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Memories that Remain

Chapter Text

"I can still recall our last summer,
I still see it all
Walks along the Seine, Laughing in the rain
Our last summer
Memories that remain…"

 

 

On any normal day at the Earp homestead, the sun would be rising to the peaceful serenity of the vast snow-covered land, the sound of birds chiming in to sing the tale of the coming day. As of late, however, there were no normal days, and it wasn't rare that the brightening of the horizon was accompanied by the loud clatter of hammers and drills. The small army of men worked tirelessly, clearing away the snow that had fallen the night before to continue construction of the temporary shelter.

The sound of a generator firing up jarred a young woman from slumber, long brunette hair dishevelled from a full night's sleep. Blinking light brown eyes open, Whitney Earp sighed softly, curling under the thick comforter in her cocoon of warmth. The pillow beside her own on the queen sized bed was home to a blur of red and green, and she reached up to rub her eyes before she focused on the single rose. A smile spread across her face, dimples evident to the empty room as she picked up the bloom, breathing in the sweet scent.

"Sap." She chuckled, running her fingertip along the length of the dark green stem that had been shorn of all thorns. It made waking up alone a little more bearable as she pushed aside the blanket and slipped from her bed. She tucked the rose into the vase of mixed flowers on her way to the bathroom, pausing to look at her own reflection.

"Three more sleeps," she told herself, running her fingers through her unruly wavy hair and pulling it back into a loose bun. It was all that was on her mind as she got herself prepared for the day, brushing her teeth and washing her face. Looking a little closer, she wrinkled her nose at the sight of her natural hair color showing at the roots. She'd have to make sure to get the brown evened out, maybe some highlights?

"Three more sleeps," she repeated, slipping into an oversized knit sweater, careful to tuck her ring on the inside of her hand so she didn't snag it again. A knock on the door got her attention as she was slipping her boots on over her leggings. "Come in!"

"Hey Whitney," a familiar voice sounded before the door even opened. Recent revelations had opened another door to mistrust, but the way her mother smiled at her, she never had to question if it was genuine. "I'm about to head out to go pick up your aunt." Even into her 40s, Waverly Earp had an aura of honest affection for almost everyone she was around.

Whitney smiled the same smile, or at least she always thought it was the same smile. "I can't believe Aunt Wynonna is flying in. She hates flying." Standing up, she stretched her back out with a yawn.

"Well until they build that bridge from Europe…" Her mother laughed, stepping up to wrap her arms around her in a hug.

Whitney took a long breath, revelling in the comforting embrace. She savored the familiar scent of perfume, the one that hadn't changed since she could remember, and the way her mother would pull her down half a foot to rest her chin on her shoulder, no matter how many inches the years had added to her height. This was home. This was her mother, and her mother was going to be pissed at her soon, if everything went the way she planned.

"My baby girl… three more sleeps and I can finally turn your room into my crafting room."

"Mom!" Whitney laughed, pushing her away. "You know I'm going to be bugging you left and right, right? I mean I'm still going to be working at the bar."

"Bah." Her mother waved dismissively at her before heading out the door with Whitney in tow, moving down the stairs of the home. "I should fire you, just to force your tushie to get a real job."

"Go ahead. Then you can get someone like Dani or Trina to wait your tables for you. See how well that goes…" Whitney smirked. It was a common argument they had, her mother wanting her to go out and experience the world, but she knew her mother wasn't serious. There was no way Waverly would follow through with that threat. Her mother had spent the last 20 years of her life focusing solely on Whitney, and she was forever grateful for that.

No matter what she had read in some silly diary.

She hadn't meant to snoop around, but curiosity was in her genes. Well, she couldn't really say that anymore either. She wasn't sure. Growing up, Whitney had always wondered about her own conception. Her mother had always told her she was conceived with the ways of modern technology, through in vitro fertilization with a sperm donor. It had always seemed strange to her, considering her mother was one of the most beautiful women she'd ever seen, someone loved by everyone in town, unlike her wayward aunt who everyone had a complaint about.

So why would a beautiful woman in her 20s turn to science instead of companionship?

"That's a long story full of tears and heartbreak. I'll tell you when you're older." Her mother had always said. But as it turned out, she would never be old enough for that story...at least until she discovered the truth herself.

Okay so maybe she was a bit of a busy body, Whitney could admit, but she hadn't been looking to uncover ancient mysteries.


 

She had just been going through the attic, packing up her things in preparation for the big move when she found it, a dust-covered cardboard box shoved in a corner labeled: DO NOT OPEN EVER AGAIN.

Her mother may as well have set her in front of a big red button and told her not to touch it. To her surprise, it was just… stuff. There were no dangerous contents, no poisonous spiders or venomous snakes waiting to strike. Lifting out the white stetson and what looked like an older version of the uniform her fiancé wore, she set both aside and dug a little further. A coffee mug, a few knick knacks, and…

Lifting up the framed photo, her eyebrows furrowed. The glass was shattered, like someone had hastily thrown it in the box, but it did little to damage the memory it contained. She recognized her mother instantly, minus the streaks of gray and the wrinkles she had always called her laugh lines.

Who she didn't recognize was the redhead, sitting behind her mother, arms wrapped possessively around her shoulders, chin resting on a shoulder.

Now, her mother was always a cheerful person, never one to get upset quickly or get frustrated with her demonic spawn of a child that seemed to get into anything and everything she could reach, but Whitney had never in her life seen her mother smile like that. That smile on her face, and the smile of the woman behind her didn't simply display happiness, it was nauseating bliss.

So naturally, when she found the diary, wrapped in an old t-shirt, her curiosity was beyond piqued. Really, who on Earth would be able to resist reading a diary that was older than she was? What had her mother been like at her age? What did she do to pass the time when she wasn't burdened with raising a child alone at such an early age? Did she date? Was she as wild as her Aunt Wynonna?

She hadn't expected to uncover some huge secret.

Nicole Haught. She had a name to associate with the picture and there were definitely some things she was sorry she read as she flipped through the pages, her own cheeks inflamed with guilt and an inability to put the book down. It wasn't just some sad story, it was her mother's life in black and white on page but full of color in memory. She nearly cried as she read through her mother's hidden feelings when the first IVF procedure resulted in failure. When she reached the last page, simply mentioning some complications with the second IVF after a fight, she felt like everything began to make sense.

Why she was taller than her mother. Why she didn't share a single physical trait with anyone in the family. Why, without her trips to the salon, she would be the only one in the family with red hair. Looking at the picture, studying the familiar curve of a jawline and dimples matching her own, she finally understood.


 

"Hey."

Whitney shook her head. "What?"

"You're spazzing out." Her mother narrowed her eyes, holding the back of her hand to her forehead. "No fever… are you feeling dizzy?"

Swatting the hand away, Whitney laughed. "I'm fine. You should probably get going before Aunt Wynonna lands." She pulled the scarf off the hook near the door and wrapped it around her mother's neck. "Hey… you know I love you right?"

Her mother blinked, a smile crossing her face. "I love you too, Kiddo, but you better not be thinking about running off and eloping cause I'll hunt you down and kill you myself. I've got a small village being built out back 'cause you wanted an outdoor wedding in the middle of winter."

"No eloping," she reassured her mother. "I'm just… just really glad to have you as a mom." She saw it, that little falter in her mother's smile and she couldn't imagine how she'd never noticed it before.

"Well… I couldn't ask for a better daughter than you." Her mother looked like she wanted to say more, but she didn't. She just stood there with half a smile until they both jumped at the sound of skidding.

A loud series of honks accompanied loud music as a car pulled dangerously close to her mother's SUV. Her mother was quick to open the screen door, stepping out into the cold. "MARGARETTE SUSANNAH NEDLEY YOU BETTER NOT HAVE HIT MY CAR!"

Whitney cringed when her friends laughed, crawling out of the convertible that had its top down despite the weather.

"Sorry Miss Waverly." Both of her friends spoke at the same time, running up the stairs.

"Holy shit it's cold."

"Your mom is hilarious."

Whitney didn't respond. She waited for her mother to pull herself into the SUV, patience wearing thin as it took longer than it should for Waverly to pull away from the driveway. Finally she turned to her two friends, her maids of honor because she could never choose between the two. "Guys… I have a confession…"

"Oh my god, you're knocked up!" Margarette, or Anna as everyone knew her by, piped up.

"No! I did something really stupid yet super genius and my mother is going to kill me."

Anna grinned. "I love stupid genius."

"Oh no, Whit. What did you do?" The shortest of the group, Jen, gave her a worried look.

Whitney ran upstairs, taking them two at a time until she got to her room, quickly grabbing the diary from where she'd hid it before running back downstairs. "Ok so…" She poured herself a cup of coffee from the already brewed pot her mother had made. "I invited my mother to my wedding."

Both of her friends gave her a confused look. "Um… Dude I thought your mom gets to be there like by default…" Anna made her own cup of coffee, drowning it in sugar and cream until it was a beige color.

"Not her." Biting her bottom lip, Whitney took a deep breath before blurting out, "my real mother."

"Oh my God… are you adopted?" Anna jumped to the closest assumption. "Holy shit, Whit. I mean we always wondered why you were like the only ginger in the family."

"Especially with red hair being a passive gene." Jen gave her friend a worried look. "How did you find out?"

Whitney shook her head, holding up the diary. "I'm not adopted. My mother gave birth to me but, I found this diary in a hidden box in the attic. The egg my mother had implanted was not hers but… her girlfriend's."

Having been in the middle of a sip of coffee, Anna coughed in surprise, spraying the table with coffee.

"Ew. Anna." Jen quickly stood up to get a towel. "How did we not know your mom was gay?"

"Because she never dates." Whitney pointed out, wiping a bit of the splashed coffee from her arm. "And I don't think she's gay. I mean, she dated Jesse's dad for years."

"That's so creepy," Anna commented. "His dad is so creepy."

"Wait… you said you invited her to the wedding." Jen was always the brighter of her two friends, always trying to connect pieces of puzzles together. "Did you talk to her?"

"Well, no." Whitney felt a bit of guilt at that part. "She might have thought the invite was coming from my mother."

There was complete silence for a long moment before Anna finally spoke up. "Fuck. You're gonna have a wedding and a funeral on the same day."

"Your mother is going to kill you."

Whitney shook her head. "It's going to be fine. I'm going to meet my mother, and maybe find out what the hell happened between them." Pulling out the picture she'd liberated from the frame, she set it on the table for her friends to see. "Because I want to see my mother smile like this."

"Dude…" Jen looked closer at the picture, her eyes darting back and forth between the photo and Whitney. Now that the physical evidence was there, there was no way to deny the resemblance.

A smile spread across Anna's face. "What's the plan?"


 

"What the hell, Waves? Do you know how long I've been waiting?"

Waverly laughed as she shut the engine off, hopping out of the SUV. "Hey, Sis." She opened the back door for the luggage to be deposited before pulling her sibling into a much needed hug. It had been at least a year since she'd seen her. "I missed you."

Wynonna seemed to sense it as she let her sister hold on for longer than the norm, pressing a kiss to her forehead before pulling away. "Hey... I haven't been gone that long…"

"I know…" Waverly released a shuddering breath, trying not to let the strain show. "I'm just… exhausted." She smiled weakly before patting Wynonna on the shoulder, heading back to the driver's seat. "So," she cleared her throat when her sister hopped in, "no Dolls?" She was hesitant to ask, but curiosity was always one of her major weaknesses.

Wynonna shrugged, propping her feet up on the dash as Waverly pulled out into traffic. "We were in the middle of tracking some demon thing I couldn't even try to pronounce. He decided it was that much more important… some sort of worldwide epidemic or whatever…"

"Wynonna! You left him there?" It wasn't that unbelievable, Waverly decided as she pulled onto the highway. Her sister always had a nonchalance that bordered on dangerous, but she also knew that if Wynonna didn't think Dolls could handle it, she wouldn't have left. No doubt Dolls probably hadn't been surprised. 20 years with her sister made even her notoriously unpredictable nature predictable.

"Like I was going to miss the wedding of my favorite niece?"

Waverly rolled her eyes. "You mean your only niece."

"Hey that's not my fault." She leaned her chair back. "Maybe if you dated more…"

"No." Waverly cut her off. Dating was the last thing she wanted to partake in. 20 years and she could count the amount of dates she'd been on on one hand and none of them had come anywhere close to… She shook her head. That was the last thing she needed to think about. "I don't have the time or energy to deal that with… that." It wasn't a lie. Running a bar and taking care of a daughter, who seemed to have gained some of her sister's knack for trouble, wasn't the easiest thing to do alone.

"It's just a bar, Waves."

"And raising a daughter."

Wynonna snorted. "That girl is raised. You need to find a new excuse." She picked at the edge of her coat, a hesitant expression on her face. "So… any word from Doc?"

Waverly didn't want to mention it. She'd been willing to just let the whole subject die but since her sister asked. "I sent an invitation to his last address but I never heard back. You know he just… moves around a lot. It's hard to keep track of him."

"Oh well… fuck him. It's his loss."

While it was true she missed her sister, sometimes the Earp heir could be a pain in her ass. "God you're so full of it. You know you're lucky you're pretty… even for a 50 year old."

"Whoa! I've still got a year… or not… shit."

"Maybe you should try sticking around for a little bit. It'd be nice to have a friendly face other than the one that crawled out of me."

Wynonna sighed, tipping the chair back a bit. "Problem with Purgatory is, without revenants, it's boring as shit. Should have never broken that curse." She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to find the most comfortable position. "Probably why your kid is getting married at 20."

"Believe me I tried to talk her out of it." Waverly exhaled slowly, taking the next exit off the highway. "She's dead set on this wedding."

"I can't believe you're letting her marry into that family."

Waverly snorted. "At least she's not marrying into the Nedleys."

Wynonna chortled, a smile pulling at one side of her mouth. "Whit still friends with that girl? She's always been a looker, but man, no one's really home upstairs."

"Wynonna!" Waverly tried not to laugh. "That's horrible to say." It was fairly accurate. "She's actually gotten a lot better." No she hadn't. "She and Jen are Whit's maids of honor."

"Aren't they called bridesmaids?"

"Yeah well she didn't want to have to choose."

"Changing the rules due to her own conflict avoidance… Earps don't avoid conflict. We thrive in it." Wynonna pursed her lips, the silence speaking more words than she dared speak. She had never agreed with Waverly's decision as far as what to tell Whitney, but she supported her right to raise the girl how she wanted. So instead, she changed the subject. "Jen… Jen… shit is that Pete's kid?" She winced.

"Oh yeah. Thank god her mother's got a brain."

"Smallest fucking town ever." Wynonna sighed, pulling herself back into a sitting up position. "Why do you keep letting her associate with kids of people we've slept with?"

"Smallest… fucking… town." Waverly sighed softly as they passed old and familiar buildings that hadn't changed in more than two decades, as if time had stood still.


 

Nicole Haught took her time as she worked her way through throngs of travelers on her way to her departure gate. The airport thrummed with holiday excitement that was impossible to ignore, try as she might. She passed underneath arches of garland strung from the terminal's high tunneled ceiling, bright red bows and white fairy lights contrasting beautifully against deep green.

Nicole hitched her messenger bag higher on her shoulder and quietly hummed along with George Michael singing Last Christmas on the loudspeaker. She was early for her flight. Perhaps too early. She had been unable to sleep a wink the night before, nerves too wired with eagerness and trepidation. Eventually, she had given up with trying to catch elusive slumber and went straight to the airport.

She paused underneath a globe sculpture illuminated like a massive Christmas ornament, staring at one particular spot on the North American continent-a place Nicole had avoided for over 20 years. A place she would set foot in once again after four hours by plane and an additional hour by car.

She knew it might be a bad idea. Hell, who was she trying to fool? It was definitely a bad idea. Her logical side, the one now sharply honed by years of legal practice, screamed at her to turn around and go back home.

But she couldn't.

Not with the wedding invitation from Waverly Earp tucked snugly inside her bag. Not with the whisper in her heart telling her that getting on the plane meant that she would finally be going home for the first time in a long time.

Before she could dwell on it further, something collided with her legs. Something fast. Something small. Nicole glanced down at a little girl, about 3 or 4 years old, clinging to her leg and looking up at her with wide hazel eyes. She wore a bright red puffy coat and dark green mittens.

"Hey there," Nicole greeted with a gentle smile. "You okay?"

The girl nodded, but said nothing. Only stared at Nicole, curious and unafraid.

"Lily!" A voice shouted. It came from a harried-looking woman rushing up to them, dreadlocks swishing behind her, bangles jangling on her wrists. "I'm, like, so sorry. I swear I turned around for a nanosecond and she took off."

"It's not a problem," Nicole replied. "I think maybe she just wanted to admire the globe too." She winked at Lily, who smiled in return.

"I'm going to California!" Lily shouted suddenly, pointing to the western coast of the United States.

"California?" Nicole bent down and rested her hands on her knees. "I love California! Are you going wine tasting? That's my favorite."

Lily giggled. "No, that's silly. I'm going to Mickey's house with grandma!"

"Mickey's house!" Nicole exclaimed. "That's amazing!"

"She loves Disneyland," the mother supplied, pushing up her black, cateye frames higher on her nose.

"For my birthday," Lily added.

"It's your birthday?" Nicole asked. "Happy Birthday!"

"Not today," Lily corrected her with a shake of her head. "Christmas!"

Nicole felt a sharp pang in her heart even as she continued to voice excitement. "Wow!" She straightened up and smiled at Lily's mother. "A Christmas baby. That's pretty special."

"Yeah. Our little miracle." She ruffled her daughter's blonde curls then took her by the hand. "Okay, monkey, let's go find maman. Say goodbye to…"

"Nicole."

"Say goodbye to Miss Nicole."

"GOODBYE MISS NICOLE!" Lily waved a mittened hand.

