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The Hard Way Home

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There are men, Wynonna, mean as a rattlesnake cornered at dusk.

And there are demons sweet as clover honey.

And then there’s him.

I told you he was real.

I never stopped believing.

But he will rise, and when he does…

You’ll believe it too.

//

Nicole eases her squad car over the bridge that marks the border of the Earp homestead. The town she transferred to a few months ago might be less high stakes and big crime than the city, but not having to share a squad car is definitely high on the list of perks of the job. No more abandoned coffee mugs, no more mouldering mystery stains, no more fiddling with the seat adjustments every time she wanted to drive somewhere. No more partner to snap her out of a dreamy stare when she’d first caught sight of the cutest bartender in town crossing the street on her way to work, with a bounce in her stride and her hair that captivated Nicole.

But, of course, none of those perks were why she’d accepted the assignment to Purgatory. Even if Nicole hadn’t read the reports she would have been able to tell the moment she arrived that she’d picked the right town. That sense of not quite right that she can’t shake off. The way the people in town let their eyes slide off her a little too fast. That one remaining poster for a demon rodeo. There are secrets in this town.

Secrets that nobody talks about.

Secrets that Nicole came to Purgatory looking for.

Secrets she may well find the answer to in the file locked in her glove compartment, with Bulshar’s ring sitting on top of it.

When Waverly appears on her porch shrugging into a coat Nicole meets her with an animal cage instead of the file or the questions swirling around it. The creature inside bares its sharp teeth, fur raised to ward off any threat that might appear from the strange new world it found itself in. It swishes its tail and glares out through the bars of its cage.

“….Calamity Jane?” says Waverly.

“Yeah,” Nicole shifts the crate to a slightly more comfortable hold as she replies, “I’ve been home even less than usual and cats are pretty independent but they do get lonely and with the demon attacks… Well, I was hoping she could stay here. For a little while.”

“I haven’t had a pet since Pikachu. Maybe this isn’t the right time…” Nicole’s smile falters at Waverly’s doubtful tone and the way her arms come up across her chest to cradle a baby that’s no longer there.

“I think it’s exactly the right time,” Nicole says firmly. “This old place is going to be rat central pretty soon. And… you could use something lively about the house.”

Both pairs of eyes flit subconsciously towards Wynonna’s truck, right where she’d left it. Two days is not quite long enough to send out a search party, not knowing Wynonna and her almost violent need for space, but enough time to worry. Nicole bends down to open the cage, murmuring soothingly at Calamity Jane until she permits Nicole to lift her out and offer her to Waverly.

Waverly hesitantly takes the cat in her arms. Cradling the expansive bulk of the spoiled house cat she tries to fix Nicole with an exasperated glare, but fails when met with Nicole’s sheepish grin.

“We’ll give it a go. But if she doesn’t work out…”

Nicole clasps her hands together in supplication. “I promise to take her straight back to my place. Promise promise promise.”

Waverly nods, unable to contain her answering grin or resist gently rubbing the cat behind her over-sized ears.

“Thank you thank you thank you,” Nicole bounces forwards to kiss Waverly on the temple. “I’ve got the late shift tonight but I’m all yours tomorrow.” Cradling Waverly’s elbow with one hand, Nicole tickles the cat under the chin with the other. “The two of you gonna be okay on your own?”

Her tone might be light and gentle, but the look Nicole gives Waverly hits hard; there’s nothing she hates more than to have to abandon Waverly right now. Nothing she’d like more than to follow Waverly back inside.

“We’ll be fine.”

Nicole kisses her goodbye, this time full and firmly on the mouth, and then Waverly and Calamity Jane watch her walk back to her squad car.

Every now and then Waverly misses the khakis.

//

It’s fully dark before Wynonna's bike rumbles onto the homestead, headlights cutting through the homestead’s windows almost painfully.

