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find a home, lonely heart

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Waverly Earp is confused.


Lying in her bed, with her new companion nestled into her side by her ribs, Waverly Earp is more confused, perhaps, than she has been in her entire life.


Oakley raises her head, yawning widely, sniffing the air to check for other scents that would cause her - or her new owner - alarm, before she drops her satisfied head and drifts off again.


It’s before dawn, the glow of the sun only just beginning to rise in the background, and Waverly Earp is confused.


She hasn’t slept a great deal, she never does , so it’s not that which concerns her. It’s the thought of how her evening with Nicole had ended last night.


Waverly is confused, because the evening had been going so well, as had all of their other interactions thus far. Nicole had been attentive as she always was, polite and sweet and just a little forward, as Waverly had been hoping she would be, and then at the end, just when Waverly had been expecting Nicole to lean down and leave her with a goodnight kiss, she hadn’t .


She had paused, looked to Waverly like kissing her was the thing she wanted most in the world, but she hadn’t .


And Waverly knew she hadn’t been able to completely hide her disappointment at the fact that Nicole didn’t, hating knowing that Nicole had picked up on it. But she couldn’t help it, because every indication Nicole had given her was that that was the direction the night was going to take.


That that was the direction Nicole wanted the night to take.


She thought Nicole was going to kiss her, but she hadn’t. And she thought Nicole liked her, but maybe she didn’t .


She thought Nicole liked her, and she thought Nicole knew that Waverly liked her, too. That Waverly had wanted Nicole to kiss her. But maybe she hadn’t been clear enough.


It’s a damn delicate balance, Waverly thinks to herself, walking a sliver-thin line, because it’s just not appropriate to ask someone you barely know whether they’re interested in women or men, even when you think you already know the answer.


But then Nicole had confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that her inclination was toward the fairer sex, but she still hadn’t kissed Waverly.


She hadn’t, and Waverly’s heart had fallen, but then Nicole had leaned in and kissed her on the cheek, and that had confused Waverly even more .


In the rising light of the morning, Waverly isn’t wholly certain where she stands with Nicole. She does have some small clues, however, that spark the glimmer of hope in her hands.


She knows Nicole is interested in women. She knows Nicole wanted to spend another evening with her. She knows Nicole was beyond touched by Waverly’s gift, and put up with far more of Waverly’s blathering than any other sane person who wasn’t interested in her like that.


But she hadn’t kissed her.


Well, she hadn’t kissed her in the manner in which Waverly was hoping for. And she knows it means something, Nicole’s kiss on the cheek, she’s just not sure what it means.


Waverly wants to think she had done it because she had really wanted to kiss her, kiss her, but hadn’t wanted to cross a line, not if she wasn’t certain that’s what Waverly had wanted.


But, it could have been a token gesture, too. A demonstrated show of friendship, a pointed gesture instead of another more intimate one, not because that’s what she thought Waverly wanted, but because that was all Nicole was interested in.


Because Nicole kisses Chrissy on the cheek, the way she had kissed Waverly, but she’s already assured Waverly she doesn’t think of Chrissy in that way.


Enough, Waverly thinks to herself suddenly. It’s enough. She’s not a silly little girl. She’s a grown young woman, thank you very much. She just needs to make it clear to Nicole what she wants, so Nicole can make it clear in return.


Because Nicole had said another time , and she had almost suggested another date, too. Waverly just needs to know in what capacity she wants those to be.


And it can’t be difficult at all to clarify a few simple points like that.


Can it?


Waverly gets up and starts her morning routine with a quiet red shadow at her heels. She gets out of bed, washing quickly with the small bowl of fresh water before dressing herself for the day.


As soon as she makes herself minimally presentable to leave the warm confines of the shop, Waverly picks up the still sleepy pup, walking down the stairs. When she gets to the outline of the hidden door, she presses heavily against it with the weight of her body at the point of her hip, her hands obviously otherwise engaged. It’s a little awkward with a living bundle in her arms, but it’s a movement she’s done countless times with arms full of something or another to store outside and away from the shop.


The door pops open, and Waverly widens the gap with her foot before stepping out into the fresh morning air. Oakley wanders around for a while before setting to her business, walking another little circle around the outside area behind the shop, then moving back to sit on Waverly’s feet, indicating her readiness to return inside.


Waverly grins down at her new companion and her expressive little red face before picking Oakley back up and making her way inside to continue her morning routine on the second floor of the shop.


She sets Oakley back on the bed to watch her again, more than a little impressed at how docile the pup is, having expected her to be a ball of energy this morning after her enormous sleep yesterday, but she’s not. Instead she just looks up at Waverly as she breezes around the room getting ready, with a silently inquisitive look on her features.


Waverly sets the kettle to boil for her morning cup of tea before she finds a small bowl, filling it with some of the still cool kettle water and setting it in front of Oakley, smiling when she starts to lap at the water slowly.


She walks over to the table, looking through the little neatly piled leftovers, picking out a bit of dried meat before walking over and bending down next to Oakley.


“Good morning, beautiful,” Waverly says softly, running her hand down Oakley’s back, smiling when the pup’s tail starts to wag happily. “Would you like a small bite to eat? I’ll see about gettin’ somethin’ you’ll like better today, but you might want a bit of this for now? You must be hungry, huh?”


Oakley sniffs the meat hesitantly, and Waverly can tell she wants to take it from Waverly, but she’s holding back for one reason or another, so Waverly tries speaking to her again softly.


“It’s alright, girl,” Waverly coos, breaking the piece of meat into smaller sized pieces as she speaks. “This is for you, it’s okay to take it.”


The pup looks at Waverly before moving forward, taking a piece gently between her teeth, beginning to chew at Waverly’s encouraging. She finishes the piece, and another, and another before Waverly leaves her with the small pile and returns to her morning chores.


She makes the bed, tidies the table, and rearranges the few leftovers, still more than enough for her dinner tonight unless Gus brings something over, before the kettle has warmed enough to pour herself a drink.


The little wooden box next to the range where the kettle is cooling contains a small amount of tisane, just enough to prevent Waverly having to go down into the shop to make herself her morning drink each day. She makes herself a cup before taking a seat at the table.


Oakley comes to sit at her feet as Waverly blows the rising steam off the cup in an attempt to cool the liquid further, and she smiles down at the pup before picking a few pieces of dried fruit from the pile of leftovers in lieu of an actual breakfast.


Waverly sits, drinking her tea slowly, her mind drifting to Nicole again, as it always does the second she has more than a few minutes alone.


Nicole, who swept into town on a spring breeze. Nicole, who came and changed the shape of Waverly’s entire life without even knowing the half of it.


Because Waverly’s never been interested in boys. For a long time, it was just something she assumed she would grow into, that she was a slower bloomer than some of the other girls her own age; than Chrissy. But then adolescence came and went, and Waverly was left with nothing.


Well, not nothing .


Because boys have never, ever turned her head, but she’s always been fascinated by women.


