Sometimes the cold wasn’t so bad.
It was the nature of things, after all, that opposites served to highlight each other. The chill of winter made warm things warmer, and that never felt more true with the sound of soft snow patterning the windows of the Earp Homestead. The candles burned in Waverly’s room, flames lazily dancing in the heat of its glow. It was a glow Waverly could wrap herself in forever, along with her pile of blankets and Nicole’s bare chest pressed against the plane of her stomach. If there was ever a time Waverly needed the light, it was now. She was still reeling from her night with Jolene, her dark tendrils still felt through the maze of Waverly’s mind. The Sorry Party her and Nicole finally got around to helped, at least. The unicorn balloon floated happily in the air, her and Nicole’s clothes discarded in crumpled piles on the floor. Make-up sex really was the best kind of sex, Waverly mused to herself. She reached down to thread her fingers through Nicole’s fire red hair, still damp with sweat from earlier. She felt Nicole’s breath on her skin, slow exhales of content. She loved when Waverly played with her hair.
“You know what? I think we could really use a holiday,” Waverly said.
“There’s this thing called “Christmas” coming up,” Nicole said. “I have a feeling you’d really be in to it. There’s baking, presents…”
Waverly rolled her eyes and smirked. “You know what I mean.”
Looking up to meet her gaze, Nicole smiled and held Waverly closer, tracing her fingers down the small of her back. “Once this is all over, we’ll have a nice, refreshing, normal holiday.”
If we even make it through this,”Waverly thought. “Where would we go? Pie in the sky, ideal amazing vacation?”
“BC,” Nicole said immediately. It made sense; she loved nature and using it as her playground, climbing, biking, and hiking her way through it.
“That’d be fun! I’ve never actually seen you, you know, do any of those outdoorsy things.”
It seemed a crime that she hadn’t. Outdoorsy Nicole was so essential to her being and Waverly would be remiss to never see it one day. The most she’d seen is Nicole on the climbing walls at some tiny indoor place, where it smelled like chalk and sweat instead of cool mountain air. That all didn’t matter when Nicole climbed. It was a sight Waverly could look at all day, the ease in which Nicole navigated each rock with an impossible nonchalance, her back muscles flexing as she climbed.
“You could teach me how to climb. Real climbing,” Waverly said.
“Mm, I’d like that.” Nicole’s smile was far away, caught in a brief daydream. “So what would your pie in the sky, ideal, amazing vacation be?”
“I’ve never seen the ocean.”
There were a lot of places she’d never seen, all told. She’d never left Purgatory before. But if there was anywhere she wanted to go, seeing the vast expanse of the ocean topped her list. In some secret, silly way, it’d be confirmation that the world was bigger than her small, cursed town, places beyond what she could see.
“I know it seems obvious,” Waverly said. “Waverly, Waves...actual waves. But my name actually has nothing to do with water.”
“Mhm. Meadow of quivering aspens,” Nicole said, matter of fact.
“Wow. You know already.”
"You think I didn’t Google that as soon as I met you?”
“First of all, that’s really gay—and really, really you. Second, not a big fan of “quivering”. It’s right up there with “moist”.”
“Sooo you’re saying you don’t like moist, quivering—”
“Nicole!” Waverly laughed, touching their foreheads together and feeling Nicole’s nose crinkle on hers. Nicole gave her an apologetic kiss and tucked Waverly’s hair behind her ear.
“Then we’ll see the ocean,” Nicole said simply. “We could swim, make sandcastles, get sunburned and freckle…”
Waverly giggled. Nicole would look so cute with freckles. She could imagine the sound of the ocean, Nicole’s face peppered with white sand as the sun shone down on her. “And we could go on a big hike through a not scary forest, for once. Eat trail mix with M&M’s in them.”
“The vegan equivalent of them, yeah,” Nicole said. “We could.”
“What’s it say about us that our wildest dream vacations are completely reasonable and doable?”
“That the idea of normal is wilder than what we deal with every day,” Nicole said.
