Nicole gets nightmares, sometimes. Everybody does, she reasons, at some point or another, and hers have never been so bad. She barely remembers her dreams once she’s woken up anyways, nightmares or otherwise.
But the weird ones, the ones that cause unease and panic unlike anything she’s ever felt before, they only start once she comes to Purgatory.
Flashes of blood and fire, light so bright it sears her eyes.
The first time it happens, Nicole wakes up extremely confused.
It was like a whole lifetime passing, and she can still remember bits of it, how overwhelmingly real everything had felt. The dreams tend to follow the same pattern, with her somehow remembering everything and nothing at the same time. It leaves her with a vague feeling of discomfort and trepidation, but she shakes it off and goes back to bed.
She looks down on Purgatory from high in the air, and she has wings, big flaming wings that stretch out behind her and burn brightly in the night sky –
“Goddammit,” she grumbles sleepily, pushing the covers down so they’re bunched over her legs. She sighs and turns onto her stomach, snuggling into her pillow and willing herself back to sleep.
Unfortunately, the dreams keep happening, and Nicole doesn’t know what they mean, or what she can do about them.
She goes to work everyday, settling banal disputes and taking care of whatever Nedley hands over. Her lack of sleep is getting slightly out of hand, but for the life of her Nicole can’t understand what the dreams could be trying to tell her. Repeated dreams are supposed to be manifestations of her unconsciousness or something, right?
She’s manning the front desk, idly doodling flames around the edge of her notebook, when Waverly Earp passes through the station. She gives Nicole a little wave before she enters the Black Badge offices, and for one moment Nicole forgets about her nightmares entirely.
Honestly, with this recurring motif of fire in her dreams, Nicole would expect some kind of childhood trauma to be related to it, but the only encounter with fire she remembers is during her second week working in Purgatory.
She’d been the first responder on the scene of a house fire, and charged thoughtlessly into the house when the Wilson’s youngest daughter started screaming.
Nicole had saved the girl and escaped with barely any injuries at all, recovering from the smoke inhalation within a couple hours. The few burns she’d sustained had completely healed within the next week.
It’s doubtful that she would start to experience effects from that fairly un-traumatic incident only now, so many months later, and she rubs idly at her cheek, remembering the feeling of being covered in soot.
The main consequence of it is that most of the other members of the Purgatory Sheriff’s Department had taken to calling her ‘Haught-head’ as a pun on her reckless decision to run into a burning building, her hair, and her name. Nicole has to admit it isn’t the worst one she’s ever heard, and living with that had been preferable to the mountain of paperwork she’d been forced to fill out afterwards.
On a whim, Nicole decides to look up all the archived incident reports involving suspicious fires in Purgatory. She learns nothing except that Phyllis down on Argos Lane once managed to set off her fire alarm nine days in a row. It's not helpful in the slightest, and Nicole sighs.
With no answers, the dreams only seem to get worse as time goes on. Almost every night, she tosses and turns until she wakes up, sweaty and scared, and above all, very confused.
Falling, but falling up, as if she's being ripped away from something important, the most important thing in the world.
Being carried off into the sky, dissolving into light.
Screaming soundlessly as she watches a town burning; a town that looks a little like Purgatory.
It’s been over a month since they started, and Nicole wakes up yet again in a cold sweat, eyes flying open. She pushes her hair back, leaving a hand on her forehead as she sinks into the pillow and stares at the dark ceiling in frustration. When she closes her eyes, she sees spots as if she really had been staring at a bright light for too long, and Nicole would love to know what the hell is going on right about now.
Nedley looks at her out of the corner of his eye, watching as she knocks back her first mug of coffee and then immediately refills it.
“You’ve been drinking a lot of coffee lately,” he says casually as he waits for his lunch to heat up in the microwave, less gruff than usual. “I’d ask if you’ve got a taste for it, but I know for a fact that the coffee in this station is exactly one step above swamp sludge, so I’m pretty sure that ain’t it."
“Oh, god no, this stuff is disgusting. But it’s still got caffeine in it, and that’s all that matters." Nicole clutches at her mug reverently, willing it to kick in sooner.
“Not sleeping well?” Sheriff Nedley is nonchalant when he asks, and not for the first time Nicole wonders if he knows more about the goings on of this town than he lets on.
“Just some weird dreams keeping me up, Sheriff. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine for my shift.”
He nods and turns back to the microwave, and Nicole pours herself another cup of coffee.
Two days later, the station kitchen’s stock of crap coffee is switched out with some real actual quality stuff, and Nicole decides that Nedley is maybe slightly better than his image suggests.
Light dances across her skin, shining into her eyes and blinding her momentarily, but she doesn't react. A burning heat starts to travel across her face, starting in the middle and outlining some kind of design around her eyes, across her cheekbones.
Nicole can see herself as if from outside of her body, and the oddest part is that it doesn’t feel odd at all. She knows that it's her, can feel that it's her, but at the same time it's undeniably a different person standing there.
Not-quite-Nicole seems to be in the middle of a small dusty road, head tilted to the dark sky as she watches with an impassive expression on her face. When something falls and hit the ground, the impact shaking the world, lightning flashes brightly –
She wakes up and immediately closes her eyes again, pulling the blanket up over her head. “Why,” she whines plaintively, her muffled voice cutting through the silence of her apartment.
There’s a soft meow by the side of her head, and she lifts the corner of the blanket to peek out. The cat she rescued last week is crouched on the mattress next to her pillow, head tilted inquisitively and flicking her ears.
“Hi kitty,” Nicole says quietly, uncovering her head and slowly reaching out to pet the still unnamed cat. She doesn’t know anything about the cat except that she’s orange, only slightly an asshole, and likes to sit under Nicole’s Stetson. The cat purrs contentedly under Nicole’s hand for a moment, and then slowly crawls forward, butting her head against Nicole’s cheek. Nicole smiles and scratches her behind the ear.
The cat stares at her for a moment, flicking her tail, and then surprises Nicole by leaping up and settling squarely in the middle of her chest. She walks in a tight circle and curls up with her head just under Nicole’s jaw. Nicole carefully runs her fingers along the cat’s back, smiling when she starts to purr again.
It’s the first time Nicole manages to fall asleep again after one of the freaky fire dreams.
“Officer Haught!” Waverly sounds delighted to see her, and Nicole doesn’t try to stop the broad smile from stretching across her face. Waverly is standing by the front desk in a shirt entirely unsuitable for the weather, holding an armful of file folders.
“You can call me Nicole, I believe I’ve mentioned that before.”
Waverly doesn’t blush, but she does duck her head and give her a shy smile. “Right, yes, sorry. Nicole.”
Nicole smiles even wider at that, and busies herself with adjusting the paperwork in front of her so she doesn’t stare at Waverly for too long. “So, what brings you by the finest law enforcement agency in Purgatory?”
“I was looking for Wynonna, do you know if she’s here? She forgot to charge her phone again last night and I’ve been looking for her.”
“Sorry, her and Deputy Marshall Dolls went out a while ago. Is there something I could help you with?”
Waverly raises an arm, presumably to dismiss the offer, but before she can she shivers violently enough that it get drawn back against her body.
“Are you alright?” Nicole asks with concern, leaning forward in her chair.
