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find a home, lonely heart

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-



Nicole fastens the top button on her waist coat, smoothing the fabric down her stomach and checking her appearance over in the small mirror provided in the room, before she fixes the holster with her pistol and leaves to face the world.

 

She doesn’t get far, though, because she opens her door to the hallway and almost trips over a small bundle just outside her door.

 

She crouches down a little cautiously, unsure what the bundle contains, and is pleasantly surprised to find a handful of what look like molasses cakes.

 

Gus , she thinks warmly as she scoops the bundle up and tucks it into the small satchel at her other hip. Guess she doesn’t think I’m the devil in leather boots then, huh?

 

She doesn’t bother to stop for breakfast, even though she can smell it coming hot and delicious from the kitchen on her way out the door. She’s so damn nervous that she doesn’t think she’ll be able to keep anything down, and she’s still got a little jerky, and now Gus’s cookies, to keep her going for a while.

 

She doesn’t see Gus on the way out, but she nods her head to Curtis on her way past, by way of a greeting before she steps outside.

 

It’s still early, the sun's only just begun to rise, and the air has that crisp pre-dawn smell about it that Nicole fills her lungs with. It’s quiet still, very quiet, in fact there are only one or two people milling around, and before she hazards a glance across the road, she’s concerned for a second that she will have beaten Waverly to rising, but she needn’t have worried.

 

The door to the shop isn’t open, but Nicole can see Waverly through the window anyway, playing with something in her hands that Nicole can’t make out from this distance.

 

She walks across the road with a spring in her step, not paying mind to anything but the brunette who positively beams upon seeing Nicole walk towards her.

 

She ducks under one edge of the counter before moving quickly to the door, unbolting it so she can beckon Nicole inside.

 

“Good morning,” Waverly says to her brightly as she closes the door behind Nicole before scooting back under to take her place on the other side. “I wasn’t sure if you’d remember, or be too busy.”

 

She’s wearing a long brown skirt today, with a crisp white shirt pushed up above her elbows already, and Nicole thinks she looks resplendent.

 

“Good morning to you, too,” Nicole breathes back, soaking in the light pouring off Waverly, that, Nicole can only surmise, has come as a result of her proximity. “Of course I’d remember, how could I forget? I was worried I’d be too early for you.”

 

“I’ve been up for hours,” Waverly admits a little sheepishly, moving to pull a couple of small cups with something delightfully aromatic towards them. It smells different to the brew she’d had last night, a little lighter maybe, with a hint of citrus, but equally soothing. “I didn’t want to miss you.”

 

“Waverly Earp,” Nicole says in a soft playful tone as she watches the blush creep up Waverly’s neck. “Don’t you go wasting sleep on me, okay? If I miss you in the morning, I’ll catch you later on in the day, don’t you worry.”

 

“You mean you’ll call in again?” Waverly asks hopefully. “Tomorrow morning, on your way past?”

 

“I’ll call on you every morning, if you want,” Nicole replies with a hopeful smile of her own. “If I’m not out of line, or a hassle?”

 

“Nicole Haught, you couldn’t be a hassle to me if you tried,” Waverly says softly, and Nicole can tell she means it from the gentle curve of her shoulders as she moves ever so slightly closer to Nicole. “I’d love it, if you would. If it doesn’t put you out?”

 

“Waverly Earp,” Nicole returns in an echo of Waverly, her smile widening. “You couldn’t put me out if you tried. I’d really like that, if that’s okay. You know, make sure your not being bothered or hassled….”

 

Waverly drops her head to hide her blush, but Nicole catches it as it pinkens the tips of her ears, just visible through the way she’s styled her hair today, half up in a bun and half down, long around her shoulders.

 

“Here,” Waverly says as she slides one of the cups towards Nicole in an attempt to direct the subject away from herself. “I made something for us - well, for you - but it’s easier to make enough for two.”

 

Whatever the liquid is, it grows more and more aromatic the closer the cup moves to Nicole, and she’s struck for the first, but definitely not the last time, that it almost has a touch of witchcraft about it, that’s how good it smells, and tastes, Nicole confirms after she has a sip.

 

Which is ridiculous, of course, because she’s sure Waverly Earp is many things, but a witch is not one of them.

 

“What is it?” Nicole asks curiously as she takes the cup carefully between her hands. “Also, you know you don’t have to bribe me through the door with a drink, right? I’ll willingly come without them.”

 

“I know,” Waverly says, her blush deepening. “But I wanted you to have something to start your day well. If you like it, that is. And please don’t feel like you have to drink a drop if you think it’s awful, by the way.”

 

Nicole gives Waverly a look over the top of the cup as she raises it to her mouth that says don’t be ridiculous, before she takes a sip, groaning at the taste when it hits her tongue.

 

“Good lord,” Nicole says, suppressing the urge to drink it all at once. “This is incredible, Waverly. Did you make this off a recipe? What on earth is it?”

 

“No, I just make everything myself,” Waverly shrugs modestly. “This is just something I brew when I get up. There’s a mess of other things, but there’s citrus mainly. I find that gives me a bit of a lift when sleep holds itself outta’ reach. And one of the plants I use for most of the tea has a hint of something that helps, too. Or that’s what I’ve found, anyway.”

 

“You’ve got a heck of a lot of knowledge about this stuff, huh?” Nicole says to Waverly, heartily impressed.

 

“I guess so,” Waverly replies quietly, obviously unused to compliments. “I’ve never really thought about it, I’ve just always played with it, ever since I was young. I used to like watching Gus cook with different herbs when I was small, and it just started from there. They used to order in extra of their cooking supplies to begin with, bought a few books off traveling salesmen, until I started collecting and growing my own cuttings.”

 

“I’d love to hear more about it sometime,” Nicole says genuinely, and the way Waverly lights up at her interest makes her heart skip a beat. “All of it, the plants and you. If you’d…damn it.”

 

“What’s wrong?” Waverly asks, her voice quick and concerned. “Is it too hot? Did it burn…”

 

“No, no, not at all,” Nicole hurries to explain with a frown, looking down at her chest. “I left my damn bandana at the Inn. I probably have time to go and fetch it before I head down-”

 

“Actually,” Waverly says with a slightly pleased, but nervous tone to her voice as she temporarily abandons her cup on the counter to pull something from the pocket of her dress. “I kind of have somethin’ for you.”

 

“You do?” Nicole asks, her blood moving through her wrists with a heavy throb. “What do you…”

 

She’s thankful that Waverly steps forward then, because she’s not actually sure how she would have finished her sentence without her. She’s speechless, because Waverly has something for her.

 

A small token, perhaps?

 

Or her heart?

 

Nicole’s eyes have been on Waverly’s own, but they drop, finally, to the item in her hands, and her heart skips and leaps.

 

“It’s only small,” Waverly says shyly as she hands Nicole the soft scrap of material. “And please don’t feel as though you have to wear it if it’s not…if you don’t…”

 

Nicole’s attention shifts to the token in her hand, a new bandana , she thinks as her pulse races, as if she had known I’d forget my own this morning . She took the time to…

 

“I stitched somethin’ small, it’s only your initials, but I know things like this often get misplaced, and I wanted you to be able to find it if…” Waverly explains as she twists her hands nervously. “But please, don’t feel as though you…”

 

She knows she needs to say something, because she hasn’t yet, but her breath seems to be stuck in her throat or beneath her feet or anywhere but free in her lungs.

 

So she looks to Waverly with an expression that she hopes will convey a small part of what this means to her, how she feels, because Waverly made this for her, for her , and no one in her life has done anything half as kind.  

 

“Did you really make this for me?” Nicole asks, her voice a little bewildered as her thumb moves over the small NH stitched into one corner.

