood on the pen, and sitting on the counter next to it was a pad of post-its. A single word was scrawled messily across the first slip.

Possesed.

“What the hell,” she muttered, pocketing the whole notepad for further review when she had more time.

 

428 Cherry was a scene out of a horror movie. Two dead. Probably a married couple, given the photos on the walls and the mangled faces of the victims. Suddenly she was a little bit grateful for the wolf’s sleep—if she’d had full capacity to smell the blood and gore and death while she was alone in here... it wouldn’t have been pretty.

As it was, it was nightmarish. The stench of death wasn’t something only the wolf could smell, and it choked her until she could barely breathe. It also didn’t take the wolf’s senses to work out that there was a very particular reason Nedley had sent her on this case. It had supernatural influence written all over it, though what kind she wasn’t quite sure of yet. Based solely on her initial read, the victims had their throats slit, but then something with small hands and sharp little nails had torn open their throats all the way down to their torsos and filled up a bucket—which was sitting to one side—with blood. There was even a length of tubing nearby, soaked red, as if the killer had set up a siphon out of each of the victim’s chest cavities in order to fill the bucket. Or more likely, killers, plural. There were footprints all over the room, all of which were about the size of a large child’s, maybe ten years old, but she was reasonably certain there were at least two, maybe three sets of feet represented in the room.

There were dripmarks around the bucket, too, as if something had been dipped into the bucket and then wrung out and allowed, briefly anyway, to dry. The bodies were only a couple hours old, but without scent-tracking, she didn’t think she could follow the killers. The bloodied footprints stopped completely at the front door, as if the killers had stepped out the door and flown away like birds.

“Sheriff?” she said, pulling her radio down to speak into it. “This is Haught.”

“Go, Haught.”

“We can make do without a team but...” She looked around. “We’re definitely gonna need some cleanup on this.”

“How bad?”

“Real bad, sir. I’ll get on it, but this’ll take me hours. And I’m gonna have to partner with BBD on this.”

There was a long pause in which Nicole imagined he was cursing fluently in relative privacy. Finally her speaker clicked again and his voice came through, sounding exhausted.

“Understood, Haught. Take care of it.”

Chapter Text

It was only an hour to true sunset by the time she made it to the Homestead, though the cloud cover made it look like the dead of night. She felt like she’d never wash off the stench of industrial cleaners, but in all the time she’d been at the Cherry Street crime scene, Waverly hadn’t been in touch. Then again, if Wynonna was to be believed and Waverly was home sick, that wasn’t surprising, but...

Nicole had picked up a carton of sweet and sour soup on her way there, along with a small jar of peanut butter—it was Waverly’s favorite, and probably, Nicole hoped, her go-to when she wasn’t feeling well. But when she stepped into the house, she nearly dropped the soup in shock. The front entryway was a mess of wood shards and overturned rugs. A handful of railings along the stairs had been smashed, and she hastily set down the food, drawing her sidearm as she crept through the house. The living room was a disaster—the big window into Wynonna’s room had been smashed inward like a wrecking ball had hit it—and the kitchen was a mess of sawdust and, god, even a shell casing?

She cleared the lower floor of the house, then crept upstairs, checking each room. All the rooms were empty, even Waverly’s. Hell, her bed was made. She’d clearly never gone to sleep last night, at least not in her room, but there was no quilt or pillows on the couch to indicate she’d slept there either. Even Wynonna’s bed seemed undisturbed, other than the glass shards and hunks of wood.

Nicole made another loop of the lower floor. One of the kitchen chairs had belts attached to the back, like a set of makeshift restraints. One loop was still closed, about the size of a human’s wrist. She slid her fingers through it, gauging the approximate size.

A woman’s might fit it. Small, delicate...

Waverly.

She growled, and this time it sounded better. The wolf stirred in her thoughts, half-awake, maybe roused by fear.

No, not fear. And not panic. It was slow, simmering anger, in its own way more dangerous than rage. Rage is fire and brimstone, but anger is slow, cold. Rage can’t be calculating and precise, and that’s what you really have to worry about.

She went back outside, keeping her pistol drawn. The only car in the driveway was hers. Which was odd, unless Wynonna had taken the Jeep this morning? She scanned the area, looking for outliers, looking for the things that were wrong. Finding nothing, she went to the barn, and stopped dead in the doorway. There was an elaborate monolith of steel and silver stretching from the floor to the roof. A monument of found objects that included silverware and metal tubing, even what looked like a drainpipe from a home improvement store. There was no one else in the barn, so she finally slid her pistol back into its holster.

The door creaked open as she set about examining the structure, and for a moment she didn’t even look back, too captivated by what she was looking at. It almost looked like some mad art student’s sculpture, more at home at some second-string museum than in a barn on Earp land. The door creaked shut and she turned her head, the wolf’s drowsy attention bringing her only a snatch of words as Waverly paused at the door.

“Oh, right. You.”

“Look, I know you need space, and I really tried to stay away, but,” Nicole said, though she didn’t move away from the steel contraption, “I got worried. And– and there’s signs of struggle in the house? And Waverly, what the hell is this thing?”

She grabbed at a bar shaker and some unidentifiable hand-tool and plucked them off the shelf they’d been sitting on, but Waverly ran toward her, grabbing at her with grasping, clawing fingers.

“Stop. Stop!”

“What?” Nicole asked, dropping the shaker as Waverly snatched the tool away and replaced it with a care and delicacy that belonged on a pastry chef. “Are you kidding? There is a thunder-snowstorm coming, this thing is gonna attract lightning like crazy. The whole barn could go up in flames.”

Waverly gasped, covering her face with her hand, and ducked her face away from Nicole. Against all sense, she looked like she were on the verge of tears. She thought the wolf was trying to communicate something, but it was garbled, like words spoken underwater, and she focused her attention on her girlfriend.

“Baby,” she breathed, touching her shoulders and tugging her closer. Waverly ducked her head against Nicole’s shoulder, and she ran a hand down Waverly’s hair. “Baby, what is it?”

“It’s Wynonna,” Waverly said, her voice low, and curled her fingers into Nicole’s sleeve. “She’s possessed.” Nicole thought of the post-its in her pocket and felt her stomach twist. God, Wynonna had been trying to tell her and she’d completely missed it. “Like, ‘demon took over her body, trying to kill us all’ possessed.”

“Baby,” Nicole said, keeping her voice low as Waverly pulled back, keeping her face turned away like she couldn’t bear to even look at Nicole. “Did she hurt you?”

Waverly’s voice cracked. “Yeah.”

“Where is she?” Nicole asked, still trying to catch her girlfriend’s eye. “On the homestead?”

Waverly nodded, barely. “Yeah.”

Thunder rumbled overhead.

“I’ve got you now, okay?” Nicole said, guiding Waverly back to stand behind her, one arm holding Waverly in place as she swallowed and pulled her sidearm, letting her finger rest along the trigger guard. If this steel contraption was Wynonna’s doing, she’d be back before long, and Nicole would be ready for her. “I swear I’ve got you.”

Agonizingly long minutes passed before the barn door creaked open again and Wynonna stepped through.

“Step away from the lightning rod.”

“Stand back, Wynonna,” Nicole said. Her pistol’s sights dropped a little before she steadied her arm. “Waverly told me everything. You come forward and I’m...” She swallowed. The thought of putting a bullet in Wynonna, one of the few people in all of Purgatory to know her secret and accept her without question, made her whole body feel cold, made her gut twist into an icy knot, but if it meant stopping a demon and protecting everyone else? Maybe this is what Mikael had meant about werewolves being guardians. She took a deep breath, but it came out ragged, betraying her fear, and she only hoped Wynonna couldn’t hear it. “I’ll shoot.”

“Haught. Settle down.” Wynonna took a cautious step forward and showed Nicole an open steel flask. “The demon jumped into Waverly. She needs to drink this. Now.”

“Don’t trust her,” Waverly murmured.

“Yeah, flask,” Nicole said, though the tone in Waverly’s voice made the wolf stir and growl. “Demon did its homework.”

“Nicole,” Wynonna snapped. “You are not my sister’s keeper.”

Nicole felt that stray cat curl up in her chest again, doubt and a touch of insecurity that even now she didn’t want to admit she still had. “That’s the demon talking.”

“No, it’s me,” Wynonna insisted, raising her hands palms-out in a gesture of conciliation. “Listen, I’ll admit, you’re a bit... Queen Brisk of Bossy Town for my taste. But I know that you love her, and you know I love her too, and now that thing is trying to keep her.”

Doubt crept in, and though she kept her pistol on target, Nicole’s gaze flicked down to the flask, trying to do the math. Could the demon have moved? Was it why Waverly had been acting strange all this time, and it had moved, then moved back? Was that a thing it could even do?

“Ugh. Shoot her,” Waverly hissed. “It’s the only way.”

Nicole looked up at Wynonna’s face, aware her own eyes had gone very wide.

“Waverly Earp would never say something like that,” Nicole said, the words almost more exhale than word. Wynonna had let her hands drop, and was watching Nicole with a look that was half relief and half... pain, maybe. Nicole’s shock to hear such unadulterated hatred coming out of Waverly’s mouth was mirrored in Wynonna’s eyes. She turned, dropping the pistol to her side. “Never.”

Waverly met her gaze, but it wasn’t really Waverly. Not anymore. Her eyes were solid black, her expression hard and terrible. Waverly—no, the demon—scoffed at her.

“You’re weak,” it snarled, and it was Waverly’s voice, but different, layered with something hideous and dark, and Nicole recognized it from the rescue mission, when she’d heard the static over the radio. Not static, then. It had been the demon. Even then. God, this had been going on for weeks and she’d never noticed.

“Oh Waverly,” Nicole whispered, almost whimpering, and something in her chest cracked open. “Let her help you.”

Waverly grabbed her by the shoulder with a speed that was absolutely inhuman and flung her to one side, directly into a wooden barrel full of unused steel. Nicole felt her skull impact with the wood and she slumped down as her head rang, and for a moment she thought she felt the wolf grumbling to itself in exasperation.

She was inclined to agree with it, really—this was getting to be a habit she’d really like to kick.

“I know you’re in there,” Wynonna told Waverly, as Nicole struggled to get her head to stop spinning in drunken circles long enough for her to get back to her feet and help. “I know you can hear me. Look what you did to the woman you love.”

Thunder pealed again in the distance, and not-Waverly’s cruel little giggle split the air. “Oh... storm’s upon us,” she—it—murmured. “It’s time.”

“You’ve held off this tentacled shithead for weeks,” Wynonna said, ignoring the demon to speak to her sister. “Just give it one more push. Drink it.”

Nicole slid to the ground, breathing in hay and dirt and struggling to sort out what direction was up, what was happening above her, and what parts of her were awakening wolf and which parts were, well, her. She braced her arms under her and looked up at Waverly. Her girlfriend’s eyes were still black, but she tried to lean toward Wynonna, letting out a tiny, horrible whimper of effort.

“Fight it.”

“It... it,” she whispered, her voice her own again, fragile and soft and so very, very gentle. “It won’t– it won’t let me!”

“Waverly...” Wynonna’s voice was so soft, so lost, that Nicole felt an irrational urge to tuck her into a quilt with a cup of cocoa and a teddy bear. No one, child or grown woman, should have to live Wynonna’s life, to suffer Wynonna’s losses.

“Wynonna,” Waverly choked out, looking up. “Remember when you made me drink grape soda ‘til it came out of my nose?”

Wynonna’s sharp gasp of recognition was like a thunderclap of its own. “Yeah!”

And without any other warning, she punched Waverly in the stomach, grabbed her by the shoulder when Waverly bent over, and flipped her, letting her slam bodily into the ground. The impact stunned her long enough that Wynonna could crawl over top of her and sit astride her stomach.

Nicole sat up, leaning against the barrel, crouched on one knee so that she could move if they needed her.

“Open your mouth,” Wynonna snapped, pinching her fingers around Waverly’s nose. “Open it!” Waverly obeyed with a gasp and Wynonna dumped the contents of the flask into Waverly’s mouth, ignoring the faint gurgling noises her sister was making. She dropped the flask aside and covered Waverly’s mouth with her free hand.

“Drink,” she said, waiting as Waverly—or perhaps the demon—groaned and choked out muffled complaints. “Drink it, come on. Swallow!” Waverly made a faint noise and Wynonna grinned. “Okay!”

She slid off Waverly immediately as the girl thrashed and writhed on the floor. Something, maybe the wolf’s intuition, made Nicole edge back, keeping out of the way as Waverly suddenly sat upright and released a flood of black goo, collapsing backward with a groan as Wynonna stood and drew Peacemaker.

There was some kind of horrible worm-thing lurked in the corner, hissing at Wynonna and her gun. The demon. Nicole snarled at it, as an afterthought, baring fangs even as Wynonna moved a step forward and raised her humming, glowing revolver.

“Mictian, I’d say make your peace, but I hope you never find any.”