“Yeah. You can say that again.”
There was a thoughtful silence between them, a seriousness in the way Nicole found Waverly’s hand and wove their fingers together. Nicole flashed a look that made Waverly melt every time, her big, brown eyes shining with affection, that dimpled smile that showed her admiration. Sometimes Waverly couldn’t believe she’d ever found someone who looked at her that way. It was always like this, from the first time they met at Shorty’s, where Waverly somehow knew that Nicole would be important to her in a way she didn’t know yet, a tether that drew them together. What they had was deeper than Waverly could’ve ever imagined. It was fate that they’d find each other, through each timeline and every permutation of the universe. Destiny lay beside her, drawing their hands up under Nicole’s lips like a prayer.
“You know I’d do anything for you, right?”
Waverly did, of course, but it felt good to hear it all the same. “And you know I would too. Right?”
Nicole took Waverly’s hand to her lips, kissing each finger one by one. “I love you, so, so much, Waverly Earp.”
Something collapsed inside of Waverly’s chest at Nicole’s words, a weight she’d tried to forget. The words “love” and “Earp” shouldn’t have caused her as much pain as it did now. Her eyes burned with the threat of tears. Nicole stiffened beside her, those beautiful eyes full of concern.
“Baby, what’s wrong?”
The dark interior of the Gibson Greenhouse appeared in her mind’s eye. Before last night, Waverly had accepted the reality that if she were to die, it’d be at the hands of a demon, or some other unnatural thing she couldn’t fight. It should’ve been strange how casually she accepted this fact. Perhaps it was because she’d been preparing for this fight since she could remember, her entire life devoted to research and ways she could make it through the curse. A twinge of cold horror surged through her veins. Last night, if it all worked out the way Jolene wanted, Waverly wouldn’t have been wrong. She would have been killed by something unnatural.
If there was any way she didn’t have to say what happened that night, she would have taken it. Waverly couldn’t stand to see Nicole hurt, and she would be the cause for whatever pain her next words would bring. But not talking was what got them into their fights to begin with. Withholding what was important, no matter how noble the intent, never ended well with them. Jolene—demon as she was—watered the small seeds of distrust everyone had for each other. It shouldn’t have taken a demon to make everyone honest. Waverly trusted Nicole with all of her heart. So she took a deep breath, dreading what needed to be said.
“Nicole...something happened last night.”
Nicole’s eyes grew wide as she pulled back and shook her head. “Please. What’s wrong?”
Waverly took another breath and tried to root herself into the bed. “When I was in the greenhouse...Jolene.”
The tears finally fell, Nicole’s hand rushing up to brush them away. “Waves, hey. I’m here for you. It’s okay.”
Dragging herself up the bed, Nicole cradled Waverly in her arms, giving her as long as she needed to catch her breath. The sound of Nicole’s strong heartbeat was calming like distant rolling thunder. It made Waverly feel warm and safe, a comfort she couldn’t believe she was ever okay with giving up for a moment.
“The whole day was a nightmare. It was everything I was afraid of coming out of everyone’s mouth and throwing it back in my face. Jolene wanted to wear me down, and it worked.”
It was genius, really. Everything she was self-conscious of, things she tried so hard to push down, vocalized by the people she loved.
Were you not even thinking about me at all? Am I always the last person you consider?
You know, it would make sense. You’re not the same as the rest of them.
For the first time since Wynonna left Purgatory behind, Waverly felt truly alone. Worst was how the loneliness consumed her when everyone was around, where not even Mama’s return could bring her joy. The darkness inside heaved and swelled, drowning her lungs. No one cared if a demon was after her. No one cared if she dropped dead. She was inhuman, dishonest, a nuisance. A waste of skin.
“When she told me it’d be better for everyone if I just ended it? That no one loved me? I believed her, Nicole. There wasn’t a reason not to.”
