Waverly Earp has never pitched better in her life, and she can’t even fucking enjoy it.
The tournament in Georgia is the first one of the year, in August, the first chance to really judge opponents and strategy and team strength. And Waverly proves herself worth that full-ride scholarship, that freshman starting position, by barely allowing any hits at all during the games she pitches.
Except, of course, during the game when it matters the most.
It’s not the final game. It’s not a championship or a game that really counts for anything. But it counts for her, dammit, and if there was one game from the three-day weekend that Waverly really wanted to win, it was the one that she lost.
Because it was against them. Against her.
The Ghost River University Cowboys was her sister’s team. Wynonna had been their star centerfielder when she played a few years back, and now she’s their assistant coach, and Waverly had utterly refused to play for them because she was really damn tired of constantly being held up to the expectation of how good she was in comparison to her sisters.
And she still lost, because Wynonna’s team has… her.
Waverly can see her, leaning against the snack stand eating a soft pretzel. She’s probably half a foot taller than her, not that it matters, red hair pulled back and tucked under a dark blue baseball cap.
Nicole Haught, catcher, star hitter, playing for her first year even though she’s a sophomore because she sat on the bench for a year since a senior had been in the position she plays.
Of the ten hits Waverly allowed all weekend, three of them were home runs from Nicole fricking Haught.
She takes in a breath, steels herself, pulls down the brim of her red cap, and stalks her way over to the catcher with the pretzel.
“Hey there,” Nicole greets, way too casual, way too friendly.
“Just so you know,” Waverly says through gritted teeth, “I hate you.”
“Ouch.” Nicole chews on a piece of pretzel, swallows, then holds out the piece in her hand. “Pretzel?”
“Y’know, Earp, catchers and pitchers don’t have to despise each other.” Nicole eats another piece. “I mean, it’s not required just because pitchers are arrogant pricks.”
Waverly stammers for a moment, gaping at her. “I-I… You… I’ll have you know that I am not arrogant, Haught.”
“Just a prick, then?”
The smirk on Nicole’s face makes Waverly wish she had a bat. “You wonder why I don’t like you.”
“Hm.” Nicole leans off of the wall, breaking off a piece of the pretzel and tossing it into her mouth. As she finishes it, she pushes the last bit into Waverly’s hand. “You don’t like me because I’m a better hitter than you are a pitcher, and it pisses off your ego. Enjoy the pretzel.”
She starts to walk away, and Waverly throws the pretzel at the six stitched into the back of Nicole’s uniform.
“Don’t get so stressed, Earp,” Nicole says, turning and walking backwards so she can look at Waverly.
Waverly hopes she’ll trip.
“I’m not stressed; I’m pissed. There’s a difference.”
“Not really.” The catcher taps the brim of her hat as if tipping it. “But don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of chances to toss me home run pitches in the future.”
She laughs, loud and just a bit cocky but also weirdly warm, and jogs off towards her team’s bus.
Waverly watches her leave, and she tries not to think about how fun it would be to aim a pitch right at Nicole Haught’s stupid face.
Stephanie Jones, third base, has not stopped bitching to Samantha Baker, right field, since the bus pulled away from the tournament.
Waverly, sitting all the way at the front next to the catcher, Mattie Perley, can hear their words loud and clear.
“I cannot believe we lost to the Cowboys,” Steph complains. “Three home runs! How does someone give up three home runs? I mean honestly, they say we have a good pitcher, but I can’t see how that’s remotely possible after this weekend.”
“They’re going to point at the wins and say that she earned them,” Sam says. “I had to catch four balls near the fence to prevent them from being hits. How is that her victory? C’mon.”
Steph shifts her voice, a conspiratorial whisper that isn’t a whisper at all. “You know what I think? I think she let us lose to the Cowboys on purpose. You know that’s her sister’s team. The whole thing is a massive conflict of interest.”
The two girls continue to talk, the entire conversation badmouthing Waverly, and she almost stands up five times but each time Mattie tugs her back down into her seat.
“They aren’t worth it, Earp,” she mutters. “Put your headphones in and do your homework.”
“I hate math almost as much as I hate them,” Waverly replies under her breath. “I’m a history major. I shouldn’t have to do this.”
Mattie smirks and adjusts her sunglasses, flipping through her sociology textbook. “And I’m an engineering major doing soc work. College is a cruel bitch.”
