Wynonna’s leaning back in her desk chair, trying to figure out whether the stain on the ceiling tile looks more like France or Spain, when Sheriff Nedley knocks on the door.
“Got a new one for you, Earp.” Nedley casts a disapproving eye over the Supernatural Division’s office.
Wynonna lets her chair fall back to the floor and gets up. Her new ghost-fighter is a woman, standing beside Nedley with her hands in her pockets. Younger than Wynonna by a few years. Probably a newbie. Someone who fucked up their first assignment badly enough to get stuck out in Purgatory.
“Nicole Haught,” the woman says. She sticks her hand out to shake, but withdraws it after a moment when Wynonna doesn’t reciprocate. “Great to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“I’m sure you have,” Wynonna says. She takes Nicole in. She’s tall, with reddish hair pulled back into a tight French braid, the kind of hairstyle that says she doesn’t often let it down. She looks like a by-the-booker, and Wynonna can’t figure out what she did to get herself sent here.
Nedley coughs. “I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.”
Wynonna waves her hand toward the other desk and chair. “This is the place.”
“All of it?” Nicole looks skeptical. “Where’s the training area?”
“We share facilities with Purgatory’s finest.” Wynonna shrugs. “They let us steal their coffee, and we pretend it’s drinkable.”
“Oh-kay.” Nicole sits down at the desk and studies the computer before turning back to Wynonna. “Does this thing even work?”
Wynonna shrugs again. The last ghost-fighter Supernatural Division, aka SupDiv, stuck her with hadn’t been much for computer work. Not much for ghost fighting, either.
Nicole has the computer up and chugging through mandatory SupDiv security updates when a call comes in for them over the radio. Wynonna perks up when she hears the address. She’d been wondering if Bert was going to show.
“Come on,” she says. “We got a call.”
“Do you have a scythe I can borrow?” Nicole looks embarrassed. “My training scythe got left in the city.”
Wynonna points to the closet in the corner. “Pick a scythe, any scythe.”
Nicole opens the closet to find a jumble of scythes. Tall, short, rusty, scratched wood and plastic handles — the leftovers from all the reject partners SupDiv has stuck Wynonna with over the years. The closet where scythes go to die.
“Not that one,” Wynonna says, when Nicole reaches into the very back, to the one nice scythe in the closet. “Any other scythe, but not that one.”
She gets why Nicole reached for it. It’s got a burlwood handle, heavy and polished, and the blade is custom-forged, with the runes of banishment beaten into the metal itself. That scythe might be the one nice thing in this craphole.
“Why?” Nicole asks. When Wynonna doesn’t answer, she shrugs and picks another, a modern scythe with a plastic handle and a fluorescent pink safety guard on the blade. “Fine. Do we get a car?”
Shorty’s is at the other end of town. “Welcome to the step below a honkey-tonk,” Wynonna says, as she lets Nicole in ahead of her.
“I heard that.” Shorty, the owner, pops up from behind the bar and grins. “Wynonna! Good to see you.”
Wynonna hugs him, and then introduces Nicole before getting down to business. “We got a call,” she says. “Bert?”
Shorty sighs. “I don’t know. I’ve been getting a creepy feeling, the last couple days, like someone’s watching, and then today I came in to open up for lunch and found the beer tap open. Beer all over the floor. Seems like he might have hung around.”
“We’ll deal with the ghost,” Nicole says, earnestly.
“Yeah.” Wynonna nods. “Can’t have him wasting beer.”
They track Bert down in the basement, by the walk-in freezer, sitting on a box next to the compressor like he’s drawing energy from it.
“Wynonna?” Bert stands up. He’s fully resolved, but still translucent. Wynonna’s surprised he found the spectral strength to turn on the beer tap. “You can see me?”
“Yeah,” Wynonna says, gently. “Ghost-talker. It’s in the name.”
Nicole, beside her, can see Bert, but she can’t hear what he says. It’s the inexplicable division of labor that keeps SpecDiv going: one ghost-talker, one ghost-fighter. Wynonna can hear Bert talk, but she can’t kick his ass if she needs to. That’s what Nicole’s there for.
