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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.”

Chapter Text

Night duty was never the most thrilling job. There’s only so many times drumming along to Stomping Ground is going to feel like a legit highlight of the hour. It’s ridiculous that the radio is the only thing that works this far out of town. What’s the point in having data in a place where the cell phone reception barely stretches beyond the town borders?

So when the ground forty feet from his cubicle begins to lift, the man whose name tag incorrectly identifies him as Phil has had nothing better to watch since a porcupine waddled past five hours ago.

A thing shaped like a man rises out of the disturbed ground. He looks as if he’s got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. With a left arm that abruptly ends below the elbow and skin the colour of a bogey, he mostly doesn’t look threatening at all. Except for the eyes.

Those eyes are frozen.

The creature jerks his way towards the fence, throwing his body into each step. The cubicle is sound proof but the vehement growls he’s making don’t seem to care about small laws of physics. Or the notion of a functioning mouth. The whole creature ignores the ten foot high chain link fence as well, letting it melt around his skin when he walks into it and then out into the dark.

Well, the job description only said stop people getting in; said nothing about demons getting out.

The man who isn’t Phil turns back to his radio, which has annoyingly faded to static. He thumps it and curses. Man, even the radio has given out on him now? This town ain't worth shit.

//

At the station Nicole is thinking the same thought about Archie’s smell as she pats him down. The assortment of knives, bits of leather, string, moldy jerky and rusty tinder box might be gross, but they’re not surprising; the strange, glowing device in his inner pocket is.

“What is this?”

“Dunno,” he replies sullenly.

“Look, hot shot, you can either tell me what this is or - “

Nicole’s threat is cut off when she disappears in a cloud of red smoke.

“Nicole!” Waverly screams and runs into the smoke.

She’s only just got Nicole back, dammit! Between widow venom and alternate worlds and apocalyptic demon awakenings they have barely had one good night together in far too long. The forces of evil have got another thing coming if they think today is the day they’re going to take away another person she loves.

When the smoke fades Waverly’s still panicked, hunting, but also trying to push off an over-zealous Irish setter who’s trying to get her attention.

Waverly grabs hold of Archie’s collar and yanks him close, somehow managing to be even more terrifying for the fact that she’s looking up at him. “What did you do to her?! What did you do?!”

“Uh, Waverly…” Dolls points at the dog, which has picked up Nicole’s hat.

Waverly’s hands unclench from Archie’s clothes and they all stare at the dog for a long moment.

“Nicole?” Waverly asks weakly.

The dog drops the hat and barks, once, then sits down very carefully, eyes fixed on Waverly.

“Oh no. No no no.” This time when Waverly grabs hold of Archie she slams him into the wall so hard he bites his own tongue. “Undo it!”

Archie spits out blood. “I don’t know - ow! - get off me, I don’t know!”

“Waverly, that’s enough!” Doc pulls her off him, wrapping his arms around her chest to try and stop her getting at Archie while Dolls takes the revenant off to the lock up. With Wynonna’s help Doc half-drags Waverly into the BBD offices, cursing all the way.

Jeremy jumps up from behind his desk. “Oh good, you’re back - what’s happened?”

“Little bit of a setback - ooof - with the whole sneak attack plan,” Wynonna tells him.

Waverly fights free from Doc’s grasp. “Setback?! Wynonna, THEY TURNED MY GIRLFRIEND INTO A DOG.”

“Yeah, but she’s a good dog. Ow!” The setter growls quietly while Wynonna cradles the hand she’d nipped.

Waverly drops to her knees and the dog immediately trots over to her. Fighting back tears, Waverly holds out a hand and Nicole presses her head against Waverly’s palm.

“We’re gonna fix this, baby, I promise.”

“Yeah, we will,” Wynonna agrees. “But to do that, we need information which we’re not gonna get out that revenant by bashing his head against the wall.”

“Look who’s talking,” Waverly mutters bitterly.

“Hey!” Wynonna protests. “That was low.”

“I’m sorry, Wynonna. Just… get her back, okay?”

“Always.”

//

When Wynonna enters the cell block Archie’s slumped against one wall, still spitting blood.

“You come to kill me, then?” His voice is full of bravado, but there’s a slight tremble to his lip that betrays his front.

“No. I’ve come to ask for your help.”

Archie scoffs. “That’s a good one.”

“Look, you little shit, I mean it. I’m not gonna kill you.” She comes up to the bars so Archie can see her clearly; she needs him to believe this even more than she does herself. “I’ve found another way. A way to break this curse without shooting any more revenants.”

He looks up from the floor. “You really mean that, don’t you?”

“Two hundred per cent.”

Archie meets her eyes and Wynonna knows he believes her, feels a surge of hope, but then he looks away.

“Aw, c’mon, don’t hold out on me here.”

“It’s not me. It’s my brothers. They won’t listen, they never listen. It was Alan who got us into this whole mess in the first place, him and his whole ‘easy living’.”

“Alan’s one of the revenants riding with you?”

“He’s my brother. Him and Charlie, we all ran off but it was Alan’s idea. He’s in charge, keeps us all safe up in the mountains. Ain’t no Earps ever got up as far as our trails. But this new one, he said...:” His words fade away when his eyes are drawn to the gun on Wynonna’s hip.

“Yep, that’s Peacemaker. So what did your brother say about me? And what has this got to do with Nicole?”

“Nicole? Who’s Nicole?”

“Officer Haught.” Wynonna gestures back towards the break room. “You turned her into a dog.”

Archie ducks his head down again. “That - that wasn’t meant for her.”

“Who was it meant for?”

He laughs, giving Wynonna a look as if she’s being immensely stupid. “You.”

//

“Wynonna!” Waverly’s stops pacing and rushes to her side. “Did he say anything?”

“Lots of things. Turns out Nicole took a hit for me again.” Wynonna collapses into a chair and aims a glare at Nicole, trying to pass off her exhaustion as exasperation. “You gotta stop doing that, man.”

Dolls leans forward, concerned. “What do you mean, took a hit?”

“That spell was meant for me. You were right, Jeremy, it was a trap.”

“Yes!” Jeremy fist pumps, overjoyed to have been proven right, but then immediately deflates when everyone glares at him. “Okay, timing, got it.”

Dolls turns back to Wynonna. “So the spell was meant for you… why? What would they gain by turning you into a dog?”

“Can’t fire a gun without hands. They figured it would take me out long enough so they could hand me over.”

“To who?”

“They called her the ‘Silver Witch’, Archie says, but he never saw her. Says it was his brother who met with her, made all the arrangements. He wasn’t even sure what the spell would actually do until it happened.”

“He said anything else about this Silver Witch?” Doc asks.

“No, nothing.” Wynonna turns to Waverly. “But maybe if you can find his brother, get me a mug shot…?”

Waverly grabs her notepad and pen. “Did he give you any names?”

“McLean. Allan and Charlie. And Archie.”

“McLean, McLean... “ Jeremy mutters as he heads off into one of the back rooms.

“Okay, thanks for sharing,” Wynonna calls out to his retreating back.

Wynonna thumps the table in frustration and accidently knocks off a box full of office supplies, which scatter and clatter across the floor. Nicole springs forward as if she’d sat on a pin, ears flat back in terror as she shoots off on terrified instinct. Claws scrabble on linoleum and she falls, ends up half-sliding through the door into the back room. Jeremy screeches, followed by a series of loud crashes which end when a shelf falls across the doorway.

“Oops,” Wynonna shrugs, in the most casual voice.

“I’M OKAY,” Jeremy yells from the back room.

Dolls has barely moved during the commotion, beyond a single, weary sigh. “Okay, we definitely can’t keep her here.”

“Where, then?” Wynonna asks.

“The homestead. It’s the safest place.”

Nicole re-appears, ruffled, to growl at Doll’s suggestion. She then drops a set of car keys in Waverly’s lap, making the smallest of smiles appear on her face. “Okay, but no chasing Calamity Jane, got it?”

To her surprise Nicole sets up barking, jumping around in front of Waverly, blocking her from leaving.

“What? What? What does this mean? You bring me keys but then don’t wanna go?” Waverly sinks down to her knees and drops the keys. She grabs hold of Nicole, and presses their heads together as if trying to create telepathy from sheer will. Nicole nudges repeatedly at Waverly, trying to reassure her.

“Those are my keys,” Dolls says as he picks them up.

"This is ridiculous. We need a better way to talk to Nicole than this.” Wynonna runs her hand through her hair, clutching a handful just to have something to hold tight. Wynonna curses internally; this whole situation is going completely tits up.

“One for yes, two for no” Waverly murmurs, getting a quiet ‘wuff’ of agreement from Nicole.

“Okay, great, yes and no,” Wynonna seizes the step forward like it’s her last remaining whiskey bottle. “So, you wanna go back to the homestead?”

Two barks.

“Well then where? Wait, that’s not a yes or no. Your place?” Two barks. “Nedley’s?” Two barks. “Shorty’s?” Two barks. “The farm?” One bark.

Dolls barely supresses a smirk. “No offense Doc, but she probably is the best tracker we’ve got right now.”

Doc inclines his head. “None taken.”

“Ugh, fine,” Wynonna clenches her fingers into fists in frustration. “We’ll take Haught-dog back to the farm and see if we can pick up the trail, Waverly, you and Jeremy - “

“Books, research. Got it.” Waverly hugs Nicole, hard but brief, then picks up her notes and heads after Jeremy.

“I’ll stay here,” Dolls says to Wynonna while Doc’s re-stocking on bullets. “Someone’s got to make sure Waverly doesn’t flay Archie alive.”

“I heard that!” Waverly calls from the back room.

Waverly never hears what they don’t say - that Waverly needs protection far more than Archie does.

//

Dolls’ suburban might purr smoothly down tarmac streets but Nicole still struggles to get comfortable in the back. She tries sitting up but falls down at each turn and stop so she gives up and just lies down on the seat. Car sickness had never been a problem for her before, but by the time they’ve bumped up every pothole in the mile long driveway Nicole wants nothing more than to bust out the back door and cling to firm, unmoving ground.

“Okay…” Wynonna glances down at Nicole, who has managed her breathing under control. “So, how does this work?”

“Dogs go off smell,” Doc says, crouching down to be level with Nicole. “You remember the Jack of Knives case?” Nicole barks, once. Doc smiles and pulls a worn leather glove out his pocket. “This is Archie’s. Close your eyes, smell deeply...is there anything around here that smells like that?”

Nicole places her nose close to the glove, closes her eyes and snuffles deeply. For a moment it seems as if she might be getting something but then she leaps back, sneezing violently.

Doc chuckles. “I guess he smells even riper to you.”

Nicole sneezes and shakes her head for a good minute, trying to rid herself of the overpowering odor. Once she’s got herself back under control she starts sniffing around. Tentatively at first she begins to sniff things, having a couple more sneezing fits when she gets too close to a too strong smell. She hunts all around the barnyard but finds nothing. After almost ten minutes of searching, Wynonna starts to fidget.

Wynonna sidles up to Doc and tries to casually whisper, ”You sure this is a good idea?”

Unfortunately, Nicole hears her and turns her head to stare reproachfully at Wynonna.

“Okay, sorry, I was just saying.”

“Tracking is a skill. Nicole has the tools she needs, but not the experience to use them.”

“Okay then, next time we’ll ask the creepy demons to turn you into a dog instead.”

“That is one option, but I think I may be able to help without such drastic measures.” Doc walks out of the barnyard and off down the drive, ending for the edge of the field.

“What now?” Wynonna throws her arms out in exasperation, then gives a resigned sigh and waddles off after him, quickly overtaken by Nicole.

“Hoofprints. They will not take us far, but maybe far enough away for Nicole to be able to discern the scent we are searching for.”

He looks down at Nicole, who has already begun canvassing the new ground.

“Speaking of far… where were you yesterday?”

Doc doesn’t look at her, doesn’t reply, but before Wynonna can press him for an answer Nicole has shot off at a purposeful trot, nose to the ground, and Doc jogs after her.

“Can you slow down?!” Wynonna yells after them, then drops her voice. “Jeez, it’s not like I didn’t just shove a whole person out my vagina.”

//

“Hey, look at this.” Jeremy slides his laptop over the table so Waverly can see the screen. “Doesn’t that look like - “

“The charms on Wynonna’s chain,” Waverly finishes, eyes fixed on the page Jeremy’s found. “Mati. Wards against the Evil Eye… sounds like a pretty smart idea to me.”

“They’re Greek. Just like the engraving on the key. Has Wynonna ever been to Greece?”

“Yeah, that’s where she was right before - “

Waverly is suddenly knocked off her chair and out of sight by a ginger blur. Jeremy screams and jumps up, but when he finally manages to find his gun and get it pointing in the right direction he realises Waverly is laughing and hugging a now stationary Nicole.

“You’re an idiot,” Waverly tells her.

“She knocked over Lonnie on her way in,” Wynonna says as she and Doc walk in the door, “And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an accident.”

Waverly clambers to her feet. “Find anything?”

“Nope. You?”

“Cracked the case twenty minutes after you left.“

“Smart-ass,” Wynonna snipes as Waverly leads her over to the mess of newspapers and print-outs that covers the table.

“Allan, Charles, and Archie.” Waverly points out each photo in turn. “Hanged in 1881 for murdering the police officers that were sent to arrest them, along with their friend Alex Hare. Wyatt led the posse that eventually brought them in.”

“No silver witches?”

“Nope. But we did find the cabin they were living in when they were captured. It’s just the other side of the B.C. border.”

“Definitely a smart-ass.”

//

The cabin turns out to be a one room shack in the woods, easily surrounded. Dolls, Jeremy, Doc, Waverly, Nicole and Wynonna appear out of the woods, spread out in a steadily advancing crescent. They are all armed to the teeth, in Nicole’s case literally. Two of the revenants are outside, cooking over an open fire, and immediately throw up their hands.

Wynonna is almost disappointed by the lack of fight. It’s rude to get a girl’s blood up then pussy out like that.

Suddenly two quicks shots crack the air. A man, older than the others, steps into the clearing with a pistol raised; this must be Allan.

But it’s not Wynonna who takes him down.

Peacemaker might send the the Revenants to hell but that would be letting them off easily compared to Waverly when she’s wielding a shotgun with that much rage. Allan is on the ground clutching his stomach before he can fire off a third round.

Wynonna stands over him. “Tell me how to turn Nicole back, and I’ll let you and your brothers go.”

“I don’t make deals with Earps.” Allan spits in her face.

Wynonna takes a deep, steadying breath, and wipes the spit off her face. “Not the sharpest egg in the attic, are you?”

“Huh?”

Wynonna lines Peacemaker up with his forehead. “Those are shit last words.”

Once the fires have faded, Wynonna turns. “Do you two make deals with Earps?”

They practically fall over each other to promise they’ll tell her anything she wants.

“The Silver Witch?”

“We never saw her, never. Allan went, said he had to go alone or she wouldn’t give us what we wanted. Said you have to do exactly what the Silver Witch says or she won’t give you her gift.”

“Well now you have to do what I say. Turn. Nicole. Back.”

“The other one’s in my pocket. Just touch it to her to her skin.”

Keeping his gun trained on the revenant, Doc reaches into his pocket and pulls out a device almost exactly like the one Archie had had. This time, the smoke is blue.

Wynonna helps Nicole up. “Welcome back to two amazing legs.”

Legs which she’s only just got under her when Waverly almost knocks Nicole over again. She might be short but Waverly’s made of muscle and hits hard.

“Don’t you dare to do that again,” Waverly says hoarsely into Nicole’s throat, her hands scrunching a tight hold of the back of Nicole’s shirt.

Nicole chuckles and runs a hand comfortingly down the back of Waverly’s head. “I’ll do my best.”

Waverly grabs hold of Nicole’s collar, and pounces. Really, there’s no other word for it. Waverly’s lips are on hers, her hands are clutching around Nicole’s neck, all of the desperation and anxiety channeled into a feverish kiss that Nicole returns enthusiastically.

And keeps returning, not caring in the slightest about the two revenants, Doc, Jeremy, Dolls or Wynonna.

Wynonna clears her throat, quietly at first, then louder. Completely lost to the world, Waverly is considering jumping into Nicole’s arms to spare her toes when Wynonna hits her in the head with Doc’s hat.

“So how was being a dog?” she asks Nicole loudly.

“The worst. I couldn’t see anyone’s face, the ground stinks and everyone kept patting me on the head.”

