“Heard you had a big night.”
Waverly smiled at Simon, leaning in the doorway and sucking a popsicle, holding a handful of syringes in their sterile paper pouches.
“Shouldn’t you be in the outpatient ward, torturing people and their hot girlfriends with your retching noises and intolerance of love?”
“Wanted to come check on you, and you’re slumming it on the inpatient ward. Ergo.” He shoved the popsicle into his mouth, slurping as he dumped the syringes onto the bedside table.
Her midnight screaming had brought nearly everyone on the ward boiling out of the woodwork. Pushing buttons, and silencing alarms, and tossing everyone except Waverly out on their ear. It had clearly made the rounds of the entire oncology wing, even down into the day ward.
“Aren’t those for the patients?” Waverly asked, eyeing the popsicle.
He pulled it out of his mouth, stick already wearing through the top where he’d sucked the matrix away. “You want?”
She rolled her eyes, and he grinned at the rejection. Sucking the last of the ice from the stick.
“So, what happened last night?”
“Nightmare,” Waverly lied, letting Simon’s gloved hands peel open the shirt flap that covered her catheter. Watching him thread a syringe and vacuum tube onto one of the lumens.
“Mm,” Simon hummed his doubt. “Because having your room chock-a-block with hot girlfriend, hotter sister, and various male callers is how you sleep.”
“Mm,” Waverly hummed right back. “Male callers.”
“All right then,” Simon shrugged, unlocking the front of the Morphine pump and snapping a full syringe into the holster.
She watched him, and felt the words on the edge of her tongue.
“Hey, Nurse Ratchet,” she managed, trying for light and not quite making it. The crack of seriousness making him look up. “How long have you been doing this?”
“Ten years as a nurse, six in oncology. Took an exam, and everything.” He winked, a polite openness on his face. She could back away, and he wouldn’t press it.
Waverly pushed her fingertips against the center of her chest. The ache Dolls had started, and the feeling of something moving inside untouched by the Morphine.
“So, you’ve seen people die?”
Simon sat in the chair, elbows on the armrests, chin on his steepled fingers. Waverly had never seen him sitting down before, and hadn’t truly known he could bend in the middle.
“Hey kid, there are lots of steps in front of you still. Ongoing salvage therapy. A stem cell transplant. Clinical trials.”
“I’m not- I’m not giving up. It’s just that I’m on the shitty side of so many of the predictive models,” Waverly explained. “I failed remission, and I got leukostasis while already on chemo, and none of the donor registries have found a full match. They can’t even figure out the cytogenetics of the leukemia cells. The five year survival statistics for someone like me are…they’re zero.”
“We’re all on your side, Waverly,” Simon said, and she nodded.
“And you’re really, really great at being on my side. It’s just that realistically, I’m going to die, and I want- I can’t- I want to be able to talk about it.”
“I can do that,” he said, either training or natural compassion keeping his eyes level on hers. “There are people who are better trained and experienced, and I can set up a consult if you want. You can have both of us, one of us, or none of us.”
Waverly didn’t want to talk to anyone else, for a variety of reasons she didn’t currently need to broach.
“I want to talk to you,” she said, and he nodded. She took a breath. “Leukemia patients die delirious from infection, or delirious from chemo-related organ toxicity, or just flat out gorked from a clot in the brain.
“I’ve already had one infection. I don’t necessarily remember much, but I remember that it hurt and I was cold and afraid. And Nicole had to…she…” her voice went high in a way she hated, but couldn’t do anything about. “Nicole shouldn’t have to.”
“Waverly, what I think you’re talking about is legal in every province,” Simon said. “Not for me, but legal for a doctor.”
“Legal, yes.” She licked her lips, choosing words carefully. “But you can’t consent more than ten days in advance, so there’s no advance directive. And you have to be able to keep consenting right up until the method of death is administered. No altered mental state allowed.” She smiled a little. “I’m on the wrong side of that model, too.”
Simon looked at her over his pressed fingers, waiting. She’d have to make the actual leap. “Do you think,” she said very, very carefully, “there should be some kind of loophole for people like me?”
Simon stared at her for a long, long beat. Then he nodded. “Yes.”
Wynonna took a very healthy pull of whiskey from the neck of the bottle. Then she sighed, and let half trickle back.
“That is disgusting.” The corners of Doll’s mouth turned down.
“It’s alcohol. Kills everything.”
Wynonna had to conceded that one. But it was whatever, because they had better things to be doing. “Tell me again.”
