Nicole stood still, a cold bolt of dread shooting through her chest when the call came in:
10-33. Shots fired at the Earp Homestead. 10-66.
The codes reverberated around Nicole's head. 10-33. Immediate Assistance Needed. 10-66. Notify Medical Examiner.
"Waverly," Nicole breathed out in a low rush as instinct took over and she abandoned her paperwork about old Iris Studebaker's allegedly stolen froggie lawn ornaments (which Iris had more than likely misplaced after a wild night of B-I-N-G-O at Shorty's). She tossed on her white Stetson, pulled on her dark blue tactical jacket, and was halfway to her squad car when she heard Nedley call out to her.
"No need to run off half-cocked, Haught." Nedley took his sweet time rounding the cruiser and pulling open the front passenger door with a huff. "Dolls already radioed in."
"The deputy marshal's there?" Nicole ducked her head and settled into the driver's side.
Nedley slid into his seat with a nod and a tired grunt.
"Five assailants, five casualties," he said and Nicole swore her heart stopped beating.
"And the Earps?" She asked, hoping her voice sounded calm and professional and not at all like her throat was squeezing shut.
"Accounted for." Nedley gave her a knowing look. "All of them."
Nicole cleared her throat and turned the key in the ignition, the car's engine revving to life along with her heart. Heat prickled up her neck and spread across her cheeks even as relief coursed through her. She wondered just how much Nedley knew about her relationship with Waverly and just where they'd been exploring it. Were they that obvious? Did he happen to find the earring Waverly was sure she lost in his office after her most recent "bathroom break." Slightly mortified, she said nothing more as she pulled away from the curb.
Nicole was thankful that Nedley was a man of few words and the ride to the Homestead was mostly silent, save for the dull wail of car's siren and the crackle of the radio as dispatch relayed brief messages about the ETA of the coroner and additional backup. The 30-minute drive, now shortened to about 20 at her breakneck speed down the salt-treated highway, allowed Nicole to regain her composure and not succumb to the lingering worry gnawing at her chest.
This was, what, the third attack on the Earp's land in the past month or two? Or at the very least the third that local law enforcement knew about. First it was a biker gang with a motorcycle explosion, or so Wynonna had said. Then it was a violent stripper and his friends, according to Chrissy Nedley. And now this? Just what was it about the Earps that made people want to kill them?
Nicole's grip tightened on the steering wheel as she turned onto the side road that would bring them to the Homestead. They passed an empty Humvee and Nicole brought the car to a stop just outside the small house, the first responders to arrive. She and Nedley exited the cruiser and Nicole's stomach immediately clenched when she took in the scene before them. The home's front windows were entirely blown out, the wooden planks of its facade riddled with bullet holes. Nicole could make out the acrid scent of spent gunpowder in the frigid air. She scanned the rest of their surroundings, taken note of the fallen bodies near the barn and the fence line.
She heard the front door swing open with a creak and she turned her attention to Willa Earp, who strode in their direction, boots crushing the ice-glazed snow. Gone was the dazed and timid cultist Nicole had once met at the station. In her place was a strong young woman, a fire blazing in sharp brown eyes that reminded her of both Wynonna and Waverly. Deputy Marshal Dolls trailed after her.
"You're not needed here, Sheriff," Willa said authoritatively, crossing her arms when she reached them. She glared at them with cold distrust. "We've already taken care of our own."
"I'll be the judge of that," Nedley answered, adjusting the black Stetson atop his head.
"The Marshals will be taking jurisdiction over this incident, Sheriff," Dolls interjected in his usual monotone.
Nedley cursed under his breath. "On what grounds?"
"On the grounds that one of their own was targeted in this assassination attempt," Dolls said, lifting a creased photo of himself. "I found this on one of the mercenaries."
"Why would you be targeted, deputy marshal?" Nicole asked.
Dolls turned to her. "Your guess is as good as mine, Officer. But even if I knew-"
"It's classified," Nicole finished for him. She managed to not roll her eyes at the usual refrain that came from Dolls, ever since he threatened her with charges of treason when they first met.
"You catch on quickly, Haught. No wonder Waverly speaks so highly of you."
Nicole's heart jumped at the sound of Waverly's names, her eyes inadvertently drawn toward the house.