Waverly drops down but stays pressed close to Nicole. “Poor baby.”

“Next time, tell the evil sons of bitches to turn me into a cat. Cat.”

“So… home?” Waverly asks, teasing the zipper of Nicole’s shirt.

“Station. I just… I need to debrief the Sheriff real quick. He gets cranky if don’t let him know when, y’know, we actually solve the cases.”

//

Waverly’s always thought the police station was extra creepy in the evenings, even more so than at the dead of night. Somehow the sound of the last few cops gathering the things they didn’t take to happy hour is more disturbing than the dead silence of nobody at all. Still, it does have internet so she can brush up her Greek mythology while she waits for Nicole.

“Waves, can we talk now?”

“Yeah of course…” Waverly spins round, smile fading to concern when she sees the furrow across Nicole’s head and the way she’s sliding the rim of her hat anxiously between her fingers. “Baby, what’s wrong?”

Nicole doesn’t answer, instead jerks her head towards Nedley’s office, leading Waverly in and then shutting the door behind them.

“Remember what Wynonna said? About flushing our secrets? Well, I want to. I’ve been trying to, but then the baby, and demons, and Wynonna, and I got turned into a dog…”

“Yeah, that sucked.”

“But I need to tell you the truth. About…. Everything. No more lies. Just...remember that I love you, okay?”

“Nicole, you’re scaring me.”

Waverly reaches out to curl fingers gently around one of Nicole’s hand, seeking the reassurance she knows her touch can bring. Nicole’s hand squeezes back, but her words drive forwards.

“I’m scared, too. But not as scared as I was… in the hospital. I thought I was going to die… So I told Dolls everything. Where I came from, why I came here.”

*

Dolls comes striding in the room, neatly lassoing an attending. He flicks his badge around to browbeat the physician into answering his questions, and then fleeing the room to leave Nicole alone with him. Through the pain of the Widow’s poison she sits up, desperate. It's now or never.

“Dolls… come here. I have to… tell you...”

Dolls places his hand on her shoulder and firmly pushes her back down. “You have to save your strength.”

“No. You don’t underst… this is important.”

Just like when she’d last looked up at Dolls from a hospital bed, she is so shaken her old accent comes flooding back, taking over her voice. It hovers at the edge of her throat, threatening to give her away every time she touches fear. This time, instead of praying that no-one notices the twang that has no business coming out of an Albertan’s mouth, she lets the memories come flooding back. Between choking back the pain and gasps for breath, she forces her story out.

“The Cult… Cult of Bulshar… they came to my town. They killed my family, my fiancee… everyone. I came home and there was nothing but bodies… bodies everywhere. No one. No one was alive. They’d killed the horses, the dogs… It was just me.

And Her. She said they… they’d been looking for something. A talisman… it would help bring their master back. They couldn’t find it, but…. She offered me a deal. A way to make sure... that never happened... to anyone else’s home.”

“Nicole…” Dolls leans forward, a note of suspicion tinged with threat in his voice. “Where was your home?”

“Vidal… California.”

Dolls knocks back hard against his chair. “But that was…”

“1932,” Nicole finishes for him.

“I’ve seen that case file. There were no survivors.”

“I wasn’t exactly a survivor. She gave me… ring…it's in my jacket...” Nicole lets her head fall back against the pillow, concentrating on breathing through the pain while Dolls retrieves the ring. “I came here for - for answers…but it doesn’t matter, now. They need it, you need it. I know you’ll… have to test it… but if Wynonna’s gonna... fight him, she’s gonna need every bit of help she can get.”

Dolls stares at her for a moment, weighing her story, then drops her ring into a pocket. “I’ll order a tox screen. It’ll put you in a coma, slow the poison. We’re not giving up on you.”

Nicole nods agreement, but without much conviction. “Waverly, I have to see Waverly…”

*

“Well…” Nicole finishes lamely, “You remember the rest.”

“Huh.” Waverly’s breath comes shakily, and voice has a stunned, dreamy quality to it. “So you’re like… almost a hundred years old?”

“Yup.”

“That’s so weird.”

Nicole grimaces. “Yuuup.”

“Why… how come you’re only just telling me this?”

“I - I just - I’d been so focused on getting answers…getting into Black Badge, with all their resources, that was the strongest lead I’d found since I got here, but then... I guess I was way too used to doing things on my own. I’d kept all this secret for so long that I didn’t really know how to not keep it any more. I was stupid, and I thought I needed to do this on my own, and I was wrong.”

Nicole reaches for Waverly, hoping beyond hope but Waverly clenches up, fastening her arms down around her body, and Nicole falters. She’d known this was never going to go well but she couldn’t keep lying, couldn’t keep telling herself it was protecting the woman she loves. Not now she knows she can’t.

“Waves….”

“I - I need some air.”

Waverly walks out of the office in a haze, and Nicole lets her go, feeling cursed in a way she hasn’t in a long time.

//

Wynonna wanders into the department a few hours later to find Nicole still at work, a single lamp shining forlornly on her desk.

“Hey, Haught-stuff. What’re you still doing here? Woulda figured you and Waverly would be off celebrating… y’know, the human-ness of you.”

“I think she’s gone home,” Nicole says without looking up.

“Alone? Shit. What happened now?” Wynonna comes around the desk to lean against a table near Nicole. “I thought you guys were good.”

“I - we are - I don’t wanna talk about it. Dolls drove her home.”

“Okay then. Wanna talk about raiding Nedley’s stash instead?” Wynonna suggests.

Nicole sucks in a breath. Damn it all, she decides, after the day she’s had that sounds like one hell of a good idea.

“I’ll get his office key.”

//

“Hoo,” Wynonna shakes the whiskey fumes from her head and hands the remaining third of the bottle to Nicole. “I haven’t got good and drunk in far too long.”

“Well at least this time I’m not drinking for two.”

“Nope, but apparently you’re still in trouble. C’mon, Haught, spill your beans.”

With her jaw clenched, Nicole eases the ring off her finger and hands it to Wynonna. “Looks familiar?”

Wynonna stares at the ring, scowling. Why had Nicole handed it to her? Waverly said she’d finalised her divorce, so it couldn’t be - “Oh my god… you too?!”

Nicole nods.

“Is everyone a supernatural weirdo?!?” Wynonna grabs the bottle and practically throws it down her throat.

“Nedley,” Nicole announces, making a couple of abortive attempts to grab the bottle before actually getting hold of it. “I’m pretty sure Nedley is human.”

“Waverly freaked out, huh?”

“Big time.”

“She’ll come round, Haught-stuff. A little age gap isn’t gonna get in the way of you two for long.”

Nicole chuckles, but Wynonna has knocked her own thoughts down a completely different track. The age gap was a hurdle she and Doc had jumped long ago, but now they’re up against a wall that looks far too high to cross. She pushes Nicole’s ring desultorily around her hand.

“Trouble with the mustache?”

“There’s something he’s keeping from us. From me. I know he’s… hurting. But he won’t even… we haven’t even…” Wynonna looks on the verge of tears.

“Hey, Earp.” Nicole punches her lightly in the arm. “It’s okay to, y’know, not be. Okay?”

“No, it’s not.” She keeps rolling the ring around her hand. “Never thought I’d have kids, y’know? The way I grew up… I swore I’d never do that, never put anyone through that. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t right…”

The tears are coming now, but not the sobs. Wynonna cries quietly, letting the pain roll slowly down her face. She cries in her own space, tightly contained. Neither looking for or expecting comfort, so Nicole just scoops her close. Wynonna’s head rest on her shoulder and one hand grips Nicole’s arm but it’s different, oh so different from holding Waverly. Waverly is an active hugger and grips, tightly, grabbing hold of every bit of comfort while she can. Wynonna hovers, as if she never believed she deserved the comfort in the first place, lost inside an act she doesn’t fully understand.

“You listen to me, Wynonna. You are kick-ass awesome and a million times better than that idiot, and you are gonna win. I know you can do anything, and you’re gonna shoot Bulshar in his stupid demon head and end this curse once and for all and then, well I’ll wrap and slap Doc if that’s what it takes to get him to talk to you. You hear me? We’re gonna win.”

//

In the depths of the mountains, far beyond the McLeans’ ramshackle cabin, a single red light wavers in the darkness. The trees here loom over the floor of their forest. The peaks cut abruptly into the air, splintering the canopy.

A single grey figure makes his slow way toward the light. The snow freezes hard under his feet, but leaves no tracks. A woman opens the door and looks up at the demon, neither surprised or afraid. Four thick lines of silver cut their way through the black of her hair. She’s small, slim, light enough to lift with a single hand, but there’s power there. Power in anger.

“Shadow Lord. I heard you rise… What gift would you ask of me?”

When Bulshar speaks his voice is the rattle of bones and chains, the howl of wind on empty ice, the silence of the grave. He only says one word.

“Waverly.”

Chapter Text

In towns that aren’t Purgatory, the creaking of an old house in the night would just be caused by the settling boards on the landing. In other towns, the wind blowing down the street is just a spring frost, a brief cold reminder of a winter that’s almost done. In other towns, that scratching at the window is just branches waving in the wind. In other towns midnight hides all manner of sins but the evil hiding in those shadows is human.

Anywhere other than Purgatory, the figure that appears in the doorway wouldn’t make icicles appear on the inside of the window.

“Dad, that you? The light won’t turn on. Dad?”

There are no screams.

//

Wynonna bounces up to the yellow and black tape, earning herself several disapproving glances. No-one should be that eager at a crime scene, but Wynonna is chomping too hard at the bit to notice their looks. She just needs a lead. Doesn’t matter what, so long as it feels as if she’s going somewhere instead of sitting on her ass at the station.

“Morning Officer! What’ve we got?”

Nicole is looking distinctly less upbeat. A short night’s sleep alone followed by a Wynonna level hangover is clearly disagreeing with her, and the other scene officers are giving her a wide berth.

“Not a hundred percent sure, but it definitely comes under wacky. Three deceased. Neighbour found them when he came round to carpool, still in their beds. No signs of forced entry or a struggle. It’s as if they were just avada kedavra’d in their sleep.”

Dolls drops the sheet that had been partially covering one of the bodies. “They were drained of blood.”

“Like vampires!?” Wynonna’s eyes practically pop out her head with excitement. “We finally got fucking vampires?!”

Nicole feels her brows knit; sometimes Wynonna is too into her job. “Wynonna, three people are dead.”

“Yeah, sorry, that was... Sorry. But still, vampires. Pretty cool.”

//

Wynonna swans into the Black Badge office, fully embracing the idea of distracting herself from her problems.

“Have we ever got a case you can sink your teeth into,” she announces, earning herself a disapproving look from Dolls. “What? I held off on some truly great dog puns yesterday, you are not taking this one away from me too.”

“Either of you gonna explain?” Waverly asks.

Wynonna sits down opposite her, looking as if her birthday has come early. “Vampires.”

“No way!”

“Yes way."

“Wow.”

Dolls’ expression has shifted rapidly to disturbed. “Okay, you two are definitely due another psych eval.”

“Oh c’mon you know I always fail those things. So, what can you tell me about vampires?”

“Waaay too much,” Waverly replies. “There are hundreds of vampire legends stretching back almost as far as the written record. Trying to pin down which myth is the actual demon we’ve got…”

“Fang in a haystack. Got it.”

“Maybe if I could take a look at the bodies, help narrow it down from the bite marks…?” Waverly suggests.

“There were no bite marks,” Dolls tells her. “None of the victims had any wounds on them, they were just… drained.

Waverly blinks, taken aback. “Huh. That’s weird.”

“Nicole should be bringing the bodies in just about now, maybe you can still get something…” Wynonna says, laying her suggestive undertone on so thickly it’s more of an overtone.

Waverly looks at her hands, folded in her knees, giving Wynonna a brief window to attempt subtly shooing Dolls out of the room. Of course the subtle fails, and leaves Wynonna offering a apologetic grin to Waverly.

“Nicole told me about her, y’know, whole deal,” Wynonna explains. “You okay baby girl?

“I don’t know. I just can’t believe she kept something so huge from me all this time.”

“Probably a whole bunch of stupid reasons being stupid. She might be pretty brave but - that's some scary shit. Do I have to get all mushy again and tell you how head over sensibly flat shoes she is with you?”

“No, I’m not - she’s still my everything, but - why’d everything have to get so… what I am supposed to do about this? The woman I love was born before women were allowed to vote and is never gonna age another day in her life!”

“Yeah but can she set things on fire by breathing on them?”

“No. But - how do I get through this?

“No damn clue but hey, you’re doing a lot better than I am. At least you picked a supernatural sweetie with some staying power.”

“Doc’s being weird, eh?”

“Super fucking weird. Missing meetings, not answering his phone… last time he was this absent he was doing a Walter White in the basement of Shorty’s. You don’t think he’s hiding….?”

“Most definitely not.” Wynonna snaps up to see Waverly's guilty face. “I told him - what Rosita did.”

“You told Doc about Rosita?!?”

“What was I supposed to tell him? Another lie? She fled, Wynonna. Of course he’s gonna notice she’s gone, and you were gone too.”

“Good point,” Wynonna admits. ”Well that would explain the weirdness, yeah.”

“You should talk to him.”

“Me, talk? No, you talk. Go talk to your girlfriend. Talk through it. Please? She looks even more like a kicked puppy than when she was actually a puppy.”

Waverly’s terrified. Talking, she’s going to have to do adult emotion talking. With Nicole. About everything. With feelings. And she really doesn’t want to screw it up. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck McFucknuggets.

//

Waverly makes her way slowly down to the morgue, trying to fight her heart back down into its usual place in her chest rather than scrabbling its way up her spine like it’s trying to.

Nicole looks up from her paperwork at the footsteps and smiles uncertainly. “Hey, you.”

Waverly stops in the doorway, wishing she had her own clipboard to clutch. “Hey.”

They hover awkwardly for several beats.

“So Wynonna says you were bringing in some bodies…?”

“Yes!” Nicole gratefully seizes on the topic. “And it’s not the only attack. There was another report came in this morning from Bragg Creek, almost exactly the same. Entire family, perfectly healthy on day and then overnight… this.”

“It’s horrible. They all had friends, family, lives, and then the next… I can’t imagine.”

“Yeah.” Nicole looks away, towards the bodies but not really seeing them, and Waverly could kick herself. Of course Nicole can imagine.

“Sorry, I mean, of course you…”

“It was a long time ago.”

Waverly huffs with dampened amusement. “That’s an understatement.”

“So... any ideas? About the case?”

“Some. Dolls said there weren’t any bites?”

“No, no injuries at all, which I guess rules out Wynonna’s vampire theory, right?”

“Maybe.” Waverly reaches out to touch one and yanks her hand back as if burned. “Sweet fucktrumpets that’s cold!”

Nicole frowns. “It’s a dead body, of course it’s cold.”

“No, not like this… look!” Waverly shows Nicole her hand which has gone an angry red.

“Waverly! We need to get that under water, now!” Nicole steers Waverly over to a sink and gets the tap running over the burn. She goes to put a comforting hand on Waverly's back, consumed with worry about her injury - then remembers Waverly needs space and drops it sharply.

Nicole takes a deep breath and dives in. “Look, I know you’re gonna need time and space to process this, but when you’re ready…”

Waverly meets Nicole’s eyes, and finds herself smiling. Waverly’s not quite ready to reach out for her, not yet fully finished processing the whole thing in her head, but knows that her mental gymnastics will lead her back to Nicole’s arms. When she does Nicole will be there, waiting patiently, just as she has at every turn Waverly’s made since they met.

“...I just wanna tell you I’m sorry. That none of this changes how I feel about you.”

“It’s… it’s a lot to take in,” Waverly admits. “But, I mean, you’re still you, right? So we’re still... I mean you are still you, no fire breathing, or weird tentacle...?”

“No fire breathing. No tentacle. Just got a few more miles under the hood.”

“Yeah, good. Uh, I should get back upstairs; get going on…” Waverly’s good hand traces circles aimlessly through the air. “But I’ll see you later?”

“Definitely.”

//

It’s the unseasonable chill that’s making him wheeze, Doc lies to himself. Cold always made his breathing harder. The consumption might be back but he’s got time, he’s sure of it.

At least he is until the last cough into his handkerchief leaves a smattering of blood on the white fabric.

He’s so focused on the small red drops that he doesn’t hear the men coming up behind him until they place their hands on his shoulders.

“Doc Holliday,” says the one with the pistol in the small of his back.

