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Wynonna returned to the Homestead victorious. She dropped down from the cab of their long-suffering pickup truck onto the cold-hardened ground of Earp land, bringing her prize with her— two bottles of damn good whiskey, which had not been easy to find in the now-dry county, thank you very much.

Unfortunately for the twins, though, they were doomed to be separated. The first bottle was carried to the barn and lovingly tucked under her makeshift bed— just for her and, if he was lucky, maybe Doc. The other she toted back towards the house, the heavy bottle dangling idly from one hand as she crossed the frozen ground.

There were lights on in the Homestead, illuminating the windows, but she didn’t hear any voices as she stumped up the porch steps and pushed through the door. As soon as she stepped inside, she heard a scramble of footsteps, and in a blur of red hair and buffalo plaid, Nicole appeared in the doorway. There was a hopeful glint in her eyes that flickered and died as she saw who it was.

“Don’t look so happy to see me,” Wynonna said sarcastically, fighting to yank her boots off one-handed, the other hand still stubbornly holding onto the whiskey.

“Sorry, I just thought you were…” She shook her head, her forehead creased with worry. But then, when wasn’t it these days? ‘Worried’ seemed to be her new default expression. That little furrow between her eyes was probably permanent by now. “Waverly’s not back yet. Rachel either.” She crossed her arms, then shook her head again, this time like she was trying to dispel a thought. When she spoke again, her voice was tired. “It’s probably nothing. They’re probably just running late.”

Wynonna slowed down a little, one boot off and one still on.

If Waverly wasn’t back yet, and Rachel was gone… that meant that Nicole had been at the Homestead alone, probably for an extended period of time, which to be frank was exactly the kind of thing they all wanted to avoid as much as possible. After all, she had already spent far, far too much time alone in that house for anyone’s liking.

With only the slightest whiff of regret, Wynonna cancelled her plans to return to the barn and brood in silence. Instead, she set the bottle of whiskey down long enough to wrestle off her second boot and then grabbed it back up, heading towards the kitchen. She snagged Haught’s arm on the way, dragging her along with her through the house.

“Well then we’ll just have to wait for them to show up, won’t we?” Wynonna said lightly, hoping that Nicole would take some consolation from the we. “Did you call them?”

Nicole allowed herself to be dragged along with only token resistance.

“No. Waverly texted a little while ago. She sounded okay. I think she’s still with Jeremy. And Rachel told me when she left she wouldn’t be home for dinner. I just thought she’d be back by now.” Nicole’s gaze drifted to the window, like she was thinking about monsters in the dark.

Wynonna pushed the bottle into her hands to distract her.

“Here, hold this.” She could have just put it on the counter, but this worked better.

Haught perused the label while Wynonna started rummaging through the cabinets in search of whiskey glasses.

“How did you find this, anyway? The county’s been dry for like a year.”

“Determination,” Wynonna grunted, emerging from a cupboard empty-handed. “And why are there a thousand mugs in here now? Seriously, why?”

She seemed to recall them having a perfectly reasonable amount and variety of drinkware before she left, but now in their place, the Homestead’s few cabinets were stuffed to bursting with mismatched mugs of every size, shape, and design. Haught gave a weak chuckle, a reluctant smile creeping up one side of her face.

“Rachel,” she explained, her thumb rubbing at a corner of the bottle’s sticker label. “She collects them. She likes to go scavenging through all the things people left behind in the evacuation. She’s found a lot of useful stuff that way. But also— a lot of mugs.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Wynonna gave up on her quest for actual glasses and instead pulled out two of the smaller mugs from the cabinet. As she set them on the counter, she realized that one of them was from her high school— Go Blue Devils! Purgatory High Class of ’07— and with a look of utter disgust, she shoved it back, deep into the depths of the cupboard. The next one she pulled out was black with pink lettering— Gardner Real Estate: A Name You Can Trust!— which she deemed acceptable enough.

She reclaimed the bottle from Nicole’s grip (before she could worry the entire label off) and poured them each a healthy serving— by Earp standards. Which was maybe several fingers more than would be considered healthy by most people’s standards.

She pushed Nicole’s towards her and caught her raising her eyebrows at the amount.

“You don’t think that’s a bit much?” Nicole asked, a bit dryly.

