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Sable Clouds, Silver Linings

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Someone has brought a parrot in, and it won’t stop reciting Friends episodes.

It should be funny, but Nicole is not really in the mood to laugh. Besides, the shrill squawking seems to pinch at her ears and threaten an oncoming headache.

She sighs. If anything, a headache will simply complement the nausea in her belly, brought about by how worried she feels.

Her small friend is sick; Nicole is sure of it.

A part of her wants to believe that she is working herself up over nothing, but she knows deep down that this is not the case. She has always had a fairly reliable gut instinct, and it is precisely that sort of sixth sense feeling that is telling her that all is not right. Well, that and a whole heap of more empirical evidence.

Nicole has never been one to succumb to outright panic - after all, more can be done when you are calm and rational - but, as she sits on a hard, metal waiting room chair, she cannot deny that she is worried.

She notes suddenly that she is bouncing her foot up and down, stopping abruptly and causing the legs of the chair to echo the relentless screech of that damn bird.

In an almost certainly doomed attempt to block out the noise, she tries to zone out, fixing her eyes on her lap, where she has loosely clasped her hands. They are a pitiful, absurd sight. The skin atop each is red and practically cut to ribbons thanks to her scuffle earlier that morning. She fancies that a decent roadmap could be made out of the scratches on her right hand in particular.

Calamity Jane had never liked being shut into her carrier on a good day, but she had been foul-tempered and moody all week. Nicole is almost fearful of the onslaught that might follow when she opens the door again and lets the cat back out.

Poor, disgruntled CJ had not eaten a full meal in days and, as a result, was now tired and exceptionally grumpy.

As it was, she had a tendency to be distrustful of new people and aloof with her loose acquaintances even at the best of times, but this was something altogether different to a few odd quirks in her personality. In fact, it was a new low, even for Jane. After a year with the cat in her care, Nicole had never witnessed this kind of behaviour from her before.

One of the few people to ever really buck the cat’s trend of utter, outright disdain for the human species, Nicole had always felt oddly pleased and privileged that Calamity Jane had taken to her so well. But even she could not seem to get any sense out of the large, ginger cat.

Jane would not eat and she would scarcely interact with Nicole at all. She must be tired and so she was simply letting Nicole do as she pleased.

After exploring every possible problem and trying any solution she could think of, Nicole still could not work out what the issue was.

What followed was a short, rushed period of soul-searching and some accompanying Google searching, which was rarely a good idea. Was she becoming one of those pet people; the kind who worry over everything and get precious at the smallest sign of trouble? After all, animals could be awkward and stubborn sometimes, just like humans. Dolls from work had helpfully pointed out that one of the pups in the K9 unit had even gone through a protracted phase in which he simply would not eat a morning meal. There was nothing wrong with him, he was just an awkward - if loveable - little thing.

And Lord knows, Calamity Jane is awkward too. With most people, she is cantankerous and clumsy, standoffish and absolutely the least cat-like cat Nicole has ever known. But going off her food and going off Nicole (who is trying not to take that part too personally) was not at all normal for CJ, and there had been no other option but to bring her in to be checked.

It was not how Nicole wanted to spend her Saturday morning - not when she has an afternoon shift to attend and a list of chores as long as her arm - but she had no qualms if it would put her mind at ease that there was nothing wrong. (That there might be something wrong with Calamity Jane was not an idea she especially wanted to entertain). It might be a costly precaution, but Nicole had told herself when making the appointment that this was just the undertaking you made when you got a pet. Besides, she had never had to bring CJ to the vet before now because she had been fully vaccinated and checked over when adopted. There had been no health worries at all until now. As such, Nicole did not even have a regular vet to book in with and had just asked for the first available slot.

Hopefully, the vet - whoever they are - will simply give the cat a quick once-over and lightly berate Nicole for worrying so much. 

She just prays that the vet is made of strong stuff, because Jane is what many would call an acquired taste. This was a generous interpretation in Nicole’s opinion. Naturally, she loved that damn cat but CJ took so long to warm to people (and took so many unprovoked swipes at their ankles in the process) that they were, unsurprisingly, put off. Perhaps that was why she had been at the rescue centre for so much time, Nicole had reasoned on many occasions.

The cat is not kept waiting for anywhere near so long this morning, however, because they are buzzed through within twenty minutes of their arrival, barely two minutes after the scheduled time. 

“Room seven,” the young, eager receptionist tells Nicole, “the main corridor on your right there, then first turning on the left.”

Nicole thanks her before gingerly lifting her cat carrier off the seat next to her. The motion elicits a quiet warning hiss from the crate’s occupant. Jane did not like being shut into the box, but she outright panicked whenever it was suspended off the ground. Nicole cannot really say she blames the cat. In fact, she has always felt that the carrier’s thin, plasticky handle lacked the strength and structural integrity for a cat of CJ’s size, but this was the biggest cat carrier Nicole had ever been able to find.

(That had been one of the main surprises when she finally met Calamity Jane - for a cat, she was huge. There had been very little on the shelter’s online photograph that had given Nicole an indication of scale, and it had been rather like encountering a small, exceptionally hairy lynx than a regular house cat. By then, however, it was too late. Nicole was already sold from the pictures, but totally besotted upon finding out that Jane had never been so trusting of someone on a first meeting as she had been with Nicole.)

Walking awkwardly with the carrier hitting her leg on every second step - prompting more hisses and even one disgruntled yowl from CJ - Nicole eventually makes it to room seven.

“Cut it out, this is for your own good,” Nicole mutters at the carrier, before knocking loudly on the door.

A quiet but chirpy reply of come in! emanates from within the room, sounding far-off and muffled by the thick fire door. Nicole struggles with it as she tries to open it wide enough to fit through with the carrier, eventually squeezing into an ample consultation room, decked in all the usual clinical white and surgical steel surfaces.

She hefts the carrier onto the pristine examination table (a final distressed yowl from Jane follows) and looks instinctively to the figure of the vet, stood at one of the counters lining half the room, looking over a short set of notes on a computer. As always seems to be the case in veterinary surgeries, the computer stands directly opposite the door, meaning that the vet is not entirely facing Nicole. In fact, she has tried to angle herself so that her back is not completely to the door, but nonetheless she is still partly obscured to Nicole for the first brief seconds of their interaction. 

All the same, Nicole can still see enough to tell that the woman is young and extremely pretty, which didn’t seem entirely fair for someone who was also smart and competent enough to qualify as a vet. She has a sweet, smiley face even in concentration, with warm brown eyes and long, long brown hair pulled away from her face in a neat fishtail braid.

“Hi,” the vet says by way of a bright, cheery greeting. Her voice is as cute as the rest of her. “Sorry about that, I just wanted to double check the notes, although there aren’t too many of them. We find that sometimes with rescues.”

She turns, and Nicole has the distinct impression of staring into sunlight. There is a warm, easy glow about the woman, who is just as pretty face-on. Or perhaps it is just that Nicole has no choice now but to meet the vet’s eye, feeling her stomach flutter in a very inconvenient way.

This, a stern little voice in the back of her head points out, is not remotely what you are here for. Ignore it.

“Nice to meet you,” the vet goes on, holding out a hand for Nicole to shake. “I’m Waverly.”

She does not offer a surname and, surprised but pleased at the informality, Nicole follows suit.

She takes Waverly’s hand, which proves to be distractingly soft but surprisingly chilly despite the warmth outside. “Nicole.”

“And in here must be Calamity Jane?” Waverly goes on with a wide, glowing smile, ending the handshake and ducking down slightly to peer into the cat carrier.  

“Yep, that’s her,” Nicole says.

“Love the name,” Waverly adds, still smiling as she straightens up. Even after doing so, however, Nicole notes that she is rather small. Of course, Nicole finds herself towering above most of the women she meets, but Dr Waverly Surname-Unknown really does seem tiny.

“The people who dropped her at the shelter gave it to her,” Nicole explains. “I thought about changing it but it kind of fits her, especially the Calamity part, so it stuck.”

“I find they pick their own names sometimes,” Waverly agrees genially before touching a hand to the door of the carrier. “Can I?”

“Oh, she might be a bit, um…” Nicole pauses, choosing her words, “put out. She hates the carrier. I’ll take the fallout on this one.”

Waverly laughs - a sweet, chiming little sound - and lets Nicole take the lead.

“Most cat owners say the same, although I’m pretty sure I’d hate these boxes too, especially if I couldn’t understand why I was being locked away.”

Dimly noting how good Waverly is at small talk, Nicole hums her agreement and, primed and ready for an angry swipe from Jane, she flicks the little door open. For a moment, however, nothing happens, which only serves to reinforce Nicole’s conviction that something is wildly amiss with her cat.

Cautiously, Nicole bends her knees until she is level with the carrier and can peer inside. She finds Calamity Jane, fur at all angles, folded impossibly into the back and looking out at her with a frighteningly readable look on her face. How could you? the expression says, clear as day. The cat’s eyes meet with Nicole’s, and the latter almost feels abashed. 

Yet again, she reminds herself that this is for CJ’s own good. Besides, Waverly seems nice. More than nice, in fact. She is waiting patiently for Nicole to coax the cat out into the open, looking for all intents and purposes as though she has all the time in the world, not just a twenty minute slot in which to provide a diagnosis and a solution.

“Come on,” Nicole tells Calamity Jane sternly, already knowing it is pointless trying to reason with her cat. “You can’t stay in there, you wouldn’t even let me put you in earlier this morning.”

This makes Waverly chuckle again, and she reaches into a cupboard to produce some cat treats. Normally, this would work wonders, but it is all part of the problem.

When food fails to draw CJ out, Waverly turns from the carrier and says,

“Why don’t we give her a moment to acclimatise and come out of her own accord. Perhaps while we wait you could tell me what we’re doing today?”

“Well,” Nicole begins, meeting Waverly’s eye and feeling her stomach do that same little inconvenient flutter. Internally, she scolds herself again. This is not the time or place. “I’m just a bit worried about her because she’s not eating, perhaps it’s nothing but I’m just starting to think maybe there’s something wrong.”

Waverly nods, noting the treats she had abandoned on the examination table with a little smile.

“Hence why these haven’t worked.”

“Exactly,” Nicole says, glancing at the carrier again. “Although knowing my luck, she’ll sneak out in a moment and inhale them, just to show me up.”

For the third time, Waverly laughs and, in turn, Nicole feels oddly pleased with herself for having invited such a response.

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened to me, especially if they’ve been off their food and they’re really that hungry. Tell me a little bit more if you can, just whether she’s eating certain things, how long you’ve noticed the problem. Anything you can.”

Waverly leans back a little, setting some weight on a nearby counter, and the police officer in Nicole reads the vet’s body language immediately. She is open and at ease, but still kind and competent enough to seem trustworthy.

This woman is good at this, Nicole thinks, realising how quickly she had felt comfortable here. The whole situation was somewhat out of the ordinary for most; new person, unfamiliar environment, sick animal, degree of professionalism…

Nicole knew it was part of the vet’s job to make a customer forget all about these constraints, because it was Nicole’s job too. She takes another quick glance at Waverly, realising how young ( and pretty! the traitorous voice in her head pipes up again) she really is. Like Nicole, she must be newly qualified, probably filled with all sorts of New Job Wonder.

Not to mention, Nicole decides, new job aptitude. She immediately decides that if she has to face the embarrassment of having brought her cat to the vet over a trivial non-issue, Waverly would be able to deliver the news rather gently. On the other hand, those who might receive bad news (Nicole refuses to think she might be in that boat) would probably find the blow substantially softened by Waverly’s kind eyes and gentle demeanour.  

“Well,” Nicole begins, counting back in her head, “she’s been a bit strange for close to a week. Last Sunday evening until about Wednesday she was eating less and less, or turning her nose up at her bowl and being selective. I thought maybe she’d been stealing treats or out finding something else to eat, so I didn’t think too much of it. But since Thursday lunchtime I’ve not seen her eat at all. I have offered her little treats but she hasn’t taken anything.”

Almost as if she knows she is being spoken about, Calamity Jane chooses this moment to shift in her carrier, diverting the women’s attention as slowly she emerges onto the table. Quickly, Nicole whisks the carrier away and onto the ground so that the cat cannot beat a hasty retreat once she realises where Nicole has brought her.

For a moment, both women watch as CJ blinks up at them and takes in her surroundings.

In particular, she assesses Waverly who is calmly observing the cat as though she can sense when an animal needs a little more distance than some of her other patients.

“Hi there, Miss Calamity Jane,” Waverly coos softly after a moment, taking up a treat and holding it out towards the cat. CJ simply ignores it, along with the others still lying on the table. “You really don’t want this food, huh?”

But CJ just settles smoothly on her haunches, flicking her tail from side to side as she looks from one woman to the other.

“And this?” Waverly asks gently, diverting her gaze back up to Nicole. “Normal behaviour or not?”

“I mean, that’s a tough one because she’s not super trusting of people. She would never normally be straight over to you purring, but she’d probably be out to play a bit more. Or, her version of playing which is just taking a swing at your hand.”

“I see,” Waverly says, evidently taking in all the information. “So this is a ‘pet at your own risk’ moment, yeah?”

Nicole pulls a face. “Normally I’d say yes, but I just don’t know.”

“Well, I’ll take my chances,” Waverly grins and flashes a playful expression across the table, “it’s an occupational hazard.”

With that, she settles on some fairly low-risk contact, in the form of sweeping her hand down CJ’s back. The cat just sits where she is, neither craning away nor explicitly leaning into Waverly’s hand. She lets the vet move up to her head and even seems happy enough to accept a few gentle scratches behind the ears. 

“Wow,” Nicole says, genuinely impressed. “She sure likes you. She’s never let anyone but me be that friendly this soon.”

Nicole thinks back to her first meeting with the cat, actually playing with a small ribbon while the shelter’s volunteers watched from a safe distance in complete shock and awe. Perhaps CJ wasn’t about to start playing with Waverly, but a scratch behind the ears was usually reserved for old acquaintances and Nicole herself.

“I’m honoured young Jane,” Waverly says down to the cat, back to using her animal voice until she looks up at Nicole again and switches her tone again to something more appropriate for people conversation. “And how’s she with you? All the same?”

“Not quite. She’s a bit more short-tempered, bit more distant. Like she’s fed up, as stupid as that sounds.”

“Not stupid,” Waverly says quickly. “We’re the ones who know our pets best. I’m going to need to examine her, but I’ve just wanted to give her a tiny bit of time to get used to me. While I check out her belly, can I just ask you for a final run down of whether she seems off in any other ways? Any more odd behaviour?”

Nicole considers the question. Calamity Jane had been different, but it was hard to say exactly how. As Nicole thinks, Waverly takes the opportunity to feel over CJ’s stomach, and Nicole watches nervously in case the cat strikes out. Jane looks far from impressed at all the contact, and she even squirms once or twice as if uncomfortable, but otherwise seems too tired and lacklustre to do anything more about it. As she works, Waverly murmurs softly to the cat - and, probably, to herself - evidently doing her level best to be gentle and thorough in equal measure. Nicole watches in silence, not sure if she would be interrupting a bout of concentration by speaking, and cannot say she has a problem with taking in the vet as she works. In addition to a sweet face and sharp jawline, Waverly has a tiny, almost invisible dusting of summer freckles on her nose and a little birthmark by her pretty lips. It does not take much of an intellectual leap to process that she is clearly an animal lover, but from the look on her face this work really is her passion and, as someone very much of the same mindset, this makes her all the more attractive in Nicole’s eyes.

Waverly concludes her examination and looks to Nicole for an answer to her question. Their eyes meet and Nicole feels a little sheepish at having been caught out so plainly; there was no way she could have been looking anywhere but Waverly’s face. However, if the vet is bothered, she does not show it; instead, she just lets her own gaze settle on Nicole. There is an expectant expression on Waverly’s face, like she is happy to wait for Nicole to talk.

Nicole clears her throat, willing her brain into action.

“She has been a bit off - the fact that she let you do that is kind of a sign. She’s a bit less engaged with her toys and surroundings maybe - a bit more aloof with me. It’s hard to put my finger on it now I try. I’m probably worrying over nothing, wasting your time.”

“Oh no,” Waverly says kindly, shaking her head. “I don’t believe in that. We like owners who care enough to get these things checked. If you’re worried enough to bring her here, it’s worth investigating. It’s like I said - you know her best.”

At this, she steps away from Calamity Jane and turns back towards the computer to pull up another window on the screen.

“Well, her vaccines are all up to date, although she is due this year’s very soon. I take it you know that already though?” She looks over her shoulder for an answer and smiles at Nicole’s nod. “I thought so. I’m a little bit hesitant to do that now just because she’s not in full form, but I’ll see what else I find first. If I can save you another appointment, I will. When was the last time you gave her her worm and flea treatments?”