For the second time that day Waverly finds herself waiting on the front porch, cradling herself tightly between her crossed arms. Wynonna slowly and carefully eases her helmet of her head to place it on the bike seat, but doesn’t meet Waverly’s eyes until she’s joined her on the porch. Each step is as careful and strained as if she was climbing a mountain instead of three steps.

“Hey, baby girl,” Wynonna greets her, then abruptly pulls Waverly into a tight hug.

Her vulnerable, brittle sister is clutching her so hard Waverly struggles to work her arms out to wrap them around Wynonna. Wynonna is silent and dry-eyed but Waverly can practically feel the pain radiating off her. The rage within Wynonna is boiling like a full pot of stew just under the mask she’s holding down tightly over it all. A fighter, but there’s nothing to fight so they just cling to each other.

Until the cat winds its way between their legs, startling Wynonna. She stumbles back and draws her gun in the same move, fast as ever but fumbling in a way Waverly hasn’t seen her do in months.

“Holy bajeebus! Cat…” Wynonna puts up her gun and steps back. “One of these days I’m really gonna fry you. What’s she doing here?”

“Living here,” Waverly shrugs. “Temporarily, at least.”

“Why?!” Wynonna demands.

“Why not?” Waverly counters with her own question, confused at the sudden fixation that seems a little out of proportion for a cat.

“Cause it’s…” Wynonna waves one hand vaguely, searching for justification but failing. “We just don’t need a cat.”

“Well Nicole asked and you weren’t…” Waverly scrunches up her face and quivers as if she’d like nothing better than to stamp her foot in frustration. “And there are rats! In the hay that you insisted on dragging here from Gus’ even though we have no animals, just so you could roll on it!”

Wynonna sniggers. “Roll in the hay.”

Waverly purses her lips and folds her arms, clearly not enjoying the pun.

”Yeah, okay, it’s not that funny,” Wynonna admits, the smile falling off her face.

“Two days, Wynonna. You’ve been gone for two days. No calls, no messages, I’ve been worried sick...”

“I wasn’t exactly on the grid,” Wynonna says cagedly.

“What were you doing?”

“Getting answers. About Bulshar.” Wynonna draws in a deep breath. “Without his minions he’ll be set back, but not for long. I’ll do details in the morning, but right now...”

Wynonna starts to walk to the door but wobbles on the way, her eyes temporarily losing focus. Concern stamped on her face, Waverly steps up to steady her. She becomes even more worried when she feels how heavily Wynonna needs to lean on her.

“You’re shaking...I’ll draw a bath.” Waverly maneuvers Wynonna so one arm is over her shoulder to help her inside, trying not to notice when Wynonna’s other arm cradles the now empty swell of her belly. “You smell like diner grease.”

“Only the finest highway cafe hot dogs.”

Waverly crinkles her nose. “Ugh. Okay, bath, and then I make you a proper meal. With a vegetable. You’ve been through a lot, you should have been resting...”

Wynonna lets her sister’s babble wash over her, surrenders herself temporarily to another’s care. But as Waverly bustles around the house doing all the things Wynonna does rightly need, she realises Waverly’s wrong about one thing.

Wynonna can’t rest.

//

Nedley shuffles the top of the pile of papers and sighs. He looks tired but, then again, Nicole has thought he looks tired every day since she’d taken the job.

“Two fines for drinking in a public place, a shoplifting report, six speeding tickets, and Bill Lippencott is still driving without a licence.” Nedley affixes his signature to the last, then looks up at Nicole. “You had a productive day. Anything else I missed?”

“No, it’s been pretty quiet.”

“Well then, enjoy your day off. Now get outta here.”

Nicole would have been happy to but instead Dolls appears in the doorway, summoning her with a brusque jerk of his head. “Officer Haught.”

“No rest for the wicked,” Nicole mutters under her breath as she follows him into the former Black Badge offices.

“Morning, Officer,” Waverly bubbles as she jumps up to meet Nicole, a Timmies cup in her hand. When she hands over the coffee she jumps on the thin excuse to play her fingers tantalizingly over Nicole’s. “I have your order.”

