He was good at killing, so they called him a hero. What kind of person wants to be a gunslinger?
--Wynonna Earp, episode 1x01
"Hey," says Waverly, looking down at her sister. "You could just call him, you know."
Wynonna forces a smile, reaching out to poke Waverly with the marshmallow fork. "Happy Halloween, baby girl."
She turns her face back toward the fire as Waverly and Nicole walk away.
The little flames dance in the breeze, giving off erratic tentacles of heat that can't warm her where it counts. She sits for a long time, just watching the fire, as tears crawl slowly down her cheeks.
At last she rouses, if only because her legs are beginning to go numb. She staggers up onto her feet and stomps around in a circle for a minute until her circulation returns.
Glancing at the house, she rejects that destination immediately. The walls of the homestead are still paper-thin and she doesn't need to hear what the engaged couple is doing right now.
She veers off toward the barn, but as soon as she steps inside and sits down on the bed, she's assaulted by a wave of sense-memory, borne on the scent that rises up from the mattress. The smell of hay and tobacco and sweat floods her whole body with vivid images of him, of all the things they've done in this barn, on this bed.
She lets out a sound like a wounded animal and jumps up off the bed again, grabs a bottle of whiskey from the sideboard and her jacket from the hook, and flees.
Out the door, around the corner, away from the house and the barn and the memories. Peacemaker bumps comfortingly against her hip as she strides into the field behind the house, and suddenly she knows exactly where she needs to go.
Ten-year-old Wynonna lies curled around the sleeping body of her little sister, listening to the sounds of her older sister moving around in the next room. She knows that Willa is being as quiet as possible, and if Wynonna were asleep like she ought to be, she wouldn't be hearing a thing.
When Willa eases open her bedroom door and starts down the stairs, Wynonna moves too. She carefully disentangles herself from Waverly and slides her bare feet to the chilly floor.
Wynonna learned from the best, and she makes no more noise than a ghost as she moves across the room, deftly avoiding the floorboards that creak. The door, which she oiled herself, slips open, and she's down the hallway and crouched at the top of the stairs as softly as a breath.
From the sitting room downstairs she can hear her sister and father conversing in low tones. Wynonna eases herself down onto her knees and listens in.
"No," Ward is saying, "not tonight."
"Tonight we have a different mission, Willa. You've been doing very well with target practice, but tonight is for paying our respects."
"To who?" Willa grumbles, and Wynonna doesn't need to see her older sister's face to be able to imagine the sulky pout.
"To our forefather, Wyatt. The reason we're all here."
Wynonna's eyebrows go up in surprise, and even Willa seems intrigued when she repeats, "Wyatt?"
"Yes," Wade says. "Today would have been his one hundred and fiftieth birthday, so we're going to visit his grave and pay our respects."
"I didn't know his grave was around here," says Willa.
"His body is buried in California," Wade answers with a dismissive scoff, "but we have a private grave here, on our land, just for us Earps. The Heir has to visit it once in a while, to remind us of why we're here and what our true purpose is."
The floor creaks, and Wynonna can tell that Wade has stood up, and a moment later Willa as well. "Come on," Wade continues. "I'll show you where it is, and you'll visit it a couple times a year from now on. But you can never tell anyone else about it. Not even your sisters."
"What? But Wynonna-"
"No," he snaps harshly. "You tell no one. Understand?" Wynonna cringes back instinctively at the tone. It's the voice he uses when he's about to start hitting.
Willa knows it too. "Yes, Daddy," she answers meekly.
Wynonna listens to them pulling on their coats, grabbing guns, and leaving the house. Their footsteps crunch on the snow outside as she hurries down the corridor to the far window to watch them go.
Wade has brought a flashlight, and Wynonna can track their movement by its thready light. She watches them cross the field behind the homestead and enter the woods.
In the dark she tries to mark their position when she sees the flashlight stop moving, its beam steadying as if it has been placed on the ground. The urge to follow them is strong, but she knows she can't be quiet enough to avoid being heard. And if Wade caught her...