Dolls had hastily explained right after they’d all been tossed out of the hospital. Everyone huddled in the carpark and blinking a lot. Because the noises Waverly had made, and the magmatic fault lines that had opened in Dolls forehead had a way of creeping between thoughts and lingering.
After an unsatisfactory amount of explanation, Dolls’ had demanded a strategic regrouping at a remote site, which seemed to be a fancy name for running away to the homestead. Dragging Nicole back to the homestead, threatening her with a drenching bit to administer the medicinal whiskey that knocked her into sleep. Giving Jeremy, who they had fed and would never shake free, the couch. Doc was out, prowling wherever he prowled when he felt caged.
Wynonna had gone towards the good, non-medicinal whiskey, and Dolls had followed into the barn, but Dolls was better than the whiskey. Thus the half sip.
“Mikshun.” Dolls said the name flatly. “Mictian. The Old One. Legion. Lots of names, same concept.”
“A type of brood parasitism. Mikshun implants a...call it a kernel of itself in a host. The kernel uses the…life force of the victim to increase its own…essence. The process doesn’t translate well to words. Once the host is depleted, the kernel rejoins Mikshun. Independent, but also part of the whole.”
“Like the Borg,” Wynonna said, but Dolls smiled.
“Yeah. Except the Borg are a hive mind. Mikshun is more like a collective, all aimed in the same direction. We think. Even that analogy doesn’t fit very well.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not like Waverly signed up for the Hotel California. How did she end up as the chosen one?”
“Same as always; motive and opportunity. Somewhere, sometime, Waverly touched the goo.”
“The arch,” Wynonna realized, the way answers bubbled up through a magic 8-ball already formed. “The arch where I killed Wi...the giant penis monster. We all went back afterwards, including Waverly. She must have been infected then.” She laughed without happiness. “It always comes back to the goddamn goo.”
“Hey,” Dolls murmured, and she leaned close to his scent and the warmth of his arm around her back.
“What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to have to do something. I looked at some Black Badge records, and Jeremy’s theory about the epidemics isn’t wrong. Given the right circumstances, Waverly could be ground zero for an apocalypse.”
“So, we have to pry it out of her, and get all extreme prejudice on its ass,” she said, but his tension was easy to read. “But…” she gave him the opening.
“There’s never been a successful unbinding,” he admitted.
“Yeah, well. This extra buttery kernel has never met Wynonna Earp.” She craned up to grin at him. “Or her pet dragon.”
“Too soon,” he growled. She kissed the rasping fuzz on his cheek, feeling the muscle twitching to suppress his smile. “Plus,” he continued, “all those failed unbindings never had a Jeremy on their side. He seems pretty confident we can head-fake the kernel into thinking it’s abandoning a dying body.”
“Doesn't sound like there’s much difference between the head-fake, and actually killing her,” Wynonna pointed out. Looking over to where the barn door creaked open under Doc’s hand.
“Yeah,” Dolls agreed softly, hooking an ankle to drag the third camp chair around.
“What have I missed?” Doc asked, settling down like a bookend on Wynonna’s other side.
“Hardcore planning,” Wynonna told him, handing him the bottle. “Drink the whiskey. You’re going to need it.”
“There are some days in which I think this is all the consternation I need,” Doc told them, eyes flicking between Dolls and Wynonna. Wynonna smiled. They would save Waverly, and they would all be… whatever it was that they were, and it would be okay in the end.
“So, I saw on Youtube about this thing with paddles,” Wynonna said.
“Sure,” Nicole agreed easily. “Youtube.” Turning into a hiss when two small fingers viciously pinched the inside of her thigh.
“Paddles?” Waverly asked, soothing her fingers over Nicole’s outraged flesh. Wynonna pressed her hands to her chest and made a buzzing sound, jerking like she’d been shocked.
“Paddles. Reset the heart, freak out the demon, kill it hard, live happily ever after.”
They’d been unbanned from the hospital, but only in pairs, and only on good behaviour. Wynonna was sprawled boneless in the chair. Nicole had claimed the bed, with Waverly curled sideways below her chin. Discussing a little light murder with consent.
Just a day ago, Nicole would have pegged her most bizarre Purgatory moment to holding Waverly and discussing the semen of undying monsters. Now she had a new and exciting data point of holding Waverly as they spitballed ways to interrupt her mortal coil.
At least she got to be the one holding the pretty girl?