“Two weeks ago,” Nicole says, struggling to remember the date. “Either the Wednesday or Thursday of that week.”

Waverly calls up a calendar on the desktop and they work out the date. Waverly notes it down. 

“All the same as normal? Same brands, tablets, doses?” she asks, before drifting back to the table and running the back of a finger over Calamity Jane’s head again. As before, the cat seems to have no problem with this; Nicole decides that Waverly has a true gift.

At this question, Nicole can’t help but feel worried. Perhaps she had been inadvertently doing something wrong.

“Yeah, exactly the same thing I’ve been doing since I adopted her. Is that alright?”  

Waverly notes Nicole’s expression and gives a kind, encouraging little smile. “Not to worry, I just have to double check. You’d be surprised the reactions we sometimes see to something as simple as a change in spot on treatment, especially in cats. You’re fine, I promise.”

Nicole smiles back, feeling a little self-conscious. “Thanks. Sorry, it’s just that she’s my first pet since I was a kid, and I don’t want to find out I’ve been doing a bad job.”

Nicole watches as the vet looks at the cat, at her silky, well-kept long fur and her comfortable, presentable collar.

Waverly sighs a little sadly. “To be frank, I’ve already seen more cases than I’d like of owners doing a bad job - whether deliberately or otherwise. Trust me when I say that this is not a cat who has been badly taken care of, so don’t you worry. She might just be a little under the weather is all. We just need to get to the bottom of it.”

Nicole flashes Waverly a tight, grateful smile. She feels an odd little surge of pride to hear a professional say that she is doing a good job with Jane. “Well, if there’s anything else I can tell you that will help…”

“Plenty, actually. When she does eat, is she being sick? Having any trouble actually getting the food down or keeping it there?”

Nicole shakes her head. “No, nothing like that now because she’s barely touched anything for ages, but it did happen a little bit earlier on yeah, when she was gradually going off her food.”

“And it’s all food? Have you tried anything new to see if she’s interested in that?”

“When she wouldn’t eat her wet food I just gave her dry, thinking maybe she had a stomach bug. She wouldn’t go for that so I tried her on some fresh chicken. I usually leave a bit plain when I cook, then let her have that once in a while as a treat. It’s one of her favourites but she barely even went up to the bowl.”

“How long did you say again? Since she’s eaten normally?”

“Almost a week since she started eating less. Two full days since she hasn’t eaten anything. I don’t know if I left it too long or anything, I did phone on Thursday morning but couldn’t get a slot any earlier.”

Waverly smiles, the expression genuine and easy. “It’s hard to tell with these things, but you’ve done the right thing giving her a bit of a chance to come out of it. Cats can be very fussy. Before this she ate well”?

“Almost too well. She’d always cry for food if I so much as went near the kitchen, even if she’d only just eaten. Once or twice I even caught her trying to get into the kitchen cupboards.”

This makes Waverly laugh. “A mischievous girl, hey?” she coos down at the cat, who looks up at her in prolonged reservation.

Nicole grins. “Very much so, yeah.”

“And now?”

“She tries to be. She’s still a total disaster. She upset the whole draining board on Tuesday and my curtains still aren’t ever entirely safe. But it’s less so. I don’t think she has the energy.”

“She does seem a little lacklustre now.”

Nicole nods. CJ is tired and fed up - very much so if she has not taken her usual testing, playful swipe at the vet by now. Instead, she only sits and watches with a look of pointed disdain. For a moment she fixes a beady look directly at Nicole as if to say, what have you brought me here for ?

There is a little pause as Waverly regards the cat carefully, obviously trying to run through potential causes of Jane’s symptoms.

“I take it you’re leaving food out for her anyway.”

“Of course.”

“And what does she do? Does she even bother going over for it?”

“She gives it a look sometimes, and perhaps once a day takes a little of the dry food but just then drops it back on the floor again. I’ve even tried a tiny bit of canned tuna - no oil or brine, obviously - but...” Nicole finishes with a shrug. 

Waverly flashes a sympathetic look. “She didn’t buy it huh?”

“Nope,” Nicole says, popping the ‘p’. 

“Is she drinking?”

“Not as much as I’d like, but enough.”

Waverly nods, at least looking satisfied with this. With an evident disregard for her life, limbs, and other appendages she gently lifts CJ’s lips and takes a close look at her teeth and gums. The cat resists and, on instinct, Nicole tries to keep CJ as still as possible. She will pay a heavy price for this later, knowing that Jane probably will not acknowledge her for the rest of the day as punishment for Nicole’s betrayal. 

“I know, I know,” Waverly murmurs quietly, speaking to herself as much as CJ when the cat struggles, “it’s not nice, I know. I’m sorry.”

After a thorough examination, Waverly lets CJ go and notes the glare on the cat’s face.

“What an expressive thing,” she muses, looking amused. “That’s my ‘new friend’ privileges out the window now.”

Nicole laughs. “Mine too, probably. At least for today.”

“Well, the better news is that her teeth look to be in perfect condition. I also couldn’t feel anything conclusive in her belly that might be causing the issue, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean it’s not there. There was a hint of what could be swelling and some pain from her, but not enough for me to say with any certainty. So, it could be illness-related,” Waverly pauses, noting a look on Nicole’s face, “but that doesn’t have to be as serious as it sounds. Sometimes, cats can be quite finnicky and loss of appetite does happen. It might even be a change in her environment that’s doing it. Anything you can think of? Any new routines, new people?”

Nicole thinks. Certainly, there were no new people around the apartment. That idea was almost laughable. She had not had time to date since qualifying so there was no chance of a new presence unsettling CJ. Nicole did not really have a routine to speak of, so she suspects this is not the problem either.

“I live alone and she’s used to any of my friends who might call round, but that’s literally once in a blue moon. I’m a shift worker, all hours sometimes, but it’s always been that way and it hasn’t bothered her for the year I’ve had her.”

“Okay, so another mark under ‘illness’,” Waverly says, nodding. “Outdoor or indoor?”

“Outdoor cat. I live on the ground floor and she can climb out the window.”

Waverly nods again, taking in all the information and noting her moment to draw some conclusions with the evidence she has been give.

“Okay, so. Here’s where we’re at. It’s not normal behaviour for any animal not to eat, but we’ve got an otherwise happy cat who used to eat a lot suddenly going off her food. She wasn’t overjoyed when I felt her tummy and I did think maybe she might have been a bit sore, but there was no major discomfort that immediately gave me the answer I’d want. She hasn’t had any significant life changes that could have upset her. She does go outside so she might have picked something up that’s making her feel off. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that so far she’s given me nothing certain, which means I’m going to send you away today without a definitive diagnosis. So I think the best thing I can do for her is start off with some blood tests and then move to scans if we don’t find anything. 

“I’m going to get some samples sent through to a friend in the lab with high priority. I’m sure your concern is her becoming malnourished or dehydrated. Mine is too, however with cats it gets a bit more complicated than that. As is obvious, when any animal doesn’t eat, it draws on fat reserves to get it through a lean period but with cats, if they rapidly lose weight it seems that their livers feel the strain far more quickly. It can lead to something called hepatic lipidosis which can cause a cat’s liver to fail. I don’t want to worry you unduly but that can be fatal.”

At this, Nicole feels her heart drop into her stomach. She had brought CJ in for what she had hoped would be a stomach ache, and was receiving exactly the kind of news she had dreaded.

“Fatal?” she echoes, hoping she is at least managing to look outwardly composed.

“It can be,” Waverly echoes gently, face so open and kind that Nicole sees immediately that her hunch was right; she had lucked out with a blind appointment with exactly the kind of person who can soften the punch of such bad news. “It’s all to do with what cats’ bodies do when they don’t get enough nutrients inside them. But that’s why a case like this gets rushed through certain processes, such as blood tests. Looking at Jane, she’s not in those waters yet.”

They both glance at the cat. She is sat, looking around and taking everything in. In fact, with the change of scenery she is the brightest Nicole has seen her in days. Waverly gives Nicole a little time to take in the information she has been passed before speaking again.

“For today, I think we can send her home with you. I would rather a happy cat at home with her owner, and it’s really my last resort solution to pull her in and put her on a drip because that’s only going to stress you both. But if we’re going to keep her out of here we need to persuade her to eat. If we see her next time and she hasn’t taken anything, we may have to keep her with us.”

Now feeling thoroughly miserable, Nicole nods. “And is there anything I can do, or anything I need to look out for with regards to her liver?”

Waverly moves over to the computer again. “Let me print you out a fact sheet for you to keep - have a good read of the warning signs on there and if there’s any question in your mind - anything at all - call reception and and ask them to get me on the phone. If I’m busy I’ll give you a call back and we’ll make a decision on pulling her in until we’ve solved this. I’d like the bloods back as soon as, so we’ll probably be seeing you again early next week. All the same, I’ll also get a list of foods that are nutrient-dense, and put out a prescription for some supplements. Of course, if she’s not eating you might find it hard to get her to take them, but I can see you’re a responsible owner. Give it your very best and if anything worries you, don’t feel bad about coming back. Better safe than sorry, yeah?”

“And if the bloods don’t show anything?”

Waverly turns back from the computer with a soft, gentle smile on her face. Quietly, she says, “let’s start there first, okay? I’ll ask them to rush the tests through because of the nature of the problem. Otherwise yes, we could be looking at scans or even some exploratory surgery. But let’s see what story her bloods tell us first.”

There is still an insistent thrum of worry pulsing through Nicole, but Waverly has the perfect demeanour for the job and she yet again proves Nicole’s earlier assumption that it is almost, almost okay to receive potentially bad news when she is the one to deliver it.

“Okay, sorry to be getting ahead.”

“Not at all, she’s your girl.”

“She is, yeah. Thank you so much for your help.”

Waverly laughs and quirks a brow in a playful way that makes Nicole’s stomach flutter all over again, despite the worry of it all. “Don’t thank me just yet. I still need to get the blood, and I’m going to ask you to help keep her still…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty minutes later and far too many dollars poorer, Nicole leaves the surgery with a fresh set of scratches on her hands and arms, and what feels like an entire family of butterflies living in her stomach.

Perhaps this latter development was slightly crass given the seriousness of the situation, but there was something about the vet, something about Waverly, that made Nicole’s heart race. Of course, Nicole’s primary concern was always going to be Calamity Jane and nothing would ever make her deviate from that, but if she could resolve to find a silver lining in all this worry, it is that she has absolutely no objections to having to see Waverly’s pretty face all over again in the very near future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somehow, Nicole manages to get the cat back to the apartment, finish her chores (including a trip to the shops to find some of the foods on Waverly’s list, knowing already that it is probably fruitless to try and persuade CJ to eat), and make it to work on time.

She is fixing herself a coffee in the kitchen when someone bustles inside behind her, and she turns to find Jeremy Chetri from the cyber team shuffling inside, Optimug Prime cup at the ready.

“Hey,” he greets, “how goes the cat situation? That was this morning, right?” 

Feeling slightly touched that he remembered, Nicole murmurs a wordless affirmative. Out of everyone at work, Jeremy is probably one of only two people Nicole could deem a friend. They have a tentative post-work drinks rota once per month, and are usually joined by Nicole’s partner - in the strictly professional sense.

Somehow, Nicole had had the severe misfortune of being posted to a police precinct populated almost entirely by exactly the kind of caveman-esque cops that gave the force a bad name. Proving herself a worthy colleague amongst the likes of these guys was hard, and Xavier Dolls was the only person who had seemed even willing to partner with Nicole, let alone treat her with any respect at all. As it was, Dolls was a great guy; a tough cookie on the outside with a truly soft-hearted nature buried very, very far below the surface. 

Plus, he - and Jeremy, for that matter - sort of had his own reasons to dislike the other guys here. They weren’t just sexist but pretty racist as well. Because cops, apparently. 

It had been entirely the police image she and Dolls had wanted to dispel by joining up, but she supposes it is the long game that they are playing. As it stands, she and Dolls have the best record of any of the officers in their precinct, and the numbers were starting to speak for themselves.

They worked with Jeremy fairly often, for any assistance from actual technical support in a crime, to issues when the printer broke or the internal servers went down, which seemed to happen a lot. Jeremy, who is just as sweet as Dolls in an entirely different way, makes a fuss about being the go-to tech guy, but Nicole suspects he secretly enjoys it.

“Yeah, I took the cat for her appointment this morning. They didn’t keep her in, but we don’t know what the problem is. They’ve done blood tests. Apparently not eating can get pretty serious pretty fast in cats, so I think they’re going to rush our tests through.”

Nicole pops some bread out of the toaster. The one thing she did not manage to tick off her list of chores was to find any food for herself. This will have to do for now. Rather like Calamity Jane, she does not much feel like eating at the moment. Knowing that there is the potential for such a sudden, serious side effect to this problem is practically making her sick; she hated the idea of leaving CJ all alone in case she took a downturn, but Nicole could hardly take time off work just yet.

“Don’t worry, they’ll get to the the bottom of it. They’re one of the best practices around here,” Jeremy says kindly, heaping far too much coffee into his mug. He had been the one to recommend the surgery to Nicole in the first place. “Did you see Leavey by any chance? We always see Leavey when my mom’s dog gets sick. Which is a lot, because it’s ancient and enormously fat. I swear mom’s killing that thing with kindness.”

Nicole winces. She cannot imagine that goes down well at the surgery.

“I don’t know actually,” she says, dolloping peanut butter onto her toast and realising that she had been a bit of an idiot not to get the vet’s second name. “She sort of went all-in on a first name basis.”

“Ah, well if she’s a she, she’s not Leavey. He’s definitely male. And about as ancient in human years as my mom’s dog. Maybe that’s why he’s so good at fixing the thing, they’re kindred spirits.”

Nicole snorts. She has known for a while that Jeremy doesn’t like his mom’s pet. Apparently, he had no issue with dogs, just that dog; a portly, balding old Jack Russell which, despite its size, was reported to possess a bite that was precisely as bad as its persistent, yappy little bark.  

“Nope, that’s definitely not my vet. She’s young and female,” Nicole says, laughing. She doesn’t think she’d have thought Leavey half as attractive. She does not offer that information out to Jeremy because really, no one else needs to know that she had lucked out with a cute and caring vet. Besides, Jeremy would make it into a whole thing, with the ‘t’ capitalised. It wasn’t a Thing. It wasn’t even a thing. She would just be appreciating vet Waverly’s pretty face for the next few follow ups, and using the memory of it to distract her from the body-bending worry that her cat might actually be really sick.

“Well, if she cures your cat can you get her surname?” Jeremy says, stirring sugar into his coffee. “Surely old Leavey can’t carry on much longer, he’s literally a hundred, and my mom will need a trusted recommendation before she entrusts demon dog to someone else.”

Nicole chuckles. “So only if she cures my cat, yeah?”

“Oh trust me, my mom has high standards. No failure allowed.”

Nicole hears the implicit comment hidden in Jeremy’s joke, but elects to sidestep it. If he wants to talk personal stories, Nicole knows he would do so more directly. Besides, this is not the place.

“In fairness, I’d rather she didn’t fail either,” Nicole points out. “But sure, I’ll find out next time. Although I can’t imagine there are too many Waverlys to confuse her with, should your mom need to know in the meantime. Just tell your mom to mention me, maybe I’ll get a discount. Lord knows I’ll need it with how much this cat is gonna cost me now.”

“Thank God for insurance?” Jeremy tries, flashing her an uneasy grin.

“Something like that, yeah.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happily, Calamity Jane is still well within the land of the living when Nicole arrives home at close to eleven o'clock that night. Less positively, she has not touched the tuna Nicole left out for her, but at least her water bowl needs refilling.

“Come on now,” Nicole says as she runs the tap and checks the temperature of the water. Over the months, she has become accustomed to chattering away to the cat as she goes about her day, but this is the first time she has really wished that Calamity Jane could understand her. “You need to eat. You’re going to get really sick if you don’t.”

Perhaps happy at the sound of Nicole’s voice, the cat gives a little mrow sound from her station on the couch, but does not look remotely interested in the treats Nicole goes on to offer her.

“Listen,” Nicole adds sternly as she sits down on the next couch cushion, “I know you’re just trying to get me opportunities to go see that cute lady at the vets again, and I appreciate the effort you’re going to, but it’s a bit extreme CJ.” 

Calamity Jane makes the same little noise, almost as though she is chatting back, before uncurling herself and stretching out, flexing her little paws as she does so. It is such a familiar gesture that the cat almost, almost looks alright, but Nicole can still see that something is wrong.  