"She's inside with Earp," Dolls said and then winced. "The other Earp." Willa raised an eyebrow at him. "The other-other Earp, er, Wynonna."
Nicole nodded, maintaining her cool even though she wanted nothing more than to bound up the porch steps and find Waverly. She ignored the way Willa eyed her curiously.
Dolls turned toward Nedley. "Even with the Marshals taking control, I'm sure your office will want to file its own report."
"Damn right we do," Nedley said. "Haught, why don't you get statements from Wynonna and Waverly while I continue chatting with the deputy marshal and Ms. Earp here?"
"Yes sir." Nicole didn't wait to be told twice.
She walked to the house, vaguely registering Nedley's questions about the brawl reported at Shorty's earlier that day, and paused at the screen door. She saw the dark crimson that saturated the braided rug in the foyer, the splinters of wood scattered across the floor, the shot-up walls. Swallowing down her anxiety, she entered and side-stepped overturned, bullet-ridden furniture, but was unable to avoid all the broken knick-knacks and shards of glass that crunched underneath her boots.
"Dolls is that you?" Wynonna called from the kitchen.
Nicole rounded a corner and found Wynonna and Waverly sitting at the breakfast table, surrounded by spent shell casings and other debris. A short-barreled shotgun lay on the countertop, which was coated in flour from where a stray bullet had shattered its jar.
"Sorry, just me," Nicole greeted as both women looked at her in surprise. A warm smile spread across Waverly's face and Nicole grasped the front of her utility belt hard to keep herself from knocking Wynonna out of the way so she could reach Waverly.
"Well if it isn't Officer Haught-to-Trot." Wynonna glanced at a nonexistent watch on her left wrist. "Took you long enough."
"Got here as fast as I could, what with my rookie flat feet and all." She stopped at the threshold, taking stock of the bloody gauze on the table and frowning at the way Waverly cradled her right arm against the side of her chest. Her worry ratcheted up a few more notches.
Wynonna gave her a wry smile and ignored her quip. "Dolls and Willa outside?"
"With Nedley. Talking about the bar fight at Shorty's. You two wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
Waverly grimaced. "You'd better get out there before Willa goes all Willa," she told Wynonna.
"Yeah," Wynonna groaned and wearily got to her feet. "Keep an eye on shotgun Sally, will ya?" She asked as she brushed past Nicole.
"Oh I intend to," Nicole said, her gaze not leaving Waverly's.
When they were finally alone, Waverly looked up at Nicole shyly.
"Hey," Waverly said, giving a small wave.
"Hey yourself." Nicole couldn't stop herself from reaching out to help Waverly when she tried to stand, fingers curling above her elbow in gentle support. Waverly felt solid. Alive. And the fear that had taken hold of Nicole's heart loosened its grip ever so slightly. She cupped Waverly's jaw with her free hand, brushing her thumb across the curve of Waverly's cheek. "You okay?"
"I am now," Waverly said softly. She held Nicole's wrist and turned her face into Nicole's touch, pressing her lips to the center of her palm. The small gesture made Nicole's heart flutter in her chest.
"Oh, you know, just a typical Friday at the Earp Homestead." Waverly tried to shrug nonchalantly, but Nicole could see the tension in her shoulders, the rigidity in her frame. "Get a little attacked. Get a little shot."
Nicole's eyebrows nearly disappeared into her Stetson. "Shot?"
"Well, grazed." Waverly pulled away slightly to lift up her blouse and reveal the freshly dressed bandage on her right side, just under her ribs. Nicole breathed in sharply at the sight and Waverly continued on with a rush, "It's nothing. Barely a scratch. Wynonna doesn't think it's enough to qualify me as gangster now, but she is totally wrong 'cause I'm pretty sure I got the bastard and…"
Nicole silenced the oncoming ramble with a kiss, which Waverly returned eagerly after a brief moment of surprise, instantly melting in Nicole's arms.
"When I heard the dispatch," Nicole said after she slowly ended the kiss. "I was so worried. I could barely breathe."
"I'm right here," Waverly said, nuzzling the tips of their noses together.
"You should get that looked at."
"I'm fine," Waverly insisted.
"Nicole." Waverly reached up and squeezed Nicole's shoulders. "Tell me something. Aren't sheriff's deputies trained in first aid?"
