Nicole wasn’t tall until her freshman year of high school. As a child she was lanky, clumsy, too skinny for the hand-me-down pants from her brother her mother altered by hand to fit. Her mother scolded her for the rips in her knees and scrapes on her elbows, and she folded in on herself, trying to hide on the schoolyard from the boys who tugged her hair and tripped her stumbling feet.
Jackson Lyldale pushes her and she tumbles to the ground, tanbark in her mouth. She looks up, her hair in a tangle, gritting her teeth, and he laughs at her, taunting while his friends egg him on. Something catches him on the side of the head, drawing blood, and he staggers.
“You let her alone!” A girl sallies to her rescue, pure blonde hair done up in pigtails and a striped dress that’s worn but still finer than the one Nicole’s mother makes her wear to church. Nicole looks at her run off the little boys with a tin lunchbox and a scowl and feels like she understands the twangy songs Daddy used to play on the pickup truck radio when he leaned over and kissed her mother’s cheek, smiling.
They move that year because Daddy runs off with the butcher’s wife and Ma says she can’t spend one more day in the town heaven and hell both forgot. Ma and Davey and her drive to Texas with the radio dialed all the way down, crackling static while they roll away with the tumbleweeds. Nicole presses her nose against the glass window and lets her breath fog it up. She draws a little heart with her index finger and thinks about angel girls with ribbons in their hair.
Waverly Earp doesn’t remember Nicole Haught, but Nicole Haught remembers Waverly Earp.
Purgatory might seem like a big town to Nicole, bigger than she remembers, but it’s still a little town at heart, and the nurse on duty is overworked enough she only makes a half-hearted protest before shrugging and digging a pen out of her pocket so Nicole can sign the waiver promising not sue the hospital if she drops dead because she checks herself out of the hospital before a doctor thinks she should.
“Get some rest,” the nurse says, and turns back to her rounds. Nicole would very much like to get some rest, but all she can hear is Waverly crying in the hall outside her hospital room, the sound of her ribs cracking when something threw her into the snow and raked fire down her spine.
She limps her way to the run down cruiser the Sheriff’s department keeps in the back parking lot, next to the dark ambulances. It’s unlocked and she finds the keys under the driver’s side visor. Thank god for small towns. The engine rolls over smooth as cream and she crunches across gravel studded ice, pointing towards home. Her conscience prickles and she feels her palms drag on the cracked steering wheel as she turns before thinking, pulling off the main road onto the one that leads to the Earp homestead.
It’s awkward, and painful, and she has to lean forward to keep her weight off the staples in her back, but she doesn’t turn around. When she closes her eyes she feels dirt raining on her face, the sharp rocks making her fingers bleed when she dragged herself halfway out of the ditch, stretching an arm out towards the road. Her toes still feel cold, black around the nail. They say she’d been lucky not to lose a few. The cruiser smells like chewing tobacco and cheap whiskey--a lot like Deputy Lewis, actually. When she pulls into the Earp driveway and kills the engine and the headlights, she leans over, groaning because there’s no one around to hear her anyway, and fishing under the passenger’s seat. Her fumbling fingers hit curved glass and she pulls out a half empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Red.
She drags herself to the door, the porchlight a bright glow in the air. It’s snowing again, soft little flakes that melt on her eyelashes. She thumps a fist against the door, and it swings open after only a moment. Nicole had been considering an apology, a check-in, maybe a demand that Wynonna follow through with that half-assed offer for pancakes and answers.
Every word she’s ever learned leaves her brain as soon as she sees Waverly Earp in fleece pajama pants and a long sleeve shirt that hangs loose enough on her that Nicole can catch glimpses of her collarbones. Nicole makes a faint choking noise, her hands tightening around the liquor bottle.
“Officer Haught?” Waverly is big eyes and gentle concern and her arm is out of its sling, faint bruising around her wrist. Nicole remembers what that skin feels like under her fingers, butter soft over delicate bones. “What’s wrong?”
Nicole finds her words. “Sushi,” she says.
“Oh.” Waverly’s eyes go even bigger. “Well, uh. Not that I wouldn’t really like to--really--” Waverly mutters under breath, “really--but it’s uh. A little late.”
“On your pants,” Nicole clarifies. Waverly looks down. Little cartoon sushi rolls dance across her legs, smiling.
Nicole clears her throat and pulls herself together. She holds the bottle out in explanation. “Is Wynonna…?”
“Out,” Waverly says. The wind blows and she shivers. “Geez, you must be freezing. Get in here.”
Nicole is wearing scrub pants and hospital slippers, her uniform jacket pulled over her tank top. Her hair feels limp and greasy on her scalp; she hasn’t showered since they wheeled her in on a gurney, barely breathing and bleeding through the cheap sheets to the rubber mat underneath. It’s not quite the look she’d like to present to Waverly, but there’s not much to do now except nod and shuffle into the Earp living room.
Waverly disappears into a closet and comes back with a heavy blanket, knit. It looks homemade and smells like cedar mothballs, and she tosses it over Nicole’s back, smiling nervously. It thumps onto her back, heavy, and Nicole pitches forward, gasping. Automatically she leans for the wall, meaning to brace herself, but uses the wrong hand. Fresh pain shoots through her and her knees buckle. Waverly catches her. “Woah! Easy, c’mon.” She helps her to the couch and Nicole perches in a way that causes the least amount of agony.
“They said you were hurt pretty bad,” Waverly says, hesitant.
Seventeen staples in her back, six in her palm, two bruised ribs, moderate to severe hypothermia. “Not too bad,” Nicole says, and tries to sit up straighter.
Waverly smiles, sweet as summer rain, and Nicole’s heart flutters, just a little. She thinks if she’d taken those painkillers the doctor had given her it would have leapt right out of her chest, Waverly looking at her like she cares that Nicole’s okay, that she doesn’t hurt too bad. “You look like it’s a little bad,” Waverly says.
Nicole calls back a little swagger. “You could kiss it better,” she says, smirking. Waverly goes just a shade pinker, ducking her head to hide a smile, and Nicole feels again, a little jump in her belly, same as when she hit the tin can straight off her granddaddy's fencepost with his old rifle for the first time. She leans back against the cushions, gingerly-careful, and takes the deepest breath her ribs will allow. “I’m sorry,” she says.
“It’s okay,” Waverly says, looking sideways at the pictures framed up on the walls. “I kinda like it when you flirt with me.” She flushes a little more.
Nicole’s got all kinda insects flapping in her chest. “Well I like flirting with you too,” she says, “but uh--I meant I’m sorry about what happened to Wynonna. When she got taken.” Her eyes fill with tears and she blinks them away furiously. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help.”
Waverly sits next to Nicole on the couch, close enough their legs touch, and takes Nicole’s hand in hers. Her nails are painted bubblegum pink, little daisies detailed on. “You did help. They found her because of what you remembered--I don’t think I ever thanked you.” Waverly snifles, wet-eyed herself.