With a sad sigh, Nicole runs a hand over the cat’s head, feeling only slightly comforted when Jane immediately starts to purr. After a while, Nicole deliberately pauses and is content at least when, without hesitation, Jane imperiously bats her head into Nicole’s hand with a look that seems to say I didn’t say you could stop.

Nicole is mildly surprised at the behaviour. Whatever has been making Calamity Jane feel so poorly had also made her rather isolationary, and Nicole had half-expected the trip to the vet to make it worse. Now though, the cat seems almost needy as she chases closeness, running hot on Nicole’s heels when it is time for bed. She jumps onto her usual spot on the comforter before Nicole even has time to get together everything she needs for a quick shower. 

When Nicole leaves for the bathroom, the cat gives a quiet, almost whiny little mewl after her.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this does not make Nicole feel any better. The only saving grace, she supposes, is that she has two consecutive days off now as part of her scheduled rota, so does not have to worry about leaving the cat alone for too long.

It is a small mercy, however, when Nicole crawls into bed a while later and shuts her eyes to try to court some sleep. The comforting image of Waverly dances in the darkness, but the sick sensation never quite leaves Nicole’s belly.

Chapter Text

Calamity Jane might be ill, but with the luxury of some time off work, Nicole had decided to be self-indulgent and use her mornings to sleep in and catch up on some much-needed rest.

However, she is woken on the second day by the sound of her phone clattering against the bedside table as it vibrates, forcing her to jostle with the bedcovers to answer the call in time.

“Hello?” she says, doing her level best to sound like a woman who is not still groggy with sleep.

A voice down the line confirms her name, then states:

“I’m calling from Richmond Street Veterinary Practice. We’ve had some blood results back and we were wondering if you would be free to pop back in with Jane. We have an appointment tomorrow morning with Dr Leavey at eleven if that suits you.”

Nicole pauses, trying to will her brain to fire into action. She has a day-time shift, but someone might switch with her if she asks nicely.

“Sorry, I do shifts so I’m just trying to work it out,” she says, trying to explain her silence to the receptionist. She feels mildly disappointed that she won’t be with Waverly again, but if she needs the first available appointment for Jane then that is far more important. Besides, she can tell Jeremy she is about to meet the famous aging veterinarian. Even so, she figures she might as well try her luck. “Is it only Dr Leavey that’s available? I was kind of hoping to stick with the same vet.”

It is not entirely a lie, because Waverly had been so good at assuaging some of Nicole’s worries and CJ had so obviously liked her, it would be nice to see this through with her. Still, there is also an ulterior motive at play, so Nicole crosses her fingers against the meagre white lie - an old habit retained from childhood.

“Hmm,” the receptionist returns, and Nicole hears her tapping away on a keyboard. “She has been pretty booked up recently. I think that time with Dr Leavey was the first available slot we had, and it says here that we need to book Calamity Jane in ASAP. Give me a moment, I’ll have a look for you.”

“Thanks. If not, I’ll provisionally take Dr Leavey’s slot, I’ll just need to check with work and get back to you.”

The receptionist puts her on hold and Nicole flops back against the pillows. She glances down the bed for the cat, who is curled level with Nicole’s knees, watching intently. Nicole drums her free hand against the comforter in an attempt to encourage CJ closer. After a moment, she takes the bait and shimmies up the bed, letting Nicole pet her head.

Eventually, the hold music cuts out abruptly.

“Hello, Ms Haught? Sorry to keep you. You’re in luck. My colleague had a cancellation with Dr Earp on the other line. She can fit you in today at two. Would that suit you any better?”

“Yes,” Nicole says, trying not to accept too quickly. “Yes that would suit me much better, thanks."

 

 

 

 

 

 

It feels almost like a weird type of Groundhog Day when, later that day, Nicole returns to the surgery. She even sits in the same seat.

This time, however, there are no avian Friends enthusiasts, which is certainly a mercy of not insignificant stature.

Waverly is a little less prompt in buzzing her through this time, no doubt owing to it being a later appointment. Nicole cannot bring herself to begrudge the wait, because the vet had been so thorough with CJ last time and Nicole feels certain that this would be the primary reason that Waverly would run behind schedule.

Also, Waverly turns out to be just a bright, smiley, and cute as the time before, and Nicole has always been just a little bit weak when it came to pretty girls.

Waverly smiles and Nicole, stepping through the door, finds herself grinning back.

“Hey,” she says, having the same battle with the cat carrier as before. “Us again.”

She wrestles the little crate up onto the table with Waverly’s assistance, watching as the other woman immediately peers through the bars in the door before opening it and trying to coax the cat out into the open. Perhaps a little more habituated to the room - and to the vet - than on Saturday, CJ creeps out a little more easily this time.

“How’s my favourite patient,” Waverly asks, flashing a wry look at Nicole, “and owner, of course, today?”

Nicole laughs, rolling her eyes. “I bet you say that to all of us.”

In spite of knowing this, she enjoys the little compliment no less.

“You got me,” Waverly says, holding her free hand up, “but I only mean it some of the time.”

Without intending it, Nicole finds herself raising an eyebrow and doing a remarkable impression of a woman who is here to flirt, not seek assistance for her sick cat.

“And is this one of those times?”

“Perhaps,” Waverly says, smiling enigmatically. “Perhaps not. Depends on whether Miss Calamity has eaten anything, or whether she has lived up to her name.”

“No, she remains a disaster cat. A hungry disaster cat,” Nicole says with a sigh, before turning her attention directly to her pet. “See? She was judging both of us together and now you’ve got me kicked out the favourite owner club.”

Waverly laughs.

Calamity Jane, not understanding any of this, simply blinks.

“Well, there’s always scope to get back in the club,” Waverly says, still chuckling to herself. “Numbers aren’t that high, so.”

“Really?” Nicole asks, vaguely surprised at the tone Waverly had used to convey this information. It was weighty and pointed, and it almost seemed to match the way Nicole herself had spoken. It was probably unintentional on Waverly’s part, but Nicole already suspects that she will be reading into it for the rest of the day.

“Oh yes,” Waverly says, looking at CJ and seemingly directing her comment at the cat. “Very exclusive. But we need someone to eat something.”

“Well, someone hasn’t even looked for food. It’s been days now and she must be starving hungry. But she just won’t take anything.”

“This really won’t do you know,” Waverly says to CJ, stroking her long, slim fingers up and down the cat’s back. After a moment, she looks up to talk to Nicole. “Well, the good and bad news is that her bloods showed us pretty much nothing conclusive. Good because, with one exception, they’re pretty much perfect so exemplary work Miss.” Again, this is directed at Calamity Jane. “But bad news because, of course, we still don’t know the problem we have to solve. The only real issues with the results were a couple of little markers which tell me it could all be kidney-related.”

Nicole blinks, surprised by this news.

“Kidney, really? Would that cause all these problems?”

“It could do,” Waverly says frankly. “It wouldn’t be at all unheard of for that to cause a cat to start showing these symptoms.”

“So what happens from here?”

Waverly pulls a face. “I’m afraid you probably won’t like it, but I think I’m going to have to keep her in. She hasn’t eaten in far too long, and we need to rectify that immediately to stop her getting seriously ill. I’d like to start with some more bloods and then some scans - the less invasive we can be the better it is for the animal. I’ll be proposing we do those either this afternoon or first thing tomorrow, because we’ll need to sedate her and will keep an eye on her from there.”

Absurdly, the idea of leaving Calamity Jane at the surgery wallops Nicole in the chest. It is a strangely emotional feeling, almost as though she is abandoning her little friend completely.

Waverly reads the silence well.

“I’m sorry, it’s not what anyone ever really wants to hear. But it’s for her own good.”

“No, I know,” Nicole says quickly, her voice slightly thicker than before. “It feels a bit stupid really, being so bothered by it. But absolutely, if she needs to stay, I want whatever makes her well again.”

Waverly smiles. “Of course you do. And trust me, you’re not being stupid. We get owners who are really emotional about leaving their pets with us. But I promise this one,” she gives CJ’s ears a deliberate scratch, “is in good hands.”

Nicole nods, letting Waverly hold her gaze for a moment before the vet turns to the computer and sets into action.

They give over the rest of the consultation to minutiae.

Waverly talks Nicole through the admission process and personally sorts the forms out for her. While Nicole signs her name an absurd number of times, Waverly makes an internal call to prepare the rest of the staff for a new occupant.

Afterwards, she talks Nicole through the next few steps in Calamity Jane’s treatment and assures her that, unless it is a life-threatening emergency, no decisions will be made without Nicole’s permission. Reading out a phone number from the computer she says,

“This is the contact we have written down for you, it’s the number we’ll use if we need to speak to you. Is that the right one?”

“That’s the best one to use, yeah. Out of interest, how often do you get in touch?” Nicole asks, hoping she is being subtle but evidently failing to be so.

Waverly gives her a knowing smile. “As often as we can. We’ll let you know when she’s had her scans and come around, and we’ll tell you as soon as we know anything further. On some days, half of this job is really just advising concerned owners, so don’t worry - you’ll be kept informed.”

“Thanks, sorry if I’m asking a lot of you all - I know you must be busy.”

Waverly laughs. “Ms Haught - “

“Nicole is fine, please.” She represses a grimace at any use of her surname when not entirely necessary.

“Nicole, you’re taking this exceptionally well, I promise. You came in with your cat, and you’re leaving her here now. It’s not a nice feeling, I know that.”

With the arrangements concluded, Waverly is kindly showing Nicole out when, with a great deal of professional decorum, she touches an easy, gentle hand to Nicole’s shoulder. It is almost as though the glancing contact tingles through Nicole’s t-shirt.

“Any worries, anything we can help with, we’re at the other end of a phone. Reception is staffed until six but there are people on duty or on call at all hours. Anything at all, we’ll be in touch.”  

They pause at the door, Nicole gripping the handle. She turns to face Waverly and smiles.

“Thank you again, you’ve been really kind.”

Surprisingly, Waverly looks almost bashful at the compliment. “Well, it’s my job.”

“Maybe so, but you’ve been fantastic at it.”

Nicole is speaking genuinely here, nothing motivated by her apparent weakness for Waverly’s beautiful face, and so she is shocked when she sees the faintest trace of a blush on the other woman's cheeks.

Waverly dodges Nicole’s gaze for a brief second before seeming to realise that it is not an option in their present environment. She meets Nicole’s eye again.

“Thank you, I really appreciate you saying that.”

They part in a way that is almost awkward, struggling somewhere between an attempt at professionalism and a sudden sense of familiarity that is far too premature for a second meeting in such a context.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Despite her best intentions before that first consultation on Saturday morning, after leaving CJ at the surgery days later, Nicole is forced to conclude that maybe she has become that kind of pet person. The kind that frets and worries ceaselessly.

She suddenly misses Calamity Jane's presence in the apartment more than she thought possible. She had barely realised she noted the cat so very often. It felt like a strange disruption to her routine to suddenly be without her pet. She had put fresh water in a bowl and was halfway to checking the litter tray on Tuesday morning when she remembered that there was little point in doing so.

It was not always strange to wake up and find CJ hidden about the place somewhere, so at first Nicole had forgotten that she was not here at all. She feels completely absurd that it gets to her so much, but it is as though she has been stuck under a raincloud by the time she gets to work, and she hopes fervently that no one tries her patience too much today.

She had been lumbered with Lonnie all day because Dolls had needed to switch shifts, having mumbled something that sounded like doctor appointment before striding off. He was remarkably private and probably viewed it as a moment of unspeakable vulnerability to admit that he had ever even been sick enough to consult a doctor.

Unlike Dolls, Lonnie was a prize idiot and absolutely useless at his job. If Nicole was lucky, they would have a quiet morning and she could finish some paperwork. If she was luckier still, their callouts would all be simple, and she wouldn’t have to be confronted with Lonnie making an utter mockery of both himself and their police precinct in one fell swoop. How he even graduated from the Academy was a complete mystery to Nicole.

She was rarely in the mood for his incompetence and disregard for good practice, but today he would be walking a real knife edge to avoid her temper.

Mercifully, however, they are called out to only three minor disturbances, and Nicole is able to plough her way through a mountain of paperwork until lunchtime. She bites her cheeks against her irritation and short fuse all morning, and bumps into a more welcome face in the lunchroom at midday.

“Are you on break?” Jeremy asks, collecting a small container from the bottom shelf of the fridge. “Fancy sitting outside in the sun?”

Nicole thinks that the last thing she really wants right now is company, which is precisely why she then accepts Jeremy’s offer. She needs a distraction, and encouragement not to wallow.

When it comes down to it, she is still in a rather privileged position. Yes, she has a sick cat but she is lucky enough to have good insurance and an attentive vet. CJ is in the best hands and she, Nicole, is probably overreacting.

So, a moment later, she finds herself cutting through the precinct with Jeremy at her side, sweet and caring enough to ask immediately for an update.

Nicole brings him up to speed as they wait in line to buy coffee at the cafe around the corner, and Nicole picks up a small chocolate muffin at the same time. She has earned a treat.

They are lucky enough to work close to a small slice of green in the otherwise concrete landscape of the city, and they snag a rare unoccupied bench and unpack their lunches.

“I know it sucks,” Jeremy says carefully, unclipping a tupperware box that is filled to the brim with salad, “and hearing ‘she’s in the best place’ is probably just cliché and annoying at this point, but she really is where she needs to be. They won’t let anything bad happen to her. And your vet sounds nice, I’ll have to pass that information onto mom.”

“She is,” Nicole agrees without thinking. Absently, she peels back a corner of aluminium foil to reveal her pre-made sandwich. “Really really nice.”  

She does not really bother to watch her tone, but realises she must have said something of interest when she catches Jeremy’s prolonged sideways glance.

“Really really nice, huh?”

“Don’t,” Nicole says in playful warning, biting back a smile. Jeremy is goofy and by his own admission the least qualified person to pass comment on anyone’s personal life, but it is still remarkably easy to have these kinds of conversations with him.

Initially, it had taken them a little while to get there.

Nicole had had a certain sneaking suspicion about Jeremy - that he might be a... kindred spirit of sorts - even from their first few meetings. She had felt a little bit guilty assuming anything about him, but was encouraged by the idea of not being the only gay person at work. As Jeremy had proved himself to be a nice, pleasant guy, Nicole had slowly worked up the courage to drop a female pronoun into the right conversation, watching as he almost visibly relaxed when his brain made the connection.

Mercifully, her hunch had been correct and he had opened up to her in return. It was not easy, navigating this stuff in their place of work. If their colleagues - Dolls excepted - already gave them grief, they were in no hurry to stick another target (a very bright, rainbow-coloured one) on their backs.

It rubbed Nicole up the wrong way, feeling forced back into a closet she had never really effectively occupied in the first place. Even as a teenager she hadn’t really fooled anyone, and indeed she had never especially tried to do so until recently.

So it always felt like a sweet relief to even hear Jeremy acknowledge her private life. It was not that she wanted it under a microscope, and she especially did not need to hear Jeremy’s opinion on her finding her damn vet (of all people) cute as hell, but it was still affirming in a way, just hearing Jeremy pick up on the undercurrent here. To most, a glancing comment about another woman would mean nothing at all.

Really really nice sounds interesting,” Jeremy prompts.

“It’s not,” Nicole says quickly, flashing him a smile to let him know that she is only pretending to be standoffish for effect.

“Well the way you said it made it sound pretty intriguing.”

“What? She has been really really nice to me. I’ve been worried and she’s really helped. That doesn’t have to mean something.”

Jeremy seems to ignore this, electing instead to scroll on his phone. Nicole is about to point out that he is being very antisocial when she realises, much too late, that he is pulling up the vet surgery’s Meet The Team webpage.

“Yeah but it might mean quite a lot when she also looks like this,” Jeremy says, turning his screen towards Nicole, showing her Waverly’s entry, complete with an accompanying photograph, on the staff page.

Nicole makes a great show of peering at the picture. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Jeremy snorts.

“I think you do. Because even I can appreciate in a very distant, objective way that you’d find her cute.”

“Dude, my cat is sick. That’s not gonna be the first thing on my mind.”

“Fair. But I doubt it’s the last thing on your mind either. Leavey helps my mom when she’s worried but I don’t call him really really nice .”

In order to imitate Nicole, Jeremy deliberately pitches his voice far too high, just to annoy her.

She shoves at him.

“Don’t even try and tell me I sound like that.”

“Fine, you don’t. I’m just bitter because life isn’t fair.”

Nicole blinks, surprised. It is clear that Jeremy is still joking, but she has lost the thread a little.

“How so?”

“You picked a vet at random and got her to console you. I drive my mom to this guy once every so often.”