And it hasn’t always been a crush on the female side of the population, per se. It’s shifted over time; beginning with a deep fondness for her school teacher when she was a small girl, to a lit fascination for Miss Jessie, the woman who runs the local dress shop, before finally it began to settle into something more solid —an admiration for some of the other girls Waverly’s own age, something more closely aligned with the kind of feelings she currently has for Nicole.


Because she has feelings for Nicole, make no mistake. It’s not friendship she’s after, or simple companionship like she has with Chrissy.


Waverly likes Nicole. She really likes Nicole. In an I’d like her to kiss me and never ever stop kind of way. She really likes Nicole.


And she’s had feelings like this before —echoes of the depth of the feelings she feels for Nicole now—  for years, but she’s never really truly known what that meant . What that made her.


She’s heard whispers before, of men in town that married a woman, but took other men to their bed sometimes, and the reaction was always negative. In fact, negative was probably too kind a word for the type of things she hears people say in reference to people that commit acts like that.


But she’s never understood it, because actually, it never sounded heretical or ungodly or like they were taken with the devil, it always just sounded like a different kind of love.


She remembers asking Wynonna about it one night a few years ago when she’d stayed upstairs here, sleeping on the floor, having been stuck in town on account of the storm raging outside. About what that meant — two people of the same gender together, because it simply wasn’t spoken about openly— and whether that was as bad for two women as it was for two men.


Waverly can remember the moment so clearly, Wynonna’s expression freezing on her face, before she’d explained carefully that it was considered almost as bad for two women as two men, before asking Waverly why she had brought it up.


She almost hadn’t said anything. She wouldn’t have dared to with anyone else, even Chrissy, this early on. But Wynonna was her sister, Wynonna loved her unconditionally , like no one else in her life ever had. So she’d burst promptly into tears, and cried through sobs that it was because she thought she was one of those women, the ones who didn’t love men.


And she hadn’t been expecting Wynonna’s support. She hadn’t been expecting Wynonna to sweep her into her arms and tell her it was going to be alright - which Waverly knew was a lie - and that she loved Waverly absolutely, regardless - which Waverly knew was true — before carefully explaining to Waverly that, while it was okay with her, it wouldn’t be to everyone else, and that she needed to be careful. Very, very careful.


Which Waverly had been. For the two or three years that followed that conversation. Ignoring every ache in her heart and turn of her head. Until she met Nicole.


And they hadn’t been easy years either, because she’s been constantly conflicted the entire time. Did she really feel like that? Because she hadn’t even kissed another girl yet, she hadn’t ever touched anyone’s hand in anything beyond friendship, so how did she really know ? How did she know she wasn't just wrong? That she wasn’t just confused, instead?


She had been confused and conflicted and lost .


Until she met Nicole.


Until the moment she walked into Waverly’s shop, tipped her hat into her hands, and smiled. And Waverly had fallen.


Waverly had known .


“What do you think, little one?” Waverly says gently to Oakley, fast asleep on her feet again. “Do you think she likes me? Or not?”


The furry red head looks up at her soft question, yawning in a way that Waverly chooses to take as a yes, of course she does , before sweeping Oakley into her arms.


“I don’t know about you, girl, but I feel like you could hardly have wandered into our lives at a better time, huh?” Waverly asks, bumping her nose against the pup’s, smiling when she tries to lick her chin. “You’re going to be a surprise for my customers today, that’s for sure.”


She stands, holding Oakley to her chest as she walks around the room with her cup of tea, looking for something softer she can take downstairs for the pup to sit on. She walks to the wardrobe, setting her cup down before pulling the door open, spying an old blanket folded neatly at the bottom that she uses to throw on the bed during the winter.


“Gus’ll kill me for givin’ you this,” Waverly smiles, pulling the blanket out one-handed before dropping it on the end of her bed. “But I think it’ll be perfect, don’t you?”


She sets the pup down on the end of the bed while she finishes her morning routine, sweeping her hair up into a ponytail and fixing it with the length of ribbon Nicole had gifted her with the night before, a token for Nicole to see when she calls in this morning. She picks up the larger glass bottle containing the same scent she had given Nicole the night before, dotting a drop on her wrists and over her pulse at her neck, before checking her appearance quickly in the mirror.


Waverly takes a small sip of another bottle she has on her dresser, peppermint and ingestible, to freshen her breath before she’s finally ready.


“Alright,” Waverly says to Oakley, turning to pick both her and the blanket up before making her way down the stairs. “Welcome to your new morning routine, Miss Oakley. Let’s see if we can’t find you somewhere to sit for the day, huh?”


It’s perhaps an hour before she catches sight of Nicole exiting the Inn, and Waverly’s heart begins to thump quicker and quicker as she makes her way across the road.


Part in anticipation, and part in nerves, because she’s excited to see Nicole, of course she is, but she’s nervous, too. Because what if Nicole takes the opportunity to let Waverly down easy first thing, so she doesn’t spend the day worrying about where Nicole stands.


But then again, what if she does the opposite .


She glances to Oakley, curled in a ball on her blanket, behind the counter, but visible through the gap where Waverly ducks under to cross to the other side, trying to emulate the pup’s sleepy calm before sliding beneath the countertop to unbolt the door, ushering Nicole inside.


“Good mornin’, Deputy,” Waverly says warmly as she holds the door open for Nicole to walk through, dropping her hat into her hands.


And Waverly had liked the dress, she’d really liked the dress, but there’s something about seeing Nicole in this attire, the one she knows Nicole feels far more comfortable in, that makes her heart beat faster still.


She takes careful note of Nicole’s expressions this morning, even more than she does normally, and she’s pleasantly surprised to find no difference in the way Nicole normally greets her, smiling as brightly, appearing to drink in as much of Waverly’s appearance as she normally does.


No change whatsoever.


Until Nicole speaks, that is.


“Good mornin’ to you, too, Miss Earp,” Nicole says, and she’s warm, but there’s something in her voice that Waverly can’t quite place. Hesitation maybe, and nervousness, too?


Could she be just as nervous about how Waverly feels as she is about how Nicole feels? It can’t possibly be the case, though, because Nicole is confident and she knows what she’s doing because she’s done this before, courting women, so why should she be nervous?


Unless Waverly truly has done a terrible job of making it clear just how much she is so very interested in Nicole. God , Waverly thinks to herself as her stomach drops, what if she really doesn’t know?


And what if that makes her pull away, because she thinks she’s trying to make her interest known to someone who is completely not interested.


She needs to fix this, and she needs to fix this fast .


“How did you sleep?” Waverly asks Nicole, reaching to run her touch down Nicole’s arm briefly, a glancing touch, but enough for Nicole to realise Waverly isn’t interested in moving backwards with their small displays of physical affection. “Okay, I hope? You’re not too tired today? I really am sorry to have kept you so late last night.”


“It’s more than okay,” Nicole assures her, her eyes glancing down to track the movement of Waverly’s hand as it falls from her body. “I slept wonderfully, actually.”


“But you’re a little tired?” Waverly asks, looking at the ever so slightly dark spaces beneath Nicole’s eyes.