"Then why don't I come over later and you can check it for me." Her fingers stroked up and down the sides of Nicole's neck in a soothing motion. "Deal?"
Before Nicole could continue arguing, the front door squeaked open and slammed shut, a pair of boots thudding on the wooden floor. They broke apart before they could be seen in a compromising position. Nicole knew Waverly was still struggling with her newfound identity, and she would never push Waverly to do anything until she was ready. But one day, Nicole hoped they would no longer have to hide.
Willa entered the kitchen and Nicole frowned slightly at the way Waverly seemed to withdraw into herself in the presence of the eldest Earp.
"The sheriff has completed his questioning, officer," Willa said, her disdain for law enforcement thinly veiled in her voice. "If you're finished here as well, you should leave."
"Don't be rude, Willa," Waverly said. "Nicole's my…" The muscles in her throat constricted as she swallowed before she finally settled on, "my friend."
Nicole hadn't expected a confession from Waverly, who self-consciously brushed some hair behind her ear and avoided Nicole's gaze, but it still stung. Willa just looked at them strangely, eyes darting back and forth between them.
"I don't think we've been properly introduced." Nicole held her hand out. "I'm Nicole Haught. It's nice to finally meet you, officially that is."
Willa stared at her hand, long enough that Nicole thought she wouldn't take it, but she eventually did. "Willa." She gave Nicole's hand a quick hard shake. "I don't mean to be rude, Nicole. But it is getting late and my sister needs to rest."
Nicole bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from pointing out that Waverly could make her own decisions.
"I am a bit tired," Waverly said, a guilty look on her face. "I'll catch you later, Nicole." She didn't phrase it like a question, but Nicole heard the uncertainty in her voice, saw it in the subtle pleading in her brown eyes.
"Of course." Nicole said and Waverly visibly relaxed. "Ladies."
She tipped her hat toward them and saw herself outside, where Wynonna was trying to convince Nedley that, obviously, the man apparently being swallowed whole into the floor was just a special effect added to a video by a Purgatory teen trying to relieve some boredom.
Nicole was stepping out of the shower when someone knocked on her apartment door. It was so soft that she thought she was imagining things. But after a few minutes, it sounded a second time, louder and more insistent. Nicole dried herself off quickly and got dressed in black leggings and a purple henley. All the while, Calamity Jane squinted at her from her perch on Nicole's pillow, flicking her creamsicle tail in mild agitation. Nicole glanced at her bedside clock on her way to the door and noted that it was just past 10 o'clock - a little too late for an evening visitor.
She walked to her small dining table, where she had left her utility belt, and retrieved her sidearm from its holster. This was Purgatory after all. She could never be too careful. Nicole checked the clip and disengaged the safety, racking the slide in a rapid succession of clicks. Gun cocked at the ready, Nicole approached the door cautiously.
"Who is it?" She asked as she peeked through the peephole. She nearly dropped her weapon when she saw who was on the other side.
"Nicole, it's me," Waverly answered.
Nicole's heart leapt in surprise and she breathed out, quickly re-engaging the safety on her Glock and setting it down on a nearby counter. She swung the door open to reveal Waverly, as adorable as ever in her usual puffy turquoise coat, fuzzy boots, and white scarf wrapped loosely around her neck. Waverly stood timidly, her expression unsure as she shifted her weight from foot to the other, and Nicole wanted nothing more than to pull her into a hug.
"I'm sorry." Waverly bit the corner of her lip as her eyes trailed over Nicole. "I, uh, I tried calling but your phone was off. And I thought I'd drop by anyway since we made that deal earlier. Though now that I think about it," she winced, "you never really agreed to it so I shouldn't have presumed and you're probably busy and I can just go..."
"Waverly," Nicole interrupted gently with a smile. "You're always welcome here. Any time. No matter what." She stepped back and pulled the door open wider, beckoning Waverly to enter.
Exhaling in relief, Waverly walked up to Nicole and pecked her on the lips. It still took Nicole by surprise when Waverly initiated any physical affection between them and she still couldn't believe her luck that she of all people got to kiss Waverly Earp. The brief touch felt so good, and Waverly's vanilla perfume smelled so light and sweet and inviting, that Nicole felt faint and wobbly-kneed by the time Waverly stepped away. Shaking her head in an attempt to dispel her sudden dizziness, Nicole led them to the living area of her apartment and gestured to the worn leather couch.
