“Waves, come on, we’re hungry.”
The sky grew increasingly dark as the small gathering shuffled restlessly in the Homestead’s kitchen. Waverly knew everything was likely okay, but Nicole was late, and her wife was never late for a BBQ. Yet, here they were, hot dogs finished, burgers cooling on the counter, and no sign of Nicole.
Turning from her place at the window, Waverly shot her sister a disapproving frown and Wynonna rolled her eyes and huffed as she lowered herself into a chair.
“Come on, Waves, Wyatt is starving,” Wynonna whined, and the little boy resting in Dolls’ arms perked up taking in the room with his wide, blue eyes.
“Yeah, mommy, food!” Wynonna popped the cap off her beer bottle and broke into a wide grin before taking a swig. Doc leaned against the table, his eyes never leaving the bowl of potato salad next to Wynonna’s elbow.
“I’m sure Officer Haught wouldn’t mind us partaking in libations without her,” he said, fingers inching towards a stack of plates.
“No!” Waverly snapped, which made Wyatt giggle and shout, “No!” from his perch on Dolls’ shoulders.
“Baby Boy, back Auntie Wynonna up here!”
“No!” Wyatt yelled again, clapping his hands before tipping his head back in laughter. The baby’s laugh calmed the room, though Waverly couldn’t help but be worried. Nicole usually called if she was going to be late. And Wyatt’s hair looked so vibrant against Dolls’ black shirt. So vibrant just like his mama’s…
“Okay, everyone, calm down, here she is,” Dolls spoke slowly, cutting through the chatter in the room. He was right. They could all hear the sound of tires on gravel and soon the lights from Nicole’s car hit the kitchen windows.
Waverly breathed easier, but still. Something felt off in the air. Something was not quite right about Nicole’s timing. And, as Waverly opened the door to greet her wife, her dread only grew because Nicole was walking strangely. Her head was dipped low, hidden by the brim of her hat, and she seemed to be favouring her left side.
“You’re late!” Waverly called and Nicole lifted her head only slightly, enough for Waverly to see the beginnings of a grin.
“Sorry, sweetheart. Ran into some trouble,” Nicole said, making her way up the porch steps.
“If you think that’s trouble, just wait un…”
Waverly stopped speaking. Her words died before they left her mouth. Because Nicole was standing next to her in the doorway and Waverly could finally see her face. The face she had tried to hide with the brim of her hat.
“Take your hat off right now, Nicole.”
Her wife obeyed, slowly, and Waverly raised her hand to her mouth and gasped. Nicole’s right eye was bruised, more than bruised. It was a nasty dark purple. The eyelid was swollen nearly shut. And there were three, thin, white bandages where the skin had split high on her cheekbone. Despite the bandages, Waverly could make out a shape in the skin. The impression of a ring. Marring her wife’s perfect face.
“Damn it, Nicole, you tell me right now!”
The commotion brought Wynonna to the door and Doc. Nicole seemed to grown increasingly uncomfortable as she raised her shoulders and pushed into the room.
“Whoa, Haught, you walk into a wall?” Wynonna was trying to see the damage, tipping her head while Nicole did her best not to make eye contact.
Recognizing his mama, Wyatt reached out from Dolls’ shoulder, happily calling “Mama!” in his little, high voice, and the sound of it made Nicole wince and turn her back to the crowd.
“No, Waverly, he can’t see this!” Her voice was high and panicked, it was so unlike anything Waverly had ever heard from her wife, that she immediately placed one hand on Nicole’s shoulder and shooed her family away with the other.
“Mama is okay, Wyatt,” Waverly said, shooting her son a wide, reassuring grin. But his little face scrunched into a frown and he laid his head back against Dolls.
“Nicole, just tell me wha…”
“That looks mighty painful, Offic…”
“Someone try to steal your ha…”
It was rare to hear Nicole yell. Especially since Wyatt’s birth. And to see her so frazzled, so angry, made Waverly anxious. She felt protective and frustrated and helpless all at the same time. There was blood on her wife’s face and pain in her wife’s eyes and fury in her wife’s voice.
“All of you, just…Bobby Michaels punched me in the face and called me a dyke. Okay? Are you happy?”
It was like all the air in the room evaporated the second the words left Nicole’s mouth. She brushed past Waverly and disappeared up the stairs. The kitchen was silent. Waverly was still trying to put the words together. Punched. Dyke. Dyke. She had never heard that word outside of TV and movies. Not directed at her. Certainly not at Nicole. And someone had…Bobby Michaels had…
“How far is the Michaels farm?” Dolls asked and Waverly turned around to find Wynonna and Doc loading their guns.
“We’ll take the truck. Good thing I just cleaned Peacemaker,” Wynonna raised the gun to the light, peering at it with a knowing grin.
“Do we need a shovel?”
“Good call, Doc…”
“Guys, no guns around the baby!” Waverly grabbed Wyatt from Dolls and kissed his forehead.