Nicole twines their fingers together. “You don’t need to thank me.“
Waverly seems to suddenly realize how close they’re leaned in to each other; Nicole can feel Waverly’s soft exhales on her cheek. Waverly jumps back. “How about hot chocolate?”
Nicole bites back a sigh. “I’d love one.”
Waverly stands, wringing her hands. “Earp family recipe,” she babbles, backing up towards the kitchen. “Passed down through generations, just like the--uh, nothing else. It’s the only thing we’ve passed down.” Her eyes are dangerously wide, and she walks backwards into a wall. “Ow---shit. I’ll be back.” She flees.
Nicole takes a few more deep breaths, leaning her nose into the sofa. Then she stands, hunched over, and straightens an inch at a time, teeth clenched. When she can walk mostly normal, she drags herself into the kitchen, where Waverly is standing at the stove, stirring something in a saucepan. “Smells good.”
“It’s really just hot milk and cocoa powder,” Waverly says, at ease again. There’s an apron around her waist that says kiss the cook, because she’s evil and she wants Nicole to die.
“And here I was trying to guess the Earp family secret,” Nicole says. Waverly jolts, and something flashes across her face, too quick for Nicole to parse.
“There’s mugs there,” Waverly recovers, pointing to the dish drying rack.
Nicole stands elbow to elbow with her, pulling coffee mugs up and putting them on the counter next to the stove. Waverly drops the spoon in the sink and tips the pan over one mug, then the other. “Ta-daa,” she trills.
Nicole’s whole body is one giant ache. “Maybe the couch?” she suggests, and she must look in a rough way, because Waverly takes her by the arm and walks her back. Nicole takes a sip and puts the cup on the floor.
“It’s good,” she says, slouching as much as she can. She’s tired enough the pain isn’t so bad.
“You’re awful pale,” Waverly says, setting her own chocolate aside. “C’mere.”
This is what heaven must be like, Nicole thinks, lying on a lumpy couch with her back shredded up, her hands shaking from the pain, shallow wheezing breaths--her head in Waverly Earp’s lap, Waverly’s fingers threading through her hair.
When Nicole is fourteen she shoots up like a weed, hunched in her bed and crying into her pillow from the growing pains, her shins on fire for weeks. She plays basketball as part of the generic P.E. high school curriculum and the gym teacher signs her up for the school team, even though she protests, still trying to hunch in on herself like she’s nine, being shoved down in the sandbox.
She makes Varsity as a freshman and warms the bench for half the season, getting up early to run until her heart pounds and her diaphragm spasms. She stays after practice for windsprints, her palms slapping on the court lines as she does suicide after suicide, goes on the weekends to the neighborhood courts and shoots until her arms feel like lead weights.
She’s a starter by the time they make it to District finals, and vice-captain when they go to State. The cheer team travels with them, and there’s a girl who’s also in Nicole’s English class who wears her hair in a side-ponytail and rolls the top of her uniform skirt up to show as much thigh as the dress code allows. Nicole sits behind her on the bus and watches her eat tiny lollipops, her mouth dry every time she thinks about saying hi.
“Go get ‘em,” she says when Nicole runs by on the team warm up jog around the court, and winks. Nicole runs into the hoop pole and has to play the game with rolled tissue up her nose.
“Don’t you look like a million bucks,” Wynonna says, smirking, and Nicole groans. Her mouth tastes like shit and it feels like she might have torn a staple in her hand. Wynonna helps pull her up to a sitting position and Nicole focuses on not throwing up. Wynonna hands her a plastic tub. “Many an Earp has ralphed into this holy basin,” she says solemnly.
“Many an Earp, or just you?”
Wynonna shrugs. “Mostly me, except the time Waverly got the vomiting flu in seventh grade.”
“Mm,” Nicole says, standing slowly. “Well, I better get to work.”
“To work? You look like you’d fall over if I blew you.” Wynonna’s face scrunches. “If I blew on you. Dammit.”
“Doesn’t take much to fill out paperwork and work dispatch,” Nicole says, pulling on her jacket as gently as she can. “Even for a flat foot rookie like myself.”
Wynonna has the good grace to wince. “Hey, I apologized for that!”
Nicole looks at her. “No you didn’t.”
“I was going to,” Wynonna says defensively. “It’s not like I planned the--” she waves a hand. She has a point, and there’s a definite case to be made that she had it way worse than Nicole did, so Nicole says nothing, stepping back into her slippers and fishing the cruiser keys out of her pocket. “Wait--” Wynonna steps between Nicole and the door. “You have time for pancakes?” Her phone trills and she checks it. Her expression goes pinched. “Uhh… tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Nicole says. She’d rather like to have that conversation after a shower, and wearing something from her own closet.
Nicole kisses a girl for the first time at sixteen, Jamie the cheerleader, still in her English class, who does up Nicole’s hair before every game. Nicole’s mother is at work until late and Jamie teaches her to french braid, sitting on the shag carpet in Nicole’s living room, giggling over the bottle of peppermint schnapps Jamie’d filched from her father’s stash. Nicole gets one of Jamie’s lollipops stuck in her hair and when Jamie laughs Nicole presses a kiss to her wide smile. Jamie tastes like sour candy and lipstick, and she puts her hand around Nicole’s and guides it from her knee to her thigh, sliding up her skirt. Nicole pulls Jamie on her lap, sucking peppermint from Jamie’s tongue, and above their soft gasps comes the sound of shattering glass.
Her mother stands in the doorway, her keys dangling from stunned fingers. A vase lies destroyed at her feet. Two hours of screaming later and Nicole is sitting on a bus with a knapsack of everything of value she could get her hands on while her mother threw books at her, feeling just like that vase, all shattered into pieces on the floor.
Nicole raps her knuckles against the large room Dolls had commandeered his first day in Purgatory. There’s hurried rustling from within, and then Dolls’ dry command: “Enter.” Nicole rolls her eyes before complying.
“Unusual murder by the old mill,” she reports. “Two bodies, completely exsanguinated.”
“Understood,” Dolls says crisply. Waverly is standing to the side in those fur boots with the pom poms that should be ugly but instead are almost unbearably adorable. Nicole gets caught up in her smile, the little wave she sends Nicole’s way. “Thank you, Officer Haught,” Dolls says. Nicole waits until she’s turned around to roll her eyes again.
Nicole spends a week at her brother’s in Kansas, crashing on the couch while he and his wife have whispered conversations behind her back. “Can’t you just try,” Davey--it’s David now Nicky, I’ve got a baby on the way, seriously--asks. “Just until you’re off to college?”
Nicole stares at a stain in the carpet and wonders if Jamie thinks about her at all.
“Haught!” The Sheriff calls her into his office. “How’s the back?”
Hurts like a mule kick, Nicole thinks, but she says: “Fine.”
“Hm.” The Sheriff eyes for a few seconds. “Dolls has agreed to working more collaborative like with this department. Case by case.”
“Right,” Nicole says slowly, confused.