 

“A welcome to Purgatory, gift,” Waverly offers, her smile burning in the light of Nicole’s reaction. “And a small thing to say thank you, for your kindness yesterday. It’s not an insignificant thing, showing your comfort with me even after you know what my last name is. It’s…it means a lot. And I don’t think anybody beyond my sister or Gus or Curtis has stood up for me for as long as I can remember, and you didn’t even know me and you did.”

 

“I knew enough,” Nicole says quietly, running the fabric through her fingers.

 

“How?” Waverly asks curiously as she smiles quietly. “How did you know?”

 

“I just knew,” Nicole says with a shrug, and it’s not a ploy, she’s not being intentionally coy, she doesn’t know why or how, but she just knew .

 

Because Chrissy’s history lesson, that had been important, that told her a lot about the kind of person Waverly Earp was, but seeing her, watching the way her eyes spoke, had told Nicole what she really needed to know.

 

She’s expecting Waverly to ask more, to prompt her for a better explanation, but then their eyes meet again and Nicole knows she doesn’t need one.

 

She knows, too.

 

“Regardless, though, it won’t…it’s okay if you don’t want to wear it,” Waverly says quietly.

 

Nicole doesn’t say anything in reply; she does , instead.

 

Smiling at Waverly, she takes the bandana and starts to tie it easily around her neck. She’s about halfway through the movement when Waverly’s hands move.

 

“Here,” she offers, reaching over the counter towards Nicole. “Let me…”

 

She doesn’t need help, both of them know it, but that makes Waverly’s gesture even more meaningful.

 

Her fingers move warm and delicate over Nicole’s own as she takes the ends of the bandana gently from Nicole’s grip, and neither of them miss the way a shock passes through both of their bodies when they touch.

 

It’s a little awkward, Nicole half leaning towards Waverly with the counter pressing into her side. The whole thing would be a hell of a lot easier if they were standing without a large slab of wood between them.

 

But Waverly’s hands brush the side of her neck over her pulse, and her breath is warm on Nicole’s cheek, so a little discomfort is nothing. It’s nothing at all.

 

“There,” Waverly says after a moment, leaning back a little to survey her handiwork. “I think that looks mighty fine, Deputy.”

 

“You think?” Nicole asks as she looks behind Waverly, trying to catch her reflection off one of the glass cabinet fronts.

 

“Mighty fine,” Waverly replies a little distractedly before she blushes, realising what she’s suggesting with her words. “I mean…”

 

“I think it’s mighty fine, too,” Nicole says, reaching for Waverly’s hand, flat on the counter, in an attempt to calm her. “Thank you, Waverly. I want to say ‘you shouldn’t have’ a million damn times, but I know you won’t listen, so I’ll say thank you instead.”

 

“It was my pleasure, Deputy,” Waverly returns, her blush deepening. “I mean, it was my pleasure, Nicole .”

 

“Much better,” Nicole says with a laugh before she slides her hand back from Waverly’s.

 

They don’t get far, though, no, because Waverly’s hands chase hers as she draws them back towards her own body.

 

They settle warm over Nicole’s, and at first, she doesn’t say anything, as though she didn’t have any other reason to reach for Nicole beyond the fact that her body wanted to, blindly, but then she does.

 

“Good luck for today,” Waverly offers with a sincerity that Nicole can feel flowing into her body where their hands touch. “And whatever happens, if you need a pick-me-up, or a pull-me-down, you could call by on your way past.”

 

“I appreciate it, ma’am,” Nicole says playfully, which Waverly smiles at, and it makes Nicole feel happy , because it’s been a long time since she had this. Since she had someone to laugh with. “And if you’re not blind with the sight of me, I’ll surely call on you. For now, though, as much as I’d rather stay and drink a drum full of whatever you brew, I’m terribly sorry, but….”

 

“Off with you, then,” Waverly replies with a grin, taking her hand away from Nicole’s with as much reluctance as Nicole has in her entire body about leaving.

 

She could stay and trip over a thousand platitudes, but there will be time for that later. If Nicole is lucky, they’ll have days and days and days of it.

 

For now, though, she needs to take her first step at setting her bones down in Purgatory properly. She needs to find her place, to give herself a foothold so that she might stand next to Waverly as an equal here.

 

And, if she’ll have her, as a partner.

 

The bandana is a comfort around her neck as she leaves with a wink and a tip of her hat.

 

And a promise, too.



-



It’s still exceptionally early when she arrives at the jail, but she’s not the first one to relieve the deputy of his night shift, Nedley is.

 

It’s a confirmation of what she’s already beginning to piece together about his character, that he’s here early to send the young man off to bed.

 

That he cares about his men. That this isn’t something to fill his days with, that this means something to him, as it does to Nicole, too.

 

“Haught,” Nedley says, a little surprised at seeing her so early. “Didn’t expect you for a few hours, not after the journey you had gettin’ to us yesterday.”

 

“You know what they say about the early bird,” Nicole replies with a slightly nervous smile, shifting from foot to foot.

 

“Well, it’s fine of you to be here,” he says, sounding a little impressed. “It’s good, will give us a chance to talk before the others get in the way.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Nicole says keenly as she moves to follow him to his desk. He gestures to the seat in front of it, and Nicole takes her place before waiting for him to speak.

 

“I appreciate you takin’ the job, Haught. I know a few people have been put off after what happened to Ward, even given the accident was years ago,” Nedley says gruffly, and his tone sounds nonchalant, but Nicole can hear the genuineness in it, too.

 

“Of course, sir,” Nicole says, nodding. “I know people talk, but the truth of it is, I’ll never let someone else’s opinion make a decision for me.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” Nedley replies as he appraises her. “That’ll do you good here. Place sure isn’t short other people’s damn opinions, that’s for sure.”

 

“That was one of the things I was wantin’ to ask you, sir,” Nicole says, gently probing the subject she’s been dying to ask him about since yesterday. “Your daughter’s told me some, but I’d certainly appreciate a bit more history on the town. Know what I’m dealin’ with, that sort of thing.”

 

“How much time you got,” he asks cynically, to which Nicole laughs softly. “Purgatory’s not short of it’s characters, that’s for sure. There are a few trouble makers, but for the most part, they’re a pretty reasonable mob. Except concernin’ a few things.”

 

“Are you meaning the Earps, sir?” Nicole asks inquisitively, and honestly she’s glad he’s given her a foothold to ask, because Chrissy had been great yesterday, but she suspects there were a few things she was holding back that Nedley won’t.

 

“I’m meaning the Earps,” Nedley replies, sighing heavily as he does so. “I know Chrissy told you some yesterday, but I want you to hear the full story from me, alright? There’s enough gossip in this town, the last thing I need is my deputies spreadin’ it further. You understand me?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Nicole says quickly, shaking her head. “I wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”

 

“Good,” Nedley returns with a scowl, although she suspects he already knew she would do nothing of the sort. “Well, I suppose I should start from the beginning. Their father, Ward Earp, and I had known each other for a long time. I was his deputy for a number of years, and a few around here paint him as a bit of a saint to make what Wynonna did worse, but truth is, he was an asshole.”

 

Nicole settles forward into her chair, listening intently as Nedley begins to tell his story.

 

“He had to raise those girls young, and I know that ain’t easy, but a good enough man would have stepped up, rather than leaving the job to them to look after themselves. He was a devil with the drink, and I had the three of them on my doorstep in the middle of the night more than once, trying to escape his anger. He was a good cop, though, I won’t begrudge him that. He put more people away than anyone before him, which made him popular in town, but not so much with one of the local gangs.”

 

“I didn’t see anyone when I was walkin’ through town yesterday, sir,” Nicole says curiously, trying to recall the faces of everyone she saw and met, looking for anyone that might fit that image.

 

“They used to live on the outskirts, but they don’t dare show their faces ‘round here no more,” Nedley growls, and Nicole can hear the anger clear in his voice now. “Not after what they did.”

 

“You mean…” Nicole asks quietly, referring to what she knows of the night Waverly’s father was killed.