“Who’s asking?” he snarls back.

“Oh, not asking.” Another appears in front of him. “We know full well who you are.”

“Frank Stilwell. I should have known you’d surface sooner or later. Come to kill me?”

“That would be sweet vengeance, but no. I’ve come to take you to the boss man.”

“Bobo? Bobo is gone.”

“There’s a new boss man now. And he does not like to be kept waiting.”

Doc has no choice but the let them march him away, back to the trailer park, back to Bobo’s old haunt. But it’s not Bobo who comes out of the van.

“John Henry. It’s been too long.”

“Morgan? Morgan Earp?” Doc says incredulously. “But… how?”

“Same way as every other poor soul chained to this place.”

“But Wyatt would never. He would never have shot you.”

“Shot me?” Morgan laughs. “No, Wyatt never shot me. Didn’t have to. My brother may not have killed me himself, but he sealed my fate the day he made that deal for the McLaury brothers.”

“Wyatt was doing his job, upholding the law. The man that shot you is standing right there!” Doc points at Frank.

“So he is,” Morgan says mildly, “and he has more than paid for his crime, as have we all. Our salvation lies not in fighting battles a century past. We must fight what is here, now! Or it will swallow us all into a hell worse than any we have been to yet.”

“Bulshar.”

“He is our true enemy. We must unite against him - but permitting you to stake my men across the line is a poor way to persuade them away from the demon’s lure.”

“You’re asking me to back down?”

“Let me do my work in peace. You will not find us ungrateful when the time comes.”

Doc considers for a long pause, staring into a face he knew long ago and wondering if he trusts it still. “One condition. When Rosita surfaces…”

“She is yours.”

They shake, worn leather slapping together.

//

“Y’know, figuring out that these vampire things are rising spirits is all good on the book front until it’s us out here freezing our asses off waiting for the damn thing to actually rise.” Wynonna is perched on a gravestone, clutching her coat around her and swinging her legs in poorly masked irritation. “How long do we gotta stay here anyway?”

“Until something comes out of a grave. Or Dolls and Nicole tell us they found it at the other graveyard.”

“Booring. So. How did your talk with Nicole go?

“Good, good, good good… I kinda chickened out.”

“Waverly!” Wynonna slaps her on the shoulder.

“What? There were all those dead people, and then I started thinking about all those families, and then Nicole’s family, and it’s so horribly sad, and how much more is there I don’t I know about her?”

“But isn’t that what a relationship’s supposed to be about? Finding out those things. I mean, I’d been screwing around with Dolls for weeks before I found out he likes to sleep with his socks on.”

Waverly laughs. “Really?”

“Yeah, he says his feet get cold. And then he got one out and poked me with it to show me. Those things are icicles, man.”

“Nicole’s feet are warm,” Waverly murmurs with a small smile.

Wynonna pretends to vomit. “Yeah, I know, you guys are perfect. So why are you here with me instead of Nicole and her toaster tootsies?”

“Easier said than done.”

“So - just do. Bite the bullet, seize the day, go forth, grab the… whatever you wanna grab - ”

“I get the idea, you can stop now,” Waverly chuckles.

Their laughter carries across the still graveyard and out through the fence to watching eyes, cold and piercing in the dark. Bulshar stalks forward, hissing Waverly’s name. His prey, so close. All that power, his for the taking. He can feel it now, what Robert had promised; everything his new wife should be, taken from the woman who had stolen his wives from him. Just a few more steps, through that arch and…

It burns!

The symbols carved in the stone arch burst with orange light and Bulshar staggers backwards, one hand raised protectively against the seal that barrs him from the graveyard.

He arrives back at the Silver Witch’s cabin empty handed and hungry.

“You have wasted an entire night’s feeding with your greed!” The witch scolds. “You need more strength before you can take on the Earp heir. The spirits I have raised and the bodies they have drained will not keep her occupied for long. Then even she will be able to tell your kills apart. We have both waited long years for revenge on the Earps; it will come. You must be patient, lord - Waverly will be yours.”

//

Dolls and Nicole had drawn the graveyard closest to the station; a lucky chance that lets them turn the early hours of the morning into a short, desperate, caffeine fueled symposium.

Nicole throws the file down on the desk. “None of this makes any sense!”

“It’s a mass murdering demonic cult. I’m not sure how much sense you were expecting,” Dolls answers dryly.

“No, that’s not what I meant.” Nicole grabs the papers and begins to array each example as she talks about it. “The timeline of events just doesn’t fit, like there’s pieces missing. They’ve got detailed reports about Bulshar’s cult in Purgatory, and the photos and cover up from Vidal, but nothing before or after. I really doubt they sprang out nowhere and then just meekly went home afterwards.”

“Moody did say that was just what he was able to get out for me. No-one ever said it was a complete file.”

“Well it’s the parts that are missing that we need.”

“So let’s go get them,” Dolls says.

“Go get… are you seriously suggesting we break into Black Badge Headquarters.. again?”

Dolls only has time to nod before Waverly and Wynonna come in, clutching matching Tim Hortons cups. Without a single telltale twitch Dolls slides a file over the one on Bulshar and turns to meet the Earps.

“Anything?”

“Nothing,” Waverly says.

“So we stake out another two graveyards tomorrow, and again the next night until we catch this thing." Wynonna slumps into a chair. "It’s either that, or dig up every dead asshole in Purgatory.”

“That’s it!” Waverly rushes over to sort through the town survey maps they’d been using to locate graveyards, leaving everyone else looking bemused. “We’ve been staking out the largest graveyards, but the largest ones are also the oldest. A person rises again as a vampire within a few weeks of their death. We’re looking in all the wrong places. We should be looking for a fresh grave.”

Wynonna crunches up her face. “Oh, that is more disgusting than what McDonald’s call a salad.”

“Didn’t know you ate salads,” Nicole says.

Wynonna glares at Nicole, then turns back to Waverly. “So, smarty-pants, we find this fresh grave. Then what? How do we know we got the right nasty?

“The body the spirit is rising from will have fresh blood in the heart and liver. We have to exhume and burn both organs.”

“More gross.”

“We should have some shovels in the back,” Nicole says before turning to leave.

Wynonna makes a series of insistent head jerks at Waverly, eventually hissing, “Go after her!”

When she catches up, Waverly takes a steadying breath. “Hey, Nicole…”

“Yeah?” Nicole turns, her voice soft and her face hopeful; Waverly almost freezes up.

“I know, it’s not gonna be easy - gods, when has anything here ever been easy - but I did wanna let you know… I might be finding this hard… doing this all wrong... but; I love you. “

Nicole melts at those words and Waverly reaches out to wrap her hands around Nicole’s, feeling as giddy as the first time they kissed.

“It’s okay to be scared.” Nicole scoops ups and kisses one of Waverly’s hands. “Take all the time you need.”

“Why are you always so nice to me?”

“Mmm, I dunno… maybe this,” Nicole leans in and lightly kisses the corner of Waverly’s mouth.

“What?” Waverly laughs.

“That dimple. That dimple right there. That’s why I’m so nice to you.” Their thumbs play back and forth against each other. “How’s your hand?” Nicole asks, turning it over

“Better - it wasn’t that bad a burn. And I had you to take care of it.”

“For as long as you want me to.”

They grin goofily at each other over their clasped hands. Waverly’s eyes flick down and she swallows the lump in her throat before her heart can use it to catapult her forward.

“Not to be seriously unromantic, but…” Nicole jerks her head towards the gear locker.

“Shovel! Right.”

Digging up a recently buried body was every bit as disturbing as Wynonna had imagined it would be. Watching Waverly cut out a heart and liver from slimy skin was worse. The absolute worst thing was the smell when she burned them.

“Honestly, I don’t know how you do stuff like this without barfing everywhere,” Wynonna says, face pulled into a grimace. “Are we done? Cause I’m going home to have at least six showers.”

“Home,” Waverly repeats to herself.

She pulls out her phone, and taps the little unicorn emoji next to Nicole’s name. If home is what she wants...

//

When Waverly opens the door Nicole steps inside with a tray of cookies and a shy smile.

“You said bring something sweet but they didn’t really hold together without the egg… “

“Cookie smoosh!!” Wynonna yells as runs through the hallway, grabbing the plate en route. “I’ll be taking that!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get it back before she eats all of them,” Waverly says to Nicole.

A gross fascination with the vampire case carries them all through dinner, Calamity Jane curled in Nicole’s lap as a useful distraction when the talk gets overly heated.

Once the dark has fallen and they’re upstairs, Nicole starts to get undressed for bed. Before she can get very far, Waverly comes up behind her and wraps her arms around Nicole’s waist.

“Let me help you.”

Nicole starts to turn, but a gentle pressure at her elbow stops her. Nicole feels her stomach flip; she wants to turn around so badly, to take Waverly in her arms and hold her as if she’ll never let her go, but Waverly clearly wants to hold Nicole there.

Even though Waverly knows what she wants to do, she feels far more nervous than she should be.

Her hands fumble at Nicole's sides. The fabric of her shirt twists and snags in the arcs Waverly’s hands make across her ribs. She knows Nicole; she should know her body and how to connect to her. She wants to connect. Somehow she needs to let herself react and feel that connection, feel the ease that their skin remembers, that her brain is fogging from her. If Waverly can let her body lead the way in, she knows the knot in her mind will ease. She just has to take that first step.

And then, as if she’d been waiting the whole time, Nicole welcomes her in; “I love you.”

Keeping Nicole’s back to her lets Waverly rest her forehead between Nicole’s shoulder blades, undressing her by feel alone. She can feel the little hitches Nicole makes with each button Waverly pops open. She can feel when Nicole arches ever so slightly at the slide of Waverly’s hands across her bare stomach. She can feel, rather than hear, the sharp intake of breath when her hands reach Nicole’s belt buckle.

Nicole’s hands join hers and she turns her head, seeking Waverly. Instead of the kiss Nicole is looking for Waverly turns her attention to the other side of Nicole’s neck. Her lips and tongue follow the line of muscle up to Nicole’s hairline.

“Take your belt off,” Waverly murmurs in her ear and Nicole immediately obeys, letting the leather clatter to the floor.

Only now does Waverly turn her, bringing Nicole round to meet the hungry kiss she’d been yearning for the whole time. Nicole grabs hold and clings to her every bit as tightly as she had the first time Waverly had kissed her, clings to her as if she’s the only thing in the world, clings to her the same way Waverly is clinging to her in return.

“I’ve missed you,” Waverly murmurs into Nicole’s mouth.

There’s a little choke to Nicole’s voice when she says she’s missed Waverly too, but it’s quickly lost in another kiss and the soothing pressure of Waverly’s hand at her neck, in her hair, down across her shoulders to slip the shirt off her back.

She loses Waverly’s mouth and groans in frustration, but Waverly has dropped down to her chest and out of her reach. Waverly is trying to undo Nicole’s pants and tug aside her bra with her teeth at the same time, and is struggling with both. With a soft laugh Nicole undoes her bra clasp and wriggles out of the straps, then holds still to let Waverly finish pulling off her clothes.

Waverly straightens back up, fully intending to return to Nicole’s chest. Instead Nicole backs away to sit on the bed.

“Now you.”

It’s a risky move and Nicole would not be surprised if Waverly baulks. Waverly’s stripped for her before but always unprompted, on her own initiative rather than on request. Nicole waits, patient, naked and open, for Waverly to make her decision.

Waverly holds Nicole’s steady gaze for a moment and it relaxes her. There’s no pressure in Nicole’s eyes, just quiet adoration, and Waverly can give what’s asked but never demanded.

Once the last sock is off Waverly climbs onto Nicole’s lap and smiles down at her, just at the corner of her mouth, an upturn of pleasure unencumbered by fear. Their noses meet, play softly back and forth. Their breaths intermingle in the space that’s about to be a kiss. They stay like that, leaning against each other, seconds ticking by until Waverly closes the last sliver of space to let her lips press gently against Nicole’s.

The urgency between them builds slowly. Teasing, gentle touches trade shivers back and forth, promises and denials tucked in the same turn. Soft fingers up and down the lines of muscle on Waverly’s back. Twists threading their way through Nicole’s curls.

Waverly’s hands move from Nicole’s hair back to her neck and her nails dig in, making Nicole gasp. Her own hands are in the small of Waverly’s back so she yanks Waverly in against her, burying her face in Waverly’s chest. With Nicole’s mouth tracing the curve of her breast Waverly begins to feel a haze slipping its tendrils into her brain, quieting the worries and the anxious voices in the bliss of what Nicole does to her. Waverly’s hips begin to move, a few easy rolls encouraged by the pull of Nicole’s hands.

When Nicole’s thumb brushes the inside of her thigh, Waverly shivers and draws in a staccato breath.

“Waves, hey… You okay?”

“Yeah,” Waverly replies, licking her lips. “I want you.”

“I want you too.” Nicole can’t help the burr in her voice and the way it pitches upwards.

“So take me.”

Nicole takes Waverly’s mouth with her own, sloppy and eager, thumping with the sheer overwhelming joy. They dance back and forth around it, struggle to find it sometimes, but that blunt wanting, that ever-present need that keeps drawing them together is always there. Nicole can feel it stronger than ever as her hand moves between Waverly’s legs. The same knot deep inside her has tied her to Waverly since the first time she saw her and now, with Waverly gasping her name in her ear and tilting her hips down to meet her touch Nicole feels that knot tighten until she could burst. All of her life, everything she’s ever done, seems to pale next to the privilege of loving Waverly like this.

Waverly presses her nose flat against Nicole’s head as she rides her fingers, and wraps her arms around Nicole’s shoulders. She can cling to the woman she loves as Nicole loves her and the years and the questions and the world outside don’t fade but Waverly knows it’s going to be okay. She’s going to be okay - and Nicole’s going to be right there with her, panting in Waverly's ear that she loves her, she loves her.

Nearly an hour later Waverly is half propped against her headboard, Nicole lying between her legs as she twists her hair into short plaits that unravel as soon as she lets them go.

“You need to show me how to do a braid sometime,” Waverly says. “Y’know, like the one you had when your hair was long.”

“You don’t know how to braid your hair?”

“No, I do - but just a normal braid, not from the top of your head.”

“My mother taught me that,” Nicole murmurs.

“Do - do you miss her?”

“Not so much any more. It’s… faded.”

Waverly twirls a thick strand around her finger, pushing down the emotion in her voice. “I guess a lot of things fade out for you, huh?”

“Is that what you’re worried about? That I might let go of you?” Nicole twists up to face Waverly, who just nods. “I’m not leaving you, Waverly Earp. Not ever. Not as long as you don’t want me to.”

“Then I guess you’re stuck with me forever.”

Waverly smiles into Nicole’s mouth as they kiss, a slow press on the brand between them. Forever seems like just enough time to spend like this, with Nicole’s weight against her, with Nicole’s head returning to rest in her lap. Waverly lets the half formed twists bounce apart and just strokes Nicole’s hair. It’s bizarre how fascinating it is to watch her touch lull Nicole’s eyes into a heavy droop, to steadily coax that droop until Nicole’s eyes fall shut.

“This feels nice,” Waverly says. “Y’know, to have everything out in the open?”

All she gets from Nicole is reply is a sleepy murmur of assent.

“There is… one more thing… I should probably tell you - I kissed Rosita."

Nicole shoots up. "You kissed Rosita?"

"It was after the DNA test, before the whole trophy spell and… You're immortal!" Waverly flings back.

"Fair enough," Nicole shrugs, mentally easing her stomach back down from panic stations. That was mean trick, jumping that on her when she was all relaxed. Two can play at that game… “But - I do have another confession to make.”

Waverly looks aghast. “No.”

Nicole grins like a pumpkin. “I love you.”

“Oh you big butt!” Waverly slaps her. “Don’t do that to me!”

Nicole laughs and catches the next swing of Waverly’s hand to wrestle it back down onto the bed. Waverly’s insults come with a grin that she carries into a kiss a half playful, half earnest battle across the bedspread. Her heart soars as her body strains, and she knows; this is right, this is everything.

And she’s going to hold onto it for as long as she can.

//

It’s been two decades since she left, but Michelle Earp enters the triangle with as little fanfare as she left it. One hand on the wheel of her car, the other cradling a small compass that refuses to point north, she drives seemingly at random down the back roads around the town. Eventually she pulls into an open field, taking the compass with her as she approaches a stone well.