He scrolls down to the entry for poor Dr Leavey, who really must be ancient, because he is already wizened in his photograph and from the quality of it, it looks to have been taken in about 1992.

Levelling her best, beadiest stare at Jeremy, Nicole says, “consoling? Really? There has been very little consoling so don’t give yourself weird ideas.”

“Very little consoling does not equal zero consoling.”

“Well shit, what do you think is going to happen in a consultation room during a strict twenty-minute slot? It’s not like I want to date her or anything, she’s just really pretty and I just about hold it together when she blinds me with vet science whilst looking all cute. Plus, I’ve met her like two times.”

“Still,” Jeremy says, pouting and looking intentionally petulant. “I don’t just randomly meet cute guys like that.”

Nicole opens her mouth to retort again, but it is perhaps fortunate that her phone starts to ring, because it cuts off any more nonsensical bickering between the two of them.

“Sorry, I better get this,” Nicole says, fishing the phone out of her pocket. “It’s probably about Calamity Jane.”

“Yeah, it’s probably your cute vet,” Jeremy says solemnly, right as Nicole answers the call. She glares at him but can only hope and pray that he was not audible down the line.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is that Ms H- uh, Nicole?”

“Yes, speaking.”

“Ah, good, hi there. It’s Waverly Earp from Richmond Street. Is now a good time?”

Waverly sounds different down the phone, just as most people do, but after introducing herself the cadence of her voice becomes audible down the line. There is nothing in her tone to suggest good or bad news, and somehow this only makes Nicole’s stomach twist more.

“Yeah, now’s fine. Is everything alright?”

Surely it was not normal for someone as busy as Waverly to call with good news? Surely this had to be a bad sign?

“We’ve got a few updates for you, and I just wanted to call personally. I’m with Calamity Jane now and she’s doing fairly well under the circumstances. She’s certainly a resilient little thing, that much I can say.”

Jeremy gives her a thumbs up and a cautiously optimistic but querying expression - all okay? - but it quickly fades at Nicole’s responding look. The expression a resilient little thing was a lovely thing to hear about her pet, but it did not fill her with hope.

Down the line, Waverly keeps speaking.

“She’s not overjoyed about being here but she’s somewhat settled now. She’s slept a lot, which is good. We’ve got some fluids and some nutrients into her and after that she even seemed tempted to try a little solid food. Unfortunately she didn’t eat much and it didn’t stay down.”

This time, she pauses, giving Nicole time to process everything. At a loss for what to say she simply goes with:

“Oh. That must be bad, right?”

“Obviously it’s not what we want. But it’s painting a picture for us. We also took her in for some scans first thing, they’re definitely showing something with her kidneys, and our second set of bloods backs this up. Externally now, we can see too that her tummy is a little bit swollen. I’m now pretty certain I know what it is.” Waverly pauses again. Gently, she asks, “are you okay for me to carry on?”

“Yeah,” Nicole says, feeling rather stupid when her throat pinches. “Yeah I’d rather just know.”

“My feelings about it being kidney-related have been substantiated by poor Calamity Jane being so ill after eating. I think she’s ingested something which is producing symptoms rather like something called Acute Renal Failure.”

At this, at the mention of anything in CJ’s body failing, Nicole finds herself feeling just as sick as her cat has been today.

Waverly pauses and Nicole’s stunned silence looms between them. Waverly fills it effectively, speaking steadily and, above all else, calmly.

“I’m sure you understand what that means. We see it for a lot of reasons, but often it’s due to an animal ingesting something it shouldn’t. You mentioned that she’s an outdoor cat, so I wonder if she might have come into contact with something.”

“What sort of thing?”

“Oh, there’s really such a long list. Could be something man made like antifreeze or rat poison, or it could be from certain plants. No one’s given you any lillies recently?”

“No, nothing like that. And I don’t keep either of those things in the apartment.” Nicole feels a lump swell in her throat, feeling rather as though she has failed her pet.

“If I’m being honest, I think it’s far more likely she came into something while she was out exploring. It’s a double-edged sword, I understand that. If she’s free to roam in a space away from traffic, there’s no reason not to let her have some adventures, but you can’t insure against everything she might find. At any rate, she’s been rather lucky - although it might not sound that way to you. Whatever it is that’s knocked her sideways, if she’d taken in lots of it you’d have been seeing far worse symptoms in her. I think she’s probably ingested a small amount, enough to make her feel very, very poorly but nothing fatal. Of course, I can't actually make any promises to that effect but I really am as confident as I possibly can be.”

It is obvious from her voice that this is Waverly's way of promising anything without really giving any guarantees. Nicole understands that she can't do that.

At this, Nicole lets out a breath. It echoes and rattles down the line.

“Thank God,” she says, feeling even more emotional now that there is relief coursing below her skin. “So what happens now?”

“Well, Calamity Jane isn’t experiencing any acute failures right now, we’re just looking at the beginning stages of something that could have been much worse. But we’re going to treat it the same way: not all of it very pleasant for her I’m afraid. We know she hasn’t kept much down but we still want to make sure her stomach is entirely empty so that no more toxins get absorbed now. We’ll then flush out what’s already taken hold, in order to take the strain off her system. Lots of IV fluids, electrolytes to perk her up. Usually these things take twenty four to ninety six hours to pass through. She’s been with us nearly a full day now, but we’re not going to rush this, no matter how much I’m sure you want your girl home with you. We’ll play it day-by-day and I’ll be sure to get regular updates to you. How does that all sound?”

Nicole pauses, trying to formulate a proper sentence. All she can seem to manage, however, is, “that sounds fine. No, sorry, it sounds much more than fine. It’s great I’m just…”

“Trying to process?” Waverly asks sweetly, and Nicole almost wishes she wasn’t quite so nice because the additional kindness is only making the lump in her throat bear down with greater insistence.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“That’s normal, it’s a bit of a shock for you. And a relief I’m sure. I should add a bit of caution by saying that she’s not entirely out of the woods, but now we’ve isolated the problem I envisage it being smooth sailing from now on.” At this, Waverly halts more suddenly than the times before, and when she speaks again her voice is soft in a way that is less professional and far more personal. “You uh, you did well Ms H- sorry, Nicole, by bringing her in when you did.”

“Thank you,” Nicole says, feeling an odd little thrill at hearing Waverly say this. “Not just for saying that but for all your help. I don’t what I’d have - ” Nicole stops herself from finishing that thought. It is not worth thinking about now, and she assumes vets get that sort of stuff all the time. “Seriously, I appreciate everything you’ve done.”

“No need to thank me,” Waverly says brightly, professional chirpiness now back in place. “I’m always happy when we can get to the bottom of things.”

She offers a few more technicalities for Nicole - when she might next expect a phone call, whether she would like a short treatment plan emailed across to her - before excusing herself and explaining that she will need to return to work soon.

It is only when she says this that Nicole realises that Waverly must have given over her own lunch break to this phone call.

“Special treatment, maybe you’re not the only one thinking this client-vet situation is pretty cute,” Jeremy advises sagely when the call finally ends and Nicole relates the whole thing to him in an abridged format.

“Don’t even try it,” Nicole says dismissively, feeling less inclined to read anything into Waverly giving up her break, than she is to be guilty to take up the vet’s free time.

Indeed, Nicole had been enjoying the little joke with herself - worrying over her sick cat with only one silver lining - and never once bothering to think more deeply than that. After all, she had only met the woman twice and it was in an entirely professional setting. The last thing someone like Waverly needed (or indeed, deserved) was a client taking liberties.

Then, after a moment, Nicole adds, “but it’s nice that you think I’m cute though.”

Jeremy sighs. “Yeah, I fell into that one didn’t I?”

“Kinda,” Nicole says, giving him a playful grin.

“And for the record, I’m really, really glad your cat’s gonna be alright.”

For the first time in over a week, Nicole smiles and it feels completely weightless.

“Thanks, me too.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Calamity Jane is not sent home until Thursday afternoon, and Nicole prepares as best she can by working overtime until she receives the call. Combined with a spare of day of annual leave, she snags herself some time off to ensure she can watch over the cat for a few days.

When she collects her, poor CJ is a bit of a pitiful sight and it makes Nicole’s chest ache.

She feels unreasonably guilty for her pet’s state, although rationally she knows that it is not her fault.

Calamity Jane looks so much thinner than Nicole remembered her being a few days previously, and her fur looks lank and dull. Nicole supposes that this is understandable, because CJ has not had the energy to clean herself as she normally would.

The handover from surgery to owner is completed not by Waverly but by a sweet, earnest veterinary nurse whose tag says that he is somewhat appropriately named Robin.

“She’s given us a little more attitude today,” he tells Nicole with a bright smile. “Which we think means she’s feeling slightly more herself.”

Nicole laughs. “That’s about right, yeah.”  

By the time Nicole is with her, however, Jane is drowsy and a little groggy. She surfaces long enough to open one eye and survey Nicole, managing a disdainful little meow and a reproachful, resentful look which Nicole assumes is for being abandoned to the mercy of the staff here.

“She should snap out of that in a day or two,” Robin explains as he helps Nicole get CJ into her carrier. “The spaced out vibe, not the sass,” he adds as an afterthought. “I think that might be a perpetual affliction.”

Nicole laughs again. “I think you’re right about that one.”

“Dr Earp sends her apologies that she can’t sign Calamity Jane out with you. All our vets here like to see treatment through to completion, but if it helps you will need to book in for a final check. For now, she’s printed out a sheet for you; just the usual advice about re-introducing solid food and little signs to look out for in Jane. The main thing to note is that we’re as sure as we can be that any bad stuff has left her system, but keep an eye out for any signs that something is lingering. Literally any worries at all, call us. It’s what we’re here for.”

“You’ve all been wonderful,” Nicole says with a grateful smile. “I really can’t thank you enough.”

As seemed to be the trend here, Robin waves off her gratitude with an easy smile before retreating back into the staff rooms. Nicole books CJ in for a follow up appointment, and is out at her car when she hears someone calling her name.

She turns around, caught trying to wedge the huge cat carrier onto the back seat, and sees Waverly striding with purpose towards her, a satchel in one hand and a set of car keys in the other.

“Good,” Waverly says, sounding a little breathless. “I was hoping I’d still catch you. I had a last-minute call out, sorry. Otherwise, I’d have done the discharge myself.”

Nicole smiles. “It’s no problem, but I’m glad you did make it because I wanted to thank you again. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but I wish I could say how much I appreciate all your help.”

“Not at all. I’m just glad we could sort everything out for you both.” Waverly glances at the cat carrier. “She really is such a sweet thing once she takes to you.”

“Well in fairness, she took to you much faster than most.”

Waverly smiles. “I’ll have to take your word on that one.”

“Oh, trust me. I’m really not sure what it is - she’s a rescue so maybe it’s something in her past. Or maybe that’s just how she is.”

“But I bet you wouldn’t swap her now.”

“Not for the world, no.”

Waverly smiles as though that answer pleases her greatly, and the little family of butterflies now resident in Nicole’s stomach give an insistent flutter. There is an obvious reason for their sudden reappearance. Always, the two women have spoken from either side of a wide examination table - with the sole exception of the occasion that Waverly stood directly at Nicole’s side to show her out of the consultation room.

They have never, however, stood so close as this. Waverly had jogged over to the car in something of a hurry, and had come up to a halt perhaps nearer to Nicole than she intended. Certainly, they are closer to each other than either had initially perceived. It is like they have the same realisation at once, settling into an odd little silence as they both seem to take in the other at such close proximity.

Nicole could count every summer freckle on the other woman’s nose if she wanted, could follow the map of every tiny, elegant crinkle in the corner of Waverly’s eyes as she smiles.

It takes a second before Nicole realises that Waverly is looking back just as intently, and if the moment has the potential to be slightly strange or stilted, it never quite shapes itself that way.

The pause can only have lasted a heartbeat or two, but it stretches out in a space between them where time does not quite seem to arrange itself as it should. A thought, unbidden, cartwheels across the back of Nicole’s mind like a firework.

She really is cute, her traitorous and apparently one-track brain says. If I’d met her elsewhere, maybe I could have asked her out to coffee. Or dinner.

Then a follow-up thought, more intrusive than the last pipes up too.

Technically, I could still ask the question. Especially if CJ's treatment is nearly up. Surely that wouldn't be too unprofessional?

But, of course, Nicole has no intention of taking that chance. More than that, there is no question of imposing herself like that on Waverly at her place of work. Nicole experiences first hand the kind of liberties men take in the workplace. She is not about to be that guy now - even removing the 'guy' part from the equation.

After all, for all she knows there is a chance - albeit fairly slim in Nicole's opinion - that Waverly is straight.

But even so, Nicole just gets a vibe from the other woman...

Instead of even venturing even close to that territory, and with a regretful little look back at the clinic, Nicole says, “I suppose I’d better let you get back. You must be busy.”

Waverly’s responding smile looks just as resigned. “I am, sadly. I would have liked to have stayed and chatted with you.”

Nicole blinks. There is no missing the tone in Waverly’s voice this time; not heavy or especially laden, but simply rather deliberately placed like every single footfall in a fresh layer of snow.

“I would have liked that too. It would have been nice.”

Nicole is happy with the way her own response lands between them. No room for error that she feels the same.

It makes Waverly’s smile shift into something a little more coy, a little more knowing…

So, Nicole thinks, no room for error there then, either. Because after that response, surely Nicole's little feeling about Waverly was not too far off base after all. But accurate sapphic radar or not, there is precious little that can be done about it in a veterinary clinic parking lot, even if they are bathed in the dying rays of the late-summer afternoon sun which, as far as Nicole is concerned, paints the scene rather beautifully.  

“Some other time, perhaps,” Waverly says, although they both know it is unlikely.

With Calamity Jane on the mend now, and only one follow-up left to go, it seems like the little silver lining might be about to fade out entirely.

Chapter Text

It takes the cat a little while, but initially CJ looks as though she might bounce back from her recent misadventures remarkably well.

The first evening back at home, she is disorientated and woozy the entire time, and Nicole scarcely dares fall asleep in case Calamity Jane takes a bad turn.

By the next morning, however, she seems a little stronger and even looks to her empty food bowl once or twice.

Happy to see her little flatmate improving, Nicole uses her time off to put her own feet up too. She is loathe to leave the apartment that first day and uses Calamity Jane’s status as recovering patient to settle them both on the couch and switch the television on, making a good dent in a long list of shows she never normally has time to watch.

It is something of an accumulated skill, letting herself veg out at any time, but especially when the September sun is streaming through her windows and beckoning her outdoors. Nicole has never really been one to sit still, but having CJ’s warm body curled up tight on the couch next to her is the perfect excuse to just stop for while and not consider it a waste of the good weather.  

CJ snoozes quietly all day, content to be on her own little slice of the couch and even willing to accept a few miniscule pieces of plain chicken from Nicole’s hand at lunchtime.

Whenever Nicole moves - to fix her own lunch or refill her water bottle or use the bathroom - the cat struggles to lift her head so that she can watch Nicole drift around the apartment, still not really in a position to be up and on the move, but apparently not entirely happy yet to let Nicole out of her sight.

It makes Nicole’s heart twist. They have always had a good bond, but poor CJ had never behaved quite like this before. It makes Nicole feel incredibly guilty, even as she knows leaving her cat for treatment was the only option. The sole consolation is imagining Waverly as Jane’s primary caregiver. Somehow, Nicole knows that she would have been impossibly kind and gentle. Of course, all of the staff she had met give off that impression - but Waverly was something else.

Nicole thinks of the vet more times than she would like to admit over the course of that day. Seeing her cat in such a state now seems inexorably linked to a mental image of Dr Earp. It is odd, because Nicole knows next to nothing about Waverly, but she cannot help but feel drawn to her.

She is beautiful, but it is more than that. She seems to exude kindness and passion and such a sunny disposition that Nicole feels almost like there is a foregone conclusion somewhere that no one told her about. It is like she has no choice but to fall. It hardly helps that she evidently also loves animals so much, and had bent over backwards to ensure that Nicole’s pet had received all the treatment possible.

Nicole thinks back to Jeremy’s text the day before, upon learning that Nicole was able to go and pick up CJ:

So happy she’s gonna be okay! I know you’ve been worried. Just try not to get an Actual, Full Blown Crush on cute vet now that she’s saved your cat’s life, all heroic-like .

Nicole had protested suitably, even genuinely believing that any kind of crush - Actual, Full Blown or otherwise - was impossible under these circumstances. She and Waverly had barely spoken, barely been in any contact at all…

Dolls - because of course this had happened in the group chat - had simply added don’t kid yourself, Haught to the conversation when Nicole had denied everything.