“Cardioversion,” Waverly filled in. “Not a good choice. First we’d have to destabilize my heart rhythm, then we’d need all the equipment and drugs to re-stabilize it.”
Nicole tried, and mostly failed to stay relaxed under Waverly’s relentless first person singular onslaught. But really, this had to be the textbook definition of irony—that the only person smart enough to discover how to almost-kill Waverly, without actually killing Waverly, was Waverly herself.
Well, the textbook definition of irony in Purgatory. All that nonsense about Hamlet and Socrates really needed to evolve for the millennial set. Coincidence as irony weren’t no sin.
“What then?” Wynonna asked, and suddenly it was Waverly who was wracking tighter.
“I actually- I’ve already…” She pulled back to look at Nicole. “Simon. And your stash of Naloxone.”
For one long last, final second of before, Nicole didn’t understand.
“Who the fuck is Simon?” Wynonna asked, but it was just a background buzz. Nicole’s brain filled with the electrical tension of how fast Waverly was breathing, and the fidgeting rhythm of her thumb worrying at a knuckle. All signs of Waverly in a heightened state of nervous decision making.
No, she wanted to say. Absolutely not. This is too far. I categorically forbid this. But Waverly was hers to hold, never hers to direct. And what choice did they have?
“Simon has…drugs,” she finally told Wynonna, keeping her eyes on Waverly, cautiously working out the plan in real-time. “And I,” she kept going, seeing how Waverly must have fit the pieces, “I have Naloxone.”
She licked her lips, finally breaking away from Waverly’s huge eyes to find Wynonna’s. “Simon’s agreed to overdose her with some sort of opioid. Once the demon’s, uh, vacated, I can reverse the overdose with the opioid reverser I carry in my cop kit.”
“Oh.” Wynonna faltered, but only for a second. “Uh. Way to go, baby girl. You really reeled this Simon guy in. A-plus acting skills.” She shot Waverly a thumbs up, but Nicole could see the same shadow in Wynonna’s eyes that she knew was in hers.
Later, when Wynonna had vacated in pursuit of her own complicated life, Waverly pressed her face into Nicole’s neck, pushing hard. Nicole circled her arms a little tighter.
“It wasn’t acting,” she said into the side of Nicole’s neck. Confessions were always easier without eye contact.
Just her name. Said with the kind of ache that tried to make a singular proper noun into a complete sentence. Which maybe it could, given the way Nicole’s pulse bounded upward. “If nothing happens. If there’s no demon…” she trailed off.
“I’ve got you,” Nicole reassured, in the voice Waverly used to think of as her good cop voice. Crouching in front of some hollow-eyed victim of violence or bad luck, letting her words be a field-dressing over their newly cracked foundation.
It had taken Waverly months to realize there was no good cop voice, or a bad cop voice. There was only one voice, sliding up and down the registers as necessary. Unlike Waverly, Nicole had never split herself into aspects, and then let circumstance tell her what facet to show.
Nicole just was. Tall and bright, and finer than anything Waverly—last broken child squatting in a dark family tree—ever thought she’d get to hold. Worse, or better, or whatever, she seemed determined to convince Waverly that that she, too, could live without facets. That care and affection shouldn’t come from pouring yourself into a container of expectation, taking its shape as least resistance.
“I knew you were going to break my heart,” Waverly told her, winding the fabric of Nicole’s shirt into her fist, Eyes closed hard, and something terrible knotting in her throat. “That very first time, with your stupid fucking hat, and your goddamn red hair.”
If Nicole thought it was a weird conversational jump, she didn’t show it. Just huffed something incredulous. “Babe, I was there. I saw your face. You weren’t thinking. You were too busy having homosexually induced paroxysms to be thinking.”
“I’m not homosexual,” Waverly gasped, bolting up crosslegged. Scandalized by the devastating accuracy of Nicole’s analysis. She’d softened her own memory, and no one liked being reminded of their more naïve moments, especially not by someone who turned out to be so pretty naked. Time to deflect. “I’m…”
Shit. She still didn’t know.
“Bi?” Nicole asked, genuinely curious to see if Waverly had decided, or discovered, or whatever it was you were supposed to do.
“I’m just, I’m, I’m still just me,” she said with a sort of pathetic lameness that unfounded outrage always collapsed into, but Nicole smiled.
“Well, I like you okay.”
“Yeah, well.” Waverly flopped back into her abandoned snuggle spot with massive ill-grace. “I like you okay, too. Sometimes.”