“Here? Really?” she mutters, shaking the compass and holding it up to her ear as if hoping to get a different reaction.

The needle refuses to move, and Michelle pockets it to heave the wooden cover off the well. Down in its depths a figure moves, groaning quietly to himself. He doesn’t look up until a rope practically hits him on the head.

When Bobo drags himself over the lip of the well Michelle is waiting, a few paces away. She watches dispassionately as Bobo collapses on the ground, panting heavily.

“Your hair,” she says.

Bobo chuckles. “Yes, I got the makeover of a lifetime.” He spits, draws in one last shaky breath, then pops up onto his feet. “So. Mama’s back. Come to kiss it all better?”

“That’s hellfire’s mark. Tell me you didn’t...”

“Oh, you know I could never lie to you.”

“How could you!” Michelle seizes him by the collar. “I told you there was another way!”

Bobo pushes her off with a snarl. “Your way didn’t work. You’re too late. You failed. Your plan landed me in hell and I am never going back. Not for you… not for anyone.”

Chapter Text

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Dolls’ pen hits the table in a slow, even beat. He’s cracked codes before. Delved deep into ancient, half-destroyed texts and dragged out the truth. Followed the barest hint of a lead as far as it would take him. Buried his mind in books on the merest hope of an answer.

The files he, Jeremy, and Nicole pulled out of the Black Badge archives make his past work seem like so many jolly Easter egg hunts.

Half the files are incomplete, or possibly cross-referenced with another file that’s in a different language or under a different referencing system. Almost all of them are protected in some way. Mostly just the usual tactics of encryption but some are a bit more sinister; Jeremy is still at home nursing burns from a book that spewed boiling wine when opened.

He hasn’t even looked at a fifth of the hard copies they pulled out, and Jeremy copied ten times as many electronic records.

What they have been able to decode hasn’t looked good.

Finding what they need in this haystack may well take an immortal.

He looks up at the sound of footsteps. A woman he doesn’t recognise is striding into the office as brazenly as if it was the local grocery store. Dolls sighs and move to intercept her.

“Excuse me ma’am. You can’t be back here.”

Wynonna stops him from barreling down the path towards threatening charges of treason with a gentle hand on his arm.

“Yes she can.” Wynonna’s voice sounds uncharacteristically small.

“…You know this woman?”

“Yeah. Dolls; meet Mama Earp.”

//

“So I think it’s time you got that explanation I owe you,” Wynonna says. “You’re gonna want to sit down for this.”

Dolls slides slowly into a chair, steepling his fingers. He’s looking directly at Wynonna but making sure to track Michelle out of the corner of his eye. This had better be a good explanation.

“So...I skipped town as soon as I could, once my eighteenth birthday rolled around. You know the party line, the shit I got into, the lost years. The bit you don’t know is that Uncle Curtis - he came and got me. Squared things with the Banditos, gave me another chance when no-one else would. I even made a pretty good go of it, for a while there. Until one day, just shy of my twenty-fifth, he takes me into the big city, just me and him. Says there’s someone I oughta meet.”

*

They leave their bikes in a back alley, Wynonna grazing a covetous hand over Curtis’ Harley before they head into an apartment building. Curtis raps on a door, and a woman’s voice tells them to come in.

Cigarette smoke curls around a Lazy Susan and the woman sitting in it. She looks familiar - like someone Wynonna knew a long time ago.

“The bones are calling me,” Curtis says to the woman. “All the signs say demons are stirring again. It’s too early - “

“Wait - what the fuck?” Wynonna grabs Curtis’ arm. “You tell me on no uncertain terms to keep my lips zipped shut or else they’ll cart me back off to psych. You make me hide this from everyone, even Waverly, and then start shooting your own mouth off? What gives?

“Mental institutions are nothing compared to what might happen if the wrong people find out you know what you know…” Michelle stands up and walks through the haze to tilt Wynonna’s head up with two fingers under her chin. “Wynonna.”

Wynonna eyes widen at the way Michelle says her name. She suddenly remembers where she knows her from, and the realisation makes her knees buckle under her.

“….Mama? But.... you… you left...”

“To find answers. I know the truth now,” Michelle says. “And I know fleeing Purgatory won’t spare you from the coming storm… or the people you’ve left behind.”

Wynonna tenses. “Are you threatening Waverly…?”

“Everything I’ve done has been to try and protect you girls!”

“Yeah well that worked out pretty stellar. Just ask Willa.”

“I couldn’t save… she was too much like Ward. But you; you’ve got a chance to do what they couldn’t. Work with me, and you might still have a chance to save the people you love.”

*

“I was scared - terrified, actually.” Wynonna pauses, plays with the chain around her neck. “I’d been telling myself - not quite believing it - but part of me wanted the doctors to be right. That the demons weren’t real, just like everyone kept telling me, just something Ward made up to - to excuse the drinking and the... to make himself feel important. I had been trying so hard to have a normal life but in the end that was just another way of running away.

“Maybe Greece was just more running, but Mama had followed Bulshar’s trail there. And we found something. Took a lot of digging and a bunch of shady shit I’d rather not have got mixed up in, but in the end we found it. Some kinda weapon, not sure what or how. All I know is I had to k - we had to cross a lot of lines to get the key to it. And that’s about the time I got Curtis’ e-mail calling me back.

“If Mama’s finally come, here, that means she’s found the final piece of the puzzle. The lock this key fits. Whatever we unearthed in Greece - it’s time.”

//

“Hey baby.”

Nicole gets up from her desk to greet a tired Waverly when she drifts into the station, telling herself it’s not so terrible to want a few untainted moments with her girlfriend before she’s dragged away by the demon of the day.

Waverly gratefully lets her forehead rest on Nicole’s, eyes closed as she takes in the reassurance of her presence. They rub noses and kiss hello lightly.

“How was Shorty’s?” Nicole asks.

“A mess. Doc’s really been letting the place go. If he doesn’t finish cleaning up and open soon folks are just going to bash in the door and pour their own whiskey.” Waverly winds her hands around Nicole’s. “How was your day?”

“Good. Better now you’re here.”

“Mmmm…” Waverly sidles up to her, brushing her fingers down the outside seam of Nicole’s pants with a lightness designed to go right to Nicole’s head. “Are your legs hurting?”

Nicole lifts her head out of the fog of her sudden arousal with a little confused start. “No… why?”

“‘Cause you’ve been running through my mind all day.”

“Really?” Nicole laughs. “That’s the line you’re going with?”

“What, it’s cute,” Waverly says with a mischievous grin.

“Cheesy, you mean.”

“Oh so cheesy, and don’t you stand there and tell me you don’t love it.”

Waverly’s right; Nicole is enthralled by this side of Waverly - all sides of Waverly, if she’s really being honest about it. But this Waverly makes her heart soar; playful, teasing, completely unfazed about how goofy she might sound.

“Maybe a little bit,” Nicole admits, lowering her lips to Waverly’s.

Wynonna bangs a hand against the door, making them both jump. “If you two are finished?! Imminent world-destroying evil over here?”

Wynonna is all for Waverly’s new and improved partner but good guacamole they are a saccharine overload sometimes!

“Okay, what are we looking at here?” Waverly asks as they follow Wynonna into the Black Badge offices.

“Too many leads and not enough dogs. Got anything more on that key?”

“The key’s simple. It’s a Zeiss, they’re a pretty standard safe key.”

“Okay, but this is a magical weapon we’re talking about, right?” Nicole points out. “It’s got to have a better seal on it than a few inches of metal or it wouldn’t have stayed hidden.”

“Well, whatever it is and wherever it’s hiding we need to find it. Fast. It’s my best chance at breaking this stupid curse now stupid Bulshar is up and about… I mean, c’mon? Hunting down seventy-seven men you don’t even know the names of in one lifetime? I’ve been almost killed how many times and I’ve barely got through a third. The whole deal is pretty much designed to be impossible.”

“The Sisyphean task,” Waverly murmurs, eyes wide.

Wynonna sighs, “The what now?”

“Sisyphean task. It’s an Ancient Greek myth about a king who was punished for opposing the gods. They set him the task of pushing a rock up a mountain, but the rock rolls back to the bottom every time he gets near the peak. The whole point is it’s futile; he’s never going to get the rock to the top. Add that to the inscription...”

“Nicole,” Dolls interrupts the history lesson to summons her to his office. With a sigh and a last squeeze of Waverly’s hand, Nicole goes.

The door clicks shut behind her: never a good sign.

“Found something?”

“Nothing conclusive, not yet. But you should see this.”

Dolls turns a file over so she can see the file. It’s a stub, but Nicole immediately catches its significance: a loss of asset report, dated September ‘94.

“That’s the month Waverly was born,” she says with a quiver.

“Exactly. Jeremy reckons the full report is somewhere in the drives.”

Nicole picks up the single sheet of paper and her heart rises with it. “This could hold the answers to - for Waverly. Where she comes from.”

“And why Bulshar might want her.”

“He what?!”

Dolls raises his hands in an attempt to calm Nicole before she marches on his gun safe.

“We don’t have all the details yet, but it seems Bobo… offered Waverly to Bulshar.”

“Oooakay…” Nicole stares at Dolls, but he holds to his enigmatic party line. “Does Waverly have any idea Bulshar’s after her?”

“No, and it’s probably better if she doesn’t. For now.”

“More lies,” Nicole practically snarls at the prospect. She had just cleared her deck with Waverly and she is not going to start shutting up parts of her life in boxes again, but she doesn’t get a chance to argue.

A scream brings them both into the main room at full speed, weapons out.

The first thing Nicole notices is Waverly, trembling in front of a Wynonna who looks shrunken in the face of such rage. Her fists are clenched tightly to her side and she resembles nothing more than a firework about to explode.

The second thing Nicole notices is the dark-haired woman, six feet to Wynonna’s right and her mirror image thirty years in the future, who is staring at Waverly with a covetousness bordering on the terrifying.

“Mama?!” Waverly yells. “You’ve been in contact with her the whole time and you didn’t tell me?!”

Wynonna’s face and heart look torn clean down the middle. “I really wanted to, baby girl - “

“Don’t call me that!”

Waverly storms out of the offices, out of the building, out onto the street, out of the brick that was closing in on her.

She throws herself against the nearest car and fights back the urge to throw up, to scream, to burst into tears. She bangs her fists on the cold metal. Every muscle in her body begins to tense with panic and she can’t decide if she wants to run away down the street or back inside to slap Wynonna, but that doesn’t really matter because her legs seem unwilling to do either.

Soft steps come up behind her, and Nicole’s voice calls her name before laying a hand gently on her back. Waverly wipes the tears away with her sleeves and forces herself to focus.

“Could you give me a ride? I came into town in Wynonna’s truck but….”

“My pleasure,” Nicole cuts in, sparing Waverly the need to finish a painful sentence. “Just let me get my coat.”

She needs her coat, but it’s Dolls she really goes back in to find.

Near enough a hundred years floating around doesn’t give you any special powers, but the longer you stay on the ground the more you notice about the world around you. It was one of the things that had boosted Nicole to the top of the class at the academy; she noticed things other recruits didn’t. She saw the patterns and connections faster than they did because she had a better idea of what to look for. Because she knows when something’s wrong.

Like the way Mama Earp looks at Waverly.

“Dolls.” Nicole grabs him, just long enough to pull him out of sight and earshot. “I don’t think we can’t trust her. Michelle.”

“I know. I’ll stay with her; you get Waverly home.”

They share a quick nod of understanding and then go their separate ways. There’s work to do.

//

A devil you’re bound to isn’t hard to track. There’s a pull on the soul, of whatever’s left of it, that Bobo can follow.

He finds Bulshar feeding, a woman standing guard over him. Since Bobo saw him last the demon has changed. The layers of dust and mold of century have shed and his rotten skin has sloughed away to leave his features discernable. Bobo can make out the lines of his jaw and cheekbones under the skin but when he opens his mouth the same dry, barely comprehensible rattle comes out. The atrophy in his muscles will take longer to heal, and no mere mortal’s blood will ever grow back his arm.

“You!” spits the Silver Witch.

“Mattie Blaylock. Well, this is an unexpected pleasure.”

He extends his hand, but she doesn’t take it.

“Robert,” Mattie says coldly, looking for all the world as if she’d gut him, given half the chance.

“Oh, no need to to take that tone with me. I wasn’t the one who abandoned you in Arizona.”

“You were the reason Wyatt left!” Mattie strides towards him, voice rising to a screech. “He never would have gone north if it wasn’t for you, you and your talk of demons. He never would have taken up with that whore Sadie. He abandoned me because of you! We were all cursed, because of you.”

“He abandoned you because he never loved you. He never really loved anyone. Wyatt was a selfish man who ruined the lives of everybody he knew. If you want to blame anyone - “

“Oh I blame him too. Him and the line he should have had with me.” Mattie turns and walks away to look out across the wastes towards Purgatory. “He and his legacy will end.”

“And here I am without any marshmallows.” Bobo picks up the discarded head of Bulshar’s feast and gives it a sniff. “Mm. Seems you’re having difficulty delivering the good stuff.”

“And what will you do that is so much better?” Mattie sneers.

“Everything I promised. With my angel by his side, no Earp will dare stand against him.”

//

“Waverly, we have to go back to the homestead. I know you don’t wanna see Wynonna right now but my place isn’t safe anymore, especially not for you.”

“What do you mean, ‘not for me’?”

“Dolls just told me Bulshar’s going to be looking for you, Bobo offered you to him or something equally cree -”

Bobo lands on the hood of the cruiser.

Swearing, Nicole screeches to a halt, throwing the handbrake to send the car whipping around but Bobo clings on. He grins at Waverly through the windshield, and crooks on beckoning finger.

Without taking her eyes off Bobo, Nicole draws and bursts out of her door to fire two quick shots at him.

“Waverly, get out of here! Run!” Nicole screams.

Before she can fire off another shot Bobo flings Nicole’s pistol out of her hand with a wave of his. Nicole reaches for her taser but before she can pull it free Bobo is on her, knocking her to the ground and landing heavily on top of her.

His weight hits Nicole like a mule kick and knocks the wind from her. All Nicole can think or feel is the pain, the shock of having the wind knocked out of her and then the rising panic of being unable to draw breath. It almost takes her, and then her academy instructor’s voice drifts out of the haze.

It will come back to you and it will come back faster if you don’t fight it. Push the air out; let in what will come. Don’t force it and whatever you do, do not curl up. You’re a cop, not a fucking beach-ball.

She might not be able to speak, but she can be in this fight.

One hand shoots up and grabs hold of Bobo’s collar with a strength that surprises them both. Nicole holds on, hoping beyond hope that she can hold him off long enough for Waverly to get away.

Bobo raises a fist to smash her down again when Nicole hears the shotgun from her gun rack click shut. Bobo stares at Nicole’s misplaced smile in confusion, and then turns around to see Waverly pointing the gun at him.

“Eat leaden death, demon.”

Waverly shoots him.

Oh Waverly’s a beast with a shotgun and never backs down from a fight and Nicole has never seen anything that makes it harder to get her breath back. She stares at Waverly in dumbfounded awe.

“Wow.”

“Are you okay?” Waverly shoulders the gun and drops to help Nicole up, holding tight whether she needs the physical support or not.

“Yeah, yeah,” Nicole manages to gasp out. “I’m good.”

Nicole grabs onto Waverly’s arm to help keep herself up, keep herself close to Waverly. She clings to her every bit as tightly as she had the first time Waverly had kissed her, clings to her as if she’s the only thing in the world, clings to her the same way Waverly is clinging right back.

“That won’t keep him down for long. We have to go.”

Waverly has to slide the front seat forward but drives the cruiser at a speed that makes Nicole, already well shaken, feel as if her stomach is about to to fly out her throat. Once she’s sure she’s not going to vomit Nicole gets out her phone to call Wynonna. While the rings echo in her ear Waverly’s hand finds hers and they grip hold of each other tightly, all the way back to the homestead.

//

Dolls presses the end call button, and watches Wynonna’s name fade from the screen.

“Bobo tried to kidnap Waverly,” he tells Michelle, but the reaction he’s expecting doesn’t come. “You don’t look surprised.”

“Waverly’s special,” she says with a cryptic smile. “Oh, did Black Badge not tell you?”

“I was on a need to know basis. I’ve worked for other governmental organisations before; it’s standard practice.”

“But Black Badge isn’t controlled by the government, is it? And you know that.”