But perhaps there was just a glimmer of truth in Jeremy’s assessment that Nicole was interested in Waverly in more than just a glancing way. After all, if it was possible for one to ask the other out to dinner then Nicole knows she would go for it in a heartbeat.

As far as she is concerned, however, all she can do is give herself a stern talking to and remind herself why she even met Waverly Earp in the first place: because Calamity Jane was sick.

She is still sick, Nicole tells herself, and seems to be snapping out of things remarkably slowly. In fact, the cat shows no further interest in food unless it is brought to her, and seems to regress slightly by the early afternoon. That, and not some hint of a skin-deep crush, is what is at stake here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nosedive doesn’t come until later that same evening.

CJ remains weak and scarcely moves except to check that Nicole is close by. She accepts a few more scraps of food, and allows Nicole to regularly offer her water but she makes no attempt to do much else more than sleep.

Nicole does her best to let the cat rest and to not worry herself too much when Jane does not move around too often.

By the time Nicole has fixed herself a quick dinner, however, something feels off.

She checks the notes provided to her, but there is nothing on there that conclusively states that something could be wrong with CJ as is.

But then, as Nicole tries to settle back on the couch after a lightning fast shower, she notes how the cat’s breathing grows increasingly shallow. CJ seems to tremor too, as though she is cold and shivering to get warm.

Nicole tries to run through what the nurse had told her yesterday, that any sign that toxins might still be in Jane’s system was a cause for concern. She gives CJ a little nudge with her palm, but the cat does not seem to notice. Nicole’s own breathing grows short. Does that count as unresponsive? After a prolonged delay, Calamity Jane gives a pitiful little whine, and Nicole almost jumps away in case she has somehow caused the cat additional discomfort.

Feeling torn - worried for her cat and worried to waste a vet’s time, especially out of hours - Nicole turns her cell phone over and over in her hand for a few minutes before making the call.

It is too late by now for a receptionist to be present at the surgery, so a responder checks off a few of CJ’s symptoms before agreeing that the best thing would be to send someone out, just to be sure.

Nicole thanks them and waits, surprised when someone rings at the intercom within half an hour.

The building’s speaker system has, apparently, been shot since long before Nicole arrived so she simply buzzes the person in and listens for a knock on the door.

Somehow, with all the worry lighting up her body the last thing Nicole pictures whilst waiting for the on-call vet to arrive is that she will open her front door to -

Waverly Earp.

Seeing her there makes Nicole stall for a moment.

Waverly is dressed down; no longer in green scrubs, she is instead clad in tight blue jeans and an overlarge, cream t-shirt that hangs off one shoulder by design. Nicole cannot help but note that she looks tired, but just as beautiful as ever.

“Hey,” she says, sounding tired too, and Nicole couldn’t feel any more guilty today if she tried. “There was something with Calamity Jane?”

“I’m so sorry to get you out, it’s just that she was really starting to worry me.”

Waverly gives a little smile; exhausted but genuine. “Hey, it’s what being on call is about. We all do our stints of it. Shall I take a look at her?”

Nicole nods, hoping that she sounds even half so patient on the night time call-outs she gets. She cannot say for sure, but it must be close to eleven o’clock now.

“Yes, please. Thank you.”

Nicole lets Waverly in and heads through the small entrance hall. She turns back towards her living room, looking to the couch to find a sight almost as dreaded as a deteriorating Calamity Jane.

The cat is sat up on the cushion; the first real sign of life she has shown in twenty four hours.

“Oh my God,” Nicole mutters to herself. “Don’t you dare.”

Waverly twigs immediately and laughs. She crosses the room and crouches down to be as close to level with CJ as she can manage.

“Is someone playing silly beggars, huh? Keeping us on our toes?”

CJ seems to recognise Waverly, and lets her scratch behind her ears. The cat still looks a little spaced out, but nothing compared to how she has been for the rest of the day.

“Oh God,” Nicole says, feeling mortified. “I turned away from her to get the door and she barely seemed to know I was here.”

Waverly chuckles, not taking her eyes off the cat. “Sod’s Law.”

She does a few physical checks on CJ and ticks off a few basic questions with Nicole: had the cat eaten, drank, used the litter tray? Nicole answers them as best she can, feeling a blush lay heavy on her cheeks.

She was not usually one to be so embarrassed, but Waverly was evidently tired and overworked, and now Nicole looked like she had called her out for nothing.  

“Well Miss, you look to be in pretty good shape now,” Waverly concludes good-naturedly to the cat a short while later, “so there’s no need to go giving us all scares like that.”

“I’m so sorry,” Nicole says, happy that Waverly is still facing CJ and not watching the red slowly fade from her cheeks.

“Really,” Waverly says with another little laugh, “it’s no problem. You’d be surprised how often this happens.”

Certain that the vet is trying to spare her blushes (literal and figurative), Nicole presses the matter. “I swear I gave her a while to snap out of it, but I just couldn’t seem to get her to respond, and the sheet you guys gave said - ” Nicole breaks off, because Waverly finally concludes her checks and turns to face Nicole. When their eyes lock, Nicole notes that Waverly is wearing a wicked, teasing expression on her face.

It is not at all what Nicole expected, but she supposes that outside of the walls of the practice it is easier to be a little more informal.

“I don’t know, you have been cooped up on cat watch all day.”

She pauses, and in response Nicole pulls a don’t you dare sort of a face.

“I think maybe you just wanted the company,” Waverly concludes and the humour in her voice makes Nicole ease up.

“Damn. And here I was thinking I’d been so sneaky.”

They both laugh, the sounds mingling wonderfully in Nicole’s living room.

“There’s no getting past me, you know. As soon as I got the details I knew what it was all about.”

“And yet you still came,” Nicole teases back. This makes Waverly laugh harder.

“What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment. And I thought, since you went to such lengths to give me an invite - ”

“Any cover to ask a girl round,” Nicole agrees, happy when Waverly continues laughing to herself, because that had, arguably, been a step too far into the realms of personal information. It had definitely been too obviously and deliberately flirtatious.

Waverly seems unperturbed however, as she remains crouched on Nicole’s living room floor, one hand still absently petting at Calamity Jane’s head.

Hurrying to speak again and cover up the blunder, Nicole adds, “but I really do appreciate you being so understanding. I’d offer you a coffee as thanks, but caffeine at this time is probably bad.”

She pauses, only really realising that she is testing these waters when the words are already out of her mouth. When Waverly says nothing - no hurried, overly polite response of that’s very kind but or oh no, you don’t have to do that - Nicole presses a little further.

“Plus I’m guessing you’ll want to go now that you’ve seen she’s fine,” she says, jerking her head at Calamity Jane. When Waverly momentarily looks back at the cat, Nicole chances an indignant glance at her pet, who simply begins swooshing her tail like a lazy pendulum, as if to really reinforce that she is fine. Nicole almost wants to say that CJ is completely oblivious to the concern and embarrassment she has caused, but Nicole would not actually put it past the dramatic little cat to have staged the entire performance. Probably, she would have no remorse about it either.

“Actually,” Waverly begins carefully, “I wouldn’t mind observing her for a time just to be safe. Since I’m already here I’d like to check. But there’s no need to make any drinks.”

“Are you sure? I really was about to switch the kettle on for myself earlier.”

Waverly settles her gaze on Nicole. “Well, perhaps if the offer could be switched to tea? That would actually be really great, if you have some.”

Nicole fakes a tut. “So demanding.”

Waverly quirks a brow, accepting the challenge but saying nothing more.

After a moment, Nicole relents. “I can only offer peppermint or chamomile I’m afraid.”

“Either is fine,” Waverly says to be polite, before eventually deciding on peppermint.

Nicole drifts off to make them both tea, leaving the kitchen door open so that she can peer out. Waverly makes a few more observations on Calamity Jane, checking for things Nicole cannot quite discern. Probably, she would not understand them either.

She brings the tea out a moment later, inviting Waverly to sit on the couch. The latter accepts a mug and settles on the edge of the cushion next to CJ, still somewhat professional and reserved.

There is a silence - not quite awkward but not entirely comfortable either - until Nicole says,

“You have to really love your job, right, to do something like this? Knowing you’ll get called out at all hours and work long days at the best of times.”

Nicole says this because she knows the feeling, but unintentionally fails to make clear that she is in a line of work that requires similar dedication.

“Oh definitely,” Waverly says, blowing on her tea. “People don’t sign up lightly but they really drum it into you in your first year at school anyway. Anyone who’s not serious tends to drop out by then. Not that I mean that negatively, it is really tough.”

Nicole nods, understanding this too.

“I actually kind of thought about becoming a vet when I was younger,” she admits, not sure why she is telling Waverly this. “I’ve always loved animals and I enjoyed science at school.”

There is an expression on Waverly’s face which suggests she is listening intently, being careful with the information in much the same way she is careful with a new patient’s list of symptoms.

“What changed? If I can ask that.”

“Other stuff just won out I guess. There were always a couple of things I thought about doing, but only one that seemed the perfect fit.”

Waverly nods. “I get that. Definitely get that.”

“Was it always what you wanted to do?” Nicole prompts, hoping she is not asking too much. “Vet school?”

Waverly smiles, amused perhaps at her past self’s journey towards her present vocation.

“No, actually. I mean, it was always up there. Like you I liked animals and I was good at science. I liked the gory stuff too, if I’m being really honest. It was just fascinating to me, dissecting stuff in biology and learning that - if you understood enough about a body - you could maybe fix it. Fixing something, making it hurt less or whatever - that’s always been a big thing for me. But there was other stuff I liked to too. I was really good at History and languages at school, almost went into that instead.”

“Languages like German or languages like Latin?”

“Both, actually. But I was really into the dead languages stuff. I still think about working at it. Doing a distance course at my own pace maybe.”

“Why not?” Nicole says in what she hopes is an encouraging tone. “So long as you’re not gonna burn out, there’s no reason not to.”

Waverly smiles and nods. “It’s just finding the time.”

Nicole laughs to herself. “Yeah, I get that. And, if you don’t mind me saying, it’s very different to vet school.”

“I know,” Waverly replies with a self-deprecating little chuckle. “I think in many ways that’s what made the decision so hard back when I was a kid.”

“What swung it?”

“Well, I grew up in a tiny little town. Canada, not here. It was proper middle of nowhere stuff, and to really embody the stereotype, I was brought up on a country ranch.”

Nicole pauses with her mug at her lips, trying to align this new information with the image of Waverly she already possessed. It both did and didn’t surprise her. As hands-on as the woman is, Nicole hadn’t really imagined her as a small town kind of girl. Now that the information was out there, however, it was surprisingly easy to accommodate this into the picture she was building up in her mind.

“My aunt and uncle raised me and my sister,” Waverly goes on, tapping lightly on her mug with one fingernail. “I was never the most outdoorsy person to be honest, but you don’t come from my town without being habituated to it all. You especially don’t come from one of the old farming families without getting used to everything that kind of life entails. My uncle loved it all, lived and breathed the rural life; he was always happiest when growing his tomatoes and heading out to tend to the horses or cattle. He supported everything I was interested in, but uh - he died right before my final year of high school. I guess I sort of felt like I was carrying on something of his by doing this. It felt right, you know?”

Nicole sets her mug down, feeling aghast that, in addition to needlessly calling Waverly out of her home late at night, she had also stirred up bad memories for the other woman.

“I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I asked - if I’d known I - ”

“Please, don’t be sorry,” Waverly says, shaking her head. “You didn’t know and I didn’t have to say. Actually um, I - I don’t know why I did. Sorry. That wasn’t very professional of me.”

Nicole watches an odd expression settle on Waverly’s face; it is something like surprise and shock, as though she forgot herself and now cannot quite believe she had spoken so freely.

Nicole supposes it does feel a bit surreal that they are sitting together in her living room drinking tea, both of them occasionally sending a glance at Calamity Jane, who had since curled back up and shut her eyes again - this time looking far more comfortable and at ease.

“Don’t worry about it, ‘very professional’ is sometimes overrated,” Nicole says without really giving her response too much thought. It seems to amuse Waverly, who smiles.

“How so?”

“Throughout this whole thing,” Nicole says, choosing her words more carefully now, “you - and everyone else at the practice too - have been professional. Really professional. Amazing, in fact. But professional in the sense that some people think of it - detached or distant or whatever - isn’t always warm, it doesn’t always put people at ease and help you connect to them. But you’ve all done that, and I’d rather have that than traditional professionalism, if I’m being honest. ”

Nicole says this as much as a cop as to reassure Waverly.

Waverly nods quickly, with conviction. “I always went into this job thinking that I wanted owners to see me as a real person. You just want people to know you care. So thank you for saying that, if it’s not a bit presumptuous of me to assume.”

“Not at all,” Nicole assures her. “There’s no room for doubt that you care. I was so worried about all of this, and I can’t say that I ever totally stopped.” Nicole pauses, grinning at herself. “As is obvious since I dragged you out here for nothing. But it was a different kind of worry after seeing you the first time. Like I was scared because I care about Calamity Jane, but not like I felt completely alone with it anymore.”

Waverly ducks her head slightly, and if Nicole is not very much mistaken it would appear that a blush has risen up the other woman’s neck.

“Thank you, I really appreciate you saying that. It’s probably a bit obvious but I haven’t been qualified all that long. I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t trust myself to make good calls, but at the same time it’s taking quite a while to get my confidence up. Having nice customers like you helps. Really, really helps.”

Nicole feels oddly pleased at being called a ‘nice customer’ and she cannot stop it from showing on her face.

“Well, from where I’m sitting you’re doing great. I mean, just look at the Queen of Sheba over there. She’s doing fine now.”

Almost as if she hears the dig, Calamity Jane opens her eyes. It makes them both laugh.

Waverly cards a hand through the thick, soft fur of CJ’s back.

“She certainly seems much improved from when I last saw her. I think the worst is over now. As always, keep an eye on her though. I know this evening probably felt a bit - ” Here, Waverly pauses, evidently trying to choose her words.

“Idiotic and embarrassing?” Nicole supplies for her, still feeling like a complete fool.

“No, not at all,” Waverly says, sounding so emphatic that it takes Nicole by surprise. “No please don’t feel embarrassed. I’d rather check out a happy, healthy cat then hear a story about how something was left too long and we couldn’t save someone’s animal. No, we absolutely would rather owners call us out as you have. It’s like you said before, you don’t take this job on if you’re not prepared for it to be a lot of work. In fact, I was actually going to say that you shouldn’t let this put you off calling us again if you’re worried.”

“Thank you, you’re very understanding.”

“And you were very kind to get me some tea while I stuck around. But now, in the nicest possible way I’ll hope to only see Calamity Jane again in a couple of weeks for a final check up.”

Nicole laughs, taking Waverly’s empty mug from her and setting it down on a sideboard. It does not go unnoticed that Waverly had specifically mentioned the cat only. All the same, Nicole lumps herself in with her pet.

“We’ll both take that in the spirit it was intended, and try not to be too wounded.”

Waverly grins and starts making her way to the door. “Don’t make me feel guilty, it doesn’t take much.”

Nicole follows, waiting for Waverly to slip her shoes back on in the hallway.

Against many protests, Nicole sees Waverly to her car; she lives in a safe area and it is only a short walk to a nearby parking lot, but the cop in Nicole cannot let it slide.

“Thank you again. And more importantly: sorry again.”

“It’s nothing,” Waverly says as she gently throws her bag onto the shotgun seat. “Worst case interpretation of tonight: your cat is fine, and I had a very nice cup of tea and a chat. And that’s not a worst case at all really, is it?”

“No,” Nicole says as Waverly makes her leave and gets into the car. “No, it’s really not.”

When Nicole returns to the flat, she finds CJ waiting for her.

“You’re either the worst or the best wing woman in history, you know that right?” Nicole says simply, walking straight past the couch and towards her bedroom. It is far too late to do anything but go right to bed.

Calamity Jane gives a little meow and hops off the couch to follow her, tail up in the air in a jaunty little display of resilience. Aside from a few telltale signs that she has been in the wars recently, she looks almost the perfect picture of health.

 

 


 

 

 

 

With Calamity Jane’s little false alarm performance behind them, Nicole now fully believes that the moment has passed as far as Waverly is concerned.

When she returns to work a few days later, she gives Dolls and Jeremy a good laugh by telling them the whole sorry, embarrassing story of the night-time call-out, and somehow with time it does not seem less mortifying. If anything it is worse.

“Seems like a pretty extreme way to invite a girl round,” Dolls observes in the dry, deadpan way he seems to have mastered over the years.

In truth, Nicole cannot remember the time she explicitly made her interest in girls clear to Dolls, she had just come to assume that he was completely omniscient and ergo the perfect crime fighter.