Wynonna glanced down into the mug, double-checking the amount. It looked fine to her.

“Don’t pretend to be a prude now, Haught Pocket, I’ve seen you drink a lot more than that.” She had perfectly clear memories of Haught double-fisting drinks at Pussywillows and holding her own in the drinking contest against the Revenants in the biker bar. A large-ish glass of whiskey wasn’t going to kill her.

“Yeah, I remember. Barely. But I haven’t had a drink in months. Like I said, it’s been a dry county for a year.”

“So?” Wynonna screwed the top back onto the bottle and set it atop the fridge for safekeeping. “This house probably had enough booze left in it to keep you sloshed for months.” Off the top of her head, she could remember whiskey in her room, tequila under the sink, vodka in the freezer, and probably some beer and wine in the fridge. Plus, who knew how many half-finished bottles had been squirreled away in all kinds of nooks and crannies on the property. The Homestead would run out of a lot of things before it ran out of stray liquor.

“Except that I lived here with a teenager, and we’ve been busy trying to keep monsters from overrunning the property. There wasn’t a lot of time to ‘get sloshed.’” Nicole was clearly trying for a light tone, but a spike of bitterness gave the words an edge.

But Wynonna was slightly distracted by the words themselves.

“Hold up, wait, so are you telling me it’s all still here? Then why the hell did I just turn the Ghost River Triangle upside down for two bottles of whiskey?”

“Two?” Haught raised an eyebrow at her and their one bottle of whiskey. Wynonna tried to keep her poker face up, but Haught just breathed a ghost of a laugh. “No… I did drink it all. Eventually. Even the three bottles of banana liqueur I found in the barn. It took a long time, but… time wasn’t something we were short on. The longer you guys were gone…” Nicole’s eyes turned towards the window, away from Wynonna’s face, gazing instead into the middle distance. Her voice had gone quiet and tense. “Well, there were some hard days. And nights…”

If Wynonna’s plan had been to keep Nicole’s spirits up while they waited for Waverly’s return, then she was definitely nailing it. Great job. Just aces. Go team.

Still, even though they had been back for days now, Nicole had barely breathed a word about her ‘eighteen months,’ as they’d all been referring to it. If she was willing to talk now, maybe it would be good for her. And maybe Wynonna was the right person to listen.

After all, Wynonna understood. She understood isolation. She knew what it felt like to be alone. Really alone. To lose your whole family in one fell swoop. To be separated— physically and emotionally— from everyone you loved. To be seen as crazy. To be seen as dangerous. To miss someone with your whole hardened heart.

It wasn’t something she would have wished on anyone— and definitely not her best friend-slash-the love of her sister’s life. But she did understand what kind of damage that loneliness could do. Maybe better than anyone.

So Wynonna kept silent, to see if Nicole would continue.

After a sip from the mug and the briefest of glances, she did, slowly.

“You and Waverly having birthdays the same week made for a rough couple of days,” Haught admitted. Her voice was low and had a raw, almost bleeding quality to it, like a wound that had never closed. “And then two really bad weeks— Christmas, New Year, and my birthday all in a row.” She took a deeper drink from the mug, followed by a cough. “That wasn’t the worst, though.”

Wynonna watched her face, the way the pain played out in her eyes and the hardening of her features.

“What was?” she prompted gently.

Nicole blew out a long breath and raked her fingers back through her hair, pushing it away from her face.

“Our anniversary,” she sighed. “I was a mess. Rachel probably had no idea what was going on. It’s not like she knew what day it was. But that was a rough one. That was when I was desperate enough to stoop for the banana liqueur.” There was a small, rueful smile on her face from the memory, and she briefly met Wynonna’s eyes. “Don’t judge me, I wasn’t exactly in my right mind at the time.”

“And three bottles of banana liqueur was supposed to help?” Wynonna curled her lip at the thought. Imagining Nicole devastated and alone on her and Waverly’s anniversary was distressing enough without the addition of the most nauseating of alcohols. “You didn’t just drink it straight, did you? Because even I don’t recommend that.”

“Yep. Room temperature. No chaser. On an empty stomach. And I can promise you that it tastes exactly as bad coming out as it does going in.” Nicole smiled sardonically into her mug of whiskey.

Wynonna shuddered theatrically and suppressed the urge to gag.