Dolls suspicions hit a peak and he shifts himself into a square stance. He has no idea how much of what Michelle might be saying is true, or twisted, or exaggerated, but while Wynonna is insisting on trusting her he has to at least play nice. He’s not going to call contact until he’s sure he’s sighted the enemy.

“But I’m guessing what you know doesn’t even come close to the truth?” He doesn’t answer, and she presses on. “Maybe that’s because you don’t wanna know what could possibly be so repugnant it chooses to hide behind the trappings of a corrupt and secretive government. How about…. Big business? What billionaire wouldn't siphon off a small fraction of his fortune for a chance at eternal youth, or supernatural powers? Of course that would get the rich and powerful to open their wallets. It's peanuts to them. A little nudge here, a position supported there, and all the right doors just pop open and the rich get richer and everyone else....dies.”

“Black Badge has its flaws, but it fights evil, puts down demons.” Dolls voice is flat but inside, he’s fighting back against the knife of doubt he can feel niggling under his skin.

Michelle laughs. “Oh, the greater good. That's what you tell honorable men when you want them to do terrible things. Or did you feel right with what happened in Kandahar?”

Kandahar. He could still hear it. All of it. When he had run. Run, and left them.

Dolls is just on the verge of telling her she has no idea what happened in Kandahar, no way of knowing what it was like, when Doc strides in as casually as if he hadn’t been missing for the past for days.

“Doc,” Dolls says, forcing his voice and face to remain even despite his rapidly rising aggravation. “Where have you been?”

“Out,” Doc says helpfully, then jerks his hat brim at Michelle. “Who’s this?”

“Oh I’m nobody. Just nobody, going to make myself a cup of joe. You boys talk.”

Doc peers dubiously at Michelle as she walks out of the room. “Who is that?

“That can wait,” Dolls snaps, his patience already worn thin. “ Where have you been?”

“The new leader of the revenants wished to meet with me. Seems we may have an ally in the fight against Bulshar.”

“We’re trusting revenants now?”

“Not if I can help it. But there may be some advantage - “

“Hang on.” Dolls raises a hand to interrupt him. “Do you hear anything?

Doc looks around with a confused scowl, his hand instinctively going to his gun. “No, why?

“She’s not making coffee. Damn damn damn,” Dolls swears as he tears down the corridor.

The station is empty: Michelle is gone.

//

Ten minutes outside the Purgatory town line seems far enough for Michelle to feel sure she wasn’t pursued.

Leaving her car creaking as it cools behind her, Michelle pulls Constance's fire-blackened skull out of a bag and sets it carefully on a rock. Next to it she sets the same disc that had led her to Bobo, then steps back.

The symbols on the disc begin to shift, a slow grinding that quickly builds into an eye-watering meld as the lines pass over and through each other, hunting, searching.

Bobo may have failed her, may have been seduced by Bulshar, but she knows one power in the Triangle that would never return to his side.

The symbols come to a shuddering halt, and Michelle picks up the disc. The salt flats. Of course.

Unburied, her bones reunited, it takes only a drop of willingly given blood and Constance shoots up, gasping. She clutches at her neck and touches her head all over in jerky movements. Once she’s made sure her head is attached she half-crawls, half-drags herself to Michelle’s car, desperate to be free of the ground.

Michelle climbs into the driver’s seat and waits for Constance to catch her breath.

“How was hell?” she asks in a conversational tone.

“Peachy,” Constance spits, and drags herself upright. “When I find my sisters…”

“Wynonna beat you to it. Bulshar has drawn Robert Svane and the Silver Witch under his thrall. The Iron Witch has fled and I hear you killed the Blacksmith.”

“Which makes me your only hope. How sad.”

“My blood brought you back. You are tied to me now whether you like it or not.” Michelle clenches her hands around the steering wheel - Constance had always been impossible to work with. “And, if you help me against Wynonna, I will help you escape the Triangle.”

“You honestly expect me to believe you’d turn on your own daughter?”

“Wynonna is weak. She’s lost her focus, got distracted by all these ‘friends’. She has too many people to protect to do the hard things that must be done. I’m not turning on her, I’m saving her from herself. I have to get the key away from Wynonna.”

//

There‘s nothing quite as eerie as the screaming song of the coyotes off in the darkness while Waverly sits within her tiny circle of light.

She pulls the blanket closer around her, mentally swimming in the seaweed of her soul. The secrets keep swirling and swirling, out there where she can’t see them. Somewhere off across the still brown grass lies the edge of the bedrock that protects her and all Waverly can focus on is the thought that none it is really hers, not in the way she’d thought it was. Not in the way that it’s Wynonna’s.

Over and over, everything seems to circle back to Wynonna, as if she’s some kind of lightning rod for balls-to-the-wall fuck-ups, and Waverly just has to deal. Every time.

Wynonna had spent so long insisting that Waverly was her family no matter what the paperwork said that Waverly had almost come to believe her. Even with those refrains drifting constantly through her head - Willa’s words, Ward’s words, Bobo’s words - Wynonna’s refusal to let go of her love for Waverly had been an anchor in her panic. Now… the curse keeps throwing more and new bewildering curveballs at her and she’s running out of hands to catch them with. She has no idea what she’s going to do knowing that Wynonna had been in contact with Michelle the whole time.

But she’s not alone.

Behind her, inside the larger circle of light inside the homestead, is Nicole. She’s swearing at the stove and burning the potatoes, but she’s there.

Chapter Text

Nicole has always woken with the sunrise. It’s a habit she’s never been able to shake, even after electric lights became commonplace.

Curled in a tight ball around a pillow, Waverly is still fast asleep. It had been the small hours of the morning before she’d been able to find a vague, uneasy solace in sleep. Nicole had held her as she cried, had listened as she railed against the world, had touched her when she wanted to let go.

She had done everything she could, knowing that nothing she did would stop those wounds from scarring.

That spark in her soul, that had flickered to life the first time Waverly had smiled at her, was still stubbornly refusing to go out. She would be a light in the dark place that was threatening to overwhelm Waverly and she knows, she just has to know, that Waverly is strong enough to see her way through it all.

For now, Nicole lets her sleep.

With one last stroke of Waverly’s hair and kiss to her temple, Nicole slips out of bed. She’s learned the key to success is to disturb the blankets as little as possible.

To Nicole’s surprise, she’s not the only one up. Wynonna is trying to make breakfast and tripping over Calamity Jane in the process.

“Damn cat! Look if you don’t move I’m gonna step on you, you’re right under my fucking feet...”

“She’s just hungry,” Nicole says with a hint of reproach as she enters the kitchen.

With an excited chirp Calamity Jane makes a beeline for Nicole, allowing Wynonna to put both feet on the ground again.

“I thought cats got their own food.”

Nicole laughs as she sets a bowl down, instinctively swerving to one side at the exact moment Calamity’s enthusiastic headbutt would have spilled the biscuit across the floor.

“Not this cat. I swear I once saw a mouse run over her paws.”

“I thought she was here to get rid of the mice…?”

“Well, maybe the country air will be good for her.” Nicole runs a hand down the cat’s back. “If she’s bothering you that much I’m sure Nedley would take her back, at least until - for a while.”

Wynonna waves the suggestion away. “No, she’s here now.”

With a final glance to make sure the cat is a safe distance away, Wynonna sits down and begins to slather peanut butter on her phone instead of her toast.

“Uh, Wynonna…”

Wynonna scowls up at Nicole, then follows her finger down to the smeared screen. She flings the knife down.

“Oh, turtle-fucker!”

Nicole slides into the seat across from Wynonna and offers her a sympathetic smile. “Rough night?”

“Yeah. Trying to get to the bottom of this fucking mystery.”

Wynonna tosses the key on the table, where Nicole picks it up and watches it glint.

“Athena. Goddess of war, right? Think that’s meant to be you?”

Wynonna rolls her eyes. “I’m not Athena. Aphrodite, remember?

“I wish I didn’t.” Nicole shudders.

“Hah. Hah. Well, the one thing it isn’t is a simple key. Dolls couldn’t find it registered anywhere, and his reach is pretty… extensive. Otherwise I got nothing but papercuts.”

“Research didn’t go so well yesterday, huh?”

“Never does without Waverly.”

Wynonna yanks a cloth out of the sink and begins to clean her phone off with overly rough swipes, diverting the fury that’s threatening to spill out into tears.

“Hell, she should be the heir, she’s much better at it than I am. I’d be dead a good ten times over if it wasn’t for Waverly… I was trying to protect her, Haught, you gotta believe that. Trying to keep her out of all this shit and it backfired, just like it always does. I’ve got to break this damn curse. They can kill me if they want to but I’m not… I’m not… Not gonna let them at anyone else I.... I...”

“Wynonna…”

Nicole softens, but before she can reach out Wynonna dashes off.

“Look, I just gotta…”

“Wynonna! “ Nicole jumps up to follow her out. “What are you doing?!”

“I’m milking a pink elephant!” Wynonna yells from the back room.

Nicole pulls up, frowning in confusion. “What…?”

“It means she doesn’t want to tell you what she’s actually doing.” Waverly comes slowly down the stairs, wrapping a shawl around herself.

Nicole smiles up at her sleepy face. “Hey, Waves…”

With an unintelligible grumble, Waverly tucks herself into Nicole’s shoulder. She fits so well, Nicole muses as she rests her chin gently on top of Waverly’s chaotic bed hair. Teasing out the mess with her fingers Nicole persuades most of Waverly’s hair back down under control.

Eventually, Waverly untangles herself from Nicole’s arms and goes into the kitchen, muttering about peanut butter to Nicole’s private amusement.

Which is when Wynonna wanders back in, looking distinctly unimpressed with life.

“You okay, Earp?”

“Yeah, fine. Struggling with my lifestyle right now, but, y’know, what’s new. If you really wanna know, everything doesn’t just…” Wynonna makes a complicated gesture over her tummy “...pop back into place.”

“I did not want to know that,” Nicole says emphatically.

“You’re not gonna wanna know this either. Dolls texted: Mama Earp’s gone missing.”

“Missing like abducted…?” Nicole lets the question trail off and the note of suspicion rise with it.

“Looks like it,” Wynonna replies, stubbornly refusing to notice the hint. “If Bulshar gets hold of her, with everything she knows - “

“Creek, paddles.”

“More like Yellowknife and no canoe.”

“Then you’d better go.”

Both Nicole and Wynonna jump; Waverly had come back in from the kitchen without either of them noticing.

“Hey, Wave - “ Wynonna begins.

“Don’t. Start. Yes I’m still mad at you, and I don’t know if I’m ever... but right now you need to go be a big goddamn hero. I’ll be safe, you two just - get going.”

“No,” Wynonna and Nicole say together.

Waverly’s arms fold tightly, and Nicole knows she and Wynonna have lost this fight even if they don’t want to admit it yet. Making sure to put herself in the way of Waverly’s line of sight to Wynonna, Nicole steps up and grabs Waverly’s elbows.

“Are you sure about this? I don’t feel right about leaving you here. Not now, not alone, not with Bobo - ”

“I’ll be safe here, Bobo can’t get on the homestead. There’s no way either of you are going out there alone.” She pulls back, just far enough to slide out from under Nicole’s hands and wrench at her heart. “I - I need some time alone to deal with... this. I love you but…”

Normally, Wynonna would have joined the push back against Waverly. Today, she just grabs her coat and stomps out without pausing to tie her boots.

“I understand,” Nicole says to Waverly. “But my phone will be glued to me and you let me know the moment anything happens, okay?”

“Promise.”

“Nicole…” Waverly grabs hold of her hand before Nicole can leave. Her voice kicks into a lower tone, for Nicole’s ears only. “Try and stop Wynonna from going too kamikaze. I’d like you both back in one piece, okay?”

Nicole smiles. “I’ll do my best.”

//

Nicole and Wynonna find Doc and Dolls surprisingly easily; at the station, blaming each other for losing Michelle.

“Doc came in babbling about revenants - “

“ - The Marshall here refused to tell me - “

“ - if you think you can go AWOL for four days and waltz back in without an explanation - “

“ - we are not all little tin soldiers, thank God - ”

Wynonna cuffs them both around the head, knocking Doc’s hat off.

“I don’t care about your stupid pissing contest. Where. Is. She?” Wynonna growls.

“Gone,” Dolls admits. “If there was a trail to find, Doc would have found it by now.”

“Any sign of what took her?” Wynonna demands.

Doc studiously brushes the dust off his hat so he doesn’t have to meet Wynonna’s eyes as he says, “She may not have been ‘taken’. There was no sign of a struggle. It may well be that she went… willingly.”

“Okay, stop. Sure, Mama’s always been sketchy as hell but she’s still our best source and only source of answers.”

Wynonna searches the group for support but only finds doubtful faces.

“Look, can we just find her? If she’s a double agent I’ll take her out myself but pointing fingers is getting us nowhere and giving me a headache. Has anyone got anything useful?”

“Well, I did do some digging,” Dolls says. “It seems Theodore wasn’t the only Roosevelt that took an interest in the occult, and Michelle was once a part of his daughter’s splinter group.”

“Alice’s girls,” Nicole butts in, to everybody’s shock.

She falters a little under the matching dropped jaws. “Shae told me about them.”

“Shae your wife Shae?” Wynonna says.

Nicole grimaces with discomfort. “Yep. Well, ex-wife.”

“And you didn’t mention this before because…?”

“It didn’t seem super relevant; I thought the whole organisation dried up years ago. Absorbed into Black Badge, or something.”

“Looks like they found a really good moisturizer,” Wynonna snickers to herself.

Dolls finds it less entertaining. “Tell us what you know.”

“Not much,” Nicole says. “I’d just finished chasing yet another dead end in California back in the mid-2000s. Got there and the town was nothing but a crater. Pretty typical. So paint me surprised when I found someone else following the next lead I dredged up. There were rumours, Shae said. The Cult was following the wrong line, or something.”

“What line?” Dolls asks.

“I don’t know; she was all very cloak and daggers about it. Honestly, I don’t think she knew, not exactly. But whatever it was she said it was a lead that - depending on who you talked to - would either free Bulshar, or put him down for good.” Nicole grimaces. “It was all really shady.”

Before Dolls can pick any of this apart properly Jeremy busts in wearing only one shoe and a wild, triumphant expression.

“I’ve done it!” he announces.

Wynonna stares at him. “Done what?”

“Decoded the files!”

“What files?” Wynonna demands.

Jeremy’s excitement waves under her glare, until Dolls steps in. “No time for explanations. Jeremy, just show us what you’ve got.”

“Look what I found.” Jeremy presents his laptop to them.

On the screen is a surveillance video of a woman running down a fluorescent-lit corridor to break out of an alarmed door and into the open air. She’s two decades younger, but it’s definitely Michelle.

In her arms is a baby, wrapped in a blanket Wynonna recognises.

“Waverly,” Wynonna gasps.

A rising thread of fear curls around Nicole’s stomach, flowing up and into the fissures it leaves in her windpipe.

She tries Waverly’s cell phone. No answer. Shit. Tries Waverly’s phone again. Still no answer. Double shit.

“No answer?” Wynonna asks, and their eyes meet in a moment of terrible realisation.

No answer, and no way to warn Waverly that Bobo isn’t the only danger coming for her.

Nicole dashes for the door without replying.

//

Back at the homestead, Waverly pulled out the few boxes of Earp history that didn’t end up at Black Badge. She’d locked the doors, which seemed like a pointless precaution against demonic intruders, but made her feel better.

In the middle of the living room floor Waverly spreads the papers out around her in a fan. The answer might be staring her in the face, if she can only find it.

Then again, there might be nothing.

She’d been over these files so many times, she almost feels as if she knows the faces looking back at her. Josephine Earp, Wyatt’s wife and their - well, Wynonna’s - great-great-grandmother. Waverly picks up the photo and stares at her face, trying to read the thoughts in her expression.

Underneath the picture of Josephine is a picture of another woman, one Waverly doesn’t recognize, wearing a gold chain and key that she does.

Waverly turns it over and reads the name scrawled on the back. “‘Mattie Blaylock’… I wonder who you were?”

Then Waverly hears something she barely ever hears at the homestead.

There’s a knock at the door.

Waverly grabs her shotgun before she peers through the curtains. When she sees Michelle on the porch she cracks open the door but keeps her foot braced against the edge, ready to slam it shut at the slightest sign of foul play.

“What - why are you here?” Waverly demands through the gap. “Everyone’s out looking for you.”