 

“They’d been plannin’ it for goddam weeks, and we missed it,” Nedley laments, and Nicole can hear the regret in his voice now, too. “A good deputy would have caught it. Would have kept those damn girls safe, but we all missed it. It was only that I was late returning home from chasing a loose beast that I came across things myself.”

 

And Nicole wants to interject, to tell him that what she knows of his character tells her that there wasn’t anything he could have done, but she knows it won’t make a difference. She knows she won’t be able to assuage his guilt, as deep as it sounds like it goes.

 

“They turned up to the homestead in the middle of the night,” Nedley says quietly. “Stormed the house. Ward and Willa, she was the eldest, they were on the first floor, so they came across the two of them first. Wynonna and Waverly were upstairs, and came down when they heard the shouts. Wynonna, smart kid, went straight for where she knew Ward kept one of his guns. Even if she knew she couldn’t fire it properly, she was smart enough to know it was going to be one hell of a deterrent.”

 

“You’re not wrong there,” Nicole mutters under her breath before she motions for Nedley to continue.

 

“They came into the room and saw Ward and Willa in a corner, surrounded by part of the gang, and Wynonna, brave as a grown man, started demanding they let her family go. They wouldn’t, of course, they just laughed, as the girls recall it. I don’t think they even thought the gun was loaded, but it was. One of the men tried to grab Wynonna, and they struggled, and the gun went off.”

 

Nedley pauses for a moment as he drops his head into his hands, and he looks so pained that Nicole wants to reach for him to offer some small comfort.

 

“One bullet, two casualties, and four lives ruined,” Nedley says with a heavy drop of regret in his tone. “It coulda’ been any night that idiot was there by himself, but they had to wait until the girls were there, too.”

 

“I’m sorry, sir,” Nicole does offer then, and Nedley nods in recognition of her softness.

 

“It could have been worse,” Nedley shrugs as he sits back in his seat. “They could have taken the two younger ones, too, but Wynonna went at them like the devil possessed after they tried to make away with Waverly. I could hear the ruckus from outside, girl’s got a set of lungs on her, I’ll tell you that. I started yelling a warning, and as soon as they heard someone else outside, they were out the back door and gone before I could so much as look in their direction. I could have ridden after them, but I couldn’t leave the girls with that mess. I rode them straight into town to Gus and Curtis, and collected a few men to help me clean up.”

 

“Jesus H,” Nicole breathes as the full story sinks against her chest, and for the first time, she wonders how Waverly has grown into the young woman she appears to be with that much tragedy in her past.

 

“The whole town knew by morning, Lord knows how,” Nedley says derisively. “A few of them wanted to hang Wynonna, can you believe that? A damn child.”

 

The thought makes Nicole feel physically ill, and she watches as Nedley pales at the memory, too.

 

“We damn near had a shootout in Main Street that morning. A few men turned up at the Inn to take Wynonna to the jail, and Gus and Curtis sent them right back out into the street at gunpoint. Someone came hollerin’ for me, and I found them all screaming at each other with the girls tight between Gus and Curtis. I was Ward’s second, so I had the mantle, and managed to yell down the street myself that we were never, and would never, be in the business of killin’ children,” Nedley says roughly before he starts on the tail end of his story.

 

The picture’s so vivid that Nicole can almost see them all in her mind’s eye, Waverly and Wynonna desperately clinging to each other with their grief wet on their cheeks, and the hounds of rage snapping at them as Gus and Curtis stood guard.

 

“I let a shot off at someone’s feet, and they quieted down pretty quick. Everything went dark after that, I took the job permanently, and the girls went to live with Gus and Curtis. They did what they could to shelter the two of ‘em, but the town turned on Wynonna that day, and nothin’ me, nor they, could do seemed to shift that. She stayed until she was old enough to leave, and then she disappeared for a few years, left Waverly here. Folks use that as another nail in her coffin, but I think she did it to protect Waverly. I think she thought if she left, they’d ease off of her, which they did, but not a great deal. They still treat Waverly like it’s her fault, like they did her sister.”

 

“It sounds like a damn tragedy,” Nicole says sadly once she’s sure Nedley is finished talking.  

 

“It is, Haught,” Nedley replies seriously. “It’s a goddamn tragedy. Now, it ain’t your job, but I’ve made it mine to make sure people know what really happened, alright? None of this crap that the girls are taken by the devil, or they’ve got witches’ blood in their veins. Somebody turned up to murder their family, and they made Wynonna do the job for them, instead.”

 

“I’d like to make it mine, too, sir,” Nicole says with an equal note of seriousness. “I know it’s not my job, and I know I barely know them, but I’d like to make it mine, too. And thank you, for takin’ the time to tell me the full story.”

 

“I thought you might,” Nedley answers with the hint of a smile on his lips. “I knew I’d like you, Haught. You’ll do well here, I think. If you’re like I think you are.”

 

She can feel the conversation coming to an end for now, but there’s something she wants to say to Nedley before he dismisses her.

 

“Sir,” Nicole says with a slight thickness in her throat. “I wanted to thank you, too. For takin’ me on. I know most wouldn’t be interested in a woman for this job, and I want you to know, I’ll be as good a deputy as any of the men here. I promise.”

 

“Gender ain’t no guarantee of competence,” Nedley replies with a wry smile as he stands. “You don’t have to do nothin’ stupid to prove yourself to me, Haught. The letter I got from your old Sheriff more or less beggin’ me not to steal you has already done that for you. And so has your attitude since you got here. Don’t let people like Champ Hardy or any other small-minded idiots tell you differently, alright?”

 

“Begging your pardon, sir?” Nicole says gently, curious to know what he means, but not wanting to make it sound like she’s searching for a compliment. “My attitude, what do you…”

 

“Chrissy couldn’t praise you highly enough when I dragged my boots home last night,” Nedley returns by way of clarification. “Now, I know she seems like a sweet girl, but she ain’t stupid. And she’s a better judge of character than most of my men.”

 

“Oh,” Nicole says, dropping her head to hide her blush. “Well, I thought she was wonderful, too, sir. Couldn’t thank my lucky stars enough that she was the one I bumped into first.”

 

“She told me about your defending young Waverly,” Nedley says with a nod. “And about how you reacted to her tellin’ you their history. Truth of it is, it is a damn tragedy. People of this town have made Wynonna a pariah, but she doesn’t deserve that. She might be a right pain in the ass now, but she is what they made her. It’s even worse that they give Waverly the same treatment.”

 

“Why do you think they do, sir?” Nicole asks, genuinely curious, because she’s been thinking about it herself, and can’t, for the life of herself, figure out why.

 

“I’ve got no damn idea, Haught,” Nedley says honestly. “They didn’t even like Ward, half of ‘em. But something turned them on that girl like someone slipped poison in their water.”

 

“Well, I don’t care about makin’ a few heads turn if I have to in order to let everyone know where I stand on the matter,” Nicole affirms as she stands.

 

“Atta-girl,” Nedley says with an approving eye, grinning. “Now, enough chatter, I’ve gotta’ swear you in, and then the others can tell you about how we divide things here. You’ll have a week of nights once a month, and we take turns patrolling and riding out to the farms on the outskirts, makin’ sure everything’s in order.”

 

“Sounds just fine to me, sir,” Nicole nods, acknowledging him, and again, she’s thankful for the structure he seems to have in place here, because her last assignment had been a damn mess compared to this.

 

“Oh, and Haught,” Nedley says, stopping the both of them short. “If you ever have a problem, big or small, with anythin’, I want you to come to me first, okay? I don’t need martyrs here. I want my people to tell me if there’s something worryin’ them.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Nicole confirms quickly. “You’ll be the first to know.”

 

“Good,” he says gruffly, but Nicole can sense that he’s pleased with how their time alone has gone, and that, if anything, she’s only confirmed what he already thought of her for the positive.