Nicole’s steady breathing halted. Waverly continued. “We were linked as soon as I was born. Apparently, that meant she wasn’t able to kill me. So instead...” her mouth felt dry. “I was going to do it myself.”
Nicole sniffled above her, her jaw tightening on the top of Waverly’s head. Waverly could still remember the way the knife felt in her hand, the exquisite weight and glint of the blade in moonlight, the way her muscles tensed and were primed to pull forward into her chest. Wanting an escape and knowing there was a solution was invigourating. She could just do it, right here, through her heart, nice clean, and quick. It was chaotic clarity, where everything seemed so painfully obvious, the answer only a plunge away until she faded into nothing. Nicole’s arm unraveled from her back, her hand moving to press against Waverly’s chest, fingertips grazing her collarbones.
“But you didn’t.”
Nicole’s voice was hoarse form choking back a sob, from trying to put on a brave face like she always did for the people she cared about.
“I didn’t. Because she was wrong.” Waverly smiled despite what she felt. It wasn’t a lie, exactly. Objectively, she knew all the people she cared about felt the same for her. Yet there was a block, a wall that prevented Waverly from fully believing in it, instead feeling it like a slow trickle of water that needed time to fill her completely. Right now, she wanted to show Nicole that it was okay, that she didn’t have to worry, even if there was still doubt. That was what made Nicole so special; the heart of a lion, a rock that defied the storm. And Waverly wanted to mirror that strength, to be as statuesque as the angel in the greenhouse, daring to stand when all seemed lost.
“We all love you, baby. Even though we fight and argue, it doesn’t mean we’d stop loving you. We would never, ever want you to hurt yourself. It’d break our hearts. I don’t know—I don’t know what I’d do if—”
“If I lost you. I can’t.” Nicole gasped as she began to cry, her defenses crumbling, holding tight with a desperation that Waverly regretted.
“I’m so sorry, Waverly. If I knew this happened, I wouldn’t have said to update me later. I wouldn’t have—”
“No, no. Hey,” Waverly said. It was her turn to wipe away Nicole’s tears. “I needed it—you. It makes me feel safe, when it’s with you.”
Nicole took Waverly’s hand, running her fingers along the hills and valleys of her knuckles, seemingly fascinated by the geography. “And I want to make you feel safe. I’m here for you, whenever you need—whatever you need. Always.”
When it came to how she felt about Waverly, Nicole never held back, whether she said it aloud or through physicality expressed when words ended. And Nicole excelled at everything physical. Waverly knew through each touch, each time Nicole’s fingertips explored her body with a reverence that made her feel so important, so special. And Nicole, so careful, so cautious, would talk Waverly through it all, sweet things felt more than heard, Nicole’s soft voice making her shiver.
Is this okay?
Are you sure?
And best of all: You feel so good, baby.
There was a messiness to the tenderness too, a floundering and rawness that made it feel more real than real. It was how Waverly fumbled with Nicole’s belt every time, how their teeth clashed in bruising kisses when they were too heated for finesse. It was how Nicole’s back arched when Waverly tasted her, Nicole murmuring fragmented encouragement as her hips moved in slow rhythm. It was how Nicole felt inside of her, each curl of her fingers drawing out something Waverly didn’t know she had, foreheads pressed together, eyes locked. Above all was the simultaneous sense of presence and feeling so far away, a pocket of time where it was only the two of them. Outside, in the real world, they knew the sky could fall in an instant. But in those moments, all that mattered was the gentle weight of their bodies and the lofty sighs between them, the build-up and release of pattern magic that they wove together; always, always together. They could, if only for a short while, believe nothing could ever harm them, that not even the devil himself could rip them apart.
Overwhelmed, Waverly leaned forward into Nicole’s lips, a silent show of gratitude, the taste of salt lingering on her lips. Nicole pulled back too soon, Waverly’s brows furrowing in confusion.
“Waves…” Nicole began. “I know this is hard to talk about, and I’m so, so glad you did. But I can’t just leave this here.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know.”
Nicole hesitated. “Do you need help? Professional help?”
