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a place is only a place

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Waverly cries most of the way to the Canadian border. Five times she asks Nicole to turn around and five times Nicole clenches the steering wheel so hard the material creaks under her fingers, her foot firm on the gas pedal and her eyes on the road. The baby sleeps the entire time, snug in Waverly’s arms. Nicole has an infant car seat in the back, but Waverly refused to put her down and Nicole can’t blame her. Waverly tries not to drip her tears on little Alice, instead turning her head against her shoulder to nudge at her sleeve, sometimes using the edge of the baby blanket.

They switch cars in Lethbridge. Nicole pulls into a public garage and parks one level up next to an unremarkable sedan. The keys are exactly where she was told they’d be, inside a plastic bag taped up inside the front right tire well. “Perry,” Nicole says simply. “He owed Wynonna. She called in the debt.” They transfer their bags over in a hurry, not wanting to stop any longer than they have to. Waverly sighs once and lays a hand on the red jeep hood.

“Perry will make sure it gets back to Purgatory,” Nicole says. She waits for Waverly to get in the passenger seat first, scanning in a complete circle twice before ducking in herself. She twists to reach through the gap in the front seats, pulling a manila envelope out of her travel bag in the back, and shakes three passports out into her hand.

Waverly slumps in her seat, looking exhausted in every possible way. But she still holds Alice close. “What’s that?” she asks.

Nicole fans out the passports with their telltale embossed blue covers. “Yours, mine, and Alice’s.”

Waverly finally looks something other than completely miserable, confusion taking over for a few blessed moments. “I don’t have a passport. Alice doesn’t…” She seems to connect the few data points she does have. “Just how long have you been working on this?”

Nicole tries not to feel guilty, even though it’s hard after everything they’ve been through when it comes to secrets. Waverly never would have helped with this, never would have even agreed to contemplate this. There’s a reason Wynonna asked Nicole. “Perry,” she says again. “Money makes everything move faster.”

Waverly reaches out with one hand, taking her passport, flipping it open to look at the inside cover with her photo and information. “I always thought I’d get a passport when I was ready to leave Purgatory. Go see the world. I had a whole route planned out.”

Nicole touches Waverly’s thigh, trying to comfort her however she can. “I’m sorry it had to happen like this.”

Waverly’s eyes flick over the information next to her headshot. “Emily,” she reads out loud, pronouncing it slowly. “I’m Emily.”

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to pick it yourself,” Nicole says. She would have torn her own passport in half with her twisting, nervous hands if not for the sturdy cover. “I tried to pick something you’d like.”

“Emily,” Waverly repeats again.

“For Emily Stowe,” Nicole says. “You said you liked that biography of her? At least…at least if you can’t be Waverly, you can have a name that still means something to you.”

Waverly stares at her passport for another minute, fingers tracing the letters of her fake name. “Thank you,” she says at last, so quietly Nicole thinks for a moment she imagined it.

It seems for a moment that Waverly might cry again, but she lets the passport close and leans back in her seat, eyes closed over a long inhale. And after she exhales, her eyes open hard and cold like the barrel of her favorite shotgun – the same shotgun now stowed in the back, with proper permit papers and everything, once again courtesy of Perry. “We can do it,” Waverly says, the same way as when she’s stubbornly refusing to back down to a Revenant or to Black Badge or even to Nicole herself. “We have to do it. For Wynonna.”

Nicole squeezes her leg once and then turns the key in the ignition. They have a long drive ahead of them.

*

They cross at Coutts, a barebones border town with faded buildings dotted around the main highway feeding into the checkpoint. Nicole pulls off into a slightly wider street lined with small single-story buildings, each as nondescript as the last. “I’ll be right back,” she says, parking the sedan outside of a squat painted concrete bank. She’s in and out in a few minutes, a few hundred in Canadian exchanged for US currency.