 

It helps to ease some of Nicole’s tension, too. Because she had the impression that Nedley was different to the other Sheriffs she’s come across in her time from their previous communication, but she was prepared for a different picture in reality. However, Nedley is, thankfully, by all accounts so far, the same person she thought he was.

 

“Now,” Nedley grumbles as he starts rummaging through his things, taking Nicole out of her head. “Where did I put that damn badge?”

 

He swears Nicole in shortly thereafter. He pins the shiny new deputy badge to her chest, and it’s one of the proudest moments of her entire damn life.

 

“I’m glad you’re here, Haught,” Nedley offers quietly, stepping away from her with his hands on his hips. “I might have taken a leap giving you the job, but you made one takin’ it, too. I won’t forget that in a hurry.”

 

Nicole softens at that, and normally she’s so careful to school her face around the people, the men , in positions of authority around her, but she wants Nedley to see that this means as much to her as she thinks it does to him, too.

 

“Neither will I, sir,” Nicole replies before she clears her throat and changes the subject. “Now, what else do I need to know about this town?”



-



Nedley sends her off on a visibility patrol after he introduces her to his other three deputies, with a handful of what constitutes a case file on the comings and goings of interest to the local law.

 

There’s nothing much of great note, a few long-running disputes between families, a summary of the last gang activity that pertained to Ward Earp’s death, a few strange animal attacks over the last few years, but nothing that makes Nicole overly concerned.

 

It’s sometime in the late afternoon when Nicole makes her way back into town after riding out on patrol with one of the other deputies that she notices one of the shops on the Main Street closed, and it makes her think of one of the comments the other deputies had made earlier about it being shut when they’d been past it in the morning, too.

 

She makes a mental note to ask them about it in the morning, or to call in herself and make sure everything’s alright on the way past, before she turns her eye to the white washboard of Waverly’s storefront.

 

She’s had a reasonably busy first day of duty, so this is the first time she’s been able to shift her attention fully back to Waverly. She’s far enough away that Waverly hasn’t seen her yet, absorbed as she is with the customer, an older woman, that she’s speaking to.

 

She gestures softly, her hands delicate and animated before she pulls something off of the shelf behind her and drops it into a small brown paper bag. Nicole watches as she waves the woman off, refusing to take her money, and the woman leaves slowly, hobbling heavily out the door.

 

Waverly watches the older woman leave, her eyes following her out of the shop before they run up the length of the distance between her and Nicole, and their gazes catch .

 

And Nicole knows she needs to be careful, but it’s immensely difficult to tell her heart not to get carried away when Waverly’s whole frame lifts at seeing her.

 

The soft brown of Waverly’s hair that turns to gold when the sun glances off it prompts Nicole’s memory, and she realises, mentally admonishing herself, that she’d gotten completely distracted in the morning when she realised she’d left her bandana at the Inn, and she’d forgotten to ask Waverly the question she’d been nervously tossing between her palms.

 

She wants to ask Waverly on a date, well a kind of date, as much as they can have a date in a time where they have to be exceedingly careful about how they present to other people. About what their relationship looks like to people watching them.

 

Because, while they might not be stoned in the street if the true nature of their bond, whatever that is destined to be, is found out, their reception won’t be much friendlier.

 

Nicole refuses to believe it’s wrong, though, or unnatural. She refuses. Despite what society seems hell-bent on telling her.

 

Because she’s had soft skin beneath her hands and her mouth, and the way that felt, how right it rung through her body, she knows there’s no way that it could be truly wrong.

 

She knows that there might be a time a long way in the distance where things like this don’t have to be hidden, but she’s not naïve enough to think they don’t have to be practised in what they present. Not if she wants the people of this town to respect her or the badge on her chest.

 

Irrespective of other people’s closed- mindedness, of their hate, Nicole wants to ask Waverly on a date date, and she’s reasonably sure, based on the evidence she’s been presented with so far, that Waverly is interested, but she’s not certain .

 

Nicole knows it’s bold, and she knows it’s risky, and she knows she needs to ask the question carefully, because while it’s important she makes it clear what her purpose is, and where she stands, she doesn’t want Waverly to feel like she’s in any way obliged to agree unless it’s what she wants, too. Or at least it’s what she thinks she wants.

 

Because Nicole will wait, she’ll wait until Waverly is ready if she’s interested, but she can’t pursue somebody that has no desire to be pursued by her.

 

She can’t bear to have her heart broken. Not again.

 

She’ll be Waverly’s friend, if that’s all she wants, or if that’s all she wants while she waits to see if anything develops further, but she doesn’t want to torture herself, or Waverly, by not calling this pull she feels between the two of them what it is or what it could be.

 

Attraction. Hope. Maybe even love.

 

She’s been back and forth, between Waverly’s attention being strictly friendly or being more , but she’s not interacting with Nicole the way she’s seen Waverly interact with others. She’s not interacting with Nicole the way Nicole interacts with Chrissy.

 

She had made Nicole a gift, spent however long last night, by candlelight, stitching Nicole’s initials into the bandana around her neck. She had asked Nicole to call on her, and her whole body changes when they see each other.

 

That has to mean something.

 

She comes back to herself, to the sight of Waverly glowing like an angel in the late afternoon sun in Nicole’s direction, at Nicole, and that makes her mind up for her.

 

She drops her head to hide her own blush before making her way across the street, tipping her hat into her hands as she walks through the door.

 

“Afternoon, Deputy,” Waverly says warmly, and Nicole can feel the genuine pleasure in her voice. “That’s a mighty dashing badge you’ve got there. I take it this morning went well?”

 

“It did, ma’am,” Nicole replies with a smile, and she mirrors the expression when Waverly’s nose wrinkles at the formal term. “I think it must’ve been your good luck charm.”

 

Waverly’s face softens from excitement to something warmer before she reaches over the counter to run her fingers over the edges of the metal, temperate against the heat of Nicole’s body and the sun outside.

 

“I’m glad I could help,” Waverly says airily, as though not completely in control of her own coherency, before she snaps out of it. “I’m sorry, Deputy, that was awful familiar of me.”

 

She moves to take her hand away, but Nicole catches it before she can, holding it gently against the metal.

 

“It’s okay, Waverly,” Nicole says quietly before she looks to Waverly and tries to breathe into the connection of their skin just how very okay it is.

 

She hazards a glance down the far end of the counter where a couple of older women are engrossed in their own conversation before she judges it safe to hold their contact, and returns her attention to Waverly.

 

“You can be as familiar as you like with me, okay?”

 

“I can?” Waverly asks with a voice barely above a whisper, like giving more volume to the thought will make it turn to smoke between them.

 

“You can,” Nicole affirms as her smile widens, and she runs her thumb over the top of Waverly’s hand. “You absolutely can.”

 

Waverly’s gaze is a little glassy, and Nicole can tell she’s somewhere else, far away in a land where she can do whatever it is she’s dreaming about doing to Nicole, or with Nicole, without fear of reprisal.

 

And she can’t admit she’s not half there herself. That she isn’t thinking about what it would be like to draw Waverly to her, to press their lips together before she laid Waverly back on the countertop and….

 

“I wanted to ask you something,” Nicole says in an attempt to bring herself back to the solidity of this world. Because it doesn’t do to dream about things like that if there’s no hope in them maybe one day coming to fruition. “I left without sayin’ it earlier, and I’m sorry…”

 

“Yes,” Waverly replies before Nicole can actually form her question. Her eyes are eager, and they keep dropping from Nicole’s own to her lips, and it makes Nicole’s heart trip. “Whatever your question is, yes.”

 

“Careful now,” Nicole says playfully, showing her canine’s on a slightly dangerous smile. “I could be askin’ you to commit treason, for all you know.”

 

She gives Waverly’s hand one last gentle squeeze before her own falls away, and she doesn’t want to, but they’ve probably pushed it enough for one afternoon, risking the women glancing down and seeing them.