“I know, I shouldn’t have given Marshall Dolls the runaround, but I need to speak to you alone. It’s important. I’ve got a lot to tell you.”

Waverly’s hand tightens around the doorknob. She doesn’t trust Michelle, not in the slightest, but there’s a voice clamouring louder and louder in the back of her head and it needs answers.

Michelle seats herself at the kitchen table as comfortably as if she’d never left while Waverly hovers across the table, feeling distinctly out of place in her own home.

“So. You have answers. About who I am. Where I came from.”

Michelle shrugs. “I have answers - not sure they’re what you want.”

“I don’t care. Just tell me.”

“I remember the day I brought you home… I’d seen Ward angry before, but never like this. Oh, he was charming when he wanted to be, Ward was. Especially when he was young, before he found out he was cursed. Ward never had any idea he’d have to step up… and then he did, and found he wasn’t enough. He tried to make it right but everything he did turned sour - I knew I had to act.”

With a sudden vigour, Michelle reaches over and grabs Waverly’s hand. Waverly feels a pinch - must have got some skin caught under Michelle’s rings - but the vehemence in Michelle’s eyes drives out the momentary pain.

“I stole you from Black Badge because you are important, far more so even than Wynonna. You have a destiny, Waverly. You can break this curse.”

Too late, the alarm bells go off. As Waverly looks down at her phone Nicole’s name goes fuzzy, and she hears Michelle’s voice echo as she loses consciousness.

“Let me show you.”

//

They’re barely five minutes outside of town when a thick fog descends around them, cutting Nicole’s visibility to next to nothing.

“Fuck it,” Nicole curses, and flicks on the overhead lights.

Even for Purgatory the streets seem weirdly empty, as if everybody had suddenly vanished into the same fog that’s keeping Nicole to a frustratingly low speed. At least with her lights on, she hopes, anyone out there will see them coming.

Then, out of nowhere, the streets aren’t empty anymore.

Nicole screeches the cruiser to a halt. There’s a woman, standing in the middle of the road.

“It can’t be,” Wynonna gasps.

“Constance Clootie,” Doc growls from the back seat, then throws himself at the door. “Let me out!”

“Easy, cowboy,” Nicole says as she and Wynonna slide out of the front seats.

Keeping their pistols trained on Constance, they each open a rear door to let the others out. Dolls strides quickly around Nicole, calm and contained. Doc bursts out, almost knocking Wynonna over in his obsessive rage.

Constance sighs, bored with the careful maneuvering. “If I was here to kill anyone you’d all be in the ditch already.”

“You will be soon,” Doc says, levelling his pistol at her.

“Oh quiet down, I’m here to help. We made a deal once. Now, I have information that can set you all free. End Wyatt and his curse forever.”

“Wyatt’s long dead.”

“Oh, Wyatt’s in his very own personal hell.“ She smiles at Wynonna. “And you’re holding it.”

Wynonna blinks at her and lays a brief restraining hand on Doc’s shoulder. “I’m what?”

“Your gun. Peacemaker. You didn’t wonder why it seemed like it had a life of its own?

“Well, y’know, magic gun.” Wynonna shrugs, but keeps the barrel pointed straight at Constance. “Figured it was part of the deal.”

“No. Bulshar knew what he was doing when he cursed Wyatt. His soul is doomed to dance the same dance as the men he killed, to watch his line fail over and over again. To see only what you see, know only what you know.”

“Wait, I remember where I know you from!” Nicole bursts out suddenly.

Dolls glances at her. “You... know her?”

“Yeah; she’s the woman who gave my ring. Y’know?”

Wynonna sighs. “Remind me never to go to Nevada.”

“I gave you that ring for this!” Constance says. “Use it to destroy Peacemaker, and the curse - “

“No,” Wynonna says flatly.

“Now we’ve got the theatrics out of the way…” Doc draws back the hammer of his pistol. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you where you stand.”

“Well, for starters, you can’t. Not with those little pea shooters of yours,” Constance says disdainfully.

“Your ring is broken,” Doc reminds her. “I am no longer bound to you and can shoot with impunity.”

Constance giggles. “You can try, but with Bulshar free the rules are a little… different.”

“To hell with the rules,” Doc spits, and fires.

With a wave of her hand Constance sends it spinning back towards him. It grazes Doc’s face, and sends the edge of his moustache fluttering to the ground.

Doc stares at the fallen hairs. “You are the lowest of the low.”

Constance laughs again and turns, striding off down the road far too casually for a woman with four guns pointed at her back.

Quivering with rage Doc fires shots off into the mist. When his trigger clicks on an empty chamber he follows Constance himself, throwing off Wynonna’s attempts to hold him back.

“Doc, stop, come back…” Wynonna kicks the front tire. “Oh, mother fuck and all her baby fucklings.”

“Should we go after him?” Dolls asks.

“No, he’s a big boy, he can take care of himself. And we’ve gotta get to Waverly - everyone, back in the narcmobile.”

Nicole holsters her gun with quite a bit more force than necessary. “Don’t call my car that.”

When they get to the homestead it seems pretty clear that nobody is there but Nicole insists on rushing around the house, calling. When she comes out she’s holding Waverly’s winter jacket, left behind on the hook.

//

Doc quickly loses Constance in the fog. Once, he would have been able to run after her all day. Now, he’s bent over and hacking in minutes.

He comes back out of it on Main Street, but everything has changed.

Two bikes fly past, dragging behind what’s left of a body at the end of a set of chains.

There are revenants throwing stones through the windows of the police station, taking pot shots at the railway lights, setting fire to cars, chasing down anyone who hasn’t fled yet.

Strung up over the Shorty’s sign is a man Doc recognises: Morgan Earp.

“Oh, that it should come to this,” Doc murmurs as he stares at the carnage.

“It’s going to get a lot worse,” Bobo hisses in his ear.

Doc twitches towards his pistols but Bobo’s knife finds his throat first.

“I think I’ll take those.”

Bobo lifts the guns out one by one then marches Doc to where Bulshar is standing, watching Mattie chant wisps of smoke out of her hand to join the thickening blanket over the town.

Bobo throws Doc down at their feet.

“Seems like your cover has failed already,” Bobo says. “I told you this plan wouldn’t work!”

“He stumbled in by accident,” Mattie replies serenely. “Wynonna will not find us, not until it is too late.”

“Taking the town is not the way to force Wynonna’s hand,” Bobo insists. “Make her feel like she’s losing, make it clear you are after what she loves and she will rip herself apart to take you down. Let her think that she’s winning, that she’s gaining on you, that she’s going to have to take the shot in cold blood and she’ll start to doubt herself and that - “ he slaps his hands together like a trap around a non-existent fly “ - is when you have her.”

“Bobo,” Bulshar says, his voice cutting off their argument with the impersonal abruptness of a falling anvil. “You failed. We go with Mattie’s plan.”

“Mattie has no idea what’s coming,” Bobo spits back sullenly, but concedes. “And you,” he picks Doc up by the collar, “are going to a nice dark cell where Wynonna will never find you.”

//

“Why have you brought me here?” Waverly tries to keep her voice steady but her stomach threatens to come roiling up her throat.

She had thought that Mikshun's arch looked threatening in the snow, stark and unyielding, but in the damp mud of spring it looks worse. It looks alive, and malignant.

It doesn’t help that she’s bound hand and foot in the car of a woman who, for all she knows, could be planning to use her as a sacrifice.

“You said you wanted answers,” Michelle answers as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “This is where you’ll find them.”

Michelle strides over to the arch, completely fearless, leaving Waverly behind at the car to fruitless test her bonds. When she gives up and looks up, she sees a memory she thought she’d lost long ago.

Back to Waverly, Michelle runs her hand over the stone just as she had whenever she’d brought her daughters there, so long ago. Waverly can almost hear the shouts of Wynonna and Willa chasing each other through the trees while she sat, holding Mr. Plumpkins and wondering why Mama was so interested in an arch that led nowhere.

Turns out, it led to hell.

“It all comes back to here, to this place,” Michelle murmurs.

“How very dramatic.”

Waverly freezes at the voice. If Constance has come back then she’s definitely a sacrifice.

Michelle strides eagerly over to Constance. “Did you get it?”

“No,” Constance replies, clearly ruffled. “John Henry got in the way, again. I should have found a deeper well.”

Waverly fights to keep her breath even, and desperately hunts the back seat for something, anything, that might help her escape, but the car is empty in only the way a rental can be.

“We need that key!” Michelle yells at Constance, but it just washes over her calm.

“Then you should have got it when you had the chance.”

“Wynonna doesn’t trust me anymore.”

“I wonder why!” Waverly butts in from the car.

This outburst seems to do nothing more than remind her captors that they have her. Michelle strides over and yanks her out.

“It doesn’t matter,” Michelle says. “When Wynonna brings us the key we will have the power to break the laws of sanctuary.”

“But that only works on the solstice.” Waverly fights to stop her cramped leg muscles from giving out underneath her. “With the Earp heir, and Wynonna is never going to cross that line!”

Michelle laughs. “You really think Josiah was Wyatt’s only child? No, now we have you, my angel, and when we have that key, we won't have to wait. You really are everything Robert promised.”

“I’m nothing like that demon!”

“What is a demon but a fallen angel? And you, my dear sweet girl…” Michelle lays a hand on her cheek but merely smirks when Waverly pulls away. “You’re the only one of us that hasn’t fallen.”

“Wynonna will never let you do this.” There’s conviction in Waverly’s voice, but it doesn’t go all the way through her in the way it used to.

“You think? And when Wynonna realises that she has to choose between you and protecting her child? You don’t share her blood,” Michelle sneers.

Waverly squares her shoulders; she’s not going let Michelle get under that sore spot. “Family is more than blood.”

“Actually, there is another way to skin this squirrel,” Constance interjects quietly.

Michelle whirls, sensing betrayal. “You never told me about another way!”

“Of course I didn’t. What, you actually trusted me?” Constance laughs. “Oh, Michelle, you used to know better.”

Constance shoulders aside a stunned Michelle and pulls out her strigil to cut Waverly’s bonds.

Outraged, Michelle flies at Constance, apparently ready to rip her apart with her bare hands.

Constance hisses a string of German too quiet for Waverly to catch which swats Michelle out of the air like a rag doll.

There’s a faint play of red and blue lights across her prone body, which Waverly vaguely thinks is a strange side-effect for a spell.

“Waverly, get down!” Nicole yells.

Waverly hits the ground just as the bullets start flying. Lying flat, staring into Michelle’s lifeless eyes, she has just one thought.

Don’t let that be the last thing she ever hears Nicole say.

Chapter Text

The wet cold of the ground is seeping into Waverly’s hair and running a line down her side that cuts right down to her core. Her hair has fallen over her face to leave her looking out at the world through sideways slits.

She knows that she can get up and fight, she can get up and move, but she’s somehow become glued to the ground.

Her ears are still ringing with the shots that had flown over her head, and all she hears of Nicole’s desperate calls for any sign of life are muffled noises until Nicole’s there, she’s at Waverly’s side and her hands are there, god, her hands are there at last. Nicole’s got hold of Waverly and she’s shaking her, pulling her up, tightly squeezing her and begging her to be okay.

Waverly rolls over, and has to blink the shock out of her eyes before she can really focus on Nicole.

Relief floods Nicole’s face when Waverly finally meets her eyes, and Waverly realises Nicole has hold of her arms tight enough to edge on pain. Waverly’s hand lands in soft hair, and she stares up into eyes swimming with tears.

“You came,” Waverly breathes.

“Of course I came,” says Nicole, halfway between a sob and a heart-wrenching convulsion. “Of course I came.”

When Nicole finally pulls Waverly up to her feet, Dolls steps by them to checks Michelle’s pulse. They all stare as he counts the seconds by under his breath.

Dolls shakes his head.

As if he’d cut the elastic band that had been holding back her arm, Wynonna snaps Peacemaker up to Constance’s head. The glow of the runes lights her eyes with a hellish, but all too human light.

“You kidnapped my sister, murdered my mother -”

“You should be thanking me for killing her!” Constance interrupts, glaring past Peacemaker to Wynonna. “She was going to sacrifice Waverly and unleash the legions of hell on this poor excuse for a town. You need me, I can give you answers!”

Wynonna’s finger tenses around the trigger. “I think I’d prefer the Wild West approach of shooting first and asking questions never.”

“Kill me, and Bulshar will be feeding on your corpses before my body is cold. And you’ll never find Doc Holliday.”

“Threatening us with hubby’s revenge?” Wynonna’s voice is full of bluster, but terror had shot through her eyes at Doc’s name. “Not very original; your sister wives kept threatening us with that, and guess what? They’re both dead, and I’m still standing.”

“So is Bulshar, and there’s only one way that gun can put him in the ground. Destroy it!”

“And I told you that’s not happening. Peacemaker’s the one thing that’s going to put Bulshar down again, and that’s gonna be when I shoot him between the eyes.”

“Which will do about as much good as when Wyatt did. If you even get that far. Bulshar has a new witch now and she’ll blow you all away like tumbleweed.” Constance sighs, deeply, and then says through clenched teeth, “There is an alternative. But you’re not going to like it either.”

“Try me. ‘Cause it’s the only thing keeping you alive.”

“Unleash the one thing Bulshar fears - the demon who made him.”

Dolls steps forward and lays a hand on Wynonna’s arm. She looks ready to throw him right back off again, but she stalls at the look in his eyes, and the soft but haunted way he asks, “What do you mean, made him?”

“You think demons just burst forth, out of the ground? Of course they’re made. People - weak, scared people - looked deep into the void and trembled. Humans brought these curses down on top of themselves and you, lawman, should know that better than most.”

“What. Demon?” Dolls asks, but his face makes it clear he already knows the answer.

“Mikshun.”

“Mikshun?” Wynonna says, so surprised that she actually, finally, lowers Peacemaker. “But I already dusted that dodo.”

“You shot the part of Mikshun that was in Waverly,” Dolls clarifies.

“The demon is legion,” Constance says, “And still waits for you at Hell’s Gate.”

“Okay, that’s enough over-dramatic prophecy for one day,” Wynonna attempts to quip, but the tense quiver in her shoulders as she strides away betrays her.

Dolls joins her on the other side of the cruiser. “We can't trust her, just like we couldn't trust Michelle.”

Wynonna nods. The list of people she thinks she can trust gets shorter every day. “Well, y'know what they say, don't look a gift witch in the mouth.”

“No one says that.”

“Just - put Constance in the trunk and let me think.”

//

Wynonna’s not the only one desperately trying to pin the chaos of thought down to some kind of order in her skull. Nicole had tucked Waverly into the passenger seat of her cruiser with an emergency blanket, a squashed cereal bar and a stern insistence to warm up, and is now leaning against the hood of her car, uncomfortably conscious of the small lump in her jacket where her ring sits.

It was one thing to put yourself in the way of danger, or to know your death was waiting at the end of your grey hair. Quite another prospect entirely to hold it in your own hands.

Which might be why she decides to hand it to Wynonna, who refuses it.

“What the fuck, dude? Nope. Nope, nope, nope. We are not going there.”

“Even if it’ll break the curse?” Nicole says. “Or are you gonna unleash Mikshun instead?”

Wynonna clenches her jaw. “We’re not going there either. Anyway, how do we know what’ll happen to you if we do break your ring? Maybe you’ll -”

“Well, Doc didn’t die,” Nicole points out.

“Actually, he did…” Dolls says.

“Because you shot him!” Wynonna replies.

Dolls’ mouth hangs open. “He shot me first!”

Waverly whistles high enough to make all three of them wince. They look down, three equally sheepish faces, at the scowl framed in the open car window.

“Stop it! No one is shooting anyone, or destroying any rings, or doing anything else stupid that’s going to get them killed!”

“Uh, Waves…” Nicole says hesitantly, lifting one arm to point at Nedley’s SUV, cannonballing towards them down the road.

Nedley ejects himself from his car faster than any of them have ever seen him move before. “Thank God I finally found you!”

“Nedley? What’s wrong?”

“Downtown is overrun. They’ve taken the whole street, the department…” Nedley sucks in a deep breath. “We need you, Wynonna.”

//

The ‘cell’ Bobo had thrown Doc into smells suspiciously like one of the old store rooms in the basement of Shorty’s. A worn plank floor soaked with the beer of a century is the first thing he notices as he comes round. It’s a little hard not to, what with his face being squashed against it.