So she does her best to commit the location to memory, and then she uses the bathroom, and tiptoes back into the room she shares with Waverly. When she slides back into bed, the smaller girl turns toward her immediately and snuggles up, warming Wynonna's chilly skin in an instant.
She falls asleep remembering the sting of Wade's tone when he said You tell no one.
The next day when the girls get home from school, Wade is already drunk, passed out on the sofa. It's Wynonna's job to feed Waverly and keep her entertained, keep her from bothering Daddy, while Willa does her homework. But as soon as Wynonna has gotten the littlest sister settled at her play table with some crayons, she goes to knock on Willa's door.
"What?" Willa grumbles. Wynonna pushes the door open and looks at her sister with stubbornly set jaw.
"You watch Waverly for a little while. I need to go do something."
Willa glares, but Wynonna folds her arms over her thin chest and glares right back.
"You watch her," she repeats firmly, "or I'm telling Daddy that you kissed Tommy Marshall behind the school yesterday."
Willa jumps up with murder in her eyes, hissing her anger. Wynonna drops her arms and goes into a half-crouch, bracing, but Willa is the one who backs off, though her eyes are still spitting fire.
"Fine," she snaps, "but you better be quick or I'm telling him you shirked your chores."
Wynonna spins on her heel and gets out while the getting is good.
In the daylight it proves easier than she had expected to follow the path that Wade and Willa walked last night. The snow, though thin on the ground and wind-blown, still clearly shows their footprints, and once she has crossed the field and moved into the woods the tracks are even clearer.
She weaves between the trees and around rocks and stumps until she comes to a tiny clearing, and at its center, a small headstone surrounded by a circle of bare earth, which her father and sister must have cleared.
The grave marker is small and simple. It bears only Wyatt Earp's name, his dates of birth and death, and the single word Father.
Wynonna crouches on the cold ground for a long, long moment, just looking at the stone. She feels she should say something, greet her ancestor in some way, but no words will come.
At last she rises to her feet again. "What do you care, anyway?" she asks the stone. "I'm not the Heir. I don't matter."
She turns and heads back toward home, never looking back.
Wynonna hasn't visited Wyatt's grave a single time since that day when she was ten years old, but her feet still remember the way. Or maybe it's Peacemaker, guiding her unerringly back to its original master.
Doesn't matter. In any case, within moments she finds her way to the headstone, more worn and faded by the intervening years, but still mostly as she remembers it.
She brushes away the leaves and twigs surrounding the grave marker and lowers herself to sit before it, Peacemaker lying across her lap. She stares for a long time at her ancestor's name, and at last she begins to speak.
"Well, Wyatt, you old dead asshole, you really fucked me up."
She pauses, huffs out a humorless laugh, shakes her head.
"I broke the curse, you know that? I mean, technically Bulshar did, but I made it happen. I was the, what's the word, catalyst. And to think I wasn't even supposed to be the Heir."
Her tears are falling again and there's no reason to wipe them away, no reason at all.
"I know I'm second-best, Great-Great-Grandpa. Don't you think I know that? My whole life I've known. It was supposed to be Willa, but I fucked that up. I let them take her, and I killed Daddy, and then there was no one left to be the Heir except me."
She blinks and blinks, but the tears won't stop and her vision is blurry.
"And I did it, damn you. Even though it wasn't supposed to be me, I did everything the Heir is supposed to do, and I was damn good at it. I killed the revenants and kept the town safe. I kept Waverly safe. I gave up my-"
She has to stop there, curling in on herself, arms wrapped around her belly to try to contain the sobs.
"I gave up my baby," she manages to whisper. "To keep her safe. And Doc hates me for it."
Her tears splash onto Peacemaker, soft pattering noises as the droplets meet the solid metal.
"Before the curse I had nothing to lose, I didn't care about anything," she goes on, her voice thin and thready as the tears keep flowing. "I was happy that way. I was used to not caring, not having anyone care about me. But then I became the Heir and... I mattered. I started caring."
She shakes her head slowly, blinks away more tears.
"That was fucking stupid. Because when you have something to lose, you get hurt." Her nose is running, her sinuses clogged from weeping, and she can't stop. "And I've lost everything, Wyatt. Daddy, Willa, Dolls, all gone. Waverly's getting married, she's all grown up. She doesn't need me any more."