Wynonna has a feeling ass-kicking won’t be needed today, though. She’s known Bert for years, the vague way you know someone in a small town who went to school a year or two ahead of you. He’s a decent guy. Didn’t deserve to fall over in Shorty’s one night and hit his head funny and end up dead.
“So you hearing me isn’t good news,” Bert says. “I figured.”
“Yeah. Not so much.” Wynonna pulls her notebook and pen from her jacket pocket and flips the book open. “Lay it on me, man. What’s unresolved?”
“Krissa,” Bert says. “How’s she doing?”
“Pretty broken up about you,” Wynonna says, and pauses. Some ghost-talkers don’t believe in giving ghosts access to information about what’s happened after their death. Wynonna thinks that’s bullshit, but she needs a moment to come up with the right way to break this to Bert.
“Krissa’s knocked up,” she says. “Your bun is in her oven.”
Classic Earp tact. Nailed it.
“Really?” Bert smiles, the expression transforming his whole ghostly face, making him seem more tangible in the dark basement. “I’m gonna be a dad?”
Bert flickers like a candle, and then settles down into a steadier burn of light. “Tell her how much I love them,” he says. “How much I love them both. How much I wish I could be there for them.”
Wynonna holds up the note pad. “Slowly, buddy. I never took shorthand.”
She takes it all down. Everything Bert has — his medical history and his parents’ names and where he came from. How much he loves Krissa and his kid. There’s a long section for his future kid — Nicole, reading Wynonna’s messy handwriting over her shoulder, raises her eyebrows when Wynonna starts writing down his instructions on how to shave, but she doesn’t say anything.
Finally, Bert stops talking, and looks off to one side. “I see the light,” he says.
Nicole gives Wynonna a questioning look, and Wynonna nods.
She can’t see the light. None of them can, ghost-talkers or ghost-fighters. Only the dead see the light, and nobody living knows where it comes from, or why it doesn’t take some people right away.
“It’s okay,” Wynonna says. “We’ll tell Krissa everything.”
Bert smiles. “Thanks, Wynonna.” And then he flares, and he’s gone.
Wynonna insists on going to Krissa’s right away, to give her everything Bert said, along with her unsolicited opinion of “Paedrynn,” Bert’s first choice of names for a baby boy. Even “Bert Jr.” would be better.
“You take this part seriously,” Nicole says, when they’re driving away from Krissa’s house.
“Yeah.” Wynonna flips her notebook shut. “It’s important.”
Nicole doesn’t say anything, just lets the silence hold between them.
That night, the Homestead seems especially empty.
Wynonna lives alone. Her little sister Waverly comes to town to visit sometimes, but she usually stays over at the ranch, with Aunt Gus, on the perfectly reasonable grounds that the Homestead is old, creepy, haunted, and full of terrible memories.
Wynonna only wishes the Homestead were haunted, but she can’t disagree with Waverly on the rest.
That night, she builds up the fire in the old wood stove, and then settles down onto the wide windowseat where she usually sleeps.
“Willa?” She pauses for a moment. “Daddy? If you guys are here, I’m listening.”
She waits, but the only sound is the wind, scouring the prairie grasses, whining across the eaves of the house. She stays up, listening for words in the wind, until the fire goes out.
Nicole’s not like the other burnouts SupDiv has stuck in Purgatory. She’s got energy. Drive. She’s not content to sit around at the station, waiting for calls. Instead, she drags Wynonna down to the morgue, over to the old newspaper offices, out to the old folks’ home, even. She starts keeping a spreadsheet, indexing every suspicious death, every ghost legend, trying to target when a new ghost might appear for the very first time, or where a long-term haunting might assert itself again.
It means spending nights in the SupDiv car, staking out lonely highways on death anniversaries, but Wynonna doesn’t mind. Better than being alone at the Homestead, listening for the echoes of ghosts who never show up.
“So what’d you do to get yourself sent here?” Wynonna asks, one night, while they’re out on County Road west of town, waiting to see if the not-so-departed shade of Marie Wyland is going to make an appearance.