“No,” Nicole tries to reason, just as an enormous yawn tears its way from her lungs.


Waverly fixes her with a look that challenges that statement completely, and Nicole returns her look sheepishly, shrugging gently. “Okay, maybe a little, but I don’t mind at all.”


“You know, I’ve you've got a few minutes, I can make you somethin’ that might help with that?” Waverly asks, the guilt at Nicole’s fatigue heavy against her chest.


“You don’t have to trouble yourself,” Nicole replies, and Waverly’s worries she’s just a little anxious to leave, but she doesn’t think that’s the case, she thinks that’s just Nicole’s don’t bother on my account mentality.


“I don’t mind at all,” Waverly returns warmly, hoping Nicole can feel how much she’s trying to infuse into her words. How glad she is to see her.


“Only if you don’t mind,” Nicole says hesitantly, her eyes lifting a little at the offer. “And only if you’ll have some, too.”


“Of course,” Waverly replies softly before she sets herself off to making the drink for the both of them.  


“How did you sleep?” Nicole asks quietly when Waverly busies herself on the other side of the counter. “How was our Miss Oakley? Did she settle alright once I left?”


“Bend down and say hello yourself,” Waverly says, smiling as she gestures to Oakley still asleep on the folded blanket. “I don’t think she heard you, or she would have come and said hi the second you walked in.”


Nicole’s face lights up when she peers over the counter and sees the pup, crouching down to look through the hollowed space beneath the counter top.


“Good mornin’ to you, too, Oakley,” Nicole says as she reaches forward, holding her hand out to for the pup to recognise her scent.


Waverly stops what she’s doing for a moment, watching the small interaction between the two of them. Oakley raises her head at the sound of Nicole calling her name softly, her little tail wagging excitedly as she gets up off the blanket to walk towards Nicole.


“I think she’s happy to see you,” Waverly laughs as the pup clambers up into Nicole’s lap where she’s crouched down, licking Nicole’s hands while Nicole tries to pet her.


“I think you might be right,” Nicole laughs in reply, smiling down at Oakley, trying to lick as much of Nicole’s bare skin by way of a greeting as possible. “Did you have a good night with your Mama? I hope you kept an eye out for her, even if you were a tired little thing. You know, I thought Coonhounds were supposed to be quite vocal, but she’s as quiet as a mouse.”


“I know,” Waverly replies, watching the two of them with a widening grin. “She’s hardly made a sound since you arrived with her last night. I think this is the most active I’ve seen her, too.”


“Maybe she was just on her best behaviour for you, huh?” Nicole says, throwing a little wink at Waverly as Oakley starts to calm down. “Isn’t that right, girl? You just wanted to show your Mama how good you can be?”


The pup crawls back to her little pile of blankets after another minute or so, evidently exhausted by her small show of affection for Nicole, and without the distraction, Waverly is suddenly aware of the fact that she and Nicole are alone again.


“I’m glad she was well-behaved last night,” Nicole says, and Waverly doesn’t miss the way she settles on comfortably neutral conversation. “I was a little worried I’d leave you with this pup that would come alive the second I left, and you’d hate me by mornin’.”


“Not at all,” Waverly replies, shaking her head at Nicole as she stands to meet Waverly’s gaze. “Even if she was an absolute monster, I could still never…”


“You’re wearin’ the ribbon,” Nicole says a little distractedly, not cutting Waverly off exactly, rather just speaking aloud the thought.


“Oh,” Waverly replies, her hand finding the ribbon in her hair as her eyes set over the bandana she had given Nicole on her second day, around Nicole’s neck . “Yeah, I… it’s beautiful, Nicole. I couldn’t wait to wear it.


“Oh,” Nicole echoes back, her expression a little lost as she looks over Waverly, like she’s searching for something that she can’t quite see, hidden in Waverly’s eyes.


“It’s nice to see you in your attire, too,” Waverly comments, smiling shyly, appraising Nicole’s return to the clothing she’s so fond of.


“Waverly, I…” Nicole begins, and Waverly’s breath catches , because she thinks that this is it, before Nicole’s voice trails off, not quite full of the courage Waverly knows they both need to continue the conversation.


God, it’s so frustrating, this little dance they’re stepping through together this morning, because Waverly wants so badly to just flat out ask Nicole where her head is relative to Waverly’s own, but the fact that Nicole hasn’t holds her back.


Because maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe she’s not ready to, or Waverly had done or said something last night that Nicole doesn’t want to have to discuss this morning.


She wants to respect Nicole’s wishes, she does, truly, but she thinks it could only be helpful to have them on even ground, to lay out where she is clearly for Nicole, so she takes a breath, setting the armour against her skin lest she need it, and she’s a second away from opening her mouth to speak, when her course of action is diverted.


Because, of course the running of the universe has a completely contradictory idea for the day that doesn’t involve allowing Waverly to rectify things up so quickly.


One of Waverly’s customers comes barrelling through the door, almost startling them both, completely oblivious to the conversation the two of them are about to engage in.


“Mornin’, Miss Earp,” the woman says warmly. “And you, too, Deputy. Out and about early I see?”


“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole replies cordially, inclining her head to the woman.


Anyone not familiar with Nicole’s tone of voice would miss the mostly concealed disappointment in Nicole’s words, but Waverly doesn’t. She offers Nicole a look in return that says I’m so sorry and please, can we continue this later, because actually having the conversation is out of the question with an audience now.


“Deputy…” Waverly starts, before Nicole beats her to it.


“I’d best be on my way,” Nicole says, casually and without much of the warmth Waverly has become so accustomed to hearing from her. “I’ll call by later, Miss Earp, if that would suit you? To come and check on your new housemate?”


“Of course” Waverly says, trying not to give her enthusiasm away too greatly in front of the other woman present. “Of course. That would be wonderful.”


Nicole gives her one last look that Waverly registers as vaguely sad, or regretful, or something of the like, before she inclines her head to Waverly, too, and then she’s gone.


She doesn’t realise until after Nicole’s out the door that she didn’t even stay for her tea.


The next few hours pass busily for Waverly, with a constant stream of customers coming through the door, and she estimates it’s about lunchtime before she has more than a few minutes to herself.


She rests her head on the counter atop her hands, her head aching with the thoughts racing through her mind all morning about Nicole, and what the heck does it all mean, and why had she left so quickly, and what does she want, god, what does she think I want.


The silence and Oakley’s steady breathing below her calm her a little, and she decides to make use of the reprieve to walk Oakley out the back of the shop for some fresh air.


Picking the warm body up against her chest, Waverly makes her way to the hidden door, in a mirror of her actions from earlier in the morning.


She sets Oakley down once she pulls the door open with her foot again, watching as the pup wanders around for a while before picking a spot to her liking while Waverly leans heavily against the outside of the building for support.


It’s exhausting, this worry, and she knows Nicole is likely to be absolutely hectic today, continuing the search for the missing women, but Waverly wishes so badly that she would come back in and see her, just for a moment, so that Waverly might hurry over the details of her own feelings, exorcising them out and away from her heart.