The border crossing is uneventful, all their paperwork perfectly in order. She keeps driving through the evening and all through the night. Nicole is exhausted but the energy drink she chugged when they stopped for gas in Shelby, Montana won’t let her do anything but keep driving, eyes cast only as far ahead as the headlights because she can’t bear to contemplate the world beyond the moving bubble of their car. Her entire life, packed up in a couple of bags in the back. At least Nedley will be thrilled to take custody of Calamity Jane.

Waverly is finally asleep, Alice still tucked firmly against her in a sling after her first ever feeding. Maybe it’s her full belly, or the motion of the car is a lullaby humming her to sleep; maybe, deep down in her little intuitive baby Earp sense, she knows she’ll have to save her crying for later. Still, the silence rides Nicole’s nerves until she flicks on the radio as low as it will go, just enough to be a barely-audible murmur of white noise.

The road stretches on for miles and miles, the vast and quiet plains slipping away in their wake. Sometimes she rolls into the fugue of a long-distance drive, startling back into total awareness fifty miles along and the speedometer edging past 100 mph. But there’s no one out here with a radar gun to chase them down, and so they make very good time and when Waverly wakes up Nicole is pulling into a motel on the edges of Boulder. By her count, she’s driven for nearly sixteen hours. A good head start.

“Where are we?” Waverly asks, rolling her shoulders and her neck, arching her back away from the seat. She rubs sleep from her eyes, looking around at the rows of nondescript doors, the big red arrow sign pointing off the road, now lit by the first peeking rays of sunrise.

“Colorado,” Nicole says, twisting the ignition off and immediately ripping an enormous yawn.

“You look awful,” Waverly says, tucking a bit of hair behind Nicole’s ear. Her other arm is instinctively rocking Alice, not enough to wake her, just enough to keep her soothed and somnolent.

Nicole just laughs, a small, tired sound with its own bitter tinge. “Let me go get us checked in,” she says.

The desk clerk takes a few dings of the little silver bell to pop up, unleashing a few yawns of his own. So much the better if he’s sleepy and doesn’t quite remember the redhead in the ballcap who slides a few twenties across the wood in exchange for a room key. She trudges back to the car, fingers twisting idly around the plastic keychain embossed with the room number. Waverly is waiting for her, walking in a little circle in front of the car.

“Come on,” Waverly says, watching her slump against the driver’s side door and gently tugging the key from her limp hands. “You can crash and I’ll find us some food.”

Nicole pulls the overnight bags from the back seat, one for her and one for Waverly, and the hard-sided case holding the shotgun and her Smith & Wesson. It was a relief eventually confessing all to Waverly, this crazy plan Wynonna cooked up because it was the only way she could see a future for her child, which made it feel much less like a violation to dash over to the homestead and start cramming every suitcase she could find with Waverly’s things. Her favorite sweaters, her jewelry, the research journals in her desk. And a leather jacket Nicole knew Wynonna wouldn’t begrudge Waverly, dangling off the edge of the dresser in her room.

She follows Waverly up the clanky iron staircase, shuffling inside and using her foot to press the door shut behind her. The bags drop to the cheap carpet and she makes it two steps to the single queen bed before flopping onto it and passing out.

*

When Nicole wakes up the light has changed; it feels like afternoon, maybe almost evening. It’s hard to tell, as grey and cloudy as it is. Waverly is on the other side of the bed, propped up against the headboard, still with Alice in her arms. Nicole doubts she’s put the baby down for even a second.

Waverly gently tilts the bottle of formula so Alice can suckle, humming something low and rather tuneless, her other hand making idle patting motions. She turns her head as Nicole rolls over onto her side with a muffled groan, still feeling stiff from the drive and then from sleeping in her clothes. She paddles her feet a few times, feeling the slide of socks on the comforter. Waverly must have pulled off her boots.

“You really did think of everything,” Waverly says, glancing at the baby bottle. It’s as much accusation as it is compliment.

Nicole lies still, just watching Waverly and Alice for a moment. She breathes and blinks, trying to find something to say, to explain why she had to do this for Wynonna. For Waverly. Trying to swallow down the fear and resentment already starting to crowd back in against the fear and sheer adrenaline of getting the hell out of Dodge, John Henry’s overcoated figure receding in their rearview. “I had to,” she says eventually.