“No, it’s fine. I’m just a little chilly. Forgot my sweater at home,” Waverly says ruefully, and Nicole instinctively reaches for her free hand, rubbing them between her own
“Wow, you’re hot!” Waverly’s eyes widen as soon as the words leave her mouth, and Nicole tries to bite back an amused smirk as she attempts to backtrack. “Warm, I meant, uh, you’re warm. Literally. Your hands. They’re very – they’re very warm.” She clears her throat and steps back, drawing her hand away. “Okay! Well, thank you for your help, I’ve got to get back to Shorty’s now, sorry about, um… that,” she finishes lamely, giving Nicole another tentative smile.
Nicole opens her mouth with the intention of telling her not to worry about it, or to say something impressively smooth, but what comes out is, “May I walk you to your car?” She winces inwardly, but Waverly gladly agrees, keeping her arms crossed as she waits for Nicole to come out from behind the desk.
They stroll through the short hall that leads to the front entrance, and Nicole holds the door open for Waverly, unable to stop herself from giving Waverly a dopey smile as she thanks her. They get to Waverly’s jeep without saying anything else, but the silence is comfortable.
Just then, sunlight glints off of the hood of a car parked in the street, and Nicole flinches violently when it shines right into her eyes. Next to her, Waverly makes a startled noise. “Are – are you alright, Officer – Nicole?”
“Sorry,” Nicole squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her head, pressing her hands to her face. “Sorry, it’s just, last time this happened…” She feels Waverly take a concerned step closer and put a soft hand on her elbow, and figures it probably isn’t the best time to start babbling about her dreams where everything burns.
“It’s nothing,” she smiles at her reassuringly, removing her hands and readjusting her Stetson from where she’d knocked it askew, “Just a – headache, or something. I haven’t been sleeping too well the last couple of days, I’m probably just overtired."
Waverly’s forehead is creased in concern, but she takes a step back anyways. “If you’re sure."
“I am.” She stands up straight and settles her hands on her belt, giving Waverly another smile. “So I’ll see you around sometime?” Waverly nods and smiles quickly at her before looking away and settling her files into the passenger seat, climbing into the jeep.
She steps back as Waverly starts the car. Waverly looks at her and gives a little wave before she pulls away, and Nicole smiles again, tipping her hat. Once Waverly is out of sight, she smacks herself in the face and regrets the move for the rest of the day.
Nicole can’t really identify what exactly is driving her forward in digging around the strange happenings of Purgatory. All she knows is something inside of her is urging her on, and she’s determined to find some answers.
She keeps an eye out, beginning to make a list of all the strange and unexplainable things happening around town.
It’s a long list.
“Nobody keeps booze in here, Wynonna, except you.” Nicole swings her arms around and shuts the door behind her. “You wanna tell me what the hell’s going on?” She perches herself on the edge of the table, watching Wynonna search the cupboards and feed her another lie wrapped in a bitter joke. She still has dried blood under her nose, and nothing about this is normal.
“Bullshit,” Nicole declares, tired of being deceived. “I think somebody’s tryin’ to scare you, toy with you. Why?"
Wynonna doesn’t turn around. “We picked up this case like an hour ago, how could it – "
“Be connected with you? Yeah, I would really like to know that too. People get eaten by something? Call Wynonna! Guy gets murdered by a man in the mirror? Yup, Wynonna to the rescue." It sounds even more ridiculous when she says it out loud, and she sighs in frustration, not caring if Wynonna judges her for that.
Wynonna finally turns to face her. “Black Badge specializes in cases that are – too complex for local flatfoots. So it makes sense that you’re a bit confused."
Nicole clenches her jaw at the condescending tone of her voice. “I’m not."
Wynonna advances, something dark and angry in her eyes, and Nicole knows she’s touched on something personal. “Alternately… I don’t suppose you have a deck of playing cards in this utility belt, huh?”
Nicole stands and wrenches herself away from Wynonna’s fingers, offended and turning so her side is angled away from her. “Excuse me?"
“How do I know you didn’t double back to mess with the body?” Nicole scoffs disbelievingly. “Yeah, you’re awful interested in me and my sister; maybe I should be grilling the shit out of you. Maybe you’re the crazy one."
“You of all people should know better than to try to make me question my sanity,” she snaps as she storms out, steadfastly ignoring the whispers in the back of her mind that have been making her wonder the same thing. She’s heard what the people in this town had done to Wynonna when she was younger, and she’s seen firsthand the lingering effects on the other woman, but the accusation still hurts.
Her eyes are itching, and she scrubs at them harshly, angry at herself for letting this escalate. Going back to her desk, she opens the case file again, starting at the beginning. Wynonna doesn’t want to help her, but now she knows that the case is connected to her somehow.
It’s yet another item on the list of things that don't make sense, but something has to give eventually.
Something does give, but not in the case. The Earp homestead is attacked, Wynonna apologizes for what she said, and Nicole is so close to getting some answers.
Of course, that’s the moment when she gets kidnapped.
Lying in a hospital bed, Nicole remembers being cold. She tries her best to stumble through the foggy details of what happened, wanting nothing more than to provide them with the information they need to find Wynonna.
The odd man called Doc prompts her to remember with her other senses, and along with a horrid smell, she’s overtaken with the strongest memory of the cold. For some reason, her mind keeps fixating on it, on how cold it had been laying on the ground, and Nicole wonders distantly why that’s the detail that sticks.
She’s always run warmer than most people, never cold to the touch, but aside from some truly awful puns on her last name, nothing’s ever come of it. Maybe that was why being so cold had felt so wrong? The reasoning sounds flimsy even in her own head.
The shadowy image of a man above her swims to the forefront of her mind, and Nicole keeps talking.
“He threw me down and said 'You’re the wrong kind.' "
Deputy Marshall Dolls is muttering something about serial killers having preferences for victims, but she can’t concentrate properly. She assumes it’s the head wound, but she’s lying in a warm hospital wrapped in bandages, and Wynonna is still out there, still in danger.
“Waverly, I’m so sorry,” her voice breaks as she tries to look around the two men so she can see her standing in the doorway.
“No it’s fine, just – I’m glad you’re okay.” Waverly runs from the room, and Dolls and Doc exit after her. Alone, Nicole tries to stop the helpless tears from falling. She needs to regulate her breathing, knowing it sounds too harsh right now but not caring, desperation building in her chest. The pressure is probably also related to the multiple cracked ribs, but that’s besides the point.
She does remember being carried through the woods, and she does remember you’re the wrong kind, but something… something is missing. Something important.
You’re the wrong kind – the wrong kind – you’re – wrong kind wrong kind – wrong – wrong –
She winces and slowly brings her left hand to her throbbing head, not understanding what her mind was trying to tell her.
She remembers the words, but the way the man had said them… they sounded almost… scared? Like he had been afraid of something, deathly afraid.
Nicole shakes her head. Afraid didn’t make any sense. Why would a serial killer be afraid of the half-conscious human he had just kidnapped?
The nightmares start to come faster after that.
Later, when she’s been checked out of the hospital and come back to work, Waverly knocks on her door. Nicole jolts up at the sound, slamming her files shut so hard she jars her stitches.
“Woah, just me! Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” Waverly gives Nicole an apologetic smile and gestures at the information spread across her desk. “You looked like you were really concentrated on that stuff.”
Nicole gives an embarrassed laugh, rubbing the back of her neck, and Waverly steps inside, settling herself comfortably into the extra chair.
“I was wondering why you were here so late. Shouldn’t you still be recovering or something?”
Nicole gives her a tired smile. At this point, she is 100% convinced that she wouldn’t get any sleep if she did go home, so she might as well look for some answers while she was still stuck on desk duty.
“Just getting some late night research in.” She pats a stack of papers, but makes sure not to uncover anything that could reveal to Waverly what was contained in the files.
