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The Deeps and the Days

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Nicole blinked awake, staring at the crack in the ceiling shaped vaguely like a pig’s head, letting memory seep back in slowly. On examination, two things were pretty clear: Yesterday had certainly been a day, and; she was definitely not ready to deal with it yet.

The righteous indignation was still above the levee, and empathy was purt’ near under the waterline. The exact inverse of what she needed in order to meet Waverly like an adult, and Jesus, how badly someone needed to be the adult in the coming reckoning.

The anger between them wasn’t an easy fight—wet towels in the wrong place, or the garbage still sitting inside. This was intentions, and boundaries, and other pests of human consciousness. It was going to take sophistication, and Nicole was still too angry to shepherd them through.

Not that Waverly shrank from conflict, as long as the issue could be resolved using the barrel end of her extremely illegal sawn-off shotgun. It was emotional upheaval that sometimes shut Waverly down, and turned her into some new species of oyster. Folding around the grain until she could pretend it wasn’t actually there.

Too bad for her, because Waverly’s go-to method of glossing over the conflict was simply not going to serve this time. A first argument meant a first reconciliation, and the style they chose would be the foundation for every negotiation down the line.

Nicole sighed, and hauled herself out of bed. She needed to get up, go to work, and not think about Waverly. Hurt was a human thing, and anything human could certainly be forced into submission by forms filled out in triplicate.

“Dramatic asshole.” She bared her teeth at the face in the mirror.

Once at the station she received a stay of paperwork execution in the form of weird things and screaming being reported at the old convent school, now being renovated into condos.

Poking around the site wasn’t amazing, except for the part where she got to peel her ass off the stitching of her office chair. That part was pretty amazing for her ass. Sadly, the site was clean of anything nefarious, questionable, or even in poor taste. So clean that it fairly reeked of the occult and freaky dealings.

Nicole felt it clench into her jaw. The fact that she’d have to toddle back to the Municipal Centre, and hand the case over to Black Badge, just like a good widdle flat-foot rookie.

Back at the station, ass settling back onto the stitching, she gave Mr. Kowalski the bad news about the dead-ending of his report. Ignoring his whining as Ms. Linda stalked across the bullpen carrying an accordion file. Steel haired, be-sweatered, and oozing a total, probably genetic-level lack of nonsense. She was Nedley’s new hire, though Nicole suspected the thirty minutes of closed door interview had been ninety percent Ms. Linda informing Nedley she was hired, and ten percent Nedley acquiescing like a roped calf. It was the only realistic possibility.

She was still letting Mr. Kowalski down easy when Waverly appeared on the civilian side of the counter, waving before she invited herself through the swing gate and sitting at the duty chair.

“I love watching you work,” Waverly told her after she’d escorted Mr. Kowalski back out the swing gate. “Professional, yet caring.”

Nicole didn’t say anything, because, yup, that water was still above the levee.

Waverly tried block her path back to the stacked paperwork of doom, giggling and smiling like it was something cute. It surged hot rage and cold resentment through her synapses, spangling like a terrible disco light. The kind that gave children seizures.

As predicted, Waverly was choosing the oyster option.

She removed Waverly’s legs, clearing a space to pass and leaning to get her face close to Waverly’s own. “This is my job. Okay?”

She didn’t have steel hair, or cardigan sweaters, but she knew how to use a tone. Waverly blanched back, afraid, but Nicole pushed the condo file into her hands and walked away anyways.

Not now. Tonight. Maybe.

*
Waverly watched Nicole stalk out the far door, gripping the file that had been shoved into her hands.

It was just a fight. Just a first fight. It could be repaired. Definitely it could.

She frowned down at the file, and watched a drop of red suddenly bloomed against the stiff paper.

What..?

She looked up at the ceiling, and choked on the taste of blood. It was her own nose. Another drop stained the folder as she pressed the nostril closed, but the blood kept seeping. Trapping her over the bathroom sink for a non-negligible portion of eternity with its steady drip-drip-drip.

First her thumb, and now her nose. Apparently fighting with Nicole truly did upset the very humours of her body. Or Lucado really had poisoned her.

That was dumb, though. It couldn’t be poison. Wynonna, and Doc, and that guy Jeremy seemed to be just fine. Waverly was the only one bleeding.

Unless.