You sure do, Nicole almost says, would have said if the office hadn’t also contained Jeremy, Dolls and - “Earp! You’re back!”

“Can’t get rid of me that easily.” Wynonna and Nicole exchange grins.

Dolls raps a pen on the table impatiently. “Can we get started?”

“Wait - where’s Doc?” Wynonna protests as everyone else moves to sit around the table.

“Not coming.” Waverly holds up her phone and waggles it. “Says he’s busy.”

“He’s busy?!” Wynonna sounds both outraged and offended.

Waverly shrugs. “At least he replies now.”

Wynonna scowls, but joins them at the table. “What’s he so ‘busy’ with? A lead on Bull-shark? I’d hoped taking out his wives would slow him down a little.”

“Bulshar,” Dolls corrects. “No sign of him yet. We checked the mine where Bobo hid his coffin but it’s completely caved in. In other news....” Dolls gets up to pull over the map board of the triangle, which has small blue pins stuck in some of the less populated areas. “We’ve been getting daily reports of attacks on some of the outlying homes. Four men on horseback who appear under cover of the morning fog, steal supplies and weapons and anything else of value and then ride away before the police arrive.”

“So what’s the demonic twist?” Wynonna asks. “Revenants?”

Dolls inclines his head. “No confirmed I.D. so far. No kills, just petty theft, but it seems worth a look.”

Jeremy wiggles his way to the front. “Based on a model I made of their attack pattern, they’re most likely to attack here, or here -” he jabs at the map as he talks “- at dawn tomorrow.”

“So we stake out the likely sites.” Wynonna leans back in her chair, struggling to find a comfortable position.

“We do,” Dolls clarifies. “You should be at the homestead.”

Wynonna scoffs. “Haven’t we already had the talk about how benching me is so not an option that is ever going to happen?”

“Not benching…”

“It’s a trap,” Jeremy blurts, interrupting Dolls.

Might be a trap,” Dolls clarifies, with a glare at Jeremy before returning to Wynonna. “We’re not even sure the attackers are revenants. We’ll stake out the likely sites tonight, do some recon. I promise to call you in if anything needs shooting. But if they are human, and going after isolated residences…”

“...they might target the homestead.” Wynonna finishes.

Dolls nods. “It fits their MO.”

“Shitnuggets.” Wynonna sucks in a deep breath. “Fine. But you keep me on speed dial.”

“Anyway, you hate stake-outs,” Waverly chimes in. “No matter what snacks I bring.”

“You never bring enough, that’s the problem.”

Dolls slaps both palms down on the table to interrupt the bickering before they can get in full swing. “Are snack choices really that important right now? We have bigger issues.”

“Snacks are always important,” Waverly mutters.

Wynonna sighs, disgusted that she has to disagree with that statement. “No, he’s right, we need to talk about Bulshar. And… I might have something that could help.”

With an apprehensive expression, Wynonna lifts the chain from around her neck and drops it on the table. The group stares at the key for several seconds in silence. As a weapon against a demonic lord it definitely looks anticlimactic.

Finally, Nicole asks, “That?”

“That. I don’t know exactly what it is, or what it’s supposed to do… but I’ve been told it can help us.”

Dolls tenses up with suspicion immediately. “Been told? By who?”

“Fairy Tinkerbell?” Wynonna jokes, but Dolls looks unamused. “Look, I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone who I got the information in exchange for - well, the information. Anonymous source! Police have those, right?”

Wynonna directs her last question to Nicole and backs it up with an imploring expression.

“Yup, sure,” Nicole agrees, but tentatively.

“Can we focus on what’s important here?” Wynonna picks up the chain and waggles it at them before anyone can chase her with any more questions.

Waverly snatches it and turns it over to look at the symbol scratched into the metal. As she examines it, Jeremy bounds over to peer at it over her shoulder.

“These are Greek letters,” Waverly says. “Alpha, theta…”

“Athena.” Dolls finishes.