The gun boomed and the demon howled, vanishing into a handful of hellfire-tinted sparks.

Nicole crawled to Waverly, taking hold of her wrist and shoulder to lever her up to sitting.

“Oh Wave,” she whispered, as Waverly groaned, half-conscious. “Get up. Shh, shh...”

“Whoa,” Waverly moaned, as Nicole got her arms around Waverly and held her up off the ground. “That was so New Years’ 2012.” Nicole chuckled, despite herself, and Waverly woozily made eye contact with her, looking as though she was having some trouble keeping her head upright. “I can’t believe I ordered you to shoot her.”

“I almost did it, too,” Nicole told her, her eyes burning with tears. The thought of losing Waverly, especially so soon after Mikael, caught up to her now that the immediate danger was past, choking and clawing its way up her throat. Her breath hitched and her voice shook like a leaf in a high wind. “I would shoot anybody for you.”

Waverly smiled, almost laughing, as if she saw the absurdity of that promise just as much as Nicole did. “That’s really sweet,” she said, lifting her hand to tuck strands of hair behind Nicole’s ear. Nicole turned her head into Waverly’s palm, desperate for that simple, small touch, and Waverly pulled her in close, kissing her, sharing comfort and reassurance and maybe something like love with that one point of contact.

She’d lost and regained friends this week, had an extremely bloody new case on her desk, and had almost lost Waverly, but the heat and familiarity of Waverly’s lips on hers pushed it all back to the background. For a moment, just a moment, nothing else was real. Nothing else was urgent, not now. Not here.

Until, that is, Wynonna cleared her throat, and Waverly pulled back with a shy smile directed at her sister.

“Come on,” Wynonna said, but there was no heat in it. “Let’s get her in the house.”

“Thank you,” Nicole said, glancing up once before looking back down at Waverly, reading exhaustion in the set of her face and the lines around her eyes. “For saving our girl.”

“That thing took Willa,” Wynonna said, with a calm she clearly didn’t really feel. “Wasn’t letting it get Waverly.”

“I knew you’d rescue me,” Waverly murmured, teasing maybe as Wynonna crouched down to get a shoulder under Waverly’s arm, so that the two of them could get Waverly up to her feet.

“All I did was bring a flask,” she noted. “It’s just Standard Earp Operating Procedure.”

“Yeah,” Nicole noted, as Wynonna started toward the door with her sister. “You said some nasty things.”

Wynonna hesitated, then shrugged the shoulder not supporting Waverly. “Well that was the demon talking. I don’t believe all of it.”

Nicole paused, lingering behind them. “What– what do you mean, all of it?”

“Please,” Waverly said, though she was laughing. “Not now, guys?”

“Fine, fine,” Wynonna said, and paused until Nicole could hurry around them and open the barn door for them. “Truce. I guess.”

Nicole grumbled, but followed alongside them to open the next door as well. “Fine.”

Wynonna headed inside and set Waverly down on the couch. Dolls and Doc followed them inside, and Dolls gave Waverly a once-over, but seemed satisfied with what he saw, nodding as he decided she wasn’t going to suffer any long-term effects from the tincture Wynonna had forced her to drink. He had the grace not to say anything about the fact that Nicole spent the whole time hovering over his shoulder, half-listening to Wynonna and Doc talking in the entryway.

“And they just left?” she asked.

“Mmhm. Soon as the skies cleared, off they went.”

“Well at least they’re out of our hair for now.”

“That may be true, but as it stands, now they have that plate.”

“Well we don’t even know what it’s for yet, so that’s, y’know. Whatever,” Wynonna said, heaving a frustrated sigh. “Besides, if they want to babysit the creepy plate that has the demon mob after it, you know what, better them than us.”

Nicole stopped listening, partially because Waverly had slumped against the back of the couch and was drifting somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, and partially because she’d forgotten how confusing and slightly stressful it was to listen to BBD chatter.

“Dolls,” she said, sitting next to Waverly on the couch. “Listen, I’ve got a lead, also.”

“Seriously?” he asked, rubbing the back of his head with one hand. “No rest for the wicked, huh.”

Wynonna slid over, as if called by Dolls’ comment.

“What’s going on?”

“Got a crime scene today that I think has BBD written all over it,” Nicole muttered, keeping her voice down and looping an arm around Waverly’s shoulders when she nuzzled closer and ducked her face against Nicole’s neck. The wolf made a low, pleased rumbling noise in her thoughts, finally mostly awake. “I’ve got some photos and details, but I’d like to talk in the morning with everyone.”

“Sure,” Dolls said, and nodded. “Meet us at the office.” Nicole opened her mouth to protest and his expression twisted with distaste. “Lucado’s kinda. Well. Dead. So. No need to keep creeping around in the dark.”

“Hold up,” Wynonna muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Lucado’s dead?”

“You chat,” Nicole noted, glancing down at Waverly. “I’ll take her upstairs.”

When no one protested Nicole scooped Waverly up in her arms and headed out of the room, picking her way carefully around the wreckage from the fight. She hoped, idly, that the demon had been lying to her, and that this had not, in fact, been collateral damage while a possessed Wynonna hurt Waverly. She didn’t seem injured, but then again, Nicole rarely showed signs of damage either—if the demon could heal its hosts’ bodies, maybe it would be impossible to tell.

Waverly stirred as Nicole lay her down on the bed and started taking off her boots, and pushed herself up to a sitting position, leaning on both hands.

“Nicole?” she mumbled, and Nicole smiled, leaning up to kiss the tip of her nose.

“Hey, baby. How are you feeling?”

“Like I got hit by a truck.” Waverly shrugged out of her coat with exaggerated slowness, so tired she could barely move. “Are you staying?”

Nicole’s heart broke a little more and she smiled, stroking her hand down Waverly’s cheek. “Do you want me to?”

“Always,” Waverly whispered, without hesitation.

“Then I’ll stay,” she said, her breath catching in her throat.

It was a team effort to get Waverly into proper nightclothes, but finally she was bundled up in her bed, curled up in a loose ball under the quilt. Nicole sat in a chair within arm’s reach, one hand resting on the bed under the corner of the quilt so that Waverly’s fingers could tangle into hers. The wolf kept up a low, rumbling burr in her chest, audible enough that Waverly smiled and let the sound lull her to sleep. She plucked at the bandaging on her chest with her other hand, finally removing it now that it wasn’t needed.

That was where Wynonna found her, a little less than an hour later, when the light coming in through Waverly’s window had dwindled to nothing but starlight.

“Hey,” Wynonna said, and Nicole looked up. “She out?”

“Like a light,” Nicole murmured, though she kept her voice low, just in case. “Been a bit of a day, I guess.”

“Almost two months,” Wynonna said, though she didn’t come closer than the end of Waverly’s bed. “I had it less than a day and let me tell you, that thing packs a punch.”

“Wynonna—”

“No, no, hold on.” Nicole shut her mouth. “I’m sorry. If I’d listened to you earlier...”

“Don’t. Just.” She shook her head, and Wynonna, to her surprise, actually did stop. “We both ignored warning signs. There’s been so much going on, and... and all of us were dealing with our own stuff. But you know she wouldn’t want us bickering over whose fault it is.”

“I’m trying to say it’s my fault,” Wynonna insisted.

“I know.” Nicole chuckled. “I know. And that’s exactly what she wouldn’t want, you know that.”

Wynonna heaved a sigh, but was quiet for a moment, her gaze on Waverly. “Yeah.”

For a moment, they simply existed together, watching over Waverly as she slept.

“Our girl, huh,” Wynonna noted.

Nicole cringed and looked down. “Oh, uh—”

“Relax, Nicole. She is, I mean. Ours.”

Nicole let out a breath and squeezed Waverly’s hand beneath the blanket. “Yeah.”

“I’m gonna kick the glass off my bed and get some sleep. You staying?”

“Yeah,” Nicole said, and Wynonna looked at her, maybe sensing that it meant a lot more than just one thing. “Yeah, I’m staying.”

Chapter Text

“Nicole. Hey. Nicole. Baby, wake up.”

Nicole growled and wrinkled her nose at the touch of a hand against her shoulder, and became aware of a few things all at once. Firstly, that she was sitting in a chair. Secondly, that her neck ached horrendously where her head had come to rest against the back of said chair. Thirdly, that Waverly’s hand was cupping her cheek, her thumb stroking a soft path up and down her skin.

Nicole groaned and half opened one eye, and Waverly leaned down to kiss her forehead.

“There you are.”

Nicole slowly raised her head and rubbed the back of her neck with a low hiss, and Waverly’s hand slid around to rub the stiff muscles instead.

“Mornin’,” Nicole mumbled.

Waverly chuckled. “Morning. Baby, when I said stay, I didn’t mean you had to stay in the chair all night.”

Nicole grunted and lifted one shoulder. “Made sense at the time?”

Waverly kissed her forehead, chuckling. “There’s something I need to go get in town, then chat with Wynonna, but we’ll meet up at BBD in a couple hours?”

There was a tiny, subvocal hitch in her breath, a bit of lingering tension, but after the night she’d had, that was hardly surprising.

“Sounds good,” Nicole said, rolling her head back and forth and earning a muted chorus of crackling sounds from her neck. “Ugh.”

“New bed’s supposed to come in today,” Waverly told her, and smiled. “So promise me there’ll be no more of this, okay?”

Nicole flashed her a weak grin and levered herself up out of the chair, stretching, groaning, then letting out a low, muted rumbling noise that was all wolf. “Promise,” she said, and kissed Waverly’s forehead. “See you in a bit.”

As she left, she found that the homestead was largely empty. Wynonna flashed her what seemed like a knowing grin—which didn’t make sense, but when did Wynonna ever make sense, really—and jerked a thumb at the fridge.

“Put your soup in.”

“Oh,” Nicole said, and chuckled. “Yeah. Thanks. It was for Waverly.”

“Oh trust me,” Wynonna said, laughing. “I could tell.”

Nicole grinned and gathered up her coat, though finally she didn’t really need it, and she headed to her cruiser to get back into town. The wolf was a warm, heavy presence in the back of her mind, and for once, it really wasn’t unwanted. Just that small concession, it seemed, made it happy, as did Waverly’s recent demon eviction—she could feel the wolf rumbling contentedly and sprawling unobtrusively in the background of her thoughts, pleased that their pack was finally okay again.

Other than Mikael, and the crime scene, she thought, both to herself and in its general direction. It grumbled, growling ineffectually at whoever had hurt people in their domain. As she headed back into town, she took comfort in the knowledge that soon enough, they’d work out what was going on. Nothing could stand against the combined strength of BBD, not now that they were all together again.

When she got to the station, showered and significantly less stiff than when she’d woken up, the Earps were nowhere to be seen, but she let herself into the BBD offices. Dolls and Doc were bent over a table, investigating something, together, which was even more odd, and Jeremy was flipping through a map and a set of files that looked older than she was. She paused in the doorway and cleared her throat, smirking when all three of the men jerked and stood up straighter.

“Hey,” she said, lifting her folder in greeting. “So, are we waiting on the Earps?”

Jeremy gave her an odd look, then looked to Dolls. The glare he got back made him raise both hands, palms out, shrugging. “Got it, got it, not my business, I know.”

Nicole frowned, shooting Dolls a slight glare of her own. Jeremy wasn’t exactly her favorite person, but she did feel a little bad that everyone seemed to be bossing him around.

“Probably worth waiting,” Dolls noted, but gestured to the conference table so that Nicole could lay out her files and get set up. “Waverly should probably hear this.”

Nicole nodded, laying out photos and a couple printouts the guys could peruse on the table but otherwise focusing on her own tasks in the interim. It didn’t take much longer for the final two to arrive, though when they did, Nicole could smell the tension and fear from across the room. Wynonna was wearing her usual impenetrable mask, but she was radiating strain, and Nicole frowned at her, glancing to Waverly when Wynonna’s expression gave her nothing to go on. Waverly pressed her lips together and shook her head a fraction, and Nicole nodded, the whole exchange taking less than a handful of seconds.

“So,” she said, before Dolls or, worse, Jeremy, could notice what she’d noticed and put their feet in their mouths. Waverly drifted closer until she was standing at Nicole’s side, leaning hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder. “Here’s what I’ve got.” She handed out printouts and glossy photo paper, grimacing a little. “Total bloodbath. Victims are Gareth and Portia Tremblay. Married for about five years, no children, minimal family.”

“That is a lot of blood,” Jeremy muttered, looking queasy before passing on the photos back to Nicole. She grimaced, taking them, and this time had no sassy comments for him.

“That is quite a lot of blood,” Doc noted, looking over Wynonna’s shoulder at the photo she was holding. “More particularly, it is a lot of blood that our little friends here seem to have collected.”

“That’s the part I can’t figure,” Nicole said, crossing her arms over her chest and picking up a staccato drumroll of fingers on elbows. “The small footprints would make me think something the size of a child, but beyond that...”