"Make yourself at home," Nicole said. "I can make some tea, if you'd like. Chamomile okay?"
Waverly nodded gratefully and began to take off her outerwear. By the time Nicole finished filling a tea kettle with water and setting it on the stove to boil, Waverly had tucked herself into the corner of the couch, petting Calamity, who purred loudly with each stroke. A girl could get used to this, Nicole thought as warmth unfurled in her chest at sight.
Waverly smiled at her as she approached. "I'm, uh, also sorry about earlier."
Nicole frowned in confusion. "For what?"
"Willa. She can be kind of...intense... sometimes."
"Hey," Nicole's face softened, "You don't have to apologize. She's been through a lot. In her shoes, I'd be cautious too."
"Cautious is one thing. Rude is another."
"I'm a big girl, Waves. I can take it." She crouched down next to Waverly and Calamity. "I know you've got a lot on your plate. So please believe me when I say you don't have to worry about me too."
Waverly nodded, relief lighting up her face.
"Do you need me to change your dressing?" Nicole asked.
"You don't actually have to do that," Waverly said, flushing slightly.
"But I want to," Nicole said. "That is, if you'll let me."
Waverly's hand paused over Calamity Jane's ears, and the Maine Coon stretched up to rub her head against Waverly fingers. "Sure, okay."
Nicole stood and retrieved her first aid kid from the bathroom, settling onto the coffee table in front of Waverly. Calamity meowed in protest when she picked her up off Waverly's lap and set her on the floor. In defiance, the Maine Coon immediately curled around Waverly's ankles and glared at Nicole.
"You've been here all of two times and already she loves you," Nicole chuckled. "I guess you have that effect on everyone."
Waverly ducked her head, cheeks tinged pink. "I thought for sure she'd hate me for stealing her spot on the bed."
"Nah," Nicole said, feeling her own blush rise as she remembered the activities that kept poor Calamity off the bed all night long and into the morning. "She probably despised me for taking up her spot next to you." She cleared her throat. "Lift up your blouse."
Untucking her top from her jeans, Waverly rolled up the hem just enough to uncover the bandage, which was stained dark red in the middle. As delicately as possible, Nicole peeled away cotton and tape to reveal an angry gash that marred Waverly's light skin.
"Are you okay?" Nicole asked, anger rising in her chest when she thought of the bastard who did this. It was a good thing the Earps had taken care of the mercenaries. Nicole wasn't sure what she would have done had they been captured alive. "Any pain?"
"No, I'm good."
"Good," Nicole said, soaking a bit of gauze with hydrogen peroxide. "This might sting a little."
Waverly nodded, brow furrowing slightly as she braced herself. She tensed and hissed in pain at the first dab of the antiseptic, gripping the seat cushions.
"I'm sorry," Nicole winced in sympathy. "I'll be fast."
Focusing on the injury, Nicole did her best not to let her gaze wander to Waverly's toned abs or to where the pink lace of her bra peeked out from beneath her blouse. She cleaned the graze swiftly, but thoroughly, then reapplied an antibiotic ointment and layered a fresh bandage over it. All the while, Waverly watched her with a soft, contemplative expression that made Nicole's pulse rate tick up.
"There. All better," Nicole said when she finished, earning a grateful sigh from Waverly just as the kettle began whistling in the kitchen. "I'll be right back. Did you want to watch something? Maybe from Netflix?"
"Yeah, that'd be great." Waverly smiled as she pulled her top back down. "What're you in the mood for?" She asked as Nicole made her way back to the kitchen.
"Anything you want. Pick your favorite."
Nicole retrieved two ceramic mugs from the cabinet—one sporting the logo of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the other featuring a Purgatory Sheriff's Department badge (a housewarming gift from Nedley)-and placed one bag of chamomile in each. She poured steaming water into the cups, which she placed on a small tray along with a couple of spoons and some sugar and honey.
Waverly had a movie starting up when Nicole returned to the couch and placed their drinks on the coffee table.