“Hey, I expected this of him, not you,” Nicole points out, casting a glance at Jeremy.

Jeremy gives a little protest, before innocently asking what it was like having her crush in her home like that.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Nicole says rather convincingly. “Do you have a crush on every guy you’ve ever thought was cute?”

Jeremy opens his mouth to respond, right as Dolls says,

“Do you really want him to answer that?”

Wisely, Nicole elects to close down that line of questioning immediately. It simply did not seem beneficial for anyone.

It also did not seem particularly beneficial for Nicole to think too much about Waverly, but this did not entirely go her way.

She finds that she cannot help but think of her at times, connecting any thoughts of CJ’s progress back to the vet almost by default. She tries to tell herself that this is natural and to be expected, but deep down Nicole knows that it is more than that.

Waverly Earp is sweet and pretty and charming, she is clearly smart, passionate, and driven enough to enter into her chosen profession, she cares, and there had been so much soul and steel and depth to her when she spoke about why she had chosen her current life.

Nicole felt like there was an undercurrent between them, a deep potential for great understanding; it was almost as though they were cut from the same cloth.

It is an exercise in self restraint, therefore, knowing that Waverly’s phone number was still in her received calls log, back from when she had phoned through with an update on CJ’s tests.

But there is no real reason to speak to Waverly again now, except for that one, ever-dimming beacon of CJ’s final follow up in a week’s time.

So, that makes it all the more serendipitous when Nicole unexpectedly finds herself face to face with Waverly again nearly two weeks after CJ was discharged from the clinic.

Nicole is still mercifully on day shifts, and decides to call into the same cafe she and Jeremy had visited together what now feels like aeons ago. She is early for work and feels the need to splurge on a nice coffee.

Happily, the place is quiet - just a few suited business people sitting alone at separate tables, tucking into store-bought granola pots or enormous breakfast pastries.

There is one person at the counter being served, and although familiarity tugs at Nicole, she is too much in her own world to make the connection until the woman in front drops some coins. They roll behind her and she is forced to turn around to pick them up. From behind, recognition had stirred in Nicole’s mind, but face-to-face there is no mistaking the other customer.

“Oh,” Waverly says, looking completely surprised. “Gosh, hi Nicole.”

Nicole, already crouched halfway to pick up some of the coins that had rolled past her shoes, is just as startled. In fact, she feels oddly unprepared for this kind of unscheduled contact. Any interaction outside of CJ’s treatment is uncharted waters.

“Hey,” Nicole replies, coming up to standing and passing Waverly’s change back to her. In a brief moment of contact, Nicole notes just how cold Waverly’s fingers are. It is still hot outside, and Nicole finds herself making a mental record: cold hands, warm heart.

“Thank you. And also sorry, I ended up going all informal on you there.”

“Informal is just fine,” Nicole says, unable to hold back a little laugh at Waverly’s reference to their last conversation. She is not making fun of Waverly in the slightest, just pleasantly surprised to be seeing her. “More than fine, actually.”

Looking a little sheepish, Waverly nods. “Agreed. And in the interests of informality, please go ahead of me. My card has decided that this is the morning it wants to act up and I’m terrible for not carrying enough cash. I’m just trying to see what I’ve got. Probably I’ll just tell them to leave it.”

“I can get your order, if you want?” Nicole says without a second thought. Rather unpleasantly, Jeremy’s voice pops into the back of her head, reminding her that most people don’t buy their vets a coffee. Seems like something you’d do for a crush, the voice says - sounding almost remarkably like her friend.

“Oh, you’re so sweet,” Waverly says brightly, still rooting about for cash. This is helpful, because she does not see the effect the comment has on Nicole. “But I wouldn’t dream of it, it’s my fault for not having even five or ten dollars on me for moments just like this.”

“You should, you know,” Nicole finds herself saying. “Just in case you ever have an emergency. Like, a non-coffee one. A proper one.”

“A coffee emergency is a proper emergency,” Waverly jokes, pulling a teasing expression that sits so well on her face that Nicole thinks her stomach might drop out entirely.

“Fair enough, which is why I am here to assist. Please, it will make me feel a lot better about the other night.”

Waverly shakes her head, still looking amused. “You don’t have to think of it like that. But I will accept under the promise that I’ll pay you back when I see you at the clinic. Next week, isn’t it - your appointment?”

“That depends on whether I accept it. Or if you actually have any cash,” she jokes before sidestepping Waverly and ordering with the barista. “I’ll pay for that previous order and a cappuccino to go, please.”

Behind her, she hears Waverly continue the playful back and forth with a little comment of, okay, ouch.

Ignoring this, Nicole pays - with cash - and they both step to one side and wait for their drinks.

“That’s very kind of you Nicole, thank you,” Waverly says again. It seems that they cannot seem to curb the pleasantries around each other. It is no bad thing - after all, Nicole wants Waverly to like her - but it is probably quite amusing to an outsider, the number of times they find an excuse to thank the other for something.

“After all your help, it’s nothing. I’m happy to provide hot drinks.”

“More like swooping in during a coffee emergency, but I see now that you might be trained for it. I uh, I hadn’t realised you were a cop.”

“Right, yeah,” Nicole says, realising that she is in uniform and suddenly considering that she has never actually had cause to mention it before. She struggles to read Waverly’s reaction to her job. “We’re not all bad, I promise.”

“Oh it’s not that,” Waverly replies quickly. “Sorry, not that at all. It just makes extra sense now - some of the things you were saying about dedication to a tough job, as well as never having a firm routine. I can only imagine it’s just as tough for you, if not more so.”  

Nicole nods. “It can definitely be hard, but it was something I’d always wanted to do.”

“More than anything else,” Waverly murmurs quietly, sounding thoughtful and harking back to their previous conversation in Nicole’s living room.

“Exactly,” Nicole says, happy that Waverly remembered. She must have a hundred other things an hour to keep tabs on too but she remembered that, Nicole thinks to herself. “It was like you said, actually. You’ve always had a bit of a thing about fixing stuff, or trying to make it hurt less. I’ve always wanted to help people, to try and do something about the bad things out there. It’s not quite the same, but - ” Nicole trails off and finishes with an inelegant little shrug. She supposes the point was still made.

Certainly, Waverly looks as if she understands. She still seems quiet and thoughtful, like she is taking in Nicole for the first time all over again. It sends an odd shiver across Nicole’s shoulders, seeing Waverly watching her like that.

“I get it,” she says. “Definitely.”

It is at this moment, just as Nicole is wondering what more to say in this unexpected and oddly serious conversation, that their coffees are deposited on the counter and it seems to cut the right wire and diffuse some tension.

Waverly takes her cup - filled with a brew of decaf, coconut something-or-other; as sweet as Nicole would have imagined - and thanks Nicole again. She stops by the little napkin station and examines the labels on the sugar shakers, eventually settling on cinnamon and heaping a generous amount into her drink.

“It’s fine,” Nicole insists as she takes a sip of her plain, unaltered cappuccino. “Just lucky we crossed paths. A nice surprise, in fact.”

At this, Waverly pulls a little pleading face as she puts the lid back on her reusable cup. “Actually , about that. I know this comes off the back of you saving my morning coffee, but I might have a favour to ask.”

By unspoken assent, they both make for the door, Nicole holding it open for Waverly to pass through first. It is still unseasonably hot, and the brief reprieve of the shop’s air conditioning is lost the moment Nicole steps outside again.

“Sure, shoot.”

“Well,” Waverly says grandly. “Today is actually kind of the best day - made even better of course by bumping into you - ”

“Smoothly done.”

“Thank you. But basically, our surgery has the tender out with the precinct round the corner - guessing that’s yours?” Waverly waits for Nicole’s nod before going on. “Since you guys have the new police dog unit and they’re covering the first round of vaccinations and checks on the new recruits. Well, the four-legged ones.”

Nicole snorts. “They might have better healthcare than I do in that case. Also, if you’re about to tell me your morning assignment is hanging out with the K9 puppies I’m never going to talk to you again out of pure spite and jealousy.”

This makes Waverly laugh, the sound loud and melodic.

“Well we can’t have that, as I’d quite like to keep talking to you,” she says, and Nicole wonders if Waverly meant that in the way Nicole would really, really like to interpret it. “So I’m just going to say that if I were to hypothetically ask you to show me to a certain part of your precinct, would you be interested in assisting the general public please?”

Still grinning - a side effect of Waverly’s laughter - Nicole says, “sure thing. I’m pretty certain that comes under my list of professional duties.”

“Thank you officer,” Waverly says, singsong and still playful.

With that arranged, they walk along together towards the station.

“So, shall I take it from your reaction that you would like having a police dog?” Waverly asks between two long sips of her drink.

Oh,” Nicole begins, reacting with gusto, “trust me. ‘Like’ doesn’t even come close. I’m hoping this lot get good results so they keep the programme running.”

“Then you’ll be fighting for a spot?”

“You bet,” Nicole confirms with conviction.

“Possible stupid question from a non-cop: but could you not have joined this one?”

“I wish,” Nicole says, voice full of genuine longing. “But it’s actually a pretty specialised thing. I only qualified about a year ago, and you should really have minimum two or three years on the job first. Then you need to do additional training and if they’re happy with how you’re doing, they’ll pair you up with a dog. I’m quietly hoping by the time these puppies are old enough to start, I might be in with a chance of pairing up with one. It would be nice to train them from young, but I’m sure I’d deal.”

Waverly watches, nodding and smiling as she takes this all in. “Well, I don’t know anything about policing, but if I was your boss and saw how serious you were about it, I’d give you police dog.”  

It is clear that Waverly is, in part, being light-hearted, but even so there is a wry, humorous little voice in the back of Nicole’s head which decides that this might be the most unintentionally romantic thing anyone has ever said to her.

“Would you also give my cat free counselling?” she asks, trying not to get stuck on Waverly’s demeanour this morning. She is still mostly convinced that nothing would ever be able to happen between them. “Because she isn’t used to sharing anything.”

This makes Waverly laugh again. “I shouldn’t really say these things about patients, but I really fell for Calamity Jane. I can see why you did too. As soon as you’re in the inner circle, she’s so affectionate.”

“Well, I can only reiterate what I said last time; the inner circle is very, very exclusive. I like to think I’m pretty easy-going but that cat is definitely not. She gets the final say and she’s a tough crowd.”

Waverly ducks her head slightly, and from Nicole’s angle she catches the way the sun glints off Waverly’s eyelashes.

“Then let’s just say I’m uh, I’m really glad you guys let me in.”

At this, she darts her gaze back up and meets Nicole’s eye for moment. The look between them feels weighty and significant, and Nicole feels almost as though she is under a microscope; every part of her visible whether she likes it or not. All the same, she cannot seem to look away and, in truth, she does not think that she wants to.

“Me too,” Nicole replies, now just as quiet and thoughtful as Waverly had seemed earlier. There is a part of her that is all-but screaming that she should just go for it.

Realistically, there was very little to lose. She and Waverly did not have a long-running friendship to ruin, and if things went wrong there were other vets in the city. Granted, CJ probably wouldn’t take to any of the others quite so well, and Nicole certainly would not. But at least it would be better to have tried.

Just as Nicole is coming round to this line of thought and feeling rather brave, Waverly speaks again and the moment seems to pass.

Admittedly, Waverly’s intentions were very sweet as she begins asking questions about Nicole’s training and her work as a cop, but Nicole has never really wanted to talk about her vocation less. By the time they have reached the precinct, however, there is no real hope of backtracking and even if it wouldn’t have sounded totally out of place, there are too many people around now for Nicole to take the risk.  

Instead, she gets Waverly signed in as a visitor and tells reception that she is happy to show Waverly through the building.

With a sigh for effect, Nicole begins to grumble as she directs them the elevators and hits the call button.  

“I still can’t believe a bunch of people are bringing their puppies into work today and I have no part in it whatsoever.”

“It is a pretty good perk of the job, I’m not going to pretend otherwise,” Waverly says, not even trying to dim down the pleased look on her face. “But if it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty sure everyone at my job hated me for getting this gig just as much as you do right now.”

The elevator arrives and they step inside. It is relatively deserted.

“Hate? You? I struggle to believe that,” Nicole says, flashing the most winning smile she can muster. “But I can imagine it’s a pretty popular call out. How do those things get decided?”

“Oh, well. They base it on our natural wit and charm. I won out.”

“Now that is something I can believe.”

Waverly pulls an expression of disbelief. “I think we’ve found the charmer here and it’s not me. And to answer your question properly, it’s literally just luck of the draw. For something like this we’d try and work around you guys rather than the other way around. I didn’t have any appointments so I got the long straw.”

“Playing with puppies all morning? Longest straw ever if you ask me.”

“Um, you do know it’s called vaccinating and check ups, right? Not playing. And I’ll be here a couple of hours max.”

“This is our floor,” Nicole says. As they step outside, she adds, “and you can say what you like. All I’m hearing is that a whole heap of puppies is involved.”

“Yes,” Waverly says with a grin, “that is the main thing to take away here.”

She keeps step with Nicole who, partly unfamiliar with this floor herself, is momentarily distracted by reading the plaques on each of the doors they pass. Some of the information is incomplete, however, and she comes up short until a voice behind her provides both an imminent problem and solution.

“Do actual cops even come to this floor?” Jeremy’s voice sounds, completely oblivious to the presence of someone else behind Nicole.

“Apparently not,” Nicole says, turning to face him, “because I don’t have the first clue where I’m going. Any chance you’ll know?”

“Possibly. There’s been a whole power issue up here and it’s made some of the computers do strange stuff. Well, not that strange really - mostly just a load of reboots. But strange apparently to the admin teams.”

Nicole cannot help but grin. “Is the part where you say that it’s not really - ”

“It’s not really my job to fix our tech,” Jeremy begins at the same time, before sending a glower at Nicole. “Did you want directions or not?”

“Ideally we’ll just keep wandering here all day, but if you did want to put the kibosh on our plans, do you know where a Mr Wayne works? And if you make a single Batman reference you’re officially uninvited from after work drinks this week.”

“You know, you think you’re funny but you’re not. Also, the fact you pre empted my Batman reference speaks volumes. But most importantly, who’s we?”

Silently, Nicole kicks herself. She had been well aware that, in the old, narrow corridor, Waverly could not really be seen by Jeremy. Nicole knows he is going to have a field day.  

Moving awkwardly in the confined space, Nicole steps aside slightly to reveal her companion standing and waiting quietly behind her.

“Apparently it’s new K9 puppy vaccination day, so I said I’d show uh,” Nicole pauses and sends a glance at Waverly. She has never had to use her name in front of her, and neither option feels quite right. A title feels far too formal, but a first name might seem a bit too over-friendly.

Mercifully, Waverly provides her own forename and shakes Jeremy’s hand warmly.

“I’m a vet, here to give the pups their final checks before they’re good to go.”

“Ah yes, you helped Nicole,” Jeremy says, and although he does so completely automatically, Nicole still wants to implore him to please stop talking.

“I did, yeah,” Waverly says, looking quickly to Nicole and back. She sounds understandably puzzled.

Jeremy, perhaps catching the strained look on Nicole’s face, quickly tries to backtrack but his convoluted explanation arguably makes things more stilted between the three of them.

“It was only brought up because my mom uses Richmond Street too. For her dog. She always sees Dr Leavey so the first time Nicole went, I asked who she saw and she explained and…” Jeremy trails off rather than reaching a definitive, confident end to his sentence.

Waverly manages a kind murmur of something like oh I see, followed by some deftly-handled small talk about Dr Leavey’s long service and loyal customers.

Listening to the back and forth, Nicole would hazard a guess that no one in that corridor had any interest whatsoever in Dr Leavey’s repeat patients. Nonetheless, the conversation at least makes it look as though Waverly has not been the subject of repeated discussion amongst Nicole and her colleagues, so as far as Nicole is concerned it is worth the stilted small talk.

“So,” Nicole says after the conversation fades out. “Mr Wayne?”

“Oh, right,” Jeremy says, shaking his head as if to clear it. “He’s down in the room right at the end. One of the admin coordinators, probably timetabled the visit.”

With a grateful smile, Waverly thanks them for their help and squeezes past them both. The precinct building is a combination of old and new, and while the officers and those directly involved in policing occupied the new build, the poor admin team was stuck with the narrow warren of old corridors and mismatched, poorly heated rooms.

In that moment, however, Nicole can hardly bring herself feel sorry for her colleagues, because as Waverly passes by they are closer than they have ever been. She is small and slight against Nicole where they brush together, all cool hands and soft skin and heady, fruity perfume. Nicole feels her breath hitch before she can do much about it, and there is no denying that Waverly felt it between them. Her eyes linger on Nicole’s even as she passes by and before she has left too much of a gap between their bodies, she stops to thank Nicole again.