"Bye Lily! Have a happy birthday and merry Christmas in California!"

"And thanks again," the mother said. "My wife totally would have killed me for not keeping track of her."

"No thanks needed." Nicole waved her off. "Have a safe trip and happy holidays."

"Ditto." She nodded with a toothy grin and lead Lily away.

Nicole watched them walk away, a bittersweet melancholy aching inside her chest, which squeezed even tighter when Lily ran into the arms of another woman who shared the little girl's blonde curls. The tall woman scooped up the toddler and kissed both of her cheeks, holding her with one arm while she laced the fingers of her free hand with the shorter woman's. They continued walking together as a family.

That could have been me, Nicole thought, ignoring the sting in her eyes. Me and Waverly.

Nicole took a deep breath and continued to her gate, unable to stop the memories from flooding back into her mind. Memories she successfully kept at bay most of the time, but couldn't resist at this time of year. Memories of going to her apartment after a grueling string of 12-hour days plus extra overtime with Black Badge. Nicole had been exhausted, all the energy sapped from her bones.


 

It was just after 7 on a Friday night in early February and Nicole was heading home to freshen up before going to pick up Waverly in about an hour. Even though they spent nearly every night together, she already missed Waverly. Missed the way her small frame slotted perfectly with her own, the smell of sweet wildflowers on her sheets. Missed the sound of her voice and the gentle smile she reserved for Nicole, and only Nicole.

They'd had a busy few months, discussing the possibility of marriage and starting a family, all on top of revenant hunting and the mundane grind of their day jobs. But despite her body's aching desire for rest, Nicole wanted nothing more than to be with Waverly, to have a quiet dinner together at a nice restaurant and not worry about anything else.

Nicole's keys jangled in the lock as she pushed the door to her apartment open, expecting to be welcomed by a purring ball of fluff. But Calamity was nowhere to be seen and, instead, Nicole was greeted by the heavenly aroma of baking bread.

Brow furrowing and mouth watering, Nicole cautiously shut the door and approached the kitchen, relaxing only when she heard Waverly's humming over the soft sounds of chopping. Nicole turned the corner and smiled in surprise, chest warming at the scene before her. Waverly stood at the counter, still in her Shorty's shirt, hips swaying slightly to the song she was singing as she scooped up carrots and placed them in a salad bowl. Calamity laid next to Waverly's feet, sprawled out on the laminate floor, the tip of her tail thumping contentedly.

"I didn't know Shorty's made house calls," Nicole drawled, a lazy grin spreading on her face as Waverly and Calamity both startled.

"Oh!" Waverly pressed a hand to her heart while Calamity glared at Nicole through slitted eyes. "I didn't hear you come in." She wiped her hands on a kitchen towel hanging from the dishwasher and stepped over Calamity to wrap her arms around Nicole's neck and kiss her. "Hi."

"Hi," Nicole repeated against Waverly's lips, hands resting in the dip of Waverly's waist.

"Welcome home."

Nicole loved the way that sounded, coming from Waverly. Would love to hear it for the rest of her life, if she was lucky enough.

"What's all this?" Nicole asked. "I thought we were going into the city tonight."

"I know." Waverly smoothed her hands down to Nicole's shoulders. "But after everything, I figured we could use a night in."

"To bake?"

"Yeah." Waverly bit the corner of her lip. "Is that okay?"

"Of course!" Nicole rubbed circles along the small of Waverly's back. "Just what are you making? It smells amazing."

"Go investigate for yourself, officer." Waverly winked and wiggled out from Nicole's grasp.

"Well all right then," Nicole drawled as she walked toward the oven.

She flipped the switch for the internal lights, bent down, and peered inside where a single tray of hot buns were turning a beautiful shade of golden brown.

"Buns." Nicole turned her head back toward Waverly, who watched her expectantly.

"Yes."

"Great." Nicole straightened out and clapped her hands together. "When do we eat? I'm starving."

Waverly visibly deflated. "That's it?"

"What?"

"That's all you have to say?"

Nicole wrinkled her nose. "Um… I'm sorry, honey, thank you? I appreciate all your hard work."

Waverly covered her face with her hands and chuckled. "Wynonna might have to take back what she said about me finally picking a smart one." She slid her eyes back down and looked at Nicole with warm exasperation. "Try again."

"O-kay," Nicole said, drawing out the first syllable.

"What am I making?"

"Buns."

"And where am I making them?"

"In the…" Nicole's eyes widened. "You've got…" Her heart stopped. "Holy shit, you're pregnant!?"

"No! Oh my god!" Waverly facepalmed. "Jesus, I'm not the Virgin Mary, Nicole."

"Then what…?" Nicole was so confused.

"I'm trying to tell you that I'm ready, you goofnut!" Waverly threw her hands up in the air.

"You're ready?"

"To start a family. With you," Waverly shook her head affectionately, "though I'm starting to think twice about it now."

Nicole let out a relieved laugh. "For a minute there I thought... nevermind what I thought." She took a tentative step forward. "But what about the revenants? The curse?"

"I don't care about any of that." Waverly stepped forward and cupped Nicole's face between her hands. A beautiful, but nervous smile broke out across Waverly's face, wide and bright. "We can do anything together. That is, if you want."

"If I want?" Nicole scooped Waverly into her arms. She twirled them both around, and Waverly laughed in delight. "I want nothing more."

"So we're doing this," Waverly said as she pulled back, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Really doing this?"

Nicole answered her with a kiss, elated beyond words, her own cheeks wet with happiness. She felt like she was floating straight up into the stratosphere.


 

But oh, how quickly one could fall back down to earth, Nicole thought as clouds streamed past her window. The flight had taken off on time and without a hitch-a small miracle for the holiday season. One of the attendants pushed her trolley past and stopped next to Nicole.

"Care for some refreshments?" The perky blonde asked. Her name tag read: Zoie.

"How 'bout a martini?" Pulling down her tray, Nicole smiled even though she already knew what the answer would be.

"We don't carry vermouth, unfortunately. Or olives. But I do have vodka and gin."

"A vodka tonic would be fine, thanks Zoie, on the rocks."

"Not into tradition, huh?"

Nicole's brows knitted. "I'm sorry?"

"I'm assuming you'd want vodka in your martini instead of gin, the more traditional choice."

Nicole chuckled. "I guess you could say I can be pretty unorthodox."

"Unorthodox huh?" Zoie licked her lips, "I like that in a woman." She scooped up some crushed ice into a small plastic cup, which she set in front of Nicole on top of a square napkin. She poured one small bottle of vodka into the cup. "Here ya go, gorgeous." She slipped one extra bottle into Nicole's palm with a wink, thumb skimming Nicole's fingers, before continuing down the aisle.

Nicole lifted her drink, the napkin shifting slightly to reveal a business card underneath. She took a sip to cover her flattered smile; she was only human after all, and it'd been so long since an attractive woman had flirted with her. So long since she reciprocated. Would it be so bad if she gave Zoie a call…?

The sharp taste of the alcohol snapped Nicole back to just where she was going and who she was about to see. In all honesty, she used to enjoy the taste of gin and its pungent pine cone flavor. But ever since she left Purgatory, the taste only reminded her of what she had lost.


 

The evergreens scattered around the Homestead were particularly fragrant in the early spring, before wildflowers and tree blossoms overpowered the fresh scent of pine. But Nicole hardly paid the joys of nature any mind as she tried to catch her breath, coming down from a blissful, heart-pounding high. Waverly, equally breathless, curled against her. A light breeze chilled their bare skin and Nicole gathered the extra blanket they brought on their picnic and tucked it around their naked bodies.

"We were supposed to eat you know," Waverly murmured into Nicole's shoulder.

"We will." Nicole pressed a kiss to Waverly's forehead. "Nothing wrong with workin' up an appetite."

Waverly hummed, content, the rays of the afternoon sun filtering through the branches overhead and flickering across her face. "It's finally getting warm again," she said, lazy and slow. "And when winter comes back, we might have a baby. Can you believe it?"

"No," she said truthfully.

"Me neither." Waverly peered up at her, a shadow of uncertainty passing over her features. "Sometimes… sometimes I think… what if something happens? What if…"

"Nothing's gonna happen," Nicole reassured her, even as a now familiar spike of anxiety cut through and tempered her excitement. "Everything's gonna work out. You'll see."

"You don't know that."

"No, I don't," Nicole admitted, tenderly brushing Wavelry's hair behind her ear. "But everything will work out the way it's supposed to."

"You really believe that, huh?"

"I do." Nicole nodded. She couldn't let on about just how worried she was. They both knew the chances of implantation were low, and the chances of making it to a live birth even lower. But there was no reason to upset Waverly and trouble her about things neither of them could control. All they could do was focus on the positive. "You, me, and Nicole Jr.? We're gonna live happily ever after."

Waverly giggled and swatted Nicole's chest. "For the last time, we are not naming our baby Nicole Jr."

Nicole opened her mouth to reply.

"Or Nicholas," Waverly beat her to it. "Can you imagine being born on Christmas with that name? He'd never hear the end of it."

Nicole chuckled. "Fine, fine. Then what names do you like?"

Waverly grew quiet for a few moments, eyes shining with thought and mirth. "Okay… Wendy, Wilma, Wanda, Wilson, Walter…"

"Good gravy. You Earps and your W names, I swear." Nicole shook her head.

"It's tradition."

"Tradition isn't always a good thing."

Waverly pushed herself up onto her elbow and leaned over Nicole. "It is to me."

Nicole could hardly ever say no to Waverly, and she was especially weak when Waverly looked so beautiful, hair mussed, lips swollen, and cheeks flushed from their lovemaking.

"Okay," she caved. "How 'bout…I don't know... Whitney?"

"Whitney," Waverly repeated, turning the name over in her mind. "I'll think about it."


 

Nicole stared at the wedding invitation, fingers tracing the laced edge, thumb brushing over black ink on pearl white cardstock. It read:

Ms. Waverly Earp
Solicits the Honor of Your Gracious Presence
At the Marriage of Her Daughter
Whitney Earp
To
Jesse James
Saturday, the Twenty-First of December,
Two Thousand and Forty
High Noon
At
The Earp Homestead
Reception to Follow

Nicole took a deep breath. Whitney. The name echoed in her mind as she wondered again if she was making a mistake. She probably was. But by now it was too late. The pilot came over the loudspeaker to announce that they were making their final descent into Calgary.

Chapter Text

"You seem so far away though you are standing near
You made me feel alive, but something died I fear
I really tried to make it out
I wish I understood
What happened to our love, it used to be so good."

 

There was a bounce in Whitney's step as she slipped through the door of the Sheriff's department. Nothing like deception and manipulation mixed in with the excitement of her impending nuptials to brighten one's day. She'd left her friends back at Shorty's, tasting the themed drinks that would be at the reception while she ran across the street with a pair of coffee cups. She could barely contain the mix of eagerness and happiness coursing through her veins as she thought of all the possibilities ahead of her. Three more sleeps. The internal monologue had continued through her day.

The officer at the front desk smiled brightly, hiding her phone under some files to at least pretend she'd been working. "Hey Whit!"

"Hi Court." Whitney set a coffee cup in front of her old classmate. "He here?"

"Thank you so much." Court breathed a sigh of relief, popping open the cup to dip her finger into the melting whipped cream before nodding quickly. "Nedley's got him down in the dungeon."

With a snort, Whitney reached into her messenger bag and set a small napkin-wrapped bundle that smelled suspiciously like chocolate on the officer's desk.

"Courtesy of my mother's late night baking," she whispered with a wink before taking the remaining coffee cup and heading down a hallway. She found the stairs easily and made her way down, having traveled the path a few times before when the sheriff was being ornery and taking it out on everyone in the station by assigning menial tasks. A flickering light greeted her and she was drawn to the shuffling sounds coming from one corner.

Whitney paused for a moment, leaning against a shelf as she watched her fiancé reshelving file boxes. He was ridiculously adorable, she decided. With the amount of testosterone coursing through the veins of Purgatory, including his asshole of a father who measured a man's worth by however many seconds he could stay on a bull, she was glad Jesse was nothing like them.

Not saying he was weak, she thought as he moved a stack of boxes, watching the lines of his arm flex with the weight. No he was far from weak, and in truth he was a better shot with a shotgun than even her mother, but he was definitely a lover and not a fighter. She easily found herself lost as she watched him, a smile tugging at her lips until one box slipped from his hands, falling to the ground with files spilling out in a puff of dust.

"Dang it!" He sighed heavily, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose before kneeling, only then seeing Whitney standing there. "Oh, hey!" He laughed nervously.

Taking mercy on him, Whitney was quick to his side, helping him scoop up the files and setting them haphazardly on the desk. "Sorry, Honey." She waited for him to set the box on the desk beside the small stack before holding out the coffee cup. "You look like you could use some of this."

He smiled bashfully, accepting the cup and setting it aside before wrapping his arm around her waist, pulling her closer. "You are too good to me."

"Nothing is too good for you." Whitney captured his lips in a quick kiss. "I can't believe the sheriff's got you all alone down here… with no one else around." Wiggling her eyebrows, she ran fingertips down the front of his uniform, circling a button. "You look like you could use a break."

Another laugh and he was pulling away with a shake of his head. "The sheriff's been on a strange warpath since this morning."

Whitney rolled her eyes. "Chrissy needs to pull the stick from her ass."

"I think the last thing I need right now is to get fired, at least not until after the wedding." He grinned a dopey grin that went all the way to his ears. "Because then I'll have a beautiful, college-educated wife that will be able to support me whenever she decides on a career path."

Whitney snorted, leaning back against the pile of boxes. "Well you better get used to enjoying my mother's cooking because we're gonna end up back at the homestead and God knows that bed squeaks louder than a cat in heat."

"Well, I think your mother's cooking is delicious."

"You're such a kiss ass." With a laugh, Whitney picked up his coffee and took a quick sip, wincing at the oversweet flavor. "I better go. Mom should be getting back soon with Aunt Wyn. I just wanted to see my future husband for a minute." She reached up to flick some dust off his uniform.

"Wynonna gets in today." His smile faltered, turning into a tight line as he fought the urge to frown. He was so bad at hiding his emotions from her.

"You know she loves you."

"She loves messing with me." He shook his head. "She just… I really wish she wouldn't compare me to my dad all the time."

Stepping into his space again, Whitney rested her forearms on his shoulders. "Sweetie, you are on the wrong side of the street to be anything like your dad. He's probably over at Shorty's right now, starting the day with a pint." She placed a quick kiss to the tip of his nose. "I love you because, on top of being a sexy beast, you are honest, brave, and full of integrity. Your dad couldn't even pass the officer exams and you are on route to be the next sheriff."

It was enough to bring back a grin as he pulled her closer, finding another kiss in her smile. His hands came up to capture her face, his thumbs gently brushing against her cheeks as he deepened the kiss.

Whitney groaned against his lips, breaking off the kiss to push away. "Ok, we should stop before we really get you fired."

"Hey, you were the one that offered." Still, he let her go but not without a pout.

"Well that was like….three minutes ago." She stuck her tongue out at him.

"And three minutes makes a difference?" Jesse argued before he saw the wry look on her face. "Ok, that's just mean."

"Oh but I do love every bit of those 3 minutes…" Whitney joked, slipping out of his reach as he playfully lunged for her.

Accidentally knocking one of the files from the stack, Jesse gave her a mock glare before picking up the folder, taking a quick look before his head tilted to the side. "Whoa… weird."

"What's weird?"

Pulling a small, wallet-sized photo out, he held it up so Whitney could see it. "Just an old personnel file. She kinda looks like you."

Her eyes growing wide, Whitney snatched the photo quickly, seeing the familiar angles of the face that was also in the photo in her bag except this time she was wearing the same uniform Jesse was wearing. God her mother must have been shitting herself when Whitney started dating an officer, she mused, reaching for the folder before Jesse could start reading. "That's crazy." She let her eyes scan the page, noticing the emergency contact where a very neatly written Waverly Earp was in black ink. "I wonder if Mom knows who this is."

She wasn't ready to deal with explaining Nicole to Jesse. She couldn't let him see the file. Not yet anyway. So with a big grin, she shoved the file in her bag.

"Hey. Whit…" He was cut off with a kiss, soft hands cupping his cheeks as Whitney's form pressed against his.

"I'm just gonna borrow it. I'll bring it back." She whispered against his lips.

Before he could protest, she broke the kiss off and pulled away. She could see the momentary hesitance in his eyes and quickly pressed one last kiss to his lips. "I have to go find the girls. I'm staying at the homestead again tonight. Come by when you're done." And with that, she turned and left.

Escaping up the stairs, she barely got her expression under control before running right into the Sheriff. "Sheriff Nedley! I was just looking for you!" She hoped her cheeks weren't as flushed as they felt.

Chrissy Nedley narrowed her eyes at the wayward Earp. "I don't remember my office being down in the archives."

Putting on the smile she'd taken from her mother, Whitney reached into her messenger bag to pull out a box wrapped with a ribbon, four small cakes visible through the plastic top. "My mom wanted to say thank you for your help with those coyotes the other night."

Her expression not faltering, Chrissy accepted the box as they began to walk back to the front of the station. "All in a day's work. Tell your mother she's more than welcome, but please remember that all messages of appreciation are better delivered from the other side of the front desk."

Whitney tried not to laugh. When her mother had told her about how the Sheriff had been in high school, she'd barely believed it. "Noted." She quickly commented, giving Court a quick wave before escaping out the front door.

 


 

 

"I'm here, Bitches!" Wynonna let her bag drop, her eyes scanning the unexpected darkness of the homestead with a frown. "What the hell? I didn't fly all the way from the UK to not even get a damn hug… a shot of whiskey… something?"

Waverly rolled her eyes, pulling a note off the cork board near the door. "She's running some errands with the girls."