“What do you mean?”
“They only stick people here when they’ve got a reason,” Wynonna says. “Ghost-fighters who’ve burned out, or who fucked up. Everyone knows it’s a shit posting — long drives, too much territory. Too many ghosts and not enough of the living.”
“You’re here,” Nicole says, like that’s an argument for Purgatory being an assignment of choice.
“I’m here because I was born here. Family history. I’m stuck.” Wynonna stops, because that’s cutting too close to stuff she doesn’t want to discuss. “You, though — you could have gone anywhere.”
“I asked to get posted here,” Nicole says. “I like the idea of a small town. And I needed to get away from the big city.”
“Not everyone thinks a small town is a life sentence, Earp.” Nicole smiles. Wynonna can just see the curve of her lips by the dashboard lights.
They watch the road in silence. Nicole has the engine running to keep them warm, but the night is clear and cold, and Wynonna can feel the nip of the air trying to sneak in where the side window doesn’t quite roll up all the way.
“So why’d you need to get away from the city?” she asks.
“Bad marriage,” Nicole says. Wynonna doesn’t say anything, and after a moment, Nicole continues. “We met young and married fast. I still love her, but… we were headed different ways.”
Wynonna’s not sure what to say about that. “What’s she like?” she asks, finally.
“High-powered doctor type,” Nicole says, and Wynonna’s not sure if there’s a little relief in Nicole’s voice, that Wynonna didn’t ask about the her. Wynonna’s noticed that Nicole’s the kind of woman who’s into other women, whose eyes linger a little longer on the female form — nothing inappropriate, but Wynonna notices. She’s always been more equal-opportunity, herself, although in Purgatory most of the opportunities are of the masculine variety.
There’s a shimmer on the roadway in front of them, and it’s go time. Nicole grabs her scythe from the backseat, and Wynonna pulls out her notebook.
Wynonna knows from the second she lay eyes on her that Marie Wyland is going to be one of the bad ones. She’s fuzzing in and out like a bad television, bright and strong and badly cohered, like ghosts go when they’ve been tethered to Earth too long. Wynonna distracts her by reading the Rites, but the spirit notices Nicole sneaking up behind her with the scythe and backhands her, inhumanly strong, sending Nicole flying into the ditch.
Wynonna scrambles across the frozen ground, trying to get her hands on the scythe while shouting the words of the Rite of Banishment. The Rite never works — everyone tries, because talking is the only thing a ghost-talker can do to a ghost, but it never works. A ghost-talker might be able to distract an angry ghost, but to actually banish them, you need a scythe.
A scythe, and a ghost-fighter to wield it. Wynonna just hopes Nicole’s still able to do so.
She wraps herself around the scythe, head carefully clear of the blade, and rolls under the ghost, towards the road. Her back crawls with the cold-jelly feel of the spirit above her, and then she’s past. She swings herself around, legs down, and sees Nicole getting up, throws her the scythe — they’ve practiced this, but not enough.
Nicole’s hands wrap around the plastic, and Wynonna throws herself to the side to give Nicole a clear path. Nicole’s scythe gets the spirit of Marie Wyland in the ankles, cutting across, but the blade of even a cheap scythe like this one is blessed with the runes of banishment. Marie Wyland flares, bright against the darkness of the night, and then is gone.
Wynonna slumps back to the ground. “Too close,” she says.
“We need to run more drills.” Nicole pushes herself up on the scythe. Wynonna wants to disagree, but she can’t.
“Still. You got her in the end.”
“Yeah.” Nicole starts climbing up the ditch to the roadway. “You know there’ve been three car accidents here since the sightings started?”
Wynonna knows. It was one of the reasons Nicole flagged this one. The other accidents had been non-fatal, but with a spirit as strong and angry as Marie’s, it was only a matter of time before someone else died.
They stopped something terrible here tonight, the two of them. Wynonna lets herself feel a flare of pride, and lets Nicole help her up.
It’s not until later that Wynonna realizes that it bugs her that Nicole’s eyes never linger on her.