“How the hell’d they get out of the house.” Dolls inhaled, frowning at the photos. “Goblinoid would be my guess. Jeremy, run a check through the archives. Do we have anything of this size that flies?”

“Mmm,” Jeremy said, and scurried back to his computer.

Waverly made a faint sound of interest and grabbed at another photo, an overhead shot looking down at the bucket. She showed it to Wynonna, who gave her a blank look and shrugged her shoulder. “Doesn’t that look like when Gus helped us tie-dye shirts?”

“Oh my god,” Wynonna muttered, though it lacked some of her usual spark, and Nicole eyed her, concerned. She smelled... different. Not bad, not enough to really make her worry after yesterday’s demonic adventure, just, something was changing, maybe? “You wore that thing every night for like three years.”

“It was a comfortable shirt, okay?” Waverly protested, but then she refocused. “Okay but seriously. Jeremy, hold that thought.”

He looked up from his computer with the smallest of frowns. “What? Why?”

“I don’t think it flies,” she said, jogging over to a shelf of heavy books, some of which Nicole was pretty sure she’d seen Waverly using the last time she’d been present for a research stint. “I think that it’s...” She let one of the heavy tomes fall open on the table and flipped through the pages. “Aha!” She pointed to the page, which featured an elaborate ink drawing of a gnome-like creature in a sodden wet hat.

“Redcaps,” Dolls said, peering at the open book.

“Ohhh, of course!” Jeremy said, snapping his fingers.

“Redcaps?” Wynonna said, eyeing them all in turn. Doc shrugged as her gaze passed across him. “Listen, I’ve done the whole ‘bad trip’ thing, I’m good.”

Jeremy squinted at her, and Waverly looked very much like she was trying not to laugh. “No, Wynonna, Redcaps are like...”

“Some people would call them ground troops for the Sidhe,” Dolls said.

“Oh!” Nicole said. “No, wait, I think I’ve heard of those. They’re like, Faerie mercenaries basically, aren’t they?”

Dolls waved a hand in a sort of gesture, but nodded. “Close enough. Most myths describe them as being bloodthirsty little savages. Usually they’re held in check by Fae rules, but sometimes one or two will slip loose and cause some trouble.”

“Like, say, sneaking across the boundary to the Ghost River Triangle on the solstice?” Waverly suggested, wincing.

“Just like,” Dolls said. “Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken us this long to catch wind of them. Could be they’ve been in the woods till now though.”

“All right,” Doc said, frowning at Wynonna, then Dolls, then Waverly. “Enlighten me. How did you work that out on just the bucket of blood.”

“Well,” Jeremy said, before Dolls or Waverly could answer. “They get their name because they dip their hats in the blood of their enemies, to dye the cloth red.”

Wynonna made an exaggerated gagging noise.

Nicole grimaced. “Okay, that’s horrifying. But how’d they get out? There was no sign of them outside the house. I did a full circuit of the place, but there was nothing.”

Dolls looked to Jeremy, who looked back toward the computer, then frowned. “There’s nothing I know of about Redcaps being able to fly. Maybe if they used some kind of gateway teleportation by tapping into the innate power of the house’s inherent portal—”

“English, mathlete,” Wynonna grumbled, and he sighed.

“The door? It’s possible they could have manipulated the front door in order to let them use its power, y’know, as a door—which is basically just a gateway between two realms—to jump to somewhere else.”

Wynonna groaned and hung her head backward. “Then how the hell are we gonna find them? They could be anywhere by now.”

Nicole looked to Waverly, who was flipping through the book again.

“Hm. Most accounts describe Redcaps being attracted to places where tyranny and wicked deeds have happened, especially bloodshed. That’s why they were said to dwell in old towers and castles. Especially in western Europe, where most of the myths started.”

“Tyranny?” Dolls muttered, thoughtful. “In Purgatory?”

“Courthouse?” Wynonna suggested.

Dolls shook his head. “Unlikely. Trials wouldn’t leave that kind of mark on a place, even with all the guilty verdicts.”

Doc narrowed his eyes. “The trailer park? It is certainly a place of tyranny and wicked deeds, and who knows what manner of creatures have taken up residence since the Revenants took to the winds.”

“You mean after that goo-monster got done with the place,” Wynonna muttered, earning a faint smile from Doc.

“That is true, yes.”

Waverly tapped a finger to her lips. “Maybe. Redcaps often like to murder travelers, and the trailer park is close to some major crossroads. Though if other monsters have taken up there, the Redcaps might have to fight them for territory.”

Jeremy shrugged, evidently satisfied to let others guess.

“The Wainwright,” Nicole suggested, and suddenly she had five sets of eyes on her. She grumbled, waving her hands for emphasis as she talked. “Just, you know. Bobo’s big plot would certainly count for the tyranny and wicked deeds part. Plus, bloodshed, if you count several dozen townsfolk trying to claw their own faces off. And it’s a popular spot, still in use as a hotel. Lots of travelers there.”

“Good call,” Dolls said, nodding. “We’ll want to move fast though. Hard to say when the Redcaps would’ve gotten there, depending how precise their mode of transportation is. Last thing we need is more bodies.”

“See?” Jeremy said, slapping a hand on Nicole’s shoulder. “I knew they were messing with me when they said you weren’t part of the team! Super smart. Heckin’ good pupper. 13 out of 10.”

Nicole blinked at him, and the others slowly turned looks of confusion or alarm his way. Waverly in particular kept glancing between him and Nicole, chewing on her lip.

“Ohhh,” Jeremy said, more muted now. “Was I not supposed to know about the werewolf thing.”

Dolls was fighting a smile, but raised a hand. “Everyone except for Lucado knew, Jeremy, just, breathe.”

Nicole buried her face in one hand, mostly to keep from laughing, and Waverly blew out a bewildered breath.

“Jeremy,” Wynonna said, trailing off meaningfully.

“Yep,” Jeremy said, pulling his hand away. “Shutting up.”

Nicole patted his arm in return, and found herself grinning. He beamed. “No, it’s cool, Jeremy. It’s cool.”

 

They hit the Wainwright late that night. Dolls went ahead, ensuring that all guests and staff were accounted for. Jeremy stayed at the station and Doc, leaving the running of Shorty’s temporarily to Rosita’s watchful eye and abundantly capable hands, joined the main group of them around 10. They convened a few yards down from the Wainwright, by Dolls’ car, in the shadow of a busted streetlamp.

“All right,” Nicole rumbled, handing out earpieces and tucking her own into a bag like the one she’d used on the crocotta mission. The too-large outfit she’d chosen for the evening’s work fit a little better now that she’d partially shifted, her shoulders a little broader than usual and her face slightly distorted, to mask her profile. The last thing she needed was to be recognized by hotel staff. “Everyone wears one of these.”

“Remember,” Waverly said, looking from Doc, to Wynonna, to Nicole, and then to Dolls. “These things are Faerie, so we’ll need Peacemaker to put them down for good.”

“Which means the rest of us are on search and capture, people,” Dolls said, checking the action on his pistol before he holstered it. “If we can do this without general use of firearms that would be preferred, but Nedley knows what’s going on, and he’s touched base with the Wainwright staff to give us some time to work. But it would be ideal...” He turned, grabbing a duffel bag from the tailgate of his car, unzipping it, and handing out short iron clubs that looked like they might’ve been reworked from posts of a wrought iron fence. “To use these.”

Doc took the one handed to him, but gave Dolls a look of extreme skepticism. “And what, pray tell, is this for.”

“Iron,” Waverly explained. “Faerie hate it.” She looked at Nicole and gave her a sheepish smile. “It’s kinda like you and silver.”

Nicole nodded, hefting the club experimentally in one hand before tucking it into a strap over her right shoulder for easy access. She cracked her knuckles. “Let’s go then,” she said, earning a look from Doc that was just bordering on concerned.

“Remind me never to get on your bad side, Miss Haught.” She grinned, baring fangs at him, and winked. He shivered. “What big teeth you have, indeed.”

When it came down to it though, the show for Doc had been just that. A show. As soon as she slipped through the back door of the Wainwright, her wolf picked up a low, displeased grumble that barely, just barely, made it out of her mouth. This was the last place it wanted to be, the memories of the solstice a little too fresh and a little too unsettling for comfort. The place was in so many ways exactly as it had been when they’d last been there. The scent of cleaning agents was the same, the lingering wisps of dinner were the same, the upholstery and the drapes were the same. The only thing missing was peach-scented champagne and a hundred-some people milling about.

“Nicole?” came Waverly’s voice through the receiver.

“Hm?” she said, lurking in the northwest corner of the ground floor, crouching to peer under elegant antique tables and behind servers and chairs.

“You’re sorta growling. Did you find something?”

She cleared her throat. “Sorry, no, just. Don’t really like being here.”

You couldn’t mention that before we all crawled in through windows and shit?” Wynonna asked. “Saved us all some trouble? In case anyone forgot, this is the second time the plan has involved me climbing in this particular second-story window.”

Nicole snorted a laugh and Waverly cut in, exasperated. “I told you you should go in on the ground floor, but you insisted, remember?”

Dolls’ voice came next as Nicole skirted around a prep room, checking under the furniture and moving on.

“I swear, both of you, quiet. Keep focused.”

Nicole caught Waverly’s eye when they both stepped out of their respective hidey-holes into the main lobby. Waverly gestured to the front desk, and Nicole nodded, turning toward it as Waverly headed into the next wing of the ground floor. Something in the wolf changed slightly, hesitating, and Nicole frowned. A careful sniff at the air brought her a new smell, one she didn’t recognize from the solstice, but it was hard to make sense of it, because inexplicably the smell reminded her of sardines.

She took a moment to scent the air and listen to the dim, steady gait of boots upstairs where Dolls and Wynonna were prowling about. Doc was headed for the third floor, out of her hearing, but somewhere above she heard tiny, pattering footsteps. Peacemaker barked once, and Wynonna’s voice lit up the communications channel with a shout of triumph, but in almost the same instant, Dolls’ voice came through again. He said no real words this time, just a low curse and then a grunt of effort. Nicole matched a distant thump of impact with a high-pitched wail of pain, followed by Dolls shouting something unintelligible and the odd, but strangely distinct sound of a small body running down a hallway in a series of short leaps. There was a faint but solid thump thump thump from the upstairs hallway as it made its getaway from Dolls, and then Nicole spotted a small creature, around the size and shape of a large child, bounding down the stairs toward the lobby.

It was an ugly thing, short and squat and reminiscent of goblins from an old animated film she’d seen as a kid, with big, froglike eyes and a flat nose that looked like it had run into a wall a few too many times. It was dressed in nothing but a pair of hideous bloodstained overalls made of ratty denim that looked like it had been cut off a scarecrow. True to its name, a floppy cap was pulled low on its head, the hem nearly as low as its eyebrows, and it had evidently not been dry when the creature had put it on, because there were dried rivulets of blood where the fabric had dripped down its hair and face.

Nicole let out a full, deep snarl and drew her club. It saw her, its eyes bulging even wider as it realized it had been flanked, but it was too caught in its own momentum to stop. She heard Waverly rounding the corner to double back to the lobby as the Redcap cleared the halfway mark on the stairs.

“Nicole!” Waverly screamed, her voice duplicating in the receiver. Nicole flinched at the onslaught of sound, half-turning and raising her shoulders to cover her ears.

The third Redcap had crawled up onto the front desk while Nicole had her back turned, and took his chance to leap as Waverly raised her voice in warning. Its short blade, which looked like it had been made of sharpened fishbone, bit into Nicole’s shoulder, and she snarled, twisting to try to dislodge the nasty little creature. It clung onto the back of her hoodie with its scrabbling little nails and twisted the blade in her back, even as the first Redcap cleared the final few steps and barreled into her chest, taking both foe and ally alike to the ground in a heap. The two Redcaps scratched at her with their nails and stabbed at her with their knives as she let a little more of the wolf loose, growing a bit bigger and a bit furrier for her trouble. She couldn’t figure where she’d dropped her club, but she raked at them with her own claws, twisting and writhing around them as she tried to get loose. She felt them pulling at her clothes, fabric tearing and ripping into skin beneath, and their sodden caps slapped at her shoulders, her face, her back, smearing half-dried blood across her clothes and fur and hair.

An iron club slammed into her shoulder, wrenching a strangled yowl from her, and then another hit a Redcap in the back of the head, and it broke away from her with a terrible squeal and a stench of burning meat and hair.

“Get off of her!” Waverly shouted, beating the club down again and again on the crouching, wailing goblin, forcing it into a corner and brandishing her club at it to keep it from attempting another escape.

Nicole was dimly aware of footsteps pounding down the stairs, and she tore free of the third Redcap just as Wynonna leapt the last few steps, landing hard on the ground and putting a bullet into the Faerie’s forehead. It collapsed into a heap of cracking, autumnal leaves, and blew away, and Wynonna rounded on the third, which Waverly was still threatening with her club. And also Nicole’s, she noticed, when she finally dragged herself upright and looked back, wincing and growling as her various scratches and puncture wounds started knitting shut.