"So," Nicole settled down to Waverly's left, their knees bumping lightly, "what're we watching?" She handed one of the mugs to Waverly, who thanked her. Their fingers brushed together during the exchange and Nicole suppressed a shiver that threatened to tingle down her spine.
"The Princess Bride," Waverly said.
"Oh my God," Nicole laughed, "my sister Haley would love you."
"Is that her favorite movie too?"
"Mmhmm." Nicole blew on her tea.
"Then she has good taste," Waverly said as she stirred some honey into her cup and took a sip.
"Some might beg to differ."
Waverly's mouth dropped open in mock offense. "Are you telling me you don't like The Princess Bride? What kind of evil revhead are you?"
Nicole's brows scrunched together. "Revhead?"
Waverly jolted and nearly spilled her tea, eyes widening. "Rev? Did I say Rev? Um, you know," she waved a hand dismissively, "it's like Purgatory slang for, uh, demons."
"Demons," Nicole repeated, an uneasy feeling sinking in her gut and a phantom pain ghosting across her ribs. Her original report on Jack the Ripper came unbidden in her mind and she wasn't sure why.
"Yeah," Waverly laughed nervously and placed her mug back on the table, "only heartless monsters wouldn't like The Princess Bride. That's a deal breaker for me, actually." She dramatically placed a hand over her heart. "A haught breaker, if you will."
"Wow, okay." Nicole laughed, her attention back on Waverly. "Well then it was nice knowing you, Waves."
"Seriously?" Waverly pouted.
"No. C'mere." Nicole set her own drink down to wrap an arm around Waverly's shoulders and gently pull her close. "In all honesty, I saw it once when I was like seven. I don't really remember it enough to know if I liked it or not."
Waverly laid her head on Nicole's shoulder. "Just once? I've probably seen it a million times, at a minimum."
"You and my sister both." Nicole nuzzled the crown of Waverly's head, breathing in the fresh scent of her shampoo.
As the opening credits rolled, Waverly took Nicole's free hand and interlaced their fingers together. "If she watched it so much, why didn't you?"
Nicole shrugged. "There were times I adored Hayley and wanted to be just like her. Do everything she did. And then there were times I wanted to do the exact opposite, you know?"
Waverly stilled in her arms for a beat before relaxing again into Nicole's embrace. "Yeah, I know."
Nicole wanted to ask Waverly more about Wynonna and Willa. She couldn't help her curiosity, especially after noting the palpable tension between the youngest and eldest Earp. But she knew now wasn't the time and that, hopefully, Waverly would confide in her when she was ready.
Calamity jumped onto the cushions and snuggled against Waverly's leg as they watched Wesley and Buttercup fall in love and seemingly be torn apart by the Dread Pirate Roberts.
"So I'm beginning to wonder if my sister only loved this because she thought the guy playing Wesley was hot," Nicole commented, trailing her fingers up and down Waverly's arm, raising goosebumps in their wake. "Is that why you loved it too?"
Waverly canted her face up and rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "He is hot, but no that's not the reason."
"What is it then?"
Waverly fell silent, a shadow darkening her features. Nicole wished she hadn't asked at all.
"I'm sorry," Nicole said. "You don't have to answer…"
"No, no, don't be sorry." Waverly breathed out. "After daddy died and Willa was…taken...Gus showed me this movie. She thought it'd cheer me up. And in some small way, it did. It made me feel… safe." She broke eye contact and dipped her head. "I mean, it's cheesy as all get out but, it's just nice to lose yourself in a world where the heroes always win. True love prevails. And no one ever, ever dies." She laughed then, hushed and thick and warbled. "God that sounds so stupid doesn't it?"
Nicole felt her heart clench in response. She crooked a finger underneath Waverly's chin and slowly tilted her face up.
"Not at all." Nicole leaned forward and tenderly pressed their lips together. "It's lovely." She brushed away the tears that had fallen on Waverly's cheek. "You're lovely."
Waverly kissed her back, deeply, and Nicole's mind went blank. She pushed Nicole back into the cushions and straddled her lap, earning an offended meow from a jostled Calamity, who jumped off the couch and ran to the bedroom. At the back of her mind, Nicole knew she would have to get extra cat treats later to stave off Calamity's wrath, but she couldn't focus on that now. Not when Waverly's fingers were scraping along her scalp and tangling in her hair. Waverly's tongue dipped inside her mouth. She moaned at the taste of flowers and honey. Grasping Waverly's waist, she involuntarily bucked her hips up. Waverly gasped and clenched her thighs, igniting a flame that seared down Nicole's spine and settled between her legs.