 

“It wouldn’t matter,” Waverly replies with a similarly dangerous tone to her own voice

 

The recklessness in it isn’t something Nicole’s seen from Waverly before, but it doesn’t dissuade her, it makes the hunger in the tips of her fingers louder.

 

“Have dinner with me,” Nicole says while her nerve holds, and she hates that it falls so quickly and without any sort of build up, but she doesn’t think it would have mattered, because Waverly’s smile looks set to eclipse the sun. “I mean, god, let me try that again. Waverly, I wish to-”

 

“Yes,” Waverly replies as she catches Nicole’s hand boldly in her own before it touches the counter top. “Yes, Nicole . Yes.”

 

“Yes?” Nicole asks, her heart beginning to pound in her chest, a large part of her struggling to register Waverly’s easy acceptance of her invite. “You know I mean…”

 

“I know,” Waverly returns astutely. The maturity in her voice outstrips the youth of her body, and Nicole can’t not think of the reason why. “My answer is still yes.”

 

She’s speechless. Honest to goodness speechless, because she was expecting to have to give Waverly some sort of explanation or hurried apology, but it isn’t needed.

 

Because Waverly said yes .

 

“I know it would be foolish to go out, but I thought maybe we could take some food from Gus,” Nicole says a little bashfully as she softens, because Waverly said yes . “And we could eat above your shop? I’d have you to my room, but I think that’s likely to raise more eyebrows, and…”

 

“Yes,” Waverly says again, and the confidence has retreated and given way to shyness now. “I mean, I have a bed up there, but we don’t…dinner would be…”

 

She shakes her head as though trying to throw the nervousness from her shoulders, and it only makes Nicole fall further, because, god, she’s adorable.

 

“I’m not suggestin’ anything untoward, you have my word,” Nicole replies, winking playfully. “I just…I mean, if you’ll allow it… I’d like to get to know you, Waverly Earp.”

 

I’d like to get to know you, and fall in love with you, too, if that’s not too much trouble.

 

“I’d like that very much,” Waverly says quietly, and Nicole has the distinct impression that this is the first time anyone has said anything of the sort to her. “And I’d like to get to know you, too, if you’ll permit.”

 

You can have everything, Nicole thinks as her heart opens and cracks. You can have everything you want that I can give. You can have my breath, too, seeings as you seem to have stolen that anyway.

 

“I’d like that very much, too,” Nicole replies, her hands hopeful and full with Waverly holding them still.

 

They feel tethered together in the moment, their bodies suspended in some kind of halted time and space, and Nicole has absolutely no idea how she’s going to pull away from Waverly when it feels like their hands are fused where they touch, but then the moment is broken for them.

 

One of the women down the other end of the bar knocks her cup gracelessly off the counter and drops to her knees in a flutter as she tries to collect the broken pieces, and both of their gazes avert immediately.

 

“I’m sorry,” Waverly offers as she moves to take her hands away, but she pauses, like she can’t bear to complete the movement herself. “I should…”

 

“It’s okay,” Nicole says easily, because it is. Because Waverly said yes . “I’ll call on you later, if you’re still here. I should get goin’, anyway.”

 

“Later?” Waverly asks as her fingers slip through Nicole’s.

 

“Later,” Nicole affirms with a quick wink before she spins away from the counter, collecting her hat smoothly.

 

Waverly looks back at her twice within the distance from Nicole to the fuss at the end of the room, and Nicole feels something lift within her, a weight chained to her wrists for years.

 

Nicole knows it’s not that easy. She knows she can’t take that to mean Waverly is truly interested.

 

That she knows what Nicole means , but it’s a start.

 

She’ll tell Waverly properly, when they’re alone. When she can practise her speech a thousand times, she’ll do this properly, she’ll tell Waverly her intentions, but for now, they have later .

 

For now, she feels free .



-



Nicole still has a smile the length of the Great Divide when she walks away from Waverly’s store with the promise of later warm between her palms.

 

And she knows it’s foolish, to be this taken by a girl she’s barely known two days, but Waverly Earp is different .

 

Refreshingly, beautifully , different.

 

Distractedly, Nicole wonders what the swiftest length of time anyone has actually fallen in love is.

 

She moves out into the fading heat of the day with that thought buoying her steps, settling her hat back on her head as she takes a step onto the dirt of the Main Street.

 

She sets a slow, easy pace as she makes her way down the street, tipping her hat to a few people, introducing herself to a few others she has yet to meet, before a scuffle a little way ahead of her catches her attention.

 

A woman, quite striking to look at, with brown hair loose around her shoulders, wearing an outfit not dissimilar to Nicole’s - woolen trousers, a shirt, vest, and overcoat - is standing in the middle of the street, quite oblivious to passersby as she argues at full volume with a man that keeps snatching a wrapped brown parcel out of her hands.

 

It looks, at first sight, to be some sort of domestic dispute between a man and his wife, but as Nicole gets a little closer, she takes stock of the bend of the woman’s body, and the way she holds herself upright.

 

She’s defiant, but like she’s trying to protect herself, like she knows no one else is going to come to her aid. And there’s no familiarity of touch between them either; not that Nicole can see, anyway.

 

“Afternoon, all,” Nicole says cordially as she walks up to the two of them, who cease arguing immediately when they catch sight of the badge gleaming on the breast of her waistcoat. “Can I be of service in settling whatever is important enough to be hollerin’ down Main Street for?”

 

She can see the man eye her with a hint of displeasure as he weighs up in his head whether it’s worth challenging her, which she knows he wouldn’t dare if she was a man, but the mark of respect the badge holds does its job in keeping his mouth shut.

 

On that at least.

 

“You’re Nedley’s new woman deputy?” the man says a little derisively as he eyes Nicole up and down, and it’s just distasteful enough that she straightens herself to her full height so she can level eyes with him.

 

“The one and only,” Nicole answers, holding her hand out to the man. “Nicole Haught, sir. Pleasure to meet you. And you are….?”

 

“Pissed to high hell,” the man replies, avoiding her question neatly as he holds his hand to his own side, refusing to shake Nicole’s.

 

“And what does that have to do with this young woman?” Nicole asks the both of them as she turns her head and takes a measure of the brunette with them. “Someone gonna’ tell me what’s going on? Or do I have to ask someone else?”

 

She’s angry, Nicole notes, and she’s showing it, which is reasonably uncommon for women of their time. She’s not just angry, though, she’s furious, and as soon as the man lets his guard down, she reaches forward and grabs the package back out of his hands.

 

“See,” the man exclaims angrily. “You saw that, Deputy. She’s takin’ things that ain’t hers. Just like usual.”

 

“They’re mine,” the brunette seethes back at him, holding the package close to her chest. “I damn well paid for them.”

 

Nicole’s watching her carefully, trying to evaluate what she can from a first impression, but she’s watching Nicole, too, slightly interested, and with significantly less animosity than she’s watching the man.

 

“Is that true?” Nicole asks with a raised eyebrow as she looks to the man again.

 

“Well, yeah,” he answers reluctantly, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably. “But I didn’t want to sell them to her. This young idiot did. We don’t sell to Earps here.”

 

He says the name with as much contempt as he can muster, and in an instant, Nicole understands exactly what Chrissy had been trying to tell her yesterday.

 

She can see the woman - Wynonna, she corrects herself, Wynonna - bend her shoulders forward like she’s expecting that to be the end of the argument now that Nicole knows what her last name is.

 

But Nicole’s not like that.

 

Nicole meant it when she’d told Chrissy that nonsense didn’t matter to her, irrespective and not at all influenced by the reasonably-sized crush she’s currently nurturing over Wynonna’s younger sister.

 

She can see the man take a half-step back as well, like the cat that got the cream, now that he considers the argument won with his little trump card.

 

And it’s not that she takes pleasure in what happens next, exactly, but she won’t deny later that it isn’t satisfying.

 

“Seems to me that if Miss Earp paid for the goods, they’re hers,” Nicole says simply, but in a tone that brokers no arguments.