Waverly is silent too, the only sound between them Alice’s tiny little suckles at the bottle. Her voice comes out soft, resigned. “I know.”

They don’t speak again until Alice pulls away from the bottle, blowing a milky bubble and wiggling in her sling.

“Who are you now?” Waverly asks, and Nicole knows what she means, but everything she says is stained with blame whether she means it or not.

“Roberta,” Nicole says. “Roberta LeBlanc.”

Waverly cocks her head, eyebrows rising. “Roberta as in Roberta Bondar?”

Nicole can only offer a sheepish smile. “I idolized her as a kid.”

“Roberta,” Waverly says again, rolling it around in her mouth. “Roberta and Emily.”

“I, uh.” Nicole massages the back of her neck with one hand. “I wouldn’t mind going by Bobbie?”

“Emily and Bobbie,” Waverly says, head still cocked thoughtfully as she tries it out. Nicole’s gut untwists just slightly at the way Waverly automatically ampersands their names. Her next question makes Nicole’s stomach swoop in an awful way. “Are we married?”

“No,” Nicole says, and can’t really hide how much it hurts her to see the relief on Waverly’s face. “The more paperwork Perry had to fake the more risk, and anyone who looks for us will probably look for a couple. But we’re both Alice’s legal guardians. Or Bobbie and Emily are, anyway,” Nicole says. She can’t quite look at Waverly while she lays out how thoroughly she has managed to erase any trace of Wynonna from Alice’s background.

Waverly’s voice is shaky, but not weak. Just the voice of someone learning to cope on the fly, hopping from emotional rock to rock in search of something solid. “That’ll mean fewer questions for us.”

Nicole wants to hug her, tell her it’s incredible the bravery it takes to face the situation and accept it this quickly. But she can’t, because they both only really have room for survival mode right now, and neither one of them can afford the time it takes to really process.

“Why don’t you take a break,” Nicole says. “I can hold her for a while.”

Waverly clutches Alice closer to her for a moment, instinctively rejecting any suggestion she let go. Nicole knows it’s not about her, but it still cuts at her a bit. She’s here. She brought them both here safely. She squashes the feeling down and just lets her fingertips trail along Waverly’s thigh, allowing her to decide.

“Okay. Thank you,” Waverly says. She reaches behind her neck, pulling the sling over her head. Nicole pushes herself up so she can take Alice in her arms, supporting her head with one hand and cradling her securely with her other arm.

“Try to get some rest,” Nicole says. The car sleeping hasn’t done much to actually rest Waverly, still leaving shadows under her eyes, pale skin drawn over her cheeks. “We still have a ways to go.”

*

It’s easier leaving the United States than it is entering it. The border crossing at El Paso is congested with cars at a near standstill, the checkpoint bottlenecking families and businessmen and delivery drivers alike all trying to drive into Juárez. The drive from Boulder was relatively easy, Nicole once again slipping in and out of highway hypnosis, pushing the speedometer without realizing it on those long, flat stretches of New Mexico highway. They only stop for gas twice, picking up a couple more energy drinks, a few bottles of water, a bag of trail mix and some sad convenience store fruit. Nicole is glad that Waverly spends most of the drive napping with Alice cradled to her chest in a sling; otherwise they’d be forced to sit in silence and ignore that it felt too tense in the car to even talk.

But Waverly wakes up as they slow down to approach the border, and they sit in sweltering silence, windows down to circulate warm Texas air. The climate change is a bit of a shock when only two days ago they were layering in Purgatory, but Nicole doesn’t want to run the A/C the whole time to save them some gas and cut down on the number of stops they have to make.

Creeping forward a few car lengths at a time has the back of her neck itching, arms prickling. She’s constantly scanning, hand wishing for her gun close at hand. But it has to stay locked away for the time being; even if Perry managed to rig up the various agency permits and hunting licenses that let them bring weapons across borders, that doesn’t mean she can sit with a holster on her hip while a customs official asks her why she’s entering Mexico.