Jeremy looks up, surprised. “Yeah… how did you...?”

“Found it at a crime scene, the day Wynonna came back into town.”

“I remember,” says Wynonna softly, and the two stare at each other for a long moment.

That day seems so long ago, barely half a year but it may well be whole different world. She’d cursed him out the day Dolls had returned that key, tailing her with his suspicions and unveiled threats, but now...

“Oookay.” Nicole breaks the tension by waving her notepad with the farm addresses on. “These farms are pretty far out of town. I’d better get going if I’m going to get everybody moved before dark.”

While Nicole gets up to leave, lingering to kiss Waverly goodbye, Dolls draws Wynonna off to one side.

“So this mysterious new source of yours…”

“Is gonna remain mysterious,” Wynonna says firmly.

“Sounds like it’s only one of the mysteries you’re keeping.” Dolls folds his arms. “You’ve had that key for months and you’re only bringing it up now. What else are you hiding?

"We'll burn those bridges when we get to them."

Dolls frowns. “I don’t think that’s how that saying goes.”

“Whatever, you know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t. Why are you holding out on me, Earp?”

Wynonna opens her mouth to keep arguing, but then relents at the annoyance on Dolls’ face.

“Look… I promise I will tell you... everything… when I’m ready. But for now -” Wynonna lifts her hand to cradle Dolls’ cheek “- can you just trust me?”

There’s a long pause while Dolls considers. The idea that Wynonna is still holding out on him, has been holding out this whole time, irks him more than he’d care to admit. But she’s only doing exactly what he is doing to her; the only difference is that she’s asking.

“...I can do that.”

For a moment they stand awkwardly until Wynonna drops her hand and looks around the room. Luckily for her, there’s a glaring hole of a subject to jump into.

“So...where is Doc?”

//

In front of a parked trailer a skinny man spits out dirt and lifts himself off his belly. He crawls a scant few feet before a kick sends him rolling and spluttering onto his back. Already bleeding from a cut to his temple and a broken nose, the prone man struggles to get his breath back so her can try to rise to his feet. Before he can, Doc plants one boot on the man's chest to pin him to the ground. Doc slowly brings up his pistol to point at the man’s head.

“I’m telling you, I don’t know anything!”

“Bullshit.” Doc shoots him in the shoulder and the man screams, clutches the wound with his other hand. “Now I’m gonna ask again, and you’re gonna answer while I’m still being polite about it. Where. Is. Rosita?”

“I told you, man, I told you I don’t know!” The man sobs, “They don’t tell me shit. Why ain’t you asking them? All I know was they were gonna meet her at Shorty’s and no-one came back. None of them came back, okay?”

“Because they’re all dead. Back in hell where they belong.”

“Aw, fuck…”

“Very much so. They ain’t coming to save you, and there’s no-one left to protect. So tell me… where is she?”

“I don’t know!” Driven by desperation the words turn into a rough growl as the man lifts his head up, eyes glowing red around black. “Shoot me full of holes all you want, Holliday, but I can’t tell you jack shit.”

“Maybe you can’t,” Doc admits, “But I will find someone who can.”

Doc steps off the man’s chest and leaves him there, confused by his sudden freedom. Before He can get up, Doc slips a rope around his ankle and begins to drags him across the ground. Almost immediately the revenant realises where Doc is dragging him and yells, flipping over to hunt desperately for a hold to grab onto, anything to stop his slow slide. He begins to smoke as soon as he crosses the line and is screaming by the time Doc has finished chaining him to a post.

Doc leans down to snarl right in the crying revenant’s face. “When they see what’s left of you, they will tell me.”

//

The afternoon is almost completely spent by the time Nicole swings back into the office, trying to rub of her neck the tension out of relocating two loud and unimpressed families on short notice. One family had been stubbornly convinced they could fight off any intruders with one sixty year old shotgun and their kitchen knives, while the other had wanted to pack and bring a large collection of seriously creepy dolls. Nobody had been happy with the local motel, including Nicole who had had to practically throw the owner’s computer through the window before he would grudgingly agree to bill the Sheriff’s department direct instead of being paid upfront.