“I get it, I’ve had my fair share of getting caught up in a research haze. So, whatcha looking into?”
Nicole hesitates, but Waverly eyes are so unguarded as she watches her that she decides to just go for it. Waverly could have some of the answers she’s looking for, and Nicole gets the feeling that she’ll never be any good at resisting those eyes.
“Have you ever noticed – I mean, you’ve lived here your whole life, right? Have you noticed anything… unnatural going on?”
Waverly cheerful expression freezes, and she lets out a high-pitched giggle. “Unnatural? Pssh, no, not at all. I’m sure there’s a totally normal explanation for – everything that goes on... around here."
Nicole tilts her head, confused at the awkward response. “Is - is there something else going on?"
“Nope!” Waverly gives her the giggle again and stands, pulling her bag onto her shoulder. “Okay, I should probably go find Wynonna. Let me know how your research goes! I’ll see you later.”
She’s moving jerkily towards the door, and Nicole is still confused but she nods anyways.
“Alright.” She watches Waverly scurry into the Black Badge offices down the hall, and then shakes her head, going back to the files in front of her. Purgatory was weird, and she was going to figure out what was happening here, one way or another.
Nicole hands in her report to Nedley, hoping he’ll help her figure out this strange little town, but he shuts her down firmly.
Returning to her desk, she drops into her chair and leans back, gently stretching out while still wary of her ribs. The doctors tell her she’s healing remarkably quickly for someone with cracked ribs, and Nicole can tell that they’re at a loss to explain how, but all she knows is she would really like for her chest not to feel so sore.
She lets her eyes flutter shut and takes a deep breath, slowly exhaling. However, this has the exact opposite of the desired calming effect, because even though Nicole’s eyes are half-closed, for a moment she swears she sees her breath release a floating cloud of sparks, a trail of burning embers.
She jerks backwards, shoving away from her desk at the sight, but whatever she thinks she just saw is gone. Hurriedly patting herself down, she blinks hard, finding nothing out of the ordinary. The papers in front of her remain unsinged, and none of the other officers around her have any sort of reaction.
She stops, hands curled on top of her legs, and immediately decides she can’t sit here and do another shift of paperwork. She needs to find an answer to something, needs just one fact to prove that she isn’t losing her mind. This all started in Purgatory, so the answers have to be around here somewhere.
She stands and swipes her Stetson off the corner of her desk, setting it on her head as she dashes out, snagging her jacket off the hook as she goes. She hurriedly crams her arms into it, shouldering the front door open as she adjusts the collar and tugs it on properly.
Suddenly Waverly is smiling in front of her, and Nicole draws back in surprise, happy to see her but too distracted to understand why she’s talking about a hold-up.
Waverly holds her hands up at shoulder height again, uncertainly saying, “Because… ’Cause you’re a cop?”
“Right. Sorry.” Nicole closes her eyes and admonishes herself as she lays one hand on Waverly’s arm, leading her away from the station and relieved when Waverly moves with her. She holds her fist in front of her mouth and clears her throat surreptitiously, just once, just to double check she’s not… whatever, with sparks shooting out of her mouth or something. “Can - can we talk?” Nicole hates how hesitant her voice comes out, hates how unsure it makes her sound.
“Yeah,” Waverly says, surprised but seemingly encouraged, “Yeah, god, we’re totally overdue.”
Nicole nods, hoping she doesn’t appear as out of breath as she feels. “Okay, I’m not - I’m not crazy, right? There’s something going on here?” She twists her hands together nervously, eventually settling them on her belt just to stop them from moving. She has no idea how to ask about anything when nothing is making any sense. Can you tell me if I’m starting to lose my mind?
“No, you’re not crazy,” Waverly says the words genuinely, and Nicole sighs in relief at the confirmation, eyes scanning the street around them for some reason she can’t quantify. “Well – I’m not sure I’m really ready, to… get into it.”
Waverly doesn’t seem to be taking this seriously, and Nicole watches her warily, tilting her head. “…Why?”
“Because it’s… different, for me, right? And, you know, it’s – it’s really personal.” Waverly’s looking at her earnestly like she should be understanding her, but Nicole is still confused, wondering if there was something she was supposed to know.
“But it’s personal for everybody, right? I mean, they must know, people must… whisper about it?” There is no way Nicole can be the only person to notice something strange about Purgatory, but she’s still considered too much of an outsider to be in the know with the rest of the town, too alienated, and that doesn’t look like it’ll be changing anytime soon.
“Oh my god, I hope not! It – no, I kind of only just discovered it… when I met you.” This makes even less sense to Nicole, and she blinks, brow furrowing in confusion.
Nicole runs her hand down her face. “Uh – ”
“You’re – kinda special.”
“Okay, ah – maybe I’m a bit more open-minded, but it’s not like I have some kind of… mystical gift or something.” Had Purgatory been just a normal town before she came around? As far as Nicole can tell, things only started really breaking down when Wynonna got back to town, but she’s never had dreams like this before coming here. They have to be connected.
Waverly takes a quick step to get in front of her and spins around to face her. “No, I get it. You’re a lesbian, not a unicorn right?”
“What?” It’s the very last thing Nicole expects to hear.
Waverly’s smile drops at her reaction. "What?"
“You’re making fun of me," Nicole concludes, drawing back and chastising herself for thinking the solution could be found by simply asking Waverly.
“No! Sorry, don’t you want to talk?”
Nicole’s eyes are itching again, and she needs some answers to this mess. Rationally, she knows most of this desperation would go away if she were able to get a couple hours of good sleep, but right now she just feels stretched too thin, about to snap.
“I want the truth.” Nicole shakes her head and brushes past her, moving down the sidewalk and tucking her hands up into her jacket sleeves.
Nicole and Waverly have a proper talk, which doesn’t exactly have her desired outcome, but Nicole’s been prepared for that from the beginning. What she is not prepared for, however, is for Waverly to charge into the station like she’s on a mission, brushing right past her and into Sheriff Nedley’s office.
She is not prepared for Waverly to kiss her, and she is not prepared to land on the couch with Waverly on top of her.
She is not prepared for… any of it, but for the first time in a long time, Nicole is indescribably happy for that. She surges up and kisses Waverly again, properly this time. She feels like she’s floating, her mind heady with the effects of this new development, and nothing else matters to her in this moment.
Time passes, and when she feels Waverly slow down and falter in her kisses, she immediately pulls away, quickly scanning her face for any reluctance or hesitation. She moves to sit back on the other end of the couch, but Waverly presses her hand against the back of her neck to keep her in place, flexing her fingers uncertainly in her braid.
“No, don’t – don’t…” Waverly stares at her, eyes bright as she breathes heavily. “I – I – I just – ”
“Waverly, are you sure you’re okay? We don’t have to do this now. Or ever. We don’t have to do anything if – ” Waverly shakes her head, cutting her off. Nicole holds still, wanting to give Waverly the space to process but unsure of the best way to do that.
Her pulse is pounding loudly in her ears, and it feels like her entire universe has narrowed in on Waverly Earp, lying on this couch with one hand in her hair and one hand absentmindedly stroking her jaw.
“What can I do?” she asks, somewhat anxiously as Waverly continues to struggle with her words, face a clear picture of indecision.
“Sorry, I’m just – kinda overheating a little, and…” Waverly trails off again, eyes roving Nicole’s face with an awestruck expression.