“Well, to be fair,” she said, as if considering the point. “If I had to pick what I thought my worst day ever would taste like, warm banana liqueur actually sounds about right.”

“Yeah…” Nicole’s eyes were turned towards the window, but it was clear that her focus was back in those lonely, unending months. The months that stretched out behind her like the featureless, eternal ice field of the Garden. Wynonna cleared her throat, trying to call back her attention.

“It’s not like I can’t relate,” she said, nudging Nicole with her elbow. “That’s a very Earp way to deal with a shitty day. Just means you’re one of the family.”

“Must be something in the water out here…” she murmured, then sighed. It was a sad, desolate sound. “I just missed her so much…” Talking about those eighteen empty months must have stirred up all those old feelings, because she was now staring out the window with a quiet desperation, like she was trying to make Waverly’s jeep appear in the distance through sheer force of will.

Wynonna also wished for her sister’s sudden reappearance, if only because Nicole looked like she could really use a hug. Or like ten thousand hugs. And that was really Waverly’s wheelhouse, not hers. She and Haught had never been especially touchy-feely, outside of the very occasional near-death situation.

But as the silence stretched out, and the loneliness and pain continued to radiate out from the woman next to her, Wynonna finally caved.

“Okay, fine,” she said out of nowhere, and yanked Nicole into a clearly unexpected hug. The redhead was tense at first, frozen in place like she wasn’t sure how to react.

But Wynonna didn’t let go, and after a few seconds, she seemed to thaw, all the fight going out of her. She felt Nicole’s arms wrap around her back and felt her chin fall heavily onto her shoulder as she slumped into her support.

“You don’t have to—” Nicole said after a minute, her voice low, almost guilty.

“Yeah, I know,” Wynonna cut her off. “But someone had to do it, and until Waverly gets back, I think it’s legally my job.”

“What, like as her next of kin?” Nicole’s voice already sounded less desolate, an hint of amusement breaking through the pain like the sun through stormclouds.

“No, just… as your best friend.” She gave her a final squeeze, then clapped her bracingly on the back and pulled away, having just about reached the limits of her vulnerability.

Nicole rubbed at her face as she pulled back, and Wynonna pretended not to notice.

“You know… I missed Waverly every second you guys were gone,” Nicole told her as she settled against the counter again. “But you do realize I missed you, too, right?”

“Of course,” Wynonna said loftily. “After all, we are best friends. Why wouldn’t you miss me?”

Nicole shook her head, in disbelief, maybe, or resignation, and chuckled.

“Yeah. Guess it’s my cross to bear,” she sighed.

“Your curse,” Wynonna corrected her. “Like I said, you’re one of the family. And our family…” She gestured at the Homestead around them. “…is cursed.”

“Right… my curse…”

Nicole’s gaze was drifting back to the window again, so Wynonna pulled on her sleeve.

“Come on, sad sack, I’ve missed a year and a half of TV and you’re going to help me catch up.”

Again, there was only the flimsiest illusion of resistance before Nicole followed her insistent tug.

“Do I have a choice?”

“Do you ever?”

In the living room, they both fell back onto the couch, mugs of whiskey in hand. Wynonna had claimed the remote control and had no plans of giving it up, and Nicole didn’t seem eager to fight her for it. The redhead’s eyes still kept wandering towards the door in the next room, and the line of worry was still visible between her eyes.

“Do you want to call her?” Wynonna asked, easily reading her mind.

“What?” Nicole’s attention seemed to jerk back to the present. “No, it’s fine.”

Wynonna didn’t believe her. She really was a terrible liar, especially when it concerned Waverly.

“Do you want me to call her?” she offered instead.

“No,” Nicole said quickly. “Really, it’s fine. It’s not even that late.” It sounded a lot like she was trying to convince herself. She took a sip of the whiskey and breathed out a tired breath. There were shadows under her eyes like she needed sleep, but one of her legs jogged restlessly, her heel bouncing against the floor.