From time to time she waves off street vendors, weaving between the lines of cars selling bottles of water and snacks. Any one of them could be The Order or, more likely, Black Badge. Dolls had a notion they’d be a little bit safer in Mexico, where Black Badge doesn’t have as many contacts, but until they’re over that border she sees spies everywhere.

She doesn’t realize just how tense she’s holding herself until Waverly touches her arm and she jumps hard enough she would’ve yanked against her seatbelt if she hadn’t unclipped it when they joined the queue so she could stretch a little bit. “Sorry,” Waverly says, holding out a bottle of water.

“No, I’m sorry,” Nicole mutters, accepting it. She sips instead of chugging; she doesn’t want to add needing to pee on top of this interminable wait. “Little on edge.”

Waverly purses her lips in a grimace. “Me too.”

The crossing inches closer, and finally they’re pulling up to the inspection station, handing over their passports, plastering on fake smiles and feeding the customs officer something about a family vacation. They roll through without complication, Perry’s paperwork holding up just as he promised it would.

*

The last leg in the car is the hardest. Nicole’s Spanish is piecemeal if she’s being kind and nonexistent if she’s being honest. Fortunately, Waverly has more than a beginner’s grasp and they switch off behind the wheel. Waverly is reluctant to let go of Alice, she can tell, and she holds Alice close to her body as if to reassure Waverly she’ll protect the baby. She’ll protect them both.

It's ten hours to Torreón, the radio now picking up Spanish-language stations that Nicole can only understand a word every five minutes when they’re not playing English top 40 songs. Waverly intermittently hums along to the music; Nicole doesn’t think she knows she’s doing it, because she looks stricken every time she stops, as though horrified she could be humming at a time like this. Nicole is just glad that she can still hum at all, and tries to nap in between feeding Alice and burping her and pulling over to change her diaper.

Both she and Waverly are in dire need of sleep when they pull in to the motel on the edge of Torreón, another plain setup that looks almost exactly like the motel in Boulder, different country or no. Waverly handles the check in with her passable Spanish and Nicole waits with Alice and the bags, cooing nonsense things at her when she’s not trying to keep an eye on the parking lot from under the brim of her cap. It might be a little while until the interested parties realize Wynonna sent them away from Purgatory, but if she and Waverly can make it this far in a few days, so can Black Badge and The Order and any agents of the Revenants.

Waverly comes back with the keycard, both arms folded up tight and shoulders hunched, eyes on the ground. Nicole wants to tell her to keep her head on a swivel, to be more aware of her surroundings. But they’re both exhausted and she knows Waverly is still half-sure they’ll just turn around and go back soon. So Nicole can watch the world for the both of them, for the moment.

In their ground-level room, Nicole pulls the curtains tight while Waverly sinks onto the bed, holding her arms out for Alice. “She’s been so good this whole time,” Waverly says, letting Nicole loop the sling around her neck and help settle Alice into her arms.

“She takes after her aunt,” Nicole says, shaded with just a little gentle teasing, as much as she thinks they can both bear at the moment.

It pulls the beginnings of a smile out of Waverly, like she wants to form one but can’t go through with it. It’s the best they can do for now. “Is it okay if I crash?” Waverly asks.

“Go ahead and sleep, baby,” Nicole says. She drops a kiss on Waverly’s forehead. “I’ll be here.”

*

The last twelve hours to Mexico City crawl by. They climb out of the Chihuahuan Desert, winding along with the mountains of the Sierra Madre Oriental pacing them in the distance. It’s better than New Mexico, at least. More to look at by way of scenery, and more cars on the road that keep it from feeling so awfully lonesome.

As they come upon the outer edges of Mexico City, Nicole wants to squirm with anticipation. This will be the real test; crossing borders in a car within North America is one thing, but getting on a plane and hopping continents is another. She had originally wanted to just drive to Winnipeg or even Toronto, where it wouldn’t be so unusual for them with their Canadian passports. But when she was preparing the escape route, Dolls had said Black Badge could easily access airport records anywhere in Canada. It was more of a jurisdictional mess for BB if they flew out of Mexico, so it would buy them more time, let them build a bigger lead. She wonders if Dolls knew what she was planning despite her attempt at innocently working the questions into the conversation, disguised by her desire to know more about BB in general. Probably he did. They were just starting to build a real professional rapport, and now she and Waverly are in the wind.