Waverly glances in the mirror above the bus driver as she sticks earbuds in her ears, catching sight of Steph turning around in her seat to say something to Rachel Klein and Sonya Torres. “College isn’t the only one,” she mumbles.
“I think I ticked your sister off well and good, Coach,” Nicole says as she waits to get off of the team bus in the university’s parking lot.
“Christ, Haught,” Wynonna says, giving her an irritated look. “What did you do? You didn’t hit on my sister, did you?”
“How stupid do you think I am?” Nicole rocks back in her seat, leaning against the bus’s window. “She didn’t seem very happy about my hits.”
“You got three home runs off of my baby sister, who has never given up a home run in her life.” Wynonna sticks her pen in her belt like it’s a gun she’s going to whip out later. “You’re lucky she didn’t take your bat and shove it up your ass.”
“Not very sporting.”
Wynonna stares at her for a moment, then snorts. “Haught, you’re a good catcher. A great hitter. But you do not know a goddamn thing about Earps.” She points out the window at the track. “When you’ve got your bags put away, run a lap.”
Her coach smirks at her and heads off the bus. “Because I am your god, Six.”
Nicole sighs loudly, picks up her water bottle, and walks off the bus to retrieve her equipment bags.
The next time Waverly sees her sister’s team and Nicole Haught it’s October. A chilly day means that she’s wearing a thin black Underarmour under her red uniform shirt. She can see Nicole in the dugout in a similar ensemble, tan and blue. She’s tapping her bat against the concrete floor, chewing gum and staring at her, the smirk on her face so clear that Waverly can practically feel it.
“I hate her,” Waverly says in a low voice.
Her coach, Gus McCready, doesn’t even look up from the clipboard she’s using to confirm both teams’ rosters. “That’s fine as long as you don’t let her get three home runs again.”
Waverly’s face burns as she sets her jaw, picks up her glove, and heads out to the mound.
Nicole gets two hits off of her, an RBI single and a double, but she also strikes out once, so Waverly doesn’t feel as much of an urge to deck her.
After the game, before the Cowboys have piled into their bus, Waverly finds Nicole leaning against the back of the dugout spitting sunflower seed shells onto the ground.
“Am I always going to find you when you’re eating something?” Waverly asks, her grip tight on the bat bag on her shoulder.
“I need things to do with my mouth so I don’t get myself in trouble,” Nicole replies with that damn smirk once again on her face.
“I struck you out.”
“Yes, and I’m sure you’re mighty proud of yourself.”
Waverly lifts her chin, eyes cold. “I am, actually.”
“Never said you were a bad pitcher,” Nicole points out. “You’re just also an asshole who will never, ever keep me off base for a full game.”
“That sounds like a challenge, Haught.”
“It is a challenge, Earp.” Nicole leans in towards her, and somewhere in the back of Waverly’s mind she notes that she smells like the spearmint gum she was chewing earlier. “You seem to really like trying to get me out. I really like trying to keep you from a perfect game. The challenge is already in our systems.” She pats Waverly on the cheek, and Waverly jerks away from her, annoyed. “There’s no stopping it now.”
Waverly snorts. “I could stop it by striking you out every time you’re at the plate.”
“Yeah, you could. If that was actually possible.” Nicole gently taps her finger against the brim of Waverly’s hat, knocking it down over her eyes. “You aren’t as good as you think you are.”
By the time Waverly, furious, pushes her hat back up, Nicole is halfway across the field, heading for the parking lot.
“I don’t get it, Xavier,” Waverly says, walking to the study hall that all athletes are required to participate in. “Why are all-star hitters such douchebags?”
Xavier Dolls, first base for the baseball team, raises an eyebrow at her. “I have absolutely no idea.”
Waverly shoves his shoulder. “I don’t mean you. I mean the jackass on my sister’s team.”
“See? Everyone knows who she is! Why? Because she can hit the goddamn ball. Big deal! Do they know how hard it is to make sure people can’t hit the goddamn ball? Really hard! But Nicole fucking Haught waltzes in and gets lucky and suddenly she’s the freaking Softball Messiah!”
Dolls laughs, the short laugh that has almost everyone convinced that he finds nothing genuinely funny, and teasingly pats her on the head. “You’re still mad about the tournament.”