“Like when I induce homosexual paroxysms?”
“You know that’s a word for orgasm, right?” Waverly glared at her stupid, smug chin. “You’re implying you made me have a homosexual orgasm just by standing there and looking at me.”
“Yes,” Nicole reassured, pulling away to look down with a full measure of jackassery. In the curve of her lips was every smile she’d ever given Waverly. First to last. Nicole happy, and Nicole sad, and Nicole of everything in between. Just Nicole. Nicole, and Nicole, and Nicole.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that she had to leave. It wasn’t fair to leave Nicole like this. It wasn’t.
But, life wasn’t fair. Waverly had already known that at three years old. The only important lesson Ward Earp had bothered to teach. The way his beltings had fallen on whoever was closest, regardless of guilt, and the extemporaneous ones he’d reserved just for her.
A lesson reinforced by the entire town of Purgatory, and how it had made her do penance for something that had never been her fault.
“I’m sorry, “ she whispered, hoping Nicole would understand.
“Hey,” Nicole said back, pulling her hand up and kissing the palm.
I’d take it all back, was on the tip of her tongue, but the truth was, she wouldn’t. Even a lifetime cut short had to be measured in its full span, and not judged only by how it ended. Waverly wouldn’t wish her own life away, just because she had to die young. And when measured across whatever her full lifetime would be, she’d give Nicole more happiness than pain. She hoped.
“I love you,” she told Nicole.
“I know,” Nicole told her, running a finger down her nose, and over the bow of her lips. “You tell me all the time.”
She hadn’t. Not with her voice. But Nicole didn’t lie, so Waverly must have been telling her in other ways. That was fine, but some things had to be voiced. She fortified herself with breath.
“I don’t want to die the way the leukemia will kill me. If you give me the drugs, and there’s no demon, don’t reverse it.”
Nicole swallowed, and swallowed again. “I promise,” she managed. And just like that, something that was actually incomprehensible became a plan.
After that, all they had left was logistics.
Plans hammered out in quick and whispered bursts, like a full conversation would be calling the Devil by name. Suggestions and counter-suggestions, until they had settled on one of the hospital procedure rooms.
Waverly had wanted the homestead, with its ammolite, and its depth of history, and their common law cow. But even death had to take second place to some obvious circumstances. The procedure rooms were easily accessed, well stocked for contingencies, and conveniently abandoned during the overnights.
So it would be the hospital. And it would be that room. And suddenly there was nothing left. Time stretched out, and out, and out. Thinner and thinner, until it snapped. She was in the long corridor leading to the rooms, throwing out a hand to make the wheelchair’s clip down the hallway stop.
“Baby girl?” Wynonna asked, but Waverly couldn’t answer. Not without crying. Not without showing how badly she was shaking.
Wynonna crouched down, hands dangling between her knees and their faces on level. Waverly wanted so badly to be brave. Wanted to be all the things Nicole could love, and all the things Wynonna could admire. To be bold, and brazen, and worthy.
“Not like this,” she said, hardly understanding what it meant. But Wynonna nodded sharply, like it made perfect sense. Grabbing Waverly’s hands, and pulling her to stand. Nicole pushing the wheelchair aside, and stepping up close behind. Until Waverly was braced shoulders to hips, Wynonna’s hand on her shoulder.
And standing like that, standing with her family, she could face the room where they hurt her for her own good. Letting Nicole turn her, and boost her up onto the table, and guide her head down onto the padding.
“Nicole,” Waverly tried, but her jaw was trembling too hard to make the words. Shaking and stuttering, until Nicole stopped the attempt by framing her face with both hands, smoothing her thumb over the arches of her cheeks.
Waverly grabbed her wrists, pressing the hands tighter. Feeling how wide her eyes were, and how steadily Nicole returned the look. Cradled inside those long fingers she took one full breath. Then a second. Feeling the shaking dampen to fine aftershocks.
“World without end, Waverly Earp,” Nicole told her, her own voice wobbling with a few liquid harmonics. Waverly let her chest hitch once. Wanting there to be a demon so she could come back, and wanting there to be nothing because this was unendurable.
Waverly let go. Nicole stepped back. Simon came forward.
Once, a long time ago, Waverly had sat through the night with her hamster. Attacked by a cat, and dying slowly because she didn’t have the courage or knowledge to snap his neck. She had stroked him, and apologized, and realized for the first time on his last night how soft the fur behind his elbow was.