In short she feels entirely justified in collapsing into her chair, eyes closed and legs kicked out in a highly unprofessional slump.

“So much for spending the whole day together, huh?” Nicole snaps back up at the best thing she’s heard all day; Waverly’s voice.

“About that… I may have some good news. I swapped a shift with Lonnie. Means I’m doing two back-to-backs over the weekend, but tonight…” Nicole lets her voice trail off suggestively, and is rewarded by the eager grin on Waverly’s face.

Waverly comes round the desk and bounces right up into Nicole’s space. “You’re all mine?”

“Mhmm.” Nicole stands up to lay her hands on Waverly’s hips and pull her in so they’re barely touching, letting the space snap between their bodies. “Want to… not watch a movie?”

Lonnie takes twenty minutes to get there and by the time he does Nicole practically hits him in the face with the outstanding case files in her hurry to hand them over.

//

When Waverly walks through the door of the homestead Calamity Jane with insistent mewls, rubbing against her leg and then dancing into the kitchen.

“Hey there kitty.”

Nicole tilts her head as she shuts the door, amused by Calamity Jane’s enthusiasm. “Looks like she’s already settled in.”

“I’m not even sure we’re going to keep her,” Waverly says as she hunts down the cat bowl. “Wynonna seems firmly against it.”

“I think Wynonna’s resistant to pretty much everything right now.” Nicole pads through the kitchen and settles down on the loveseat to pull out her laptop. “How does WALL-E sound?”

“Perfect,” Waverly finishes feeding the cat and slides herself down next to Nicole. She tucks herself in tight against Nicole’s side and rests her chin on Nicole’s shoulder. “So long as you say Wall-E again.”

“Waaalleeee,” Nicole obliges in the most exaggerated voice she can manage; her reward is a delighted giggle mere inches from her ear.

Once she’s got the movie playing Nicole leans back in the loveseat, drawing Waverly’s legs up onto her lap. Her thumb finds the soft crease at the join of Waverly’s knee and traces a comforting brush over the fabric of her jeans. Waverly nuzzles against Nicole’s shoulder happily.

They’re barely twenty minutes (and three requests for silly voices) into the film when Waverly’s occasional, gentle nuzzles of affection become more frequent. When Nicole’s hand closes reassuringly around her bicep Waverly can feel herself melt under that touch. She lifts her head as Nicole turns to her and Waverly just leans in, letting the tension roll back under the comforting pressure of Nicole’s forehead, under the soft brush of her nose over Waverly’s skin, through the tendrils of hair her fingers find at the back of Nicole’s neck. It may have only been a few days since they were last able to be alone like this, but kissing Nicole feels like coming home.

Waverly could get lost in their kisses, needs to, but Nicole hears the slam of a car door and draws back.

“Fuck nuggets.”

Wynonna bursts through the door with exaggerated joviality, flinging off her coat and throwing herself down on the couch between them.

“Oh cool, I love this movie.” Wynonna glances at Nicole. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?

Waverly smirks but shakes her head at Nicole; they can’t turn Wynonna away, not when she’s hurting this bad. Having a third wheel come crashing into their evening alone might be mildly frustrating but Waverly would definitely prefer her at home with them, complaining about the lack of popcorn, than the ways Wynonna usually deals with pain and abandonment.

They don’t have long to wait.

Before the end credits roll Wynonna has fallen asleep on Waverly’s shoulder. She’s dead to the world and barely stirs when Waverly eases her onto a pillow instead. Nicole lays a blanket over Wynonna and she and Waverly head upstairs as quietly as the old stairs will let them.

“God I’ve missed you,” Waverly whispers against Nicole’s lips, the words melting into an open-mouthed kiss.