“Waves,” Wynonna said, putting a hand on Waverly’s shoulder to pull her back. “That’s enough.”

“Right,” Waverly said, breathless from fear and exertion, and backed off a step, giving Wynonna clearance to ratchet Peacemaker’s hammer back for the third time. Her third shot left several handfuls’ worth of leaves and a single, elegantly carved bone knife in a heap on the floor. The knife Dolls promptly scooped into a plastic bag and pocketed, for Jeremy’s later study and cataloguing.

Waverly dropped the clubs to grab at Nicole’s shoulders, looking her over. “Baby, baby, I’m sorry—”

“Are you kidding?” Nicole grinned and scooped her up, hugging her tight. Waverly laughed, kicking her feet a little and wrapping her arms around Nicole’s shoulders. “That was awesome!”

Doc holstered his revolvers, amused, and looked Nicole up and down as Dolls and Wynonna moved to make one more circuit of the building together.

“That’s an awful lot of blood, Nicole, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” she said, grinning at him and finally down-shifting, setting Waverly down once she was at her usual height. She rolled the shoulder Waverly had hit, then patted herself down. “Gimme another minute or so and all this’ll be healed shut.”

“Damn,” Doc said, tipping his hat to her. “Glad to see one of us has a relatively good deal as grants health and longevity.” She made a face and bobbed her head to say I dunno about that, but Doc nodded to Waverly. “If you ladies will excuse me, I am told the work of a businessman is never truly done.”

Waverly waved a hand, chuckling, and Doc promptly sauntered out the Wainwright’s doors, whistling to himself.

“He really is something else, isn’t he,” Nicole said.

Waverly chuckled and leaned up to kiss Nicole’s cheek while she was turned to watch Doc make his way down the block. “Not just him.”

Wynonna and Dolls returned, the former looking thrilled with herself and the latter trying not to smile too much, because, at least in Nicole’s estimation, indicating he was pleased with his agents’ performance would cause him physical agony, even after being off the job for two months.

“Sooo,” Wynonna prompted, grinning at him. “How’d we do?”

“Nice job,” Dolls said, looking appropriately pained to admit it.

Wynonna threw her hands in the air with a whoop of joy, and Nicole smiled. Whatever had been bothering her before, she’d set it aside for now, it seemed. Though she’d swear Wynonna still smelled just that little bit different. Hormonal change maybe?

No. Wait. She couldn’t actually be pregnant.

Could she?

“So,” Nicole said, before she could think better of it. “Drinks to celebrate, I assume?”

Wynonna’s grin faltered suddenly, and she looked to Waverly.

“Uh,” Waverly said, fumbling. Nicole looked at her, blinking, then at Wynonna, who was resolutely not looking at her. Holy shit. No wonder Wynonna was so out of sorts this morning. “We should probably get home, right? Didn’t we have a thing to do?”

“Yeah,” Wynonna said, agreeing a little too quick. “Still gotta clean up the place.”

Dolls winced. “Right. Sorry about that.”

“Wait,” Nicole said, distracted for a moment from this revelation. “Wait, hold on. You’re why the house looked so smashed up?”

Dolls gave her a peevish look. “Lucado,” he said, as if that explained everything.

She pressed her lips together. “Ah. Well,” she said, looking to Wynonna, putting on her best innocent expression. If Wynonna didn’t want news getting out—and assuming she was even right—then that was fine by her. Wouldn’t be the first time they’d kept secrets for each other, anyway. “Listen, no problem. I can come by and help if you like, otherwise I’ll see you guys later?”

Wynonna looked... relieved. Which meant something was definitely up.

“I think we’ll be all right,” Waverly said, and smiled up at her. “Thank you though.” Wynonna nodded, and Waverly walked her back toward the door. They lingered for a moment in the entryway. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Mm,” Nicole said, smiling. “Bright and early, probably. Nedley’s got me in before dawn on the morning shift, but I’ll be off at noon?”

“Sounds perfect,” Waverly murmured, wrapping her arms around Nicole and burying her face against her chest. “Feels like I haven’t been able to think straight.”

Nicole smiled and kissed the top of her head. “Home base.”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, grinning. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

She pulled away, and Nicole headed back outside toward her car. Though, strangely enough, when she got there, she found Doc leaning against the wall, a cloud of smoke preceding him.

“Thought you were heading back to Shorty’s?” she called, as she slid around to the door of her cruiser.

“Checked in,” he said smoothly, and grinned at her. “Just waitin’ for Marshal Dolls.”

“Really?” she asked, looking back toward the Wainwright and raising an eyebrow. “Why?”

“We have been goin’ over some of the details of that whole blood-oath nonsense and hashin’ out what has been goin’ on while Lucado was in charge. Had a bit more to discuss tonight after this Redcap business was attended to.”

“Ah,” she said, and waved a hand in farewell. “See you tomorrow then, Doc.”

“Til tomorrow,” he said, smiling as she got into her cruiser and pulled away.

It occurred to her, when she was almost home, that if Wynonna really was pregnant, chances were entirely too good that it was Doc’s.

Oh, she thought, pulling into her driveway. Well, shit.

Chapter Text

Nedley checked in a little before noon, stopping by her desk with his stolen X mug in hand—evidently Dolls had not worked out where it had gone yet to ask for it back—and didn’t so much ask how it went as stop in earshot and raise his eyebrow.

She nodded, and the corner of his mouth twitched behind his mug.

“Casualties?” he asked, his voice very low.

“None,” she said, smiling up at him. “Got to them before they could hurt anyone else.”

“Good,” he said, and nodded at her. “Good you’re not hurt, either.”

“Pretty sure I’ve still got some sick days left, sir.”

He snorted and headed for his office. “It’s February,” he said. “Given your track record, I’ll be surprised if you still have any in May.”

She chuckled and went back to her work, but it wasn’t long before Wynonna swept into the room in her drinks well with others shirt and a grin so wide Nicole could tell it was 80% fake. She leaned her elbows on the counter and put her hands together like she was praying.

“I really really want you to give me a case. Any case.”

Nicole glanced up at her, for a moment giving her a really? sort of look. Was she supposed to find a new BBD job in twelve hours?

“Sorry girl, I got nothin’,” she said, and looked back down at her monitor.

“Come on,” Wynonna said, and if Nicole didn’t know better she’d think Wynonna was begging. Then again, given how much getting some action had lifted her mood yesterday, maybe that made sense. Maybe she was just desperate for something to distract her. “Cannibal psychiatrist! Scorpion/Shih Tzu hybrid!” Nicole wondered if Waverly should revoke Wynonna’s Netflix subscription. “Ooh. Creepy clowns. Those are really hot right now.”

“Wynonna. Take a day off.”

“Boo,” she said, pouting.

“Get a... a spa treatment!”

“Purgatory doesn’t have any spas,” Wynonna scoffed, moving around the counter to let herself in through the swinging door. “Unless you count the jacuzzi Willie drives around in his pickup.”

Nicole felt her eyes unfocusing as she tried to look at her monitor, thinking idly of the several citations stacking up against Willie for parking that very same jacuzzi-pickup in public spaces without a permit to do what he insisted was not actually business transactions.

“Go shopping?” she suggested. Just a few more minutes, and then she could leave.

“Why?” Wynonna said, with startling urgency. “Do my clothes look tight?”

Shit. Oops.

Nicole looked up, trying to figure out a way to get herself back out of that comment, but Waverly came through the open doorway just then with a bright, cheery, “Hi!” and Nicole felt her stress leach away. Waverly was dressed more simply today, but she was wearing a black choker that made Nicole think of a collar in the best possible way, and the wolf was aching to take her home and just... wait, no, maybe that wasn’t the wolf. Or at least wasn’t all wolf.

“For you,” Waverly continued, setting a go-cup in front of Wynonna.

“Heyyyy,” Wynonna said, taking a healthy-sized sip from it and then spitting it back at the cup. Nicole twisted her mouth to avoid snickering, the scent of tea wafting over from Wynonna immediately. “Question. Why,” she asked Waverly, sounding of all things betrayed, “Does my coffee taste like it was brewed in Nedley’s hat.”

“Because it’s not coffee,” Waverly said. “It’s Soothing Sunshine Herbal Tea! Caffeine-free,” she insisted, leveling her sister with a meaningful glare.

No booze, and no coffee. Nicole’s theory was sounding more accurate by the hour.

“Well if it sounds like a hippie hemorrhoid cream, I don’t want it in my cup.”

“Waverly,” Nicole said, but she couldn’t help smiling, not when her own soothing sunshine was in the room. “Can you... get her out of here? And then, y’know, come back, cuz. I’m off in ten minutes.”

“Ugh,” Wynonna groaned. “You guys make The Notebook look bleak.” Waverly gave her a withering look, but Nicole couldn’t help smiling, and ducked her head. Was she really that transparent? “You practice those googly eyes in the mirror, or just, natural talent?”

She tried to keep her eyes on her screen and not her girlfriend, whose eyes she could feel on her in turn, but she scented blood along with the distant sound of footsteps, and she looked up when a nun stopped in the doorway, her hands absolutely covered in gore.

“My boss was killed,” the nun reported, as Waverly turned around, shocked.

“God really is dead,” Wynonna breathed, and Nicole had to bite down on her lip to keep from laughing.

“Uh, wha- uh, please, Sister, come with us,” Waverly said, shooting Nicole a questioning glance.

She raised her hands, palms up, and nodded. “This one’s got you guys written all over it. Please, feel free.”

“I was sorting through the decorations in our basement,” the nun told them, as they headed for BBD’s offices, “When I felt...”

“Hungry?” Wynonna suggested, as they moved out of Nicole’s line of sight. “Nauseous? Horny!” There was a slight pause, in which Nicole assumed Waverly was giving her sister an earful with looks alone. “No judgement! You’re a nun, not a saint.”

“Cold,” the nun said, and she distantly heard a chair being set down. They’d forgotten to close the door, which spoke volumes to their distraction, but it let Nicole keep an ear out even as she wrapped up some filing on her computer. “Freezing cold. I could see my breath. And then I turned around and saw her. A Victorian woman—”

“In black,” Wynonna said, at the same time.

“And then I don’t know what happened,” the nun continued, undisturbed by the fact that Wynonna recognized the thing. “Suddenly I couldn’t move! Not a muscle. And then I just watched. As she... ate him.”

“Don’t worry, Sister,” came Waverly’s soft voice. And she thought Nicole sounded professional, yet caring. “You’re safe. We’ll find out who did this. Come on.” Nicole listened as their footsteps came closer, then turned down the hall, as Waverly led the Sister to another room to rest.

“So you’ve seen this woman before,” Jeremy said, slowly, cautious.

“At the creepy-crawly condo,” Wynonna said, nodding. “She must be the one who got ceremonial with the crows and... poor Earl...” Nicole frowned at her screen, wondering what the hell had been happening while she was avoiding Lucado. Waverly headed back into BBD’s offices, smiling briefly at Nicole as she passed, still holding a small reporter-style notebook and fiddling with it occasionally as she walked.

“Shit,” Wynonna said, as Waverly rejoined the conversation. “I thought I was seeing things! I thought it was... Willa.”

“The condo was built on a former Catholic school,” Jeremy noted. “Now we’re looking at a church basement. Both are—”

“Consecrated ground,” Waverly provided.

“Yeah.”

Wynonna inhaled, sharp. “She was looking for the same thing again! Another seal! There’s more than one seal!” Nicole’s blood ran cold and she jerked, slamming a knee into her desk. If Wynonna meant the seals Nicole thought she did, everything in her life was starting to converge in a way she was very, very uncomfortable with. And now she couldn’t talk to Mikael about what to do. God, this whole thing got worse and worse. If one was already broken... “Okay, if someone moved it, it could still be on another sacred site, right? How many of those do we have?”

“In the Triangle? Uh,” Waverly said, thinking. Nicole glanced up as Dolls and Doc swept down the hall. Together, again. What the hell were they working on? “Churches, synagogues, mosques?”

“Yeah, I can narrow it down using an algorithm and a complex set of—”

“Jeremy,” Wynonna warned.

“Math! I can narrow it down using math. I just need 24 hours and a burrito.”

“Hey,” Dolls said, interrupting. “You might wanna sit down.”

“Why?” Wynonna said, her voice rising a little too high. “I’m fine. I feel fine! I’m totally fine.”

“Yeah I was actually talking to Jeremy,” Dolls said.

“Oh yeah, sure,” Jeremy said, and she heard the scrape of the chair and then a light thump as Jeremy promptly slipped off of it.

“So,” Dolls said, once some seat-shuffling had occurred and Jeremy was upright again. And, in a huge and comical oversight, they still hadn’t closed the door. He handed something to Wynonna and Nicole barely made out the sounds of pages turning as she shuffled through. “Jeremy was right. BBD ghosted us. All Moody feels like giving us is this file. Something that got loose from the blacksite. But otherwise? They’re ‘cutting their losses’ in the Triangle. We’re on our own now. Completely.”