“For this,” she says, gently shaking the empty coffee cup in her hand. “I’ll make sure I pay you back.”

“No need,” Nicole says, trying to sound as laid back as possible. It was just a coffee, after all.

“Perhaps not but I want to. I appreciate you getting it for me.”

Nicole watches as Waverly speaks, unsure if she is deliberately pressing the matter with an agenda in mind, or whether she is just that polite.

Knowing already how she is going to respond, Nicole’s heart is doing a quickstep by the time she has the chance to say,

“Don’t worry about the money though, just get me one back sometime yeah?”

She feels pretty pleased with how she struck this moment of boldness - surely just the right level of intent without being over the top - and the feeling intensifies when Waverly’s expression shifts first to surprise and then to a small, pleased smile.

“Sure. We’ll arrange something.”

“Sounds great.” Nicole knows she is beaming as Waverly knocks and is let inside Mr Wayne’s office, but she cannot seem to stop herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Waverly disappears, Jeremy finds a weak excuse to accompany Nicole to her desk.

Dolls is already there, mug filled to the brim with black coffee. He greets them both with a brisk but pleasant word and turns back to his computer, running his palm over his eyes.

“I know you’re working, but I have news far more important than whatever crime you’re trying to solve,” Jeremy says, sitting in a spare chair next to Dolls and Nicole’s conjoined desks.

Dolls quirks an eyebrow in a masterful look of disdain. “More important than this drugs thing I’ve got going on?”

“Arguably, yes. Nicole’s vet is in the building.”

For no other reason than to mess with Nicole, Dolls immediately flicks his eyes away from his monitor.

“I’m listening.”

“She’s not ‘my vet ’,” Nicole points out dully, knowing it is pointless to argue. Besides, she does not really want to argue, not when she is this excited. Without getting too ahead of herself, it sort of felt to Nicole like she and Waverly had sort of arranged a date or, at the very least, a trip for coffee. “And can we keep our voices down please?”

“And you should have seen the smooth moves from Officer Charming here,” Jeremy goes on in a whisper, gleeful and teasing even as Nicole knows he is, above all else, happy for her.

Dolls says nothing, but merely looks between Jeremy and Nicole in his quietly expressive way. His current look seems to mean okay, tell me more.

“She asked her out for coffee in like, the most subtle way ever.”

“Nice one,” Dolls says with a quick, lopsided grin, which is tantamount to a whoop and high five in his language. Most people seemed to think he didn’t express himself at all, but after a year of working with him Nicole had sussed out that he just went about it all in a more understated way.

At Jeremy’s behest, Nicole gives them both a brief rundown of the events of the morning until they can avoid work no longer. Not even a massive pile of paperwork can dent Nicole’s mood, however, as she sits and thinks back to that pleased little look on Waverly’s face when Nicole suggested they get another coffee sometime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later that day, while Nicole is battling to get to the end of her shift and feeling as though her eyes are burning, she feels her phone go off. Thinking that she needs to tear her eyes away from her latest arrest files before she loses the plot entirely, she checks her messages.

There is one from an unsaved number, but she recognises it as the cell phone used to call her after a diagnosis had been found for CJ.

Sure enough, it is Waverly.

Hey! It’s Waverly from the veterinary surgery. Sorry if this is a bit weird but I still had your number in my recently dialled and, after our conversation this morning, I thought you might like to see these. All taken with consent from owners, of course.

Nicole already suspects what this might be about and, sure enough, what follows is a short series of photographs, each featuring tiny puppies with bright eyes and oversized front paws. At the end, Waverly adds:

I took them with you in mind, thought they might help a tiny bit, even if it’s nowhere near the real thing.  

Without a second’s thought, Nicole starts to reply, ignoring a pointed look from Dolls, who clearly has a very good idea of who Nicole is texting. After all, Nicole rarely had any reason to break off and use her phone in the middle of a shift.

!!!!!!!!
You’ve just made my day for like, the third time today
They’re sooo cute! I’m not jealous at all!!

I hope I’ve made the missing out part better not worse…

Better! Definitely better!

In fact, Nicole has noticed that, true to her word about wanting to fix things, Waverly does seem to have a habit of making things better. It was not just Calamity Jane, although that was the principle case. Nicole’s whole day had felt cheerier and sunnier - although it was plenty sunny in the literal sense - just for having bumped into Waverly that morning.

After a moment, in which Nicole leaves her phone unlocked and face up by her computer keyboard and tries to return to work, Waverly replies:

Good, that was the aim.
Thanks again for showing me around today, and for the coffee.
I won’t forget that I’m getting you one in return.

Nicole smiles and dives straight for her phone again. It had been a long time since anyone had really made her do that. They extend the back and forth as far as they can - Nicole replying with a risky comment of you better not forget paired with the even riskier inclusion of a winking emoji - and they only stop when Nicole feels she can no longer get away with ignoring work. Besides, slacking off to send personal messages was not really her style and she had narrowed her eyes at a few of her colleagues enough times for it. She didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

But that did not mean that she could resist checking her phone every few moments, already seeking the next message from Waverly.

Chapter Text

Over the following few days, Nicole exchanges a few more messages with Waverly but things grow slack.

She takes on a short spell of night shifts - always the worst configuration because her body does not have time to get used to the change before she has to switch back again - and somehow this always manages to be a squeeze on her time. It is not that she works longer hours, but it always seems that she has less time when she has to ensure that work and sleep swap places.

Waverly works out the score pretty quickly from the early hours replies that Nicole sends, but seems to read into this as an instruction to text less, to bother Nicole less. At the very least, this is how Nicole chooses to interpret the state of affairs, because it is preferable to the other possible interpretation: that things are petering out between them already.

At any rate, even if Waverly had given more than a few glancing references to a coffee date, then Nicole would not really have had a free day on which to meet up. Instead, the date of Calamity Jane’s final checkup simply catches up with them both, and Nicole finds herself once again in the same chair in the now familiar waiting room, CJ’s too-small carrier propped on the seat next to her.

She feels a strange sense of expectancy and, weirdly enough, nerves when she is called through to the consultation room.

At no point recently had it felt odd or incongruous to have been corresponding with her vet over text, and even when she had been engaging in some less than subtle flirting, it had not felt slightly out of place until she was carrying her cat through the corridor to see Waverly again in a professional capacity.

She cannot really say what she is expecting to be different, so it is no real surprise when she enters the room to the sound of Waverly saying,

“I’ve been looking forward to seeing one of my favourite duos!” in a bright, cheery voice that makes Nicole’s head swim slightly.

She engages with the usual battle to squeeze through the heavy door with CJ in her carrier, eliciting a startled cry from within the box.

“Oh dear,” Waverly says, “well, it sounds like someone’s got their spirit back!”

Not for the first time, Nicole notes the exclamation points inherent to Waverly’s speech. She does not think she could enjoy the sound of them any more than she already does, but every fresh interaction seems to send Nicole falling further and further for Waverly Earp.

“Oh yeah, we’re back to the usual chaos now.”

“Well, I can only take that as a good thing.”

For what she hopes is the last time in a long time, Nicole deposits the cat’s box onto the examination table and opens the door. This time, CJ is primed and ready, batting a paw out into the open as soon as Nicole lets her out. Nicole darts her hand away as quickly as possible and, slowly, Calamity Jane starts to emerge from her carrier.

With everything ready, Nicole finally takes in the room and notes for the first time that they are not alone. A young man is stood in the corner of the room, decked out in scrubs and a badge that seems to say something about training.

Turning around from her computer, Waverly notes Nicole’s gaze.

“Yes, sorry I’d meant to say. This is one of our lovely student vets. He’s shadowing me today and is going to get involved where possible in my cases. If you’d rather not be part of the training then that’s no problem - customer’s prerogative.”

“No, that’s totally fine,” Nicole says, even as she thinks that it is not fine at all. She had not expected to have an audience today, and it almost feels as though she and Waverly are under scrutiny.

Waverly, however, seems mostly unbothered by this change in pace. Obviously talking to the student, she is happy to reveal the progressive back and forth between the two of them:

“Nicole here has been keeping me updated by text on her cat’s condition, so I already know that Calamity Jane has shown all the signs of improvement that we’d want following her treatment. However, can you think of the things we’d want to ask the owner after treating a cat for ARF-type symptoms?”

Looking rather shy and glancing to Waverly often for encouragement, the student starts rattling off a list of questions about CJ’s behaviour; whether she was eating and drinking normally, whether her energy levels had returned and she was engaging more with her surroundings again...

He takes the time to listen to each of Nicole’s answers and, when he finishes up, Waverly seems pleased, but still adds a few additional queries into the mix.

“Now, we know Calamity Jane can be quite a handful, but apparently I’ve been given some sort of special privileges,” Waverly says with a laugh. “I’ll see if I’ve retained them after all that torture I put her through to get her better, and if she’ll let us both examine her, I’ll ask you to confirm what a physical exam tells me.”

Privately, Nicole thinks that lightning could not strike in this place twice and the student probably has no hope at all, but she keeps her mouth shut and watches with bated breath.

Sure enough, CJ begrudgingly lets Waverly check out her belly but then seems positively affronted when she invites the student vet to do the same.

To give the kid his due, he gives it a good try as Jane squirms away and swipes at him with her claws. In the end, however, defeat is conceded when Waverly says that in this case, it is not necessary because she has already made her observations.

“We’ll save a lesson on negotiating with difficult customers for another time,” Waverly says with a wry smile, before flashing a mischievous grin in Nicole’s direction. “I want to keep in Jane and Nicole’s good books.”

Then, in a deft change of tone that leaves Nicole impressed and slightly flustered, Waverly smoothly rattles off what she had found from her examination of Calamity Jane, as much for Nicole’s benefit as the student’s.

“The first hints of swelling I felt last time have completely gone, although they weren’t especially prominent to begin with, and although she wasn’t too pleased with us, she showed us no signs of discomfort whatsoever.” Waverly turns to the kid. “With a case like this one, we didn’t have a cat who was presenting with serious signs of pain to begin with; even I wasn’t sure. I’ll go through some more subtle signs with you between consults - don’t let me forget.”

The student gives a mute nod.

Nicole has some sympathy with him - she remembers training and, after all, everyone has to learn - but he does not yet have the easy manner Waverly possesses.

Deep down, Nicole thinks that this is probably not something Waverly could teach; it cannot be learned in an academic sense.

From somewhere even deeper, Nicole also acknowledges that she is probably a little bit biased.

“Basically, what I’m trying to say,” Waverly goes on, turning and addressing Nicole directly whilst wearing a smile that is so broad and bright that Nicole thinks she might finally understand what it means when people say their knees feel weak, “is that we have one perfectly healthy cat again.”

Although Nicole had known this already, it is still a relief to get the official confirmation today. She feels herself sigh out a little, as if exhaling in relief, and finds that she is grinning back at Waverly rather as though the other woman’s smile is something infectious, something that can be caught just by being in her orbit.

For the umpteenth time, Nicole notes just how much she has been enjoying being in this orbit recently, even if it has been over a relatively short period of time. Calamity Jane had first gotten ill barely a month before, but it already felt like much, much longer.

This is only in part because of the negative elements of this whole affair - the worry over CJ seeming to drag certain days and hours out indefinitely - and just as much because she had felt a strange draw to Dr Waverly Earp from almost the instant they had set eyes upon each other.

She knows that she is not ready for that connection to end, knows just how intensely she will regret not at least trying to tell Waverly how she has been feeling.

But with her distaste for the idea of cornering Waverly at work coupled with their one-man audience, Nicole is not sure that there is much to be done about it. She supposes that she could always text Waverly later on today under the pretense of one final ‘thank you’ for everything she has done for Calamity Jane. If nothing progressed naturally from there, well Nicole would probably just have to lick her wounds and get on with it.

Oblivious to the undercurrent racing beneath Nicole’s skin, Waverly treats Calamity Jane to a few indulgent scratches along her back and then offers her a few more treats of the edible kind. This time, the cat all but bites Waverly’s hand off to accept them.

“That’s much better,” Waverly coos, looking pretty delighted and sending Nicole’s stomach into a somersault when, bent at the waist to dote upon CJ, she glances up from under her eyelashes.

They hold each other’s gaze, something like a flame flickering merrily behind Waverly’s eyes, and momentarily forget about the poor young student.

He shifts on the spot, perhaps intentionally but more likely by coincidence, and the squeak of his shoe against the floor tiles almost makes Nicole visibly jump.

“It’s uh, it’s such a relief, having her back to herself,” Nicole replies quickly, scrabbling around for something relevant to say, but the preceding pause seemed in some strange way to make her words more awkward.

“I’ll bet,” Waverly says, somehow managing to look equal parts amused and shy.

“Even if it means she’s back to being a disaster cat,” Nicole adds in an almost feeble attempt to stop another silence from descending between them under the present circumstances.

“Plates and cups back to being in peril?”

“Absolute mortal danger when she’s around.”

Nicole had never been quite sure why the kitchen was such an obstacle course for Jane. The cat was at most times stable on all fours and usually even rather graceful. But often, in her efforts to hunt out food or treats, she came into conflict with a full draining board or even, on one occasion, a set of clean, dry mugs sat on the counter and waiting to be put away.

Waverly laughs quietly. It seems she is always laughing or smiling; Nicole thinks this is partly why she is so drawn to her.  

“Well, I’m glad you’re back to your old self,” Waverly says to Jane, once again using her patient voice, “but maybe a little less of the mischief, okay Miss?”

“I can’t ever see that happening,” Nicole says, knowing she would never change things with Calamity Jane. “She earned that name, after all.”

“I’m starting to see that now,” Waverly says. “And I suspect I’m going to see it even more in a moment, because I think it’s worth doing her vaccinations now. They’re due next month and it’ll save you doing another consultation.”

Together, they begin the perilous processes of, first, giving CJ her injections, and then coaxing her back into her carrier. Both endeavours are particularly fraught, and Nicole is pretty sure Waverly ends up with a scratch or two for her efforts. She has the good grace not to mention it, however, and sees Nicole the short distance to the door.

“You both take care now, won’t you?” she says carefully, perhaps a little more weight to her voice than would normally be expected in such an interaction.

“We will,” Nicole says, “you too.”

“I will Nicole,” Waverly says with a sad, thoughtful little smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is with an odd mix of relief and sadness that Nicole leaves the clinic and loads the cat carrier back into her car for what should be the last time in a long while.

She should be completely relieved, and she feels almost guilty that she is not.

Her primary concern is her little friend in the carrier, but it is almost underwhelming to leave in the knowledge that, had things aligned a little differently, she might have had real and serious scope for something with Waverly.

The unexplored potential bothers Nicole, arguably a little more than it should.

She is ruminating deeply on this as she shuts the back door and crosses around her car to get to the driver’s seat. It is not until she is reaching for the handle that she realises that someone is calling her name.

She turns around to find Waverly striding towards her from the side of the building, presumably having taken a shortcut through a staff door.

“Nicole, sorry,” she says, beginning to speak before she has quite caught up, “you’re not on your way anywhere are you? Work?”

“No, I’ve got the next two days off to adjust back to regular people hours after those few nights,” Nicole says, trying not to read too much into what Waverly’s sudden presence might mean. Nicole tells herself that perhaps a forgotten prescription or a dropped item had compelled Waverly to chase after her, because it seems too treacherous to get her hopes up.

“Yeah that sounded horrible,” Waverly says before something unreadable flashes across her face and her gaze focusses in more clearly on Nicole. “Listen, I’m sorry I haven’t mentioned me paying you back for that coffee.”

“It’s fine,” Nicole replies, sensing that she might have unintentionally spoken before Waverly had finished, but unwilling all the same to make the other woman feel bound to an agreement that she might not wish to fulfil. After all, Nicole had not done her good deed that morning with an expectation that it would be repaid, and if she was completely honest she had known she was pushing her luck when suggesting they go out together. “Honestly, you don’t actually have to buy me coffee, that wasn’t my intention when I covered your order.”

“No, I know it wasn’t.” Waverly says and then abruptly pauses, fixing Nicole with a very direct look. “It was just a crazy week and with you working every night I didn’t want to disturb you or take up your free time in the day.”

She is speaking strangely, direct and pointed like she is trying to give such a heavy-handed hint that it cannot reasonably be called a hint at all - it is too unsubtle.

“You would never have been disturbing me,” Nicole says, testing the waters and making sure she is reading into this correctly. “Look, if you still wanted to go…”

Waverly watches quietly, still fixing Nicole with a very deep look. Without speaking she nods encouragingly.