Waverly pulled back slightly to lift her blouse over her head, and the break allowed Nicole a small moment of clarity through the haze of her desire. "Wait, Waves." She tried to focus on Waverly's dark brown eyes, now almost black, and not the way her bra perfectly accentuated her breasts. "Are you sure? What about the movie?"
Shaking her head, Waverly reached behind her and undid the clasp of her bra and let it fall to the side. Nicole inhaled sharply at the sight of Waverly bare before her, skin flushed, chest rising and falling with her shallow breaths.
"I don't need the movie right now," Waverly said, her voice low and silky. She slid her fingers along Nicole's jaw and gently cupped her face. "I need you."
"Waverly." Nicole trembled with want. She skimmed her hands up Waverly's sides, enjoying the shiver it produced, and stopped just underneath her bandage. "I don't want to hurt you."
"You won't." Waverly took hold of Nicole's wrists and guided her hands until they covered her breasts. "Touch me. Please."
Nicole smiled. "As you wish."
She kneaded the supple flesh, gently rolling Waverly's nipples between her fingers until Waverly's eyes rolled back. She surged forward and captured Waverly's lips in a heated kiss that grew more and more desperate until Waverly was whimpering and grinding against Nicole. With a strength she didn't even know she possessed, Nicole reached down, grabbed Waverly's firm ass, and lifted her up in one smooth motion.
Waverly yelped in surprise before she instinctively crossed her arms behind Nicole's neck and wrapped her legs tightly around Nicole's hips. Their mouths continued to meet, again and again, as Nicole brought them into her bedroom. She groaned when Waverly tugged her bottom lip between her teeth. Her knees weakened, but she managed to make it to the bed and set Waverly down on the comforter.
Waverly looked so gorgeous in the dim light of her room, lips wet and swollen, hair tousled, eyes glazed.
"You're so beautiful," Nicole breathed out in the space between them.
Waverly gifted her with a smile so wide and bright that Nicole knew she wanted to see it for the rest of her life. "You are."
They stripped off the rest of their clothes and then they were finally skin to skin, hands sliding electricity across their bare bodies, languidly exploring every dip, every curve. Nicole was careful to avoid Waverly's wounded side as she blazed a trail of hot, open-mouthed kisses along Waverly's throat, lightly sucking at her stuttering pulse. She continued downward and wrapped her lips around a hard nipple, flicking it with her tongue. Waverly cried out. Her fingernails raked across Nicole's shoulders and along her spine with a delicious sting that left Nicole throbbing with desire.
Nicole reached down and slipped a hand between Waverly's thighs, past a soft patch of curls and parted her. She was so hot and slick and ready that they both moaned when Nicole slid one finger inside of Waverly, agonizingly slow. Nicole set a smooth tempo, her thumb brushing gently against Waverly's clit. Waverly's breaths became more and more labored as Nicole added a second finger and expertly coaxed her to the brink of mounting tension.
"God, Nicole," Waverly whimpered.
"I've got you, baby," Nicole whispered against Waverly's ear. "I've got you."
Waverly writhed beneath her, a series of high-pitched gasps escaping her lungs, until she froze, back arching off the bed as her pleasure crested and she cried out Nicole's name. She held Waverly close as she clenched around her fingers and quivered in her arms from the aftershocks.
Breathing heavily, Waverly brought their lips together, less frenzied, but no less passionate. She nudged Nicole onto her back and wasted no time in worshiping her body. She kissed down her neck, her breasts, and her stomach, which fluttered in anticipation. Waverly positioned herself between her legs, long hair tickling Nicole's thighs.
"Waves, you don't have to…" Nicole lost all ability to form a coherent thought when Waverly smoothed the flat of her tongue along the entire length of her core. Nicole let out a long, strangled groan as Waverly drew her deeper into her mouth. Pleasure coiled inside Nicole so swiftly that she lost control, lips parting in a silent scream, hips thrusting upward as she came. So hard that she nearly blacked out as her orgasm shot through her body in several intense bursts, electrifying all her nerve endings.