She pauses, tries a smile as she thinks about Waverly and Nicole.
"They love each other so much," she tells Wyatt. "I'm happy for them, I really am. All I ever wanted for Waverly was to be safe and happy, and now she is. Nicole will take care of her. They'll take care of each other," she corrects herself.
She clears her throat. She can't keep the smile going any longer than that. It slips off her face and melts away with the tears that are still pouring down.
"They don't need me... and Alice is gone... and Doc doesn't want me any more." She has to stop again, her throat closing up until she can hardly breathe. She puts both hands over her face and sobs into them until her chest aches.
But she's not finished, she needs to finish saying her piece, so gasping and sniffling she forces herself to get her voice back under control.
"And the curse is broken," she manages, her voice raspy now, throat sore, "so there's no more need for an Earp Heir."
"No more need for me."
She sits up straighter, her own words echoing in her ears.
"So this is where we are, you old bastard," she sighs, looking down at Wyatt's grave marker again. "Thanks for nothing." She lifts both hands and gives the gravestone the double middle finger.
Then she picks up Peacemaker and takes a long look, caressing the familiar lines and contours of the gun. Despite everything, it feels so right in her hands, like it was meant to be hers, if only for a little while.
"Hey, old friend," she murmurs to it. "Help me out one last time."
She turns the gun again, bringing the barrel around to point at her own face. Her hands tremble as she lifts it, and she can barely manage to get it straight, centered at the middle of her forehead.
"I've got nothing left, Wyatt," she says as she fights to steady her aim, struggles to get her fingers lined up right. "Everything's gone, everyone's gone. I've lost everything I ever cared about. I hope you're happy with how this turned out, you fucking asshole."
But even as she's moving her finger into position on the trigger, a gunshot rings out from the trees and Peacemaker flies out of her hand. She yelps in startlement and whips her head around to see Doc come crashing through the underbrush, gun in hand, his eyes wild.
"Wynonna, what the hell are you doing?" he shouts. She topples over backwards, catching herself ungracefully on her hands, speechless with shock as he falls to his knees in front of her.
He grabs her shoulders and shakes her, hard. "What do you think you're doing?" he repeats, and she sees anger in his eyes, and terror.
"Let me go!" She brings her hands up between them, breaking his hold, and tries to spin away, but he seizes her again and wrestles her to the side, away from where Peacemaker fell.
"No! You cannot," he pants as they hit the ground, Doc's grip tight on her upper arms, Wynonna's legs flailing as she fights back. "I will not let you. I cannot lose you."
A surge of anger propels her upward at that, shoving him off her, catching his chin with an inelegant backhand as she shakes herself free.
"Lose me?" she yells, furious. "You left me. Everyone left me! It's all over, so what's the point?" She leaps to her feet, steaming. "I've got nothing left," she says again, spitting out each word like poison to make Doc flinch. "The curse is broken. The world doesn't need an Earp Heir any more."
"To hell with the world," he shoots back, climbing to his feet as well. "I need you."
The words stop the breath in her throat for a moment, but she plants her feet, pushes the breath back out, takes another one in. "You left," she says again, feeling her anger begin to melt back down into despair.
Doc steps closer and puts his hands on her arms again, more gently this time. "Wynonna..." he says. "I have been..."
"An asshole?" she fills in, looking away, unable to meet his eyes. The vast river of tears she has already cried are still wet on her face and he lifts a hand to wipe at them, his touch tender.
"Lost," he says quietly. "Struggling. Trying to find the way to be a better man, but I - I cannot do it without you."
"You seem to be doing just fine without me."
She's staring at his shoulder, still not making eye contact, but she can see him shaking his head slowly.
"I am not fine," he says. "I do not think any of us are."
With an effort, Wynonna drags her eyes up to his face, meets his eyes at last. His are soft, earnest. Like the way he used to look at her, before everything went to shit. To her dismay she feels the tears start up again, feels them leaking out and slipping down her cheeks in a steady stream. Doc wipes them away with his fingers again, and then again.