Ever practical Nicole. “No. I’m okay now.”
“Even if you don’t feel that way anymore, it didn’t come out of nowhere, and it doesn’t mean it just goes away. Maybe there’s other help you can get. Medication, or something to make this a little easier.”
“What am I going to tell them?” Waverly scoffed. “That I’m sad about a family curse? And oh yeah, that curse entails a lot of demon killing and demon possession? You know what they did to Mama. You know what they did to Wynonna.”
Nicole’s voice was so quiet Waverly almost missed it. “Babe, you know what you felt wasn’t because of demons.”
Demons of a different kind, perhaps—but Nicole was right. It was the residual pangs of sadness around Waverly’s being, always there, threatening to sink its teeth in as soon as it had reason. Jolene was those teeth, tearing back the flesh and exposing what had been there all along: inadequacy, fear, pain. Most of all, it was guilt. Guilt that she was alive when she couldn’t save Dolls, guilt over Willa’s return and a second death that felt justified. Somehow, with literal Hell waiting around every corner, it was the regular, human emotions that bested her.
Waverly bit her lip. “It’s just...it’s hard. I don’t know. Even from a logistics perspective, when do I have time? What if, because of Mama and Wynonna, they keep me and I can’t be around or…” she trailed off. She was trying to weasel out of it and she knew it.
“You don’t have to decide now. But promise me you’ll think about it?”
She owed everybody that much. “Yeah. I promise. And you’ll be the first to know.”
“Whatever you decide,” Nicole said, tilting Waverly’s chin with her finger, “you have to tell Wynonna. We need to make sure you’re safe. We need a plan in case you feel this way again.”
Telling Nicole was hard enough. With Wynonna, Waverly couldn’t gauge how she’d react. Rage, likely, if she’d been drinking, which she always was. Grief? Certainly. They’d already lost Willa twice. The thought of losing her, Waverly knew, was unbearable to her. It felt good in a way, that Wynonna loved her that much. But depressed Wynonna was too reckless. Telling her would only add gasoline to the bonfire.
“I’ll be fine. Okay?”
“I know you’re trying to protect her. But baby, she’d rather be sad than not know that you’re hurting. You have to let us help you. Please.”
There was no defense strong enough for whenever Nicole plead. “Okay. I’ll do it. For you.”
Nicole sat up, the blanket sliding down her torso as she reached down to stroke Waverly’s covered thigh. “You know what I love about you?”
“I look really good in a croptop?”
Nicole laughed. “That. But you always try to make the people you love happy. You’re sweet, caring...selfless. You put everyone before yourself.” Nicole bent down and kissed Waverly’s forehead, her wavy red hair tickling her cheeks. “But it’s okay to do things for yourself, too. You need to make yourself happy first. Don’t do this for me—do this for you. For your happiness.”
“Being happy in Purgatory on hardcore mode,” Waverly groaned. “With permadeath.”
Nicole chuckled. Video game references weren’t her forte. “Yeah, we might be in a fucked up town crawling with revenants and demons. But we can try to live like it’s a normal place.”
Closing her eyes, Waverly curled up in Nicole’s lap, feeling more drained than she had in a long, long time. She thumbed over the jagged scar on Nicole’s ankle, the result on that climbing accident so long ago. There was that other time, the one that still scared Waverly to think about: Nicole hanging off of the edge of the cliff, Peacemaker in hand, so close to falling and hitting the rocks below…
Dolls, his body laying lifeless in the snow, his final heroic act.
All Waverly wanted was to protect the people she loved. There were too many times she failed, too many times where it felt like she wasn’t enough, and the bad decisions that came from the helplessness she felt. But she was tired of feeling helpless. It didn’t matter how strong Bulshar and the revenants were. She had to fight. And if she had any hope to do that, it had to start within.
“Then I’ll do it for me,” Waverly said, her jaw setting in determination.
“That’s my girl.”