Would a revenant, would Bobo, react to the blood contract this way? Could whatever cursed them show in Wa— in a half-revenant child?

She dabbed cautiously at the nostril, wary of restarting the flow, but it held. She found a new folder for the case file before dutifully delivering it to the new and improved Black Badge office, where Dolls was missing and Lucado prowled.

*
Wynonna drew an ore daemonium monster on the glassboard Lucado had drug into the Black Badge office as part of its reincarnation into her fortress of doom.

Dolls was dead. His still animated body might be out there somewhere, but the lizard definitely did not make the man.

Lucado asked a question about timesheets, location of. No one answered.

Wynonna added a few teeth, and wrote killed him good!! above as a header.

Willa was dead. Peacemaker had turned blue when she’d pointed it at her older sister’s head. What was up with that?

Lucado’s lapdog dropped something he’d been unpacking, and cringed. Lucado snapped at him, shrinking him smaller.

Wynonna drew in train tracks, and a section of the Ghost River.

Eliza was dead. Shot in the head, same as Willa. Forget Peacemaker, what was up with the sudden increase in people getting shot in the head?

Doc played with his phone at the desk. Waverly breezed in looking so phenomenally unperturbed it wrapped all the way back around into perturbed.

Wynonna added a gut wound to the glassboard simulacrum in the place she’d hit the original with that tree branch.

Lucado tried to bust John Henry’s balls, and reached critical boil when the clamp failed to close. “Look. I don’t know how things were run around here before, but—”

Wynonna had let some shadowy government institution take Waverly’s blood. She was definitely going to fix that part. She just had to figure out how. What would Dolls do?

“There were a lot less thumbs up asses,” she told Lucado. The woman seemed almost relieved to be acknowledged.

Lucado won the game-set-match, though. Following Wynonna to the breakroom, and pointing out that her boss, Moody the Black Badge Blood Moocher, would kill everyone if she didn’t give him a demon. So, Wynonna took her cursed gun and scurried away to do exactly as she’d been instructed.

“Not the boss of me,” she told the truck cab, with equal parts vehemence and inaccuracy.

How was it that Dolls had seemed master of the situation even when being arrested, but she— who knew how to say fornicate yourself in six different languages and could roam from the Rockies to the city—felt caged?


Nicole went to go visit her cow once her shift was over. Sitting on the top rail of the paddock at the homestead, and handing over too many molasses treats. Daisy lipped them up, and leaned a great majority of her weight against Nicole’s legs.

“Oi, short ribs, shove off. You’re squashing me.” She prodded at a flank until Daisy groaned and shifted.

The homestead’s front door opened, and Waverly slipped out, walking slowly across the lumpy ground to the paddock.

“Hey,” Nicole said, sliding down from the rail.

“Hi,” Waverly said, surging forward, then pulling up short. “Um, hi.” Awkwardness rang between them. Nicole sighed. Later was now.

“We should talk.”

Waverly went rigid, her shoulders pulling in and her eyes sliding away.

Nicole took a careful breath. She’d seen Waverly stand like that before, when she had accidentally triggered the legacy that Ward’s belt had beaten into his daughter. This was pain from a vector Waverly desperately didn’t want, and didn’t know how to stop.

Perhaps this exact moment was more about her mother leaving, and Willa leaving, and Wynonna leaving, and her shitstick father never caring, but seeing her brace for an emotional blow didn’t magically feel better than seeing her brace for a physical one.

“Hey.” Nicole started to back down, but of all the human things Waverly struggled with, cowardice wasn’t included. She nodded, and said, “Okay.”

“I’m angry,” Nicole said bluntly, and just getting to say it made the pressure drop.

Waverly turned to face their shared custody bovine instead of Nicole. That was fine. There was bravery, then there was having to face someone during a charged conversation.

“At me."

“At what you did,” Nicole corrected.

Waverly patted Daisy’s head, and ran her fingers along her ears until Daisy flapped her giant head. Finally, she said, “Because I took something you wanted away from you.”

Well, now. The oyster path was more observant than Nicole would have bet on.

“Do you know what I wanted?” Nicole asked, because she was curious, and because it suddenly felt like they were having an actual discussion. The kind people used to get better, instead of just argue.

Waverly darted her a look, full of dread and misery.

“That one’s harder.” Nicole reassured the cow directly, and Waverly tangentially. “I’ve got the cheat code, since it’s my brain.”