Feeling slightly adrift and as though she has missed something important, rather like accidentally skipping a page in a book, Nicole decides that she has started on this route now and might as well finish.

“Like I say, I have a couple of days off now. So I’m free at lunchtimes or even after work if you wanted something a bit more than coffee.”

Nicole almost wants to kick herself; she has never danced around the subject of a date so much in her life. It is a sure sign that she must really be in deep, and there is a little voice in the back of her head all but crying out at Nicole to just get on with it.

Just ask her out for dinner!

“More than coffee,” Waverly echoes, still with that same pointed, expectant tone, “like um…”

“Dinner,” Nicole says quickly, “I was wondering if maybe you’d like to go to dinner with me. You know, now that Calamity Jane is okay.”

The odd look on Waverly’s face finally slips and a familiar smile takes its place.

“Yes, Nicole. I’d really, really like to go to dinner with you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is surprising how fast things can move, Nicole decides with more than a hint of sarcasm and self-deprecation, if you just kick yourself into gear and take the leap.

After Waverly sends Nicole’s heart soaring with her response (she does not just want to go to dinner, Nicole reminds herself countless times, she really, really wants to) they both seem keen to actually make a plan. Too much had been left as an if or maybe last time, and neither appears to want to revisit that sense of lost potential.

The conversation had then been filled with lots of really? That’s great! My shifts make it tough but I do get to leave the precinct so we can make it work… and well, I’m not on call for a while so starting tonight I have a lot of free evenings…

Nicole had picked up on it, the slight press of emphasis Waverly had put on those three words: starting from tonight. It was a different kind of hint from before, pitched with perfect subtlety and nowhere near as heavy-handed.

In that moment, she had decided that it was worth being brave.

“Oh well,” she had begun, feeling suddenly nervous again. “If it doesn’t sound pushy, I’m free tonight. I wouldn’t normally be so forward, but I don’t always know when I’ll suddenly be back on nights. If you wanted, we could…”

Yet again, Waverly had smiled. “That’s perfect.”

Which is how Nicole finds herself sifting through her closet barely seven hours later, trying to pick out some suitable first date attire. The restaurant they had picked was quiet and laid back, and as such there was no need to dress up, but she still wants to make some kind of an effort. As she switches between one shirt and another, trying to work out which one looks best on her, she catches sight of Calamity Jane in the mirror. The cat is sat up on the bed, watching Nicole’s every move carefully.

“Listen,” Nicole says, meeting eyes with the cat’s reflection, “I know you got really sick and all, and yes that sucks - plus you just cost me and the insurance company a ton of money - but I’m not gonna pretend that it hasn’t been a win for me now.”

The cat narrows her eyes slightly, almost as if she understands perfectly.

 

 


 

 

 

Jeremy, guess what…

What?

I’m going out for dinner tonight!

I swear to GOD
If this is your way of telling me that you’re going on a date with cute vet I’ll lose it

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t…

NICOLE

Listen just give me this okay, I only asked her out to dinner this morning
I’m still in shock I think

This morning????
Oh my God.
I’m calling U-Haul.
Lesbians really do move fast.

Technically I don’t know if she’s a lesbian…

Shut up I’m talking about YOU

 

 


 

 

 

 

Dinner with Waverly goes better than Nicole could have imagined.

Almost as soon as they sit down and order a bottle of wine to share, Waverly leans forward conspiratorially and says,

“I need to say that I’m sorry for how super weird I was being earlier.”

Nicole cannot help but laugh. “You weren’t being weird.”

Waverly says nothing, but quirks her eyebrow up in a perfect expression of disbelief.

“Listen I got some hints,” Nicole says, still laughing. “But it wasn’t what I’d describe as weird.”

“It was just being at work you know?” Waverly says, reaching for some bread and tearing it up on her plate, almost as if she wants something to do with her hands. “I think I was already seriously skating the bounds of professionalism using the number you gave us for updates on Calamity Jane to start texting you.”

“Well I wasn’t about to lodge a complaint,” Nicole points out in a rather transparent shot at flirtation.

Waverly ducks her head, looking sheepish. “I know, but still.”

“Ouch,” Nicole replies with a wince. “I was that unsubtle about it huh?”

“Were either of us subtle?” Waverly asks with a cheeky look. Nicole sends her a look intended to say fair point . “With me, it’s different to being a doctor - or a cop, too I guess,” she says, looking deliberately at Nicole, “so I’m sure you get it. Anyway, as a vet it’s not quite such an abuse of my position as it could be, and trust me I really wanted to suggest dinner - same as I wanted to set up that trip for coffee - but at work it was just…”

“I get it, definitely,” Nicole says, still amused. She thinks back to the awkward conversations past mentors had given her class. The last thing any of the trainees had wanted was a lecture on relationships from an old, no-nonsense cop who could talk at length about any number of weird and wonderful cases, but suddenly looked as though he was being asked to give his kid the birds and bees talk when telling the new recruits the stringent anti-frat rules.

“I thought if I just went all out like I’m asking but not asking, it wouldn’t put so much pressure on you having to be the one to actually take the leap. Sorry.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. This,” Nicole gestures between them, “doesn’t feel like the kind of outcome that warrants an apology.”

This makes Waverly smile, looking suddenly coy and shy, not to mention beautiful with a faint, flattered blush creeping onto her cheeks.

“I keep thinking about how my housemates are gonna lose it when I get home,” Waverly admits, changing the subject deftly. “They’ve been teasing me since your first appointment.”

This admission quietly shocks Nicole. Although she had wondered if they had both felt the same spark at the same time, Nicole had, in truth, been working under the assumption that the attraction was initially all one-sided.

“It’s not really what you expect out of qualifying as a vet,” Waverly goes on, “getting caught up on a cute owner like I did.”

In the days to come, Nicole will look back on this as the moment when they both eased into things completely. Waverly’s slow shift into flirtation was easy and natural, and it was no effort at all for Nicole to say,

“You think I’m cute huh?”

It came just as automatically for Waverly to bat back, quick as a flash with, “didn’t say I was talking about you.”

They spend the night laughing like the act is going out of fashion, swapping stories, and playing at getting to know each other. They already have a decent foundation to work on, but it is hard to say whether it made things any easier because things had always felt pretty seamless.

Nicole learns about two housemates - a Chrissy, also from Waverly’s tiny Canadian town, and a Rosita, who turns out to be the friend in the lab who rushed through CJ’s first blood tests. In turn she tells Waverly about Dolls and Jeremy, and Waverly asks a lot of genuine questions about police work. Time flies, and before long they have to acknowledge that the restaurant probably wants to close.

They split their bill because Nicole will not accept that buying dinner is remotely equivalent to buying a single latte. Waverly puts up a good fight, but eventually concedes defeat. They are both, it would seem, extremely stubborn.

“You know,” Waverly says, shrugging into a cardigan as they prepare to leave, “if you’d let me pay, you could have said something smooth about offering to buy the next meal.”

“Who says I’m not buying the next one?” Nicole points out, receiving a pretty half-smile from Waverly for her efforts.

“Well you set the precedent for splitting the meal…”

Nicole makes a big deal of shrugging. “I buy the next one, you the one after that. We can keep that going for, oh I don’t know, ages.”

“Can’t believe you used my own cute thing against me,” Waverly says with a pout that is a new and dangerous discovery for Nicole. She is pretty sure it would be hard to resist.

They start walking down the sidewalk together, having discovered that they do not live a million miles apart and had picked a decently close restaurant. No real need for a cab or a bus.

They chatter away until they come to a divergence in their paths.

“As the cop here, I think I’m pretty much duty-bound to walk you all the way home,” Nicole says, unbothered that it is obvious she is just trying to extend the night out longer.

It is only a short trip towards Waverly’s home and the crunch question of whether it is too soon for a first kiss arrives much too quickly.

Certainly, Waverly seems to have no objections when she stands close and sends a deep, intense look upwards at Nicole, but they are cut off soundly before they can begin when a small commotion comes from the shade of a nearby alleyway. It would seem that Waverly’s roommate had been taking out the trash and decided to carry far more than was really possible.

Nicole hears Waverly mutter Chrissy, jeez under her breath, right as the woman in question pops into a chink of light and apologises. In her defence, she looks genuinely mortified.

All remorse aside, the moment is gone, but Nicole is nonetheless almost, almost content to leave Waverly with a promise that yes, she will text when she is home safe.

In actual fact, she is glad of the walk; using it to reflect on the date in what she can only really describe as a contented haze.

Even with the comedic timing of Waverly’s friend, Nicole cannot really say that the night has been anything less than perfect.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

If they are thwarted the first time, then Waverly and Nicole have a much better run of success in the following days and weeks.

Waverly manages to effectively surprise Nicole at work a few days later with a to-go coffee, having perhaps had a little bit of luck on her side in being able to time the end of a home call with an instance in which Nicole was still in the precinct. It is only a flying visit however, hardly time to really pick up where they left off.

That same evening, however, Waverly calls with an apology that she could not get in touch sooner due to work.

Nicole can already see that their jobs might cause issues, both of them mixing night shifts (or, in Waverly’s case, nights at home on-call) with long daytime hours. There is absolutely no correlation yet between their shifts, but Nicole wonders if that might be something they can work out if (or when) things get a little bit more serious.

“I had a wonderful time last week,” Waverly says down the phone, “and I’m sorry my roommate is such a clown. We’ve been best friends since we were like six, so I suppose I have to forgive her.”

“Probably not worth falling out over the trash,” Nicole agrees playfully.

“Oh, I don’t know. Living together comes with some pretty hefty bureaucracy over the housework rota.”

“Right, tell me about it.”

There is a pause down the line.

“Funnily enough, I didn’t call only to talk about chores.”

Really?”

Don’t,” Waverly says, voice lilting and teasing, “or I might reconsider what I wanted to ask you.”

“Noted and my lips are sealed. For now.”

“Well, in case it wasn’t already obvious, I wanted to know if you would maybe like to go out again. Perhaps tomorrow night if you’re not working?”

Of course, Nicole accepts.

Even now, when it is early days, Nicole thinks that she will always accept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it is time for a second date, they go for a classic dinner and movie arrangement, and Nicole again walks Waverly home. This time, there is no one else around. This time, they end the night outside Waverly’s front door, lip-locked and bathed in the yellow glow of a towering city streetlight.

 

 


 

 

 

Some weeks later.

 

 

“You know,” Waverly begins, yawning and stretching, “I think she liked me better when she could leave me behind at the surgery after seeing me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Nicole says. “You’re just in her spot. She’ll get used to it. Oh. I uh, I just mean - ”

Waverly beams, leaning forward and kissing the embarrassment right off Nicole’s lips.

“I hope she does,” Waverly murmurs when she pulls away, beautiful in the weak morning light. She is bare-faced and still sleepy, and Nicole thinks she has never wanted her more. “Get used to it - me - I mean.”

They have been going on dates for some time now, but this is the first time either of them has spent the night at the other’s place, and they find that they both wake feeling giggly and shy and absurdly happy. After all, last night had been the first time for a number of things.

Sleep had not been on the agenda until late, and Nicole has no idea how or when CJ crept into the room after she and Waverly both drifted off.

The tender thing between the two of them is still so new and exciting, but Calamity Jane seems less struck on sharing her bed (as she presumably sees it) with not one but two humans. However, she had managed to sneak in during the night and had ended up wedging herself into a small spot between Waverly and Nicole’s feet.

Now, after playing the martyr, she was regarding Waverly with a guarded, indignant look.

Buried under the covers with her bare skin pressed beautifully up against Nicole, Waverly gazes down the bed at the cat.

The two women had spent the evening sat on Nicole’s couch, eating takeout and watching movies (when they made the arrangement it had been fairly obvious where they both thought it might be leading) and CJ had made no complaints about Waverly’s presence in the apartment then.

“She still likes you,” Nicole says, pressing a sweet kiss to the tip of Waverly’s nose. “Trust me.”

Waverly still does not seem entirely convinced. “I hope so.”

“I know so. And besides, if she doesn’t,” Nicole goes on, snaking an arm over Waverly’s bare belly and pulling her close, “then she’ll just have to get used to it.”

Waverly laughs, high and bright, when Nicole proceeds to press her face against the former’s neck, dotting kisses all the way down to the warm skin of Waverly’s shoulder.

It is a Sunday and, for the very first time, they each have a coinciding day off. It feels completely luxurious, the prospect of a whole day stretching out between them. They have made no firm plans - had not even explicitly pre-agreed that Waverly would spend the night - but Nicole would have no objections to staying in bed all day.

The seasons have finally shifted to fall, and there is an undeniable chill settling in the air. Inside, however, they are comfortable and cosy, their hands greedy and their bodies warm.

Sounding a little breathless when Nicole’s teeth scrape lightly, Waverly says, “well I like Calamity Jane. And I want her to like me too, especially since I guess she kind of gets credit for us meeting.” She pauses, and her hand traces the line of Nicole’s ribs, her fingers darting gradually higher.“ But I also wouldn’t be against the idea of her leaving the room for a little while either.”

Popping her head back out of the covers, Nicole finds the cat still watching them from the foot of the bed. It is slightly unnerving. She almost feels bad about kicking Jane out of her spot, but there are more important things at stake - namely, the delightful way that Waverly’s bare thigh glides against Nicole’s when she shifts on the mattress, settling even tighter into Nicole’s side.

“Well, go on. You heard her,” Nicole says to the cat, more for comedy than utility, because she knows that CJ would not obey even if she could fully understand.

Waverly laughs, her hand still fixed just below Nicole’s chest. The pressure is comfortable and full of promise, and Nicole really does not want to move to shoo the cat away.

She decides to risk her foot by shifting it under the covers, shunting Calamity Jane about a bit. With a look of unmitigated disgust, CJ dodges the gentle prod aimed at her before, incredibly, making to hop off the bed.

“No way,” Nicole mutters under her breath as Waverly just carries on laughing quietly to herself. This - Waverly in bed with her, filling the silence with sounds of mirth (and admittedly, other such sounds if things go their way in a moment) - felt right. It all felt so easy and so, so right. “No way is she just gonna go without a fight.”

But it would seem that Calamity Jane was ever the dedicated wingwoman because, after another hearty glare over her shoulder, she drops gracefully off the bed and plods to the door. She swipes at it with a paw until she can get out before disappearing without so much as a final glance back at Nicole and Waverly.

Even as the tip of CJ's tail is still disappearing out of sight, Nicole’s fingers are already reaching for Waverly’s hips.

“You see?” she says with conviction, delighted when Waverly’s hand bears down tighter, “I told you she likes you.”

Waverly doesn’t get another chance to laugh, because Nicole’s lips meet hers in a hot, firm kiss that makes both of their bodies light up. Waverly’s hand finally slips off Nicole’s ribs and onwards to the soft, sensitive skin above. In response, Nicole grips tighter at Waverly’s hips and brings their bodies flush together.  

They both gasp, and Nicole thinks that she may never truly believe her luck these past few weeks.

Never in a million years would she have chosen for her cat to get sick, because it had brought her an incredible amount of worry and a slew of unsavoury vets bills (she assumes that dating said vet now would not bring about a refund, although she had made the joke on more than one occasion). But CJ is none the worse now for her misadventures, and her illness had also brought about something better, something that was worth all of the worry Nicole had gone through.

Waverly Earp.

Already, Waverly seems like everything Nicole has ever dreamed of; she is soft and kind, she is beautiful in a way that seems to start from her soul and radiate outwards from there. She is warm and pliant against Nicole in the meagre dawn of an autumnal Sunday morning, and she is all the sunshine that Nicole could ever need to get her through the winter to follow.

And, for today, she is Nicole’s. She is bare beneath the sheets, and she is ticklish where Nicole grazes her fingernails, lightly and experimentally. She laughs like it is her natural state of being, and she smiles into the next kiss.

Nicole cannot think of a time when things have felt better, or when she felt more sure that she was onto a really, really good thing.

She wonders if she can better appreciate the buoyant, happy feeling of the past few weeks because it had been preceded by so much worry and panic. Assuming that things work out with Waverly, Nicole will stand by her conviction that the best - and most surprising - wing woman she could have had was her enormous, aloof ginger cat. She only hopes that CJ does not pull any funny business like that again and thinks, not for the first time, that there would be absolutely no downsides to having a vet - but really, one vet in particular - around the house.

She thinks she will mention this to Waverly but not, perhaps, until a little while later.

She cannot help but conclude that with Waverly and Calamity Jane in the flat, she is going to have her hands full from now on.

With great conviction, Nicole knows already that she cannot wait to meet the adventure head on.