She closes her eyes again, inhaling and exhaling slowly in a measured way, trying to distract her own thoughts, very nearly succeeding until she hears the sound of someone walking into the shop.


Her heart leaps heavily in her chest, and she’s about to turn when a voice that isn’t Nicole’s floats down the length of the shop toward her.


“Wave?” Chrissy says curiously, unable to see Waverly where she’s leaning just to the side of the open doorway. “Are you there?”


“Hey, Chris,” Waverly answers warmly, swinging her head into view. “I’m out here.”


“Oh,” Chrissy replies, her tone excited, walking down the length of the shop. “Have you got your new companion out there?”


“Sure do,” Waverly returns before waving Chrissy down towards her and Oakley. “Want to come and say hello yourself?”


“Of course I do,” Chrissy answers happily, her smile wide as she approaches them, her expression melting a little when she sees the pup for the first time. “Oh, Waverly, she’s gorgeous .”


“Isn’t she just?” Waverly replies, grinning back and crouching down to call Oakley over to them, the thought of Nicole holding her on Waverly’s doorstep coming unbidden, but lovely, to her mind’s eye. “Come here, girl. I want to introduce you to your new friend.”


Oakley isn’t sure of Chrissy at first, but then Chrissy bends down to the pup’s level, offering her hand, and Oakley stumbles forward a little awkwardly to meet her.


“What did you name her?” Chrissy asks, watching Oakley with wide eyes as the puppy takes a few hesitant steps towards her.


“Oakley,” Waverly answers, tilting her head to watch their interaction. “Annie Oakley, formally, but we thought Oakley was nice as her everyday name?”


“Well, Miss Annie, I think you’re beautiful,” Chrissy coos, patting the animal’s back once she moves a little closer to Chrissy, evidently comfortable enough to allow Chrissy to pet her. “The name is perfect, by the way, Wave.”


“You think so?” Waverly asks before bending down to pet Oakley as well. “I’m glad. Nicole seemed to like it, too.”


“I bet she did,” Chrissy says, her eyes narrowing at Waverly a little playfully, and Waverly knows she won’t have missed the inserted we in her sentence before, either. “So, how was your evenin’ then? The pup obviously went down well?”


“How did you know about her?” Waverly asks wryly, watching to catch the answer in Chrissy’s reply.


“Deputy Haught told me about her yesterday afternoon,” Chrissy replies casually, but she’s only teasing, her face folding into a smile at Waverly’s frown before she explains fully. “Sorry, Wave, I’m only teasin’. I saw her at the jail just after she came back into town from droppin’ her with Mattie, and she told me about her then.”


“Oh,” Waverly says in understanding as her mind ticks over, taking the information into account.


She knows it’s ridiculous to feel even a little bit jealous, because she’s not even a jealous person for a start , but it’s hard to let the image of Nicole and Chrissy spending time together without her yesterday go, and it’s only exacerbated by the fact that she’s still worried Nicole doesn’t actually like her, like her.


It’s not jealousy, Waverly realises then. It’s insecurity. She’s worried that she isn’t enough to keep Nicole’s attention. That she might not be what Nicole is looking for.


“Sorry, Chrissy,” Waverly says, shaking her head after a moment, trying to clear the thought from her mind. “I’m sorry, my mind’s somewhere else this mornin’.”


“Is everything alright?” Chrissy questions, her brow wrinkling in concern. “Last night did go alright, didn’t it?”


“It did,” Waverly replies, nodding slowly. “It did, the beginning and middle were wonderful, it just… I’m worried I messed somethin’ up somewhere along the line.”


“What do you mean?” Chrissy asks gently. “How could you have…?”


Chrissy’s confusion is helpful, actually, because it says something to Waverly about the fact that she assumed the evening would go perfectly between the two of them. Which lends itself to the theory that Nicole is interested. Maybe. Or maybe she’s just referring to the fact that she knows the two of them had always had good spots of conversation when they had spoken in the shop…


“It was fine, brilliant, amazin ’ even,” Waverly admits a little dreamily. Because it had been. “She was kind, and she listened to me ramblin’ on about this place and my interests for hours, and she was interested, genuinely , not just humouring me. At least I don’t think, anyway. And then there was a moment at the end when I thought maybe there was… when I thought… but now, I’m not sure if she feels the same way I do.”


“What?” Chrissy asks with a frown, unsure what Waverly’s implying a little vaguely before she understands . “Oh…”


She’s not implicit in what she says, because as much as Chrissy is her best friend and she so desperately wants to tell Chrissy every last detail, she knows their date - if that is what it was - is something to hold between her and Nicole. For now at least.


“I’ve spent the whole mornin’ frettin’ about the whole thing, and-” Waverly says, her pulse running away with her as she begins to ramble.


“Waverly,” Chrissy cuts over her, holding her hands up, trying to placate Waverly. “Look, Wave, you need to calm yourself down, alright? You’re reading too much into this, you hear me? I’ve seen the way that Nicole looks…Look, it’s not my place, but from what she’s said to me, she definitely seemed interested, okay? Just… talk to her , won’t you? I think you’ll find this is a situation you’ll be able to right pretty quickly when you do.”


“What does that…?” Waverly tries to ask, but Chrissy shakes her head instead, inhibiting further questioning.


“Uh, uh,” Chrissy smiles to her, shaking her head again. “Talk to Nicole, okay? This is somethin’ you need to talk through with her. Now, what you can tell me all about, is what you thought about that dress.”


“I thought it was lovely,” Waverly says honestly, her mind wandering to the thought of Nicole, completely unexpected at her doorstep, resplendent in deep blue. “I thought it was absolutely lovely.”


“I can talk to you about that,” Chrissy offers, a little excitedly. “I’m so glad she wore it in the end. She was worried about it all day. I think she kept goin’ between her normal clothes and the dress for most of it.”


“She wanted to wear her normal things?” Waverly asks, frowning. “Then why did she…”


“She thought that was what you might’ve wanted her to wear,” Chrissy says gently, and Waverly feels a stab of guilt somewhere deep in her gut, wondering desperately what on earth she could have said or done to make Nicole think she wanted that. That she wasn’t more than happy with…that she didn’t love what Nicole ordinarily…..


“God, did I…” Waverly breathes, before Chrissy shakes her head quickly.


“No,” Chrissy says hurriedly. “No, Wave, it wasn’t anythin’ you said, I don’t think. I think she was just worried about makin’ sure she didn’t disappoint any preconception you had, alright? Look, I’m only tellin’ you this because…I know that you’re worrin’ about where her head’s at, and…what does somethin’ like that tell you, huh?”


“I don’t know…” Waverly says airily while her head spins, which is a half-truth, because she doesn’t know what it means exactly, but she knows it means something.


Because Nicole was obviously worried enough about what Waverly would think of her appearance, and of what Waverly would expect to - or like to - see her in. Enough to go to the trouble to buy an item of clothing she didn’t even own and didn’t normally wear. One that made her so uncomfortable, she debated whether to even wear it, but still had. Because she thought that was what Waverly wanted.