Today, she could see the fine freckles that dusted across the bridge of Simon’s nose. Legacy of a Northern European heritage she’d never noticed before, and maybe that was what death was supposed to be. The final surreal moment of being sharply alive.
Simon opened the flap of her shirt, where the catheter lay. Screwing the barrel of the syringe into one of the lumens. Stopping to look at her.
It was five times the therapeutic dose. Rounded up to the nearest kilogram of body weight, and taking into account Waverly’s fading opioid naiveté. Taken directly from the Morphine pump that was in Waverly’s room. Where they would take her back, once everything was over. The investigation would find a malfunction, and the hospital would be very apologetic, and the family would be stern but gracious because maybe in the end it had been a mercy.
“Okay, Simon,” she told her mercy, smiling. “Here we go.”
Nicole watched Waverly die.
It wasn’t like the movies, a sudden surrender. The body fought.
Mouth gaping wide. Tongue thrusting into the agonal gasping. Cyanosis creeping in at the edges of each lip, and around the nostrils. Arms curling like slow sea creatures over her chest in a semaphore of damage and deficit.
Nicole trembled. Sobbed air. Wracked by the waiting tighter than any breaking wheel could try.
Then something more. Something dark and tarry seeping across Waverly’s face. Pooling in the glassy stare of her eyes. Whisping from her slack mouth.
It buzzed and whispered with something maddening. The crawl of insects under the skin. The final shout that boils the riot.
Simon screamed, eyes wild and hands rising over his ears. Trying to block the blinding strobe before a mushroom cloud and the deep buzzing of blow flies.
Wynonna brought Peacemaker up, but the gun didn’t sing. It couldn’t shoot a cloud of vapour.
The demon laughed as it pulled fully free of Waverly. Moving like fog, hissing as it boiled out the door.
Wynonna shouted something brutal, and followed.
Nicole clawed the Naloxone out of her pocket.
It would work. She’d seen it work. It would work. Except something yanked her arm back, nearly sending the little dispenser spinning.
“What are you doing?” Simon looked a little wild and deranged, but Nicole had no time for his requirement that the world make sense. He’d lived in Purgatory his whole life, and if this was the thing that truly destabilized his psyche, then fine.
She shoved him back, and discharged the drug dispenser into one of Waverly’s nostrils.
“No!” Simon surged back towards the treatment table, trying to pry her away. Nicole flung him down onto his ass to blink up at her from the hard floor. “You’ll stop the overdose. Please, why are you doing this?”
Waverly wasn’t breathing. Nicole ground a fist down into her sternum without mercy, wanting the pain to make her rise and gasp.
She’d inventoried the room the night before, scrounging for equipment locations. It was easy to grab the manual ventilation bag and shove it into Simon’s chest.
“Help me,” she ordered, but all he did was squeeze the bag spasmodically. Newly born under the sign of Fuck, with You ascendant, and maybe an Everything hovering out there somewhere.
Nicole took a long, deep breath in. The stopwatch she’d clicked said two minutes. The internet said they had five minutes before severe brain damage.
“Simon,” she crouched down. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what we’ve done to you. Actually, and truly sorry. But right now I need you to help me. You’re a trained medical professional, and I’m not. Waverly’s not breathing, and her pulse is slowing. You need to ventilate her, and you need to tell me if she needs more Naloxone.”
Simon blinked a lot, and clamped down a little harder on the Ambu bag.
“Simon!” she snapped. “You’ve lived in Purgatory your whole life. You knew it was full of freaky things long before tonight. Tonight is just a confirmation of something you already knew. So take a deep breath, and get your shit straight, and fucking help me. Because if you don’t Waverly is going to die.”
“I told her I’d help her,” Simon whispered, earnest and probably damaged. A casualty of not quite friendly fire.
“You did help her.” Nicole told him. “You helped her shake off a…parasite. Now you can help her live. She very much wants to live.”
Simon took some sort of fortifying breath, and stood up. Refusing to meet her eyes, but upright. “Okay. Give her a second dose of Naloxone, and I’ll bag her.”
Wynonna sprinted after the demon. Into the hallway where Doc, and Dolls, and Jeremy all stood. Leaning, or pacing, or chewing on the end of an unlit cigarette. Listening to events through a door, and waiting for reports. Like a parody of old time childbirth, or the command tent of an army that still relied on bugle calls and runners.