Nicole latches on to that, something concrete she can help with, and gathers Waverly close. Without knowing how, she flips their positions so she’s the one lying on her back and Waverly is perched on top of her, giving her the freedom to move as she chose and hopefully crowding her less.
Waverly blinks down at her in surprise, taking a moment to process their swapped positions before she gives Nicole a delighted smile.
“That was a neat trick, Officer Haught,” Waverly says, laughing breathlessly and laying her head into the crook of Nicole’s neck.
Nicole gently pushes Waverly’s scarf off of her shoulders so it’s hanging off the couch instead of around her neck. “Better now?”
“Yes, thank you.”
She’s hyperaware of everything, and when Waverly moves to kiss her again, Nicole doesn’t know if she’s ever been worse prepared for something in her entire life. Given a hundred years, she never could have predicted Waverly Earp.
“Hey Waves, do you know if we have any – ” Wynonna breaks off when she spots Nicole standing in the kitchen instead of her sister. “Oh, hey Haughtshot, I didn’t know you were…" She trails off and blinks as she takes in the scene in front of her.
Nicole is standing in the middle of the kitchen, dripping wet and mildly distressed as she looks back at her with wide eyes. There’s still water spraying out of the faucet, and she has her hands raised, futilely trying to keep it from hitting her face.
Wynonna snorts once and bites her lip, getting Nicole’s attention and pantomiming twisting the water handle down and to the left. Nicole heaves a sigh of relief when she copies the motion and finally succeeds in stopping the water.
There’s silence in the kitchen, and Nicole can hear Wynonna struggling to contain her snickers, a hand slapped over her mouth as she watches her with bright eyes.
“Believe it or not, I just wanted to get a snack,” Nicole says in defeat. She lifts a wet arm and gestures weakly at the state of the kitchen before dropping it back to her side, hanging her head.
Wynonna stares at her for a moment longer, and then she literally doubles over, clutching at her stomach and howling with laughter.
Nicole sighs and accepts it, looking down at herself and half-heartedly trying to wring out her shirt. Predictably, it does absolutely nothing, and she watches the water spreading across the floor regretfully.
A moment later Waverly comes running into the room, skidding to a halt and placing a hand on the counter to steady herself when she sees Wynonna laughing so hard she has tears running down her cheeks, and Nicole standing in her sopping wet clothes, flushed so red her face matches her hair.
“Uh – What…?”
Nicole winces at the sight of her dumbstruck face. “I… I think I broke your sink.”
Waverly blinks, looking from her to Wynonna. “Right. It – it’s okay! The, uh, that faucet was already loose, we just know not to use it and I didn’t warn you. Don’t worry about it,” she flashes Nicole a genuine smile, and Nicole relaxes as Waverly tilts her head towards to her sister. “Hey Wynonna, can you breath at all?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Wynonna gasps and valiantly tries to take a deep breath. She holds off for about two seconds, and then keeps laughing. “Sorry, I’ve been meaning to fix that, I know it’s – ” She breaks off into another fit of guffaws, losing track of whatever she was trying to say. “You look like a soaked puppy somebody had to fish out of a pool!”
Nicole opens her mouth to protest, but then drops her head in defeat, feeling her dripping hair stick to her face.
“Are you okay?” Nicole looks up to see an amused smile playing on Waverly’s lips even as she watches her with concern, hands outstretched.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little – well.” She chuckles and combs her fingers through her wet hair, making a face when they get snagged.
“I’m sorry, I should have told you about using the other one,” Waverly says apologetically, gingerly lacing her fingers with Nicole’s even as she avoids stepping in the steadily growing puddle at Nicole’s feet. “That ones been busted forever, and Wynonna was supposed to fix it ages ago. That’s okay though, she’ll clean it up, right sis?” Waverly smiles widely at Wynonna, who finally has control over herself, stepping inside the room and wiping the tears away.
“It’s like 4 in the afternoon, you don’t think I have something better to do?” Waverly’s smile turns into a pointed glare, and Wynonna winks at her. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Yeah, I’ll clean it up. Honestly, totally worth it.” She gives Nicole a thumbs up. “Good job, Haughtstuff, that was just what I needed.”
Nicole makes a face at her before Waverly tugs on her hand. “Come on, you must be getting cold.” Waverly motions for Nicole to follow her.
Nicole plucks at the front of her shirt in an effort to make it stop sticking uncomfortably to her stomach as they walk. “You know, this situation seems kind of familiar,” she says teasingly, referencing their first meeting in Shorty’s.
Waverly rolls her eyes and keeps walking towards her bedroom, but Nicole sees the light blush dusting over her cheeks and grins. She trails after her, skirting around the rug in the hallway and only taking one step into Waverly’s bedroom, not wanting to drip everywhere. She keeps her arms at her sides, but she still shoots Waverly an impish grin when she turns away from rummaging through a set of drawers.
“Here, I’ve got some pyjamas you can borrow.”
“Getting me out of my clothes already? Why, Waverly Earp, I never,” Nicole exaggerates her accent, laughing as Waverly shoves the bundle of clothes at her and mumbles, turning around and slapping a hand over her eyes to give her some privacy to change.
Nicole laughs softly and looks around before carefully setting the dry clothes on the corner of Waverly’s desk, and she’s still laughing as she reaches down to pull her shirt over her head. She opens her mouth to keep talking, but her words get cut off when her arms cross and suddenly get stuck, shirt twisted around them.
Nicole pauses disbelievingly, trying to tug her arms free, but she’s somehow managed to get very well tangled in the shirt, and nothing budges. She tugs one more time, trying to twist loose, before closing her eyes in resignation. “Okay, Waverly, I swear I didn’t do this on purpose.”
There’s silence, and then Waverly turns around, half lifting her hand so she can peek through her fingers. She bites her lip at the sight, and Nicole flashes her a weak smile, trying to tug her arms free to demonstrate.
Waverly bursts into laughter, staying doubled over just like Wynonna had been at the sight of her in the kitchen, and Nicole huffs.
“Excuse me, I seem to remember helping you out when you were the one in this position.”
Waverly giggles and moves around her, reaching up to wrestle the wet material free. Nicole laughs and cranes her neck to try and see what’s happening, letting Waverly pull the shirt over her head.
“You’re a mess,” Waverly says affectionately when Nicole’s finally free of her shirt, patting down Nicole’s locks of wet hair. Nicole only stands there, smiling breathlessly at her. They seem to realize she’s now standing topless at the same time, because Waverly takes a hasty step away at the same time that Nicole bumps into the wall at her back.
“Sorry, I’m – you should – ” Waverly spins back around, crossing her arms over chest, and Nicole takes the opportunity to shed the rest of her clothes and put on the borrowed pyjamas.
Nicole slips on the comfy oversized t-shirt, and smiles when she holds up the pyjama pants. They’re too short, stopping well above her ankles, but Waverly’s also given her a pair of fuzzy socks decorated with little yellow ducks. Nicole pulls them on with a grin, wiggling her toes and saying, “Okay, all clear.”
Waverly sighs and turns back slowly, arms still wrapped around herself, and Nicole moves towards her. Watching the other woman carefully for any sign of her being uncomfortable, she gently grasps her wrists, tugging on them until Waverly relaxes and drops her hands to her sides.
Nicole ducks her head down and presses a gentle kiss against the corner of Waverly’s mouth before pulling away with a smile. Waverly is still watching her with shining eyes, but before Nicole can move out the door to head back to the living room so they can continue watching their movie, Waverly’s arm shoots out and grabs at the material of Nicole’s t-shirt.