And someone wouldn’t go that far for an evening with someone they just considered a friend, and only wanted friendship from.


Would they?


“Look,” Chrissy says again, watching Waverly’s face carefully. “Just…talk to her, will you? If I know anythin’ about her already, it’s that if you’re feelin’ conflicted or worried about somethin’, chances are she definitely is, too.”


“She is?” Waverly asks quietly, and she knows she has to remove the image of Nicole, high and confident in her mind’s eye, because she knows Nicole is that personified in her role as a deputy, but she’s different when she takes the badge off.


She’s softer. Gentler. More cautious.


With Waverly, she is anyway.


“I’d imagine so,” Chrissy answers before patting Oakley one last time, standing as Waverly collects the pup and echoes the movement. “Just talk to her, okay?”


“I will,” Waverly replies, and she’s trying to ground herself in this conversation, but her mind is already with Nicole, mapping out their next conversation, trying to articulate everything she wants to say, because there’s so much she wants to say.


I like you just the way you are, please don’t ever think differently, and I’m sorry if I said anything to make you think so and I like you, do you like me?


“You really are a beautiful thing, aren’t you?” Chrissy says soothingly to Oakley, sitting placid in Waverly’s arms with her head against Waverly’s heart. “Talk some sense into your Mama, would you? Both of them.”


“Thanks, Chrissy,” Waverly returns, hugging Oakley a little closer to her chest, eternally thankful in the moment for the warm comforting weight of her little heartbeat. “For everything, truly.”


“You don’t need to thank me, Wave,” Chrissy says before she smiles broadly, like she knows something. “Just talk to her, okay?”


“I will,” Waverly sighs. “I will, Chrissy, thank you. You know, you’re pretty good at this whole advice thing. Perhaps you ‘ought to think about settin’ up a shop in town, huh? I bet there’s a ton of people who’d pay good money to come and tell you their woes.”


“Come on, Wave. No one wants to talk to silly old me,” Chrissy says dismissively, blushing and frowning at what she obviously thinks to be Waverly playfully joking.


“You’re not silly, Chrissy,” Waverly replies seriously, her voice warm, but firm, important to her in this moment that Chrissy realises how much she means to Waverly, and how valuable she is, not just to Waverly, but to the town in general. “You’re one of the smartest people I know. Now, I know this town doesn’t have a great standard to measure yourself by, but I know you’re so far beyond anyone else here, that’s gotta count for somethin’”


“You’re just sayin’ that because I’ve cheered you up, some,” Chrissy says, still intent on shrugging off Waverly’s compliment, but Waverly isn’t having an inch of it.


“Now, you listen to me, Chrissy Nedley,” Waverly replies seriously, rocking Oakley in her arms. “You’re a smart girl, you hear me? And worth more’n most of this town put together. I’m sure I can find at least a dozen people that would say as much, you hear me? In fact, I bet Deputy Haught would affirm as much, even in the few days she’s known you.”


“I think she already has,” Chrissy returns, frowning and smiling at the same time. “Yesterday, when we were talkin’ about somethin’ else, she said I’d be good if I ever wanted to take up law seriously. That I’d be a help, not a hindrance. Didn’t make fun of me or anythin’. No one but Daddy’s ever been that supportive of somethin’ the rest of the town thinks I’ve no place doin’. Oh, other than yourself, of course.”


“She did?” Waverly asks, blinking as she takes in this new piece of information, this new morsel that reveals more of Nicole’s character than Waverly thinks Nicole would ever assume anyone would take from it.


Not only that she’ll happily support something like Chrissy’s interest in law, regardless of whether their society thinks she should do it or not, but that she’ll take care and kindness to affirm Chrissy’s worth in that situation, as well. That, regardless of others’ opinions, she thinks Chrissy would add value; that she made Chrissy feel like it wasn’t a stupid or aimless idea.


“I mean, she’s right. Of course she is,” Waverly adds, busy with her own thoughts while still trying to carry the conversation with Chrissy. “But…”


“She’s a good’n, Waverly Earp,” Chrissy says, smiling, dragging Waverly back inside. “Don’t you let that pass you by because the two of you can’t get on the same damn page. You talk to her, you hear me?”


Waverly walks Chrissy to the front door after that, promising to tell her everything she can after she and Nicole talk.


She feels a little less wound in knots about everything now, only slightly, but it’s enough that she can, for the most part anyway, try to focus on her day. Several other customers come and go, taking Waverly well into the afternoon, when she receives a visitor she’s not at all expecting.


“Mattie,” Waverly says brightly when the woman walks through the door of the shop, looking as though she feels completely out of place being in town, not dissimilar to how Wynonna herself looks when she does venture in for one thing or another.


“Waverly Earp,” Mattie says, plucking her hat off the top of her head to give Waverly a nod of greeting.


She’s never quite known how to take Mattie, or her frosty presentation, constantly unsure whether the woman hates her or thinks well of her - the same way she imagines half the town feels about Wynonna, too - so she settles for adopting the same manner she uses when speaking with Wynonna. A sunny dash of optimism.


“What good fortune brings you to my door?” Waverly asks genially. “Can I fetch you anything to drink?”


“If it wouldn’t put you out,” Mattie answers, surprised, Waverly thinks, at the offer. “Anythin’ cold’ll do, it’s so darn hot outside now that the wind’s disappeared.”


Waverly sets about making Mattie a drink, similar to the one she made for Nicole a few days ago. Similar, as well, to what she would have made for Nicole this morning if she hadn’t left so quickly.


She slides the drink across to Mattie when she’s finished, smiling when she sighs as the cold liquid hits her parched body. “Good lord, that’s damn good.”


“Thank you,” Waverly says happily in reply, adding to her comment without even thinking before catching herself. “Nicole liked it, too. Deputy Haught, I mean…”


“Calm your racin’ heart, girl,” Mattie says, smiling wryly at Waverly’s flushed complexion and mild panic at having potentially revealed something to someone maybe already suspicious. “It’s alright. Your secret’s safe with me.”


“Secret?” Waverly asks, intending to play coy on an attempt to throw Mattie off, but the other woman just levels her with a look that says don’t even bother . “Sorry, Mattie, I…”


“It’s alright,” Mattie says with a softening expression. “Don’t fret your pretty little head, alright?”


“Thank you,” Waverly replies sincerely, sighing in relief that she hasn’t just made a potentially huge mistake. “I appreciate it. I’m sorry for bein’ so jumpy. I’m… I’m learning, I think. Now, was there anything I could help you with, or…?”


“I had to come and fetch a few things from the store, and I thought while I was in town, I might as well come and bid how-do to your new companion,” Mattie says, and Waverly can tell she’s going for vaguely nonchalant, just like Wynonna does, but there’s an edge of softness that gives her away. “But, I mean, if you’re…”


“She’s right here,” Waverly says warmly, gesturing to her side, just as she had done with Nicole this morning. “You want to say hello?”