It's something of a shock, driving into a city again after so long with nothing but the road and sleepy little outskirt motels as their companions. The last city where they really spent any time instead of just passing by was Calgary, and Mexico City is much larger. Even with Waverly able to read the signage, it takes them a little bit to work their way over to the airport and pull in to the long-term parking lot.

Nicole has their tickets ready in her carry-on satchel and she piles their bags onto a trolley while Waverly meticulously wipes their prints from the car. They don’t have time for her to be sure she got everything, but at least she can make it harder for anyone following them.

Their flight isn’t for another five hours, though that’s still cutting it a bit close for Nicole’s tastes. She had originally planned on 16-hour driving days for at least a day’s cushion, but she and Waverly both needed the extra rest. It’s not just the travel, it’s everything they’ve been through with Mikshun and the widows and the secrets she’s kept. This is the home stretch, but they’ve been moving so long it feels like they’ll never be still again. She misses lying in bed with Waverly on a snowy morning, holding her close in the cold, muffled silence, the whole world frozen in place around them. She misses the luxury of inaction.

“You ready?” she asks as Waverly finally shuts and locks the car, standing up straight and stretching her lower back, Alice still patiently hanging out in her sling as she’s jostled around.

Waverly shrugs, shoulders barely able to manage a single despondent twitch. “To leave for good? Not really. Part of me thinks any moment Wynonna will call and say it was all a big joke, she changed her mind.”

“I know,” Nicole says, and takes Waverly’s hand in sympathy.

Waverly looks down at their twined fingers. “How about you? Are you ready?”

Nicole tightens her grip. “I’m scared as hell,” she admits. “But yeah, I’m ready.”

It was just what Waverly needed to hear, if her answering grip on Nicole’s hand is any indication. She only lets go so Nicole can grab the luggage cart and lead the way into the airport.

*

Nicole would have thought that they would both immediately pass out on the plane, but Waverly can’t stop craning her head to stare out the window. She wishes she’d thought to record Waverly’s face on takeoff, her exhilarated smile as the plane whined and rumbled into acceleration that pressed them into their seats, the sudden transition into empty air beneath them as the wheels left the ground. For a girl who’s never left the Ghost River Triangle, three countries and her first airplane in less than a week is a lot. She’s glad she asked Perry for a window seat. He had offered them first class, but they need to be as inconspicuous as possible. Sweet guy that he is, he did buy a third ticket just for Alice, leaving open the seat to Nicole’s left since Alice remains snuggled in Waverly’s arms.

Nicole watches Waverly as long as she can, but the little murmurs that Waverly presses into Alice’s skin and the crash from days of nonstop vigilance finally send her into a deep, dreamless sleep. She only wakes up when she feels the grind and chunk of the landing gear extending.

Her neck has a crick in it from leaning on Waverly and she feels a series of cracks go off down her spine as she sits up, squinting and smacking her dry mouth. “Waves,” she says hoarsely, too tired to remember to call her Emily, then feels the tug on her skin from a dried drool trail out of the corner of her mouth. She rubs at her face. “Oh god, I’m sorry.”

Waverly at least looks amused rather than offended. “You needed to sleep.”

Nicole blinks a few times, rolling her head around, stretching as much as she can in her seat. She should have agreed at least to economy plus; folding her longer body into this seat has left her with all kinds of complaints. Waverly, damn her, has been able to stretch her legs out just fine. Nicole peeks over the edge of Alice’s blanket. “Wow. Did she cry at all?”

“Mostly out the whole way,” Waverly says. “She woke up a few times but just passed out again after I fed her.”

“Lucky duck,” Nicole says, letting the tip of one finger just barely trace along Alice’s cheek before withdrawing her hand. She tries to stretch again, wanting to cover up the sudden tender longing she feels towards Alice, who is not her daughter – not even her blood. “Did you rest at all?” she asks when she settles back in her seat.

