Nicole woke up with blood in her teeth.
“Aw fuck.” She wheezed, curling in on herself on the stone floor. Her belt dug into her side, pressing on some probably broken ribs. She felt like she’d been dragged behind a horse over rocky ground. Trying to shift into a sitting position was impossible; on top of feeling like shit, her arms were handcuffed behind her.
“You alright Haught?” A voice came out of the gloom, making Nicole jump a little at the proximity. She blinked, and saw only darkness. Wherever she was, it was pitch black.
“Wynonna?” Nicole asked, her voice raspy. She cleared her throat and her tasted metal in her mouth.
“The one and only.” Wynonna’s voice sounded a little closer this time. There was scuffling, and clumsy hands brushed against Nicole’s leg in the dark. Her hands were cuffed too, with manacles that clanked when she shifted. “You looked a little rough when they dragged us in here. Before they put the lights out at least.”
“Do you remember…?” Nicole stopped, frustrated. She could remember driving to the Earp homestead, seeing Waverly- “Waverly! Is she alright?” She tried to sit up and almost vomited. It felt like railroad spikes were being pounded into the base of her skull.
“She wasn’t in the car, remember?” Wynonna sounded worried now, and Nicole had to force herself not to jump when she put her hand on Nicole’s forehead. “Jesus, how bad did you hit your head?”
“Not hard enough, it would seem.”
Nicole and Wynonna froze.
There was a flicker of light, then a steady blaze of it. The woman lit by the light of the flaming brazier in the center of the gloomy cellar looked manic. Insane.
“Not that it matters.” Her voice was like nails on a chalkboard or wet silk on steel; it set the teeth on edge and burrowed deep, planting an uncomfortable, unsettled feeling in Nicole’s chest. Like dread, but more visceral. Primal.
She smiled and Nicole knew animal fear.
“Neither of you are getting out of here alive.”
Waverly stared into the cave. “Are you sure this is the place?”
Doc gave her a sideways look, then turned to look at the pink Cadillac parked a spitting distance away. “I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that was a rhetorical question.”
“Right.” Waverly gulped.
“I would not judge you for turnin’ back.” Doc said. His voice softened. “Only reason I’m headin’ in myself is because there’s business to be settled b‘tween me and the Witch.”
“I can’t just leave you.” Waverly said, setting her jaw. “Wynonna and Officer Haught are both in there and I’m the only backup you’ve got.” She stepped forward, breaching the mouth of the cave.
“Wonderful.” Doc said under his breath. He unholstered his gun, stepping cautiously after her into the dark.
The cave tilted downward, taking them deeper and deeper within the earth. The cave’s rough natural walls gradually transformed into more uniform, man-made cuts.
“Are the walls darker?” Waverly whispered, narrowing her eyes at the darker shade of rock.
Doc reached out and touched the nearest wall- and recoiled. “What in the sam hell-?”
“What, what is it?”
“It’s blood.” He said, disgusted.
“Is it- is it fresh?” Waverly asked. Was it Wynonna’s? Nicole’s?
“It’s old.” Doc said, wiping his hand on his trousers. “Come on, let’s keep moving.”
Five minutes later, Waverly was wondering how deep this tunnel went. The slopping floor turned into rough hewn stairs, uneven and treacherous, leading ever downward. Any light from the mouth of the cave was long gone, leaving the both of them in suffocating darkness and silence.
“Do you hear that?” Waverly said, her voice trembling.
“I’m afraid I do.” Doc said, his voice heavy. He picked up the pace, moving quicker down into the dark.
Towards the screaming.
Nicole swum in and out of consciousness. Distantly, she could hear Wynonna screaming at the- the witch to leave her alone, to take her instead- her screams replaced the ones Nicole had been making until her throat gave out hours ago.
God it hurt so bad-
“Don’t worry, Wynonna Earp.” The woman’s voice was calm. Modulated. Through the blood dripping into her eyes, Nicole could see the grim smile on her face. “I have plans for you yet. But for now, I need her." “If you were just going to kill her, why the hell did you torture her first?” Wynonna demanded, and while Nicole agreed, she’d like it if Wynonna wouldn’t give the lady any fucking ideas.
“Revenge.” The witch said simply. There was that cruel smile again. “Your sister shattered the skull of my darling boy. Bringing him back will require blood. Sacrifice. I can’t think of a better starting point than the woman half in love with her.”
“Really dude?” Wynonna said, her voice incredulous. “You’re half in love with Waverly and you haven’t even been on a date yet.”
“Prob’ly… not the time…” Nicole gasped.
“Talk about U-Hauling.”
“If I get out of this.. I’m going to punch you in the face… a-and ask your sister out on a date.” Nicole said. “In that order.”
“How cute.” The witch sneered. She flicked her fingers at Wynonna and she slammed back into the cave wall. “But I’m tired of talking.”
She gestured at Nicole, and the officer was struck with a terrifying feeling of immobility. The handcuffs wrenching her arms behind her back clicked open, but Nicole was in no position to try and make a move. Instead, it felt like an invisible hand was keeping her pressed against the ground.
The witch loomed over her, her eyes bright in the darkness. “This is for my sons.” she hissed. White fire erupted around Nicole, scoring lines into the stone. A pentagram.
This was when Nicole realized that, yeah, maybe whatever the Earps were mixed up in was above her pay grade.
“What’s the plan?” Waverly breathed. Her eyes were riveted to the scene in front of her, her breath coming in short, terrified gasps. The flaming pentagram, Nicole’s shirt and undershirt rucked up to expose her stomach, the witch’s intelligible muttering- none of it boded well.