“So, this is good news, right?” Waverly said, and Nicole could hear her shoes clicking as she paced. “I mean, no more blood contract!”

“And no more backup, either,” Doc noted.

“Then who is paying us?” Jeremy asked, bewildered. “Does this mean I’m fired?”

“We are free agents,” Dolls said, with a wealth of meaning behind it that made Nicole a little uncomfortable even just to listen to, without having to see his face, “Free to make our own rules and to pursue our own objectives.”

“Welcome to the club,” Doc said, a chilly tone in his voice. “I’ve been here a while. I’ll show you what areas are off-limits.”

Christ, could they be more obvious? Nicole could feel the bullshit alpha male posturing radiating off them from two rooms away and it made her wolf growl and scratch at the walls. She was inclined to agree this time—for all that she’d said, some months ago, about Wynonna being a hunter who could take care of herself, it bothered her just as much as the wolf to hear the two men speaking across her like that. Especially without being able to tell if Wynonna was ignoring them or just not paying attention.

“Well that’s my point,” Dolls said. “There are no areas that are off-limits anymore.”

“What is happening,” Waverly breathed, and Nicole grinned, hastily stifling it when Lonnie walked by and gave her a confused look. She should’ve figured her girl would catch their real meaning. She was too sharp for that.

“Okay, I’m gonna need someone to write me a reference letter,” Jeremy muttered.

“Oi! Weirdos!” Wynonna said, her bootheels clicking as she got up. “Crazy chick. Big-ass magic gun. There are still demons terrorizing Purgatory. Garroting priests, for example? Mucho illegal; not super Christian. So, you’re all free to do whatever you want, but far as I’m concerned? We hunt supernatural shit, we kill supernatural shit. No piece of metal needed.”

Nicole heard her slump back into her chair.

“Yeah,” Jeremy said. “Peacemaker’s metal.”

“Zip it, Algebra.”

“Okay,” Jeremy said. “I’m gonna go.” He got up, and Nicole heard a hand settle on his shoulder and push him back down.

“The hell you are,” Doc said.

“The hell I am,” Jeremy said, agreeing entirely too quickly.

Oh that poor, smitten boy.

“I’m gonna go find that seal,” Jeremy said, correcting course. “S-uh– does anyone want a snack? Doc, do you want a snack? I’m gonna get– I’m gonna get you a snack. Okay.”

“Hey uh, Wynonna,” Dolls said, lowering his voice slightly. God help her, she was desperately curious—she shifted her ears a bit to catch the rest. “You wanna grab a coffee with me? Uh, there’s something I wanna discuss with you. That’s... personal.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“How about she meets you there?” Waverly cut in, her voice tense and almost too confident. “Yeah, we’ve got stuff that we need to discuss?”

“Yeah, sure,” Dolls said. “No problem. The diner? Half hour. Don’t be late,” he added, heading for the hallway.

Seconds later, Waverly was dragging Wynonna out of BBD and into the doorway of the bullpen, Wynonna hissing complaints as they went.

“Ow!”

“You realize,” Waverly said, crossing her arms over her chest and keeping her voice low, but not quite low enough for Nicole not to hear, “Dolls is about to tell you that he wants to be more.”

“More... than a dragon?”

“More than your boss,” Waverly insisted.

“What?”

“He asked you for coffee to discuss something personal,” Waverly said. Nicole struggled not to blatantly look over at them, to avoid reminding them she could hear them. “It’s a date.” Wynonna squinted at her. “Yeah! And you said yes. You have to talk to Doc.”

“I don’t have to do anything.”

“Henry’s a big part of this whole... situation you got going on, isn’t he?” Wynonna said nothing, but fixed Waverly with a glare. “Yeah, and now Dolls is... going for it. I mean, you hiding this is not fair. To either of them!”

“Tough shit. It’s my decision who to tell, and when, and it’s my situation, and nobody gets to decide how to handle it but me. So stop pushing me. And while you’re at it, stop judging me.”

There was a pause as Waverly heard her, then looked down. “Okay.”

Nicole found her gaze drifting toward Waverly again. She might not know everything of what was going on, but she found herself full of pride, for... for both of them, really. It was good to see them talking again, after the downspiral that they’d been trapped in through most of January.

“Your girlfriend’s looking at you like you’re the fudge to her sundae,” Wynonna noted, and Nicole hastily looked back at her screen, though she could feel the smile still lingering around her mouth.

“She and I haven’t talked,” Waverly said, her voice very low. “Sinc– you know, talk-talked. Since I was tentacled.”

“Well, you should go,” Wynonna said.

“I can– I can stay,” Waverly offered. “If you want me to.”

“No,” Wynonna said, and heaved a sigh. “One of us should have a non-messed up romantic thingamajig.”

Wynonna left the room, and although Nicole was finished, she lingered where she was, tidying her desk until Waverly sighed, took a deep breath, and turned around. As soon as Waverly’s gaze tracked to her, her whole being softened a little, as if just the sight of Nicole lessened some of the strain. Waverly slipped around the counter as Nicole gathered her coat and her ballcap, and Nicole found her hand as easy as breathing, leading her out of the bullpen.

“Where’s your coat?” she asked, and Waverly glanced around herself, startled.

“Oh, god, probably back in BBD.”

“Here,” Nicole said, smiling. “Borrow mine. It’ll still be there later.”

Waverly sighed, grateful, and bundled herself into it. The sleeves were entirely too long and it fell to her hips like a child wearing their father’s clothing, but she nuzzled into the collar and smiled so widely it crinkled her eyes.

“Oh wow, this is so warm. You’re sure you don’t need it?”

Nicole grinned. “Trust me. I overheat in it. Come on.”

Waverly drove them back to the Homestead and once they were on the road, Nicole allowed herself a moment to actually just... breathe. When she thought about it, she felt like she hadn’t been able to since she was snatched out of her home by Loretta’s goons.

Which had been nearly a week ago.

Nicole leaned her head back against her seat. “God, it just never stops, does it.”

“It really doesn’t.”

“How are you? Really.”

“I’m...” Waverly let out a breath, her gaze tracking the road but her mind somewhere else. “Managing. I think.”

Nicole made a faint noise, acknowledgement more than answer.

“Just... piecing together what happened. Finding the edges of what was real, what wasn’t. Picking out the moments where I was still me, but listening to it, you know? Doing what it wanted because I thought it was what I wanted, without it ever actually being in full control. God, that doesn’t make any sense.”

“No, baby, trust me,” Nicole said, and reached across to lay a hand on Waverly’s arm, squeezing gently. “That makes perfect sense.”

Waverly glanced toward her, her eyes shining with unshed tears, and she smiled, but it was a bit shaky. “Maybe you should’ve been the one driving,” she teased.

“We can wait to talk till we’re in the house,” Nicole offered.

“Doubtful.”

Nicole raised her eyebrows.

“Nicole Haught, if I manage to keep my hands off you long enough to get upstairs, it’ll be a miracle.”

She laughed. “All right, all right. Then we have a time limit. We have till we park at the Homestead.”

Waverly nodded. Paused. Chewed her lip.

“Is that what it’s like for you?” she asked, her voice softer.

“What part?”

“Like... hearing it talking to you, feeling it pulling at you, digging tiny fingers in to take control. Blacking out and not remembering that you weren’t yourself.”

“Mm,” Nicole said, and looked out the windshield. “The wolf, you mean.”

“Yeah.”

“At the beginning it was... similar,” she said, drawing out the words as she thought about it. “Not exactly the same, but it would tug, it would look for the weaker spots to find ways to come out. And there’s still some ways it comes out whether I let it or not, like the—” She let her fangs shift longer, to demonstrate what she meant, and growled, the sound vicious, grating, and maybe a little too loud in the enclosed vehicle. “That stuff. I mean, it’s. It’s sort of me. But it’s also sort of the wolf? It’s hard to describe. And it’s circumstantial, if it’s me or not. But it also, I mean, she can’t speak, exactly. I can only really get a sense of what she’s feeling. Or maybe what she wants. Food, or a hunt, or violence, or...” Waverly glanced over, saw the way her face had turned red, and smiled. “You know.”

“Duly noted.”

“Hush.” She cleared her throat. “Anyway, the blackouts though. That, yes. When the wolf takes full control, under the moon? That’s it. I’m not, y’know, there for that. Not really. And in the morning, I don’t remember what I did. What my body did, that is.”

Waverly frowned. “But when I was there. You remembered me reading.”

“That’s where it gets complicated,” Nicole conceded, frowning. “With you, it’s... it’s different. We.” She rolled her fingers along her knee in a steady drumbeat. “Share better, I guess. It’s not just the wolf, and it’s not just me. It’s both of us. So I remember most of it. Not everything, I’m still missing some time. I think at a certain point I fall asleep even if she’s still awake.”

“Sounds like having a shitty roommate,” Waverly said.

“Kind of,” Nicole said, and laughed. “Actually, yeah. That’s not a bad comparison.”

“You said that’s how it was at the beginning. And... you’ve never called it she before.”

“Huh,” Nicole said, and smiled a little. The wolf was quiet, comfortable. Content. It rumbled at her when she went looking for it, and then settled again. “Yeah, I guess I did.”

Waverly glanced over, maybe reading the look on her face.

“I’m glad, baby.”

“We got a bit off-topic though.”

Waverly heaved a sigh. “Yeah. I just. I feel like everything’s different now. Like I won’t ever be the same again, you know?”

“Yeah, I do. Listen, Waves... I’m no therapist, and I’m certainly not qualified to pretend to be one, but I will say this. Maybe you won’t ever be exactly the same as you were before this happened, no. But that’s okay. Because this doesn’t define you any more than me being what I am defines me.”

Waverly turned onto the Homestead proper and she slid to a stop in front of the house and undid her belt, but Nicole didn’t reach for hers. She’d see this out, and then they could go inside.

“And listen, Waverly, you’re smart. You’re so smart it’s scary sometimes.” Waverly glanced at her, her expression hard to read. “So I know this is rattling around in your head somewhere, because it’s the kind of thing you’d think. Worse, it’s the kind of thing that thing would tell you, would plant in there, to make sure you’d think this, just to fuck with you even after it was gone.”

Waverly narrowed her eyes. “Okay.”

“What happened to you doesn’t make you any less than what you were. And it doesn’t make me care about you any less.” She leaned across the center console and pressed a brief kiss to Waverly’s mouth. “Demon or no demon, I’m here to stay.”

For a moment, Waverly seemed frozen, but then her mouth twisted and she turned away, eyes squeezed shut.

“How,” she said, though it came out a little strangled and she tried again. “How do you do that, how do you... how do you know exactly what to say.”

Nicole smiled and leaned closer, pressing a second kiss to Waverly’s forehead. “I’m not scary-smart, but I know people. And I know you. And I know there’s a lot I didn’t see fast enough in the last two months—”

“No, Nicole, that’s not your fault.”

“Maybe not, but still.”

“Please,” Waverly said, and shook her head. “Please let’s not play that game.”

“Okay.” Nicole smiled and reached out to cup Waverly’s cheek in her hand. “Okay. We won’t.” Waverly leaned her face into Nicole’s hand. “For now,” she murmured, her voice dipping a little lower, enough that Waverly blinked and looked at her. “Let’s go inside.”

They did make it to Waverly’s bedroom, but it was a near thing, and probably they wouldn’t have if Nicole hadn’t guided Waverly in front of her to lead up the stairs. She left Nicole’s coat on the hook in the kitchen and Nicole decided, at the top of the stairs, that she didn’t even care that she was still in uniform—she had a bag of civvies but she’d left it in the Jeep and couldn’t even be bothered to find a problem with that, because Waverly was here. She was herself. She wasn’t patient exactly but it wasn’t a manic, edged thing, like it might’ve been before.

It was a contradiction of terms, a paradox that made Nicole’s heart race. Soft desperation. Gentle urgency. Need tempered with adoration; passion tempered by fascination. It was like a heated blanket in the darkest parts of Autumn.

When they reached Waverly’s doorway, Waverly slid her hands up to Nicole’s face and kissed her, warm and soft and everything that she remembered Waverly to be, and god, it ached, the relief. That awful, acrid bitterness she’d been tasting for two months was gone, as if it had never been. It was a physical sensation, the sudden absence of weight Nicole hadn’t fully felt piling up on her shoulders. She felt so full, so light that she couldn’t help a tiny laugh escaping her.

Waverly pulled back, just a little, but she let her fingers stray along Nicole’s cheek and jaw like she couldn’t bear to be separated. “Hm?”

“You taste like my Waverly again.”

Waverly beamed like the sun and closed the distance again and they made it a handful more steps toward her bed before they stopped. She grinned, trailing her hands down to pull at Nicole’s belt. Just like the first time, here in this room, with just a few details changed.