“A little,” Waverly says. “Watched a couple of movies.” The little screen set in the headrest in front of her is still displaying the in-flight entertainment menu.

The plane banks, wing dipping to give them a view of the city they’re circling before leveling out again. Nicole’s hand lands lightly on top of Waverly’s on the armrest and they wait impatiently for the plane to descend into Charles de Gaulle airport.

*

Nicole feels on a more even keel in France, hearing a language she understands all around her. Waverly keeps whipping her head around, staring at everything, though in the tourist way and not in the security way.

“I always wanted to go to Paris,” Waverly says as they wait at baggage claim. She leans into Nicole, back to front, and Nicole lets her hand stay steady on Waverly’s hip. “Not like this though.”

Nicole grabs their bags off the conveyor belt one by one, checking to see if they’ve been searched. She didn’t put anything vital in them besides their disassembled weapons, just their clothes and some odds and ends. Their documents, money, Waverly’s journals, all of it stayed in their carry-ons. She feels a little better with the gun case in hand.

Their car is waiting for them in the park by the terminal, another unassuming little dark blue sedan that Nicole only matches by the plates. She does a quick inspection and then loads them up. Waverly finds two phones in the glove compartment, all charged and with the right SIM cards to connect to the Orange cell network. She programs the numbers for “Emily” into Nicole’s phone and “Bobbie” into hers as they drive.

Nicole drives them to their hotel on the edge of the city, marginally more relaxed here with an entire ocean between them and Purgatory. Beside her, Waverly can’t stop craning her neck, taking in the sights, buildings and people all so new and different. Their hotel is a somewhat plain grey brick building, and Nicole wants more than anything to take Waverly into Paris proper, check in at some ridiculously expensive getup overlooking the Seine. She wants to take her out for dinner and drink real French wine and walk hand-in-hand under lights along the Champs-Élysées like a couple of carefree tourists. She so desperately wanted the whole experience for them – young and in love in Paris, without the weight of the world.

Waverly seems content enough though, exploring the room, poking at the bed, glancing through the curtains at the scenery outside.

“You hungry?” Nicole asks.

Waverly seems to consider the idea as though it hadn’t occurred to her to be hungry. “Now that you mention it,” she says. Neither of them has had a real meal in days, subsisting off of gas station snacks and bottled water.

“I think I saw a corner store nearby,” Nicole says. She wants to unpack her gun and slip it into her concealed carry holster, but not even Perry had managed to fake up a carry permit for her here, where the gun laws are fairly strict. Their best protection right now is their anonymity and their ability to stay mobile. She checks her wallet for the euros she exchanged at the airport and then slips out, already anxious about leaving Waverly alone with Alice, even for 10 minutes.

She picks up some water, fruit, a couple of premade sandwiches and bags of chips, as well as a newspaper. The shopkeep doesn’t pay much attention to her, but she doesn’t miss how his eyes flick automatically to her red hair.

She breaks into a bit of a jog returning to the hotel, bounding up the stairs to the second floor and using the coded knock she and Waverly agreed upon before entering, paper bag crinkling in the crook of one arm. Waverly is on the bed, feeding Alice, looking down at her with such pure adoration that Nicole almost wants to turn around and leave to give them some more alone time.

“Look at her go,” Nicole says, watching as Alice sucks greedily at her bottle.

“She’s a natural,” Waverly says, eyes glued to Alice’s tiny face.

Nicole sets up Waverly’s food within easy reach on her bedside table, knowing she won’t want to move when Alice is done. Alice will drink until she’s in a near stupor with her belly full of sink-warmed formula, and then Waverly will gently burp her, and she’ll go out like a light. Nicole takes up the other side of the bed, pulling the plastic off of her sandwich and taking slow bites in between watching Waverly and Alice. “You’re good with her,” she says.

Waverly sighs. “I must have read like twenty books to prepare for this. There’s just…so many things that can go wrong. A thousand different ways to ruin your kid.”