Waverly clenched her fist rhythmically and let her eyes rove over anything that wasn’t Nicole, breathing fast and silent. Nicole felt their tiny momentum falter.

“Try, Waverly,” Nicole snapped, the sharpest edge of her anger bleeding through. “You have to at least try.” Waverly startled and swallowed hard, opening her mouth obediently.

“You wanted— You wanted to be part of the action?” Waverly tried, and Nicole felt it in the pit of her stomach. Even in anger, she wouldn’t be cold and cruel. She wouldn’t.

“Yeah,” Nicole agreed, feeling the precipice. She could stop here. Make her own apologies for snapping, and kiss Waverly until their still new physicality made all sins seem small. She could do that, and it would work. For a while. Then it would fade, like all false mercy.

Or she could risk the twisting exposure of vulnerability. Of all the human things Nicole struggled with, she was only rarely uncertain. She jumped, and hoped not to smash onto any emotional rocks.

“Mostly though, I just wanted to…be invited inside, I guess. To be a part of what you guys have. You, Doc, Wynonna, Dolls. It seems really great, and I—” She shrugged a little, trying to summarize years of living with her self-involved parents, and being gay, and the unwavering maleness of her working life without being pathetic. “I haven’t always belonged.”

She watched her own hurt suddenly occur to Waverly. Snapping her head around, clamping her hands onto the rail. “I’m sorry,” she said, voice high and tight. “Nicole, please, I’m sorry. I didn’t think. I didn’t know—”

“I know,” Nicole cut her off, more gently than before. She held a cupped hand out to Daisy, so she wouldn’t reach for Waverly. They both had to endure this. The cow snuffled her palm, but its emptiness made her turn a walleyed look on Nicole.

So much for the purity of the animal spirit, giving companionship without compulsion.

“Stupid cow,” Nicole muttered.

“I thought I was doing something good,” Waverly said, pale and scared.

“I know,” Nicole said again. “The hard part is that you were doing something good. You were protecting me. But you did it by making a decision that should have been mine to make. It was manipulative, no matter your motivation, and manipulation is a hard line for me. I won’t have it.”

She patted Daisy, who was looking steadily away to emphasis the treat betrayal, but leaned into the touch. “It’s shallow, and shallow is the opposite of what you and I are going to build.”

Waverly let out a breath, hands still tight on the rail.

“I was never breaking up with you, you know,” Nicole said lightly. Waverly’s knee-jerk fear of abandonment wasn’t personal. She could learn how to not take it personally.

“I mostly knew that,” Waverly mumbled.

Nicole put a hand on her shoulder, and pulled her around. “Can I have a hug?”

“But.” Waverly hesitated, tucking the flats of her palms against her own ribs and folding in on herself. “I hurt you. You’re angry with me.”

“Yes,” Nicole agreed, and it flashed something inward twisting across Waverly’s face, “and now we’re making up. I’ve heard that it sometimes involves hugs.”

Waverly shot her a look usually reserved for moments when two primary resources were contradicting. Puzzlement edging on suspicion, but she followed Nicole’s asking hand. Uncrossing her arms to slide them around Nicole, slowly fisting a hand into the back of her shirt. Nicole cupped the back of her head, keeping her close.

So many people in Waverly’s life were volatile and explosive, but Nicole was going to show her exactly what steadiness could be like.

“Do you have to leave?” Waverly pressed the question into the curve of Nicole’s throat.

“No.”

“I, um, could—” Waverly fidgeted, and Nicole pulled back enough to look at her.

“What is it, babe?”

“Could I show you something?”

Waverly looked sad and drawn. Hollow eyed and sharp at the cheeks, with a pulse beating in her temple. And how much of that had Nicole herself inspired?

“Of course.”

She took Nicole into the homestead, past their new acquisition, Jeremy, pulling a…something apart at the table—it had many legs but was far too large to actually be an actual spider, ergo it was actually not a spider—and up to a bedroom. Shabby, with a water stain cascading down a dormer corner and a musty looking old bed. Waverly sat on it, and pulled out a child’s diary.

“It was Willa’s. I, uh, found it,” Waverly said, a little sheepish. Nicole sat behind her, looking at the creased and well-loved photo Waverly had opened the diary to reveal. It showed two coltish girls, pretty and slim in white dresses and holding flowers. Willa and Wynonna.