“You’re not on active duty,” he warns, “but we both know you’re the sharpest I’ve got.” They turn as one to look out his open office door, where Lewis is chewing on a ballpoint pen. It explodes in a balloon of black ink and he sputters, spitting it out and then looking horrified at the ruined paperwork.
“Right,” Nicole says again.
“Gather information, provide support,” he orders. “You know how to get to that old mill?”
“Yes sir,” Nicole says, and thumps her hat on her head while she gives Lewis a little wave on her way out.
“I’ve been talking to Ma,” Davey says, forced cheer. “I think it’ll go alright if you just--” he fumbles, “like we talked about, you know?”
“Right,” Nicole says, a little hollow and a lot bitter.
“Nicky c’mon,” he cajoles. “Don’t you want to go back to your school, your team, your friends?”
“I think my friends is what got me here,” she says, dry as the Sahara.
“Maybe not.... that friend.”
“I’ll get your bag.” He leaves, and Laura pulls Nicole aside by her elbow. She’s visibly pregnant now, and spends most of her time in the bathroom peeing.
“We don’t know each other very well,” she says, and she’s holding Nicole’s knapsack, “but there’s another option, if you want it.”
Laura drives her to the bus station, huffing and cursing her swollen ankles, and presses an awkward kiss to Nicole’s cheek before she boards. “You’re very brave,” she says.
Nicole pushes the creaking door open and finds herself looking down the barrel of that ridiculous gun. “Oh,” Wynonna says, lowering it, “it’s you.” There’s dust in her hair, dying it light brown. “We’re not alone,” she says, and Nicole pulls her weapon.
Wynonna’s face twists, bitter. “A question we’d all like answered.” Nicole figures that explains why he’d asked for local backup. “Doc--uh, John Henry--is around back. We can’t afford to let this guy get away.”
Nicole looks around. There’s a creaky looking staircase against one wall, and old equipment cast sinister shadows all around the big room. “You want to take the top or bottom floor?”
“I like the top,” Wynonna says, and strides off towards the stairs.
“Yeah,” Nicole mutters, “me too.” She clicks on her flashlight, bringing it up to her stance just like her training taught her. Wynonna stalks up the stairs, completely focused, and Nicole takes a deep breath. So she’s stuck in a building with a monster she’s fairly certain isn’t human and is completely certain drinks human blood, and her only backup is a sketchy cowboy and the town headcase. She’s done harder things.
Nicole’s grandfather on her Daddy’s side is a rancher, retired. He makes a little money stabling horses and her grandmother grows vegetables and keeps chickens and an old milking cow named Georgina. He meets her at the bus station and spits chew to the side when he sees her coming. The sun blazes on her fair skin, and he looks her up and down before holding out a hand for her bag. He drives a shitty truck that takes three turns of the key before rumbling on.
They go to the school and register her, to start the next Monday, and Nicole takes her schedule and locker assignment with numb fingers. On the way out, she sees pictures plastered cheerfully on bulletin boards--girls basketball in among them, and she can’t help a little smile. She can’t help noticing the cheerleading pictures either.
She gets up at five to help her grandmother with the chores, figures she oughtn’t be just a mooch, and is almost pecked to death by the mob of hungry chickens. Her grandmother laughs and sends her to the stables, cooler in the shade of the morning although it’ll swelter by the time the sun hits the middle of the sky. Nicole likes the horses, even though they smell something awful. She mucks out the stables before and after school, her skin burnt and peeling, before her grandfather mutters darkly and digs through the closet, comes out with an old Stetson. He drops it on her head and teachers her how to ride Theo, a grouchy strawberry roan who tries to rub her off on the fence when he isn’t watching.
Nicole is as thorough as any cop’s ever been, checking corners and every nook and cranny. She’s breathing hard but as quiet as she can, sweat prickling along her hairline. The adrenaline is helping the lingering pain, so that’s something. She can taste it in the back of her throat.
Something rustles under a pile of scrap metal, and Nicole points towards it like a hound dog. She hesitates, then goes with her instincts and flings herself behind a metal cart. Something explodes from the pile, and she hears debris ping all around her, embedding in the wooden floor and walls. “Earp!” She shouts over the cacophony. “Get down here!”
“Howdy Sheriff,” a man says, but he doesn’t sound like man, his voice deep and inhuman. When Nicole leans around her cover she sees his eyes darken into red coals, his face oscillating.
I fucking knew it Nicole thinks clearly through the haze of fight-or-flight. “Not the Sheriff,” she says out loud, as fight wins out, “sorry.” She raises her weapon and fires.
As soon as she figured something wasn’t quite right in Purgatory she started spending hours at the range. She never had trouble passing weapon qualifications, and she’s not the fastest gunslinger in the west, but she thinks she could shoot that stupid haircut right off the top of Champ’s head, one follicle at a time. So when she fires on the---demon? Vampire? Monster?--she hits him right between the eyes. He topples right over. Nicole hesitates, blinks. “This feels anticlimactic,” she says out loud.
Above her, a pistol barks once, twice, three times. Nicole looks up, frowning, and she looks down again the…. Thing has risen, her bullet still between his eyes, laughing. “Right,” Nicole says, and tries for flight, pounding towards the stairs. “Earp!” She yells again. She’s six steps up when someone whimpers. She turns.
There’s a teenaged girl crumpled against the wall, her throat a mess of torn flesh and blood, but she’s breathing and blinking and begging Nicole to help her in tiny broken sobs. “Shit,” she curses, and vaults back down, the railing cracking under her hands. She puts her back to the wall and crouches. “It’s okay,” she says, too fast and freaked out to be very reassuring. “Come on, we’re gonna get you outta here.”
“Don’t think so,” the Thing says in full Exorcist mode, and Nicole pushes herself between it and the girl. She sets her sights on its eyes, and as it blurs towards her at a speed no creature of any kind should be able to achieve, she shoots out its right eye. It screeches, falling to one knee, and she takes the opportunity to take out the left.
“Earp!” She bellows again, “if you’re alive get down here!” The Thing stands and flails, still moving too quick for comfort. “Run,” she tells the girl, and raises her gun again. She empties it into the Thing face, and it staggers but doesn’t stop coming.
Until Wynonna Earp steps out from up on the stairs and her gun lights up gold all along that long barrel. When it fires the flash is blinding, which Nicole would have figured to be the oddest thing she’s ever seen in her life, except then a pit to hell appears to open and suck the creature down into it.
“May you never find peace,” Wynonna says coldly, and holds the barrel up to her mouth to blow away the gunsmoke. She inhales a little and promptly chokes. “Ugh,” she says, clattering down the stairs and crossing the floor. “Why do they do that in movies? It sucks.”
Nicole knows her mouth is hanging open, and she figures the girl against the wall is more traumatized but no less freaked out. Wynonna stumbles to a halt and looks sideways at the floor, which is still faintly smoldering. “Uh,” she says, sticking her totally ridiculous gun in her totally ridiculous holster. She waves a hand, palm out, in the space between them. “You saw nothing.”
Nicole’s mouth might actually fall more open. “Are you… trying to jedi mind trick us?”