All three snapping into attention as the demon, and then Wynonna rounded the corner. The elongated cloud of scampering demon pulled up short, coalescing into denser fog that Peacemaker still wouldn’t shoot.
“Asshole!” Wynonna cried, shaking it. Willing it to respond. Willing it to help. But the gun was silent.
Dolls stepped into the middle of the corridor.
“Dragon,” the cloud spoke. Grating and otherworldly. The oubliette, and the abattoir, and all the deep forgotten graves.
Dolls just cocked his head. Studying. All the g-man arrogance Wynonna had thought dismantled, no longer needed and left behind, snapping back into place. Shutting his face down, until he looked like the stranger.
“Mikshun,” he said.
“Little dragon,” the vapour hissed. “I saw you. In the obsidian mirror. Poisoned with human emotions.”
“And I saw you,” Dolls said back, hard and flat. “In Kabul, and Kandahar, and Budapest. Getting your ass whipped. Just like I’m going to whip your ass now.”
Mikshun laughed. “Budapest. Where you thought to banish a god?” The inky cloud condensed, lashing itself like the tail of an angry cat. “I bathed in the blood of Budapest, little dragon. The love in your veins weakens you.”
“No,” Dolls denied. “I never thought to banish a god. I thought to kill a god.”
He looked over at Wynonna. Hollow desperation on her face, and something very like understanding, raw but coalescing into certainty.
“Choo-choo,” he told her, gently. She swallowed, and shook her head. That wide open expression that only Wynonna could make brave.
“No. Please. Dolls.”
He pressed a hand against his chest, fighting how it burned, looking over to Doc. “She doesn’t need anyone standing in front of her, right? So make sure you stand beside her,” he told his friend and enemy. “And keep out of trouble, for her sake.”
“I will do all of those things, brother,” Doc said. “But I would prefer you stay, and we will stand beside her together.”
He smiled. “If wishes were horses, we’d all have pink Cadillacs.”
“No!” Wynonna put every ounce of herself into the negation, but he could already feel the patch job Juan Carlo had slapped into place crumbling. His bones ached, and it wasn’t just the heat. It was the feral joy he’d always tried to deny.
The thing that used to make him run, as a child. The thing Eliza had never tried to fight, and had maybe lived a happier life before she was betrayed.
Well, no time for regret now. The only motion humans, even sport variants, were allowed was forward. Maybe he could have learned how to be both the beast and the man before the moment of death, but at least he’d had one moment. It was more than some got.
“Tell Waverly to remember to fly,” he gave his coda. Then he stepped forward into the coiling demon and let the fire that was inside him, and also was him build. Turning the world gold, and past gold into a red-shifted glory he’d never allowed before. It was beautiful, and he felt a pang to share it, but some things are done alone.
In the very last second, when the heat was molten beyond anything he thought could exist, the earth trembled as something that had lived beyond eons roared in death and defeat.
In the hallway, Wynonna screamed.
In the procedure room, Waverly took a breath.
The brain, deprived of oxygen for over three minutes, did not come back gracefully.
The world swirled. Something was clamped over her face. Pain burned in her chest.
“Need to hang a drip,” someone said. “Continuous minimal dose. Quick half-life. Risk of re-overdose.”
She tried to move her head out from under the pressure. It chased her, but a different pressure lifted from her chest, and the pain stopped.
“Hey,” a beloved voice whispered. “Waverly?” A finger tapped her eyelid lightly. She tried to turn her head away, but the touch followed.
“Give her a minute,” a man’s voice, Simon’s voice made the tapping stop. The pressure on her face, a bag valve mask, forced another three breaths then lifted off.
“All on your own now, okay?” Simon said.
Waverly didn’t answer. Just breathed into a universe that no longer contained any trace of Xavier Dolls.
It turned out that despite everyone’s individual and unvoiced hope, driving away a demon that caused leukemia was not the same as never having leukemia.
They took Waverly back up to her room, and there she stayed. Offering lame, and frankly unbelievable stories about how the Morphine pump malfunctioned, and Simon, though off-duty and entirely unexplainable, had saved the day.
Waverly sweated through twenty hours of opioid withdrawal, and another thirty days of slowly growing completely healthy bone marrow cells. Vigorously fending off the oncologist’s greedy questions about the nature and hope of her spontaneous remission.