Not that they need to, Wynonna gets it, she might be super-hot but she’s not everyone’s type. Not everyone wants a hot mess in their life.
It still bugs her.
She starts dressing to see if Nicole will notice. Winter in Purgatory is brutally cold, but Wynonna starts wearing lower-cut tops, belly tops, ripped jeans, to see if Nicole will notice.
Nicole remains stoic and unnoticing until Wynonna wears one of her old high-school t-shirts, ripped to a belly T, with cut-off jeans and thigh-high boots. It’s twenty below Celsius outside, and there’s snow in the forecast.
“Are you trying to die of hypothermia?” Nicole snaps, when Wynonna walks in. “We’ve got a stakeout scheduled.”
Wynonna sets down the box of donuts she brought. “I thought you didn’t notice what I was wearing.”
“Jesus, Wynonna.” Nicole looks pissed. “I’m human. I notice.”
“Yeah,” Nicole says, her face a little softer now. “But we’re partners. It’d be against all kinds of SupDiv rules.”
Wynonna takes a donut. “I notice too,” she says, through a mouthful of jelly filling. “If you were wondering.”
Nicole shakes her head and and then smiles at Wynonna, and turns back to the computer.
Another stakeout. They’re outside an old, tumble-down barn this time. Nicole’s research says a barn fire claimed five lives here, over a hundred years ago — any ghosts they find are going to be confused and angry. Wynonna’s hoping the legends aren’t true.
The barn fire happened at midnight, and they’ve been in their car since 11 p.m. Long night. Wynonna’s eating a balanced breakfast of Twizzlers and — fine, just Twizzlers. Nicole’s in the driver’s seat, looking across the prairie with high-powered binoculars, scanning for any sign of apparition.
“Don’t you get bored?” Wynonna bites off the ends of several Twizzlers and keeps talking. “Waiting.”
“All part of the job,” Nicole says, but she sighs and puts the binoculars in the back seat. “It’s almost dawn. I don’t think this one is going to check out.”
“They can’t all be haunted,” Wynonna says, through a mouth of Twizzler. “Let’s go get some sleep.”
Nicole looks back toward the barn, and then shakes her head again. “Fine.”
Winter mornings come late in Purgatory, and the moon and the stars are still visible as they drive along the lonely country roads. They’re halfway back when Wynonna senses the faint nausea that means a ghost is nearby.
“Do you feel that?” she asks, scanning the horizon for signs of light.
“Over there.” Nicole must be feeling it too, but her face is set. She turns onto a dirt road. Wynonna’s glad she had her seatbelt on as they hit a massive pothole. Nicole doesn’t even slow down.
Half a mile down, they see it: a pole barn, shiny new metal just visible in the moonlight, light streaming out of the open doors. It’s part of the McPherson ranch. Wynonna runs through her mental file of Purgatory gossip, but she can’t think of any deaths that could explain a haunting this strong. Unless….
Nicole skids the car to a stop on the soft gravel of the shoulder. Wynonna jumps out, already running towards the barn across the frozen grass. A haunting this strong — it’s not the first time this ghost has shown up. And in Wynonna’s experience, there’s only a few reasons why someone would tolerate a haunting like this and not call SupDiv.
As Wynonna gets closer, she can smell ozone in the air, heavy and choking. The light of the spirit is blindingly blue.
She slows as she comes to the door of the barn.
Inside, the spirit hovers above the poured concrete floor. Flares of ectothermal energy crackling from her, burning blue, lighting the dusty farm equipment and bales of hay.
Wynonna recognizes her. She had hoped —
“Bobbi McPherson,” she says. “Hey. I’m Wynonna. I’m here to help you.”
The spirit is still, and then blurs, and faces Wynonna. There’s a gash across her throat, glowing a bright, near-white shade of blue. The spirit’s mouth opens, but nothing comes out.
“You can tell me,” Wynonna says. “Whatever happened to you. I’m here to get you justice.”
There’s a blast of air, but Wynonna grabs hold of the doorframe and stays, bent forward against the impossible winds. She didn’t really know Bobbi that well. The only reason she remembers is the gossip, when Bobbi ran off with a vacuum cleaner salesman from Saskatoon.