"Kids these days." Wynonna moved to the kitchen, finding things exactly in the same place as they always were. "It's way too late in the day for me to be sober and what the eff is up with all the hammering?"

"It's not even noon." Waverly could only smile, seeing her sister pouring whiskey into their grandmother's china. "And the incessant banging is because her royal highness wants an outdoor wedding."

"It's fricking Purgatory in December. Her royal highness is asking for a swift kick to the box." Wynonna snorted, taking a sip before quickly spitting it out. "Either someone's been watering down the whiskey, or my tongue isn't working…"

"Well you'd be a lot more quiet if that were true." Waverly grabbed the bottle, inspecting it. "That little brat." She let her thumb brush over the small x near the barcode. "This is the bottle we bring out when her in-laws come over for dinner. I told her to get a new bottle."

Wynonna snorted at that. "Not like that man-child knows the difference."

Waverly froze as a voice from the past ran through her mind. A boy man? She shook her head, attempting to dislodge the memories. "Well, I'm suddenly in the mood to drink." She twirled the keys that were still in her hand. "Trip to town?"

Wynonna changed her mind and shot back the rest of the whiskey in her cup before nodding. "No sense in wasting it….ugh that's horrible. Let's go."

 


 

 

"What the hell is going on here?"

The entire bar jumped at the sound of the voice ringing from the double doors. The small party at the bar counter broke out in a burst of laughter.

"Mom!" Whitney laughed, knocking back the small shot of pink and green before hopping off the stool. "Mom we have to have this… this… Stevie, what is it?" She directed at the bartender.

"The Earp Express." He cleared his throat, trying to avoid his boss's even stare.

"It's fantastic!" Only then did Whitney notice the tall frame behind her mother. "Aunty Wyn!" She launched herself at the oldest in the Earp family who embraced her with a noticeable grunt.

Wynonna returned the hug briefly before holding her out at arm's reach. "My beloved niece, already drunk before lunch," she pulled Whitney in for another hug, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I trained you so well. I'm proud of you," she mock cried before pushing her away. "Take me to your alcohol," she groaned as she followed Whitney to the bar, noticing the different shot glasses of various colors and mixes. "What's wrong with straight up whiskey?"

"It's a party!" Anna laughed, reaching for a suspiciously orange mixture and tipping the drink down her throat, wincing. "Oh… yeah the Pious Wyatt is horrible. Definitely not strong enough"

"It's a virgin drink." Jenn commented wryly with a shake of her head. "Hi Miss Waverly."

Waverly let her eyes drift over the bar. "You driving?" She asked, noticing the glass of coke in front of her.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Good girl." Waverly looked over her shoulder where Whitney was peppering Wynonna with a few dozen questions about her travel. "Okay…" She clapped her hands together, looking at the bartender. "What the hell is this Earper Express?"

With a smile, he pulled a clean shot glass out, expertly layering the alcohol before presenting it.

Quickly swallowing the drink, Waverly pursed her lips. It was sweet with the subtlest of burns. People were going to get destroyed at this wedding, and she couldn't help but look forward to it. "I like it. Write it down and clean all this up." She looked at Purgatory's next generation, her daughter's rambunctious friends, and felt a small bit of sadness. She could hardly believe how fast time was going by, and yet she felt like every moment had lasted a lifetime.

A lifetime of waking up alone, taking Whitney to the dentist alone, having to attend the father/daughter dances with her. Now she was getting married.

God she felt old.

"Do you even know who I am?"

Waverly looked up to see Wynonna trying to get behind the bar. "Wynonna! Stop it." She hooked her arm around her sister's elbow. "Thank you, Stevie." She winked at the bartender before tugging Wynonna away. "Go in back, please. Find something to drink." Looking at the girls, she took another deep breath. "Girls, I take it you picked up the boxes from the post and the supplies for the centerpieces?"

"It's all in the trunk, Miss Waverly." Jenn supplied quickly.

"Then what the hell are you still doing here? We have about 100 of those damn things to make so if you could please get working on them." When Wynonna came out from the storeroom, she sighed softly. "Wynonna, can you go with them please? Make sure they actually get started while I run some errands."

"Yes, Mom." Wynonna muttered, hugging her bottle to her chest. Whitney and Anna piped up with a laugh, grabbing Jenn by one hand each.

Waverly sighed. Her baby was grown, and drunk, and getting married. It was that same motherly protective streak that led her to follow the girls outside, making sure that it was Jenn that slipped behind the wheel. "Turn it down!" She yelled as music poured out of the topless car that backed into the street. "Drive carefully!"

Watching as the car took off down the road, she winced as it almost swiped a car that was pulling in front of Purgatory's only hotel. As the driver slipped from the vehicle, obviously watching the car make it's way down the road, Waverly almost called out an apology when something stopped her.

There was no mistaking that frame, all 5'9" of it. She didn't even need the woman to turn towards her, shoulder-length red waves reflecting the light of the sun.

Waverly felt herself shutting down. Her heart stopped. Her breath caught in her throat, a vast desert that reached from her tongue to her lungs.

What the hell was she doing here?

 


 

 

"What the hell are you doing here?" Waverly breathed out the hushed question toward the wall. Despite the harshness of her words, she was too tired, too numb to put any heat in them. Instead, she felt deflated, shrinking and sinking like a balloon in the cold.

"I wanted to see you," Nicole said, equally resigned from the doorframe of Waverly's childhood bedroom. She didn't dare set foot inside. "Before I…"

"Run away?" Waverly, who sat on her old mattress, kept her eyes trained straight ahead at the Pokemon poster she had hung as a child. Its corners peeled at the edges. She refused to turn around. But if she did, she imagined she'd see Nicole's lips set in a thin, frustrated line.

"That's not what I'm doing."

"Isn't it?"

Nicole blew out a breath. "We both agreed that we need some space. Get some perspective. Does it really matter if I'm here or in Chicago for it?"

"No," Waverly acceded, not wanting to fight. She didn't want to do much of anything. "I suppose not."

She picked a piece of lint off the sleeve of one of her favorite Christmas sweaters-a green and red monstrosity with a massive Rudolph emblazoned on the front. Or at least, it used to be one of her favorites. She stopped herself from re-living the mini-breakdown she had that afternoon, when an identical, newborn-sized one had arrived in the mail. She had forgotten that she had special ordered it all the way back in the spring.

"Wave, look at me," Nicole pleaded quietly. "Please."

She didn't want to turn around, both out of vindictiveness and, if she was completely honest, a lingering sense of self-preservation. She feared that if she looked at Nicole, the walls of indifference that she had erected around her heart would crumble. Walls she had meticulously put in place, conscious or not, after months of tests and shots and suppositories, disappointment after disappointment, fighting and frustration.

"This isn't permanent," Nicole insisted when Waverly remained silent and still. "If I visit my family for a bit, maybe it'll get them off my back."

Waverly snorted. "Whatever you need to tell yourself."

Nicole sighed, long and slow. "We'll talk soon," she said.

They both pretended it wasn't a lie.

An unexpected frisson of pain lanced through Waverly's chest, cutting through the numbness and leaving a dull ache between her ribs. She closed her eyes as she listened to Nicole turn and walk away, boots clicking lightly on the creaking hardwood.

Waverly felt torn between running after Nicole and staying in place. She buried her face in her hands. She didn't want Nicole to leave, but she didn't really want her to stay either. She could try to stop Nicole - all she had to do was call out her name. But then what? Pretend they hadn't said all those hurtful things to each other? Forgive and forget? Waverly wasn't ready. And she doubted Nicole was either. How did they end up here?

She startled when she heard the front door click shut with a finality that echoed throughout the Homestead. The sound spurred Waverly to her feet. Almost against her will, and most certainly against her better judgment, she approached her bedroom window and peered outside.

She watched Nicole walk slowly toward her squad car. The desire to slide open her window and ask Nicole to stay grew, almost overwhelmingly so. But Waverly didn't move. And Nicole didn't stop. When Nicole opened the car's door, she paused and Waverly held her breath. Even now, after everything, Nicole still looked tall and strong despite her hesitation.

Nicole turned her head and looked up toward Waverly's window.

Their eyes met and Waverly's heart throbbed.

It was now or never.

There would be no turning back unless one of them changed their minds.

But neither did.

And with one last sad smile, Nicole got in the car and drove away. Waverly reached out and touched the glass of her window, tracing the cloud of dust that trailed in Nicole's wake.

 


 

 

Twenty years later, Waverly cursed the fact that Nicole, in dark jeans and a gray peacoat, looked every bit as striking as she had the last time Waverly saw her. And even with the distance between them, she still felt an inexplicable pull toward Nicole. Perhaps old Waverly would have given in and let herself be driven forward by her thundering, traitorous heart. Would have marched right up to her ex and demand to know why she was in town, just to see her up close, to finally hear the voice that kept haunting her dreams.

But the Waverly of today wasn't driven by her emotions. No sir. She was no longer enamored by childish notions of romance, or meant to be, or true love conquering all. Waverly of today put one and only one first person, and that person was Whitney. And Waverly would focus on Whitney and make damn well sure that her daughter and future son-in-law had the best goddamn wedding the town had ever seen.

She wouldn't bother with Nicole, or even concern herself with why she was back. That's what Waverly told herself as she turned on her heel and walked to her SUV and hopped in. So what if she seemed to be having trouble catching her breath as she turned the engine over. No. She wasn't going to think at all about Nicole. And if her eyes happened to slide to the rearview window where Nicole was perfectly reflected, well, she was just checking that the coast was clear before she pulled out of her parking spot.

Chapter Text

“I was in your arms thinking I belonged there,
I figured it made sense, building me a fence,
Building me a home, thinking I'd be strong there,
But I was a fool, playing by the rules
The gods may throw a dice, their minds as cold as ice,
And someone way down here loses someone dear
The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall,
It's simple and it's plain, why should I complain.”

 

 

 

Nicole shook her head as the yellow convertible full of young, boisterous women went screaming down the road, their music turned up so loud that the bass rattled her bones even from a distance. Some things never change, Nicole thought. She couldn’t remember how many times she had stopped a car filled with bored Purgatory teens looking for a little excitement and inevitably finding trouble.

 

Nicole had half a mind to call dispatch and have them tell whoever was on highway patrol to keep an eye out for the convertible. She doubted the number had changed in the past two decades. But she didn’t. That wasn’t her job anymore. She had left the cop back in Purgatory all those years ago and in its place stood a criminal defense attorney who hoped the young women didn’t end up with a reckless driving charge or worse.

 

The sound of squealing tires pulled Nicole’s attention away from the disappearing blur. She turned and saw a red SUV peel out of its spot down the street. She thought she caught a glimpse of familiar brown hair and she nearly went into cardiac arrest. But the car and its driver were soon long gone before Nicole could be sure. She inhaled sharply, taking in the familiar scent of dust and gasoline fumes that always seemed to permeate downtown Purgatory, and marveled at how ridiculous she was being.

 

What were the chances of seeing Waverly Earp the second she set foot in town? Slim to none, she knew. She barely resisted the urge to smack herself upside the head for being so foolish. And yet, for some reason, her chest continued to twinge as she watched the car drive away.

 

Before she could dwell on it long, the hotel’s bellhop, a young man who barely looked 18, approached. Something about him looked… familiar… but Nicole couldn’t quite place why.

 

“Welcome to the Wainright,” he said cheerfully, straightening out the ill-fitting red cap that sat crookedly on his shaggy hair. “Can I take your bags, Ms…?”

 

“Nicole,” Nicole answered, feeling an inexplicable need to keep her identity a secret. Though, she wondered if the kid had even been born when she was last in town. She popped the car’s trunk. “I appreciate it.”

 

Nodding eagerly, he retrieved her luggage and waited patiently as she checked in. He walked beside her as they moved through the lobby toward the elevator. Nicole had to swallow past a lump in her throat when they came across the grand staircase where Waverly had once taken Nicole’s breath away. In a shimmering seafoam dress, Waverly had looked like a -- what had Nicole written on her blog all those years ago? A mermaid, Nicole remembered. A perfect, radiant mermaid.

 

She kept her gaze trained straight ahead even as the memory of Waverly’s smile, and the way it had made Nicole’s heart stutter out of rhythm, played crystal clear in her mind’s eye.

 

“Are you here ‘n Purgatory for business or pleasure?” The bellboy interrupted her reverie when they stopped in front of the elevator.

 

Torture , Nicole almost said. But she bit her tongue and plastered on a smile instead. “Pleasure.”

 

“The wedding?” He asked knowingly as he pushed the call button. Off Nicole’s startled look, he added: “Lucky guess. It’s the only big thing happenin’ ‘round these parts, if you don’t count Christmas o’ course.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Bride or groom?”

 

“Bride.” It wasn’t a lie, per se.

 

They stepped inside the elevator. The boy pressed the number 4 and whistled. “Whitney Earp. I swear she is the prettiest, sweetest girl in the whole town.”

 

Nicole couldn’t stop herself from smiling at that tidbit. Like mother, like daughter . The bellboy continued rambling when they got off on the fourth floor. “I’ve always had a huge crush on her. Don’t tell her I said that now.” He wagged a finger at her. “She and my big sis used to babysit me.” He eyed Nicole curiously. “How d’ya know the Earps?”

 

She wanted to tell the kid it wasn’t any of his damn business. But being defensive would just call more attention to herself. And she wanted to keep as low a profile as possible.

 

“Her mother and Aunt, we go a ways back,” she said. They finally reached her hotel room, and Nicole hoped the kid would drop his small-talk interrogation already.

 

“Ms. Waverly’s terrific too.” He unlocked the door and led her inside, placing the suitcase on a fold-out luggage rack. “As for the deputy…” He made a face that coaxed a chuckle out of Nicole.

 

“She’s something else,” Nicole offered along with a couple of dollars.

 

“That’s one way of puttin’ it.” He gratefully accepted the tip with a nod. “Enjoy your stay, Ms. Nicole. If you’ll be needing anythin’ else, do lemme know. Name’s Nedley. Randolph Nedley. But everyone calls me Randy.”

 

Nicole did a double take. “I’m sorry, did you say…?” She shook her head. “Are you related to Randall Nedley?”

 

Randy beamed. “He was my papaw.”

 

Was.

 

Guilt surged within Nicole. She had gotten the funeral notice, but hadn’t been able to attend because she had been in the middle of a huge trial. If she was being completely honest, a small part of her had been somewhat relieved. She had wanted to remember Nedley as he had been -- gruff and unpolished and very much alive . She hadn’t wanted to see him lying in a box. Lifeless. A glaring reminder of their mortality. She also hadn’t wanted to see Waverly. There was only so much heartache Nicole could take.

 

Did that make her a coward? Yeah. It probably did.

 

“I was sorry to hear about his passing,” Nicole said earnestly. She made a mental note to bring flowers to his grave. “He was a good man. An even better friend. And a terrific sheriff.”

 

Randy’s smile grew even wider. “You knew him?”

 

Nicole nodded. “Used to be one of his officers.”

 

Randy smacked his leg and hooted. “Well I’ll be hot damned. Small world.”

 

“Who’s the sheriff now, if you don’t mind me asking?”

 

“My ma, actually, if you can believe that.”

 

Nicole nearly choked on her own spit. “Chrissy?”

 

“Yes ma’am.” Randy hooked his thumbs on his belt, now looking so very much like a younger version of Nedley that Nicole mentally kicked herself for not seeing it sooner. “Gonna follow in both their footsteps someday. Hopefully.”

 

“I have no doubt you will.” Nicole smiled. “It’s in your blood.”

 

Randy grinned and dipped his head forward. “Remember, if you need anything…”

 

“I’ll be sure to let you know.”

 

He nodded one last time, pleased, and left room. When the door clicked shut, Nicole wasted no time. She unzipped her suitcases and meticulously unpacked. She took her time, pulling out her pants and shirts, underwear and socks. She laid them neatly in the hotel’s dresser. She made sure to hang the dress she brought for the wedding in the closet, which smelled like mothballs and must. She placed her toiletries in the bathroom. Grabbed the bucket next to the small coffee pot on the counter and fetched ice from down the hall. She did everything she could to avoid texting Waverly to tell her she was in Purgatory.

 

Eventually though, Nicole had done everything that needed to be done and she found herself sitting on the edge of the mattress. A dull ache formed in her chest that crept down her arms and numbed her fingers. It was hard not to recall how she used to dream about becoming Purgatory’s sheriff, keeping the town safe with Waverly at her side. But it just… wasn’t meant to be.

 

She pulled out her cell phone, which notified her that she had several missed calls and emails, most work related, and a couple of unread texts from her sister.

 

Becky: Where are u????

Becky: It’s almost Christmas Nicole ffs

 

Nicole rolled her eyes. She didn’t reply. Instead, she input the number Waverly had emailed to Nicole in reply to her wedding RSVP. Slowly. One-by-one. She wasn’t brave enough to call it. She took a deep breath and typed out a quick message:

 

Hi. I’m here.

 

Her thumb froze, suspended over the send triangle. She could still turn back. It wasn’t too late. It would be so easy to just pack up her bag and head back to her car. Drive out of town and never look back with no one the wiser. But she couldn’t. She was tired of that. So, so very tired of running and avoiding. It was now or never. Clenching her jaw, she pushed send.

 


 

 

“I’m serious Jenn!” Whitney’s voice could be heard through the thick wooden door as Waverly pulled up to the homestead. She hadn’t expected it to be completely quiet, not with the construction, but she didn’t expect a verbal battleground.

 

The drive back from town had done little to clear her mind and heart of the lingering ache 20 years of memories had dredged up, even when she’d driven right past the homestead and circled back around once or twice.

 

“Oh my God!”

 

Waverly could recognize the sound of her bridezilla daughter easily and she found herself momentarily tempted to dawdle just a bit, maybe drag her heels in the snow. It wasn’t an unfamiliar thought, as she’d done a few times in the past. When she’d hear Gus and her young daughter arguing, she’d always take a minute to check the tires or rearrange the grocery bags, really any menial task she could find before committing to an appearance.