Oakley must sense the two of them talking about her, because she raises her head at Waverly’s mention, her tail wagging enthusiastically when she catches sight of who else is there.


“How do you do, little one?” Mattie says with a softness that Waverly doesn’t think she’s ever heard come from the other woman before. “Did you behave yourself last night?”


“She was perfect,” Waverly replies happily, watching Mattie run her hand down the pup’s back, scratching in a way that makes Oakley’s tail wag harder. “Weren’t you, girl?”


“Have you named her, yet?” Mattie asks, looking up to Waverly briefly.


“Oakley,” Waverly returns a little shyly, before Mattie nods in agreement.


“Like Annie,” Mattie nods, smiling as she does so. “I think that’s an excellent name. Now look, I brought a couple of things into town for the both of you. You and the pup, that is.”


She holds a leather length that Waverly identifies as a collar and a longer piece that Waverly deduces must be some sort of tether or lead, as well as a package containing what Waverly assumes must be food of some description for Oakley.


“Now, the food’s just a few things to keep her fed for the next few days so you don’t have to worry about it. And to help give you an idea of what type’a thing she should be eating, for when you start makin’ it or buyin’ it yourself,” Mattie says, shifting onto her knees from her crouch before she hands Waverly the leash and collar. “And the lead and collar, you don’t have to use ‘em, and she might hate the collar so much she won’t let you, but I thought it might be helpful, you havin’ her in town and all.”


“Thank you,” Waverly says as she takes the items from Mattie, her voice wavering as the gesture renders her a little speechless. “Mattie, that’s… that’s awful thoughtful of you.”


“It’s nothin’,” Mattie says dismissively, swatting Waverly’s gratitude away casually. “Just somethin’ I had lying ‘round. Besides, we don’t want you gettin’ into somethin’ you’re not meant to while your Mama’s not lookin’, do we? Nor no one pinching you, neither.”


“I appreciate it, nonetheless,” Waverly says gratefully, unwinding the leash and taking the little leather collar to set around the pup’s neck. “What do you make of this then, huh, girl? I think it looks mighty fine.”


Oakley twists her head around, but she doesn’t make too much of a fuss at the foreign object around her neck, which Mattie takes note of. “They’ll always accept a collar more easily if it’s someone they trust offerin’ it.”


“I don’t think I’ve ever had to collar a dog before,” Waverly says, frowning. “They’ve always just come and gone on the homestead as they pleased. I’ve never had one in town, though, and I think you’re right about the leash. I’d hate to take her for a walk with all the unfamiliar smells and have her bolt and hurt herself.”


“It’ll show she has an owner, too,” Mattie adds thoughtfully. “Just in case someone’s of a mind to take her, thinkin’ she’s a stray.”


“You’re not a stray though, are you?” Waverly says, her voice heavy with fondness as she scratches behind Oakley’s ear. “You’ve got a nice new home.”


“I think she’ll be happy here with you,” Mattie offers before she stands. “Wouldn’t be the worst thing for that sister of yours to get one, neither. She’s a placid thing now, but she’ll let you know if there’s anything she doesn’t like in her surroundin’s.”


“She will?” Waverly asks curiously. “Because I was startin’ to think she was a bit of a mute. She’s hardly made a noise since Nicole brought her ‘round last night.”


“Don’t worry,” Mattie says with a smirk. “You’ll know the second she thinks somethin’ ain’t right. She gave me a hell of a fright last night before the Deputy called back to pick her up.”


“You did, huh?” Waverly coos to the pup at their feet before dropping to press a quick kiss to Oakley’s forehead. “Well that’s good to know. I’ll look forward to you givin’ me a hell of a fright when you see somethin’ you don’t like.”


“She’ll make a nice sentry for you when she’s a little older,” Mattie says to Waverly when she straightens up from her crouch. “No one’ll dare come anywhere near you with any kind of trouble.”


“We certainly don’t need any more of that,” Waverly asks Oakley rhetorically, “do we, girl?”


“Look, I’d better be gettin’ on,” Mattie says after she finishes watching Waverly make moon-eyes at the pup. “I just wanted to drop you by those things. Thank you kindly for the drink.”


“It’s my pleasure,” Waverly returns, smiling widely. “And Mattie, thank you. For everythin’. I can’t tell you how much t means…”


“Don’t go gettin’ all sentimental on me,” Mattie warns, shaking her head. “I told your girl last night, I can’t have people thinkin’ I’ve turned into some soft old woman out there by myself.”


She doesn’t miss the way Mattie says your girl like she knows something, too, and it takes all of her self-control not to let her smile crack and give away her delight at hearing Mattie say that so casually.


“Your secret’s safe with me,” Waverly teases playfully before Mattie rolls her eyes. “And look, don’t be a stranger if you want to come and see her, alright? I’m sure she’d love the visit anytime you’re callin’ by.”


“I appreciate that,” Mattie says, almost surprised again at Waverly’s small gesture of kindness. “Like I said to Nicole, it’ll be good to make sure she’s growin’ alright, and…”


“Anytime,” Waverly repeats again. “You don’t need an excuse, alright? It’ll be good for her to see a face she likes.”


Mattie smiles at Waverly’s astuteness, before dropping her hat back onto her head, nodding in farewell. “Take care, Miss Earp. And listen if that dog tells you she doesn’t like somethin’, alright?”


“Will do, Mattie,” Waverly says with smile at the other woman’s concern. “See you soon, alright?”


Mattie gives her one last look, sending one to Oakley, as well, before she nods and takes her leave. Waverly has maybe another half an hour to her own devices before her last customer of the day comes walking in.


Oakley’s slow, rumbling growl makes her turn quickly, spinning from where she’s trying to clean one of the shelves, on her tiptoes on a stool, the last speck of dust she can see just out of her reach.


“You know, I could help you with that,” Champ’s cocky voice calls from the door of the shop. “If you asked nicely enough and gave me a kiss on the cheek.”


“No, thank you, Champ,” Waverly replies firmly, dropping down from her tiptoes, her feet firmly flat on the step of the short stool, sighing heavily at the sight of him. “I can do it myself, just fine.”


“You sure about that?” he asks, taking another step before Oakley’s growling grows louder, and he finally looks down, paying her a moment’s attention. “What in the hell is that thing?”


“My new guard dog,” Waverly says evenly, her blood chilling as Oakley’s growling and Mattie’s warning both swim icly through her veins. “You don’t like her? I’ve been told she’s a great judge of character.”


“Yeah, well, she must be broken or somethin’,” Champ says dismissively, not bothering to hunch down and try to introduce himself to the pup like everyone else had, ignoring her instead to walk closer to Waverly.


She’s grateful for the countertop between them as she makes her way off the stool, preparing to try and get him out of the shop as quickly as she can, frowning when he leans over the counter trying to get as close to Waverly as he’s able.


“I think she’s workin’ just fine,” Waverly says, sighing in exasperation, and she’s not normally as short with Champ as she’s being right now, but honestly, she’s fed up.