He picks himself up gingerly, wincing as each bruise and cut tap-dances across his fresh consciousness.

But he’s not alone.

“Rosita!” Doc snarls, hands going to holsters that are no longer slung around his waist.

“You could always try throwing punches, but we both know how swimmingly that would go.” Rosita sounds more exhausted than scared, despite the fact that Doc’s expression says that punches and blunt objects sound like great next steps.

“They shut you in here with me for a reason.” Rosita jabs a finger at the CCTV camera, pointing straight at them from its corner. “You want to give them that show, go ahead. I won’t stop you. Or we could try figuring out how to escape, and maybe you’ll get further than the coffee shop before they shoot you down.”

“You tried to steal my child. I have no intention of working with you, for any reason.”

“Yes.”

Rosita’s reply is bald. There’s no attempt to hide, to excuse, to plead; just the dull acceptance that once again life set fire to her deck of cards.

Her lack of emotion just confounds Doc even further. “Why, Rosita? “

“‘Cause I saw what you were like. Without her. Hard, cruel. I knew then that you didn’t lo - that you would never chose to protect me against Wynonna. Not when it really came to it. You were the one thing between me and a glowing ticket to hell - and I knew I couldn’t trust you. That I had to protect myself. Without you I was just waiting on the day Wynonna found me at the end of that gun.”

“She would - she would - she -”

Doc tries to quell the coughing fit, desperately tries to get his breathing under control, but it hits him in sudden explosion of coughing that almost makes him pass out. He crashes into the wall, bent double, and slides slowly down to the floor. When he eventually manages to get enough air to see again, he’s facing yet another spray of blood.

“You’re dying, aren’t you?” Rosita says. “For real, this time.”

“I remember; the barn, at the homestead.” Doc slumps back against the wall, eyes staring back to the moment he’d walked into that backwards universe. Seen the shackles on Rosita’s leg. The hate in her eyes. He might not have the fuzzy memories that haunt the others, but he knows all too well what he’s capable of. What he put her through. “You’re wrong. About Wynonna, at the least. You’re definitely right about me. She was a reason to be better. A shining light to lead this sinner in the dark, and once again I have failed her. I was so consumed with hunting you down…”

Rosita scoffs. “You really think you could have seen this coming?”

“Maybe I should have! History is repeating itself and I was there the last time and still I was not there when I was needed the most.” He clutches at his hair, missing the crutch of his hat more than ever. “I could have been there for her.”

“Some things you can’t take back, no matter how much you want to.”

“Quite the pair, ain’t we,” Doc chuckles.

Whatever else he might think is interrupted by a commotion upstairs; sounds as if the cavalry finally arrived.

//

Waverly sprints down the street, Nicole right behind her. She half-slides, half-falls into an alley, desperately thankful for the cover. Nicole spins down onto her knee and sends a last round of bullets at their pursuer, and then she’s throwing herself down next to Waverly.

Their shoulders collide as Waverly fights with her shotgun, the shells making every effort to dance out of her hand while she tries to reload. There’s no time to reach for Nicole, but the heavy pressure of her side against Waverly’s is every bit as much of an anchor right now as if she’d been holding her tight in her arms.

“The town’s overrun,” Nicole pants, taking a brief second to breathe against the wall before scrambling back to her knees.

As Nicole takes intermittent shots around the corner, Waverly keeps trying to load her shotgun. Such a simple thing, that she’s practiced so often. She tries to tell herself she’s got this, she knows what she’s doing, she’s been in firefights before.

That doesn’t stop the shaking. It doesn’t stop the fear that any second she’s going to look up and Nicole might not be there.

“Wynonna’ll get them, we just gotta keep them down.” Waverly finally persuades the shells into place and snaps the barrel back up. “I can cover, you reload.”

Waverly slides away from the wall, coming up to crouch at Nicole’s back. Close enough to touch, to let Nicole know where she is and that she’s ready to take her position. Not so close as to be in the way once Nicole fires the last shots left in her mag and then rolls away along the wall, leaving Waverly to step into her space.

The world had narrowed, first to Nicole’s back, then to the tension in Nicole’s shoulder where she braced the butt of her AR-15, then to the open corner of the brick wall and out along the barrel of her gun. Maybe, if she can just focus on that, she can keep it together long enough for them both to get through this.

“We make a pretty good team.” The corner of Nicole’s mouth lifts slightly, the oddly happy thought drifting unconcernedly through the blaring chaos.

“Take that you corn kernel!” Wynonna screams from the other side of the street.

Waverly glances up to see Wynonna, striding up the centre of the road as if bullets are something that happen to other people, Peacemaker red-hot and unflinching in her hands.

“I think she’s having fun.”

Dolls yanks Wynonna down behind the dubious cover of a car right before bullets fly through the spot where she’d been standing. It seems he’s spending more time making sure Wynonna doesn’t get herself killed than being able to provide any effective covering fire. Despite Wynonna’s grandstanding, they seem to be making progress. One by one, Peacemaker is finding its marks.

They might actually be able to do this.

Suddenly, a burning heat smacks Waverly in the side with the force of charging bull. She feels herself hit the solid brick wall, and then something softer - Nicole? - and then the shotgun falls from her hands.

//

Wynonna groans.

A quick mental inventory doesn’t send off any alarms of pain, but she can’t get up. Flat on her belly, she cranes her neck around to see what’s pinning her down.

It’s Dolls.

He’d obviously taken the brunt off the blast, but it’s left him heavy and unconscious on top of her, and for all the wrong reasons.

After a few moments of undignified struggle, she finally gets him off and sits up. The gunshots have stopped. It might be the ringing in her ears, but what had been a riot a few seconds ago has become smoking silence. Ahead, there’s not a Revenant in sight.

But that’s not where the explosion came from. Wynonna turns.

She’s seen the small sign with the bull horns all her life, ever since Ward first brought her, as soon as she was old enough to walk about under the bar stools. The worn, old doors are as familiar to her as the front doors of Gus’ ranch, of the homestead. She knows every inch of that bar.

It’s all gone.

Standing in the street is Constance, laughing and unharmed. The pavement is scarred black in front of her, radiating out to a fading fire that Wynonna knows too well. The fires of a Revenant being sucked back into hell; must’ve been the witch Constance was banging on about.

“What the fuck…” Dolls groans, wobbling his way steadily up off the ground.

Wynonna turns and grabs his arm before he can fall back down again. “Easy there, you took quite the hit.”

She watches Dolls’ face go through a convoluted range of motions as he tries to pin himself back to the here and now. It becomes quickly apparent he’s out of this fight, at least for the time being.

That’s when she hears the scream.

Wynonna looks up, and everything seems to happen at once.

Constance is backing away, hands up to ward against something coming out of the fog.

Out of the wreck that used to be Shorty’s runs Rosita, closely followed by Doc.

Constance yells a spell to the sky and disappears, revealing the shape in the fog. Wynonna’s never seen him before, but something sinking deep in her gut tells her she knows who this is. The frantic shock she gets from Peacemaker seals the deal.

Wynonna springs to her feet, but by then it’s all over.

Bulshar has grabbed Doc by the throat, and she has no shot.

Around their feet, Mattie’s fog fades away, the spell broken. Wynonna stands alone, gun leveled at Bulshar, but she knows how useless it is. She knows how this stand-off is supposed to go; it’s what got them all in this mess in the first place. The circles she’s lived in all her life, the endless weight of the curse that keeps pulling her back down, has really outdone itself this time. Of all the choices it’s stolen from her, there’s only one that tore her apart more than this.

Until Doc tells her to shoot him.

“No!” she yells, immediately throwing out any idea of shooting at all. How could he say something like that?

“I am not a good man, Wynonna. No - listen, for once,” he insists when she opens her mouth to argue. “I am cruel, and selfish. You know this. And now I am normal, mortal; I can feel it in my lungs. A quick death for a good reason is far preferable to the lingering agony that awaits me.”

“I - I can’t….”

“You promised, Wynonna. You promised she wouldn’t have to.”

The words pierce through Wynonna’s brain with the same undeniable burn as a shot of whiskey. It’s the promise that had been keeping her going ever since she got up off of that pool table. It’s the one thing that’s been keeping her sane these past few days. It’s the one task she knows she has to do, even if it kills her.

Wynonna nods, stiffly, pushing down the scream of wrong, wrong, wrong that threatens to break her open. Doc forces his mouth into a reassuring smile neither of them feel.

“Bury me with my guns on,” Doc tells her.

“Spare me the grandstanding,” Bulshar sneers. “You would kill a friend, a lover, the father of your child? Shoot! Shoot, just like Wyatt did. Shoot, and you are no better than any of us.”

“Guess so,” Wynonna says, and fires.

There are screams, but Wynonna can’t tell who is screaming.

There are gunshots, but she has no idea who fired them.

There are people running, but Wynonna just sees blurs at the edge of her vision.

All Wynonna sees is Doc, crumpled on the ground.

//

Nicole pounds along behind Waverly as she runs to Wynonna’s side, cursing the lead that feels like it's filling her legs, slowing her to a crawl. Leaving Wynonna to Waverly, Nicole heads for the biggest problem she can see: Doc. Rosita beats her there, and by the time Nicole crouches down to help Rosita has ripped off her own shirt and is wadding it against Doc’s chest, desperately trying to get his wandering eyes to focus on her.

“You do not get to die like this, you asshole, you hear me!” Rosita yells at him. “You do not get to take the easy way out.”

Nicole lifts her head and meets Waverly’s eyes. Waverly’s been telling Wynonna over and over that Doc’s alive, Doc’s alive, but she doesn’t seem to hear it. Wynonna just sees the blood. Wynonna sees Rosita, and doesn’t see red anymore. She sees white hot rage.

“You!” Wynonna shoulders Waverly aside and has her finger poised around Peacemaker’s trigger before Rosita can open her mouth to argue.

Wynonna’s fast, but Nicole’s faster.

Thwarted, Wynonna stares her down. Nicole’s seen a lot in the past few months, but nothing quite as terrifying as the cold way Wynonna looks at her when she steps between her and Rosita.

“Move.”

“I can’t do that.” Nicole slowly lifts her hands in an attempt to urge calmness that’s completely lost on Wynonna. “I can’t let you shoot her.”

“She’s a Revenant!”

“I know. And I know what she’s done. But we need her.”

“Like hell we do,” Wynonna growls, and there’s a tense shift to her stance that warns Nicole she might have seconds before Wynonna decides to just shove her aside.

“Bulshar’s not dead! Peacemaker didn’t kill him. I don’t think it can.”

The long moments tick by and Nicole doesn’t look away from Wynonna, doesn’t take her eyes off her as long as Wynonna looks on the verge of pouncing. She’s all too conscious that every second she spends talking Wynonna down is another second she’s not rushing Doc to the hospital.

“You’re right,” Wynonna says eventually, letting Peacemaker fall. “He’s not dead, just delayed. All I’ve done is the same Wyatt did.”

Waverly comes up behind Wynonna and, with a small, reassuring smile at Nicole that makes her melt, places a hand on Wynonna’s shoulder.

“We’ve got to get Doc to a hospital,” Nicole says, firm now she knows Wynonna’s actually listening.

Wynonna nods stiffly, and steps back to let Nicole sprint away to her squad car.

//

As Nicole drives off, lights blaring and squad car full with Doc, Dolls, and Rosita, Wynonna murmurs, “I do have got one thing Wyatt didn’t.”

“What?” Waverly asks.

“You, baby girl.”

Waverly’s hand slides off Wynonna’s shoulder. “Mama told you who I am?”

“No. But he will.”

Wynonna jerks her gun at a singed and disorientated Bobo, who’s staggering out of the hole that used to be Shorty’s and muttering to himself. He hits part of a remaining wall and slowly collapses onto the ground, staring at the spot where Mattie had died.

“She - she killed Mattie. Constance killed her, and I never told her…”

“Robert Svane.” Wynonna should feel exultant, standing over Bobo with such a clear shot, but all she feels is… hollow. “This has been a long time coming.”

Bobo looks up at her, but right through her, and he murmurs, “Yes, now you’re going to kill me.”

“No,” Wynonna says, no matter how much she might wish otherwise. “Now you’re going to tell me - us - the truth.”

“The truth,” Bobo laughs bitterly. “Mattie never knew the truth… I meant to tell her, but I never did… her daughter. Her daughter lived and I let her die thinking she was alone in the world. Wendy, her name was. Roses and gasoline, Wendy was, and far more like Wyatt than that poor boy Josiah ever was.”

“Our great-grandpa Josiah?” Waverly butts in. “But what has that got to do with Mattie? Or me?”

“Josiah wasn’t Wyatt’s only child. He was married to Mattie for years before he ever even met Sadie.” Bobo laughs, bitterly. “I was going to tell him he had a daughter, that Sadie bore him a child, but it seemed cruel, when I thought he was so happy. I was wrong.

“But I decided to care for her. It was all for Wyatt’s sake, at first, thinking I could give his daughter a life. Later… things were changing, between us, but the call came too soon. The call to Purgatory, and the bullet Wyatt was carrying for me. It was decades later that I found out Wendy was pregnant when Wyatt shot me. Pregnant with my son. My boy was dead by then and it took too many more long years to build the connections, the people I needed, to reach out - and steal my great-granddaughter out from under Black Badge’s nose.

“My angel. My Waverly.”

“There are no angels. There’s no god, no big picture,” Wynonna says bitterly. “No big purpose behind any of this.”

“No…” Bobo tilts his head, considering Wynonna as if he’s only just seen her for the first time, then breaks into a sudden grin. “Just you. So what are you gonna do?”

Wynonna clenches her jaw, and holsters Peacemaker. “The right thing.”

Chapter Text

After flashing around the best of her stern, take-no-shit faces, Nicole’s managed to claim the one actual couch in the hospital waiting room, so that Waverly can tuck herself in against Nicole’s side without a wooden handrail jutting between them.

All the rushing is over.

When Wynonna and Waverly had finally arrived at the hospital they’d found Nicole in the waiting lobby, pacing back and forth with her hands clenched together.

Now, they’re tucked into a corner out of the main flow of the busy hospital. None of the activity has anything to do with Nicole, or Waverly, or Doc and the surgery currently happening somewhere else in the building. It’s the lost time, the waiting time, and Nicole knows it’s going to be hours yet, but she still finds herself looking up every time the doors open.

Waverly’s mostly still. Strangely, she hadn’t cried yet, just found that secure spot between Nicole’s neck and her shoulder and let it become her world. Every now and then Nicole rubs her hand up and down Waverly’s arm, or gives her a gentle squeeze, but she gets little in the way of reaction. Waverly seems to want nothing but to be there, silent, in Nicole’s arms, ignoring the rest of the world entirely until it changes.

It’s been thirty-four minutes since either of them last spoke - Nicole’s been obsessively checking the clock - when she finally manages to say the words she’s been mulling on since her mad-cap dash to the hospital.

“I should have given my ring to Wynonna. I should have insisted. If I’d broken it then and there none of this would have happened and Doc -”

“Shhh.”

Waverly lays a hand against Nicole’s cheek, quieting her downward spin into guilt. With a touch as soft as her voice, she guides Nicole’s face round to hers, and lets their noses kiss. Nicole is trembling, partly under Waverly’s touch, a thrill that never stops, but mostly under the sheer weight of everything she can’t stop telling herself.

They hold there for a while, foreheads pressed together.

“You really meant it, didn’t you?” Waverly murmurs. “When you offered Wynonna that ring.”

“Yes, I did,” Nicole breathes into the small space between them.

Waverly’s hand drops to her shoulder and tightens around the collar of Nicole’s shirt. “Nicole, that could kill you.”

“Or it might not. And even if it did, if it’s the only way to save this town, to save you -”

“No,” Waverly says flatly, pulling away. She’s clenched her jaw so tight the tendons on her neck are visible. It’s a clear warning sign, but there’s no going back, no softening the blow, no more time to dance around the what-ifs and the maybes.

“Waves…”

“No! I don’t want to be sensible, or heroic, or any of that. I want you. The world’s gone to shit in a Subaru and now - I can’t lose you too. I can’t.”

“It’s okay, it’s going to be okay. I’m not going anywhere.”

Nicole goes to reach out for her, to comfort her, but Waverly’s already up. As she begins to pace Nicole can only hope, wherever they’ve got to, that Dolls and Wynonna are working on a better solution than the one she sees.