“Well,” Wynonna says, faintly sheepish. “Just you. I think she passed out a while ago. Uh… you up for waffles?”
Nicole puts her gun away and kneels, gathering the girl around the back and her legs, a bridal carry. “I think so.”
She finds her grandfather’s rifle the summer of her junior year, and he doesn’t so much teach her how to use it as he throws her a few boxes of ammunition, sets up tin cans on the fence posts, and laugh when the first recoil knocks her over.
She gets pretty good, even though the old rifle pulls to the left and kicks like a motherfucker, and when she gets offered a decent basketball scholarship at the state school she shoots competitively on the side. Criminal Justice feels like a natural progression, and it doesn’t hurt that the gradfellow for her advisor is a leggy brunette with a thing for girls who can handle guns.
It doesn’t help that Nicole presses her down into the mattress with the full length of her body and gasps wetly into her neck instead of studying for finals, but it feels like freedom when her teammates laugh good-naturedly at the fingernail scratches down her back, acceptance in high fives and joking leers.
Waffles turns into an info session at the station, broken briefly by Dolls’ aneurysm when he comes in and finds out what happened. He drags Wynonna off for a hushed screaming match in the corner and Nicole takes the opportunity to clean her gun, laying everything out carefully and going over it long and good. Maybe she takes an extra minute with the bore brush, but Waverly sits with a book upside down in front of her and her mouth slightly slack, watching Nicole’s long fingers around the barrel, and Nicole may be trying at being patient but she’s never been particularly good at it.
Dolls slaps a report down on the table in front of her just as she slots the last pieces together, and she’s preoccupied watching Waverly breathe a little heavier than usual out of the corner of her eye, so it takes her few seconds to recognize it. “This is my report. I thought...?”
Dolls jaw works. “The thing is, Randy may have had a point about blending it.”
Nicole’s train of thought hits a roadblock. Wynonna must be on the same tracks, because her faintly choked off “Randy?” is an eerie echo of Nicole’s brain.
Dolls ignores her, which Nicole figures must be par for the course. “It’s a decent report, considering your lack of knowledge. I’d like to name you the official liaison between Purgatory PD and my unit.”
Nicole considers him. “Full clearance.”
Wynonna snorts. “I don’t even have full clearance.”
“Earp clearance,” Nicole counters, and Dolls nods slowly. He narrows his eyes at her for a second and then his expression clears.
He drops several forms in front of her and pen. “Do the paperwork. Welcome to the family.”
“Yay!” Waverly cheers, and then catches herself. “Sorry, were you all done being very serious?”
“Yes,” Dolls says with dead eyes. He sighs. “Maybe you can influence everyone to be more… professional.”
“Yay!” Waverly cheers, and Nicole visibly melts. Dolls sighs again.
Nicole’s grandparents come to her college graduation, and so does her brother and his wife. Their son is named Kyle, after Daddy, which Nicole privately thinks is a bit of shit but it makes her grandmother happy. Nicole and Marie have agreed to split, Marie jetting off to a faculty position in New York and Nicole still weighing her options. Davey watches Marie kiss Nicole on the cheek goodbye after the ceremony, bittersweet, her hand sliding familiarly down Nicole’s wrist.
“I thought you’d get over that,” he says, disappointed, but he lets little Kyle climb on her like a jungle gym.
Nicole spends the summer on the ranch, brushing Theo until her coat shines and shooting tin cans off the fence like she’s seventeen again. Her grandfather had bought her a new hat as a graduation present, and her grandmother pulls her aside in August and hands her a paper application, filled out with Nicole’s information in her grandmother’s boxy handwriting. It’s for an Officer position in Purgatory.
“Your grandfather knows Nedley,” she says. “You’re a small town gun, girl, there’s nothing you would learn at a city Academy. Go become a Sheriff in some little place and shake things up the way you were born to.”
Purgatory, Nicole dimly recalls with the memory of a child, is full of empty buildings and wore out people. But she does think her mother, with her threats of hellfire, would find the posting oddly appropriate, in a gallows sort of way.
“I made you something,” Waverly says. As always, Nicole is momentarily struck dumb at the sight of her. She is, however, getting faster at rallying.
“Oh?” She thinks Waverly likes it when she smiles at her; Waverly always looks a little happier when Nicole lets what she thinks about Waverly show in the curve of her lips.
“It’s a cappuccino,” Waverly says, thrusting her hands out. “I made it myself.” She’s beaming, her whole face lit up, and Nicole can’t help looking at her like an idiot in love.
“Thanks,” Nicole says. She curls hesitant fingers around the mug, chipped handle and all, and bends. She takes a little sip.
“We don’t have an electric mixer,” Waverly says, “but this is a little ‘welcome to the know’ present.”
“I love it,” Nicole says. Their fingertips are touching.
“I should… let go,” Waverly says.
“I don’t mind,” Nicole says, but Waverly’s already stepped back. Nicole takes another long drink. “Thanks,” she says again.
“Sure,” Waverly says, backing up, “well, you know, I better--” She jerks a thumb behind her. “I’m Research Girl, you know.”
“I know,” Nicole says.
When Nicole starts busting the curve in college classes some of her peers glower and mutter under their breath. Just like the boys club in the SHeriff’s department, they look her over and dismiss her for being a woman, being tall, being unapologetic. Officer HotStuff, they sneer, just like the sleazy married men she pulls over for speeding home too fast from their mistress’ house.
HotStuff is what they used to call her when she dominated a court, and it doesn’t make her ashamed so much as remind her that she’s strong and tough and a champion. It reminds her of every five am workout and two am study session, and she knows she’s ready, she can do this, she can do anything.
“Maybe you should make me,” Nicole says, and it’s a pretty good line even if she can’t help the sunshine streaming from her eyes and heart, the way it tilts her lips into a cant of pure joy. She kisses sweetly until she can’t anymore, and it’s a little more caveman than Nicole would like to allow herself, but she wants to set her teeth against Waverly’s neck and suck gently until the capillaries burst and the walking rodeo stereotype of Hardy Champ can see that Waverly’s with someone who treats her the way she ought to be treated.
Nicole’s kissed guys before, curiosity and youthful partying, and they were hard planes and scratchy scruff. It was fun, and sometimes she can look at a man and appreciate him aesthetically, like the Grand Canyon or a perfect three pointer, but girls make the bottom of Nicole’s world drop away, Waverly’s soft breaths and her fuzzy scarf, her fingers flexing on Nicole’s shoulder.
“Your desk,” Nedley grunts, pointing as he leads her into his office. “We’re a small department, six officers--you’re also deputies, Purgatory is both a town and a municipality, but we tend towards officer. Already too many tourists trying to find the OK Corral.”
“Yes sir,” Nicole agrees, still a little infatuated with the way her badge sits on her belt, the shiny buttons on her uniform shirt.
Nedley sits in his chair and leans back. Nicole lifts her chin, meeting his eyes, and after a beat he smiles. “There’s plenty room for advancement, if you don’t think you’ll get distracted by husbands and babies and such.”