Only apparently, the gossip got it wrong.
“Can you tell me who killed you?” Wynonna shouts, over the wind. “Anything, Bobbi. I’m on your side.”
Bobbi’s mouth opens, and Wynonna strains to hear, but the rushing air swallows any words that she might have spoken.
Someone touches Wynonna’s shoulder, and Wynonna jumps. It’s Nicole, behind her, with the scythe.
“We need to get that spirit out of here,” Nicole shouts, over the roaring of the wind, but Wynonna shakes her head.
“I have to know,” Wynonna yells. “She deserves justice.”
She shakes Nicole’s hand off and pushes inside the barn, hanging on to a tractor to stay standing. “Bobbi? Please let me help you.”
Still nothing. Wynonna tries to move closer, but the light and the air prevents her. “At least tell me where you are,” she says, desperate. “Where did they put you?”
“Wynonna!” Nicole’s screaming from the doorway. “Wynonna, get the hell out of there!”
“Just tell me,” Wynona says, trying to keep her voice calm, even though she’s shouting. “We’re here to help.”
The walls of the barn shudder. Bobbi’s spirit turns, and there’s a faltering in the light she gives off as she points to one corner of the barn.
Under the floor, Wynonna thinks. The bastards killed her, and poured a new barn on top.
“We’ll get you justice,” she promises the spirit, because they will. Even if she has to personally hold Nedley hostage to get it.
“Wynonna!” Nicole’s still at the door, scythe in hand. “If you don’t get out of there, I’m dragging you out.”
“It’s fine.” Wynonna turns back. “She told me.”
There’s a great tearing sound, and the spirit light disappears. And then the barn collapses, in a tearing of wood and metal, and Wynonna knows no more.
Wynonna wakes up in Purgatory General, tucked tightly into a hospital bed. It’s not the first time ghost speaking has landed her under the care of the docs, but there’s something different this time.
Nicole’s slumped in a visitor’s chair next to the bed. Her hair’s coming down, and there’s dust streaked across her cheeks.
“Wynonna?” Nicole leans over. “Wynonna!” She leans in and kisses Wynonna, hard, before pulling back. “You are never doing that to me again. Never.”
“…kissing you?” Wynonna asks.
“You know what I mean.” Nicole’s cheeks are flushed. “I thought you were dead.”
“Sorry.” Wynonna’s still catching up. She can feel the pressure of Nicole’s lips against her own, and her brain’s spinning out questions, like does this mean what I think it means and SupDiv is going to be mad and I don’t care.
“Did they get the fucker?” she asks, to distract herself.
“The ghost?” Nicole shakes her head. “No. Her disappearance was what brought the barn down.”
“Not what I meant.” Wynonna tries to sit up. Her muscles protest, but she ignores the pain and sits up anyway. “The bastards who murdered her. Did they —?”
“Oh.” Nicole reaches out for Wynonna’s hand, and then hesitates for a moment before taking it. “Nedley’s men are digging under the foundation. Looking for her. Radar says something’s down there.”
“It’s her,” Wynonna says. It has to be. There’s only a few reasons why a family wouldn’t report a haunting like that to SupDiv, and murder is at the top of the list.
There’s a knock at the open door, and Nicole drops Wynonna’s hand as Sheriff Nedley comes in.
“You survived,” Nedley says, dryly. “Still trying to get yourself killed, Earp?”
Wynonna shakes her head. “Can’t solve it without me?”
The corner of Nedley’s mouth quirks up. “An ID on the body might make it go faster,” he says. “Your partner there just yelled at us to scan the floor before she left in the ambulance with you. Think you took five years off her life with that crazy-ass stunt of yours.”
“It was Bobbi,” Wynonna says. Nedley knows whose farm that is. Probably remembers the gossip, too.
“Thanks for the confirmation.” Nedley shakes his head. “So that’s why he didn’t report her missing.”
“Sorry,” Wynonna mumbles, once Nedley’s gone. Nicole’s mouth quirks.