After the gentle caresses downstairs Nicole is stunned by the aggressive way Waverly begins undressing her. Half stumbling, half driven backwards towards the bed Nicole knows she’s completely lost control of the situation, that Waverly had been storing a very clear picture of their day together and was going to make it happen come hell or high water. It’s a picture Nicole is so on board with she finds her hands helping Waverly strip, almost losing the little voice trying to remind her she’d had a plan for the day too.

“Waves, there’s something I need to tell you...”

Waverly practically whimpers, “Can it wait until morning?”

Nicole melts; there’s no way she could resist that noise or vice grip Waverly has on her belt. Waverly’s need is palpable, and Nicole is mostly relieved for the excuse to abandon thoughts of anything beyond the bedroom door.

“Yeah, yeah it can.”

“Good.” Waverly threads her fingers through Nicole’s curls, gentle with her fingers while the hungry look in her eyes makes it clear her thoughts are anything but.

Nicole’s smile is all the confirmation Waverly needs to finish clawing off her clothes and tumble them onto the bed.

Nicole reaches up to trace the line of Waverly’s choker with a finger. “Can you leave this on?”

Waverly nods. To Nicole’s surprise the pace suddenly slows; instead of the straddle she’s expecting Waverly ends up on her back, drawing Nicole over her.

It’s an invitation, and Nicole loves exploring Waverly this way. Every time she gets drawn into an overwhelming fascination with some small part of Waverly she feels as if it’s a brand new discovery, yet at the same time as connected to her as if Nicole had spent years tracing the faint lines on her skin. She could spend hours, days, tenderly tracing every inch of her neck.

Until Waverly gets impatient and flips her over.

Soon she has Nicole’s legs pushed up, the strained lines of Waverly’s abdomen framed by her thighs. Her hands are desperate, seeking a sense of comfort Waverly knows can’t last, a stability she knows isn’t sure. In the cries and convulsions she draws from Nicole Waverly holds sway as she cannot over anything else. Her family, her life, her attempts to hold onto everything else might break as soon as she grips them but here and now she knows exactly what she holds.

She knows the little noises Nicole makes. She knows the spaces and the touches of her body and the reaction they will draw from Nicole. She knows that she can whisper her hunger and her hopes and her questions and Nicole will reply. She knows that laid out in front of her is a moment that cannot lie, that has no shame, that will hide nothing from her.

She knows that when Nicole is done, and done, and done again, Waverly can curl up on her chest and cry and that Nicole will hold her, silently, and let her.

//

The next day Waverly wakes early and curled around Nicole’s arm, clutching one hand under her chin. The rest of Nicole is sprawled out on her stomach with her remaining limbs flung haphazardly around her bed.

Waverly smiles at the wild abandon Nicole allows herself here, where she’s safe. She begins to trace a finger up the edges of her bicep, nuzzles her shoulder, then presses a kiss to her cheek and is rewarded with a sleepy mumble.

“Morning, love,” Waverly murmurs, sliding a hand across Nicole’s stomach. Nicole makes another wordless noise, still half-held by sleep. Waverly kisses up her neck, but Nicole’s eyes don’t open until she bites her ear.

Gasping, Nicole arches her neck back in surprise. “You minx!”

“Ah, there you are,” Waverly crows as she shifts to lean over Nicole. She plants one hand on the other side of Nicole’s head as she leans down for a kiss. Nicole responds slowly at first, then more passionately as she rises out of sleep. Once Waverly is satisfied she’s successfully and fully woken Nicole, they break apart.

Nicole glances at the window at the grey half-light. “Mmmm...what time is it?”

“Early.” Waverly rolls back off Nicole to lie on her side, propped up on one arm, letting the other hand trace gentle strokes up and down Nicole’s arm. “Plenty of time until you have to go to work.”

Nicole stretches out the tiredness from her limbs and smirks at Waverly. “So that’s why you woke me up, huh?”

“That…’ Waverly ducks her head a little with an answering grin, “And I kind of derailed you last night. You wanted to talk about something.”