She’s sick of him not taking no for an answer, and she’s sick of the way he looks at Nicole like he’s planning something terrible in his head, and to her like he’s planning something even worse .


She’s sick of batting off his advances and she’s sick of his horrible smug face, and she’s sick of the fact that he feels entitled to her attention.


She’s sick of it.


“That’s no way to talk to a man, Waverly Earp,” Champ says, his voice a little harder, annoyed at her dismissal. “I’m just trying to offer you help, and that’s how you speak to me? I think you’ve been spendin’ too much time with that damn Deputy.”


“It’s none of your business who I spend my time with or how I choose to speak to you, Champ,” Waverly answers evenly, trying to keep her calm, bending down to pat the still growling Oakley in the hopes that it might soothe the both of them.


“You're damn right it is,” Champ says angrily, and it’s the first time Waverly’s seen a flash of something different in his eyes. Something she’s scared of.


Oakley must sense her fear, too, because she barks, the first sound she’s made of the sort around Waverly, and she’s impressed by how loud it is given her small size.


“That beast of yours better keep its trap shut,” Champ warms dangerously, glaring at Oakley when Waverly stands to Champ’s eye level again. “Or else.”


“She’s just fine as she is,” Waverly says carefully, her eyes glancing to look out the window, trying to gauge whether there’s anyone close enough nearby to come and interrupt them. “I think you need to leave, Champ.”


She’s worried how quickly this conversation has escalated, how much quicker to anger than normal Champ is, so she takes a step backwards to put more distance between them, uncomfortable even with the wide countertop between them.


“I’m not goin’ anywhere,” he replies with a clenched jaw. “I came here to have a conversation with you, and you’ll damn well give me what I came for.”


“I don’t want to talk, Champ. I want you to leave ,” Waverly returns, trying to hold her ground as much as she can, refusing to let him see how scared she is. How scared he’s making her.


“And I want you to come on another date with me,” Champ says testily. “Give me what I want, and I’ll leave.”


“No,” Waverly refuses, balling her fists at her sides, hoping beyond hope that, for whatever reason, Nicole just appears in a puff of wind between the two of them in the next few seconds.


“You know, I knew she was bad news,” Champ seethes, and Waverly can feel how angry he is, knowing exactly who he’s talking about without him having to mention a syllable of her name. “I knew she’d poison you against me. You know that’s what she’s doin’, right? She’s poisoning you. She’s making you see and feel things that aren’t right. They’re a sin , Waverly. You’re supposed to be with me . In my house, not in this ridiculous shop. Under my roof, in my bed.”


“Leave, Champ,” Waverly says again, and her voice is harder now, no trace of civility left in her tone.


“You know, some men don’t ask first?” Champ says coldly, and Waverly’s blood runs like ice at the shift and the calmness there now, because it’s worse than the anger. It’s cool and calculated, and it makes her scared .


He leans further forward, almost fully over the counter top now, and just before he spits out his next words he reaches out roughly, trying to catch Waverly by the arm and presumably hold her in place.


She tries to move out of the way, but she’s limited by how far she can move back, and how narrow her side of the aisle is. Her back hits the shelves roughly, with the force of trying to evade his reach knocking bottles together, but it’s not far enough, and his hand closes around her forearm hard enough to make her squeak involuntarily.


“They just take what they want,” Champ breathes harshly, his hand clamping down hard over her narrow wrist. His eyes move over her in a way that makes her skin crawl, and when she tries to pull back, his grip only tightens. “I wanted to give you the option , Waverly. I tried to be a gentleman, but I guess I’ll just have to show you you’re wrong. I’ll have to show you what you’re supposed to do.”


“Let go, Champ,” Waverly says slowly, and she’s trying to keep her voice calm, but she knows there was panic in between the syllables this time, because his eyes light up like he enjoyed hearing them.


“You might not like it to begin with, but you will ,” Champ says, and Waverly’s properly scared now, so much so that she doesn’t even hear Oakley’s growling getting louder and louder. “Like I said before, you just need a man’s touch. You need to tell everyone you’re done with her. That whatever disgusting thing it was you were doin’, it’s done. That you’re with me now.”


“I won’t,” Waverly grits steadfastly, still trying to yank her arm free, but his hold is like a vice.


“You will,” he insists, tugging her closer to him, and it almost looks like he’s in some sort of trance now, like everything she’s saying is only bouncing off his broad shoulders, not settling. “I’ll make sure you do. I just need to work whatever she’s done and planted in your head out, and I know exactly how to-”


“Champ, let go ,” Waverly says louder, raising her voice for the first time, and that’s enough for Oakley to act.


The pup gets up off her bed and starts barking, loud , surprisingly so for such a small animal, growling viciously between barks, her hackles raised and her teeth bared.


She begins to bark more insistently, louder and louder still, before finally the noise starts to enter Champ’s distracted mind and he throws an angry glare at her.


“Shut her up,” Champ growls, glaring at the pup advancing towards him. “Someone’ll hear. Shut her up Waverly, or I will.”


“Let go, Champ,” Waverly repeats coldly, ignoring his other request, silently urging Oakley to bark louder and louder still. He still doesn’t look as though he’s any closer to actually releasing his grip, though, so Waverly raises her arm instead of pulling, before knocking it as hard as she can down against the wooden countertop.


It’s just enough to get his attention. Well, either that, or Oakley’s barking begins to worry him more, and he releases her arm slowly, his grasp unfolding, leaving a purplish bloom where his fingers had been.


“Leave, Champ,” Waverly says, taking a step to the side, picking up her small paring knife off the back ledge discreetly, the warm wood a welcome weight in her hand in addition to Oakley’s insistent barking. “Now.”


“She’s sick, Waverly,” Champ spits again, finally taking a step back as he throws a glance to the furious pup. “I’m gonna make sure this whole damn town knows it. And that she’s got you turned against me, too.”


“The only one with a problem is you, Champ,” Waverly says, her voice shaky as the adrenaline in her blood starts to plummet. “For seemingly losing your comprehension of the word no. Now leave, before I fetch someone to find me a deputy.”


“I can take her,” Champ sneers, broadening his shoulders in an attempt to make his frame seem bigger than normal. “Give me a challenge.”


“Leave, Champ,” Waverly repeats one final time, not bothering to justify his jab with a response. “I won’t ask you again.”


“You’ll come around,” Champ says self-assuredly, ignoring Waverly’s warning, but turning to leave nonetheless. “I’ll make you see.”


He throws one last dirty look to Oakley, who’s barking has reduced to a low growl as she stalks towards him, following him out the door, as if making sure he’s really gone and away from her Waverly.


He steps onto the street and stomps away - Waverly can hear the dirt crunching under his heavy footfalls - before the air leaves her lungs in a rush and everything overwhelms her and she slides to the floor with her back to the countertop.


Her breathing is erratic, and her hands are shaking, and the bruise from Champ’s grip is bold enough already, the purple hinting at just how much more it’s going to grow before it reaches full bloom, and the panic is thick in her hands, but he’s gone.