“Okay…” Wynonna turned her attention back to the television, flipping around for something to watch— preferably nothing sappy, or sad, or overly complicated. She stopped as she saw a pair of familiar faces on-screen. “Holy shit, I must have missed like two whole seasons of Property Brothers!” She caught herself quickly. “Not that I watch it or anything. Or, at least not all the time. Just… sometimes it comes on… and the remote isn’t nearby… and so I can’t always turn it off… right away…”

“No, me neither,” Nicole agreed. “I mean, just… sometimes, if Jonathan is doing something cool with power tools, I’ll leave it on.” She gestured vaguely to the house around them. “There was a lot of stuff to fix here, especially when we first got back. So it was kind of fun to watch home repair shows, just to see the kinds of things they do.”

They shared a nonjudgemental nod at their own feigned indifference and settled in to watch the show, although Wynonna could have sworn she caught Nicole smiling between sips of whiskey. She had to be making a pretty good dent in it by now, but Wynonna didn’t judge— if anything, she just raced to catch up. She had a reputation to defend, after all.

They were just short of halfway through their first episode when Nicole tipped her mug towards herself and frowned at it.

“There’s more whiskey, right?” she asked, her voice already a little muddled. Wynonna peered over and saw that her cup was empty.

“Yep. Plenty more where that came from. You stay here, Ginger Spice.” She patted Nicole’s leg and snagged the mug from her hand, carrying it to the kitchen for a refill. When she came back, she found Nicole slumped wearily into the back of the couch, looking like she was melting into it. “Dude, you weren’t kidding. You really are a lightweight now.”

“Eighteen months is a lot of… months,” Nicole said vaguely, accepting the mug and resting it against her chest, coming dangerously close to spilling it all over herself (and wasting all of Wynonna’s hard work getting it). Wynonna took in her droopy eyes and her sad face. It was like looking at an abandoned puppy. She nudged Nicole’s arm with her elbow.

“You know that if I’d known how long we would be in there, I’d have dragged you and your busted-ass leg right through that portal with me, right?” she said, her voice low and serious.

“Yeah, I know,” Haught sighed, and sounded like she meant it. “But then what would have happened to Rachel?”

Now there was a question that couldn’t be answered. Maybe Rachel would have sent away to some distant extended family member, living a normal teenage life. Maybe she would have ended up in the foster system. Or maybe she would have been eaten alive by zombie scientists. Who could say?

So instead of answering, Wynonna just clinked her mug against Nicole’s and drank deeply.

They kept watching. And drinking. And Nicole continued her melting-snowman-puppy impression.

Between episodes, Wynonna caught her looking at her watch and frowning.

“Do you want me to call her?” she asked again, exasperated, but the redhead shook her head. “Okay, then stop watching the clock. What, am I not good enough company for you?”

Nicole grunted vaguely. Then, almost as if proving a point, she slid sideways, all at once, flopping over with her head landing in Wynonna’s lap.

Wynonna froze like a statue. This kind of thing had not previously been a feature of their friendship, so it took a good five seconds to make sure it didn’t feel weird.

Five… four… three… two… one… Okay…

It didn’t feel that weird. Truth be told, it wasn’t all that different from the way she and Waverly might sit if one of them were upset. And after all, it was probably only a matter of time until Haught was legally her sister, too, so they both might as well adjust to that fact ahead of time.

She absently patted Nicole’s shoulder and felt her sigh.

“She’ll be back soon. They’ll be back soon,” Wynonna said, trying to project total confidence into her voice.

And really, there wasn’t any reason to assume that anyone was in any danger. If anything were really wrong, Waverly or someone else would have called her by now. They had both probably just lost track of time.

“Yeah…” Nicole murmured, sounding unconvinced.

They were well into the next episode, and both their mugs were sitting empty on the floor, when they heard the rattle and creak of the front door opening. Both of them perked up at the sound. Wynonna mentally crossed her fingers, and was only half disappointed when Valdez entered the room, unwrapping a red scarf from her neck, over a very familiar leather jacket.

“You’re back late,” Nicole said, propping herself on one arm, fully sounding the part of the concerned parent. “Is everything okay?”

Rachel nodded, tossing the scarf onto the back of the armchair.

“Yeah, I was just checking out a new place and lost track of time. Don’t worry, no mugs.” She seemed to notice the TV, and her eyes lit up. “Oh, cool, movie night?”

She rounded the couch, and Nicole curled her legs back to give her a space to sit down. Rachel looked askance at the two of them, raising an eyebrow at Wynonna when their eyes met.

“Still not polygamists,” Wynonna deadpanned, and Rachel smirked.