“I’m mad about her. She said I was an arrogant prick. Me! I’ve never been arrogant in my life.”
“Mhm. Waverly, how many strikeouts did you get last game?”
“How many do you expect to get in the next game?”
Waverly snorts. “It’s the Patriots. They can’t hit against me. I’ll get at least sixteen.”
Dolls says nothing, just smirks, nods, and keeps walking.
Waverly takes a moment to review what she said and flushes. “Okay. Maybe I’m a little arrogant.”
“Just a little.”
“But I’m good, Xavier, and I finally have a chance to be recognized for my own achievements instead of Wynonna’s or Willa’s, and I’m proud of that. And I can’t feel like it’s earned because some dick of a catcher mocks me for it and my teammates give me shit for every solid hit and every time I play really well, Nicole Haught swoops in and does something amazing and gets all of the thunder.”
Dolls grips her shoulder and gives it a comforting squeeze. “You’ve got plenty of lightning, Waverly Earp. Give it time. All you need is a few storm clouds.”
Waverly sighs and nods and opens the door to let them both into the study hall building.
Before she goes inside, she glances up at the sky.
There’s one more game against the Cowboys before the season officially starts, at their home field.
Nicole gets a single and two doubles, but the rest of her team fails to do enough to get a win.
As Waverly fills up her water bottle at a fountain, Nicole leans against the wall next to her.
“Just so we’re clear,” she says, “you still haven’t beaten me.”
“We still won, though.”
“Yeah. But that’s probably more of a win against your sister than it is against me, huh?”
“I dunno,” Waverly says, tightening the cap of her bottle. “Wynonna isn’t the one I want to punch.”
“Go ahead,” Nicole dares, turning her hat backwards and leaning forward so that her jaw is sticking out and vulnerable. “All you’ll do is hurt that precious hand of yours. Can’t pitch a ball with three broken fingers.”
“You’d like that,” Waverly retorts. “Then you wouldn’t have such a tough pitcher to face.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Nicole twists her hat back around. “Another pitcher might not have let me get two doubles.”
Waverly’s hands tighten into fists and she’s so mad she stumbles in the formation of her reply, but before she can get it out, Wynonna’s walking up to them.
“Haught, get your ass to the locker room and stop pestering my sister.”
With a final smirk at Waverly, Nicole jogs off.
“She’s not bothering you, is she?” Wynonna asks, concern in her eyes.
“Her existence bothers me,” Waverly mutters. Off of Wynonna’s worried look, she shakes her head. “Haught is fine. Nothing I can’t handle. Just a cocky jock being a cocky jock.”
“So, like fighting a mirror?” Wynonna laughs at Waverly’s scowl and pulls her into a hug. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“Gross. Get off. You’re the enemy.”
“You’re the one who went off to my disgusting rival to play softball.” Wynonna takes Waverly’s face in her hands, her expression going surprisingly gentle. “And you’re doing amazing.”
Waverly can’t help how her voice squeaks like she’s six years old when she asks, “Really?”
“Definitely, baby girl.” Wynonna kisses her forehead before taking a step back. “And now I need to go tell a bunch of college aged bratty softball players that practice has been moved to six a.m. instead of seven.”
“Good God,” Waverly whispers with a shudder. “You’re horrible.”
“Always have been; always will be.”
She walks off, tightening the coach’s jacket that fit her so well, dark hair billowing faintly in the wind.
Nicole isn’t sure why she’s nervous when the first game of the spring season is between her team and the Red Devils. She sits in the dugout, watching Waverly warm up on the field, sending scorching pitches into the glove of her catcher.
Nicole really wishes that her eyes wouldn’t keep drifting, studying Waverly’s biceps, her ass, the occasional outline of abs through her uniform shirt when she stretches her arms upward.
The girl really needed a lesson. That was all. A message loud and clear that the regular season was not going to be a coasting ride. That Nicole wasn’t going to roll over for her just because she’s hot and has a pretty name and pitches well and is her coach’s sister.
Nicole blinks, confused, when she realizes that she has no idea where the descriptors of ‘hot’ and ‘pretty’ had come from in regards to Waverly Earp.
She sees the glare Waverly shoots at her as she steps into the on-deck circle, and notes that she doesn’t really care.
It is not happening.