“That’s a beautiful photo,” she said, but Waverly huffed in irritation.

“The one I’ve been cropped out of?” Rhetorical, since she overrode anything Nicole might have said. “Listen to this. ‘I hate that they brought the baby into the house. There’s something wrong with her. Mama told Daddy that we have to do what is right. What does that even mean? And why does she get the pretty name? Waverly. Whatever. She’ll never be one of us.’”

“Willa was just a kid,” Nicole pointed out, attempting mercy and reasonable doubt all at once. Willa had left Nicole cold, and less forgivably she’d scared Waverly, but a girlfriend didn’t fare well picking sides in a family matter.

“Yeah,” Waverly said glumly, letting the book flip closed. Working up to the heart of whatever this was. “She didn’t think I was an Earp.” She looked right at Nicole, and for the first time since that moment by the prowler, there were no masking layers. Just Waverly, telling Nicole important things. “Neither did Bobo.”

Nicole felt the last shadow of anger evaporate. She was still disappointed, but that wasn’t necessarily Waverly’s to answer for.

“Bobo,” Nicole said incredulously. “What wouldn’t that gaslighting sociopath say to freak you out?”

“There was another side to him. Okay? A side that wouldn’t lie to me,” Waverly told her.

“This is crazy,” Nicole insisted. Longing to reach inside Waverly and pull out whatever taint Bobo’s very goddamn existence had left inside. Nothin’ doing, though. Even good intentions didn’t let you delve into someone’s mind and convince them. Her parents had taught her that. When she’d tried so hard to project her need into them, and they hadn’t changed.

Waverly leaned forward, and Nicole met her. Nuzzling along Waverly’s forehead before leaning in to kiss her. It went past comfort almost instantly, Waverly’s hand at the back of her neck, and Waverly’s lips sparking along all her nerves. Which was, of course, when someone decided to clatter up the stairs.

She pulled back. Exhibitionism wasn’t sexy, and Waverly had already been exposed without permission twice.

“I guess we’re still fighting,” Waverly said unhappily.

“Nope,” Nicole returned. “Someone’s just coming up the—” Wynonna burst in “…stairs.”

“Shit.” Wynonna froze, eyes shooting wide. Nicole smiled with a chagrined resignation. Forget fire and brimstone. God had found a new punishment for the sin of homosexuality. A beautiful girl, and endless interruptions. How very fitting.

“I’m gonna go,” she said, leaving the Earps to the Earps. Edging around Jeremy, still absorbed by his not-spider dissection, and exiting stage lichgate.

She could have stayed, but she had an idea.

*
Wynonna brooded and stared into the bonfire.

Lots of fire to cure a haunting, Waverly had said, and lots of fire they had made. Now she was a primal cavewoman, exorcising things with flames. Specifically the lingering ghost of the sister she’d shot. Less specifically, the ghost of whatever had crawled up Doc’s ass.

It was a whole vibe, and it was working for her. Right until Lucado’s snitch ran yapping across the yard yodelling, “Eggshell! Eggshell!”

Maybe she could trip him into the fire? Maybe Waverly wouldn’t notice?

“Uh, semi-gloss,” Waverly chipped in.

Probably Waverly would notice. He was obviously a squealer.

Too bad she’d left the whiskey bottle in the barn, along with Doc, and probably her dignity. She deserved more whiskey. Today had sucked. She had been goo’d by revenants, and then goo’d again by the spider pod thingy, and she’d declared mutiny on Lucado.

Plus, the whole part about Willa haunting her.

Plus squared, the whole part where Dolls was dead. Which was particular bullshit, because Dolls had been more than a…friend. He’d been a shield. Curving inward to contain the wilder swings of her impulses, and curving outward to keep Waverly safe.

Plus cubed, Doc was on the rag, and practically missing in action, and also he was an asshole.

Plus, uh, quaded, Lucado was made of obsidian ambition, and Wynonna was shit on a stick. It wasn’t a new state, being shit, but it did make the parts where she’d declared mutiny, and ordered a symposium, and told Waverly the team was back together, well, it probably made those parts funny.

Ha, fucking, ha.

And now, on top of all that math, Lucado’s lapdog of a Jeremy was sprinting around, screaming about eggshells. All in the absence of whiskey.