“Just friends, right?” she said, mock-innocently.

Best friends,” Wynonna corrected her… apparently a bit too quickly, because Rachel snorted a laugh. Wynonna rolled her eyes and attempted a glare. “Can it, Smalldez, or I take back my jacket the hard way.”

“I was just borrowing it,” Rachel said in self-defense, tugging at the lapels. “It looks better on me anyway.”

Wynonna opened her mouth to argue, but Haught shushed both of them, her head slumping back into Wynonna’s lap.

“You guys are missing the show,” she mumbled, sounding sleepy.

“Oh, is this Property Brothers?” Rachel said, apparently paying attention to the screen for the first time. “I love those guys!”

With that, Wynonna and Rachel both settled down into a détente. At the next commercial break, Rachel ducked away, only to return several minutes later with a bowl of popcorn. Nicole had taken the opportunity to stretch her legs back out, so when Rachel returned, the teenager moved them just enough to slide underneath, before letting them rest in her lap. She held out the popcorn bowl to Wynonna, apparently as a peace offering, and her tribute was accepted.

The show played on, and on, and on, episode after episode. Nicole missed most of it. Sometime after Rachel’s reappearance, the whiskey or the stress or the exhaustion seemed to have all sunk in, and with her head in Wynonna’s lap and her feet in Rachel’s, she slipped off to sleep.

After another episode or two had passed, Rachel cleared her throat conspicuously. Wynonna looked over, and the teenager made a show of shrugging out of the jacket and handing it back to her.

“If it’s not in same condition it was when you stole it, you’re toast, kid.” Wynonna said, giving it a cursory inspection. Valdez rolled her eyes.

Borrowed,” she corrected. “And chill, it’s fine.”

Wynonna grunted, considered putting it on, then instead draped it over Haught’s sleeping body as a makeshift blanket. Rachel tracked the movement with her eyes.

“Is she okay?” she asked, her voice pitched with a very intentional casualness, as if the answer wasn’t that important, or like she didn’t really expect anything serious as an answer.

“She was worried. About you,” Wynonna said. “And Waverly.”

Rachel’s eyes turned down guiltily.

“I’ll text her next time,” she promised. “I thought one of you were home. I didn’t mean for her to wait up alone.”

Wynonna remembered her parting words before she leapt into the Garden: Don’t you dare leave her alone.

It probably wasn’t a completely fair demand to make of a kid.

“Well, that’s Haught for you,” she sighed. “It’s kinda like having a puppy.”

“It’s kinda like having a parent,” Rachel disagreed softly.

“Yeah, that, too,” Wynonna admitted. Then she shot a suspicious look across the couch, trying to cow Rachel with just a glance. “Don’t tell her I said that.”

“Well, yeah. It’d probably sound creepy coming from you,” Rachel agreed mock-seriously.

Momentarily bonded by their shared television experience and taste in jackets, they were still watching the show together when they heard the front door open again, and at long last, Waverly walked into the room, spotting them over the back of the couch.

“What are you two still doing up?”

“TV night,” Wynonna said. She glanced at her phone to check the time. It was late. “Where the hell have you been, baby girl?”

“Jeremy and I got to talking and catching up, and we just lost track of time. Where’s Ni—” She broke off, apparently noticing Nicole for the first time spread out on the couch, partway in Wynonna’s lap, partway in Rachel’s. A gentle, adoring smile spread across her face.

“She was waiting up for you,” Wynonna said. “But I think she was tired.”

Waverly crossed the room to kneel next to the couch, bringing herself down to Nicole’s level.

“She hasn’t been sleeping well,” Waverly explained, reaching out and brushing a lock of red hair back behind her ear.

“They could invent a new type of insomnia and name it after her. She never sleeps well.” Rachel clarified, “Or never did, at least.”

“We’re working on it,” Waverly said, stroking her fingers, feather-light, down the side of Nicole’s face. Wynonna felt a content sigh from the sleeping body in her lap, and could have sworn that the wrinkle between the reddish eyebrows smoothed itself out for the first time all night. “I kinda hate to wake her up.”

“So don’t,” Wynonna suggested. “There’s a marathon of the newest season on. Watch with us.”

Waverly seemed to consider the offer, presumably weighing it against waking Nicole and putting her to bed. Rachel offered her the popcorn bowl, shaking it so that the kernels rasped against the bowl.