After their second game of the season, at Waverly’s school, Nicole traps her against the dugout and hands her a soft pretzel.
“What the hell is this for?” Waverly asks in a tone close to a snarl.
“It’s a tradition,” Nicole says. “I gave you one the last time I hit a home run off of you. Now I’m giving you another one since I hit another home run off of you.”
Waverly pulls Nicole’s shirt collar forward and drops the pretzel down it. It slides down Nicole’s torso, coarse and scratchy, before stopping at the line of her pants where her shirt is tucked in.
“That’s a little uncalled for, Earp,” Nicole mutters.
“You’re a dick, Nicole Haught.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I wouldn’t be if you didn’t hate me for playing the game we both love.” Nicole reaches down her shirt and fishes the pretzel out. She takes a bite of it and says, “Also, thanks, I always wanted to be covered in salt by a pretty girl.”
Waverly is glad that her hat and hair cover the way her ears involuntarily go pink. “Well, y’know, Haught, I’m sure you could pay somebody to do that for you.”
“True.” Nicole takes another bite of the pretzel, grimaces, and tosses it towards a squirrel hopping around near a tree a few feet away. “Wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as this, though.”
“Glad you’re so entertained,” Waverly says in a chilly voice, shoving her way past Nicole and heading for the locker room.
And a cold shower.
They play each other in the championship game, and the whole thing comes down to Waverly and Nicole.
There are three players on base. Nicole’s at the plate. She has two strikes on her. There are two outs. If Nicole drives in a run, the game ties. If she drives in more than one run, her team wins. If she gets out, they lose.
They battle each other through twenty pitches, Nicole popping potential strikes out of bounds for fouls, Waverly doing everything within her power to avoid the last ball Nicole needs for a walk.
It’s clear to everyone in the stadium that they’re both exhausted by the final pitch. Concentration faltering, muscles weakening. Unstoppable force, immovable object, but one of them will have to break in the end.
It’s Nicole, swinging at a pitch that is definitely a strike but that she just can’t get her bat on.
Waverly’s team is screaming and celebrating and even Steph and her little posse are patting her on the back, but she can’t help the small twinge of sympathy as she looks at Nicole Haught, who has just sat down on the plate and taken off her helmet, clearly burned out. The coach’s daughter, Chrissy, one of the pitchers for the Cowboys, crouches down next to her and puts a hand on her shoulder. Nicole nods, and gives a smile, and doesn’t seem upset, but when Wynonna appears at her other shoulder, resting a hand on her back and asking her urgent questions with worry in her eyes, Nicole leans against her coach and lets out a long, slow breath.
It isn’t until Wynonna and Chrissy pull Nicole to her feet, pat her on the shoulder, and lead her to the dugout that Waverly realizes that she’s exhausted, too. Her arm is killing her, her legs are aching, her entire body is spent.
Gus fights her way through the crowd and pats her hand on the top of Waverly’s head. “Good girl,” she says. “Now come with me.”
The din of celebration is still audible outside as Waverly sits on a bed and waits for her team’s trainer, John Henry “Doc” Holliday, to make sure she didn’t do any damage to her shoulder. But when the door opens, the person who walks in isn’t Doc.
“Sorry,” she mumbles, collapsing into a seat. “Coach Nedley wanted me to come here and get checked out. I’m pretty sure I’m just dehydrated, but you know coaches.”
“Yeah, I know coaches. That’s why I’m in here, too.”
They sit in a lengthy awkward silence until Waverly admits, “You played well. At least, you did in that last at bat.”
“Christ,” Nicole mumbles, her head resting back against the chair. “You are relentless, woman. I thought that last at bat was going to kill me.”
Waverly laughs. “Uh, yeah, I’m definitely glad I don’t need to be pitching any time soon, because I’m not sure I can move my arm.”
“We’ve achieved mutually assured destruction,” Nicole jokes. “I’m too tired to bat, you’re too tired to pitch, we never need to truly discover which one of us is better.”
“I’d like to point out to you that I won that duel, thank you very much.”
Nicole opens one eye and squints at her. “Fuck off.”
For once, it doesn’t piss Waverly off. She just laughs again. “Dude,” she says with a shake of her head, “I don’t think we’re going to survive each other next year.”
“Probably not.” Nicole shifts down further, closing her eyes to sleep. “But then, there are definitely worse ways to die.”