 

But just the idea of being alone, allowing the unpleasant memories to impregnate her mind… or even worse, the pleasant ones. The ones that engulfed her with the scent of spicy vanilla and the feel of silky smooth skin under her fingertips. The memories that were beyond senses, beyond touch, but the memory of what it was like to be loved.

 

Not just to be loved, but the love that only came from someone you couldn’t live without. It was looking into those eyes and knowing how desperately Nicole had not only loved her, but needed her.

 

So no, Waverly decided as she shook her head, she wasn’t going to hang around outside in the cold with phantoms of a life she no longer lived. Besides, she really needed a drink, and to talk to Wynonna.

 


 

 

“They’re ruined.” Whitney could feel her stress level hitting the roof as she fingered one of the carefully crafted pieces of a centerpiece. They had been meticulously wrapping bottles with twine to be used as flower holders for the centerpieces, each one compiled of a bottle, 3 candles, and a small sand filled glass bowl with a succulent in it placed on a natural cut wooden slab.

 

The already wrapped bottles had been put in a crate which had somehow fallen over. With Jenn being the closest, there was no one else to blame, and with half the bottles shattered, there was definitely a need for blame.

 

“I didn’t even touch it!” Jenn was helping to pick up the bits of broken glass and twine.

 

Whitney sighed as the front door opened, letting in her mother who gave her a look that could only be labeled as cautious. “This is why people elope!” She sighed in frustration, dropping the broken pieces and stalking off towards the kitchen.

 

She was looking through the liquor cabinet when Waverly entered, arms crossed over her chest. “I’m not in the mood for a lecture, Mom.” She liberated a bottle of gin after a bit of digging.

 

“Well I’m not here to give you one.” Waverly took the bottle from her daughter’s hand. “I’m just here to point out that these damn center pieces need to be finished and I’m not going to let you be drunk all day. It’s bad enough you’ve got those two in there chugging back $5 bottles of wine.”

 

“I thought you weren’t going to lecture me.” Whitney complained under her voice, almost a whine.

 

“And I thought you graduated kindergarten years ago.” Waverly narrowed her eyes, daring her daughter to respond.

 

“Ugh!” Whitney gave up her search for vermouth with a growl. “This is just bullshit! That's a lot of work now in the trash.”

 

“Hey.” Waverly stepped up to her aggravated daughter, sliding her arms around Whitney’s tense frame and hugging her roughly until she relaxed. “We’ve still got a few days. We’ll do what we need to do to get everything situated.”

 

Whitney sighed softly, trying to take a calming breath. She knew her mother was right, but her nerves were on high alert. Scheming had been fun until she was faced with having to tell Jesse everything. Why hadn’t she consulted him in the first place? There was no reason for it and she was going to be in for a fight.

 

Excitement had turned to guilt which then blossomed into anxiety. Adding that to the anticipation of waiting for… the phone on the counter buzzed, catching both her own and Waverly’s attention. Thankfully her mother turned to return the gin to the shelf and grab a bottle of vodka because seeing the name Nicole Haught crossing her screen might have been a little alarming to say the least.

 

Hi, I’m here, was all the message read. 20 years and all she had to say was Hi I’m here ?

 

Pursing her lips, Whitney felt her heart skip a beat. She was in the same town as Nicole, the woman who had supplied the egg, her biological mother. She’d been wanting this moment since finding the journal. Maybe her life would make a little more sense after meeting her. The woman who contributed to her DNA. Her tall stature and unforgivingly red hair.

 

Would Nicole think it was an insult to her? That she dyed her hair?

 

Whitney shook her head, looking up to see eyes watching her. She couldn’t risk sending a message while her mother was right there. “I’m gonna... go back to Shorty’s… pick up more empty bottles.” Her words were too delayed, dripping with deception and she had been the daughter of the very investigative Waverly Earp for 20 years.

 

Waverly’s eyes narrowed. “Is that all you’re going to be doing?”

 

Whitney froze, her blood running cold. She could hear the thud of her heart in her ears and she gave a tight smile. “Of course.” She laughed and she could hear her own guilt. “What else would I be doing?” She begged herself to just shut up, stop talking like a moron.

 

Waverly crossed her arms over her chest, saying nothing.

 

“Seriously, Mom. We need bottles.”

 

A single eyebrow rose. “And you’re not going to say… sneak off and see a certain deputy who’s on duty right now?”

 

A wave of relief crashed through Whitney and she couldn’t stop the smile from spreading. “Well… I mean I’m going to be in town anyway. It would just be rude to not stop by.”

 

“I knew it!” Waverly cheered herself, turning back to grab two glasses from the cupboard. “You can’t fool me.” Pouring a small amount into one glass, she paused, unsure if she should be pouring the second. “Where’s your Aunt?”

 

“Sulking in the barn. I think she’s trying to contact Xavier.” Whitney whispered, passing by her mother so she could get her bag and coat.

 

Looking at the one shot, Waverly quickly swallowed it with just a slight wince. She noticed even the James family’s whiskey was no longer on the shelf and she sighed, taking the vodka bottle with her as she moved to the front door where Whitney was wrapping up. “Hey… Aren’t you taking the posse?”

 

“No. They need to keep making centerpieces.”

 

“Are you ok to drive?”

 

Whitney nodded. She wasn’t even buzzed anymore, a fact that was almost depressing. “I’m good. Please make sure they don’t destroy everything.”

 

“Mmmhmmm.” Waverly looked at the two that were drinking more than gluing. Practically nothing was going to be done while Whitney was gone and she knew it. She stood in the door, watching her daughter pull away before she looked to the barn where she saw someone moving inside. With a sigh, she took a pull from the bottle of Vodka before heading out the door towards the barn.

 


 

 

Nicole’s nerves jumbled and jittered with each step she took down Main Street, still waiting for Waverly’s reply. Perhaps chugging down a cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso at the hotel’s cafe hadn’t been the best of ideas. Now her heart wouldn’t stop racing and she felt like she’d pass out from anxiety.

 

She tried to focus on anything but her still silent phone, taking in the town after two decades away. At first blush, it appeared as if nothing had changed. Purgatory still seemed like the same mundane municipality that time forgot. Every so often, however, Nicole noticed something different. Nothing astonishingly groundbreaking. But small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them changes that signaled some form of movement, even if only incremental. The ancient laundromat had been rebranded the Sixpence All the Cleaner Coin Laundry, with more modern machinery than the beat-up, ‘70s-era washers and dryers that Nicole had used. The buildings on the block that included the bank, the surplus store, and the antique shop all had their facades brightened with new paint.

 

Hell, even Nicole’s old apartment building was graced with newish shutters, navy blue popping out against red brick with more vibrancy than the previous faded gray. She paused across the street from it and trailed her eyes up three floors to the second window on the left. The curtains were drawn and she wondered who lived there after she had left and whether they had ever repaired the leaking bathroom faucet that Nicole never fixed.

 

It was a shitty little place, Nicole recalled. The floors creaked. The rooms were drafty as hell and the radiator heater never seemed to work. She swore she’d seen sheets of paper thicker than the walls. It was nothing like the high-rise condo she now owned in Chicago, with its sleek, modern appliances and pristine views.

 

And yet… the cramped little apartment in Purgatory had been home. Never more so than when Waverly was there.

 


 

 

Nicole sat on a rickety chair at her equally unsteady kitchen table. Waverly stood in front of her, facing sideways so that Nicole was at eye level with Waverly’s bare hip. It was a sight Nicole would normally welcome with a cheeky come on, if not for her shot nerves. For the past 10 minutes, she had been pressing an ice pack to the muscles just behind the jut of Waverly’s hip. Nicole’s fingers had gone numb from the prolonged cold and she hoped that meant Waverly’s flesh was similarly desensitized.

 

“You ready?” Nicole asked, reaching up to caress the small of Waverly’s back with her free hand. She heard Waverly take a deep breath before covering Nicole’s freezing hand with a warm palm and squeezing.

 

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Waverly said, glancing down at Nicole.

 

Nodding, Nicole removed the ice pack from Waverly’s skin and set it down. Working as quickly as possible, she ripped open an alcohol swab and cleaned the rubber stopper of the glass vial on the table. It was filled with a yellowish oil. Next, she picked up and uncapped a syringe with a long, 18-gauge needle.

 

“Jeez, that thing is huge,” Waverly commented, a slight tremor in her voice.

 

“Don’t worry, baby,” Nicole reassured her as she pulled back the plunger to the 1cc mark. “This is just to draw out the progesterone, remember?”

 

“Right.” Waverly bit her lip, eyes still worried.

 

“It’s gonna be okay.” Nicole gave Waverly what she hoped was a reassuring smile before focusing back on the task at hand. She pierced the rubber stopper of the vial with the needle and injected air into it. Turning the small bottle upside down, she carefully withdrew the correct dosage of progesterone. She triple checked that she had the right amount. Her hands shook as she pulled the needle back out and removed it. She replaced it with a smaller one and flicked the syringe to dislodge any air bubbles. Waverly caressed her shoulder. That fleeting, but reassuring touch was enough to ground Nicole. She pushed up on the plunger until a few drops formed at the needle’s tip.

 

Nicole looked up once again at Waverly, who watched her with a soft expression on her face.

 

“Okay?” Nicole asked.

 

“Okay.”

 

Nicole wiped the side of Waverly’s left buttocks with another alcohol pad. Once it was dry, she picked up the syringe, holding it like she was about to throw a dart at Shorty’s. She inserted it in one swift jab. Waverly inhaled sharply and Nicole froze.

 

“Wave?”

 

“I’m good,” Waverly breathed out. “Keep going.”

 

Swallowing hard, Nicole pulled back on the plunger to make sure she didn’t hit a blood vessel. No crimson blooms entered the vial. She sighed in relief and slowly injected the progesterone, pushing past the muscle’s resistance. Once she was done, she carefully extracted the needle. Waverly pressed a piece of gauze to her skin while Nicole disposed of the used needles in a sharps container.

 

“C’mon.” Nicole stood and led Waverly to the couch where a heating pad was ready and waiting. Waverly lowered her good side onto the cushions and Nicole sat next to her, placing the heating pad on the injection site and massaging the area as gently as possible.

 

“I can’t believe we’re really doing this,” Waverly murmured.

 

“Yeah, baby, we are,” Nicole said, heart expanding at the unadorned affection in Waverly’s gaze. “You and me. We’re gonna get through this together.”

 

Smiling, Waverly ran her fingers through Nicole’s hair, lightly grasped the back of her head and leaned forward to place a tender kiss on Nicole’s lips. “Ready for your turn?”

 

“More than ready.” Nicole nuzzled the tip of Waverly’s nose. “Let’s make a family.”


 

 

The buzz from her cellphone broke Nicole out of her reverie and she nearly jumped straight out of her skin. She dug a hand in her pocket to retrieve her phone, shaking so hard that she nearly dropped it once she freed it from her jeans.

Meet me at Shorty’s. 45 minutes.

Heart in her throat, she read the text again. Then re-read it. That was just enough time to get cleaned up at the Wainright before heading to the saloon. Nicole glanced back up one more time at her old apartment before turning on her heel and walking away.

She freshened up quickly in her hotel room. Washed her face and brushed her hair. She debated changing out of her jeans and sweater, before shaking her head at herself for being ridiculous. Nicole didn’t want to look as if she was trying too hard. After one last glance at the mirror, where the few strands of gray in her hair and the slight wrinkles on her face somehow looked more pronounced than ever before, she headed to Shorty’s.

Her heart pounded harder the closer she got to the bar, until the roar of blood in her ears was all she could hear as she pushed past the wooden double doors and stepped inside. It was just as she remembered it, the smell of alcohol sharp in the air and an old country song twanging from the jukebox. She didn’t recognize any of the patrons or the servers behind the bar. And no one paid her any mind as she moved further in and slid onto a barstool in the same spot she used to sit when she visited Waverly all those years ago. She ordered a classic martini.

Just as the bartender set the glass in front of Nicole, someone completely unexpected sidled up to her. The strength of his cologne alone should have given him away.

“Well, well, well, look what the cat drug in,” came the grating voice of a person she hadn’t missed once in 20 years.

Nicole resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she swiveled toward the intruder. “Champ,” she said, terse.

Champ Hardy look like a bloated version of himself from 20 years ago, with his slicked-back hair and a scraggly goatee. The years clearly had not been kind.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face ‘round these parts, Haught.” He sneered. “And just what the hell do you think you’re doing here, huh?”

Nicole clenched her jaw so hard she thought her teeth might crack. “That’s none of your goddamn business.”

“Oh I beg to differ.” Champ moved into Nicole’s personal space. His breath reeked of stale beer. She resisted the urge to clothesline him again, for old time’s sake. “Because if you so much as upset Waverly…”

“Dad!” A new voice cut in.

They both turned as a young woman approached, long brown hair trailing behind her. There was… something ...about her. Something so unexpected that it made Nicole’s heart clench and she had no idea why. When their eyes met, the woman hesitated, but only briefly. She focused on Champ and clapped him on the shoulder

 

“What are you doing here?” The young woman -- no, Champ’s daughter -- asked him. “You’re supposed to be trying on your tux. Make sure the alterations are all fine.”

 

“Right,” Champ nodded, moving away from Nicole. “I didn’t forget,” he said in a way that completely belied his claim.

 

The daughter’s eyes drifted to Nicole. “Who’s your friend?”

 

“No one,” Champ said. “She was just about to leave.”

 

“Actually,” Nicole interrupted. “I’m just getting settled in.” She smiled at the young woman and offered her hand. “I’m Nicole. Nicole Haught.”

 

“Whitney,” she replied, ignoring her dad and grasping Nicole’s hand with a warm, dimpled smile that felt achingly familiar to Nicole. Her grip was firm, yet gentle. “Whitney Earp.”

 

It felt like the floor bottomed out from beneath Nicole. A wave of vertigo made her unsteady even though she sat firmly on the barstool. “Whitney Earp,” Nicole repeated, her voice sounding hollowing in her ears.

 

“That’s right,” Champ butted in proudly, placing an arm around Whitney’s shoulders. “Whitney Earp . My daughter.”

 

Whitney made a face and wiggled out of Champ’s grip. “You really should get going, Dad. You don’t want to be late…”

 

They continued talking, but Nicole stopped listening, her stomach sinking with the realization that what she had once feared was true.

 


 

“I’m serious, Becky. I’m not cut out for that crap,” Nicole sighed in frustration, pulling the rental car into the parking stall. The town’s parking lot was nearly full as it always was on a weekday in the municipal area. The few stalls along the street had been taken and she cursed the nature of small towns.

 

“So you’d rather waste your life being a cop in some backwater shithole? You got a damn 178 on the LSAT, for Christ's sake.  If I'd gotten that,  daddy would have given me a corner office. ”

 

“You have a corner office…”

 

“After damn near 10 years!”

 

Nicole just felt...tired. “I already told mom and dad this. I have a life here. I love Purgatory.”

 

“No you don’t. You’re just there for her!”

 

“You don’t know anything about my life.” Nicole rolled the window down a crack just to get some air before turning the car off. She’d been gone for three months. A quarter of a year and she couldn’t stay away anymore. Even if she had to pound down the door, she was going to talk to Waverly. She didn’t care that the youngest Earp had changed her number not long after she had left.

 

They were only supposed to be on a break, why the hell did she cut off communication? She should have come back then. She shouldn't have let the anger build so much. She had thought the distance would give them a chance to think … absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that bullshit.

 

“I know that when you got here you were moping around like a baby until we gave you casework to do,” her sister started in again, “and don’t even pretend you didn’t enjoy helping dad with that deposition last week. You were made for this, Nic.”

 

Nicole sighed in frustration. “I don’t really want to talk about this with you. I have to go.”

 

“Nic, wait.”

 

Nicole hung up the phone, looking at herself in the mirror, running her hands through shoulder-length dark brown hair. Hopefully Waverly wouldn’t hate it. She’d allowed her sister to talk her into it, citing a change was necessary, that it would make her feel better. It hadn’t. She felt like she had lost a part of herself, like she was changing who she was. New hair… bullshit paralegal work for her parents’ firm...

 

Waverly was going to hate it.

 

Taking a deep breath, she nodded. The thought of entering her apartment after sitting stagnant for 3 months made her cringe so she'd gotten a room at the hotel. She’d check in,  shower and head over to Shorty’s. Or maybe the homestead. Maybe that would be better, to be away from the public for whatever could possibly happen. Waverly did have quite a tempter.

 

“JUST STOP!”

 

At first she’d thought she’d imagined it, but when she realized it was real, Nicole froze, the familiar voice sounding across the parking lot.  She turned to see Waverly’s rigid form walking right past her car, apparently not recognizing her and stopping at the passenger side of a very familiar pick up.

 

“I really don’t know why you’ve got your panties in a twist.” Champ strolled up beside her, twirling his keys around his finger.

 

“I’m fucking pregnant, Champ.” The strength of the curse word sounded strange as Waverly crossed her arms over her chest.

 

The breath was robbed from Nicole’s chest at the words. Pregnant. She looked back and forth between Champ and Waverly, small puzzle pieces clicking together and revealing a very sickening picture.

 

“Well duh.” Champ gave her a look that was very Champ. “You knew that already. You took like 20 of those stick test things.”

 

“What the hell am I going to do?” Waverly’s voice wavered. Even from where she was sitting, Nicole could see the tear slipping down a flushed cheek. “I can’t… it’s not…” She shook her head, unable to find the words. “What the hell was I thinking?”

 

Champ unlocked the door with a roll of his eyes. “So get rid of it. I mean they got doctors for that, don't they?”