“Oh, crap, sorry Waves,” Wynonna holstered Peacemaker and seemed truly apologetic. And while Waverly very much wanted to find her shotgun, she also knew that Nicole wouldn’t stand for it. Of course her wife had to be noble and kind and ethical.
“Just…eat the food. Hold my baby. Try not to kill anyone while I’m gone. Okay?”
“Mommy, boom!” Wyatt called from Wynonna’s arms and Waverly sighed.
It was hard to knock with her hands full, but Waverly gingerly peaked her head into the room and smiled sadly at the sight before her. Nicole was sitting on the bed, shirt pulled out of her uniform, and she looked beautiful with her head down and her pale skin and that auburn hair. So, exquisitely beautiful. Until she raised her head to look at Waverly and the shadows made her eye seem black and muddled and just not right.
“I brought you some frozen peas,” Waverly offered, sitting down next to her wife. She carefully placed one bag over Nicole’s eye, wincing just as Nicole did, but saying nothing when the officer raised her hand and placed it over Waverly’s.
“Do you have more of these?” Nicole asked and before Waverly could question why, Nicole lowered the bag from her face and freed her hands, which allowed her to remove her unbuttoned shirt. Waverly gasped again because staining Nicole’s pale skin was a bruise, a distinctly boot-shaped bruise over her rib cage.
“He kicked you?”
“Bastard knocked me to the ground and stomped on me. If he hadn’t taken me by surprise…”
“You’re pressing charges, right? I mean, he attacked a police officer!” Waverly gently touched the bruise, careful not to do more harm. The skin was hot to the touch. An ugly purple stain. Waverly wanted it to disappear.
“No, it’s just a small town, Waverly.”
“What do you mean? He can’t hit you. He can’t say…what he said…”
“Not my first rodeo, won’t be my last.”
Waverly whipped her head up and scowled.
“What do you mean? This has happened before?”
“I was the only gay person in my town growing up. In my highschool. Didn’t exactly make me popular.”
“No, Wave, it’s a small town. It’s always going to be a small town.” Nicole tried to take Waverly’s hand, but the youngest Earp sibling was not having it. Not at all.
People couldn’t talk to Nicole like that. People couldn’t just say those things. That hatred. She had lived her entire life in the shadow of Wynonna’s actions. In the shadow of the Earp name and its legacy. And Nicole Haught brought her to the light, gave her a life and a family and everything she had always wanted. Waverly Earp protected what was hers and Nicole Haught? No one harmed Nicole Haught without Waverly having something to say about it.
“People can’t say that, Nicole. People can’t touch you. I won’t…no! You need to arrest him! Now!”
“He’s in jail, Waverly, Nedley brought him in. Theft, maybe assault too.”
“Why are you so okay with this?”
“Because I win, Waverly. Every day, I win.” Nicole’s eyes were so soft, they were looking at Waverly as if she was the answer to every question ever asked and it made Waverly feel warm inside, safe, calm. This time she let Nicole hold her hand, folding her fingers within her wife’s.
“What do you mean?” she asked quietly, taking comfort in the sudden intimacy of their bedroom. Nicole had this way about her, she always had, and it made Waverly bold and strong. It cleared her head and quieted her mind. It let her breathe.
“I’m not okay with what he did to me, not at all. But, I win. Every morning that I wake up next to you, I win,” Nicole explained, but Waverly still wasn’t entirely sold.
“I get to come home to my wife and our son. I get to kiss you at night,” she whispered, softly grazing her lips over Waverly’s.
“I get to touch you,” she continued, lightly cupping her hand over Waverly’s breast. “Men like Bobby Michaels? They get old and they die. But Wyatt John Haught-Earp? He has two moms, and he’s going to grow up and be whoever he is and love whoever he wants. And he’s going to tell his babies about his mamas, and their babies will do the same. So, I win, Waverly. Simple as that.”
“I love you,” was all Waverly could think to say and Nicole smiled, bright and full.
“Well, that’s a relief,” Nicole answered, raising her hand to Waverly’s cheek and pulling her into a victor’s kiss.
The group downstairs was huddled around the kitchen table by the time Waverly and a freshly showered Nicole made their way back down. They were mumbling lowly, even Wyatt’s sleepy head was turned to look at the map before them, his tiny hand tangled in Wynonna’s long hair.
“What are you guys doing?” Waverly asked, folding her arms as the conspirators all popped up with guilty faces.
“Nothing, Waverly, honest,” Doc tried, but Waverly always knew when he was lying and he quickly ducked his head and stepped back.
“Is that a map of the Michaels farm?” Nicole asked, peering over Waverly’s shoulder.
“We’re just gathering Intel. Nothing wrong with that,” Dolls remained stoic, but Waverly shook her head fiercely, throwing her hands up in exasperation.
“Seriously, can we not start a war tonight? For once? Can we just eat?”