Her breathing hitches and she stays where she is, watching Waverly stare at her. She’s clearly debating something with herself, and Nicole waits patiently, standing still.
Slowly, Waverly brings up a shaky hand and curls it around the back of Nicole’s neck. She starts to tug her down, and Nicole’s eyes are already fluttering closed when she hears the sound of someone coming down the hall.
Nicole is glad that Wynonna isn’t particularly concerned with proper cohabitation etiquette, because that means her loud footsteps give Nicole enough time to move her face a respectable distance away from Waverly’s before she walks in on them.
“Okay, kitchen’s clean, but if you guys want to break anything else you’ll have to fix it yourselves,” Wynonna leans against the doorframe with her hands tucked into the back pockets of her jeans, crossing one leg over the other. “I’m going on a stakeout with Dolls, probably won’t be back ‘til late.”
“Finally, I can get my snack. Also, oooh, a stakeout,” Waverly flashes a breathless smile at Nicole before wiggling her eyebrows comically at Wynonna as she steps around them both. “Is it a romantic stakeout? Where romantic things are going to happen?”
Wynonna rolls her eyes. “This is the thanks I get for grueling manual labor? Ungrateful, little sister!” she calls after Waverly’s retreating back.
"Please, we both know all you had to do was mop up the water and replace the cracked valve!" Waverly yells back before disappearing around the corner.
Nicole expects Wynonna to follow after Waverly, and as such is confused when she doesn’t move, giving her a measured look instead that starts to make her nervous.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
Wynonna shrugs with one shoulder, quietly considering something. Nicole waits for her to speak, fighting the urge to fidget with her hands. She grabs the bottom of her borrowed t-shirt instead, rubbing her fingers along the hem.
“Do I need to give you a shovel talk?”
Nicole shakes her head vigorously, automatically standing tall even though the wet hair and duck socks probably ruin any sort of respectability. At least this isn’t Wynonna’s first impression of her.
“Good, I didn’t think so. I knew I liked you for a reason.” Wynonna scuffs her boot against the floor, still eyeing her carefully. “Just so you’re aware, I’m probably still going to pull it out in a couple of days anyway.”
“Of course. Although, I didn’t think you’d need the special excuse to threaten me.”
Wynonna returns her wry grin with one of her own. “You know it.” Her expression sobers, turning serious for a moment. “But nobody else is hurting Waverly on my watch.”
“Are you worried?” Nicole asks curiously, hesitantly, “That I’m going to hurt Waverly?” They’re friends now, fairly good friends, or so Nicole thinks. There’s also the fact that not many other people in town want to talk to either of them, albeit for very different reasons, but hey, friendships by necessity happen. It just means they have more in common to bond over.
“Honestly?” Wynonna blows out a breath, shifting again. “I keep expecting you to just stop one day and go, ‘I wash my hands of this weirdness’ before stomping out of town and going back to your big city. I mean, you’ve seen some serious shit since you got here.”
Her tone is doubtful, but Nicole takes no offense at the words. “I’m not going anywhere,” she tells her steadily, “Not if I can help it.”
Wynonna considers her for another moment before nodding, her expression almost looking something like approval. She pushes off the doorframe and knocks her fists together. “Well, I guess that means we’re good then.” She turns to go but looks back before taking two steps, pointing at Nicole. “You should still be very afraid of me, though.”
“Don’t worry, I am. But I won’t hurt her.”
Wynonna nods in satisfaction before ambling away, and Nicole sees her give Waverly a high five when she passes her on the way back from the kitchen.
“So, you wanna tell me your plans with Officer Haughtpants now that you’ve got the house to yourself?”
Waverly squeaks, and Nicole blushes, spinning around and shuffling farther into the room in an attempt to not overhear their conversation. She settles on the bed, tilting her head back to observe the photos strung up on Waverly’s wall and decidedly does not think about what Wynonna’s insinuating.
“Goodbye Wynonna!” Nicole hears Waverly exclaim loudly from the front of the house before the door slams shut. Waverly reenters the room, face red, and Nicole can’t help but grin shyly at her. After a moment, Waverly relaxes, coming to sit next to her.
“Sorry about Wynonna,” Waverly mutters, “She’s – she’s – well, she’s Wynonna.”
Nicole smiles, knocking her shoulder gently against Waverly’s. “I know. She’s your sister, I’d expect nothing less. Trust me though, I don’t scare that easy.”
Waverly smiles gratefully at her, and tentatively reaches out to put her hand on top of Nicole’s where it’s lying on the bed spread. Nicole studies her out of the corner of her eye, and Waverly seems almost mesmerized before looking up at her nervously.
“So, are you hungry? We can – there’s food.”
Nicole watches her carefully, noticing the shift in her breathing and how wide her pupils are blown. “We could do that,” Nicole agrees, carefully turning and easing her hand around on the bedspread so she can lace their fingers together, “Or we could do that later? Because I think I would very much like to kiss you right now, if you were open to it.” She makes sure her tone is light, laying out the offer but not wanting to put pressure on Waverly for either option. She'll gladly go get a snack and return to watching the movie with Waverly if that's what she wants.
“I think I would like to kiss you,” Waverly says, voice almost inaudible. Nicole holds out her hand and draws Waverly closer.
“So let’s do that, then.”
Waverly blinks at her, and then leans forward to kiss her. Before Nicole can deepen it, Waverly pulls away again, panting and unsure of herself.
“What happened to the woman who knew what she wanted?” Nicole asks gently, trying to encourage Waverly not to be afraid of taking action. Waverly hesitates, and then a determined look crosses her face. She surges forward to kiss her again, using the motion to straddle her hips and bring her hands to Nicole’s face. Nicole returns the kiss and runs her hands through Waverly’s soft hair, letting the weight push her back onto the bed.
Nicole noses against Waverly’s cheek, pressing a soft kiss to her jawline. “You know, I think it’s still early,” Waverly murmurs, her eyes more closed than open.
Nicole hums, “Maybe, but sleep seems like a really good idea right now.” She smiles when Waverly rolls over and stretches out on top of her, kissing her languidly.
Letting her eyes fall shut, Nicole is totally content to stay here forever, and she’s startled when Waverly shoots up, pushing a hand against her shoulder. “Wait! Are you staying? Sorry, I didn’t think to – would you like to stay the night? I didn’t mean to assume.”
“Sure,” Nicole accepts, booping her nose and grinning. “I’d be happy to stay.”
“Okay, good.” Waverly lies back down, snuggling into her side. “Because you said the word sleep, and now I don’t know if I could even try to do anything else.”
They talk quietly for what feels like hours, and Nicole barely notices when she slips into sleep.
She's wearing her Purgatory Sheriff’s Department uniform, and she feels like she's on fire, burning up from the inside. Screams come floating through the darkness, washing over her, and the landscape starts to transform into the familiar one of flames.
She tips her head down. Her hair, loose instead of tucked up in its usual braid, swings into her face at the motion.
It’s made of fire.
Nicole startles awake with a gasp, accidentally smacking herself in the chin when she thrashes.
Waverly pops up at her side, a worried expression on her face as she sits up and leans closer, already alert and stroking a gentle hand down her face.
She’s mumbling nonsense words that Nicole can’t quite make out, and when Nicole finally takes a deep breath and focuses on her properly, she breathes a sigh of relief.
“It’s okay now, it was just a dream. Are you alright?"
Nicole breathes heavily as she stares up at her. She can still see the flames, visions interspersed with Waverly’s concerned face, and she squeezes her eyes shut.