“I’ll distract her, you go secure Wynonna’s release.” Waverly’s eyes flicked to her sister against the far wall, and down to the empty holster at Wynonna’s side.
“What about Peacemaker? Nothing matters if we don’t have that gun.”
“I see it.” Doc said. “On the barrel, there.”
Waverly could just barely make it out. It was mostly wrapped in cloth, but she would recognize the shape of it anywhere.
“Now we wait for the perfect opportunity.” Doc said, easing back a little more into the shadows.
“Qui est Lucifer lux Et Dominus in terra. Exaudi me Domine Deus fortis inferni ! Egredere ex tartarus , Exi a finibus terrae Egredere ex nocturno caelo!” The witch’s words became decipherable as she increased in volume, and Waverly’s face went white.
“We need to go now.” Waverly said. Her voice cracked with urgency. “We need to-”
The witch raised her hand in the air, lifting something out of the brazier beside her. It glowed white hot against the darkness of the cave, and Waverly could see it clearly.
A cattle brand.
“No!” she screamed, leaping out of hiding with Doc hot on her heels.
The witch brought the brand down with a triumphant scream, and everything happened at once.
The first thing Nicole was aware of was that it hurt to breathe. Her skin felt tight, and too small around her middle. It felt like fire.
Nicole came to awareness with a stuttering gasp, her eyes rolling in terror. The witch where was- where was the witch?
“Hey, hey you’re safe. Officer Haught! Nicole!” Nicole jerked, whipping her head around to look at the source of her name.
It was Waverly.
“Where am I?” Nicole said. Or at least, she tried. All that came out was a strangled croak.
“You’re in the hospital.” Waverly said, grabbing a cup of water from a nearby table. It had a straw, which Nicole was immensely grateful for. Sitting up seemed like an awful idea right now.
“Is everyone alright?” Nicole said, her voice still a raspy, tremulous whisper.
“See for yourself.” Waverly jerked her head toward the corner. Nicole raised her head and saw Wynonna’s form slumped in the armchair in the corner, her gun tucked into the crook of her arm. “I don’t think you’re allowed to have guns in the hospital, but I think they made an exception.” She waved her hand around. “Doc’s skulking around somewhere.”
“You said my name.” Nicole said, smiling slightly.
“All that, and that’s what you focus on?” Waverly said incredulously, but her voice trembled. She furiously wiped at her eyes, sniffing.
“What happened?” Nicole asked, changing the subject.
“The witch was going to use you to summon Satan.” Waverly said. Her voice was matter-of-fact. “We stopped her. Mostly. Drove her off until we could get you out of there.”
“Alright.” Nicole said, after a moment.
“That’s it?” Waverly blinked. “You’re not going to, I don’t know, freak out? Call me crazy?”
“I’m starting to accept that Purgatory is a bit of a crazy place.” Nicole said, half her mouth curling up into a wry smile. She shifted, and winced. “God, why do I feel like I’ve been run over by a pickup?”
Waverly’s slight smile dropped. “That’s why I said we stopped her… mostly.”
“I remember her getting a few licks in, but…” Nicole stopped, staring off into space. “She had a…” The word got stuck in her throat.
“A cattle brand, yeah.” Waverly said quietly. “You’ve got some serious burns, on top of some stitches and bruises.” She leaned forward over Nicole’s hospital bed, her fingers barely touching Nicole’s hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“What’re you sorry for?” Nicole asked softly. “Way I see it, you didn’t put these marks on me.”
“I might as well have!” Waverly burst out, before throwing a guilty look at her sleeping sister. “Why were you at the homestead? For me. Why did the witch wanna hurt you? For me. Who wasn’t fast enough?” Her voice cracked, and she made to pull away.
Nicole tangling their fingers together stopped her. “Hey, now.” she said. “None of that kind of talk. I was doing my job. I’m a police officer. Sure, I expected to be shot at rather than, well, magic? But it’s my job. I’d never blame you.”
“You should.” Waverly said, tightening her hold on Nicole’s hand.
“I won’t.” Nicole promised. “I’d never- I…” she cleared her throat. “I could never do that, Waverly Earp.”
“Alright then.” Waverly said softly, looking at Nicole with even softer eyes.
They sat in silence for a moment, just holding each other’s hand.
“I should probably go tell the nurse you’re awake.” Waverly said.
“Oh! Of course.” Nicole let go of Waverly’s hand as thought she’d been burned.
“I’ll be right back.” Waverly stood. She seemed to hesitate, looking between the door and Nicole before coming to a decision. She bent over, her hair falling in a cascade onto the pillow next to Nicole’s head.
She pressed her lips to the corner of Nicole’s mouth. Her lips were soft, and Nicole wanted to turn and kiss her properly. Instead, she held still and tried not to breathe.
And then Waverly was gone.
Nicole brought a bandaged hand to her face, shocked. And then she grinned like an idiot.
“That was the gayest thing I’ve ever seen.” Wynonna’s voice, tired and raspy from sleep, brought Nicole back down to earth.
“She was just saying thank you.” Nicole said, her cheeks coloring.
“Some thank you.” Wynonna smirked. “Didn’t you say something about asking my sister out on a date?”
“I also said something about a punch to the face.” Nicole raised her eyebrows.
“I guess you better heal up quick.” Wynonna shrugged, settling back into the chair and closing her eyes. “You’ve got quite the to-do list.” One eye popped back open. “Would it be in bad taste to make a ‘busy beaver’ joke right now?”
Nicole could only laugh. These Earps, they’d be the death of her one way or another.
She settled back into her pillows, letting her eyelids flutter.
But what a way to go.