She’s okay. He’s gone.


Oakley returns from the door, promptly dropping herself in Waverly’s lap, not to sleep like she had been earlier, but awake and alert and offering Waverly comfort instead.


She looks up to Waverly with her big wide eyes and soft russet fur, and she licks the underside of Waverly’s chin, as if saying it’s okay now, you’re okay now, before turning so she can watch the door from her position in Waverly’s lap.


“Good girl,” Waverly offers with a tremble in her voice as she runs her hands up and down the pup’s back in an attempt to calm herself. “You did real good. Nicole and Mattie are gonna be so proud.”


Oakley looks up at Waverly over her little shoulder again before turning in Waverly’s lap, obviously trying to distract her.


Waverly closes her eyes and takes a few deep breaths before trying to stand. Her legs are shaky, but it’s almost dusk outside now, and as much as she wants to lock all the doors and curl up in bed, or run to find Nicole and curl up in her arms instead , there are a few things she has to do before night sets in.


She has a few plants in a barrel of dye out the back, setting the colour in them in a heavier tone for her to use in a soap, well away from Oakley’s curious little nose, that she needs to extract before the dye spoils them, so she calls Oakley at her heels as she takes a few slow steps towards the back door.


It takes a few tries to get the darn door open, as unsteady as she is on her feet, but eventually she manages to push hard enough, hearing the soft click as it releases, pulling it back and walking through.


Oakley pushes before her, unusual for the normally placid pup, and Waverly’s just about to call her back, nervous that she might bolt, when she realises that the animal is doing a quick perimeter check before she allows Waverly out. She sniffs the air, finding nothing untoward, before looking at Waverly as if to say the coast is clear, and Waverly sets about her work quickly while Oakley peers around the small area.


It’s not what Champ was saying that’s upset her so much, because honestly, she’s been steeling herself for that sort of attitude since the day she told Wynonna where she thought her inclinations might lie. It’s the quickness with which he went straight to roughness and physicality that has so shaken.


Because she’s always known he was stubborn and righteous and pig-headed, but she never thought he would resort to violence to get what he wanted. She’s under no illusion as to the fact that he won’t lean on that if he needs to in order to get what he wants now, however.


He has toed the fine line that crosses into behaviour she would identify as inappropriate before, but this is the first time he’s actually crossed it. This is the first time he’d left that line so far in the distance, Waverly knew he couldn’t even see it anymore.


And honestly, it terrifies her.


It terrifies her, because she knows she has absolutely no hope of overpowering him if it came down to it. She doesn’t even know if she would have been able to handle the knife in an effective enough way to defend herself, or whether it would have been as simple as picking grass to pluck it out of her hand.


And it’s not something she’s ever worried about before, because he’s never actually touched her. He’s never shown any inclination of taking something she isn’t prepared to give him, until now. The ease with which he was able to hold her still, and the strength of his grip, and the resultant bruise growing darker on her forearm are what makes her hands tremble now.


Because it had been so easy for him. Too easy.


She knows that Nicole would protect her without a moment's hesitation, Gus and Curtis and Wynonna and Doc, too, but they can’t be around all the time. They weren’t here now. And if Oakley hadn’t been here, she doubts she would have been able to break him out of that terrifying, unreasonable trance by herself. He could very well have dragged her to the end of the shop and up the stairs without anyone even seeing them go, and…


It makes her bones cold, the thought, and she tries to clear her head of it, but it won’t leave, the ache at her forearm keeping the image of him pulling her towards him fresh in her mind, and, slightly distracted as she is, she spills a large measure of dye over her apron and shirt as she pulls the flowers from the barrel.


She misses her skirt for the most part, at least, but her top and apron are thoroughly ruined. “Damn it,” Waverly curses, holding her now wet shirt as far away from her body as she can without getting any more dye on her hands than she already has. “Damn it, damn it, damn it.”


Oakley walks to her at once, stopping at her feet, whining in sympathy before Waverly looks down at her with an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, girl, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”


She crouches down, lowering her face to the pup’s to demonstrate that she’s alright, lest she get more agitated at Waverly’s distress. Oakley licks her nose and Waverly sighs heavily, trying to calm herself down before she tries to remedy her current situation.


“What are we gonna do, huh, girl?” Waverly says, biting her lip in an attempt to stop the swelling and thickening of her throat. “I’ve made a right mess of this, haven’t I?”


She’s not sure if she’s referring to her interaction with Champ, her misunderstanding with Nicole, or the mess she’s made of her clothes, although she thinks she’s probably more than suitable for them all.


It’s immensely tempting to just give up and drop to the dusty ground and have a very unconstructive cry until she doesn’t have any tears left, but honestly, she’s not sure she’ll have the strength to pick herself up again unless someone comes to find her.


And the only person that she wants to see is also the person she doesn’t really want to demonstrate she’s capable of being that pathetic to this early on in their relationship. If that’s even what this is.


If she hasn’t made a terrible mistake by not showing Nicole that she wants this. God, she’s made such a mess of things.


She doesn’t lament not having a mother often, because she hasn’t been short of other strong female role models in her life, but this is one of those times. She wishes she could fall into the arms of the mother she barely remembers, and cry and cry and cry . She needs to be allowed to be completely weak for ten whole seconds while someone, not even her mother, but anyone she trusts enough to be completely vulnerable with, strokes her hair and tells her everything is going to be okay.


She thinks, in time, that Nicole could be this person. That she, as a lover, could fill that gap. If Waverly hasn’t made a mess of everything.


As much as she wants to keel over, she can’t. She knows she can’t. Because she’s strong. As a person, she’s as solid as the rocks that form the foundation of this town. She has to be. Because she can’t afford to lean on others as heavily as other people do. She has to be independent. Without her own strength driving her, she depends on that of someone else’s to get her out of bed every morning, and that simply isn’t an option.


She needs to be strong.


She needs to get herself up and get cleaned up, but she can’t leave Oakley here, not so new to her environment, and she doesn’t think the attendant would take kindly to Waverly bringing her along to the baths, either.


Gus, she thinks suddenly. Gus will help her. She can go and see Gus.


She beckons Oakley back inside, locking the hidden door as they enter it before making her way up the stairs to gather a fresh set of clothes to change into. If she leaves the ruined ones with Gus when she picks Oakley back up, Gus might even be able to salvage them.


“We can do this, can’t we girl?” Waverly asks Oakley, watching Waverly from prime position on the edge of the bed while Waverly arranges her things and bites back her tears. “We can do this?”


Oakley barks once, but it’s a different bark than before with Champ, more agreeable. Gentler. She’s agreeing with me, Waverly thinks with a smile.


She needs to be strong. She knows she does, but she knows she can’t run her heart like that every hour of every day, too. She knows that sometimes, it’s okay to rest her hand on someone else’s shoulder while she catches her breath.


“If I don’t fall to pieces the second I stop to draw one in,” Waverly says out loud to herself when her gaze falls to the starburst over her pulse, blooming deeper still.