Nicole swallows a familiar flame of anger and disappointment. “Not a problem.”
The Sheriff squints at her. “And don’t be bringing boys in while you’re alone on duty.”
Nicole lets her lips quirk. “Definitely not a problem,” she says, forced breezy, and doesn’t back down when something flickers on his face. She won’t live a lie, even in a small town, and she’s resolute even though her palms have started to sweat while he considers her.
“Well good,” is all he says, and tosses her the keys to her own cruiser, “Welcome to Purgatory.”
It’s probably a good thing Wynonna’s got this odd gang of people ringing behind her, Nicole thinks, because she might be something else in a fight but detecting doesn’t seem to be her strong suit. “Next time we should wait for the door to be closed,” she jokes, and Waverly laughs.
“I’m, uh,” she says, fidgeting at the front counter, “not trying to hide you, you know. It’s just new.” She frowns after Wynonna.
Nicole stands and pulls on her jacket. “C’mon,” she says, “I’ll buy you breakfast,” and they walk close enough to let lightning leap in the space between their fingers.
“I don’t mind,” she tells Waverly when they split grits and waffles. “We can go as slow as you want.”
Waverly frowns, a little scrunch between her eyes. “I don’t want you to think I’m embarassed, or not serious.”
Nicole smiles. “You’re serious about us?”
Waverly blinks, “Well yeah. I mean, aren’t you?” She’s eating toast, jam at the corners at her mouth, and Nicole thinks if she leaned over this cracked grease linoleum table she’d taste like wild blueberries.
“I am,” Nicole promises, and under the table she extends a leg until their calves touch.
Nicole honestly hasn’t thought about Waverly Earp for years when she and Lewis drag in six drunk rodeo fools for setting shit on fire in the middle of the woods at three in the morning. They toss them in the lockup to sleep it off and one grabs her wrist, pleading with tequila shot eyes.
“It’s my girl’s birthday today,” he says, slurring, “I promised to take her out.”
“Waverly’s gonna kill you,” one of his friends mumbles, and vomits on his own shoes.
“I promised I’d take her out,” he repeats, blinking unfocused eyes.
“She deserves better than you,” Nicole says, shrugging, and shoves him back so she can slam the door shut.
She runs a search on Waverly Earp and looks at her DMV picture. Faded memories catch her flat-footed, like the smell of her mother’s perfume on women walking down the street, one of her Daddy’s old love songs on the radio. But she recalls Waverly with a clarity that’s surprising, and untainted by the bitter expanse of time and anger. “Waverly,” she says, and likes the way the name feels on her tongue.
Nicole brings Chinese because Gus told her that Waverly loves eggdrop soup in the same breath as she mused on the unregistered rifle she keeps under her bed and how much she cares about Waverly’s happiness. “Me too,” Nicole says, tipping her hat, because she shot a vampire last week and she’s pretty dry on nerves. Wynonna and Dolls are staking out a dance club in the one block of downtown nightlife Purgatory has to offer, and Nicole changed her shirt three times in front of mirror before aiming her car at the Earp homestead, undoing and redoing buttons.
“Ooh,” Waverly says, taking the paper bag out of Nicole’s hands as soon as she opens the door. “I love Chinese!” She catches Nicole’s wrist in her other hand and tugs gently. Nicole thinks she probably has fifteen to twenty pounds on Waverly, and she’d like to think that’s mostly muscle, but Waverly could move her fifty miles with the lightest bit of pressure from her pinky. Waverly’s set out plates and napkins and something soft and pretty is playing in the background.
She starts taking out the white styrofoam boxes and Nicole stops her with a hand on her waist, turning her gently around, her lower back against the edge of the table, and Nicole dips her head to kiss her. She meant for it to be sweet and easy, but kissing Waverly is never easy, her heart racing as Waverly slips her tongue in her mouth and makes a soft, eager noise.
A minute later she pulls back, breathing hard, and Waverly tilts up to nuzzle their noses together. “I got that soup you like,” she says, to keep declarations of love from spilling out over her tongue.
Waverly squeals, immediately digging back into the takeout bag. “Dàn huā tāng!”
Nicole blinks. “What?”
“Oh, it’s the Chinese. I’m kind of a language nerd.” Waverly tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. “You’re smiling at me.”
“Yeah,” Nicole says, because she can’t really help it.
“Champ used to call me nerd.”
Nicole shrugs. “Champ’s an idiot. Lucky me.”
“Lucky me,” Waverly says, and kisses her again. “Okay. Let’s eat.” She turns back to spoon out soup and Nicole brackets her, leaning her chin on Waverly’s shoulder. Waverly shivers and Nicole kisses just under her ear. The spoon clatters against the counter and Waverly tips her head back, so Nicole nips her earlobe and starts down the long expanse of Waverly’s neck.
The front door bangs shut and Nicole leaps away a lot less gracefully than she’d like to. She fumbles for something to do with her hands.
“Ooh,” Wynonna says, “Chinese!” She blinks at Nicole. “Is everything okay? Why are you here?” She looks at Waverly first, who immediately starts to drink from the soup carton to avoid answering. Her gaze falls to Nicole.
“I’m…” Nicole looks at what she grabbed off the counter. “Here for shotgun rounds.”
“Right,” Wynonna says. There’s blood and gore up her arms to her elbows, dripping off her boots. “Well I need a shower. Save me an eggroll?”
Waverly, still drinking with complete intensity, flashes a thumbs up. Wynonna clatters up the stairs and Waverly puts the carton down. “Oh my god, that was so hot.” She goes to the sink and sticks her mouth under the faucet, holding her hair back with one hand before standing back up and wiping her mouth. “We are not smooth.”
“I used to be smooth,” Nicole says mournfully. She grabs her jacket from the back of a chair. “Raincheck?”
“No!” Waverly steps towards her. “No, come on, stay. Eat. Hang out with the wild Earp sisters.”
“Oh my god,” Wynonna’s voice floats from up the stairs, “why is demon blood so sticky?”
“We’re very normal,” Waverly says, grinning. Nicole grins back, dropping her jacket. “Next time,” Waverly says, “Maybe we could go out?”
“Yeah.” A towel wrapped bundle flies down the stairs and lands with a wet slap on the floor.
“Wash that for me, would you Waves?” Wynonna hollers. “Thanks babe.”
Waverly scoops it up, rolling her eyes, and then looks at Nicole speculatively. “C’mere.” She leads Nicole through a door into a small tiled room, occupied by a washer-dryer. She throws the bundle into the machine and shakes in detergent. “Shut that door,” she says without looking up, spinning the dials and slapping the start button. Nicole kicks the door shut with her heel. Waverly steps up close and hooks her fingers into Nicole’s beltloops.
“Hey there,” Nicole says, grinning again.
“Did you know,” Waverly says, smiling with her tongue poking through her teeth, “that Wynonna is the queen of the half hour shower?”
“Well now,” Nicole drawls, leaning back against the door, “what should we do with all this time?”
“We’ll come up with something,” Waverly promises.