Nicole was on Wynonna watch. Bringing back reports of late nights in the woods, hungover from keeping pace and smelling of gunpowder. Or of finding her standing somewhere, swaying and vacant like a toy that had run down its spring. Waverly wasn’t particularly surprised when Wynonna disappeared. She knew, with a certainty she was choosing not to examine yet, where Wynonna was. And with Wynonna occupied, the only remaining thread was Simon.
Simon. Who had avoided her room for days before creeping back, his mouth pressed thin.
“No popsicles this time,” he told her, lounging in the doorway like usual. Except this time his face was a mask.
She gave him what she could, both apology and explanation, and hoped it would be enough. Maybe it was important to understand that when the moment of crisis came, you’d crawl over someone else’s wellbeing to escape the burning plane. But having to look the collateral damage in the face was undeniably hard.
Wynonna sat on a rock near the boundary of the Ghost River Triangle. Waiting. She’d been doing it for a while, and had covered all the verb tenses. She had been waiting, and was waiting, and would continue to wait. Patiently, even.
This was where he’d shown before, and where he would show again. So she waited, letting days tick to night and bleed back to day, until Juan Carlo relented. Ambling down the shoulder of the blacktop towards her.
She lined Peacemaker up on his chest just on general principle.
“Again?” He halted a few metres from her, hands out in exasperated compliance.
“Fuck you,” Wynonna told him, and squeezed the trigger. Savouring his healthy flinch.
He nodded a little. “I probably deserved that.”
“You’re a liar,” she added, gun still held hard on him. “You said I had to choose between Waverly, and the world.”
“Faith, hope, and love, Wynonna,” he said, hands still up. “But only ever through a glass, darkly.”
“In the long run? Probably,” he agreed, cryptic as always. Wynonna shot him again. Then she dropped the gun barrel down, and sat back on the rock.
“You never actually said Waverly. You just let me assume,” she admitted. Juan Carlo grunted.
“Are you even going to tell me how letting Dolls die will save the world?”
“Sometimes you sacrifice the knight.”
Wynonna found she didn’t have much to say about that, but she knew how to play her part. “Sacrifice for what?” she asked dully.
"Something is coming, Wynonna. We both know it. There are many things I can’t tell you, but what I can say is that we all have our role to play.”
“What happens if I shoot you with a real gun?” Wynonna asked, bringing Dolls’ Glock 17 up.
Juan Carlo looked at her with something like the universe in his eyes, and lit a cigarette. “Honestly, I have no idea.”
“Are you talking about me? My roll? Because fine, the narrative arc is done, okay? Here I am, the Earp heir, all grown up and mature.”
“As impressed as we are with you, Wynonna, and we are impressed, you’re not the current subject. I’m talking about things that fit on the head of a pin.”
“Angels?” Wynonna gave in, yet again yanked down into the bottomless vat of mystic bullshit Juan Carlo wrapped around himself so well.
“No. Just one. Singular.”
“I really, really hate you,” Wynonna told him, and shot the Glock. But she knew before the thunder had died that he’d disappeared. She glared at the empty section of road that could have held his bleeding body.
“Dolls,” she moaned, and thought for just a second, in the wind, was the sound of joyous and crackling fire.
Wynonna crept back to the homestead, slept for three days, then took up drinking again. In the pre-Dolls’ demise sort of way. Clear alcohol poisoning by volume, but somehow just a casual Thursday night for Wynonna’s over-functioning liver.
Waverly stopped making Nicole be a wingman. Nicole made grateful sounds she said came straight from her own liver, and it didn’t necessarily feel right, to be happy when Dolls was dead, but Waverly thought that admitting she was happy felt like a pretty small sin. Like Dolls wouldn’t begrudge her for enjoying the life that he’d saved.
She hadn’t told Wynonna yet, about that final night. How she and Dolls had both hung in the balance, and how Dolls had made his choice. Free, and without compulsion.
She’d find a way to tell her, someday. Definitely not until the time was right, because knowing Dolls was happy, or had been happy, or however the tenses worked in the maybe/maybe-not afterlife…along with that was also the murky knowledge that whatever had been sleeping was awake, and looking for its own satisfaction.
The battle would come, but Waverly had always known that. And now she knew how to take moments when they came. Like cooking dinner. Or, watching Nicole cooking dinner. Chopping carrots with the terrifying competence she brought to almost everything in the physical world.
Nicole, who’d given her space, and time, and freedom.
“Baby,” Waverly said lightly. The speeding of her heart feeling a little ridiculous after living the last half a year. Nicole looked at her, curious.