And it hit her then, as a flash. I feel different, she’d said. Was that Waverly? Or was that the demon’s idea of a sick joke?

There was a certain irony in the idea that it was Waverly who had been possessed, but now she was the one with darkness curling around her thoughts. What-ifs and could-have-beens that made her stomach twist.

“I—” Nicole lowered her hands to curl her fingers around Waverly’s, hesitating, and Waverly froze, sensing the shift.

“What’s wrong?”

Nicole shook her head, looking for words. “I was... I was just thinking. How much of the other times were– were you... you. Y’know, because– because you said things, and we did... things, and.” She bit her lip and Waverly’s gaze skittered away and she looked for words that wouldn’t cut like these, that wouldn’t hurt, but she couldn’t think of a better way to say it. “I don’t know what was real.”

“No,” Waverly said, and met her eyes again. “It was all real. Okay? It was all me.”

Nicole nodded, wrapping the words around her heart like armor, and Waverly’s mouth was on hers again as easy as breathing. Waverly guided her toward the bed again as Nicole’s hands moved without her really thinking about it. She tugged at Waverly’s shirt, sliding her fingers across bare skin, and there was a part of her that was aware that she was still wearing her utility belt and her boots, but there was another part that didn’t care.

And there was another part that remembered another kiss in uniform, where people could see them, where Tucker had taped them, and it all rushed back, the icy fear, the nerves. Waverly’s words eased her but what if Waverly was wrong, what if there had been times where it hadn’t been her and she’d just never noticed?

“How can you be sure?” she whispered, hating the way her voice cracked and broke, hating the fear that crawled out like smoke seeping through the gaps.

“Because,” Waverly said, and her hand was resting on Nicole’s collar and the other was on her shoulder and her eyes were tracking her, looking at her and seeing in a way that made Nicole feel a little less paranoid, a little less foolish. “I don’t remember much about when.” She paused. Swallowed. “It was in control.” Nicole let her gaze drop. God, if she’d just taken Mikael’s warnings for what they were, if she’d just asked him sooner or guessed that this was the Legion he had talked about, so much of this might have been different.

“But,” Waverly said, and leaned their foreheads together, Waverly’s warmth seeping into her. “I remember every second I was with you,” she said.

Nicole found her gaze drifting up again, finding Waverly, and the utter conviction of her words helped. Waverly was calm, or relatively so, and met her eye steadily.

“Every touch,” she continued, and her fingers traced down Nicole’s jaw, to the v of her shirt where the collar gapped open. The featherlight touch of her finger along the hollow of her throat sent shocks of heat down Nicole’s spine. “Every kiss.” She leaned in again, and this time her kiss was patient, gentle, the sweep of her tongue an easy, effortless thing. When she broke away Nicole let out a faint sound that sounded wolf but was all her. When she looked, she found that the wolf was utterly unconcerned, as if Nicole’s fear didn’t touch it at all, and that by itself was a comfort too. Waverly traced the edge of Nicole’s mouth and she found herself leaning into Waverly’s hand, finding the tips of Waverly’s fingers with her tongue.

“Well,” Nicole murmured, as Waverly leaned in for another kiss, “When you put it that way.” She slid her hands up Waverly’s back, half to feel warm, smooth skin against her palms and half to cushion her as Nicole bore her down onto her bed. As soon as Waverly was on her back she arched, pressing up along the length of Nicole’s body.

This time Nicole didn’t stop her from tugging at her belt, letting her gear drop away as Nicole stripped out of her shirt and bent over her again. Waverly’s hands skimmed up her sides and stalled on the open expanse of skin between collarbone and breast, her thumbs finding both of the long, pale, healed-over scars from Loretta’s knife.

“Nicole, what’s–?”

“Later,” Nicole breathed, bracing her weight on her knees so she could tug at the hem of Waverly’s top, drawing it up over her head and tossing it aside. “I promise, later.”

“Well if you promise,” Waverly murmured, her voice betraying her amusement even as it gave over to a sharp gasp as Nicole’s mouth found the black cloth of her necklace, her lips tracing the edge as her hands roamed lower, straying to familiar, well-practiced places until Waverly couldn’t speak any words that weren’t Nicole’s name.

Metaphors, Nicole decided then, were flawed and insufficient things. There were no words to properly express how it felt to have Waverly—to really have her, both in the carnal sense and in the sense that it was, even if Nicole had not known it at the time, finally only Waverly in her bed. There’d been so much she hadn’t sensed, so much she hadn’t picked up on, before, but now, looking back, it felt like she had known, or maybe the wolf had known, that their bed was not big enough for four souls.

Three, as it was, was a bit of a stretch, and although Nicole didn’t like sharing Waverly with the wolf any more than she’d liked sharing her body with it, they’d come to an understanding. Several, really.

Most of which had to do with what the wolf was and was not allowed to do when they were in bed, but, well. That’s not really the point, is it.

But there were no similes, no flowery speeches, to explain how having Waverly in her bed felt like coming home. Nicole had been running for a long time. From her father, from his cult, and then from Shae.

From the wolf. In some ways, even from herself.

It had been so long, she’d almost forgotten how it felt not to run. Not to look over her shoulder. To just be, to just exist in that moment between breaths.

Waverly was her oxygen tank and it felt so good to fill her lungs again.

When they came to rest, Waverly settled her head on Nicole’s shoulder, her braid half-undone, her body languid and warm at every point of contact. One of her arms sprawled across Nicole’s stomach and one of her legs tucked up around Nicole’s, arched over the curve of her hip.

“Hey Waves,” she said, because words were a tall order but her mind was spinning still, whirring along because there was so much still to tell Waverly. What had happened with Loretta, for one, and that she had some concerns about this woman in black that Wynonna had apparently seen.

“Hm?”

“We should talk more, huh.”

Waverly chuckled. “Yeah, I guess so. I believe you promised me some information.”

“I did,” Nicole mused. “I’m gonna get us some water first, but. Yes.” She got up, stretching, and Waverly’s eyes tracked her, watching the slope and arch of her body. Nicole wondered then, idly, what she looked like in the afternoon light. Did she look like Waverly did—supple and self-satisfied and warm? Did the light catch on the handful of scars that, due to supernatural origins, would never fully go away?

“You’re amazing, you know that, right?”

“Huh?” Nicole blinked, dropping her arms and turning to look at her.

“You are. Don’t ask me to explain it, just. In every way.”

Nicole smiled and leaned a hand on the bed, bending over to kiss Waverly. “I’m not gonna argue, baby.”

“Good. Cuz. You are.”

Nicole chuckled. “All right. Well, I’ll be right back.”

“You don’t want a robe or anything?”

“Nah,” Nicole said, and grinned. “I’ll just be downstairs for a minute.”

Chapter Text

Nicole had her fair share of weird dreams. Most of them were either pseudo-premonitory or they were her memories, replayed as her human mind sifted through the archive for reruns while the wolf had its way with her body.

But this? She knew this wasn’t a moon-dream, for two reasons. Firstly, the full moon wasn’t until tomorrow.

Secondly, this dream was fucking bizarre.

The start of the dream dropped her into the middle of the bullpen. She was naked, which seemed a bit cliché, and she sighed, her dreaming mind evidently not so much concerned about the exposure as her waking mind would have been had this actually been happening for real. Instead, she felt so blasé about it that she actually propped her hands on her hips, looked around the room, and muttered the only thing that came to mind.

“Really? Isn’t this a bit tired?”

The room was filled with prop humans, in that way that only half-sensible dreams are. There were people in the room, her brain told her, but she couldn’t actually sense them. She could hear that distant, background-level muttering sound that was supposed to be the blanket indicator of people are talking, but if she actually focused hard enough to make out words, she realized that she was hearing some sort of weird combination of French, German, and something else that might’ve been Scandinavian. Or Greek. She wasn’t sure.

Similarly, if she looked around, she could see the blurry silhouettes of human beings in roughly the right colors, as if someone had taken a sequence of time-lapse photos and animated it. Vague human shapes oscillating back and forth in jerky, smeared patterns like the in-between frames from a cartoon.

Nedley, dressed in the suit he’d been wearing at the solstice party, stood on top of the counter. Not like he’d climbed there, but that he simply burst into existence like a firework. She looked up at him, but when he turned his face toward her, his eyes were milky white.

“When I retire,” he said, in the slow, numb moan you would expect from a zombie.

“Sheriff?” she asked, her fear as mild and distant as her consternation had been. “You okay?”

His image scratched and distorted, a jagged tear rippling up from his feet to his head like bad VHS tracking, and when he coalesced again, he was wearing his uniform, but his face was bloodied and his eye was swollen shut and several of his fingers were seeping blood and looked misshapen, as if something had slowly broken them, one at a time.

“You can’t stop everything,” he said, and this time her fear was real, and very sharp, shooting down her spine like icewater. Which meant something was wrong. Something was different. Was this actually going to happen to him? “You can’t save everybody, Haught.”

“What?”

His voice distorted, crackling like a record. She heard his voice, but the mangled version of him didn’t speak, just looked at her, as if willing her to understand.

“You’ll learn how this—” His voice distorted, scratching like a bad edit. “Works. It only took me 30 years.”

“No,” she told him, meeting his tired gaze with her own fiercely defiant one. Which might have been more impressive if she were actually wearing her uniform. Or any clothes at all, really. But, well, beggars can’t be choosers, right? “No, the day I accept that is the day we lose. And we’re not losing.”

“You can’t,” Nedley said again.

“Oh yeah?” she growled. “Watch me.”

The dream changed.

This time she was standing in the Wainwright. Still naked, which she could really do without. This time there were people around, real people. Specifically Dolls, Doc, Wynonna, Waverly.

And her. There was another version of herself, lying on the ground in the mismatched oversized sweats she’d worn for the Redcap mission. Her eyes were open, blindly staring, her chest still, her arms and legs sprawled in an inelegant X on the ground. Her dark clothes were patched with darker bloodstains and holes that showed her pale skin beneath, soaked with her blood.

“Jesus,” Nicole whispered, though her friends didn’t seem to hear her.

Waverly was kneeling on the floor next to the dead version of her, her hands limply flopped on the ground beside her. None of the others were saying anything, perhaps out of respect for Waverly’s grief.

“I’m sorry baby girl,” Wynonna said.

“Don’t,” Waverly said, her voice cracking on a pain so vibrant that it took Nicole’s breath away. “Please. We all made our choices to come here. She... she knew.”

Wynonna chuckled, the sound uncomfortable and a bit forced. “Well, on the plus side,” she said, though Waverly didn’t look up, “At least we don’t need to find a 12-foot coffin.”

Doc sighed and Dolls leveled her with a look.

“I know, I know,” she groused, and Waverly’s shoulders shook with silent, strangled sobs. “Sorry.”

The dream changed again.

This time she sat at a table. Specifically the Earps’ dining room table. Except it wasn’t in its usual spot in the kitchen on the Homestead. Instead, it was in an interrogation room. Just a bland, nondescript, concrete box, not specifically identifiable as a PSD interrogation room, almost more a Platonic ideal of what an interrogation room should be. In fact if it weren’t for the mismatched table, it would be as clean and as functionally precise as a TV set.

Nicole was sitting, still utterly naked, in the suspect’s chair, facing the mirror-window with her hands cuffed to the table—when she looked for the iron ring serving as a tether point, her brain skipped past details, her eyes giving her fuzzy, almost incomplete information, as if the dream itself were saying yeah yeah that part doesn’t fit just move along—and her gaze skidded up instead. Across the table from her sat a woman. A woman who looked familiar, somehow, but just slightly different enough that Nicole couldn’t place where she might’ve seen her.

Her eyes were closed, as if she had just in the last few moments drifted off into sleep. She was a redhead, like Nicole, more russet than flame, her hair long and draping over her shoulders in rich, wild waves. She was wearing a suit, perhaps playing the part of lawyer in this strange fiction her brain had cooked up, and had her legs crossed so that her skirt draped perfectly to her knees, her hands neatly folded in her lap. It was her hands that drew Nicole’s attention next, her nails neatly trimmed and painted black. She wore no jewelry, except for a choker of gold, curving lines that looked as delicate as spun sugar, wrapping around the woman’s neck like twining strands of ivy.

There was something about her, a subtle energy that oozed power. That, Nicole thought first, wasn’t surprising. After all that’s exactly the kind of image lawyers intentionally craft. But that wasn’t it. This woman didn’t give off the feeling of political, emotional, mental power, no. Beneath that tailored suit was raw physical strength, and yet even when she breathed, the gold collar—that’s what it was, Nicole realized a moment too late, a collar—never seemed like it would snap.

The woman smelled like something... familiar. Earth and woodsmoke, maybe. She reached for the wolf’s senses, to tell her more, but when she looked for the tether between the two, she found herself shifting forward in her chair instead. The woman mirrored her, shifting in her seat, the first movement she’d made since Nicole saw her.

She opened her eyes, fixing Nicole with a cool, yellow-gold stare.

“You...” Nicole breathed. “You’re the wolf.”