“Look,” Nicole says, food set aside, one hand rubbing a reassurance along Waverly’s knee. “From what you’ve told me, Ward wasn’t so hot as a dad. But look at how you turned out. You’re kind and brave and willing to do anything for family.”

Waverly turns her head a bit, just enough that Nicole suspects her eyes are watering. She sniffles. “Gus and Curtis did a great job raising me.”

“And I’m guessing they were probably pretty anxious too, taking you in. But they loved you all the same, and isn’t that what matters?” Nicole asks, reassuring herself as much as anything.

Waverly turns back to Nicole, all of sudden tucking herself up against Nicole’s side and letting the tears come. Quiet and still because Alice remains in her arms, but full of sincere grief all the same. Nicole wraps an arm around her shoulders, cheek resting on top of Waverly’s head, and tries to be a warm blanket shrouding her from the world for a few minutes.

*

Between sleeping on the plane, uncomfortable as she was, and the energy from the food, Nicole insists that she’s fine to stay up while Waverly naps. Neither of them is quite comfortable enough to be asleep at the same time yet, and so Nicole makes a slow circuit of the room with Alice in the crook of her arm while Waverly twitches uneasily in her sleep. They have a few days here at the hotel before they move again; Nicole figures they can use this time to recharge a little bit and get into a rhythm with Alice before they start hopping around the country.

Alice is blowing snot bubbles in a regular rhythm against the burp cloth on Nicole’s shoulder when Waverly wakes up, gasping softly as she remembers where she is and why. Her eyes search out Nicole, seated in the desk chair, turned towards the bed to watch Waverly sleep. “Hi,” Waverly says softly, sinking back onto her pillow.

“Hi,” Nicole mouths back, not wanting to wake Alice. She makes a subtle incline from the waist, offering Alice back, but Waverly shakes her head.

They’re getting used to these silences between them, where the weight of what they’ve done hangs so heavy in the air, settling thickly all around like fog. Nicole can hardly believe it was less than a week ago she was still in Purgatory, still in her uniform, still hoping there might be a last minute solution that let her stay. She’s not really sure she believes this is her life now, not yet.

“Can I ask you something?” Waverly says.

Nicole stands, so carefully, and tiptoes over to the bed. She lowers herself just as carefully, keeping Alice completely still, until she’s sitting on the mattress next to Waverly, leaning back against the headboard. “Always.”

“Why France?”

Nicole looks down at Waverly, hands tucked under her pillow, looking young and vulnerable with traces of sleep still on her face. “Well,” Nicole says. “It had to be a place we’d blend in. And preferably where we knew the language, although I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before someone makes fun of our Canadian accents. And.” Nicole’s mouth twists in a sad smile. “I knew you always wanted to visit anyway, so I thought at least we could go somewhere you’d find interesting.”

“Anywhere but Purgatory feels…wrong,” Waverly says, curling in on herself for a moment.

Nicole’s smile turns from sadness to sympathy. “I know, baby. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Waverly says. She wriggles closer, so her legs brush up against Nicole’s. “I just wish Wynonna had trusted me with this.”

“Wynonna loves you too much to ask,” Nicole says, because if they’re to keep going, Waverly needs to keep her sister in her heart. Thinking of Wynonna has to be her strength, not her sorrow. Nicole can take the resentment for both of them.

Waverly flicks her eyes down, thinking for a moment. “I never would have agreed to help with this if I had known from the start,” she admits at last. “I would have fought with Wynonna to stay.”

Nicole says nothing, letting her work through it.

“I still want to call her and fight her on this. But god, everything around the birth, and Rosita, and the Revenants, and the Order…” A sigh, something halfway between resignation and acceptance creeping in all around the edges. “Alice deserves a chance at a normal childhood. And I sure as hell don’t trust anyone else but us to protect her.”

“We’ll be okay,” Nicole says.

Waverly looks up at her, for the first time with anything other than exhaustion or grief. Now there’s the first glimmer of something approaching hope, or at least the raw will to start putting up a fight. “We’ll be okay,” she agrees.