“It’s vegan-friendly,” she wheedled. This was apparently enough to tip the scales, and Waverly shrugged.

“Okay.” She accepted a handful of popcorn and turned to face the television set, kicking off her shoes and crossing her legs. “Oh, is this Property Brothers?” She sounded delighted by the fact.

“It’s just what happened to be on,” Wynonna said quickly. “And Nicole said she liked all the power tools.”

Rachel snorted.

“She would. You should have seen her when we first got here. Hobbling around in her cast, fixing the stairs and doors and stuff. And patching up a wildly excessive number of bullet holes. Seriously, you guys really need to learn to take your firefights outside.”

Waverly’s gaze shifted back to Nicole, probably imagining the sight. Nicole and her broken leg, trying to patch up their home so that it would be ready for their return. Expecting them back any minute. Not knowing how long the wait would be in the end.

She shared a sad look with Wynonna, and then carefully pulled one of Nicole’s limp arms towards her until it was draped over her shoulder. She wrapped Nicole’s hand in both of her smaller ones and held it securely over her heart. Nicole, clearly exhausted, slumbered on.

Or so it seemed.

But halfway through the next episode, Wynonna happened to glance down and see a pair of sleepy brown eyes gazing at her unaware sister, who was giggling along to the show’s antics.

As always, Nicole looked at Waverly like the fudge to her sundae. Like the peanut butter to Waverly’s sweet-and-sour soup. The way Nedley had looked at Dolls’s mug. The way Wynonna looked at a perfectly glazed donut. Frankly— for as much as she complained about it— the way she would want her sister’s romantic partner to look at her— like she hung the freaking moon and stars and made the sun rise every morning.

It was insufferable, but also, it was good. Waverly had spent enough of her life letting people— including a far-too-long string of loser boyfriends— take advantage of her goodness. She deserved someone who really cared about her. Someone so loyal, so unwilling to abandon her, that she would wait eighteen months in the dark for Waverly to bring back the sun and stars.

As much as Wynonna wished it had never come to that, if it had to happen, they were both lucky to have someone like Nicole waiting for them.

Wynonna rested a hand on Nicole’s head. When brown eyes flicked upwards in reaction, she subtly tilted her own head towards Waverly as if to say, ‘There. See? She’s back. All that worrying for nothing.’ Nicole gave the tiniest of nods in response, her gaze falling fondly on both Waverly and Rachel, both home safe and back at her side. Her chest hitched in a small, grateful sigh, and Wynonna silently agreed. It was good to have them home.

Nicole indulged in a little more staring, but eventually her eyes slipped closed again. As one episode ended and another began, Wynonna caught her fingers absentmindedly playing with the mess of red hair— just because it was there, that was all. The length still caught her off-guard sometimes. It felt like only days ago it was so much shorter.

Nicole mumbled something in her sleep, and Waverly immediately looked up, checking her face as if for signs of a nightmare. Whatever she was looking for, she must not have found it, because with a small, satisfied smile, she settled back, pulling Nicole’s arm tighter against her and pressing a kiss to her knuckles.

Since their return, Wynonna had noticed a polarity shift in their relationship. Whereas before, Nicole had been the emotional rock in Waverly’s journey through everything from demonic possession to angelic paternity, now Waverly was Nicole’s emotional champion against her own self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy— which, from someone as aggravatingly competent and confident as Nicole had been, was quite a sea change.

But Nicole was right— eighteen months was a lot of months. A lot of time to spend alone, treading water, while the whole world seemed to burn around her. It was a lot of time to miss her friends— her family. A lot of time to protect their home and hold everything together for when they came back.

It had cost her almost everything.

It was a debt that they might never be able to pay back. But the least they could do was spend the next eighteen months— or eighteen years, or eighteen decades, or however long it took— making sure Nicole knew that she hadn’t let them down. That she wasn’t alone anymore. That she was part of their family. That they would protect and care for and— sure, fine, love— her in return.

And when all this bullshit was over and the Clantons were gone and Purgatory was back to some semblance of normal… when it was safe to bring Alice home and they could all just take a breath for once… when Nicole and Waverly finally stopped beating around the bush and just got married already…

Well, they all deserved a long vacation full of sunny beaches and fruity drinks and absolutely zero demons, that was for damn sure.