Even with her eyes closed, Waverly could feel Nicole’s smile shining on her. It was comfortable curled up like this. If Waverly wanted, she could fall asleep. In the morning, she’d wake up to the sound of Nicole heading off to work, and Waverly, through the haze of half-sleep, would feel Nicole’s lips brush her cheek, not wanting to wake her but needing to say goodbye. When Waverly would finally awake, she planned to have her favourite cup of tea and start wrapping her presents, Christmas music blaring as she’d sing along.
“Oh my gosh.” Waverly sat up, placing her hands on Nicole’s knees, who jolted at Waverly’s sudden revival. “It’s gonna be Christmas.”
“Oh, so you do know what it is!”
Waverly frantically shook her head. “You’re going to be here for Christmas.”
Nicole made that adorable face she always did when confused, her eyes wide and head turning slightly to the right. “Is...that a bad thing?”
“No! Nonono. It’s amazing, actually. I’m super excited. Just, with Mama here—” Waverly slapped her hands onto Nicole’s knees again, who tried to stifle her “you’re adorable” smile. “Ohhh wow. Mama’s going to be here.”
“And you have to do the whole “I’m having my girlfriend over for Christmas dinner” thing.”
“Yeah. I mean, she’ll like you. You’re nice, sensible…”
“...the cop who arrested her…”
Waverly froze. “Yeah. Oops?” They both looked down at the bed. Their fight was something they still needed to talk about. “Well, attempt number two? When we’re not all under the spell of demonic baked goods?”
“Couldn’t go worse than the first one,” Nicole sighed. “Is she okay with…”
“Probably. She seemed fine when Wynonna let that fun cat out of the bag. I don’t really know much about her yet, and...but, I know she’ll be happy that you make me happy. Even if she puts on a big mama bear act to intimidate you.”
“She’s being protective,” Nicole said. “Must run in the family.”
“Yeah. I guess it does,” Waverly frowned.
“Hey,” Nicole said, sensing Waverly’s doubt. “From what I’ve seen, you and Wynonna are definitely your mother’s daughters. And no matter what—Earp or not—that would never change how much they care about you.”
Waverly ghosted over Nicole’s scar. “I know.”
“They’re your family. And Jeremy, and Doc...me. And Dolls...” she breathed, "he's still here too, in his way. We’re all in this together. "
Waverly smiled. That was the one thought that kept her safe from Jolene, something she could never take away from her. “And our mess of a family’s gonna have one heck of a Christmas feast.”
“And we’ll keep having them. Christmas, Easter, whatever holiday we can think of. And one day?” Nicole looked excited. “I’ll even take you to try geoduck.”
One day. It felt good to think about. “Is this during our fun dream vacation?”
“It can be!”
An idea popped into Waverly’s head, so perfect that she couldn’t hide her excitement. “I got it! Okay. The ultimate vacation.” She took Nicole’s hands into hers. “You know those glass domes at the top of the mountains? Where you can see the sky and—and the stars…”
Nicole beamed. “Absolutely.” She squeezed Waverly’s hands affectionately. “And the answer is yes. We will.”
Waverly bounced. “Really?”
“Wave, I’d love nothing more than to gaze at the stars with you. It’s perfect.”
It was amazing how easy being with Nicole was. “And I’m going to be there. For the climbing, the ocean. All of it.”
That look was in Nicole’s eyes again, where Waverly couldn’t help but push her gently onto the bed, her body slotting on top of Nicole’s. A perfect fit, like a cosmic puzzle where the only answer was the two of them together. Waverly felt Nicole’s arm move as all four bonus blankets fell on their joined bodies, the soft fleece nothing in comparison to how she felt to Waverly. The candles were losing their glow, the soft pale of moonlight bathing the wooden floor. It didn’t matter. The only light she needed was in her arms.
“I want that. But for now?” Nicole said, pressing her lips on the top of Waverly’s head. “I want to be here. With you.”
And just like that, here didn’t seem so bad anymore. “I’m not going anywhere.”