 

His nonchalance was sickening. Nicole felt nausea bubbling up in her stomach, fueled by anger and jealousy with a hint of grief. It was taking everything in her to stay seated,  her hands balled into fists, nails biting crescent marks into her palms as she fought the urge to punch his lights out.

 

Waverly showed no such restraint.  “You asshole!” Waverly pushed Champ roughly, knocking him back a few feet. “How can you… how…” She shook her head, ripping open the door. “Take me home.”  She growled, slamming the door closed.

 

Champ looked around to make sure no one was paying any attention before he shook his head. “Chicks,” he complained, jogging around to the other side of the truck and getting in.

 

Nicole felt herself shaking, unfurling her hands to see tiny wells of blood. She could barely breathe, barely think, barely even make sense of the train of thoughts and images running through her had. Pregnant. After almost a whole year of trying and failing, injections and implantation,  all it took was… Champ.

 

It was like her heart was breaking into a million pieces. She couldn’t bare to talk to Waverly, not now. Waverly got what she wanted and she didn’t need Nicole to get it. With a shaky hand, she picked up her phone, dialing a familiar number.

 

“Are you going to hang up on me again?”

 

Nicole watched as the truck pulled out into the street, tires screeching as it headed out of town, tears slipped down her cheeks. There was no way she could stay,  but if it meant watching Waverly and Champ raising a kid together…

 

“I’m coming home.” she decided, feeling a Waverly sized chasm forming inside her.  Starting the car, she pointed it in the directing leaving Purgatory. She could hire someone to pack up her apartment.  She didn't ever need to come back.

 


 

 

Whitney grimaced as she watched Champ leave. She really hadn’t wanted to talk to Nicole with him there. Slipping behind the bar, she noticed Nicole was sitting there with unseeing eyes, obviously lost in her own thoughts.

 

Not that she could blame her, Whitney decided as she looked Nicole over. She was… beautiful. Older now, obviously, but she looked… like money. Her clothes, make-up, jewelry… they all spoke of a well-off life, away from towns like Purgatory.

 

No ring, Whitney noticed with a small smile. Not that she hadn’t known anyway. Thank god for the internet.

 

“Did you want another drink?”

 

Nicole jumped, shaking her head to refocus her eyes. “I’m sorry?”

 

Whitney pointed to the empty martini glass. “Did you want something else?”

 

“Yeah.” Nicole looked longingly at the empty glass before nodding. “Whiskey.”

 

With a small chuckle, Whitney grabbed a shot glass, setting it in front of Nicole and grabbing a bottle.

 

“So… You’re Whitney Earp. Quite a popular girl around here. ” Nicole picked up the glass, licking her lips in a brief pause before drinking.   

 

Whiney nodded, refilling the glass as it was slid forward. She had a million questions. Why did she leave? Didn’t she want a daughter? How could she have left her mother pregnant?

 

“I hear congratulations are in order. You’re getting married.” Taking another pause, Nicole looked at the shot longingly before shooting it back.

 

“I am.” Whitney rose an eyebrow, refilling the glass. She hadn’t planned on getting her new-found mother drunk, but maybe she could get more information that way.

 

“Married… are you even old enough to be getting married?”

 

Whitney snorted. It was something everyone brought up. She knew she was young, but she loved Jesse. What difference did it make if they got married now instead of dating for years before they were considered old enough to wed. “I’m 20 thank you.”

 

Nicole paused with the shot halfway to her lips, her brow furrowing. “20? Are you supposed to be working behind a bar?”

 

With a laugh, Whitney shook her head. “Drinking age is 18, Ms.Haught. This isn’t Chicago.”

 

The shot pausing once more, Nicole’s brows rose. “How do you know I’m from Chicago?”

 

Whitney could have smacked herself in the head. Instead she bit her bottom lip. She was such a horrible liar. What the hell did she think she was doing with all this? “I have a confession,” she started. When she got no response, she laughed nervously. “I know exactly who you are.” She admitted, watching as Nicole’s eye… eyes that looked exactly like her own, doubled in size.

 

Well… she’d committed now. Whitney reached into her back pocket, pulling out the photo and setting it on the bar. “You’re Nicole Haught,” she repeated from their earlier introduction, “and I guess you dated my mom.”

 

Nicole’s hand shook as she lifted the photo. She didn’t say anything, instead just quickly drank her shot, waiting for Whitney to fill it again.

 

Filling the glass, Whitney felt a little guilty about what she was about to say. “I sent the invitation.” She winced as the shot almost made it to Nicole’s lips before it froze, eyes locking with her own. “I changed the contact info a little bit on it... I guess what I'm saying is my mother doesn’t know you’re here.”

 

The shot glass fell from tapered fingers, hitting the bar in a splashing thud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist you?
Mamma mia, does it show again?
My my, just how much I've missed you
Yes, I've been brokenhearted
Blue since the day we parted
Why, why did I ever let you go?”

 

Thin tendrils of whiskey crept toward Whitney like overflowing tributaries from where Nicole spilled her drink. Whitney quickly mopped up the liquid with a damp bar rag while snatching up Nicole’s dropped shot glass. With practiced hands, she quickly replaced the old glass with a fresh one and topped it up. The flurry of movement snapped Nicole out of her daze.

“I’m sorry.” Nicole shook her head and blinked away her stupor.

“Don’t be. I kinda dropped a bomb on you.” The sad thing was, it wasn’t even the mother of all bombs that Whitney could deploy. She didn’t think Nicole would survive the nuclear arsenal of, Why’d you leave my mother when she needed you most?

Nicole nodded as she idly fingered the rim of the shot glass but didn’t lift it. “I, um, I have to…”

“No please!” Whitney’s hand shot out and covered Nicole’s wrist. “Don’t go.”

Nicole looked down to where Whitney’s fingers encircled her wrist, then glanced back up, a question in dark brown eyes that reminded Whitney so much of her own. Like staring at her reflection. She wondered if the same thoughts were racing through Nicole’s mind, as fast as the fluttering pulse beneath Whitney’s fingertips. Or if Nicole felt the same jolt from their connection, their shared blood.

“Stay,” Whitney insisted, hoping that the desperation rising in her chest didn’t seep into her voice. She should have felt embarrassed by her boldness. But if there was one thing being an Earp taught her, it was sticking to her guns. And she wasn’t about to let her biological mom walk out on her after they finally found each other. “Let me explain.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Nicole reassured her. “I just have to use the ladies room, if that’s all right with you.”

Whitney snatched her hand back. “Of course.”

“I’ll be right back.”

Nicole slid off the stool and walked toward the restrooms down the hallway next to the bar. Whitney watched her go, stomach wringing with anxiety. She poured herself her own shot of whiskey and knocked it back so smoothly that Aunt Wyn would be proud. She was about to pour a second shot when a voice gruffed behind her,

“What the hell’re you doin’ drinking my whiskey again, girl?” Whitney whirled around just as Gus McCready hobbled behind the bar, an affectionate scowl on her wrinkled face. “Didn’t you and those airheaded friends o’ yours get enough already?” Gus wagged a wizened finger at Whitney. “Don’t think I didn’t know ‘bout that.”

“Gus!” Whitney squeaked, trying not to look too much like she had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Judging by how Champ acted with Nicole, Whitney couldn’t imagine how anyone else might feel about seeing Nicole again. And the last thing Whitney wanted was to spook Nicole away.  “What are you doing here?”

“What am I doin’ here?” Gus squinted at Whitney suspiciously. “What’re you doin’ here? Don’t you have a weddin’ to attend to?”

“Yes! There was an accident.” Whitney suddenly remembered her now fortuitous cover. “With the centerpieces. I need more empty bottles.”

“An accident? On the same day Wynonna’s back in town? Color me surprised.” Gus snorted, shaking her head of white curls. “You know damn well we don’t keep those up at the bar, unless you were trying to make more.” Gus eyed the full shot of whiskey on the bar and the bottle next to Whitney.

“I was just tryin’ to help a few customers before I headed on back,” Whitney explained innocently, lips curling up into her most winsome smile. The one that always seemed to work on her mom, at least.

“Uh huh.” Gus didn’t look at all convinced. “Go on and git, girl. The less that gets done, the more your mama and your aunt will expect me to save their asses. Again.”

Whitney didn’t wait to be told twice. “See ya, Gus.” She gave the old lady a peck on the cheek before she made her way toward the stockroom and, more importantly, the restrooms. “Love ya!”

Gus only grunted in response, but Whitney saw the small smile that crept onto her face.

Whitney rounded the corner to the back of the bar just as Nicole emerged from the bathroom. They nearly collided in Whitney’s haste.

“Whoa, hey.” Nicole put her hands up. “Where’s the hold up?”

Panicked, Whitney took Nicole by the shoulders and spun her around, nudging her forward to the stockroom. “You can’t go this way.”

“What? Why?” Nicole asked though she didn’t fight Whitney’s guidance.

“Because.” Whitney looked over her shoulder to make sure no one saw them. No one seemed to be paying attention. Not even Gus, who was too busy scowling at the other bartender. Sighing in relief, Whitney hurried them into the back and shut the door behind them, muffling the sounds of the bar. She hoped Gus wouldn't be needing anything in the storeroom any time soon.

“Because?” Nicole turned back around, brow furrowed.

“Gus is out there. I didn’t…”

Nicole hung her head in resigned understanding. “Say no more.” She turned around to inspect the musty liquor boxes stacked against the walls and the crates of empty bottles on the floor.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Nicole echoed back Whitney’s earlier words. She hooked her thumbs on her belt and glanced at the service entrance. Whitney could tell she wanted to bolt, and although she didn’t really blame Nicole, the thought formed an uneasy pit in her stomach.

Nicole didn’t leave, though. Instead, she looked right back at Whitney. “So, you gonna explain why you invited a persona non grata to your wedding?”

Whitney exhaled in relief. “Right. So,” she hooked her thumbs in the front pockets of her oversized sweater. When she realized that she was mirroring Nicole’s stance, she pulled them out and crossed her arms instead. “Long story short, I found my mother’s journal. She wrote about you.”

Nicole’s eyebrows shot up. “Did she? What, um,” she cleared her throat, “what did she say?”

“A lot.” Whitney flushed as she recalled some of the more risqué passages. “Enough for me to know you were in love. That you were the love of her life.” Whitney could see color rising in Nicole’s cheeks. “She hasn’t been with anyone since.”

Nicole stood still, tension visible in the rigidity of her shoulders, the clench of her jaw. She looked like she could shatter with even the tiniest bit of pressure. “What about your dad?”

“My dad?” Whitney frowned. “He’s never been in the picture.” In all honesty, Whitney had never really thought much about the anonymous man who was her sperm donor.

Nicole’s brows knitted, but Whitney pushed forward. “The thing is, it’s always just been me and her, and she’s never mentioned you. No one has.”

“I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me,” Nicole said, voice strained.

“I invited you because I wanted to know why.” Why did you leave her? Why did you leave me?

“That’s something you should probably ask your mother.”

“I could, but I’m asking you.”

Nicole swallowed so hard, Whitney could practically see the lump work its way down her throat. “That’s a long story.”

“I’ve got the time.” Whitney took a tentative step closer, and Nicole took a step back.

“Whitney, me being here,” Nicole shook her head. “It’s not a good idea. If Waverly doesn’t know I’m here and she sees me, she’ll freak. I don’t want to upset her.”

“I don’t think she’ll freak,” Whitney protested weakly. Nicole canted her head to the side, like, Really? “Okay, maybe a little. But she’s been so alone… maybe she’ll react better than you think.”

“I don’t know…”

“Please,” Whitney said. “You were important to my mom.” You’re important to me. “And if you thought she invited you and you accepted even after 20 years, then I’m guessing she was pretty damn important to you too. Don’t they say time heals all wounds?”

Nicole licked her lips, an internal struggle visible on her face. “Not all of them,” she said quietly before she headed for the back door.

Whitney felt her small window of opportunity closing. She nearly called out for her mom to stop, but Nicole paused with her hand on the knob.

“Let me sleep on it,” Nicole said. “Get some of this alcohol outta my system.”

Whitney nearly collapsed in relief. “Okay.”

“Can we have breakfast?”

“Yes,” Whitney nodded eagerly. “Of course.”

“We’ll talk more then.”  

Nicole twisted the knob, but Whitney called out to her yet again, and Nicole paused.

“Could you maybe…”

“Keep this between us?” Nicole asked knowingly. She smiled, dimples on display. “You got it.”

Gratefully, Whitney shot back the same dimpled smile. And with that, Nicole left, and Whitney felt a small flame of hope ignite inside her.

 


 

 

Waverly found her sister sitting on a haybale, her feet dangling over the edge as she toyed with a phone in her hand. “Hey, Sis”

Wynonna didn’t look up, just tossed her phone to the side. “Hey, Baby Girl.” Picking up the bottle beside her, she shook it before holding the opening to her eye, dropping the empty one on the ground beside another empty bottle in disappointment.

“We seem plum out of whiskey, which is funny cause I swear you just grabbed a bottle from the bar earlier.” Waverly kicked aside the two bottles as she took a seat beside her sister. She could tell Wynonna needed to talk, but her sister was always so withdrawn. It was with a troubled mind that she rested her head against a leather-covered shoulder, taking a swig from the bottle of vodka she’d brought with her.

Battery acid, her mind always labeled the taste as it slipped down her throat, settling in her stomach as warmth bloomed throughout her body. The barn had always been eerily quiet, even with the echoes of memories that surfaced. Nicole. Willa. Doc. So many people had set foot in the structure that was one storm away from crashing down, a proverbial graveyard of once was .

“Nicole’s in town,” she offered after the silence became too unbearable.

It was enough to jar Wynonna from her personal funk, blinking as she shook her own melancholy from her head. “Buh...Did you just say what I think you said?”

“Well I wasn’t speaking in Latin.” Waverly shrugged, sitting up straighter again. “Either she’s in town or I’m going a little bonkers which, given the circumstances, is totally possible.” Another drink and she winced, her body making it abundantly clear of how little she’d eaten so far. Just a bit of cake for breakfast, actually. Remnants of her late night baking.

“Hell of a time for her to pop up.” Wynonna took the bottle, her eyes tracing the words on the label, a thumb reaching to caress the bird in flight. “Coincidence?” Her tongue had long since desensitized to the burn of alcohol as she took a long pull from the bottle, swallowing a mouthful before taking another.

“We’re Earps, remember.” Waverly scoffed, arms crossing over her chest. It was cold and the alcohol was helping a little, but the extent of her chill went beyond the expanse of snow outside. “When is anything ever a coincidence with us?”

“Tell me about it.” Wynonna eyed her discarded phone before nudging her sister. “Are you going to see her?”

“Why would I do that?” She tried to feign nonchalance, but failed miserably. “We haven’t talked in like 20 years.”

“Yeah, but the wedding…”

“Nicole doesn’t need to know anything about the wedding of MY daughter.” Waverly felt the bitterness rising, the 20-year-old wound opening up again as if time hadn’t mended a damn thing. “She didn’t care before… she’s not going to care now.” Taking the bottle back from Wynonna, she took a bigger gulp, barely able to swallow it down as she felt her eyes watering from the alcohol and memories.

 


 

 

Waverly paced back and forth in the barn, her nerves on edge from the ride home with Champ. She wasn’t even sure why she’d asked him to take her, maybe because she couldn’t trust herself to drive. She couldn’t bear the thought of having to tell the truth to her sister who would no doubt give her the riot act for being so dumb.

No, she couldn’t be around Wynonna for this. Couldn’t be around Gus or Doc or anyone else that would judge her.

She was pregnant.  Holy shit she was pregnant and now she found herself at a crossroad, the groove her steps had worn in the dirt ground splitting into two paths of possible choices. Maybe it was the baby, with its boatload of hormones, but she knew there was only one choice. If she closed her eyes, she could feel arms wrap around her from behind, phantom lips brushing against the edge of her ear. She could almost picture the fetus inside her wiggling at the imagined embrace.

Looking down at the small card in her hand, Waverly sighed softly. She’d stolen it from Nedley’s rolodex, an antiquated system that was so ridiculous, she felt a sort of irony that it would have the information she needed. Nicole Haught, it read. She ran her fingertip over the American phone number listed under emergency contact, a simple line striking through it so that Waverly’s own number could be written above it, or the number she’d had before she’d reached her anger stage after Nicole left and changed it.

Rebecca Thompson, once Rebecca Haught, or Becky as Nicole had called her. The shitty phone Nicole used apparently didn’t work outside of Canada and she’d given up on it a long time ago. It was probably turned off by now.

“Shit. Shit ok.” She breathed deeply, keying the number into the phone. “You can do this, Waverly. You can do this.”

"This is Rebecca.” The familiar voice sent a chill through Waverly, remembering the times she’d heard Nicole arguing with her sister on speakerphone.

“Rebecca. Hi,” Waverly cleared her throat. “We’ve never really talked before but my name is Waverly Earp.” She paced back and forth, her free hand wringing at the edge of her knit sweater. “I’m trying to get a hold of Nicole.”

“Right… Wendy…” The less than interested voice came back.

“Waverly.” She corrected, slightly suspecting Nicole’s sister was doing it on purpose. Waverly couldn’t blame her, especially if Nicole had told her about… everything.

“Right… Well I’m sorry, I don’t…” There was a brief pause. “Wait… you’re looking for Nicole?”

Waverly nodded even if she knew Nicole’s sister couldn’t see her. “Yes I don’t have her Chicago number and I… I don’t know what she told you but we’re um… I haven’t talked to her in months… well.. a while and I just…” She knew she was rambling. “I really need to talk to her.”

There was a long pause, long enough that Waverly would have thought they disconnected if she didn’t hear the tapping of a keyboard. “Months you say…” Waverly swore she could hear a smile.  “Well, I can’t just give you her number. My sister appreciates her privacy.”