“Oh, yeah…” Nicole’s smile fades as she collapses down from her stretch. She takes a deep breath in and her face forms a serious expression that immediately worries Waverly. “Waves…. God, I don’t know where to start…”

This woman that Nicole fallen for so hard and so fast for… dear, sweet Waverly, with so much love and hope blazing inside her Nicole was amazed she didn’t melt the snow under her feet, would do anything to protect those she loved. She had given up Peacemaker, nearly lost Wynonna, had thrown herself into danger over and over again. What would she do if - when - Nicole told her everything? When the time came… would Waverly be able to accept the truth? Or would she just keep fighting?

Nicole has just taken another deep breath, steeling herself to begin, when Wynonna bangs loudly on the door and then busts in without waiting for a reply. She’s half-dressed herself, in the same clothes she’d been wearing the previous day.

“Wake up, sleepy heads, we got demons to kill!”

“Wynonna!” Waverly scolds as Nicole yanks as much of the sheet as she can up over herself.

“Sorry baby girl, no time.” Wynonna pulls Nicole’s hat off the doorknob and throws it at her. “Get dressed, let’s go!”

“You’re the worst, Earp!” Nicole throws back at Wynonna as she strides back out.

“The absolute worst,” Waverly agrees as she rolls over and nuzzles her way into the hollow of Nicole’s throat.

//

Nicole’s squad car screams along with the lights blaring through the empty morning streets. Normally having Wynonna in the passenger seat is like having a dog that howls along to the radio and then tries to climb out the window at every light you stop at, but this morning she’s different. Peacemaker is resting on one leg, the other bouncing with suppressed anxiety.

Wynonna needs to kill something.

The gunfight is already in full swing by the time Nicole screeches to a halt outside the farm. Doc and Dolls have the outlaws pinned down behind a barn, the other side of the yard from their horses, but they are equally pinned down in a ditch.

Nicole pushes the door open to crouch behind it, muzzle of the gun through the open window.

“Okay Wynonna, I’m covering you. Get over there!”

As soon as Wynonna rolls out of the car Waverly runs up behind her, taking up position near the front tire so she can add her fire to Nicole’s. Wynonna half runs, half waddles around the back of the car, crouched over and cursing her swollen belly, to the ditch Doc and Dolls are firing from. She screeches as she slides in next to them and then lies in the ditch panting while she waits for the dizziness to subside.

“Earp!” Dolls yells at her without looking away from the shots he’s taking. “You all right?”

“Fine, fine, except I’ve got grass in my thong, again… hey, Doc! You decided to join us!

Doc drops into the ditch to reload and turns to grin at her. “Can’t let you have all the fun now can I?”

Later, she will get the truth out of him but for now, Wynonna laughs.

Suddenly an ear-splitting whistle rends the air and interrupts the gunfight. The milling horses turn and charge across the open yard towards the sound. Keeping low to their mounts as cover, the outlaws leap on and gallop away, pursued by a few last hopeful shots.

A lucky bullet from Dolls manages to knock one off his horse but the rest get away, disappearing in the fog. Nicole rushes over to the figure, lying winded on his back, and levels her shotgun threateningly at him.

Focused on the outlaw, Wynonna swats at Dolls when he offers to help her out of the ditch. She flicks off his hat with the end of her Peacemaker’s barrel then keeps it pointed at him while Dolls pulls off the scarf tied around his head to reveal a boy’s face, too young to have started shaving. Wynonna briefly thinks he looks barely old enough to be in high school before Peacemaker lights up in her hands.

“Shit monkeys. He’s a child.” Wynonna starts to shake. “Fucking hell; he’s a child! I can’t shoot a child!”

Dolls says hesitantly, “Wynonna, his eyes…”

“I know.” Wynonna gets her hands under control long enough to ease the hammer forwards, slipping Peacemaker back into her holster with exaggerated care. “I know.”

“His friends will come looking for him,” Doc says.

“Good. I’m counting on it.”