“What my wife said,” Nicole responded and it seemed to be the final word they all needed. Doc almost gleefully made for the plate of burgers and the map lay forgotten on the table. At least for the moment. No one said anything as Nicole gathered Wyatt into her arms, nor did they follow her when she sat down in an overstuffed armchair and gently began to rock her son to sleep. Waverly felt Wynonna stand next to her in the kitchen, watching the scene unfold.
“Mama?” Wyatt was so sleepy, he rubbed his eyes and then propped himself up to look at his mama’s face. Waverly loved to see them togeteher, the matching red hair, the dimples. Her son looked like Nicole, down to the cute little nose, and she would never grow tired of seeing the Earp eyes and Nicole’s smile on Wyatt’s features.
“Yeah, Little Man?” Nicole’s voice was always soft with Wyatt. Warm and friendly and beautiful.
Wyatt’s little hands found Nicole’s eye, but he was surprisingly gentle, patting his chubby fingers over the bruising.
“Yeah, Wyatt, Mama has a booboo.”
“Oh no!” He pressed one hand against his mouth in imitation of Waverly’s earlier move and Nicole laughed softly, pressing a kiss to the little boy’s palm when he reached for her again.
“It’s okay, buba, Mama is gonna be just fine.”
“Mama? I kiss!” Wyatt leaned forward, leaving what appeared to be a very wet, but very well aimed kiss on Nicole’s bandaged face. Waverly could see the tears glistening in her wife’s eyes at their affectionate little boy.
“Wow, Wyatt, I’m all better!” Nicole held the baby close. She kissed his head as he rested against her shoulder. His eyes fluttering, trying to stay open. But his mama was close and he was safe and he was soon sleeping soundly.
“So, you totally want to make more babies with her right now, hey?” Wynonna’s voice interrupted. Waverly could only sigh.
The moon was full and bright. It cast long beams of white light into the bedroom and it was enough for Waverly to see every inch of her wife’s sleeping features. Nicole lay on her back, her breathing even and steady, and Waverly knew that sleep was probably a good idea. It had been a long day and Wyatt would be up early.
But she couldn’t sleep. Not at all. She carefully lifted Nicole’s white tank top, letting it settle just under her chin. The bruise was there, even though Waverly wished that it would magically disappear. She could tell the size of Bobby Michaels’ foot. The make of his boot. It was all there on her wife’s skin. On Nicole’s skin. Her skin.
Waverly knew Nicole’s body better than her own. She knew every dip and curve, every scar and freckle. She remembered the first moment she had seen it without clothes on, bare, and beautiful. Nicole had been so patient, so gentle and in turn Waverly had been granted the honour of touching her, of taking her. And now? That body that was love and generosity and gift was marred by anger. It was stamped into Nicole’s flesh. Hate. Darkness. It was right there. And Waverly couldn’t stand it.
She kissed the bruise. First the top and then lower. Tracing her lips over each individual rib, counting in her head. Nicole sighed softly, but Waverly continued. She needed to take back this skin. To reclaim what had been damaged. As if somehow her skin could heal Nicole’s, could cover her, could cover them both.
“Wave?” Nicole’s voice sounded rough, but Waverly did not stop her journey. She kissed below Nicole’s breasts. Her hip bones. One then the other. She kissed her belly button. She kissed her stomach. She kissed her breast, exposed in the moonlight, the nipple hardened by the cool air in the room.
“Baby?” Nicole asked again, loosely tangling her fingers in Waverly’s hair. Waverly kissed her nipple gently, smiling at Nicole’s sudden intake of breath. Smiling as she heard a heavy, sleep filled, “you feel so good, baby” float from her wife’s lips. And then she pushed herself down, leaving a kiss on Nicole’s panties, between her legs where it was warm and holy. She allowed herself to inhale deeply. Smelling her wife. Her perfect wife. Nicole was so tired, Waverly could see, but with one last kiss, one last promising kiss above her panties, one last kiss that earned her a happy, content sigh, Waverly rolled onto her side, propping herself up on one hand.
“Wynonna is going to take Wyatt on the weekend and you are so getting laid.”
Her wife’s eyes were closed, exhausted, but she smiled, her dimples so cute that Waverly had to kiss each one.
“Wynonna and I are gonna leave a flaming bag of dog shit on Bobby’s porch and you can’t stop us.”
Nicole laughed. Softly. Her smile still wide and half asleep she mumbled, “I win.”
Settling down beside her wife, content just to watch over her while she slept, to protect her while she was hurt, to heal her, Waverly lowered the tussled tank top and raised the blanket.
“Me too,” she whispered against Nicole’s temple. Waverly didn’t sleep. Not yet. Instead she watched the rise and fall of Nicole’s chest, the soft smile on her lips, the delicate fluttering of her eyelids and she tried to let go of her anger. Of her fear. Of her need for revenge. Wyatt was asleep in Wynonna’s arms. Nicole was asleep in hers. And as Waverly pressed the softest hint of a kiss to Nicole’s bare shoulder she let herself settle. They were safe. And love would win. It always did.