//

“This night feels as if it’s never gonna end,” Wynonna groans into her arm, the rough brick of the hospital wall cutting into her skin. The light pain is good, it grounds her, just enough to stop her from pinging off into empty streets of Purgatory, aimless and angry.

Still, her tether is weak, and it snaps free when Dolls lays an arm on her shoulder.

Wynonna spins around and throws herself at Dolls, pressing her lips to his as if they held the answers she’s been so desperately hunting for so long. For a moment, it seems as if he might give, but then Dolls breaks the kiss and steps back, holding her firmly at arms’ length.

Wynonna bows her head slightly, struggling with the rejection. Of all the men, in all the Podunk towns, she had to want the only ones decent enough to turn her down when they should.

“I just need - a little bit of light,” she tells him, almost begs him, hoping he can understand. “Just to get me through.”

“I know,” Dolls says, and he sounds the saddest Wynonna has ever heard him. “But - I can’t.”

“What do you mean, you can’t? Nicole said your injuries -”

“I’m good. It’s not that. This - this isn’t what I want, with you, with us.”

“So what, you’re just going to sit there waiting on some perfect little future that’s never going to happen? We could die tomorrow. Everything could end and you’re - you’re fucking...“ She pushes Dolls away violently. “You all just turn it on and off when it suits you and it’s your morals, or your code, or your whatever reason you’ve made and I can’t. I can’t just turn off my feelings like that, like you do, it hurts. It’s everything, it’s all the time and I need - I need -“

“I know,” Dolls says, as soft as the fall of snow. “I’m worried about him too.”

“Then how can you be so calm about it?”

“Because we’ve still got you.” Wynonna scoffs at him. “I mean it! Can you really not see how good you are at this? It’s been less than a year, and you’ve almost outstripped Edwin. Not only that, you’ve taken out countless other demons, including an infectious possession that Black Badge, with an entire military base at its disposal, struggled to contain. You’re a good agent, and you’ve won against worse odds before. You can win this too.”

//

“I know how we’re going to win this,” Wynonna announces breathlessly.

Waverly stops in her pacing to face Wynonna, tensing with the certainty that the next words out of her mouth are going to involve Nicole’s ring. She’s ready to fight every last one of them if that’s what it takes to get them to see sense.

“We’re going to unleash Mikshun,” Wynonna says instead.

In the pandemonium that follows, for once, Wynonna is the only one not talking. She stands there, uncharacteristically calm, having finally figured out the end she’s been tumbling towards this whole time.

Around her, the protests mount. They’re all going to die. The town will be destroyed without ever having gotten a vegetarian restaurant. They’re going to be eaten, and then nuked, and then shot, and then the world will end.

When calm finally falls, Nicole is the first one to break it. “Not to burst your bubble but isn’t that a little like jumping from the frying pan into the burning pits of hell?”

“But it gets me a sausage I can actually skewer,” Wynonna points out.

“If Mikshun breaks into this world in its true form, Peacemaker is not going to be enough.”

“That’s why we’ve got to do this right. When Willa crossed over, Mikshun tentacled its way across, but when I took Peacemaker back over the line it got sliced like a salami.”

“How long are you going to drag out this extended sausage metaphor?” Waverly asks.

Dolls ignores the smirking. “So you want to let just enough of Mikshun over the line to take out Bulshar? That’s a big risk.”

“You know me. Always taking the hard way.”

//

Wynonna slaps the map down on the hood of Nicole’s squad car, initially upside down, but Dolls fixes it.

“Okay, so this is Mikshun’s gate, right?” Wynonna jabs the map, checking for a circle of nods before continuing. “Last time we crossed the line, Mikshun didn’t appear right away. Wherever it comes from, it needs time to get across.”

“Five minutes,” Dolls supplies. “Probably less.”

“Good to know your clockwork’s still ticking.” Wynonna turns back to the map. “We need to get Bulshar as close to the gate as possible, but not too early or else he’ll know what we’ve got planned.”

“That’s a real thin line,” Nicole says, biting her lip in nervousness.

“If he approaches on foot we’re done anyway. By car...” Dolls lays his thumbs on the map and leapfrogs them, one over the other, muttering under his breath. “There. That’s our line of no return.”

“Then that’s where I need you,” Wynonna says, with a little shake of her head to silence the protest she knows is coming. “If it goes wrong, that’s where I need you. You can stop this becoming another Maldito.”

“So you take Bobo over the line, and then –“

“No. Not Bobo. I’ve got a different plan for him.”

//

Dolls yanks open the trunk to reveal Bobo. None too gently, he lifts sack off Bobo’s head and cuts the rope binding his ankles and wrists together.

“Looks like we found a use for you after all,” Wynonna says.

Bobo climbs gingerly out, wincing as his limbs cramp. Once he’s found his feet, he’s greeted by a circle of gun barrels pointed straight at his chest.

“Always knew you girls would be the death of me,” Bobo quips.

“Actually, I’m giving you a chance to save your worthless, traitor hide. Tell Bullshit we’ll meet him at the boundary. Him, me, and Peacemaker. Get this fucking curse over once and for all.”

Once Bobo has limped far enough away to be out of earshot, Waverly comes to stand next to Wynonna. Time was, she would have wrapped her arms around Wynonna, but the gulf left by Michelle still looms between them, and Waverly wraps her arms around herself instead.

“Surely you don’t trust Bobo,” Waverly says.

“Not a chance.” Wynonna hands Waverly her phone. “I put a tracker in his coat.”

//

Twenty minutes is a long time to go over and over a plan, picking it apart, finding all the things that can go wrong. That same twenty minutes spent standing in the shadow of the arch that marks Mikshun's gate, trying to crush wild imaginings about every rustle in the grass, might well be an eternity.

Just when the waiting is about to make her snap, Wynonna’s phone rings. She answers it immediately, on speaker.

“It’s Dolls,” he says.

“Oh thank God,” Wynonna replies. “When that Bell sales rep called it almost killed me.”

“They’ve passed the intersection. Only –“

“Both of them?” Wynonna interrupts.

“Yeah,” Dolls replies, “But they’re on horses.”

Wynonna swears. “Of course. Why would the century-old demon use a car like a normal person?”

Nicole grabs hold of the hand holding the phone before Wynonna stomps too far away. “How fast are they going?”

Dolls makes an uncertain noise down the phone.

“Are they sitting down in the saddle or leaning forward, like a jockey?”

“Jockey! Like a jockey.”

“Full out gallop.” Nicole releases Wynonna’s hand to pull the map out of the car, then spreads it on the hood. After darting her eyes across it for a moment, she jabs her finger down. “There. That ridgeline. We’ll see their dust cloud.”

Wynonna stares. “Where do you get this stuff from?”

“Time was, if you were going anywhere you went by horse.”

Wynonna just stares baldly at Nicole. “That’s still fucking weird, man.”

//

“Wynonna…” Waverly’s voice is shaking. “I don’t think this is going to work.”

Wynonna glances up from the fifth time she’s checked over every inch of Peacemaker, rolling out the cylinder for the reassuring sight of the six bullets sitting ready and waiting. “Fine fucking time to start having doubts, baby girl.”

“No. No doubts. I mean, I just don’t think you’re going to be able to do this alone. You’re not going to be able to get back across the line fast enough.” Waverly crouches down next to Wynonna, and takes a few deep, steading breaths. “But I could help.”

“But - but - you aren’t the heir. I mean, you’re not twenty-seven, even if - ”

“I think it’s different, now. Michelle said I had a destiny, a reason for being in Purgatory. I think this is it.”

Wynonna springs up in outrage. “So what, you think I’m just gonna hand over Peacemaker so you can walk across the line with the big-boobed betrayer?!”

“You’ve really got to stop fixating on my breasts,” Rosita mutters from her seat against the stone arch.

“It’s what you were going to do.” Waverly points out. “...Cross the line, not the boobs thing.”

“That is so not the - that is not fair.”

“We just need to get Peacemaker back over the line and into the hands of an Earp the fastest way possible.” Waverly holds out her hand. “Why not see what Peacemaker decides?”

Wynonna hesitates, then places the gun in Waverly’s outstretched palm. Waverly stares at it, waiting for the metal to burn her skin but it just sits there, feeling vaguely warm. She wonders if this is what Wynonna feels, when she holds it. For a magic gun it doesn’t feel like anything special. There’s no sudden rush of connection, or power. Nothing.

“I guess it’s made up its mind.”

“Might be ‘he’. If Constance was right, if Wyatt’s in there - he knows. He knows you’re an Earp.” Wynonna punches her arm, lightly. “You’ve always been family.”

Waverly grabs Wynonna and yanks her into a hug tight enough to make Wynonna gasp in pain, but she doesn’t protest. There, in the mud, she just hugs Waverly back. It’s not forgiveness, she’s not crazy enough to think Waverly could get past all she’s done that quickly. But - it’s something. A step in the right direction.

“But you’re right,” Waverly says as she pulls back. “I’m not old enough.”

“Now I’m confused,” Wynonna replies.

“We don’t know whether I can take Peacemaker over the line, not for sure. But we do know it’ll fire for me. If it has to.”

“Fire for you... are you sure about this?”

The corners of Waverly’s lips turn up weakly. “What other choice do we have?”

“We could still cash in on that chrome condo?” Waverly chuckles, and Wynonna cracks a smile at the sound. “Yeah, didn’t think so.”

Waverly hands Peacemaker back, laying it on Wynonna’s palm. Before she can take her hand back Wynonna clamps hers down over it, holding them both, together, around the gun.

“I got you, baby girl.” Wynonna squeezes Waverly’s hand, then lets it go.

Waverly and Nicole take up position just outside the gate, making sure they can see the ridge.

“You ready for this, Haught?” Wynonna asks.

“Standing in between two pissed off demons, hoping they’ll pretty much kill each other? No. You?”

“Not even a little bit. Take care of our girl?”

“With my life,” Nicole promises.

“Alright.” Wynonna turns to Rosita, but whatever she was going to say next is cut off by a wave of one hand.

“One more boob joke and I’ll send myself back to hell,” Rosita says.

“Fine, but you’re missing out on some quality comedy.”

Before Wynonna can draw Peacemaker, Rosita strides away across the line, leaving Wynonna to jog to catch up with her.

On the other side of the arch the light seems to dim, but other than the eerie way the trees curve over them, nothing happens.

“Alright, where’s that Medusa reject?” Wynonna says.

As soon as the words are out of her mouth the ground heaves like a dog about to vomit.

Wynonna’s transfixed to the approaching swell of earth, eyes wide and unable to see anything other than Willa’s face, to hear anything other than Willa’s taunts, and then screams. Nothing but screams, and then a gunshot. She never thought it would come back so hard.

Then Rosita’s screaming at her, shaking her, yelling at her to look, turning her away from the approaching demon.

Wynonna blinks.

Beyond the gate two riders are approaching. They’re too close, too soon. Mikshun hasn’t even reach the edge of the trees yet.

“Nicole!”

//

Nicole slams her lips to Waverly’s and then tears away across the mud, rifle held tight against her body.

Waverly watches her love drop to her knees, couch the butt and carefully line up her shot. Breath in, breath out. Once chance, moving target, can’t miss.

With a crack, Nicole shoots Bobo off his horse.

Bulshar’s horse baulks at the sudden obstacle, spinning away from Bobo’s body as it hits the ground in front of her hooves. He won’t be down for long, but Nicole’s done

Bulshar screeches in rage and sends a blast towards Nicole, but she’s already running. The stone wall she dives behind covers her, but she disappears in a cloud of dust. Betrayed, Bulshar spins, searching for a way out, but it’s too late.

Mikshun has crossed the line.

//

“Now, Wynonna!” Waverly yells.

Wynonna throws Peacemaker as hard as she can. As she watches it careen towards her, Waverly’s terrified it’s going to fall short, that their careful, desperate plan is going to end as a quiet flop into the mud.

Rosita canons into Wynonna almost immediately, knocking her flat on the ground. She screeches as a tentacle that would have killed Wynonna rips through Rosita’s back instead. Mikshun goes over their head like they’re standing too close to a subway train.

Waverly catches Peacemaker by the tips of her fingers.

The second Waverly’s hand touches metal the tentacle above her head gets cut. She scrabbles at Peacemaker and, as soon as she’s got a firm grip, runs hell for leather away from the line. There’s just one thing she’s got to do, one

Her hands shake, but she’s got Peacemaker up, pointed at the half-butchered form squealing where Bulshar had just been standing.

She pulls the trigger: nothing.

“Peacemaker!” Wynonna screams from beyond Hell’s Gate, and suddenly Waverly feels the scorch travel up her arm.

Peacemaker shifts, yanking her arm with it, to point true and steady at Mikshun’s head, which turns towards Waverly. The gun lights up, and Waverly hears the word darkness in Mikshun’s hisses of rage.

She fires, and the blast when the bullet hits knocks her backwards.

Once the ringing stops, Waverly struggles to get back up, casting wildly around her. She’s lost all sense of direction, and somehow barrels right into Nicole, knocking them both down again.

“Did it work?” Waverly yells.

Nicole’s reply is muffled. “I don’t know, your elbow’s in my face.”

With a stammered apology Waverly jumps back off Nicole, and finally sees what they've done.

There's a scorched circle of earth where Mikshun had been. She stares at it, not quite ready to believe they'd done it.

Waverly still doesn't believe it when Wynonna makes her way back across the line, supporting Rosita. It hardly seems real, even when Wynonna slowly falls to the ground, overcome by tears of joy and rage and pain.

Even when Nicole manages to get up, to get hold of Waverly, to stroke her hair and tell Waverly she loves her, she did it, it still doesn't fully register. It's a change too big to sink in.

They won.

//

Epilogue.

Wynonna still can't leave the house unless she's armed.

Dolls understands that.

She insisted they took Rosita to the hospital, once they realised she wasn’t going to heal. A canary in a cursed mine, human, and free to limp away. They buried Bobo beyond the borders of the Triangle, free at last.

Dolls understands that.

She occasionally hovers close to him, and then sharply draws back, only just realizing what she's done.

He understands that too.

What he doesn’t understand is the lengths she’ll go to to avoid going to the hospital.

What he doesn’t know is that Wynonna goes there at night, alone, and watches the machines that are keeping Doc alive beep the minutes away while he sleeps.

No-one hears the questions she asks in the darkness of that room.

Wynonna’s always fought because she had to. Not just because there were things worth fighting but because if she stopped, if she was still, everything would catch up with her. Now, there’s nowhere left to run.

What is she, now there’s no-one left to fight?

//

"Waves, where're my gloves?"

Nicole comes thundering down the stairs to meet a slightly bemused Waverly, walking out of the kitchen with her hands wrapped around a mug of tea. "Aren't they in your jacket, where you always keep them?"

With a gasp, Nicole lunges for the jacket. After a moment's frantic hunting, she pulls out her gloves with a victorious flourish that makes Waverly smile.

"Nervous?" Waverly asks, as if Nicole's normally ordered morning routine descending into chaos doesn't answer the question for her.

"Just a little," Nicole replies, fighting her way into her jacket. "I mean, what if I mess it all up? Nedley's gone for two weeks! He shouldn't have left me in charge, I'm not ready, I don't even -"

"You're going to be great," Waverly interrupts before Nicole can start listing all the reasons Nedley shouldn't have chosen her. "Just don't let Lonnie panic you into staying late. I’ve got a big night big planned.”

"Something to do with that University of Calgary brochure in the living room?"

Waverly swats her playfully. "I knew dating a cop was a mistake."

“Look, Waves, it’ll be hard, I’m not gonna pretend it’s not. But if this is what you want to do then we’ll make it work. Okay?"

"Much more than okay," Waverly breathes, and slips her hands around Nicole’s neck.

Of all the small things Waverly loves about Nicole, the slow way they come together, noses bumping and touches ghosting over cheeks and throats, is definitely one of her favourites. The way they tease back and forth, just as desperate, but just as ready to tease out the moment, runs a layer of comfort under the heat that touches Waverly in a place she hadn’t known she had before.

Nicole breaks the kiss suddenly, hissing, "Work!"

Waverly chuckles, and smoothes the line of Nicole's shirt where her grip and crumpled it. "Are you sure about this? Really sure? Not just about the Masters, but...

"The ring? Yeah, I'm ready. I’m ready to break it. I’m ready to grow old…. with you, if you’ll have me." The moment is only slightly broken when a loud crash from the back room heralds Wynonna deciding to greet the day by hitting the floor. "And with Wynonna too, apparently."