Eventually, Property Brothers, like all things in life, came to an end. Rachel was the first to get up, carefully sliding Nicole’s feet out of her lap and hopping to her feet, stretching and yawning.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m beat. I’m gonna head to bed. Catch you in the morning.” Wynonna had picked up that Nicole and Rachel were both early risers, although she had yet to determine if it was a personal preference or something done out of necessity— a need to check the traps around the Homestead and ensure that nothing had befallen them overnight.

“Hey,” Wynonna stopped her before she made it out of the room. “Call next time if you’re going to be late.” It made her feel oddly parental to say it, but she supposed, technically, she was a parent. “Both of you,” she added to Waverly.

Rachel nodded, her eyes falling on Nicole’s sleeping face.

“I will. Promise.” She paused in the doorway, glancing from Nicole up to the two sisters. “You’ll make sure she’s okay, right?” she asked them.

“Whatever it takes,” Waverly was the one to answer, her eyes taking in Nicole’s features with palpable fondness. Wynonna cleared her throat.

“Yeah, what she said.”

With a satisfied nod, Rachel withdrew back to the ground floor bedroom, leaving just the two sisters and Nicole, whose head was still in Wynonna’s lap.

“I’m not carrying her upstairs,” Wynonna deadpanned after a moment of quiet. Waverly shot her an amused look.

“I know, I’ve got this one.”

Her little sister leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Nicole’s forehead, provoking a small sigh from the sleeping woman.

“Wake up, baby, it’s time for bed,” Waverly cooed, stroking Nicole’s cheek until her eyes reluctantly blinked open. “Hey, there you are. Are you ready to go to bed?”

Nicole, still blinking sleepily in the dim light of the room, sat up, pulling her head up from Wynonna’s lap.

“What time is it?” Nicole mumbled, rubbing clumsily at her eyes with the heel of her hand.

“Late,” Waverly told her, resting her hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”

Nicole gave something like a shrug.

“I can survive a few hours alone.”

“I know you can. But still… next time I’ll call, okay? So you don’t have to worry?” She slid her hands up to cradle Nicole’s face, and Nicole sank a little into the touch, her eyes falling closed again. “I mean, if I keep coming home and finding you in Wynonna’s lap, I might start to get jealous.” Her voice was gently teasing, and Nicole gave a low chuckle. Wynonna mimed throwing up.

“She’s all yours, baby girl.” Wynonna dragged herself to her feet with a groan— that old couch could really use more padding— and started heading towards the door, giving Nicole a rough pat on the back and her sister a slightly gentler one as she passed them each in turn.

“Wynonna,” Nicole said before she had quite made it out of the room. Wynonna paused. “Thanks. For the company.”

“Don’t mention it.” She glanced back over her shoulder. Nicole was on her feet, and Waverly had a steadying arm around her back. Again, that dynamic shift— tiny Waverly holding up her Amazonian girlfriend. “Get some rest tonight. Both of you. We’ve got a lot to make up for.”

“You, too,” Nicole said.

“Ah, don’t worry about me,” Wynonna deflected.

“I think it’s way too late for that.” Nicole smirked at her. “Your cross to bear, remember?”

“My curse,” Wynonna corrected, calling back their earlier conversation. She looked at Waverly. “Just put her to bed already. And try not to scar Rachel for life in the process.”

Both Nicole and Waverly rolled their eyes at her. As if she were being so unreasonable. Which just proved that they still didn’t realize how thin the walls of the Homestead were. Nicole had added a deadbolt to their bedroom door, but in all her amateur home repair, she never thought to soundproof? Ridiculous. The Property Brothers would have known better.

“Goodnight, Wynonna,” Nicole drawled.

Waverly chuckled at her, nudging her towards the stairs. But she still caught Wynonna’s eye and mouthed ‘Thanks.’

Leaving them to their own devices and whatever passed for privacy in that hippie commune they called a house, Wynonna stuffed her feet back into her boots and headed outside, her heart set on her bed in the barn— and maybe one last sip of the whiskey she had stashed there, just to ensure a dreamless sleep.

The night was dark and cold, but she would sleep easier knowing that her family was home safe and in one piece. They might all be cursed, but at least sometimes… just every once in awhile… even they could get a moment’s peace.