Wynonna barges in forty minutes later. “Did you die in here or wha--”
Nicole’s got Waverly sitting up on the washer, rumbling away under her, Nicole pressed into the v of her thighs, Waverly’s skirt pushed all the way up and her knuckle in Waverly’s panties. Waverly’s got a fistful of her hair and her teeth latched onto Nicole’s collarbones, the neckline of her shirt all stretched to ruin. They look up.
“Stain,” Nicole says stupidly, Waverly’s lipstick all smeared on her face. “On… my breast--my vest.” She coughs. “Vest.”
“Yes,” Waverly backs her up, one hand still up Nicole’s shirt.
Wynonna gapes. “What the shit?”
There’s a barfight in Shorty’s parking lot, and Nicole drives the (only) van transport the department has over so Lewis and Laughlin can throw handcuffed drunks in the back and hide behind the wide doors to drink out of their metal flasks.
She lingers, her boots crunching in the gravel as she sidles close enough to see Waverly shiver under the dim streetlight, a shotgun leaning against her leg. “I just fired close enough to scare ‘em,” she’s saying stubbornly, arms folded. “And Gus has the permit, she’s just not here right now.”
Nedley says something, letting her off with a warning, and Nicole backs away to drive the van back to the station, ignoring the cursing behind her, thinking about Waverly’s fingers sliding over shells as she reloads, her long hair smelling like gunsmoke.
Nicole’s working the only speedtrap in town during the witching hour because she might be the liaison for a Black Badge paranormal department, but she’s still the rookie and they’re under their monthly quota. There’s a rodeo the next town over and she’s gonna bank a few hundred dollars worth of tickets before she busts someone too drunk to be behind the wheel. At least she knows anyone coming back from the rodeo can’t be a Revenant.
A beat up cadillac lurches down the street, veering unsteadily in its lane, hands holding liquor bottles stuck out the window and hollering. Nicole flips the lights on, gives the siren a few whoops. She pulls to a stop behind it and grabs her clipboard. It’s cold outside, the dark night air making her nose run, and she sniffles before aiming her big bright light at the driver.
“License and registration,” she says.
“C’mon officer,” a man in flannel slurs, “give us a break.” Nicole casts her light into the backseat, where two more men aren’t bothering to hide joints and liquor. “Sir, please step out of the car.” She steps back, and the driver lurches out. They may be a group of small minded drunks, but they’re mostly compliant. She cuffs him and puts him in the passenger seat of her cruiser, where he appears to pass out. She raps her knuckles on the back window.
“Let’s go boys, it’s your turn.”
The man in the red shirt falls out and laughs, giggling at the sky, but the man in the blue shirt’s jaw is set. “Who’s gonna take care of my car?” He demands.
Nicole nudges Red Shirt over with her toe and helps him up. He stumbles under his own steam into the backseat, and she uncuffs his unconscious friend to free up the handcuffs. “An officer can give you a ride out here in the morning,” she says, “after you’ve seen the Sheriff and the judge.”
He gapes. “A judge? For a little whiskey and half a joint?”
“At the Sheriff’s discretion,” Nicole says, keeping her tone even and steady. “It’ll go much worse if you resist.”
“Listen,” he starts, but something is creaking in the woods and Nicole spins, dropping her big long handled light to draw her firearm. “Hey! I’m talkin’ to you.”
“Sshh,” she snaps urgently, scanning the dark treeline. She sidles towards the edge of the road, peering down, but she doesn’t see anything. Too tired and too stressed, jumping at deer and racoons, she thinks ruefully, and holsters her weapon. “Sir,” she starts, turning around, and then something hits her like a freight train, across the side of her forehead, glancing off her cheekbone and scraping her jaw. She drops like a rock, cold asphalt against her palms and face. She yanks her gun one-handed, rolling onto her back, virtually blind. Something slams into the ground where she was, glass shattering, and she fires once from where the air moved. A man screams in agony, and she keeps her gun up. Her radio crackles on her shoulder, cracked and sparking. After a moment she hears a car kick into gear, the screech of tires.
Nicole can only see out of one eye, and when she puts cautious fingers to her face she can why--it’s already swelling shut, and a cut just above her eyebrow and is bleeding badly. She gets herself to her knees and her fingers touch her flashlight, lying next to her, the bulb shattered. The rim of it is wet--she thinks she’s cracked the mystery of what hit her. Rookie mistake, too busy looking for demons to see the drunk cowboy. She orients herself towards her cruiser--the headlights are still on, the only source of light on the road. She stumbles towards it.
“Woah,” Red Shirt says from the backseat, peering at her. “You look shitty.”
“Shut up,” she snaps, grabbing the car radio. Purgatory only uses a few radio codes, and sometimes when she uses one the dispatcher tells her to speak English. But there’s a few everyone knows. “11-99,” she says, her thumb slipping on the button, slippery with her blood, “requesting an ambo and a two rider.”
Nicole falls asleep while the doctor is stitching up her face, a testament to her exhaustion and the quality painkillers a nurse slipped her. When she wakes her face is pleasantly numb and the Sheriff is sitting at her bedside.
“Five stitches,” he says when he sees she’s awake, “concussion. Jackson Lyldale is next door, you got him in the thigh, through and through.”
Waverly bursts through the door and draws up short at the sight of him. Then she sees Nicole and gasps, her eyes filling. She rushes to Nicole’s side and takes her hand.
“Hi,” Nicole says, smiling.
“Hi,” Waverly says, voice wavering.
The Sheriff stands. “Recovered this at the site,” he says, dropping her hat on the bed next to her. “Don’t want to see you at work until Monday.” He leaves, and Waverly dips to kiss her, quiet and scared.
“I’m fine,” she assures Waverly. “Got stupid and careless, that’s all. How’d you…?”
“The Sheriff called,” Waverly says, touching her swollen eye. Nicole bites back a hiss, tilting her head into Waverly’s hand. “Was it…?”
“Just a drunk bully,” Nicole reassures her. “Not everything’s an Earp emergency.”
“If you’re bleeding it’s an Earp emergency,” Waverly says, smiling even though tears spill over her eyes and trail down her cheek. Nicole brushes them away.
“Don’t cry,” she says, and Waverly kisses her again, so gentle Nicole wants to cry herself.
“Bruises are sexy,” Wynonna says from the doorway. “Wanna bust outta here?”
Nicole wants the warmth of Waverly against her side everynight instead of the benign indifference of her cat, but she’ll settle for a ride home. “Please.”
Wynonna takes her to the homestead, and strips her to her undershirt to run a worn washcloth over the blood on her neck and behind her ears. Waverly drags a chair to the kitchen sink and lays plastic Ziplock over her stitches to wash her hair. “Good thing you’re tall,” she says, teasing the tangles out of her braid, laying bobby pins on the counter. When she kisses her she tastes like shampoo and bubblegum lipgloss. Wynonna finds her a toothbrush and Nicole passes out for sixteen hours.