They let Wynonna out of the hospital a few hours later, and she limps home in the truck and takes a bath. The doctors put in stitches on one arm, so she lets it hang out of the tub while she bathes, and then gets herself dressed, gingerly. She keeps button-down shirts and loose pants around for this kind of thing — for those days when a ghost’s kicked her ass so thoroughly, she can’t raise her own arms.
Once she’s dressed, she makes a plate of nachos and takes it to eat by the window. Nicole offered to come home with her, but Wynonna’s not sure if she’s ready for Nicole to see her like this.
Wynonna’s feeling a little better the next morning, thanks to Vitamin Ibuprofen and a full night’s sleep in one of the Homestead’s beds.
When she gets to the office, she pulls the burlwood scythe out of the back of the closet, and leans back against her desk to start polishing it up, with the linseed oil Willa used to use. The bottle was still there, in the refrigerator at the Homestead, and Wynonna figures it hasn’t gone bad. Doesn’t smell like it, anyway.
Nicole gets in a few minutes later. She’s got a box of donuts, heavy on the jelly, and she slides a coffee in front of Wynonna. Biggest size of take-out cup the diner carries.
“Figured you might need these,” Nicole says.
“Donuts. Bless you.” Wynonna rubs the oil from her hands with her polishing rag, and sets the scythe across Nicole’s desk before taking a donut and inhaling it.
Nicole lets Wynonna finish the donut before she points to the scythe. “What’s this doing here?”
“Peacemaker,” Wynonna says. “The scythe’s name is Peacemaker.”
“Yeah?” Nicole pulls the chair back and sits down. “Some reason we need peace made between us?”
“It’s a family name,” Wynonna informs her. “Been in the Earp family for generations. Since we moved to Purgatory.” She takes a deep breath. “My sister Willa was the last one to wield it.”
Nicole’s face crumples, which tells Wynonna everything she needs to know about whether the Purgatory gossip network has looped her in on how Ward and Willa Earp got killed. She figured it had, but it’s good to know.
“So why are you bringing it out?” Nicole asks, when Wynonna doesn’t say anything else about Willa.
“I want you to have it,” Wynonna says, and when Nicole’s face goes still, Wynonna picks up the scythe to press it into Nicole’s hands. “I’m a ghost talker. I can’t wield it. And Peacemaker’s the best scythe there is. It’s been helping Earps kick ghost ass for generations.”
Nicole’s fingers brush across the wood, and Wynonna can tell from the way Nicole grips the weapon when she swings it that she gets it. Feels the pull. There’s something about Peacemaker that even Wynonna can feel.
“It’s yours for good,” Wynonna says. There’s a tug on her heart, one she doesn’t ignore, but it feels right, seeing Peacemaker in Nicole’s hands. “No take-backs. When you leave Purgatory, it goes with you.”
Nicole swings Peacemaker through one more practice thrust and then sets it carefully back on the desk. “I only see one problem with that,” she says.
“Yeah?” Wynonna’s mouth is dry.
“The way I see it, I don’t have plans to leave Purgatory.” Nicole meets Wynonna’s eyes. “And SupDiv probably won’t let me, once they find out I’m fraternizing with my partner.”
Wynonna bites her lip. “You are?”
“I hope so.” Nicole smiles and steps into Wynonna’s personal space, crowding in against the desk. The jelly donuts are forgotten as Wynonna leans in, meeting her halfway. Nicole’s lips soft on hers. Nicole’s fingers trace their way up Wynonna’s spine. Everything Wynonna wasn’t letting herself hope for.
“Do we have a ghost appointment?” Wynonna murmurs, when they finally part.
“If you were a normal ghost speaker, you’d be taking the day off.” There’s a fond frustration under Nicole’s words.
“I’ve always been dedicated.” Wynonna brushes her hand across Nicole’s cheek.
“Yeah?” Nicole lets her forehead fall against Wynonna’s and smiles. “You know where I’m staying? One of the apartments at the old Anderson place.”
“There’s this weird sound,” Nicole says. “Think it might be haunted.”
Wynonna smiles back, and lets Nicole take her hand. “We’d better go check that out.”