“Am I?” the woman asked, her voice light, but full of the growl Nicole was used to. It was almost sensual, somehow. Primal.

“It... aren’t you?”

The woman smiled, her fangs catching the light from overhead. “I am.”

“You’ve never talked before.”

“You’ve never listened.”

Nicole blinked, but didn’t really know what to say to that.

“Time is rather short, dear,” the wolf murmured. “So we need to get back to the question.”

“Oh I have lots of questions. Why I’m stuck in some weird not-quite-prophetic bullshit dream, for starters. Then, what about the seals? The woman in black?”

The wolf sighed. “The demon is trying to keep you asleep, dear, obviously. It’s why I had this much trouble connecting to you in the first place. As for the rest, you already have most of the pieces. You just don’t know which ones are which.”

“What does that mean?”

“The question, dear, is this: am I the wolf?”

“But you answered that question.”

“I did,” she said. “But you didn’t. Are you the wolf?”

Nicole frowned. “What?”

The wolf shimmered, her image changing until she looked just like Nicole—a perfect copy of her, sitting naked in the other chair, complete with handcuffs.

She raised a hand-mirror, the chain of her cuffs jangling at the motion, and in the reflection, Nicole saw that now she looked like the wolf, even down to the suit, the painted nails that she realized looked so very much like their claws. She could feel the gold collar around her throat, perfectly fitted to her skin without constricting. It wasn’t oppressive, it wasn’t tight, even though it should’ve been. Instead it just felt like... like power. Like grace. Solid gold with just enough flex that she could move, turn her head, breathe. She did, and realized the gold smelled like wildflowers and leather.

Waverly.

The image of her across the table shifted again. Back to the wolf. But she didn’t change back—it was just the two of them, mirrored images across the table, matching suits and matching collars. Maybe they were both the wolf. Maybe that was the whole point.

“Oh,” she said, and the wolf smiled. Soft. Satisfied, maybe.

The dream changed again.

Somehow this was the worst one.

Mikael sat across from her, cards in hand, a haphazard stack of chips heaped on the table between them. There were no other players, just them, sitting around a table in a darkened corner of a bar. It was one of Mikael’s favorite dive bars, all smoke and cheap booze and wood paneling. Mikael was so very different from his sister, and after seeing Loretta so recently, it was particularly obvious.

He was just as devilishly handsome as she was, of course. That part was to be expected from vampires, and there was no question they were related. They both had the same long, pointed Scandinavian features, the same thick blonde hair. But where she wore hers long and dressed like a runway model, he kept his short and roguishly unkempt. He was wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket over a white t-shirt, looking very much like he’d missed some memo about the deaths of the greaser days and no one had ever worked up the nerve to tell him.

Sitting across from him, covered in a handful of new scars he’d never had the chance to chastise her for, she felt very small, and a little more vulnerable than she was entirely comfortable with.

“Hjärtat,” he murmured, his cool blue eyes darting up to her face from his cards. “Your head’s not in the game.”

She blinked and looked down at her cards. A four of hearts, a three of diamonds, and a nine of spades.

“Even in my dreams, I get a shit hand?”

He laughed, the sound just as rich and warm as she remembered, now without the filter of cell phone towers.

“And what do you suppose that should tell you, hm?”

“That I have a deep-seated victim complex that I should probably be talking about with a therapist?”

He bobbed his head. “Ehh... perhaps. But that is not what I meant, no.”

She heaved a sigh and tossed her cards into the pot to fold. He winked, pulling in his winnings and the cards, then took up shuffling again, dealing out a new hand.

“Come then, Nicole, think. What does it mean?”

“Can I ask you something first?”

He didn’t take his eyes off the cards as he dealt, but he nodded.

“Are you... I mean, you’re just part of the dream, aren’t you. It’s not like with the wolf. It’s not. It’s not really you.”

“Would it make it easier, to know that I am just a construct?”

She sucked in a breath, looking down at her hands. “Maybe.”

“I’m sorry, hjärtat. I’m just part of the dream. Specifically I’m a concrete embodiment of the dreamer’s thoughts. That’s you. I am merely an image giving visual expression to that which is invisible, which is to say, conceptions.”

She snorted. “Did you just actually quote Calvin Hall at me?”

He spread his hands, one of them still holding the deck, and gave what was clearly supposed to be a wounded look, except that he was hiding a sly smile. “Now now, pay attention: I’m just a construct, Nicole. I can only quote The Meaning of Dreams because some part of you remembers your Psych 101 textbooks. Also, I did not quote. I paraphrased.”

Nicole groaned. “Well, at least my conceptions got your sense of humor right.”

Mikael chuckled and set the deck down, gesturing to the cards lying face down in front of her.

She picked them up, blinking. The King of Clubs, the Jack and King of Diamonds, the Queen of Hearts, and a Joker.

“This... I thought we were playing 3-card draw?”

Mikael sighed heavily. “It’s all a metaphor, hjärtat. Think it through. All the way from when you first sat down.”

She frowned at him, then lay the cards out flat, staring at the faces as she thought.

“I started out with a shit hand,” she said.

“Yes.”

“But... now, after. Time?” He bobbed his head. “Sort of, okay. Uh, time and... reflection?” He bobbed again. “After time and reflection and... sitting here a while. Getting comfortable. I have a better hand.” She inhaled, starting to get it. “This is that family thing the Night Mare was talking about.”

He grinned.

Nicole spread the cards out a little more, looking at each of them in turn. She pointed to the King of Diamonds, sliding it up out of the group. “Diamonds is...”

“Clergy, according to most accounts,” he said. “It translates to the suit of pentacles, in the Tarot.”

“When the hell did I learn that,” she muttered.

“Giselle.”

She looked up at him, tilting her head. “High school fling Giselle?”

“The very same.”

“Huh.” She looked down at the cards. “Then... mm. That’s gotta be Dolls.” She slid the Jack up too. “And that’s Jeremy.”

“Good,” he murmured.

She tapped the King of Clubs. “Clubs is the suit of wands, isn’t it?”

“Indeed. It represents the common folk.”

“Doc,” she said immediately, sliding the card up out of the line. “Definitely Doc.”

“Very good,” he said, chuckling.

“The Joker is Wynonna,” she said, without hesitation, sliding it out of the line.

“And the Queen of Hearts?”

She picked it up off the table, running her finger over the painted face. Without consciously thinking about it, she raised her other hand to run over her throat where the collar had been while she talked with the wolf.

“Waverly.”

He got up from the table, his mouth curled in a small, proud smile.

“Very good, hjärtat. Very good.”

She looked up at him, and her vision blurred, her eyes burning with tears. He set a hand on her shoulder, squeezed gently, and then stepped past her. One more card slid out of his sleeve into her lap. The Ace of Spades. The highest card in the suit of swords, representing both the blade and the noble class. The card of death.

“Mike,” she said, picking it up and turning to hand it back to him, but he was gone. “You dropped the...”

Ace up his sleeve. Of course.

 

“Nicole.”

She grunted, felt a warm, rough hand on her shoulder, so like Mikael’s that her brain crossed wires for a second, until the hand shook her instead of squeezing.

“Nicole,” came Dolls’ voice again, whispering.

She did not scream, no matter what anyone in the house might have heard. She gave a very dignified but startled yelp.

“Officer Haught.” He cleared his throat and very abruptly turned away. “Excuse me.”

“Don’t look at me,” she said, immediately, and then paused. She struggled not to laugh, which sent him into a stifled snickering fit too.

“Shh,” she whispered, but it didn’t help. She felt sleepy and lethargic still and he was laughing and so was she and it was just a lost effort, really.

“Nicole, seriously, we have got to stop meeting like this.”

“Oh shut up,” she said, but it set her off again, chuckling as she fumbled around and grabbed a blanket off the sofa, wrapping it around her shoulders.

“What’s that scar on your leg? You didn’t have that before, at the ridge.”

She winced. “Uh. Long story. Which it sounds like we don’t really have time for right now. I’ll tell you later.”

“You know, for a second I was a little worried,” he said.

“Nah, full moon’s tomorrow,” she told him.

“Well, I’ll come back to that, but that wasn’t the tipoff actually.”

She rubbed sleep from her eyes. “Okay, then what was?”

“The scratch marks are only on your back.”

She frowned, confused, and slid a hand back over her shoulder, finding raised red marks where... where she remembered Waverly’s nails dragging across her skin, scratching deep. She checked against the wolf—who was fine and well but based on an overwhelming feeling of smugness radiating off her, had elected to keep them.

“Oh.”

“But,” he said, only smirking as her face competed with her hair for color, then sobering, “Actually we’ve all been asleep for like.” He ticked off days on his fingers. “Like, weeks. Wynonna and I woke up in the diner and came straight here.”

“Weeks?” she spluttered. “That’s impossible. That would mean I’d—”

Fear registered on Dolls’ face about two seconds after it hit hers.

“Waverly,” she breathed, and bolted for the stairs, taking them two, even three at a time.

Wynonna was in the doorway of Waverly’s room and leapt back when Nicole barreled up the stairs, her startled “This isn’t greyhound racing, calm down!” only registering a second later. Waverly was sitting up in bed, looking very much like she wanted to go back to sleep, her hair mussed and her face soft in the—afternoon? Morning? What time was it?—light coming in through her window. Nicole slid to her knees beside the bed, setting both hands on Waverly’s face and turning her head each way, checking her neck for bites first.

Wynonna kicked the blanket, which Nicole had accidentally dropped in the doorway, aside, and let herself out.

“Okay, whatever the hell you’re doing, I don’t want to know. You two get decent, I’ll be right outside. I’ll check in a few minutes to make sure you didn’t slip back under, all right?”

“Okay, Wynonna,” Waverly said, her voice a little distorted where Nicole’s hands were squishing her mouth, and as Wynonna left and closed the door she gave Nicole a deeply concerned look. “Baby, you’re kind of scaring me.”

“We slept through the full moon,” she said, and Waverly’s eyes widened. She sat up, pulling the quilt off, and this time let Nicole move her as needed, checking her shoulders, her arms, her hips, her back, stripping off her clothes again to look for silvery toothmarks. Finding nothing, she finally relaxed, letting her head dip forward to settle on Waverly’s thigh, her skin warm from the thick quilts she’d been sleeping under.

She’d once had someone explain weeping as a physical outlet when the emotions are too much. Just the body’s way of saying I have too much of all of this so it has to leave and the only way I can get it out is saltwater. And this? This was way too fucking much. The weird, stressful dreams, seeing Mikael again, even just as a dream-construct, and now this? Her shoulders shook, a sob catching and strangling in her throat.

“Oh thank god.”

“Hey,” Waverly breathed, running her hands through Nicole’s hair, carding through and smoothing it back. “Shh, it’s okay. Baby, it’s okay.”

“I know,” she whispered, and resting there with her eyes shut, she felt sleep tugging at her again. She sat up, rubbing her hands over her face. “God, I know, I just. If I’d...”

“I know. Hey. It’s okay.” Waverly pulled her closer by the hands still in Nicole’s hair and kissed her forehead. “I trust you. You and her both, okay?”

A phantom sensation of the gold collar around her neck sparked across her senses and she smiled a little.

“I know you wouldn’t bite me. Not even on some weird magically messed up moon.”

Nicole let out a harsh, shaking breath, and nodded, leaning into Waverly’s hands. “Okay.”

“Tell you what. You grab your uniform, okay?” Waverly smiled and ran her hand down from Nicole’s hair along her cheek. “I need to talk to Wynonna a little more but I’ll meet you downstairs.”

“Okay,” she whispered, and leaned up, pressing a quick kiss to Waverly’s mouth as she gathered up the discarded pieces of her uniform, hastily re-dressing.

“Oh,” Waverly murmured, gathering up a change of clothes.

“Hm?”

“Your back,” Waverly said, mouth twisting in a self-satisfied little smirk. “Um. Oops?”

Nicole winked, tucking her utility belt back into the loops on her pants before slipping back outside.

“Just gonna say,” Wynonna said, and Nicole paused on the landing, buttoning up her shirt. “If I never see that much of you again, I think I’m good.”

Nicole flushed and pressed her lips together. “Oh trust me, you are not the only one who feels that way.”

Wynonna was radiating tension and something that smelled horrifyingly like fear, but she laughed at that. Waverly opened the door and waved Wynonna inside, and Wynonna shooed Nicole toward the stairs. “We’ll be down in a sec.”

“All clear?” Dolls asked, his voice low as Nicole finished up her shirt buttons and grabbed her shoes from the entryway.

“Yeah, thank god,” she muttered, and whatever Waverly and Wynonna were talking about, they kept their voices very, very low, enough that she could only really hear that they were speaking, not words. Probably if she put some effort in, she could’ve caught it, but she kept her nosiness in check this time and focused on tying her boots.

Dolls blew out a breath, relieved. “It’s possible, too, that because you were asleep, it never actually triggered. How’s... you know?”