Nicole was still trembling when Waverly moved back up her body and settled on top of her, burying her face in the crook of her neck, breath ghosting across her cooling skin. Welcoming the weight, she wrapped her arms around Waverly and kissed her hair. She could feel Waverly's heart beating against her chest, and her own swelled in a matching rhythm as they both drifted off to sleep.
A faint, but insistent ringtone drew Nicole from her slumber and she squeezed the pillow in her arms. The pillow moaned, and Nicole's eyes snapped opened. It wasn't a pillow she was embracing, but Waverly Earp, spooned snugly into her body. Nicole smiled, savoring the heat of Waverly's back pressed up against her chest and stomach until the ringing began again outside the bedroom.
"Waverly." Nicole kissed the soft hairs covering her girlfriend's nape, then her shoulder blade.
She received a groan in response.
"I think that's your phone," Nicole said. She squinted at the bedside clock. It was a little past 3 a.m. "Do you want to get it? It might be Wynonna."
"What?" Waverly shot up suddenly, startling Nicole. "Shit." She scrambled out of bed and into the living room.
Nicole had half a mind to get up with her, but the bed was too warm, too comfortable, and she was too groggy and sated. Besides, she figured Waverly needed her privacy. Her consciousness was tip-toeing back to the edge of sleep when Waverly's hushed tones drifted in.
"Hey, Wyn, it's me. Is everything okay? Oh. Good. Good. Me? I'm at Nicole's."
Nicole smiled, loving the way that sounded, but that smile soon melted away when Waverly continued.
"Yeah, we lost track of time and fell asleep watching movies. So I just thought I'd stay the night. Yeah. Yeah okay. I'll meet you at the Sheriff's office tomorrow. Okay. Bye."
Nicole understood why Waverly had lied, but a pang formed between her ribs nevertheless. When Waverly returned to the bedroom, she fiddled nervously with her phone before placing it on the bedside table.
Nicole swallowed down the lump forming in her throat. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," Waverly said, slipping back under the covers. "She was just worried I hadn't come home."
She reached out to Nicole, who rolled away and onto her back. Nicole saw the hurt on Waverly's face and instantly felt guilty. She knew she wasn't being fair, but she needed the space, if only to temper her reaction.
"Did you… did you hear all of that?"
"I'm sorry. I'm not trying to hide."
"I know," Nicole pinched the bridge of her nose. "It's okay. I know this is all still so new for you. For us both."
Silence wrapped around them, thick and heavy. It was so quiet, Nicole could hear Calamity snoring at the foot of the bed and the slow drip of the leady bathroom faucet she still had to fix.
Nicole thought Waverly had fallen back asleep when she quietly said, "I did try telling Wynonna today."
"You did?" Nicole asked, turning toward Waverly, who looked so earnest and apologetic that Nicole's earlier disappointment began seeping away.
"After the attack." Waverly nodded. "But then Dolls and Willa came in and I lost my nerve."
Nicole shifted so that their bodies faced each other. "There's no rush. Take all the time you need. I know it's not easy."
"But that's not fair to you."
"I told you." Nicole smiled, taking one of Waverly's hands between her own and kissing her knuckles. "You don't have to worry about me."
"But I do." Waverly moved closer until they were breathing in each other's spaces. "I don't want to lose you, Nicole."
"You won't," Nicole promised.
"You don't know that." Waverly took a deep breath. "There are...things. Other things about my family that…"
"Every family has secrets. You Earps don't have a monopoly on that. You don't have to tell me anything until you're ready. Just like you don't have to tell anyone about us until you're ready."
Waverly smiled, but it didn't quite meet her eyes, which glistened in the moonlight streaming in through the window.
"Listen," Nicole said. "You told me once that everything's been changing. Everyone. But I can stand still. For a while. With you."
What Nicole didn't add was that, if Waverly asked, she was pretty sure she'd stand still forever for her.
"That's the thing," Waverly sniffled. "You and I? We're one of the only things I don't want at a standstill. I want us to move forward."
"That's good," Nicole said, heart thrumming with overwhelming affection.
"I am going to tell them."
"I believe you."
Nicole pulled Waverly back into her arms and held her close, marveling at how standing still suddenly felt so very much like falling hard and falling fast.