 

She watches as a ruddy colour rises up the man's face, and hot anger sets between his eyes when it becomes clear to him that Nicole isn’t going to take his side, surname or no. A slightly surprised and amused expression makes its way across Wynonna’s face at exactly the same rate.

 

She rests both of her hands on her belt, bringing attention to the pistol at her waist as a gentle, but clear warning of who she is, should the man decide to challenge her.

 

But he doesn’t, thankfully. He stands down.

 

“Goddamn women,” he says, looking between them both before setting his glare on Wynonna. “You might have that flaming package, but don’t think we’re gonna’ sell to you ever again. You hear me?”

 

“Loud and clear,” Wynonna replies in a similarly angry tone before they both watch the man stomp off.

 

“Real gentleman, huh?” Nicole says under her breath as they watch him storm back into his shop with a wind of anger beneath his wings. “I hope that’s not a true sampling of all the men in town.”

 

“How come, Deputy?” Wynonna asks with an amused expression. “You huntin’ for a husband to warm your lonely bed at night?”

 

“No,” Nicole says evenly as she levels Wynonna with a glare of her own, because damn, she’d just helped the woman out of an argument, and this is the thanks she gets. “Not at all.”

 

There’s enough finality in her voice that, combined with her obvious career choice, lights a candle behind Wynonna’s eyes.

 

Damn it, Haught , she thinks to herself. Here you go more or less exposing who you are to everyone in town before your first week is out.

 

She’s expecting Wynonna to pull away with a glare then, or some equally derogatory comment to leave her mouth, but it doesn’t. She smiles a little wryly at Nicole before she holds her hand out as a greeting.

 

“I don’t think that asshole gave me the opportunity to introduce myself properly,” Wynonna says as she straightens her back. “But I suppose I don’t need to bother doin’ it again, do I?”

 

“I suppose not,” Nicole replies with a slightly amused grin. “It’s a pleasure, Miss Earp. I don’t suppose I need to bother reintroducin’ myself, either?”

 

“Not really,” Wynonna returns, and she’s still grinning like she knows something Nicole doesn’t. “I mean, I hear the town’s half buzzin’ with the news of a newcomer - we don’t get them often, you know. Wasn’t them I heard of your arrival from, though. My sister told me you’d come into town.”

 

“Oh,” Nicole says a little airily, the thought of Waverly taking her attention for a moment. “Of course. I’m sorry, I thought…I didn’t think you would’ve had a chance to speak with her.”

 

“I’ve been in town for a few hours,” Wynonna says as she frowns. “I hate this goddamn place, but I had to come and get another trap for the coyotes that are crawlin’ all over the place at the moment. I normally try and get in and out before anyone else is awake, but I stopped by to see Waverly, and I guess we got to talking for longer than usual.”

 

Nicole wants to ask what about, but from the slightly smug look on Wynonna’s face, she thinks she already knows.

 

“That’s kind,” Nicole replies with a soft smile as she thinks of Waverly again. “I’m sure your sister appreciated the visitor.”

 

“She told me about you trying to throw that cucklehead Hardy out the door,” Wynonna says, grinning like the point is exceptionally amusing.

 

“I wasn’t tryin’ to butt in,” Nicole says apologetically before Wynonna can accuse her of anything, but the expression on her face says that isn’t her intention at all. “I promise, it just…he wasn’t taking no for an answer, and your sister looked like she was fed up with the guy, and-”

 

“Haught,” Wynonna cuts across her gently. “It’s okay. I’m trying to say thank you. I can count the people willing to stand up for my sister on one hand.”

 

“Oh,” Nicole replies quietly. “You’re…of course. I mean, I don’t really know her yet, but I know enough to judge that she’s someone worth standin’ up for. Even if this town doesn’t agree.”

 

“She’s a special kid,” Wynonna says with a fondness that she tries to pass off with a rough clearing of her throat, but Nicole sees through it with a grin. “She means a lot to me, so people that are willing to do that for her without knowing her... They’re alright by me.”

 

“That’s a fine thing to say,” Nicole returns with a slight thickness in her throat.

 

“Yeah, well, don’t get used to it,” Wynonna says with an upturn at the edge of her lip as she scuffs her toe in the dirt. “Can’t have no one thinking I’m more of a damn woman than they already think now, can I?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole nods back, trying to temper down her smile. “Anyway, I’d best leave you to make your way out of town if you’d like. I don’t want to keep you.”

 

“Yeah,” Wynonna replies as she holds her hand to her eyes so she can do a quick sweep of the street. “The sooner the better. As soon as a few upstanding citizens have a drink or two under their belt, I’m an open target, deputy at my back or no.”

 

She inclines her head before she starts to walk away, so Nicole has to call her parting sentiment out for her to hear.

 

“I’m sorry for that, Wynonna. For what it’s worth, you’ve got an ally in me. You and your sister, both.”

 

She doesn’t turn around for a moment, and Nicole’s not sure if she’s ignoring her or she simply didn’t hear, but she turns just before the moves completely out of earshot.

 

“I appreciate it, Deputy,” Wynonna calls from a distance. “And thank you, for before.”

 

“You’re welcome, Miss Earp,” Nicole returns with a smile as she turns her own feet in the other direction. “And don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul.”



-



She’s reasonably pleased with how her first meeting with Wynonna goes, because she’d be lying if she said it wasn’t one of the few things she was eager to get over and done with.

 

Figures like Wynonna in a small town like this have connections, even if they’re not everyone’s favourite daughter, and that’s without the added complication of her being Waverly’s older sister.

 

She’s been a little anxious about what the older Earp was going to make of her ever since Chrissy had given her a clipped version of the town's history, anxiety that’s only been heightened by Waverly’s reciprocated interest in her and her acceptance of Nicole’s invite to sup together tomorrow evening.

 

She’s glad the meeting is over and done with, and she’s even gladder knowing she has, hopefully, come across as the kind of person Wynonna would approve Waverly spending time with.

 

That’s not all she thinks about, though, as she walks down the street toward the jail with pockets heavy full of promise and the way Waverly’s smile bends in the late afternoon sun.

 

The shop that had been shut earlier is still boarded up when Nicole makes her way past it, and she surmises that they perhaps decided to stay inside, away nursing a pounding head and a rolling stomach.

 

Everything else seems fine to her eye, though, no broken windows or a spot out of place, so she shrugs and makes her way a little further to seek out Nedley and give him a quick recount of her run in with Wynonna.

 

The jail is quiet when she walks in. One of the other deputies is sitting, talking quietly to the Sheriff when Nicole tips her hat off into her hands and bids them a good evening.

 

“Haught,” Nedley says with a small smile as he gestures her over to where the two of them are seated. “You’ve got a visitor.”

 

“Afternoon, sir,” Nicole replies, confused, frowning at him. “A visitor?”

 

“A visitor,” he says as he inclines his head towards the room designated as his private office.

 

She searches his face for any hint of teasing or unkindness, finding none, before she takes a step in the direction he’s looking towards.

 

It can’t be family, Nicole thinks to herself, because that would require some small miracle of forgiveness, and Waverly was still at the shop when Nicole had glanced back and followed Wynonna, walking in that direction.

 

She doesn’t have any other friends except…

 

“Afternoon, Deputy,” Chrissy says warmly, walking out of her father’s office, smiling as she glances at the badge on Nicole’s chest.

 

“Chrissy,” Nicole replies brightly, accepting the embrace the shorter woman offers her.

 

It’s strange, Nicole thinks. She’s been in Purgatory just a full day now, and already it feels like she’s known Chrissy and Waverly for much, much longer.

 

“Did you come to see your father?” Nicole asks when they part.

 

“I can see him any old day,” Chrissy returns with a playfully dismissive wave of her hand. “I wanted to see how you were settlin’ in. And to make sure this lot were lookin’ after you.”