“No, you don’t have to, just… can you tell her to call me. I have a new number…” Waverly felt like her heart was in her throat. “If you could give it to her…”

“Fine.” The woman sounded exasperated and didn’t bother to hide it. “I can give her the message but, she’s so busy these days.”

“Ok, yes please give her my number.” Waverly took a deep breath before rattling off the new number. She swallowed, the lump in her throat refusing to budge.  “Please tell her to call me. It’s really important.” She breathed. “Like… really important.”

“Yeah yeah. I’ll tell her.”

Waverly looked down at her phone as the call ended suddenly. There wasn’t really much else she could do. She could only hope Nicole called her. If not, she’d just have to keep calling, even if that meant dealing with Nicole’s sister.

 


 

 

“You should talk to her.” Wynonna jarred her from her memories. She had been kicking at the hay, sending up clouds of dust and particles of only God knew what.

“I can’t.” Waverly scrubbed the tears from her eyes. “You’re just projecting your inability to get ahold of Dolls…” She immediately regretted saying it. “Shit I’m sorry. I’m sure he’s fine. He’s probably just super focused. You know how he gets.”

“Don’t I know it.” Wynonna quickly took another pull from the bottle. “Like I need to talk to that loser.” She shook her head. “You and I are quite the pair.” She nudged Waverly’s shoulder. “Look, deny all you want, but you’ve been waiting for 20 years for tall and gorgeous to walk back through those doors and if she’s really here, she’s less than 30 minutes away.”

Waverly’s breath came out in a stutter. Twenty years and she couldn’t even think of what she’d say. Why didn’t she come home? Why’d she abandon them?  

“But seriously. You need to talk to her cause… you are just a bomb waiting to explode and I was going through your things earlier looking for more booze and seriously, Baby Girl, there’s only one reason a single mom needs a Costco-sized box of D batteries.”

“Oh my god!”

Wynonna shook her head in sorrow. “Honey, that’s not what I meant when I told you to get some D.”

“Shut up!” Waverly felt the flush burning her cheeks. “That’s not what they’re for.”

“Just a big ‘ol box.”

“You are just ridic.” Waverly turned away. Wynonna was only partially wrong. That wasn’t what the batteries had been for, but God she was so fucking lonely. Especially on those nights when Whitney stayed in town or Jesse was thinking he was sneaking in, Waverly had never felt so alone. But the idea of dating, of trying to find a connection she knew would never be possible again…

Wynonna smirked. “You need to be re-dicked.” She joked again but this time didn’t get a response. When she heard a soft sniffle, she sighed, throwing her arm around Waverly’s shoulders. “You know if you don’t go, you’ll regret it.”

“I feel like nothing good is going to come out of this.” Waverly scrubbed at her nose with the palm of her hand, pushing off the haybale. “I need to shower… and… contemplate my poor life choices.”

“And then go see Officer Haught Pants.”

Waverly shook her head as she moved to the door, leaving the bottle with Wynonna. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do but either way, she needed to clear her mind. Pausing at the exit, she turned. “Hey, did you need to talk about anything else? I mean, I know it’s like your coffee, but you’re hitting the bottle pretty hard, even for you.”

Looking at her phone and turning back to Waverly, Wynonna shook her head. “No, I’m good. Just… enjoying my vacation.” She spoke before taking another pull from the bottle.

 


 

 

The old buildings tilted and whirled as Nicole walked back to the Wainright. Well, walked was probably too generous. Staggered and stumbled was more like it. The town’s axis turned askew and she cursed herself for immediately chasing a martini with back-to-back shots of whiskey, like she was some brainless co-ed or, worse, Wynonna freaking Earp. Nicole knew better than to get drunk. Knew she had to keep her wits about her, especially in this town.

But it was too late to turn back time and reverse her poor decision making. That was, she realized even through her inebriated state, a recurring theme in her life. More than 45 years filled with should’ve, would’ve, could’ve -- and the majority, if not all, of those stemming from or related to Purgatory and the people in it.

Normally, she made a conscious effort to not dwell in the past. What’s done was done and all that. But now… now that she’d met Whitney Earp… Nicole began second-guessing everything.

Nicole’s blood pounded in a dizzying rush as Whitney’s words continued to haunt her.

You were the love her life.

She hasn’t been with anyone since.

My dad? He’s never been in the picture.

Did that mean...? Was Champ not there for Waverly and their daughter? Nicole grit her teeth. The fucking bastard. It would be just like him to screw Waverly, literally and figuratively, and have the gall to defend her from Nicole. But…

Hadn’t Nicole done the same? Screwed Waverly and left her to hang high and dry?

No. Nicole shook her head and paused in the middle of the sidewalk, barely even feeling the frost in the air. She wobbled slightly as she got her bearings. Shit. She had somehow walked straight past the Wainright, headed in the direction of her old apartment on autopilot. She spun around and exhaled in relief. The hotel was only a few blocks away.

She backtracked, hanging a right at the next light. She had left Purgatory because she and Waverly had needed the space. And when she had come back to make amends, Waverly had gone and gotten herself knocked up by the big lunk. Waverly had made that decision on her own, Nicole thought with what she labeled as righteous anger churning in her stomach, and not the alcohol hitting her all at once or, say, guilt. Waverly should have known that Champ would be unreliable.

And Waverly could have called Nicole and told her the news. But Waverly never did.

Nicole’s steps slowed down, her breath coming in harsh pants. If Waverly had called, what? Would Nicole have been the bigger person? Would she have parented a child fathered by Waverly’s half-wit ex? Those were questions she had tormented herself over for years before Becky convinced her to put them behind her. Nicole ran her fingers through her hair and groaned. She had been so overcome with anger when she had watched Waverly and Champ all those years ago. At the time, her answer had been a resounding no.

But now, after seeing Whitney--so tall and strong and lovely--Nicole wished she had listened to the voice deep inside that had whispered, Yes, you could have. Would have. Should have.

 


 

 

Waverly sucked in a deep breath as Nicole entered her, gently pressing two fingers inside of Waverly as deeply as possible.

You good?” Nicole asked, worried. She knew from experience that the extra hormones could make things down there more sensitive, and the last thing she wanted to do was hurt Waverly. Nicole caressed Waverly’s hair with her free hand.

“Yeah, baby,” Waverly murmured beneath her. “Do the other one.”

Nodding, Nicole slid her fingers out of Waverly and picked up the estradiol on the bedside table. She pinched the small blue pill between her middle and ring fingers and positioned them at Waverly’s entrance once again.

When their eyes met, and Waverly inclined her head slightly, Nicole clinically pushed the medication inside. She tried not to think about how these moments were the closest they had come to any form of intimacy in the last several months. How they hadn’t made love since the first cycle had ended with crushing disappointment, when the embryo they had transferred to Waverly hadn’t implanted.

Breathing out, Nicole slid out immediately once her fingers nudged Waverly’s cervix. Waverly grabbed Nicole’s wrist as she straightened up from bending over Waverly, who lay on their bed with her knees bent.

“Will you... lie down with me a while?” Waverly looked almost embarrassed by the question, and Nicole’s chest squeezed.

“Of course.” Nicole rubbed one of Waverly’s bare knees. “Let me just wash my hand.”

Nicole walked to the bathroom quickly. She turned on the faucet and waited for the water to warm, then took extra care to lather her hands thoroughly, white soap bubbles turning blue, before rinsing them off and drying them. By the time she returned to the bedroom, Waverly was curled under the blankets.

Nicole crawled into bed next to Waverly, careful not to jostle her. Waverly immediately scooted closer. Nicole wrapped Waverly in her arms, and Waverly laid her head on Nicole’s chest. Waverly felt stiff in her embrace, uncomfortable, as if they were strangers. They said nothing for several long moments, settling into an uneasy silence before Waverly whispered,

“What if it doesn’t work? Again?”

Nicole slid a hand up and down Waverly’s spine. “Then we’ll try again. However long it takes.”

“And if it still doesn’t work?”

“Wave.” Nicole gently squeezed the anxious woman in her arms. “We’ve been over this. If it doesn’t work, we have options.”

“But the doctor said it wasn’t good for you to get pregnant.”

“Well, if not me, then a surrogate,” Nicole reassured her. “Or adoption.”

“Adoption? I’m sure an agency would love us, what with all the mysterious injuries, ER visits, and the town-full of demons after us all.”

Nicole chuckled, even as a sliver of dread wormed its way inside her heart. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

 


 

 

As Nicole stumbled into the doors of the hotel, she didn’t see the SUV parked in front, the occupant lost in her own world.

Waverly drummed her thumbs on the steering wheel as she worried her bottom lip between her teeth. The old building held a lot of memories for her, most of them unpleasant, and she doubted this night would bring anything more fortuitous.

“You are a vision.”

She could feel the sting of tears surfacing and was overcome with anger as a memory washed over her. Back then it had been so simple, no babies, no failures, no ignorant American parents and their unnecessary pressure. They had been… perfect. Sure there had been a revenant or two… or 77. Whatever, they could handle it. Or at least she thought they could.

“Just stay by the exits, okay?”

She should have taken her own advice. Nicole had apparently. Waverly had thought they’d been in it for the long run, that they’d be able to overcome any of that bullshit, but Nicole was a survivor. She’d stuck to the exits and calmly made one when things got too tough.

“I love her.”

“Fuck!” Waverly punched the roof of her SUV, realizing how bad an idea it was too late when she heard a crunch and she realized she’d punched the visor. “Damn it.” Tipping the visor down, she winced at the broken mirror. “Seven years bad luck… good luck on topping the past 20.” She told her split reflection, reaching up to dab away a tear that threatened to spill.

She was so done crying over Nicole. Twenty years and she had moved on a long time ago...yet there she was, about to do what? Confront her? Tell her to leave town?

Tell her to stay?

“Get your act together, lady.” Waverly ran a hand through her hair, straightening out the waves that to her eye, looked simply unkempt. All she saw was the evidence of time. Wrinkles. Pepperings of grey hair here and there… Twenty years had no doubt marched its way across her reflection and there was a part of her, a part she refused to acknowledge out loud, that wondered if Nicole would still think she was attractive.

“We decided to forget about her, remember.” Her conversation with the cracked version of herself continued. “We don’t miss her. We don’t need her. It’s over. We just need to… make sure she knows it’s over and she’s not welcome here.”

With a satisfactory nod, she slipped from her car and headed into the large building.

As it turned out, getting someone’s hotel room number wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be, especially when you came from a family that might be partially responsible for a riot slash poisoning slash near death of the entire town on the premises. Waverly stepped away from the front desk with a huff, trying to decide what to do. It seemed like everyone was stuck in the past, 20 years and no one had gone anywhere. She wanted to just leave, let bygones be bygones, but...

She’d already built up the courage and determination. She was going to do this. She was going to…

“Hey Miss Waverly.”

Waverly jumped slightly, turning to smile at the bellhop who nervously pulled up his pants. “Hey Randy. Wow. You just keep getting taller, don’t you?” Maybe there was another way. “Or maybe I just keep getting shorter.”

He laughed, his cheeks slightly flushed. “Naw. My ma’ complains the same at least once a week.” He looked around. “Was there something you needed? I don’t recall seein’ you in here much.”

Waverly laughed. “Cause a few fights in your 20s and you learn to steer clear.” She grinned. “Actually, I’m looking for someone. A...friend.” It was an effort to say the word. They weren’t even that, were they? “She’s just come into town...for the wedding.” She spoke quickly, deciding it was the safest lie. “Maybe you’ve seen her? She just got in today. Nicole Haught?”

Randy’s brows furrowed. “Seems a lot of folks came in these past couple of days for the wedding, Ma’am.” He scratched his head, one hand on his hip as he thought. “I’m pretty awful with names though. What’s she look like?”

“Tall… shoulder-length red hair…” She pictured the woman she’d only seen from behind, shocked as the memory merged with those that were a couple decades older. “Eyes the color of caramel in the light, a smile that makes you feel like you’re the only person in the world…” She could feel it, the pull of what once had been, the touch against the back of her hand as their fingers intertwined. Even standing, with arms crossed over her chest in the middle of a hotel lobby, she could feel the air leave her lungs as a weight settled over her, lips brushing down her throat as a thigh slid between her legs. “Muscular yet still soft…”

“Uhhh…” Randy cleared his throat.

Waverly blinked, realizing exactly what she’d just said, the heat rising to her cheeks. “Not much older than me.” Twenty years ago, she’d have had a photo on her phone, in her pocket, on her desk. Twenty years ago, she wouldn’t feel the anger bubbling up inside, despising herself for how quickly she found herself sinking into phantom embraces.

“I uh…” Randy scratched at the barely there shadow of facial hair. “I do think I know who you mean.” He pursed his lips before nodding. “Real pretty?”

Pretty… Waverly nodded. It wasn’t a word she’d use. Gorgeous? Infuriating? Awe-inspiring? Stubborn? Radiant? Stunning even? Maybe. Pretty? It seemed so insufficient. “She was certainly a looker.”

Randy nodded more to himself. “Now I think about it, she did say her name was Nicole. Fourth floor. Room 407.”

“Thanks Randy.” Waverly ignored the familiar staircase, determined to forget the past and just keep going forward. But as she stepped into the elevator, alone with her thoughts and the soft muzak playing from the speakers, she couldn’t help but feel the dread setting in.

She couldn’t do this. What the hell was she going to say?

Get the hell out of town?

Don’t you dare talk to my daughter? Oh yeah, and she’s your daughter too, remember the one you abandoned?

Four floors took an eternity to get to, an eternity between each beep from the digital display until suddenly the doors opened. The floors were covered with the same carpet that covered every floor, carpeting that had been in place longer than Nicole had been away.

The sign on the wall informed her rooms 401-408 were to the right. Waverly’s feet moved without her permission, dragging her towards the corner room. Her head swung back and forth as she walked, counting the rooms on either side of the hall. 401. 402. 403…until she got to the end of the hall, the number 407 stamped in plastic and fastened to the wall.

She froze, her hands balling into fists as she hesitated knocking. Twenty years. This was the point of no return.

Twenty years.

Twenty years of tears, loss, anger, sadness. Twenty years of raising her daughter alone. Twenty years of first steps and first words, first boyfriend and first heartbreak.

Nicole had chosen to miss it all and Waverly was determined to keep it that way, she decided as her knuckles wrapped against the wooden door.

Chapter Text

"Where are those happy days?
They seem so hard to find
I try to reach for you
But you have closed your mind"

 

The knock came just as Nicole was brushing her teeth, one hand gripping the edge of the sink to keep herself from listing side-to-side like a ship in choppy waters. She had called down to the front desk for extra pillows mere minutes ago, and she was mildly surprised by the prompt response. She rinsed out her mouth and spit, wiping her chin with a white terrycloth towel as she walked to her room door.

She swung it open and stared at a vision.

A gorgeous reverie.

Or perhaps an alcohol-induced hallucination who left Nicole dumbfounded and speechless. All of her abilities to string together coherent thoughts dissipated with all the air in her lungs. She'd had this dream before, many times over the long and lonely years, of finally reuniting with Waverly. Except, in those visions, Waverly was usually clad in much less than a puffy winter coat and jeans. And she usually was smiling.

This Waverly, however, frowned as she took in Nicole. Brown eyes skimmed down the length of Nicole's body, now clad in plaid pajama pants and a white tank top. A shadow of uncertainty ghosted across Waverly's face, still oh so lovely after all these years, before she hardened her features into one of determination. Waverly flipped her long hair over one shoulder. And then she spoke:

"You're an awful long way from Chicago."

Nicole's brows knitted together at Waverly's clipped tone. This most definitely was not a dream. Nicole parted her lips to respond but Waverly beat her to the punch, "Take a wrong turn somewhere?"

The anger in Waverly's voice hit Nicole like flint against steel, sparking a corresponding flame within her.

"I'm right where I'm supposed to be," she said in a lazy drawl after her synapses finally started processing speech again through the haze of inebriation. She wanted to ask how Waverly even knew she was in town, let alone how to find her. But she knew better. Word always did travel fast in that godforsaken town.

"Well, I beg to differ." Waverly crossed her arms, frown deepening. "You don't belong here."

"Right." Nicole nodded slowly and braced a hand on the door frame.

Waverly stared at Nicole, who tightened her grip on the wood, both to remain upright as the hallway behind Waverly spun and to hold back her temper. It didn't work quite as well as she hoped. Nicole now had confirmation that Whitney was telling the truth, and that Waverly really hadn't invited her to the wedding. She understood how her presence would be jarring for Waverly. And yet, her stomach still churned in agitation. She'd be damned if she let Waverly start shit when Nicole was keeping to herself and minding her own business.

"I don't belong here," Nicole repeated. "Says the person standing outside of my hotel room uninvited."

"Don't." Waverly clenched her jaw, eyes narrowing. "You don't get to do that."

"Do what? Travel? Stay in a hotel?"

"You know damn well what!" Waverly's outburst took them both by surprise and Nicole, despite a strong desire to continue needling Waverly, backed down, her ire deflating somewhat. This wasn't what Nicole wanted. Even if they couldn't make amends, Nicole at least didn't want them to hurt each other more than they already had.

"Waverly," Nicole sighed, noting the way Waverly's nostrils flared slightly at the sound of her name. "I'm not here to…" She shook her head and instantly regretted it when her pulse pounded in her temples. "I'm here on business," she deflected, remembering Whitney's plea. "We're both adults. We can stay out of each other's way."

That seemed to appease Waverly, who nodded once. "Fine." She stepped into Nicole's space and Nicole resisted the urge to step back. "Don't get any ideas and we'll be copacetic. Understood?"

Nicole held her ground. "Understood."

"Good."

"Great." Nicole refused to break eye contact even as Waverly's perfume invaded her senses, the scent of wildflowers and honey leaving her dizzier than the whiskey she had consumed. All the fine hairs on the back of her neck stood on end from their proximity. Maybe it was the alcohol, but she swore Waverly's gaze dipped briefly to her lips before someone cleared his throat behind them, causing Waverly to back away quickly and Nicole to stand straighter.