“Can I – I need some water. I’m going, I’m going to get some water,” Nicole decides suddenly, already pushing the blanket off her legs and swinging her feet over the edge of the bed.
“Oh, okay,” Waverly scrambles after her, tripping on the edge of the bedspread and smiling sheepishly when Nicole holds her arms out to steady her, giving her a distracted smile and making sure she’s steady on her feet.
Nicole rubs her arms as they move to the kitchen, jittery and still seeing flashes of light reflected in the backs of her eyes. She stumbles forward, for some reason inordinately comforted by the sight of the patterned socks on her feet, and Waverly watches her grab a glass and stand by the sink.
Once Nicole’s had a glass of water, Waverly tentatively comes closer and presses into her side, giving Nicole ample opportunity to move away if she wanted. Nicole allows the contact, desperately soaking in the comfort, and Waverly’s brow furrows in concern. She wraps her arm around Nicole’s hip and guides her over to the couch, pushing insistently on her shoulders until she sinks down. Waverly sits next to her and draws her close.
Nicole focuses on controlling her breathing, letting Waverly’s calming presence wash over her. Apparently Waverly can feel her heartbeat, because she only talks once Nicole has mostly composed herself, body feeling completely lethargic.
“Does this happen often?” Waverly asks hesitantly, stroking her fingers over Nicole’s knuckles.
Nicole only shrugs, slowly lifting her head. “They don’t make very much sense, that I can tell,” she starts hesitantly, looking at Waverly and then averting her gaze to the pile of firewood in the corner. “I’d understand if I’d experienced something traumatic, or – or was really scared of something, but… it just… doesn’t make any sense to me.” She gestures helplessly, keeping her gaze locked on their hands. “I don’t know where they’re coming from.”
She drops her head onto Waverly’s shoulder, and Waverly waits patiently, running her fingers over the back of her neck and carding slowly through her hair. The gentle tugging calms her, and she sighs, letting herself relax into Waverly’s side.
Waverly is still watching her with concern, and Nicole tries to find words to explain it properly, how rattled the dreams make her feel. How it’s almost like she has fire in her veins whenever she wakes up, telling her something needs to be done, not letting her fall back asleep.
“The not knowing almost makes it worse. Like, none of it means anything to me, but at the same time I feel like it should. Sometimes there’s a person, and it’s me, but it’s not me, do you know what I mean? And there’s fire, always some form of fire, and heat, or it’s so bright it burns.” Nicole rubs at her eyes sleepily, trying to think of a better way to describe it, and Waverly quietly urges her to lie down.
“Something’s always burning,” she mumbles quietly. Waverly starts humming again, a soothing song Nicole thinks she recognizes, and that's the sound Nicole falls asleep to.
There’s movement, and Nicole shifts a little, wondering why her knees are propped up against something hard if she’s lying in bed. She’s warm and comfortable, and her pillow is much softer than it usually is.
“She’s been having these really weird dreams,” Nicole hears distantly, voices talking quietly over her head. “Nightmares, some of them, and I don’t… I’ve never read anything about it, but do you think it could be a Revenant, Wynonna?"
“It’s a possibility, I wouldn’t rule anything out in this damn town."
There’s silence for a moment, and Nicole sniffs, turning her head. When her pillow shifts under her, she dimly realizes she must be lying with her head in Waverly’s lap.
She’d open her eyes, but her body is much more content to stay in its half-asleep haze, her limbs so heavy she isn’t sure she’s even awake at all.
“Let me know if I can do anything to help, okay? And make sure you try and get some sleep too.” The hushed whispers continue above her, and Wynonna’s voice is uncharacteristically quiet.
Nicole shifts again, her forehead crinkling as she feels the edge of her consciousness taunting her, a flame flickering just out of reach.
A soft hand smoothes over her brow, urging her back to sleep, and she automatically relaxes. The vision fades away as she nuzzles her cheek into the soft material of Waverly’s pyjamas. She drops into a peaceful sleep, staying that way for the rest of the night.
After that, Waverly invites her to stay over at the Earp homestead literally every night, with increasingly flimsy excuses.
Nicole agrees easily, but she wonders why Waverly is so adamant they stay on Earp property during their downtime. The one time she asks, they get interrupted by Wynonna, who sprints by and yells something about reminding her to ‘punch that 166-year-old bastard in his goddamn squirrel face' the next time she saw him. The Earp sisters were certainly fun roommates, and there’s never a dull moment.
Nicole introduces Waverly to her cat. Waverly names her Lady Lumens and proceeds to ignore Nicole for an entire afternoon, happily playing with the cat the whole time. At the end of the day, Lady Lumens sits down in the middle of the front entrance, practically on top of Waverly’s feet, as if telling Nicole that she’s never leaving again. Nicole is inclined to agree with her.
“Looks like a storm’s coming,” Wynonna comments idly as she stares out the window of the Black Badge offices, only a small wrinkle between her eyebrows betraying her concern.
“That’s kinda weird, isn’t it? I don’t think I saw it in the forecast, and the air doesn’t feel like there’s an approaching storm at all.” Waverly is twirling a pen around her fingers, head tilted to the side, and Wynonna shrugs, looking over her shoulder.
“Waves, you want to start heading back to the homestead? I’ve got a bad feeling about this storm. And take Nicole with you, she’s not looking so hot.” Her lips quirk and she turns to face them fully. “Not looking so Haught, get it? No? Alright, that was a dumb one.”
Nicole looks at her with bleary eyes and gives her a tired smile in acknowledgment as she tugs absently at her uniform collar, but before she can answer Wynonna frowns and walks around the table. “Okay, I was kind of kidding before, but you seriously don’t look too good.” She presses her wrist to Nicole’s forehead, and her eyes widen in alarm. “Holy shit, that’s a fever. Dude, that’s a really bad fever, why didn’t you say anything?”
Waverly looks concerned as well and gets out of her own chair, brushing Wynonna’s hand away to replace it with her own. She sucks in a breath and draws back as soon as she makes contact with Nicole’s skin, grabbing onto her arm tightly. “You’re burning up, that is not safe! Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Huh?” Nicole furrows her brow in confusion, lifting up her own hand to place it on her forehead but not feeling any significant temperature difference. “But I don’t feel hot, I’m just – I dunno, it doesn’t feel like a fever, I’m just tired.”
“Nope, none of that, let's go. This research can wait for a bit, and you should really be home if this storm actually hits.”
Nicole frowns even as Waverly starts to manhandle her out of her chair as gently as possible. “No seriously, I don’t feel sick.” A wave of dizziness hits her as soon as she’s standing, and she starts to tip over, only just grabbing the edge of the table in time to steady herself. “Whoa, okay, never mind, I take that back. Now I feel it.”
Waverly anxiously pulls Nicole’s arm over her shoulder, supporting her weight as best she can, pressing herself into Nicole’s side. Nicole stumbles forward, letting Waverly lead her as her pulse starts to thunder in her ears.
The cool air outside that greets them as they push through the station doors helps a little, but then they feel the wind whipping through their hair. Waverly looks up at the sky nervously, and Nicole can feel that this isn’t going to be a normal Purgatory storm.
They move slowly down the sidewalk, shoulders hunched against the wind, and Nicole breathes shallowly. Her vision starts to go in and out, and she’s pretty sure Waverly is talking to her. Well this escalated quickly, she thinks to herself, somewhat hysterically. Her breath starts coming in quick pants, and she can’t ever remember feeling like this before.
She stops walking as the thought crosses her mind, unbalancing Waverly who flails at her side for a second.