 

“We’ve been just fine,” the deputy sitting with Nedley tries to argue with a frown. “Haven’t we, Haught? Chrissy wouldn’t believe us. Said she had to make sure you were okay her damn self.”

 

“They’ve been swell,” Nicole says, smiling at the anguish in the other deputy’s face, and she realises how much Chrissy’s seal approval means to her father’s men. “At ease, soldier.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” Chrissy replies fondly as she links her arm through Nicole’s. “Unless you have anythin’ you want to talk to Daddy about, he said I can steal you for the rest of the afternoon. I thought you’d like to go and check on Lady Jane.”

 

It’s only a small gesture, and it’s so common for women of the time to be affectionate in that small way, but it means so much more for Nicole.

 

Because Chrissy knows how she feels about the fairer sex, and normally that’s enough for young women to pin as many crosses to their clothes as they can when they get a hint of it, and give her a wide berth, but Chrissy is different . She’s showing Nicole that it’s okay, that that won’t scare her away.

 

She gives Chrissy’s arm a gentle squeeze of thanks before turning to her father.

 

“I don’t want to put you out, Sheriff,” Nicole offers as she looks between father and daughter, trying to make it clear that she’s not looking for a way to skive off early. “I’ll run an extra shift, or take someone’s night shift this week, but I’d hate for Chrissy to have come this way for nothing.”

 

“Get out of here, Haught,” Nedley replies, waving his hand at the both of them. “You’ve already worked a fuller day than the rest of us. See you in the morning.”

 

“Thanks, Daddy,” Chrissy exclaims, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek and slipping her hand into Nicole’s, dragging her bodily from the room before Nedley can change his mind.  

 

“I’ll make sure she’s back before you ride home,” Nicole throws in Nedley’s direction before Chrissy pulls her onto the street.

 

The other woman is beaming at Nicole as she slips her hand beneath Nicole’s once more and they make their way towards the stables.

 

“You’re trouble,” Nicole says, giving Chrissy a sideways look that says as much. “You know that, right?”

 

“Sure do,” Chrissy answers proudly. “And so does Daddy, so don’t worry. I think he’s just pleased I’ve found another friend. It’s not easy to do when the Sheriff’s your father, unfortunately.”

 

“You have Waverly, though, right?” Nicole asks as she squints against the low sun, and looks down to Chrissy.

 

“Yeah,” Chrissy replies with a fondness in her voice. “I surely do. A friend I don’t think I’ll see the likes of again, truth be told.”

 

“Miss Nedley,” Nicole says, mock dramatically. “You wound me.”

 

“Hush,” Chrissy says, swatting at Nicole’s arm playfully. “You know what I mean. Besides, you’ve got a good deal of catching up to do if you want to come close to Waverly Earp.”

 

“I’m sure I do,” Nicole says fondly, allowing her mind to wander a little. To imagine what Waverly’s hand would feel like tucked into the crook of her arm.

 

They approach the stables reasonably quickly, it’s not a great distance from the jail, and Chrissy makes a beeline for the stalls while Nicole has a quick look for Mattie.

 

She can’t see her after a quick scout around the main house, so she heads to the stables to find Chrissy and Lady Jane.

 

“She really is beautiful,” Chrissy says, fawning over the animal, running her hand down the horse's neck as it walks to the front of the stall towards Chrissy’s soft attention.

 

“Careful,” Nicole teases, pretending to put her hands over the horse's ears. “She’s terribly full of herself as it is, she doesn’t need that ego of hers to get any bigger.”

 

“Your Mama is mean to you, huh?” Chrissy coos as she scratches between Lady Jane’s eyes. “Maybe you should come live with me instead.”

 

“If you were closer to town, I’d be more than happy to board her with you,” Nicole replies, pulling a few treats from her satchel to feed the animal with.

 

“I know,” Chrissy says, looking across to Nicole. “I was just teasing. She’s just so beautiful. Where did she come from? A breeder?”

 

“No,” Nicole answers with a shake of her head. “Not at all. A mean old bastard I arrested when I first started this job had her chained to a tree in the sun all day as a foal, and when we threw him in lockup for somethin’ different, my old Sheriff took her with us and gave her to me to celebrate us nailing the guy.”

 

“How could anyone be cruel to you, Lady J?” Chrissy says sadly as she takes a treat from Nicole's hand and offers it to the horse.

 

“She’s had a much finer time of it since she’s been with me,” Nicole offers kindly. “Haven’t you, girl?”

 

Lady Jane winnies in agreement before the two women laugh softly.

 

“I bet she has,” Chrissy affirms, stepping back from the stall for a moment to look at Nicole casually. “ So , I spoke to Waverly this morning.”

 

“You did?” Nicole asks nervously, slightly anxious at whatever Chrissy is going to chase that comment with.

 

“I did,” Chrissy says, turning back to Lady Jane so Nicole can’t read her expression. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile so much, and that girl smiles like she’s being paid for it.”

 

The sigh of relief rattles Nicole’s whole body, and she has to suppress the urge to put her hand on her chest to still her beating heart.

 

“Really?” Nicole asks hopefully, and she knows she should hide a little bit of her curiosity, but honestly, she’s so happy that she can’t.

 

“Really,” Chrissy smiles back to her. “I mean, it could be coincidence of course, but I think not, when the only thing she could talk about was Nicole this and Nicole that .”

 

“Oh,” Nicole breathes as she drops her head to hide her blush with the brim of her hat. “Well…”

 

“It’s alright, Nicole,” Chrissy says calmly, placing her hand on Nicole’s tanned and freckled forearm. “I think it’s sweet. And it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Waverly that happy. I mean, she smiles often, but they’re never deep enough that I know she’s smiling for herself, too, and not just someone else’s benefit. But she was happy. She was really happy.”

 

“I’m glad,” Nicole replies, exhaling slowly in an attempt to calm herself a little. “She should be happy regardless, but…”

 

“If you’re the reason, that’s not so bad either?” Chrissy finishes for her.

 

“Somethin’ like that,” Nicole says shyly as she busies her hands brushing the hair back from Lady Jane’s eyes.

 

“She said she was planning on havin’ you around for supper soon?” Chrissy says, and honestly, Nicole’s a little surprised at Waverly having mentioned that, but it makes her more comfortable knowing Waverly feels safe enough disclosing things like that to Chrissy.

 

“You know you can talk about her to me, right?” Chrissy prompts when Nicole hasn’t said anything after a moment. “I mean, if you don’t want to that’s fine, of course it is, I just mean…  it’s safe for you to. If you want.”

 

“You’re sure?” Nicole asks hesitantly as her movements still. “I know most people… I know they think it’s…”

 

“Of course you can,” Chrissy offers softly. “And I don’t give a damn what people think, alright? If you make each other happy, I don’t see a damn problem, man or woman.”

 

“Thank you, Chrissy,” Nicole replies, feeling her throat thicken a little, because it’s rare, this, finding someone so easily accepting. “Truly, thank you.”

 

“It’s my pleasure, Deputy Haught,” Chrissy says genuinely before she reaches for Nicole’s hand. “Thank you for your friendship. It’s rare, findin’ someone our age who’s not taken with boys or children. You’re a bit of gold in the bottom of a pan, that’s for sure.”

 

Nicole’s not sure how to reply to a compliment like that. Come to think of it, she’s not sure she’s had one as kind in her life, so she nods instead, touching her other hand over Chrissy’s by way of a thank you.

 

“Now,” Chrissy says brightly, bringing them back to topic. “What are you going to do for your date?”



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The rest of the afternoon into the early evening passes quickly.

 

Nicole and Chrissy finish up with Lady Jane, and Nicole escorts Chrissy back to her father before giving Nedley a very brief run through of her meeting with Wynonna, which Nedley seems reasonably pleased with, too.

 

“Good of you to step in,” Nedley says, nodding his approval. “Most folks would have just left them to it, especially if it was Wynonna. I’m sure she appreciated you steppin’ in, even if she didn’t say so.”