They both turned their heads toward Randy Nedley, balancing three pillows on his arms.

"Sorry for interruptin', Ms. Waverly, Ms. Nicole," Randy said bashfully.

"Not at all, Randy," Waverly said, moving to his side. "I was just about to leave." She gently clapped Randy's shoulder. "Tell your mama to call me later." With one last borderline glare at Nicole, she walked away down the hall.

"Here're the extra pillows you wanted." Randy handed the stack to Nicole as Waverly disappeared around the corner. Waverly didn't once look back and Nicole felt a pang of disappointment.

"Thanks Randy." Nicole accepted them with a grateful nod.

"Never knew anyone who needed seven pillows before."

"Bad back," Nicole lied.

"Huh." Randy shrugged. "Well, sleep well. Lemme know if you need anythin' else."

Nicole bid Randy adieu and, slightly shaky, carried the pillows to one side of the queen bed. Heart heavy, she arranged them in a line underneath the blanket. Truth was, she couldn't sleep without them stacked in a form that would feel solid to her right, where a certain someone used to lay. A certain someone who told her in no uncertain terms that she wanted nothing to do with Nicole.


 

"She won't talk to me," Nicole confessed to Wynonna as they sat on the porch swing of the Earp Homestead. Her eyes trailed longingly after Waverly, who shrunk smaller and smaller the farther she walked away from the house until she disappeared past the early summer thickets.

She won't even let me touch her, Nicole added silently, pretty sure Wynonna wouldn't be too keen on hearing that particular aspect of her sister's love life.

Wynonna took a long swig from her bottle of Macallan. The liquid sloshed against the glass as she tipped her head back. She had "liberated" the expensive liquor from a geriatric townie who turned out to be Revenant #43. Or was it #44? It was getting harder and harder for Nicole to keep track. Another day, another monster. Each one bleeding into the next with no end in sight.

"Just give her some time." Wynonna kicked her feet up and rested them on the porch railing, causing the swing's rusted chain to squeak in protest. Her boots scraped off some of the wood's already peeling paint. "Earps are no strangers to loss. This pregnancy failure thing… it'll pass." She handed the bottle to Nicole, who reluctantly accepted it. "She'll come 'round."

Nicole settled back into the swing, the slats digging painfully between her shoulder blades. She brought the bottle to her lips and swallowed down her next question: What if she doesn't? She was too afraid of the answer.


 

As the elevator doors closed, Waverly had to brace herself against the elevator wall, struggling to breathe as she wrapped her arms around herself. She couldn't let herself fall apart. She couldn't let herself lose it, not when she still had to get through the lobby and to her car. Not when she was certain her cries could still be heard from the fourth floor.

Instead, she hugged herself tight as the elevator hit the ground floor, keeping her head down as she crossed the lobby. She didn't look up, didn't care to see if anyone noticed how close to the edge she was, how easily it would be to topple right over if she wasn't careful.

Stepping out the door, she felt the bitter cold nipping at her cheeks where tears had begun to fall. By the time she slipped into her car, she was shaking. Not from the cold, but from the emotions that were threatening to consume her, a void that had formed 20 years ago suddenly consuming her.

She'd been so good at hiding it from everyone, been so used to making sure Whitney never saw her crying. But she was so fucking tired. She was tired of hurting, tired of hiding, but most of all she was tired of being alone.

That was really why she'd done it, that last time. Even with Nicole gone, Waverly had been mad, but she hadn't been ready to lose her just yet. So when the clinic had called her, reminding her about an appointment that had been set up months before, she'd known that even if she could just have a small part of Nicole still in her life...


 

"Sorry, the number you are trying to reach is out of service. Please check the number and dial again."

Sitting in her Jeep, Waverly cursed and hung up the phone, feeling as foolish as she always felt whenever she dialed Nicole's disconnected number. It was a futile endeavor. She knew it. And yet she couldn't stop herself from trying one more time, and being disappointed yet again. She tucked her phone in her jacket pocket and looked up, willing herself to get out and approach the glass double doors of the nondescript office building. She had done so three times already, and each time she promptly hopped backed into her car. Her fingers were numb and she shivered when she buried her face in her hands. Why did she decide to do this? Why did she think this was a good idea?

She should have told Wynonna about what she was doing. Or Gus. Anyone. Just so she didn't have to do it alone. But she knew they would have tried to talk sense into her, or worse, stop her. And even if they had agreed to support her, Waverly also knew, despite her love for them both, that they would be pale substitutes for the person who should have been by her side, the person Waverly thought had been the one.

Waverly subconsciously swiped her thumb against the base of her left ring finger, an ache settling beneath her ribs at how wrong it felt without the ring that had adorned it for several months. She thought she would have gotten used to it by now. But she hadn't. And she wasn't sure if she ever would. She was about to insert her keys back into the ignition when someone tapped lightly on her window.

On the other side stood Jo Porter, a middle aged nurse in bright Care Bear scrubs. Waverly rolled down her window and plastered on a polite smile.

"Morning Jo," Waverly greeted.

"Hey there, darlin'!" Jo smiled widely, like she always did. The early morning sun highlighted the silver interspersed in her short blonde hair. Jo's eyes slid to the empty seat next to Waverly, but didn't comment on it. Jo used to ask after Nicole. Like nearly everyone else in Purgatory, Jo had been quite fond of Nicole. But after Waverly had shown up to all of her appointments by herself, Jo had thankfully put two-and-two together and stopped asking about the missing deputy. "Big day. You ready?"

No! Waverly wanted to shout. She wasn't ready. Probably would never be ready. But she nodded nevertheless, reluctant and slow, and slipped out of the Jeep.

Jo regaled her with stories about her weekend antiquing up in the big city. Waverly listened politely, humming and asking questions at the appropriate moments. All the while she ignored the fact that Nicole should have been there with a steadying hand at the small of Waverly's back as they walked into the clinic. Should have been there to lead Waverly to an exam room in the back, and help her out of her clothes and into a thin, drafty medical gown; to rub warmth into her arms and chase away the goosebumps prickling across her skin from nerves and the chilly antiseptic air; to hold her hand and kiss her knuckles as Jo entered the room to tell her only one of the last four frozen eggs had fertilized into a perfect, grade A embryo.

"Which egg?" Waverly asked as she looked at the black-and-white printout of the blastocyst that would be transferred to her womb. She lightly traced the circles within a circle with the tips of her fingers. They always reminded her of bubbles clumped together. Bubbles that would one day become a living, breathing person, if Waverly was lucky.

Jo hesitated. "Does it really matter, dear? This is gonna be the one, I know it. Third time's the charm."

Waverly closed her eyes. That was all she needed to hear to know just whose baby was in the photo. "Could I have a few minutes?" As much as she tried, she couldn't keep her voice from trembling.

"Of course, dear." Jo ran a soothing hand up and down her back. "Just come on out when you're ready."

Jo left and Waverly let out a soft sob. The picture in her hand shook as she leaned against the exam table, her legs weak. She had never felt so torn in her life, simultaneously happy and hopeful that she'd finally get the chance to bring a life into the world, but also fearful about having to do it on her own. She allowed herself a few minutes of self-pity to grieve, to get as much of it out of her system as possible before she faced Jo and her doctor again.

She gazed at her jacket draped over the back of a chair. Her cellphone was tucked in its pocket. Waverly was tempted, oh so tempted, to fish it out and call Nicole one last time. But she didn't. Instead, she took several deep breaths to calm herself. She pulled out some tissues from the box on a window ledge, wiped her face, and blew her nose. And then she looked at the picture again.

"It's just gonna be you and me, Baby Haught," she whispered.

Lifting the image up, she pressed her lips to it and somehow managed to subdue a fresh wave of sadness. With one last deep breath, she walked out, head held high, ready to face whatever came her way.


 

Tucking her flask into her leather jacket, Wynonna slipped off her motorcycle, taking a moment to stabilize herself. With a sniffle, she shook her body out, shaking out the jitters that riding a motorcycle had set in her. It felt like it had taken Waverly forever to leave, and Wynonna didn't dare do what she was about to do while her sister was within hearing range.

"Ok, freezing my lady nubs off." She grumbled as she quickly entered the hotel. She let her eyes rake over the interior, the sound of soothing muzak making her nauseous… ok so it was probably the alcohol poisoning she would likely endure soon. She spotted her target and made a beeline for the red-suited bellhop, spinning him around. "Ok, Horney…."

"Randy." He squeaked out.

"What's the difference?" Wynonna blinked. "Nevermind. Take me to…"

"Miss Haught?" He spoke up. His eyes were wide with fear, his frame shaking just slightly.

Wynonna's brows furrowed. "Yeah. How did you…"

"Everyone seems to be causin' a fuss over her." Randy shook his head. "Room 407."

"Good boy." Wynonna reached up to straighten his slightly ajar hat before pushing him away. She licked her lips, tasting the bitterness of the vodka Waverly had left her as she made her way to the elevator. It wasn't the smartest idea she'd had, getting on a bike in the middle of winter, let alone in her inebriated state, but the moment Waverly left, her eyes had fallen on the old bike, as if fate were trying to tell her something.

Judging by how short of a time Waverly had been upstairs, she doubted there had been much that transpired between them. She also knew Waverly would kill her if she knew she was there.


 

"What are you doing?" Wynonna looked up as her phone was snatched off the table.

Waverly's shoulders were set in anger, but dark circles under her red and puffy eyes spoke to just how much she'd been crying. "I changed my number... again."

"Why?" Wynonna asked cautiously. With Waverly at three months pregnant, she'd learned not to question her sister who had a tendency to go a little off the rails when her moods swung. This would be the second time she changed it since Nicole left and Wynonna was just starting to remember the new number.

"Because…" Waverly pursed her lips, setting Wynonna's phone on the table with a look of certainty. "I've been told by Nicole's ever-so-gracious sister that Nicole would like me to stop calling and while Becky would like to express her heartfelt apologies for my situation, she would prefer my stopping calling over getting a restraining order."

"What?" Wynonna was shocked. That didn't seem like anything Nicole would support. "Did you even tell her you were pregnant?"

"I wanted to tell Nicole directly but she's not calling me back…" Waverly's fingers twitched as she looked up at the liquor shelf, her jaw clenching before she looked down at her stomach that was just starting to show. "Believe me, I told Becky that if she ever wants to be a part of her daughter's life, Nicole knows exactly where we live."

"Or son." Wynonna offered, getting a glare in response. "Daughter...definitely daughter." She held up both hands in surrender. "You know… I do work for the US Marshals…" She ran a fingertip around the edge of her empty teacup, not daring to refill it with whiskey lest she get an earful from her begrudgingly sober sister. "I could probably get you her contact info… you know… I mean Dolls gets these files somehow…How hard could it be?"

Waverly shook her head, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. "She's made her choice." She spoke softly as she sat down at the dinner table, her hand resting on her stomach as she let her thumb stroke the material of her shirt softly.


 

Wynonna tugged her jacket down a bit as she stepped out of the elevator, staring at the sign for a moment before she figured out which way to turn. "Shitty ass hotel," she commented, walking down the hallway. The numbers were a little blurrier than they should have been but it took all her effort to remember what she was looking for. "40...40...fuck…" She suddenly realized she'd forgotten exactly what door and settled on the one at the end of the hall, rapping her knuckles against the door. "Haught! Open the damn door!" She called out when her knocks went unanswered.

Curling her hand into a fist, she began to pound on the wood. "Wake your ass up, Nicole!"

The door she was pounding on suddenly opened, drawing the privacy chain taunt. "Look lady…" a short balding man gave her a dour look, his mustache drawn down in a frown. "I have no idea who yer lookin' for, but ain't no one named Nicole here."

Wynonna stepped back, confusion in her eyes. "Shit. Sorry…" When the door across the hall opened, revealing a very unamused Nicole, Wynonna gave him an apologetic smile. "Super my bad. Sorry."

Despite her dishevelled look, Nicole didn't argue as Wynonna slipped into her room. Instead she just raised a hand in apology to the room across from her own before shutting the door and turning to Wynonna. "Was there a public announcement I was in town somewhere?" She spoke in a monotone voice. "Is there a line of people out there waiting to kick my ass?"

Wynonna looked around the room, noting the way red eyes followed her as she poked around. "It's a little early to hit the hay isn't it?" She'd noticed the way Nicole was swaying slightly standing there, and for a moment was glad to see her a bit unkempt. She wasn't exactly able to handle liquor like the Earps could, never was able to. "But I guess you've got an early flight back to Chicago tomorrow right?"

"No actually I don't, but I do have an appointment with breakfast." Nicole ran a hand through her hair, sighing softly before slipping on the complimentary robe and tying off the sash. "What are you doing here, Wynonna?"

Moving to the small condiment table, Wynonna lifted a printed menu for the collection of mini bottles in the bar, noticing the hefty price of each. Unrepentantly, she picked up the small bottle of Jack, twisting off the top before Nicole could stop her. "Long time no see, Haught."

Nicole snorted, arms cruising over her chest. "I'm really tired right now. Can you please just...Don't start."

"Start? What's there to start?" Something strange caught Wynonna's eye and she blinked, momentarily nonplussed. Her fingers closed over cardstock as she turned to face Nicole, tucking the clue into her pants as she downed the contents of the bottle. "Strange, you comin' around here… particularly now… aren't you some fancy lawyer now?" She'd noticed the small collection of jewelry on the dresser and the neatly pressed clothes in the open closet. "Shouldn't you be in Chicago?"

An unamused eyebrow rose. "I don't always choose the cases I work on."

"What case?"

Nicole clicked her tongue. "See, I can't really tell you that. Years with the Black Badge didn't teach you about attorney-client privilege?" Only then did her mind process what was said. "How did you know I was a lawyer?"

Wynonna canted her head to the side before snorting. "You know I was never one for rules." She shrugged, noticing the way Nicole took a seat on the edge of her bed, her fingertips smoothing back the blanket. She didn't comment on the way half the bed was filled with pillows - she didn't ignore it either. "One thing I did learn with Black Badge was… how to find someone."


 

HONK! Wynonna jumped as she accidentally hit the center of the steering wheel while stripping out of her leather jacket. It was the middle of Summer and despite the dark skies, she was getting sick of the unbearable heat. She didn't know how Americans dealt with temperatures that could hit so high.

Lifting up the cheap pair of binoculars she'd purchased at a bargain store, Wynonna could get a good view of the restaurant. It had taken a moment to find Nicole, having not expected her to have dyed her hair brown and trimmed to shoulder-length, but once she did, she was shocked. Gone was the town sheriff, the Black Badge deputy that could kick a door down without a second thought. In her place was a sophisticated lawyer, dressed in a sleek black dress, just enough jewelry to took elegant as she sipped her glass of wine. That wasn't the shocking part.

The shocking part was the woman sitting across from Nicole. Waif thin, tall, and glaringly blonde, she was everything Waverly wasn't, and yet Nicole leaned in, saying something that was apparently funny, both women laughing.

This would be the perfect time to interrupt, Wynonna decided. "Nothing ruins a date like baby mama drama." She laughed to herself just before the passenger side door opened. "What the…" She paused as a familiar form slipped in, giving her a guarded look. "Oh well… hey there Dolls." She could tell by his expression that she was in trouble… that and the fact that he'd followed her to Chicago.

"Deputy Earp…" Dolls always used the title when he was aggravated, "it would be in your best interest to just… drive away."

Wynonna's eyes narrowed. That was the last thing she wanted to do. "How did you know where I'd be?"

Dolls took the binoculars away from her, tossing it on the back seat before he indicated the starter. "Do you honestly think someone digging up info on a fellow agent wouldn't ring a bell somewhere?" His voice was laden with irritation and disbelief. "Wynonna. Drive." He commanded.

Wynonna growled as she started the car. "I thought she wasn't an agent anymore."

"Agent Haught's status is none of your business."

"Yeah well you know Waverly is pregnant with her baby, right?"

Dolls gave her an emotionless look. Had he known? He didn't looked surprised, much to Wynonna's aggravation. "Look…" He shook his head. "Waverly wouldn't want you here."

Wynonna winced. "You don't know that." It was so true.

"Yes I do, and so do you." Finally his voice grew softer, the one that always got Wynonna's compliance. "Wynonna… please… just drive."

She didn't offer any arguments. Couldn't think of any. Instead she just did as he said, starting the car.


 

"I know all about you, working with mommy and daddy at the big law firm." Wynonna snorted. "You've made quite a name for yourself." She leaned against the dresser, arms crossing over her chest.

Nicole shrugged. "You would think that if anyone understood the pressure of family legacies, it would be an Earp."

Wynonna had to give her that. "You're right…" There was a part of her that missed the friend she'd made 20-something years ago. Years of fighting together and she and Nicole had bonded to the point that Wynonna might have called her a best friend at one time, but the woman in front of her was barely recognizable.

So while there was a part of her that wanted to extend that welcome, the hand of friendship, it was overshadowed by the part of her that was loyal to her blood. That was the part of her that remembered what it was like having to pick up the pieces of Waverly that had been left behind, trying to glue her back together.


 

Wynonna paused as she came down the stairs, having heard what sounded like a sniffle on top of the sound of babbling gibberish she'd gotten used to the past 6 months. Stepping into the living room, she found Waverly sitting on the floor, knees hugged to her chest as she watched Whitney swatting away at dangling toys that hung above her.

At six months old, Whitney was finally at that age where she could entertain herself, gumming anything and everything she could find. "Hey Baby Girl...ssss." She corrected herself.

Waverly started, her hand coming up to quickly wipe away the tears. "Hey!" She put on a smile that conveyed more sadness than anything else. "I thought you were going into the city."