“No.” Jeremy flapped Waverly’s paint-based word association away. “I thought for sure it was a piece of exoskeleton, because that would make sense, right? But it’s not.” His eyes bulged, dreadful and fascinating. “It’s an eggshell! It’s an eggshell!”

Much more of that, and Wynonna was gonna eggshell him.

“I will slap you,” she hissed with intent, just to get the point across. Jeremy cringed in a satisfactory way, but the threat was empty at birth. Waverly was clearly serious about keeping him, given that she’d let him nerdgasm all over her.

“The creature you shot wasn’t the creature!” Jeremy finally got to the point. “It was a baby. And I think it has siblings.”

Wynonna didn’t need a psychic to know what came next. The call was coming from inside the house. Well, from inside the convent cum school cum condo renovation. Where her old pal Mercedes was trapped by more of the giant, but apparently, horrifyingly, baby giant spiders.

So, correction, the bullshit-y-ist part of this bullshit was the amount of time Wynonna was spending inside that goddamn building. It scraped along her nerves. The hallways, and the smell, and somehow the very distance between doors was every high school she’d attended and every mental institution she’d ever been locked inside.

The institutions had been big on impulse control. Impulsivity displeased them. Impulses like kowtowing to a crazy boss, then declaring a coup, then pretty much being unable to actually coup because you were, according to a 150 year old asshole, soft and unable to distinguish bullshit. In other words; shit on a stick.

Then again, the institutions were also wildly against patricide too, and Wynonna didn’t exactly regret that. So what the hell did they know, really?

She kicked down the door to the hidden chapel Stupid Earl had such a hard-on over, and gave into some first class impulsivity. Swinging her best smashin’ sledgehammer into the giant baby spider egg sacs.

The aftermath was more goo, worth it; more Lucado, puzzlingly vacant and uncaring; more decontamination shower, gross; more Jeremy, annoying. Flailing and sputtering ineffectively before getting to the point. Namely that the desanctified Trinity Catholic School may have given up on the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but it’d took right up with Stupid Earl, giant baby spiders, and, well, okay, it still had a ghost.

“All this supernatural shit being drawn to one place,” Wynonna said, making unhappy connections.

Connections that were snap, crackle, popping inside Waverly, too. “Or, to something in that place…”

“A thing that could still be there,” Wynonna concluded glumly.

So back they went. Again. On the upside, all that nostalgic twitchiness about education and antipsychotics wasn’t nearly as strong as the fresh foreboding the broken symbol on the floor of the old chapel created.

So, yeah, there was that.

Dolls was gone, and Lucado was unstable, and something was coming. Something evil and strong. She felt it all the way down into her curly butt hairs.


Waverly stood with a decorative scarf in hand, furiously pondering the cost-benefit of peeing in the corners of her new bedroom.

Willa’s old bedroom. Talk about haunted. Wynonna had already had her bonfire, so check that off the list, but this particular room had been at the epicentre of Willa’s puberty. Was fire really enough to drive off that kind of miasma?

No urine necessary, she decided. Just a sage smudge. No reason to be weird about anything.

She nodded, all settled. Which made space for the thought that had occurred to her in the decontamination shower to come right back.

That Nicole was an optical illusion, and Waverly wasn’t very smart.

In the beginning, Waverly had assumed she was a temporary distraction. Good enough for a romp on Nedley’s couch if all parties were willing and the springs were strong, but nothing serious. Then Nicole had slowed, and stopped. Bundling Waverly back into her coat, and asking her on a date. Looking a little bit, just kinda maybe, like the question was taking some kind of courage. The nervous twitch of her fingers making reality shift, an obvious duck becoming an obvious rabbit. Couldn’t have ever been otherwise.

And then Waverly had seen age and experience and vocation, and formed a picture. She’d assumed that Nicole would take whatever she needed, and Waverly would get some education as her quid pro quo. Crossing her wrists above her head, and waiting for that undeniable command presence to make events happen. Nicole had grasped them, but instead of holding she’d pulled Waverly’s hands down to her own hips. “Not like that,” she’d whispered into the hollow below Waverly’s ear, and Escher’s stairs wavered and flipped in the space of a synapse firing.