"You left," she says yet again, her voice thick with grief this time. "And I'm just so tired. Of trying so hard, and failing every fucking time."
"Oh, love, you are not failing," he murmurs. He swipes at her cheeks again. "That you should think this way is my doing, and I am sorry for it."
He puts his arms around her and pulls her close, and she tries to resist, but finds herself sinking into his embrace, pressing her face against his shoulder. Relief floods her body at the feeling of being back in his arms, and she's crying again, soaking his shirt, clutching at him like a lifeline.
After a long moment she lifts her head again and finds his mouth with hers, and his grip tightens around her, a new warmth spreading through her body at his eager response. The kiss starts out soft, but in another moment Doc turns forceful, pushing Wynonna back against a nearby tree and attacking her mouth with a ferocity she hasn't felt from him in ages.
"Holy hell, woman, you scared the living daylights out of me," he pants against her lips, his voice unsteady, his hands trembling at her hips. "To see you with Peacemaker at your own head." He pulls back, takes hold of her shoulders and shakes her again. "Now you listen to me, that is not how you go out. Do you hear me? That is not how it ends, at the wrong end of your own damn gun."
She blinks at him, her head spinning at the barrage of contrasting emotions. Her cheeks are still wet from crying, her lips tingling from the kiss, and despair still gnaws at the pit of her stomach.
"You don't get it," she says hollowly. "I can't do this any more. I've lost so much and I just... I don't know how-"
"You are wrong, I do understand," Doc says. "We have sacrificed so much, you and I. It is not easy being a hero. Or," he adds with a slight grimace, "the hero's sidekick."
Wynonna scoffs, staring at him. "Is that what you think we are?"
"Darlin'," he shakes his head, looking at the ground, then back up at her, "I have spent many a long night wonderin' what I am, and why. But I do reckon I know what you are."
"I'm Wynonna Earp?" she tries, a weak attempt at humor, but he simply nods.
"You are Wynonna Fuckin' Earp." She huffs in disbelief, her lips curving up against her will at the unexpectedness of the f-word from his lips. "And when you meet your end," Doc goes on, "it will not be by your own hand but in the heat of battle, in a blaze of glory. Probably taking out an entire town's worth of demons on your way down."
She can't smile at that; she can only shake her head. "What if that's not what I want?"
"Well..." Doc sighs. "I do not believe you have a choice."
Sometimes life chooses for us, she remembers him saying, what feels like a million years ago.
She takes a step closer, lifts her hands to cup Doc's face, watching him as his brilliant blue eyes watch her.
She tilts her head up and presses her lips to his again, lightly, briefly; then she pulls back again.
"And where will you be," she asks, low and dark, "when I'm going out in a blaze of glory?" She narrows her eyes and stabs out with her words. "Fighting by my side? Or lurking in the shadows, judging me for every choice I didn't have?"
Doc flinches, clearly stung, but his hands come up to grip her elbows and keep her from moving away.
"I am not a righteous man, Wynonna," he says, matching her tone, her scowl. "I may not even be a good man, but I told you that I am yours whenever you need me, and so I am."
Releasing her, he bends down and picks up Peacemaker from where it fell. He turns the gun in his hands and holds it out to her, his eyes solemn.
"Our work is not done, love."
Wynonna heaves a deep sigh, and closes her fingers around the handle of the gun.
She slides Peacemaker back into her holster, noticing the way Doc's gaze lingers on the gun, his expression troubled.
"Hey," she calls softly, drawing his eyes back up to hers. "I won't."
She feels the truth of the words as they leave her mouth. No, she may have had a bad moment here today, but she's not going to take that way out. It's not her style.
Doc nods, accepting, and glances at the sky. "Sun's going down," he says. "We should get inside before dark."
Wynonna turns and starts back toward home, Doc falling into step beside her. As they walk, she reaches into her jacket pocket and finds the bottle of whiskey. She pulls it out, opens it, takes a swig. Passes it over to Doc.
They walk in silence for a few minutes, passing the bottle back and forth.
"You were right," Wynonna says at last. "We're not doing fine."
"No," he acknowledges, as they step out of the woods and start across the open field. "But we will be."