She frowned, standing again, hands on the button of her pants, and checked in. The wolf seemed... groggy. Content, but tired.

“Huh.” Dolls raised an eyebrow, waiting. “I think she was asleep too. What the hell could get me and the wolf?”

He shrugged and leaned against the banister, yawning as Nicole finally did up the button on her pants and latched her utility belt.

“Hey,” Waverly said, following Wynonna down the stairs. “My phone battery’s toast, I’m guessing the rest of yours are too?”

Dolls offered her a thermos. “Espresso,” he explained, and while he’d seemed relatively alert until now, he was starting to sound like he wanted to fall asleep right where he was standing. Well, leaning. “Drink.”

Wynonna, in the meantime, went to raid the fridge. “You can wake people up, but they just fall right back asleep.”

“Wha,” Waverly muttered, holding the thermos and stepping into the kitchen as Nicole worked at tucking in her shirt. “What’s doing it?”

“Something that’s about to get dead?” Wynonna suggested.

“It’s like a curse, or a... a spell?” Dolls said, leaning against the wall. Waverly opened the thermos, even just the scent of hot espresso giving Nicole a bit of a jolt like a, well, Pavlovian response. Waverly sipped from it and made a face as Dolls gestured weakly with one hand and added, “I mean, it has to be. This many people, the radius? It’s unprecedented.”

“Sleeping Beauty on steroids,” Waverly offered.

“Okay,” Nicole said, exhaling and shifting forward until her shoulder hit Waverly’s, standing very literally at Waverly’s right hand. “So, we double up, and... start waking the town?” Waverly looped her arm around her waist and leaned into her, resting her head against Nicole’s chest, and Nicole curled an arm around her shoulders without thinking about it. After a moment Waverly slumped a little against her, as if drifting. Nicole glanced down and rubbed Waverly’s shoulder a little more firmly to rouse her again.

“No,” Dolls said, as sharp as his sleepy voice could manage. “No.”

“Waking people up makes it harder to find the source. I mean, whoever’s doing this,” Wynonna said, looking from Nicole to Dolls, as if looking for confirmation. “They’ll be easy to spot if everyone’s zonked, right?”

“Yeah, we’ll need something a little stronger than coffee,” Dolls said.

Wynonna looked down at the energy drink she’d pulled from the fridge, shrugged one shoulder, and tossed it to him, smirking when he fumbled to catch it.

“All right, I’ve got enough pharmaceuticals in the evidence locker to keep all of Purg High buzzing,” Nicole suggested, taking a couple steps from Waverly before her girlfriend’s warmth could lull her to sleep again too.

“Uh, if you snort it, or shoot it,” Waverly said, raising her hands, “I’m out.” She looked at Wynonna. “You too.”

“My own sister, a narc,” Wynonna groused, though it didn’t have her usual heat, just a quiet amusement that, for a moment, caught Nicole’s attention.

“Okay, most of it is not illegal,” Nicole said, maybe just the slightest bit offended they thought she was actually suggesting taking hard narcotics. The wolf thought it was hilarious that she was offended, which she ignored, and continued, “When... taken by the person to whom it is prescribed.”

“Look, if we don’t self-medicate,” Dolls said, looking at each of them, “We’re all...” He jerked a thumb across his throat and clicked his tongue.

“Right,” Nicole said, steering her drowsy girlfriend toward the door. She grabbed her coat from where she’d left it and stepped outside, offering it to Waverly, who shook her head.

“If I wear that I’ll be so warm I’ll fall back asleep for sure,” she said, and Nicole grinned, pulling it on herself, knowing that overheating in it would have the opposite effect for her. Dolls followed them out and Waverly led the way to her Jeep, still holding the thermos between her palms to warm them.

“Oh,” Nicole muttered. “Shit, I’ll be right back. Waves, you start the car? I’ll just be a minute.”

“Sure,” she said, and climbed up into the Jeep, looking absolutely frosty in her skin-tight clothes. Thank god her coat was still at the station.

“I forgot my gloves,” Nicole called as she let herself back into the house, raising her voice to avoid startling Wynonna. Though really, it was her who should’ve been worried about being startled. Wynonna was still standing in the kitchen, with the front of her coat pulled open—and it took Nicole a moment to realize that it was not, in fact, her coat, but one she had evidently, hm, borrowed from a much larger person—around her very pregnant belly.

“Whoa. Uh...”

Wynonna snapped the coat shut, and for a moment they just stood there, frozen, and Nicole listened to her own racing thoughts and Wynonna’s pounding heart, and... god, she almost thought she could hear a tiny, second, offbeat sound, like a heartbeat, but infinitesimally smaller. She reached forward to grab her gloves, at least paying lip service to what she’d said she’d come in for.

“Is... is that?” she breathed, and looked up.

She had never seen Wynonna look so... fragile. So small, and cracked open, and on the verge of tears. And god, who could blame her? This morning—or at least, what they were all still thinking of as this morning—Wynonna had looked, well, normal. What rational woman wouldn’t panic?

“Nicole, please...”

“Okay, this is... wow. Okay. Let’s just.” She closed her eyes, thinking, and for just a moment, the wolf pushed against her thoughts, not fierce, not violent, but protective and strong, and somehow, she wasn’t quite sure how, she knew it was a message that wasn’t meant for her. She reached back and pushed at the door to close it more, giving them more privacy. “Okay, um.” She pushed down her shock so that the look she gave Wynonna was as gentle as she thought Wynonna would want, without condescending to her. She lowered her voice, less for Wynonna’s pride, more because she knew Wynonna wouldn’t want them loudly discussing it near the door if someone wandered back. Wynonna didn’t need fluff and comfort, her sister could give that. But Nicole was very good at being a rock. “Does Waverly know?”

“Yeah,” Wynonna whispered, fumbling for words. “But not Dolls or... anyone else. Yet.”

“Okay,” Nicole said, and nodded.

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Uh. Look, I still want to do a loop of the town,” she said, and even if she couldn’t hear the way Wynonna’s heartbeat fluctuated or smell her rampant terror, she would’ve recognized the relief on her face that Nicole was still focused on work, and not on Wynonna’s issue du jour. “I just wanna see if anyone fell asleep outside, and, and move them, even.”

“Great plan,” Wynonna said, nodding. She still had one hand clutched like a vice around the front of her stolen coat, as if hiding the evidence made it less real, perhaps. She offered Nicole the other energy drink she’d taken from the fridge. “Stay alert.”

“Okay,” Nicole said, and took it. Not like Wynonna could drink it anyway. “The keys to the locker,” she added, turning to go. “They’re in Nedley’s desk drawer.”

“Okay. Hey,” Wynonna added, her voice delicate somehow, like an elegant curl of blown glass, beautiful for its inherent fragility. “Nicole?”

She turned around, her eyes flicking down to Wynonna’s hand wrapped into the canvas of her jacket, then back up, meeting Wynonna’s gaze, her resolve to be Wynonna’s stalwart support cracking just a little at the sight of the woman so visibly on the verge of falling apart.

“Uh, thanks. Thank you.”

Nicole nodded and, as she slipped back outside, offered the most uniquely Earp thing she could think of: a shitty joke.

“Heaven help that gynecologist,” she muttered, her lips curling in the slightest of smiles. Waverly shot her a bewildered look through the Jeep’s windshield when Nicole stepped outside and she raised the gloves, waving her prize.

“Why did you go back in for those?” Waverly said, teeth chattering even though the Jeep’s interior was considerably warmer than it had been, now that the engine had been running for a little bit.

“For you,” Nicole said, and handed them over, then reached back to the backseat to snatch up her PSD ballcap and jam it onto her head.

“And...” Waverly noted, pulling on the gloves and eyeing the energy drink Nicole had tucked between her thighs. “Wynonna gave you her...”

“Uh, yeah,” Nicole said, stuffing the aforementioned can into a cupholder to buckle her seatbelt. “Weird, how, uh, caffeine and taurine are sort of. You know. Bad, for. Um. Babies.”

Waverly slumped almost double behind the steering wheel.

“Oh thank god,” she said, directed vaguely at her knees, then straightened and pulled the Jeep back toward the road. “It was driving me crazy not to say anything.”

Nicole was quiet for a moment, then chuckled. “She made you promise, huh.”

“Yeah, baby, I’m sorry.”

“No, seriously, it’s fine. It’s... super unexpected.” She pursed her lips for a moment and stared out the side window, then looked back across at Waverly, who was sneaking glances every twenty seconds or so. “Okay, to be fair, I might be in a bit of shock, about Wynonna. But the you not telling me part? That’s totally fine. As far as I’m concerned, baby, you’re not obligated to tell me anything. I prefer it, obviously, communication is pretty nifty and all the cool kids are doing it these days—” Waverly laughed, which meant she was doing her job, “—but I can’t ask you to tell me everything. Especially not your sister’s secrets.”

“It means a lot,” Waverly said, “That you get it.”

“I mean I don’t, not a hundred percent. But...” Nicole sighed. “That’s just because I don’t really have family.” A thought of poker chips and playing cards flashed across her mind. “No, what I mean is... I didn’t. I didn’t really have anyone like that.”

She didn’t think the until now needed to be said, and based on the way Waverly looked at her, her frown of confusion giving way to understanding, and then a thousand-watt smile, she figured she was right. Waverly reached one hand over to tangle her fingers into Nicole’s.

“So it’s... different. It takes adjusting to.” Nicole smiled a little. “But I understand, feeling like one or a couple people are your whole world. And if something happened to them...”

Her throat went tight and Waverly squeezed her fingers.

“Right,” Nicole whispered, and rubbed at her eyes. “Still need to talk to you about. Everything.”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, and shook their intertwined hands for emphasis. “Soon as we wake up everyone else, we’ll talk. So.” She pulled into the station parking lot, handed Nicole back her gloves, and nodded to her parked cruiser. “Go on and be a hero.”

Chapter Text

Nicole’s first order of business was to do a loop of the town. She snagged a radio from Jeremy’s workstation, knocked back the energy drink Wynonna had given her, and hit the main drag first, prowling along the road at a moderate crawl as she scanned the sidewalks. Most people she saw were in their cars—far from ideal, but not at immediate risk of hypothermia and she didn’t really feel like breaking a bunch of car windows just to get them out—but she did find a few. Pete York had been out walking toward the diner with a young woman she knew to be named Anna, who, according to the alive-and-well Purgatory rumor mill, was his new girlfriend. The two of them she stashed inside the diner for proximity’s sake, taking an extra minute to arrange them in a not-completely-suggestive way in a booth.

A few buildings down she found Moira, who had been out walking her dog. Both of them were snoozing in the middle of the sidewalk, so she stashed both Moira and the dog, who was heavier than he looked, in a nearby convenience store. She was almost out the door, passing a drink fridge, when she stopped short, frowned, and picked up another can of Beaver Buzz for safety.

She left a 5 dollar bill on the counter for the clerk (who was sleeping with his head on his keyboard) and headed back to her car, rubbing at her eyes.

“Well,” she said as she climbed back into the cruiser and continued rolling down the road, heading out into the suburbs next. She kept her voice low, really more just muttering under her breath, but directed the sentiment at the wolf. “This is a hell of a day.”

She didn’t get a reply, exactly, more a faint sense of amusement and agreement.

“Don’t suppose that dream was some big turning point,” she continued, scanning each side of the road carefully as she rolled along. “You seemed a pretty able conversationalist at the time.”

She got more amusement, but no words.

“Hm.” She sighed. “I guess you are still an animal. ‘Noble beast,’ maybe, but. Still animal.”

Agreement, this time.

“Guess the dream was a one-time thing.”

The wolf was quiet, but Nicole was pretty sure she was chuckling to herself.

She stopped one more time, moving Mr. Jones back into his house from where he’d evidently gone outside to check his mail. Thankfully the front door was unlocked, and she carried him into his living room, setting him down on his sofa. She got up, stretching, and yawned. On his coffee table was a handful of photos of Stephanie, scattered around and marked with smudges. These were arranged inelegantly beside a handful of empty beer bottles, and she winced, looking at the man more closely. He looked... haggard. Beaten down. Stephanie wasn’t exactly a stellar example of human goodness, but Nicole supposed the adage was true: someone always misses you when you’re gone. Even if it’s not the people you’d expect.

She let herself back out and headed for her car. She cracked the can she’d taken from the convenience store and sipped from it, put it back in the cupholder, and settled for a second, listening to the silence. It was eerie, really, the whole town being asleep like this. It had been eerie enough that she could move people without them even stirring, like they were exhausted toddlers rather than grown adults, but the whole town was so quiet. It was like the ethereal silence that follows a really big snowfall, but magnified tenfold, taken so far it edged over into disturbing rather than just gentle and a bit magical.

She felt her head tilt forward, sleep dragging at her like a physical thing, pulling her down into idleness. It took surprising effort to raise her head again, a soft sound, almost a moan, escaping her as she forced her eyes open and picked up the can, drinking deeply from it.