And now. She’d been blind to Nicole’s hurt because she hadn’t understood that someone like Waverly Earp even had the ability to harm someone like Nicole Haught. Look first, and the picture was two old men, blink and it was a vase. See it the second way, and the brain could never go back to the first impression.

She kept getting the picture wrong. Assuming wrong, and saying wrong, and apologizing for the wrong thing. That was probably what would finally make Nicole throw her hands up and walk away. Could be it had already happened, and Waverly just didn’t know, because she’d said they weren’t breaking up, then she’d left without saying goodbye. Without saying she would call, and without winking and telling Waverly to call her.

Burning Willa with fire and peeing in the corners of her new room wasn’t much of a distraction from the anxiety trying to crawl under her skin, but it was what she had.

For a certain value of peeing. Metaphorical, and such. Marking of territory. In the form of a gauzy scarf across the window and a shawl pegged over the water stain.

She could show Nicole, if Nicole…something loomed in the corner of her eye.

Jesus,” Waverly squealed.

“I knocked,” Nicole said, hands out in surrender.

Waverly glared and clutched her chest. There was simply no way to recover from that level of unsexy noise making. Worse, there was still ten feet of carpet between them.

She hopped down from the bed she’d been using to reach the window. Down to eight feet, but holding. “You, um, came back.”

Just another way Waverly was wrong. She held onto the bed, and waited.

“I went to get something.” Nicole closed the distance like she hadn’t even noticed it, holding out a little cardboard box. Waverly pulled out the tabs and lifted the lid, all without bleeding on anything for once.

“A DNA test kit?”

“We’ve got Wynonna’s DNA from the test on Willa. We can do the same sibling comparisons on your DNA.”

“You came back,” Waverly said. Stupidly. They’d already done this part. She watched her hands squeezing the box.

“Hey.” Nicole ducked, trying and failing to get her eyes. “Of course.”

“I hurt you,” Waverly mumbled. More old territory but just like a hole at the gum line, it was impossible to keep the tongue away from something so sore.

“Couples fight, babe. Two people can’t always be in sync with each other. It’s inevitable that we’ll make mistakes, and hurt each other, and I dunno; argue about taking the trash out.” Nicole put out a hand, helping her cradle the box. “You decide if you want to use this, but either way, I’ll be here.”

The monster gnawing at the base of Waverly’s spine yawned and curled up. It was such a relief that she laughed a little.

Nicole leaned forward into a kiss, and Nicole asked if she was sure, and Nicole picked her up just to lay her down, and whoa. Whoa! They were really doing this. Sex! Or, making out with intent? Foreplay?

It seemed like sex, but it also didn’t seem like something Waverly could stop and ask about.

Nicole’s kisses lost precision, her lips sliding and her tongue sloppier. Making deep breathy sounds that matched the sounds she’d made on Nedley’s couch, and in the barn before Willa had walked in on them, and in the closet before Ms. Linda had yanked the door open and reached right past their blushes for a fresh box of staples.

They really had shit luck, no doubt about it, but nothing was going to catch them out this time. This time they were in Waverly’s own room, her door closed and the homestead empty. This time she was way closer to naked than ever before, and Nicole’s eyes were hotter and darker than ever before.

Hotter and darker, but not new. Just an amplification of the looks she’d always given her. The brashly confident flirt who had tapped a business card down onto the bar top at Shorty’s. The one who’d refused to lend any assistance on Nedley’s office couch because she seemed to think Waverly’s own courage was enough.

A cockier version of herself that Nicole had politely tucked away during the tornado of destruction that was finding, and then re-losing Willa. Now back, and sliding a thigh between Waverly’s own. Rocking against the reinforced cotton stitching of her underwear.

Rocking against a whole lotta other territory, too. Making Waverly grip the arch of Nicole’s hips, and think: Okay. This. Now. The event horizon between foreplay, and actual sex. The moment Champ had liked to call put out and shut up.

Such a winner, Champ. Which made her an extra winner for having chosen him, even for a little while.

Stop thinking about Champ, Waverly thought.

Nicole was not Champ. She was a 90 degree phase shift from Champ, in a variety of fundamental ways. And wasn’t that the crux of the matter at hand? Because some of those differences were fundamentally anatomical. Just try searching that on Google.

Please mind, she begged. Please shut up.