“I thought maybe we could, maybe we could talk.” Waverly said, watching Nicole carefully.
Nicole licked her lips, putting the knife down. “Okay.”
“I love you,” Waverly declared solemnly. Nicole laughed, a little too sharp.
“You had to stop the presses for that?”
“No.” Waverly worried a thumb against a knuckle, saw Nicole noticing, and stopped. “I wanted to ask you, a-a-ask if you ever thought you might get married again?”
And hadn’t that been a doozy of a conversation. Nicole standing with shoulders pulled in and eyes roving though some sort of old shame. Waverly hadn’t let her twist long, because life was too short, but it left a question inside Waverly’s bones. And she should know what something in your bones felt like.
Nicole’s face was flatly unprepared surprise. Waverly felt it start to prick at something that had been filling her chest with light and air.
“Oh. Um. It’s okay. I’m not ready,” she said. “Not yet. And I feel like I should give you some final warning that I’m not a great catch.” Speeding up as Nicole drifted forward, crowding her against the kitchen counter. “I’m real short, and this house is a disaster, and my sister is crazy, mmfh—”
She cut off when Nicole kissed her, hands tight on Waverly’s hips to keep them pressed together.
“I’ll wait,” was all Nicole said.
“You still scare me, sometimes,” she told Nicole, because it was true. The way she flung herself forward into the world. Secure in her wants, and confident she could adapt to whatever came her way.
“Maybe we’re supposed to scare each other, a little,” Nicole said. Waverly hitched herself upwards, and Nicole obligingly caught her waist and set her on the counter. Kissing her slow, like they had all the time in the world.
“Will you let me know, when it’s time?” Nicole asked, when they had pulled back. Waverly smiled.
“Of course, silly. You’re kind of fifty percent of the whole deal.”
“Do you have any kind of timeline?” Nicole played with Waverly’s fingers to avoid looking up. Waverly used the hand to nudge Nicole’s attention back up.
“I told you. I’m eternal.”
“You said your atoms are eternal. I’m not sure that counts as you, personally, being eternal.
Waverly smiled, and Nicole leaned forward to press her own smile into Waverly’s.
“I guess we’ll find out,” Waverly told her into the centimetres between their lips.
“Yes,” Nicole told her.
They chose the southern border of the Ghost River Triangle, with it’s utterly flat road and amorphously creepy sign declaring that Purgatory was only seven klicks away.
Wynonna had been all for using Peacemaker again, but Nicole had categorically and vehemently disagreed. Waverly had untangled their limbs from the stalemate the disagreement had ended in, thanks to Wynonna’s renewed dedication to physical training, and sided with Nicole.
That gun was fucking confusing.
Now she stood in the road, wonder if it might have been smarter to go with the gun. “You’ll pull me back, right?” she asked, nerves slipping through but not caring. “If I start to burn, you’ll pull me back?”
“‘Betcha,” Wynonna agreed, leaning on the car and eating a donut. Nicole nodded, and kissed her.
So she walked across the line, and she did not burn. Just an overwhelming tingle that swept up her spine, and dissipated into the ether with a rustle that sounded strangely like feathers.
“Why wings?” she asked the universe, but Nicole jerked her into a hug.
“Bobo lied to me,” Waverly whispered.
“Surprise twist ending,” Wynonna muttered, her slower approach lining her up perfectly for the illegal elbow Nicole tried to hide throwing into Wynonna’s ribs. Wynonna hissed, and socked Nicole on the arm.
Waverly closed her eyes, and tried one of those centering breaths, as one of Wynonna’s new yoga videos called them. She opened her eyes, and stared directly at Wynonna, who was already staring right back.
“Yeah,” Wynonna said, laconic like she’d always known it would come to this, and pointed Peacemaker at her chest. The gun woke, flicker quick before fading back, too fast to discern any colour. Then, still outstretched, Peacemaker settled back to quintessence with nothing but a tiny and confused mutter.
“Baby girl?” Wynonna asked, uncertain, and Waverly let it pull her back into herself. Blinking.
“Wynonna…what am I?”
“Easy,” Wynonna told her. “You’re Waverly Earp. I’m your sister. That’s your stupid cop girlfriend. And this is where you live.”
Waverly wasn’t certain if Wynonna meant the Ghost River Triangle, or Purgatory, or more metaphorically that she existed inside her sister and her stupid cop girlfriend. She didn’t ask for clarification. It was all true.