She spends the next day puttering around, eating sandwiches in bed with Waverly perched on the edge of the guest bed, cutting off her crusts and hand feeding her grapes. Wynonna comes home early, muttering darkly, and they watch a shitty movie on their crackly television. Wynonna leaves to get burgers and Waverly makes Nicole take her pain meds.
“Maybe,” Waverly says, biting her lip, “tonight you’d like to stay in my room?”
Nicole’s heart leaps into her throat. “You sure?”
Waverly rolls her eyes. “You’re a perfect gentlewoman and all that, and also your brain is bruised, so we’ll just be sleeping, but I’d really like to see that hair of yours spread out on my pillow.”
“So smooth,” Nicole says, and pulls her close to taste her smile.
Sunday Nicole makes herself get up and shower, dresses in clothes Champ left behind, which would chafe her except they’re short in the leg, so instead she pins Waverly against the door, her hair still wet, and kisses her smugly.
Wynonna gives her a beer and the responsibility of stirring the mac and cheese on the stove. Waverly pads in while she divvying it up on plates, bringing a cloud of cherry scented air, and when Nicole turns around to hand her lunch she chokes.
“I always wanted to try it on,” she says, and does a little twirl. “How do I look?”
“So country,” Wynonna says, shoveling mac and cheese into her mouth and banging the coffee machine on the side with an open palm. “Look out, Tim McGraw.”
Nicole makes a noise she’s never made before, deep in her throat, because Waverly’s in the black police shirt she’d laundered for Nicole yesterday, the first five buttons undone and jean cutoff shorts, Nicole’s white hat at a jaunty angle on her head. She puts her plate down before she drops it.
“All I need is that fancy braid,” Waverly teases. Nicole thinks she might actually be drooling.
“Ew,” Wynonna says, pouring herself a cup of coffee. “Don’t undress my baby sister with your eyes while I’m standing right here.”
“We’re going upstairs,” Nicole says.
Waverly blinks, midchew. “We are?”
“Yes,” Nicole says, taking her plate away and putting it down. “We are. Right now.”
Waverly grins. “Can I keep your hat on?”
“Definitely,” Nicole promises, dragging her towards the stairs.
“Put a sock on the door,” Wynonna shouts after them. “There’s dental dams in my bedside table!” It’s embarrassing and terrible and the only thing worse than an oblivious Wynonna is a helpful Wynonna, but Nicole’s face feels mostly healed, she’s onto ibuprofen instead of vicodin, and she wants to see if she can make Waverly forget English and start begging in Babylonian.
Nicole lays in bed and gathers Waverly up against her side, her arm slung over Waverly’s hips. “I think I might owe Jackson Lyldale a thank you note,” she muses, and Waverly smacks her shoulder.
“Don’t say that,” she says darkly. “You know I beat him up in like second grade? He’s such an asshole.”
The name finally triggers memory, and Nicole remembers a sneering boy pushing her down and calling her names. She guesses some people never get better. “I remember,” she says instead, sleepy.
Waverly sits up and looks at her. “You’re from Purgatory?”
“We moved when I was little,” Nicole says, drowsy. She loops an arm around Waverly and nudges her back down, spooning closer.
“Huh,” Waverly says, settling against her. Nicole leans in and lets herself smell Waverly’s shampoo, cherries. “I don’t remember you.”
“S’okay,” Nicole says, already dozing, “I remember you.”
Waverly picks up menthols and medication for her uncle at the only pharmacist in town, every two weeks like clockwork, usually with her headphones in, cracking gum with her tongue.
It’s not stalking, Nicole thinks, if she goes to pick up cat litter at the same time and gets to walk back and forth past the aisle with the view to the Pharmacy window and see her for five minutes in her work clothes, Shorty’s t-shirt and flats. Sometimes she reads the information on the back of the toothpaste boxes for the excuse to linger, in the hopes of hearing a laugh.
“You should really just introduce yourself,” Katy the stockgirl says, shelving Tylenol to her right.
Nicole goes back to work and at halfway through a normal shift Dolls calls her because Wynonna stuck in the woods somewhere being stalked by a horsethief that died in 1915, and after that whole mess is sorted out she and Wynonna go for a drink that turns into six, and Gus pours them into a cab. It drops them off at the foot of the long driveway and they stagger in leaning on each other, slightly more sober from the night air, and she kicks her way free of her belt and pants before falling into the bed next to Waverly, who makes a sleepy noise and leans her nose into the hollow of Nicole’s neck.
They finally go out for that dinner and have to bail before appetizers because there’s a witch turning cows inside out for shits and giggles on the big Harvey cattle farm, and Nicole has to beat a Revenant senseless with a pitchfork in the black dress she promised Waverly she’d wear while Waverly shoots it with her shotgun from a relatively safe distance until Wynonna shows up with the Peacemaker and sends it back to hell.
Waverly stomps back to Wynonna’s car, Wynonna catching a ride back with Dolls. “I had plans you know,” she says, fuming. “I was going to give you something.”
Nicole keeps half her attention on the mostly empty road. “Oh? You can give it to me now.”
“No,” Waverly sighs, “it’s like, a bedroom present.”
Nicole veers a little into the other lane before straightening. Her voice is slightly strangled. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” Waverly says, she holds up a key. “I, uh, got you a drawer. In my room. You should have a change of clothes there anyway, since we’re fighting the forces of evil and all that.” She looks pensive for a second. “There’s actually no keyhole, so this is entirely symbolic.” She tosses the key into the backseat.
Nicole pulls onto the side road, the one that runs along to the rest stop. She passes the first because there’s a few cars parked around where the restroom’s at, and finds an empty lot near the lookout point. She parks the car and turns off the ignition.
“Are you mad?” Waverly asks, fretting, “is this too fast? This was way easier with Champ, you know. Because I didn’t really care, not because I like him better than you.”
“I’m not mad,” Nicole says, feeling like she’s entered a zen state. “Roll up your window.”
“Uhh,” Waverly complies, confused. “Okay. What’s happening?”
Nicole releases her seatbelt, then Waverly’s. “Do you know,” she says, drawing a single finger up Waverly’s forearm. “if your seat goes all the way back?”
Waverly grins, sudden and joyful. “No,” she says, kicking off her heels to climb over the center console. “But yours does.”
Nicole’s doing Lewis’ paperwork--because otherwise it’ll never get done, let’s be real--when the Sheriff calls her into his office. “Got some news,” he grunts in that laconic way all the boys try be in small towns, “from your grandmother.” He hands her a letter. “Take the day, tomorrow too. No arguing.”
Nicole goes to sit in her car before reading it, because if he’s given her time off during the streetfair, the bane of all law enforcement everywhere, she knows it’s something she doesn’t want to read in front of other people. She read it twice before crumpling it up in one hand and going home.
She drives to the homestead on automatic, and slams a fist against the steering wheel when she realizes. Wynonna waves at her from the porch. “Hey stranger,” she drawls in short shorts and a tank top, her barefeet kicked up on the porch railing. “Beer?” There’s a cooler sweating water next to her, bottles buried in ice. Doc is next to her, his shirt undone as a concession to the sun, but his hat’s on and his pants and shirt are long. She guesses he’s used to be overdressed in dusty heat.