She can’t ever remember feeling like this while she was awake. But she has felt it in her dreams.
Her eyes widen, but before she can do anything with this realization, a bolt of lighting strikes the ground right in front of them. Waverly shrieks, fisting her hands in Nicole’s uniform shirt and trying to drag her away, but Nicole can’t move her legs. Her hand scrabbles instinctively for her gun, but she knows it’ll be useless in this situation with nothing to shoot.
She stays frozen, staring at the charred spot on the floor, breathing heavily and shaking.
“Nicole, can you hear me?” Waverly’s hands are pressed against her face, and Nicole gets distracted by her eyes. “Nicole, we have to go, we can’t stay out here. We can get to the car, we’ll just wait out the lighting and – ”
Lightning strikes the ground again, this time off to the side, and Nicole is hit with a rush of clarity, turning to shield Waverly.
“Waverly,” Nicole says urgently, “Wave, you have to move. Get away from me, right now.”
Waverly looks at her disbelievingly, still tugging on her arm. “Don’t be ridiculous, you think I’m going to leave you here in the middle of this mess?”
Waverly’s voice is quivering, but all Nicole needs is for her to get out of harm’s way, and something is telling her the danger is sticking with her. “Waverly, something’s happening to me, and you have to move!”
Thunder booms and Waverly takes a startled step back, but her face twists stubbornly even as she looks at her with scared eyes. “If you think for one second that I’m just going to leave you alone – ” Waverly says wildly, trembling as she reaches out for Nicole. The sporadic flashes of lighting in the sky are casting some strange-looking shadows on her face, and Nicole can feel it calling to her. She presses her hands to her chest helplessly, pushing back against the feeling that’s swelling inside her.
Nicole tries her best to give her a reassuring smile, but all she manages is a tight grimace. “Waverly, please, please you have to – have to – ” She stumbles backwards, pressing her hand harder against her chest and gritting her teeth. Her vision starts to go white around the edges, and when she clenches her hands into fists she swears she sees flames flicker to life for a moment, licking across her knuckles.
She turns to look back at Waverly, and pain lances through her skull, sending her to her knees while she slams her eyes shut. She curls up, but then everything stops, so quickly Nicole feels disoriented. The angry pressure in her chest has disappeared completely, and except for the tingling, Nicole feels more normal than she has in weeks. She stays down and slowly evaluates the rest of her body, twitching her fingers and uncurling her legs to confirm that nothing hurts. Opening her eyes uncertainly, she gasps at what she sees.
The only thing she can think to compare it to is the one time she had accidently had her eyes open when a flashbang grenade had gone off, momentarily blinding her with the flash of light. Her vision now is all burning white, light that is far too bright, the kind that people know instinctively not to look at. She blinks furiously and slaps a hand over her eyes, desperately trying to stop the burning.
“Waverly. Waverly! Are you okay?” she calls out desperately, pushing herself to her feet and spinning around, dropping her hand from her eyes when it becomes clear that it doesn’t help. All she can hear is the crackle of lighting, thunder booming loudly over her head.
“I’m here!” Nicole spins in search of Waverly’s panicky voice, but she still sees nothing. Nicole doesn’t know how or why Waverly is farther away now, but she hopes it’s far enough that the lighting will avoid her.
“You have to talk to me,” Nicole says, her voice shaking but determined. “I can’t see anything right now, Waverly, so you have to tell me exactly what’s happening.” It wasn’t a lie, not exactly. But right now Nicole’s vision was just bright, and she couldn’t see anything past it.
“Okay, okay, uh – Wynonna is running at us from the Sheriff’s Station, she’ll be here in like 20 seconds. There’s a flipped car, um, maybe a couple feet to your left. There’s some kind of a – a ring of lightning, around you, and – ”
“Watch out!” Wynonna announces her arrival breathlessly over the crackling of electricity, and when Waverly’s voice stops abruptly Nicole assumes Wynonna’s grabbed her. She can picture it perfectly, Wynonna with her arm wrapped protectively around Waverly’s waist.
Thunder rumbles again, and Nicole realizes that even though she can’t see the Earp sisters, she can somehow sense them, standing exactly as she pictured them. They’re holding each other fearfully, Wynonna with Peacemaker in her hand, both staring in her direction.
“Nicole, you doing okay?” Wynonna asks warily, hugging Waverly close, and Nicole nods, wondering what she looks like.
“Yeah, I’m – I’m fine, mostly.” Nicole knows what Waverly meant by a ring of lightning. She can feel it, dancing around her, almost a perfect circle. Waverly and Wynonna are a couple steps away from the edge of it, but beyond them Nicole doesn’t have much awareness. All she can sense is the lightning, and white noise.
The skin around her eyes is prickling again, and she cries out desperately as she hunches over again, breath knocked out of her as she feels a bolt of fire spread through her.
“What the hell is happening!?”
Nicole can’t answer, busy trying to deal the rush of new information she suddenly has opening in her head, none of it making sense.
“I was sent – no – left behind? No, chose to stay, chose to come… I wanted to help, a long time ago.” Nicole scrunches up her face as she mutters to herself, images and memories flashing through her mind, but she doesn’t think they belong to her. “Who did I want to help?”
Run or fight.
“I burned, but I…” Nicole covers her face, “No, not me, wasn’t me. I didn’t – why is… ugh, what’s happening?”
It’s coming. Run or fight.
“It’s a warning.” Nicole raises her voice so Waverly and Wynonna can hear her, “For me.” The screaming of fire in her head suddenly has a meaning to it, and Nicole blinks in surprise, uncertainly adding, “I think?”
She stands up and rolls her shoulders, trying to stretch out her neck. Something tells her to search the horizon, and suddenly her gaze magnifies, pulling her off through miles and miles of empty space until she can see right through the edge of the world. There’s a series of dark blurs approaching menacingly, made of darkness, and Nicole’s eyes widen before her consciousness is slammed right back into her body.
She reels away and hits the floor again, breath knocked out of her.
Then everything abruptly goes black, every nerve ending screaming in pain, and Nicole thinks she’s dying. She regains consciousness – had she been unconscious? – and becomes aware of the heavy scent of something burning. She coughs roughly, noting that her clothes seem to have smoke rising off of them.
“Did I just get struck by lightning?” she asks feebly, not trusting herself to move.
Waverly is screaming her name, and she frowns, trying to sit up, to move her head, something to show Waverly she was okay. She thinks she twitches her leg, and it seems to be enough because the screams die down, replaced by Wynonna’s voice.
“Talk to me, Nicole! How do we stop this?”
A new voice answers her, a man in a long coat stepping into Nicole’s line of vision. “Seems to me that these peculiar lightning strikes are all centered around Miss Haught here.” The strange man with the moustache is pointing a gun straight at her, and all Nicole can do is blink. “I don’t know about you two, but I ain’t never been one to wait around to see what the Heaven’s intend to rain upon us.”
“No!” Waverly jumps between them, arms spread wide, and as soon as Nicole gets her body to start listening to her brain again, she is definitely pushing her out of the way. “We don’t know what’s going on, but I trust her. I won't let you hurt her,” Waverly says fiercely.
“I trust her too, Doc,” Wynonna steps squarely in front of Waverly, voice lower and more menacing than Nicole has ever heard it. “Now you’re gonna put your damn gun away, or we’re going to have a problem."