It was just nerves, and it was stupid. So stupid. Maybe this first time would be a little inept and not quite amazing for Nicole, but it wasn’t going to be dangerous. Not to Waverly’s body, or her heart, or even her ego. Because Nicole of those dark eyes was the same Nicole who had gathered up that DNA kit, and the same Nicole who had waited and who had asked if she was sure. Nicole of all the parts, who was never going to hurt her or even laugh at her.

She just needed to calm down, and stop. freaking. thinking.

She squeezed her eyes shut, and groped in the blackness for that creature of quicksilver and desire. The one that would creep up like the tide to fill a waiting space, but would disappear entirely when Waverly tried to grab and insist.

Sure enough, it slithered away. But it was too late anyway, because Nicole was easing their kisses, and sliding off to one side. Looking down with her head propped on a fist.

“Hey, pretty girl.”

“Hi,” Waverly said back, foreboding sinking low in her stomach.

“You with me?”

“Absolutely,” Waverly said brightly. “One hundred percent.”

Nicole traced a fingertip across her face while looking kinda skeptical, and Waverly was definitely not going to tear up because that was not sexy and it was not going to happen.

“Because you seem kind of far away,” Nicole said lightly.

“I’m sorry,” Waverly said automatically.

“You don’t need to be sorry, babe. Just tell me what’s happening.”

“My brain won’t shut off,” Waverly said with a wobbling misery, but Nicole just smiled something fond and knowing.

“Is that all?” She asked, and Waverly nodded.

“Well, in that case, I’m pretty sure I have just the ticket.” Nicole rolled them both until Waverly straddled her hips. Spreading out to her full height and lacing her fingers behind her head, slow and languid as a cat.

“Um,” Waverly said, like a true moron, splaying her hands across Nicole’s bare torso. Keeping to the neutral zone below the underwire rim of her still clasped bra. Which was maybe an itsy bit ridiculous, considering her reinforced cotton stitching was now pressed over the open fly of Nicole’s trousers, the buckle of her splayed belt making impressions inside one thigh.

Still and all, those were boobs in there, and Waverly was not up to speed on boobs.

“You’re a researcher. You collect data,” Nicole said, that dark expectation smouldering, pressing her pelvis up for just a second. “So maybe you should start collecting, eh?”

Waverly swallowed, and took a breath. Running her palms up those long arms. Pulling Nicole’s hands from under her head and lacing their fingers together, bearing her weight down to keep those hands captive. Kissing the lips below hers steady and slow, leaving an empty and unhurried space for that saltwater creep of desire, smiling when the first tendril reached out to shiver through her flesh. Letting time pass, until Nicole arched and jolted and the cradle of Waverly’s own pelvis was exactly like a tidal bore under the full moon.

Nicole laughed something that was entirely joy, and Waverly yipped as she pitchpoled them. Her head at the foot of the bed, and her feet flat on the mattress, and a white hot chemical torrent crossing her blood-brain barrier. Making her loud, and profane, and entirely without thought.

*
Thought came back, of course. It always did. Nicole pulling her fingers away and gathering Waverly up against her chest. “Tell me it’s never been like that before,” she demanded, voice smug and eyes anxious. Waverly laughed.

“I didn’t even know it could be like that,” she said with total honesty. Limply riding the dip and swell of Nicole’s happy breathing, soft and sated under her wandering touch. A hand found the blackly splotched bruise on Waverly’s thigh, and a palm spread across the mark. It had been there, achy and throbbing since the night at the arch. The night of Bobo, and Willa, and Wynonna.

“Ouch, babe. That’s really deep. What happened?”

“I don’t remember, exactly,” Waverly said. She’d tried to remember. She’d tried hard and often, but the harder she pushed the harder her stomach roiled and the fainter her head felt. There had been the monster, and Wynonna had done…something. Willa was gone. And she had touched—

Had she touched something?

“Should I kiss it and make it better?” Nicole asked with adorable sincerity and an inept grasp of medicine. Waverly slid her hand into the softness of that red, red hair and let the memory go all over again.

*
Waverly crept downstairs, pressing a washcloth below her nose. Sitting at the table and typing one-handed search words into the computer. Following link after link, until she had narrowed it down to three options.

She finished reading, and tried to breathe slowly and carefully. Gripping the edge of the table so that the rotation of the earth couldn’t fling her away into the void.

Hypothesis was nothing until it had been tested. Nothing at all.