“You got anything stronger?” Nicole grabs the one Wynonna offers her and twists the top off, draining it in long desperate swallows before dropping it empty back in the cooler and grabbing another.
“I like you better every day, Officer,” Wynonna says, admiring. Nicole sighs.
She mumbles something under her breath, some excuse, and they’re kind enough not to call her on it. She grabs a bottle of whiskey where Wynonna thinks she hides them in the linen closet and goes to the back porch, leaning against the house and drinking straight from the bottle.
“Hey,” Waverly says.
Nicole sighs. “Wynonna tell you to check on me?”
“Yeah.” Waverly edges closer, one hand held out hesitantly between them; for the first time Nicole doesn’t take it. Waverly lets it drop. “Are you okay?”
Nicole stares into the horizon, lets the sun make her eyes burn. “No.”
Waverly touches her shoulder. “What is it? Did a Revenant--”
Nicole pulls away, sharp. “No. Nothing like that.”
Waverly steps back, bewildered. “Nicole…”
“Not everything is about the Earp curse,” Nicole snaps, and bangs back through the house, frustrated.
“I’ll see you at work,” she snarls at Wynonna, and throws the whiskey bottle at Doc.
She gets home and must look shitty enough that the cat twines around her legs once before heading for her food bowl and looking demanding. She opens a can of wet food and dumps it in the bowl, cutting her finger on the sharp metal edge. “I deserve that,” she mutters. Her bed feels too big and too empty and too cold, which is annoying because she likes Waverly sure, she likes her a lot, but it’s a little dramatic to feel alone without her. She goes out to the backseat of the car to get the bottle of emergency vodka and doesn’t have enough energy to go back into the house. She crawls into the backseat and sweats through her shirt, drinking and screwing up her face at the shitty burn.
Her foot nudges something, and she scoops the scrunched letter out of the footwell. She cries a little, into her sleeve, fighting every sob, and falls asleep when the sun dips under the edge of the horizon.
Wynonna bangs on the window and she sits up straight, her mouth like roadkill and her head ringing like a church bell. “Wha--what?”
Wynonna yanks the door open and Nicole half spills out, flailing for balance. “Ah,” Wynonna says, “passing out drunk cradling a bottle in the backseat of a cop car after making Waverly cry. Are you me at fourteen?”
Nicole braces herself on the door, looking up at Wynonna, half her body hanging out of the car. She struggles to focus. “Waverly cried?”
“Yeah,” Wynonna says, “so I came over to kick your ass, but I guess you beat me to it.” Nicole falls out of the car, swinging her legs and getting to her feet unsteadily.
“Can you give me a ride?”
Wynonna sighs. “Yeah fine. Dolls is cranky pants today anyway.” Dolls is crankypants on a schedule that’s a little too regular not to ping Nicole’s radar, but it’s a question for another time.
“Hey,” she says, and Waverly lifts the book up to block the space between them. “Wave…”
“Don’t Wave me,” Waverly says sharply. She snaps the book shut with a thump.
“I was a jerk,” Nicole says. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah,” Waverly says, looking at her for the first time. “You were--you look terrible.”
“Yeah,” Nicole says, looking down at the letter, crumpled and torn in her hand. “My uh, my mom died.”
Waverly sucks in a gasp, anger forgotten. “Nicole…”
Nicole stays looking at the ground. “We weren’t close, really--my grandparents were... well it doesn’t matter. I was angry and I took it out on you.”
Waverly takes the letter from her numb fingers and smoothes it against the coffee table. She stands, refolding it, and tucks it into Nicole’s front pocket. “So our first fight as a couple, huh?”
Nicole realizes she’s crying, a little. “Yeah.”
Waverly steps close, brushing her thumbs under Nicole’s eyes and leaning up for a kiss. “I know about losing family,” she says quietly. “You wanna talk?”
“Yeah,” Nicole says, hesitant and surprised. Waverly curls her hand around Nicole’s wrist and pulls her up the stairs, keeping their eyes locked. “I--you’re sure?”
“Positive,” Waverly promises, gentle, “I’m in this, Nicole. Are you?”
“Yeah,” Nicole repeats, like an idiot, and it’s probably wrong to feel this happy with her mother’s death still in her hands, but here she is. Here they are.
She wakes up with Waverly’s hair in her mouth, her eyes gritty from crying, and rolls on her back to yawn. Waverly stirs, turns over to look at her. She runs a thumb over Nicole’s lower lip. “Do you want to go to the…?”
“No,” Nicole says, “no, I don’t think so.”
“Okay,” Waverly says. She hesitates, like she’s thinking about saying something else. Nicole tugs her closer by the waist and leans their foreheads together. “I visit Willa every year,” Waverly says in a small voice, “you could come with me, if you want.”
Nicole kisses her forehead. “Do you want me to?”
“Yeah,” Waverly says, kissing her properly, “yeah.”
“I love you,” Nicole says, because it’s getting hard not to blurt it out and this is, at least, more appropriate than when Waverly unbraids her hair while they stumble towards the bed, hips pressed together.
Waverly smiles slow and long and kisses her again, harder and with more intent. They both have morning breath and Nicole’s pretty sure her mascara’s run all over the place. “I love you too,” Waverly says, and slings a leg over Nicole’s waist to straddle her.
Nicole leaves her cat and Wynonna to finish their staring contest in the living room to drop a few shirts and socks into the drawer upstairs, her jacket hanging in the coat closet above her boots.
Waverly sprawls on the bed, painting her toenails. “You should know,” she says, teasing, “I’m sort of married to a skull.”
“Oh really?” Nicole arches an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Waverly says, breezy and laughing, “well, we’re kind of separated. Actually, I think I could file for divorce on grounds of… death.”
“Mm,” Nicole says, bouncing on the mattress and stretching out. “Well if he comes back I can take him.”
“I don’t know,” Waverly muses, blowing on her toes and setting the polish aside. “He’s not human, probably has some funky powers.”
“You do research,” Nicole says, leaning over to kiss the place under Waverly’s ear that makes her bite her lip and moan, “I do pistols at dawn.” She kisses Waverly like a country love song, messy and real, and promises herself she’ll be better than all their parents put together.
Nicole may have vague ideas to be Sheriff of Purgatory, but she’s not really a plan ahead kind of girl. Basketball is all about flow, and sure you plan attacks and moves, but never more than a few minutes ahead. She’s not a planner, doesn’t need to know anything more than her schedule in advance, and any plans she might make are bound to be interrupted by some odd thing Wyatt Earp killed a hundred years ago.
She doesn’t know if she really trusts Dolls’ shadowy divisions or Doc’s drawling half-truths and she isn’t sure if she’ll ever live long enough to make Sheriff or see this curse broken but she does know Waverly Earp smells like cherries and tastes like bubblegum and she thinks maybe she might want to marry that girl, someday.