Doc eyes her carefully, and then slowly holsters his gun, backing away. “Whatever becomes of this situation is on your head, then,” he tells her warningly as he retreats the way he came, but Nicole doesn’t care where he plans on going. Waverly and Wynonna both turn back to her, and Nicole thinks she sees tear tracks decorating Waverly’s cheeks. Gritting her teeth, she forces herself into action, deciding she’d had enough of lying on the floor.
Nicole groans as she slowly and carefully rolls herself onto her back, her wrist cracking, and then her shoulders. The burning heat is now crawling all over her body, prickling across her skin. It expands rapidly, until suddenly it snaps inward, and Nicole’s eyes fly open with a harsh gasp.
For a moment, she feels everything, the fire being absorbed right through her and down to her very core. The white-hot light blanketing her vision starts to recede, but it’s replaced by more visions of things Nicole doesn’t understand. She feels the ring of lightning around her dissipate, and Nicole swears she becomes one with the fire, as ridiculous as that sounds.
When her vision finally clears, she’s greeted by matching expressions of shock from the Earp sisters, gaping at her from the other side of the street.
“What the hell was that?"
A spasm ripples through Nicole’s back, and she grunts as she hunches over again, hands clenched into fists against the asphalt as she feels wings – her wings – burst into existence. She knows – knows her eyes are blazing again, just like in her dream from what feels like an eternity ago, a fiery insignia adorning her face, covering her cheekbones and most of her forehead. She squeezes her eyes shut to try and suppress the effect a little for the benefit of the two Earps who are probably having heart attacks at this very moment.
Everything around her is now bathed in an odd orange-tinted light, coming off her wings, and Nicole pushes herself to her feet, staring at her silhouette on the ground.
“Woah,” she breathes out in shock, staring down at herself. She’s still wearing her uniform, and aside from being covered in dirt, it looks just like it does on any other day. Her hair has fallen out of its braid, and it tickles against her neck.
Her hands look exactly the same, but on some instinct Nicole holds her palm out in front of her, breathing tremulously and focusing on the tips of her fingers. Nothing happen, and then she curls her fingers experimentally. A bolt of lighting cracks down and freezes in front of her, and she flinches back. She doesn’t move, keeping her arm outstretched, and wonders if something is going to blow up in her face.
When nothing happens, she tentatively clenches her hand into a fist. The lightning suddenly shoots towards her, but before she has time to panic it zaps right into her fist, crackling around her knuckles. Eventually it turns into a ball of flame, burning around her clenched fist like a torch, and Nicole’s mouth is hanging open. It doesn’t hurt, but her hand is very much on fire, and she brings it closer to her face to examine it with a mixture of wonder and disbelief.
She sees Waverly approaching hesitantly beyond it, and she hurriedly lowers her arm, shaking her hand a couple times and watching the flames extinguish themselves.
Waverly opens and closes her mouth a couple times, and Nicole’s face softens, taking a step forward to do something, say something comforting.
Unfortunately, her attention is drawn back to the sky, remembering the evil she had seen approaching during whatever the hell transformation she had just gone through.
“Okay, so I don’t know how to explain this right now,” Nicole starts, keeping her gaze locked on where the dark blurs would be if her eyes could reach through whatever barrier separated them from their world, “But there is something very bad coming to Purgatory soon. Lucky for us,” she flashes them a dazzling smile, “I now have something to help stop it.”
“Sure,” Wynonna says, voice strangled as Peacemaker dangles limply from her hand. “Sure, why not. Yeah. Let’s do that. Just curious, are we going to be getting an explanation somewhere? Because, hate to state the obvious, but you have fire wings. And fire powers. And I don’t know what I just watched, but I’m pretty sure you should have died.” Wynonna is staring at her, gaze flicking over her wings, and Nicole understands.
It feels like she’s been run over multiple times by a semi truck, but at the same time it also feels like she could take on the world and win, and it’s the strangest combination Nicole has ever experienced. She wants to laugh, but she can see the real fear in Wynonna’s eyes that she’s trying to hide behind her sarcasm.
“Are you okay?” Waverly has stepped closer, a look of curious wonder emerging on her face.
Nicole smiles at her. “Better than. I don’t – I don’t actually know what this is? I feel – it was – all of that was some kind of warning, because we kind of have to save the world now.” She points awkwardly at the horizon, and Waverly laughs, shaking her head.
“Is this just another day in Purgatory then? You turn out to be some kind of… Wait, what are you?”
Nicole shrugs, feeling the fire wings shift behind her. “It’s probably not a unicorn, though,” she can’t resist saying, biting her lip as she grins.
Waverly scoffs and punches her in the arm, freezing and staring at her with wide eyes.
“What is it?” Nicole asks, concerned, but Waverly smiles at her again.
“You feel the same. I thought you might be like, burning hot, or…”
Wynonna snorts, “Come on sis, I’ve seen you be smoother than that." Her eyes widen with glee. "Oh my god, she’s super hot. Haught. So many jokes!” She does an excited little dance, trying to contain her amusement as she points at Nicole. “I hope you know this is going to happen for the rest of your life.”
Nicole smiles at how normal the teasing feels, smoothing down her shirt, as if everything hasn’t just changed. In a way, she guesses that it hasn’t.
“I do have a question though. Am I still…” she gestures towards her face, unsure how to describe the design she’d felt before.
“Yuuuup.” Wynonna drags the word out, “You’ve got like a fairy princess Ghostrider thing going on or something.”
Waverly traces an approximation of its shape on her own face for her, and Nicole beams at her, nodding appreciatively.
“Can you fly on those?” Waverly tilts her head consideringly, staring behind Nicole’s shoulders.
Nicole sizes up the wings behind her, rolling her shoulders back and feeling them respond to the motion. “Let’s find out.”
She takes a couple steps away from Waverly and Wynonna, and then takes a couple more just to be safe. She has no idea what she’s doing, but she braces herself, holding her arms away from her sides for balance. However, before she can try anything else, twin columns of flame erupt from her hands and she jerks back in surprise. She trips over her feet and lands on her back again with another groan.
“Dude, it’s like she’s a human flamethrower!” she hears Wynonna say behind her, and she has to laugh at the excitement in her voice, tilting her head back to look at them.
Waverly comes closer and kneels to help Nicole sit up, and only then does Nicole realize her wings seem to have disappeared.
“Apparently you can turn it on and off,” Waverly says, eyes crinkling as she wraps her arms around Nicole’s shoulders, hugging her tightly. Nicole hugs her back, pressing her face into Waverly’s hair.
They stay like that for a moment, content in each other’s arms, but then Nicole jerks back in alarm. “Wait – ” she pats frantically at her face with one hand, urgently scanning Waverly.
“What is it?” Waverly watches her worriedly.
Nicole blushes, “I didn’t know if – like, I thought I set your hair on fire or something.”
Waverly melts again and smiles at her. “Nope, still good on that front.” Her brow furrows in concentration, and she slowly brings up her hand and reaches out to stroke run her finger along Nicole’s forehead. Nicole watches her breathlessly, not fighting the soft smile that spreads across her face. “It doesn’t burn,” Waverly says, leaving her hand on Nicole’s cheek.
They’re interrupted by exaggerated gagging sounds. “Okay, okay,” Wynonna twists her face in disgust and marches over to them, leaning over to pull them up, “Enough with the cutesy face-touching, I’m still here. And didn’t you say we had to save the world or something?”
Nicole blinks for a moment before remembering. “Oh yeah.” She kicks herself for getting so distracted and smiles sheepishly at them both. Waverly giggles and smiles back, and Wynonna rolls her eyes, huffing a laugh.
Nicole turns her gaze to the sky, eyes blazing.
This was going to be fun.