 

“She did actually,” Nicole reveals, and Nedley gives her a look that she recognises as mild amazement. “And it’s no trouble, sir. Just doin’ my job.”

 

“Well, there you have it,” Nedley says as he smiles to himself. “Hell’ll be freezin’ over any day, then, I expect.”

 

He thanks her for bringing Chrissy back to the jail before he sends her off for the evening.

 

“Oh, Haught,” Nedley throws just as she’s about to walk out the door. “Was there a shop closed on the Main Street when you walked up and down today?”

 

“There was, sir,” Nicole replies, and she’s pleased with herself at having noticed so soon. “It was closed this mornin’, and still boarded up this afternoon. Do you want me to go and see them on my way past?”

 

“No, we'll leave it for the day,” Nedley says with a wave of his hand. “Might be Miss Hunt got carried away with the drink last night and opted for a bit of darkness today. Swing by and check in the morning, though, won’t you?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Nicole replies with a serious look before she nods her farewell.

 

“One last thing, Nicole,” Nedley says, his voice a little softer than before. “I appreciate you taking to Chrissy like you have. The folk tend to avoid her like she’s my spy or somethin’ idiotic. It means a lot to her to have your friendship. And it means a good deal to me, too. It’s hard without her mother around. I do my best, but I know it gets boring for her with my old bones for company.”

 

“It’s my pleasure, sir,” Nicole returns with a smile. “She’s a wonderful girl. You’ve done a proper job raisin’ her.”

 

The sentimentality is all a bit much for Nedley, who clears his throat and gestures to Nicole that she’s dismissed, which Nicole takes with a respectful nod of her head.

 

She walks out into the early evening light, breathing in the familiar scent of dirt and fading heat before she sets her hat into place and makes her way back towards the Inn.

 

Nicole had planned to stop in and see Waverly before retiring properly for the evening, perhaps firm up an evening for their date, but she’s disappointed to see the white shop front boarded up when she walks past.

 

She wishes she had some way of contacting Waverly, to make sure all was well with her, but short of being able to disappear into thin air, she can’t, and it’s with a slightly heavy heart that she makes her way in through the front door of the Inn.

 

“Evening, Deputy,” Gus says as she tips the hat off her head and into her hands.

 

“Evening, ma’am,” Nicole replies before she corrects herself at Gus’s scowl. “Sorry. Evening, Gus .”

 

“Much better,” Gus says with a wry smile. “How was your first day?”

 

“Good,” Nicole says, nodding with a weary, but happy smile.  “Really good. And, hey, thank you ever so much for the cookies this morning. They were delicious. The boys enjoyed them, too.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Gus says dismissively, waving her hand. “I had to make ‘em anyway. Might as well wrap a few up for you, too.”

 

They both know it’s utter nonsense, but Nicole doesn’t want to embarrass Gus by pressing it, so she drops it instead.

 

“Say, you didn’t happen to see Waverly this evening, did you?” Nicole tries to ask as casually as possible. “The shop was shut up on my way past.”

 

“I did,” Gus replies with a slightly knowing smirk. “She dragged Wynonna in here to say goodbye before they rode out to the homestead for the night.”

 

“Oh,” Nicole says, and she tries to keep the disappointment from coming out too strongly in her response. “Oh, well, that’s good. I’m sure Wynonna will appreciate the company tonight.”

 

She turns to take her leave of Gus, planning on poking her nose into the kitchen to have a scrap of something for dinner, when Gus stops her with a gentle hand on Nicole’s arm.

 

“Hold on a minute there,” Gus says as she holds a small folded note up for Nicole to see. “She said she was sorry she’d miss you this afternoon, and wanted me to pass this on.”

 

“What does it…” Nicole asks before Gus shakes her head.

 

“I dunno what’s in it,” Gus says with a shrug. “Figured whatever it said or didn’t say was private between the both of you.”

 

Nicole’s world narrows to the small bit of paper in Gus’s hand, and her heart picks up a little, because Waverly thought of her.

 

Waverly thought of her.

 

Of her.

 

Enough to take the time to leave her a note when she knew they wouldn’t see each other that afternoon. To bring it to Gus, and take whatever grief she was likely to cop from Wynonna and Gus, both.

 

Waverly thought of her.

 

“Thank you,” Nicole replies, a little distracted, as she reaches for the note when Gus offers it. “Sorry for your trouble. I appreciate you takin’ this for me.”

 

“I ain’t in the service of bein’ nobody's Pony Express,” Gus scowls, but Nicole knows there’s no venom behind it. “But I’ll allow it every now and again. Oh, and don’t you go worryin’ if she’s late into town tomorrow, neither. Wynonna normally makes her rest up when she goes out there, so she won’t be up as early as she normally is.”

 

“Duly noted,” Nicole replies seriously as she nervously thumbs the note, smothering the urge to run up the stairs and read it in the safety and privacy of her room. “Thanks, Gus.”

 

The older woman doesn’t speak straight away, but her words catch Nicole just as she’s about to leave.

 

“She seemed happy,” Gus says with an intentional vagueness, because they both know exactly who she’s talking about. “She seemed really happy. And I bumped into Chrissy Nedley earlier who said the same thing.”

 

“I’m glad,” Nicole replies with a meaningful nod. “She deserves to be happy.”

 

“Affection that burns quick is often more painful than not havin’ anything at all,” Gus says, and her eyes move over Nicole, watching to see how she reacts.

 

“I’ve always been a slow fuse kind of girl,” Nicole replies before she decides to change tack and set aside the delicacy and talk to Gus straight. “I have no intention of starting anything I don’t plan on seein’ through to the end, Gus. The very end. The only other thing didn’t end on my word, and it wasn’t on my wish, either.”

 

Gus looks a little taken aback at her directness, and for a second, Nicole’s terrified that she’s gone and shot herself in the foot, before Gus smiles and Nicole breathes .

 

“I’m glad to hear it, Deputy,” is all Gus says before she turns into the small office to the side of the front desk.

 

Well , Nicole thinks to herself. That’s a victory, I guess.

 

The smell emanating from the kitchen tempts her for all of four seconds before her hand closes around the note, and the desire to read it without being overseen takes over completely.

 

She still has a few strips of jerky and a cookie or two in her satchel, more than enough to fill a stomach accustomed to scraps when she remembers to eat, so she turns tail instead and takes the steps two at a time.

 

It’s ridiculous , she thinks to herself, because it’s only likely to be a few friendly lines, but the thought that it’s Waverly that’s written it makes her cheeks ache from smiling.

 

She shuts the door behind her, slipping the small bolt into the lock before she shrugs her satchel off and falls bodily against the softness of the bed as she unfolds the note.

 

Waverly’s handwriting is, as expected, as soft and beautiful as Waverly is herself, and Nicole gives into the urge to run her fingers over the letters.

 

Nicole,

 

I’m terribly sorry to have left town without saying farewell, but I felt that my sister needed companionship this evening. I sincerely hope your first day went well. If you like, you would be welcome to call on me tomorrow. I’ll look forward to seeing you again soon.

 

Yours,

Waverly

 

Nicole’s hands are trembling a little when she lowers the letter to her chest.

 

Yours , the letter said. Yours, Waverly.

 

Yours.

 

Waverly said yours .

 

And Nicole knows it’s just a turn of phrase, that people with no connection or affection write yours at the end of a letter, but Waverly isn’t just anyone. Waverly is careful, and Waverly chooses her words as though they cost her to speak sometimes.

 

She could have written anything, she could have written farewell , or until next time , or with warm regards , but she didn’t.

 

She said yours .

 

And that means something.

 

She doesn’t remember falling asleep as the heaviness of the day descends on weary limbs, but she knows when she wakes, when the moon is high, to shrug her heavy day clothes off and crawl back into bed in a light nightshirt, that she’s still holding Waverly’s letter.



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