Having heard her favorite person's voice, Whitney squealed, using her new ability to roll onto her stomach and beginning to wiggle her way towards Wynonna, having not exactly figured out how to crawl just yet.

"Dolls decided to investigate another lead." Wynonna smirked, reaching out only to be stopped by Waverly's voice.

"Did you wash your hands?" Waverly asked accusingly.

"Of course I did." Wynonna rolled her eyes before scooping up the infant. "Hey Sweet Cheeks." She grimaced as she got a headbutt to the chin. "Ow. Easy there. You're a little too young for those Earp fighting skills to start coming in." It took a second before she realized what she said and saw Waverly's eyes begin to shake with emotion. "Waverly…"

"It's fine." Waverly waved her off, resting her chin on her knees as she watched Wynonna trying to untangle a small fist from her hair. "She just…" she shook her head. "She looks so much like her, Wynonna."

"What?" Wynonna snorted. "No way. Look at these cheeks."

"Look at that hair."

It was unavoidable, the soft auburn hair that was just beginning to curl at the tips. And her tiny Nicole ears. At least that's what Waverly had called them. Waverly had once said they were exact replicas of Nicole's ears. Wynonna wasn't sure about that. She'd never noticed.

Whitney was turning out to be everything Waverly had wanted, as close a replica as possible to Nicole

"This hair?" Wynonna pressed a kiss to the crown of Whitney's head before hugging her close. "It'll darken." Scooting over, she wrapped an arm around Waverly, pulling her in for a hug.

Finally Waverly broke, burying her face in Wynonna's shoulder. "I don't know if I can do this alone."

Wynonna awkwardly shifted Whitney so she could more easily hug Waverly. "Hey. You're not going to do this alone." She held the hug as long as a wiggling infant would allow before pulling back. "You have me and Gus… Sometimes Doc and Dolls…" When Waverly gave her a look, she laughed. "Ok… you have me and Gus. We're always going to be here for you."

Even if Nicole wasn't, her mind completed.


 

Wynonna looked around the room once more, at the expensive jewelry and rich clothes, snorting softly. "Maybe it was a good thing you left." When Nicole didn't respond, she moved to the door, pausing with her hand on the knob. "You've got the job, and the money, and no doubt the fancy corner office, but really what else do you have?" Turning, she saw Nicole staring at the ground, not even daring to look up.

"Maybe once upon a time, I would have considered you a sister… but family doesn't just pick up and leave when shit hits the fan." Wynonna swallowed, knowing she was maybe going too far, but she never got to say her peace 20 years ago and she was damned if she wasn't going to take the opportunity now. "But you know what? We broke the curse without you. Purgatory survived without you. And Waverly? She's done just fine without you too. They both have." She didn't wait for a response, didn't give Nicole the opportunity to respond as she opened the door and walked out.

Chapter Text

“Somewhere deep inside
You must know I miss you
But what can I say?
Rules must be obeyed”

 

"What about this one?” Waverly took a sip from her wine glass before setting it on the end table, showing her tablet screen to Nicole. They were tucked together on Nicole’s old love seat, legs tangled together as they searched through possible donors on the sperm bank’s website.

Nicole craned her head to read over the page she was shown, rolling her eyes before pressing a kiss to Waverly’s temple. “Are you sure you want this kid to have red hair?”

"Uh huh.” Waverly tipped her head up, finding Nicole’s lips easily for a kiss. “I want her… to look… just like you.” She whispered between soft kisses, finding herself easily left breathless. They’d finally decided that she was going to carry Nicole’s child, leaving Nicole still able to work while Waverly would be able to relax. As if that was a real thing.

"Her huh?” Nicole mumbled against unrelenting lips. “You’re sure it’s gonna be a girl.”

“Uh huh.” Waverly nipped at Nicole’s bottom lip. “All I want is a beautiful, tall, red-headed girl… Even if she might smell like copper.”

“What?” Nicole pulled away from the kiss, a mock horrified look on her face.

“And I mean… even if gingers do consume people’s souls and…” She didn’t get the rest out before long, tapered fingers attacked her side, easily slipping beyond her defenses and finding her most ticklish spots. “Nicole!” She squealed, trying to squirm away.

“I… do not… smell like copper…” Nicole grit out, having no mercy as she slipped a hand down Waverly’s side to get to her ticklish hip.

Apparently a master of combat and defense, Waverly slipped a hand through auburn locks, pulling Nicole forward for a deep kiss.

It was like magic, Nicole decided, how easily she could be distracted with a kiss. Ever since they’d made the decision to have children, it was like she couldn’t get enough of Waverly. Maybe it was something as simple as hormones, some natural reaction to the thought of procreation in turn increasing libido, but she had no complaints. Especially as Waverly deepened the kiss, a hot tongue teasing her lips. There was the sound of tablets being hastily moved to the end table before she pulled Waverly onto her lap, feeling the strong thighs straddling her own.

Breaking off the kiss with a gasp, Waverly caressed a flushed cheek with a hand, her thumb tracing Nicole’s beestung bottom lip.

God she’s beautiful, Nicole thought as Waverly leaned forward, tilting Nicole’s head to the side so she could brush her lips along her jaw, taking in a long and undoubtedly hedonistic breath.

“You’re right.” Waverly groaned into her ear. “You don’t smell like copper.” Waverly nipped the skin of the ear lobe before leaning back, eyes clouded with desire watching Nicole closely. “You did, however… capture my soul.”

Nicole swallowed audibly, her hands sliding up Waverly’s thighs. She could feel the way the muscles twitched just slightly under her touch. “I like to think it was a mutual exchange.” She hooked her hands behind Waverly’s knees, pulling her closer. “Maybe baby number 2 could look a little more like you?” She suggested as her hands slid up Waverly’s sides, bringing her top up and off, leaving her in her bra and cut off shorts. “Cause you’ve got pretty fantastic genes.”

“Oh... baby number 2 now?” Waverly laughed.

“That’s what you backwater rednecks do right?” She laughed at Waverly’s shocked look. “Get knocked up in high school out of wedlock... Keep the women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?” She laughed as she found her hands pinned to the loveseat.

“Backwater rednecks?” Waverly gave her a fierce look. “Look here, Miss Haught. You may have a cute tushi, but that’s not gonna save you. I mean yes at least 4 girls were pregnant my senior year but that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in traditional…”

“Then marry me.”

Waverly froze, her hands releasing Nicole’s wrists. “What?”

Nicole chuckled as she sat up a little straighter, her hands settling on Waverly’s hips. She’d expected the surprise. In truth, she’d wanted to propose since just months after they met, and quite frankly she wasn’t sure why she hadn’t. “My daddy always taught me marriage comes before children, and you know it would only make legal sense…”

“Oh…” Waverly’s face fell, a look of troubled disappointment coming over her eyes. She seemed to revert into her own thoughts and Nicole rolled her eyes, using the opportunity to reach over into the end table, finding a small box she’d hidden all the way in the back.

“Waverly.” Nicole laughed, getting the attention of unfocused eyes. “I also want to marry you because… well I don’t ever want to wake up without you there beside me.” She lifted Waverly’s hand, setting the box in her palm. “Marry me, Waverly Earp, not just because it would make total sense, but because I can’t imagine a day without you.”

Accepting the box, Waverly lifted the top, finding a simple solitaire diamond sitting in white gold. There was a moment, seconds really, that felt like an eternity passed before Waverly spoke.  “You know…” She looked up as Nicole lifted the ring from its velvet pillow. As it slid onto her finger, fitting perfectly, Waverly took a deep breath. “That’s awfully traditional for someone who makes it a habit to shun tradition.”

Setting the leather box aside, Nicole settled her hands back on Waverly’s hips. It was true, she hated most traditions, and until meeting Waverly, even hated the idea of marriage, but seeing the delighted look in brown eyes watching her, how could she hate that? “Some traditions are worth keeping, I suppose.”

Waverly wrapped her arms around Nicole’s neck, pulling her forward for another kiss.

Nicole resisted, shaking her head. “Say yes first.”

“Well...It would make legal sense,” Waverly repeated, finding better things to do with her lips since she was currently being denied a kiss. She moved slowly, caressing the line of Nicole’s jaw in an agonizingly slow tease. “Tell you what…I’ll say yes,” she lowered her voice, this close to Nicole’s ear, “if we…” As she whispered softly exactly what she wanted Nicole to do, Nicole’s hands tightened around her waist.

Nicole felt a wave of heat rush through her at the seductive words, felt the need she’d become accustomed to since the day she walked into Shorty’s to find a soaking wet waitress fighting with a beer tap. It was so easy, shifting her hold as she stood, feeling legs wrap around her waist as lips found her own. Years of practice allowed her to find her room easily, laying her precious cargo on the pillow top mattress before covering the shorter frame with her own.

She didn’t doubt that Waverly was going to say yes, tasted the acceptance in a deep kiss as her fingers found the button fly of cut off jeans shorts. Some traditions were definitely worth it, her mind repeated as her hand slid between skin and cotton panties to find slick arousal. Breaking off the kiss, she watched as lips pulled into a smirk. “I love you.” She whispered, afraid that speaking too loudly would ruin the moment, feeling hips begin to move against her hand.

“Don’t ever leave me.” Waverly responded simply, her fingers tangling in red hair.

“I won’t.” Nicole pressed into her, smiling as Waverly arched against her. “I’ll always be here.”

“LIAR!” Waverly suddenly screamed, pushing her away.

 


 

 

Nicole woke with a sudden jolt, her eyes scanning the room before she scrubbed her face with her palms. An uneasy rumble made itself known and she tasted acid at the back of her throat. “Fuck.” She barely made it to the bathroom before her stomach rebelled, before everything from last night came back to her, including the unknown number of shots she’d taken.

Including Waverly.

Including Wynonna.

She wanted to expel all the toxic emotions along with the alcohol, but her heart was far more stubborn than her stomach.

Rising on unsteady legs, Nicole moved to the sink, rinsing out her mouth and splashing water on her face. There was a tug in her chest, a pain that attempted to make itself known. She should have been able to ignore it. She was a professional at setting aside emotional baggage. After all, she’d had twenty years of practice.

But she couldn’t. As much practice as she’d had, she thought about Waverly and how angry she’d been and she hated her subconscious, the way it preyed on her in her sleep, reminding her of a time long past -- the past and present twisting together to torment her dreams.

She wished it could be something she could forget, to move on and just live her life, but she found herself digging through her bag, pulling out a small box she’d stuffed in there on a whim before leaving Chicago. It was still the same, a little aged, but she could remember the weight of it. She’d thought about selling it, thought about ridding her life of the reminder, but overcome with some ridiculous nostalgia and a horrible case of remember when s, she pulled back the lid. While the outside was a little worn, the sun found no trouble in reflecting off the faceted surface, Nicole wincing at the flash of light on her retinas and heart.

 


 

“Messenger dropped that off.” Becky gave her a nonchalant look.

Nicole looked at the box sitting in the middle of her desk. There was no card. No letter. Just a box and a ring, shining in the sunlight like it was a goddamn sword waiting to be pulled from the stone.

It hadn’t been that long ago that she’d been in the car, hearing Waverly and Champ arguing about a pregnancy.

It was over. She wanted to scream, but definitely not in front of her sister.

“So,” Becky seemed at least a little cautious. “About that blind date… You have to say yes.” Becky leaned against the desk. “Morgan is beautiful, sweet, and a hell of a lawyer. You guys will hit it off perfectly.”

That was the last thing she wanted. Nicole sighed softly, opening the drawer beside her desk and dropping the box in it, shutting away the memories. “Becky…”

“You don’t have to marry her, Nicole.” Becky rolled her eyes. “You don’t even have to sleep with her, but seriously, you pining away for someone who obviously has moved on is not healthy.”

Nicole didn’t want to hear it. The thought of being with anyone else caused her heart to flutter, for bile to rise in her throat.

“It’s just drinks.”

She could really use a drink, Nicole thought as her eyes fell on the closed drawer. She could use… like a few bottles. “Fine,” she hissed, even if she knew it was a bad idea.

 


 

Nicole tucked the ring back into her bag. What the hell had she been thinking? She was out of her mind thinking anything even close to reconnecting was possible. Waverly had made that painfully obvious, but as she thought about the visit, something seemed off, something on the edge of her tongue, teasing her. There was something she was missing.

She wanted to add everything up, to take stock of the random information she’d been tossed yesterday. She wanted to kickstart that legal analysis part of her brain that helped her win cases, but when she tried, her brain seemed to hug itself tight, burrowing deep inside itself and sending a defensive attack out against her, leaving her stumbling around the room looking for some aspirin.  

“Fuck,” she cursed, her eyes taking in the sight of all the discarded empties from the mini bar, wishing she could blame it all on Wynonna. Another pain lanced through her head, reminding her how untrue that was and she reached for the phone, hitting 0. It took everything in her not to hang up when a cheerful voice answered, telling her what a glorious day it was outside in Purgatory today and not to miss the town square’s festival lights when evening rolled around. “This is room 407,” she grit out after the woman’s spiel was done, “I need about 4 aspirin, coffee… lots of coffee… and water.”

Her phone ringing caught her attention and she scrambled for it. She was supposed to meet Whitney at the diner in less than an hour. There was a part of her that hoped that was her asking to cancel, freeing Nicole from any other obligation.

“Hello?” She answered, instantly realising she should have checked who was calling.

Why the hell are you in Purgatory ?” Becky’s voice came in loud and hard.

“How the hell…” Nicole found an unopened bottle of water amongst the empty bottles scattered around the mini bar and thankfully unscrewed it. “Are you spying on me?” She asked before gulping down the water. She didn’t need an answer. It wasn’t anything new for her family.

 


 

“It’s my money.” Nicole argued, pacing back and forth in the bedroom. It was almost impossible to get any sort of privacy in the tiny apartment, but Waverly was at least pretending she wasn’t listening. That in itself was a blessing. She really wasn’t in the mood for another argument.

“You’ve gone through $40,000 in the past year, Nicky.” Her father’s voice was patronising as ever. “You’re worrying your mother.”

Nicole took a steadying breath, not wanting to say something she’d regret. “She wouldn’t have anything to worry about if you weren’t spying on my finances.”

“Nonsense. It’s not spying. I’m your father.”

“Just…” Nicole could feel the anger radiating through her. It scared her just a bit, the way she wanted to hit something… anything. “You have to let me live my life.” She pinched the bridge of her nose, afraid she might get a nosebleed from the stress of dealing with her family. “Like I told you before, Waverly and I are trying to have a baby and I don’t care if I drain my savings to do it.” Trying was the word. No matter how many rounds of expensive shots and probing, extracting and fertilizing eggs, implanting embryo…

“Don’t be silly. You know…”

“I’m not talking about this with you anymore, Dad. Tell Mom I love her and I’ll call next week.” She didn’t let him respond, just hung up the phone before setting it on the charger. With a soft sigh she turned to find an emotionless mask watching her, Waverly standing in the doorway. She had her arms crossed over her chest, hugging herself close but beyond that, there was nothing else.

Nicole missed the old smile and wave. She missed...Waverly. How could she miss someone while standing less than ten feet away? “Sorry about that. Are you ready for your shot?”

Waverly didn’t say anything, just nodded before turning back towards the kitchen.  

 


 

“You need to leave Purgatory right now.”

Nicole rolled her eyes. “I’m not a child and you are definitely not in charge of me.” She sighed. She really wasn’t in the mood to deal with her sister, even if Christmas was coming. “Tell Mom and Dad I said Merry Christmas.”

“Seriously. You don’t understand. You need to…”

Nicole hung up the phone when there was a knock at the door. Dropping it on the blankets, she moved to answer. She was thankful it wasn’t Randy again. Thankfully it wasn’t anyone she recognized or vice versa.

“Someone had a bit of a night, huh?” The old woman smiled, her cheeks plump and rosy. “We’ve got some aspirin, coffee, and a lot of water. The kitchen also threw in some muffins if you would like.”

Nicole signed the receipt, managing to conjure up a bit of a smile. “Thank you.”

Looking at the tray, Nicole took a deep breath, thinking about the day ahead of her. She really needed to get the hell out of Purgatory, but first she’d agreed to breakfast. Eyeing the muffins, she reached for one and ripped off the muffin top, preferring to eat the streusel top alone. It was sweet, delicious, and probably just what she needed to help soak up whatever alcohol was left in her stomach.

  


 

Whitney checked her reflection in the storefront window of the pawn shop, smoothing back her hair and making sure she didn’t have pink lipstick smeared on her teeth. She hardly slept at all the night before, even though she had been exhausted after staying up ‘til the wee hours of the morning with Anna and Jen assembling new centerpieces. They had managed to finish even though her Aunt Wynonna had pitched in, and all her “help” eventually had to be redone by her mother.

Her mom had seemed distracted even though she had smiled through the rest of the night. But Whitney knew better. Could always tell when her mom was trying to hide something behind false cheer. Coupled with her anxiety over inviting Nicole Haught to her wedding and meeting her for breakfast, the sight of her mother in subtle distress made Whitney’s stomach wrench. So much so that she couldn’t rest, and she had been up and out of bed before the sunrise.

“Whit,” Jesse said with exasperation a few steps ahead. “That’s the third time you’ve done that.” He walked back and kissed her cheek. “You’re gorgeous as always.”

Whitney rolled her eyes, but couldn’t hold back a flattered smile. “You have to say that, or I’ll leave your ass at the altar.”

“Even if you did,” Jesse placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and guided her back in the direction of the pancake house, “you’d still be gorgeous. Unlike me and this shiner.” He pointed to the purplish bruising around his right eye.

“My poor guy.” Whitney leaned up to gently kiss the edge of his black eye. “Does it hurt still?” Whitney leaned into Jesse’s warmth, hoping his tall frame and bulky uniform jacket might shield the brunt of the frigid winds and dusting of snow that descended upon Purgatory overnight.

“Nah, barely felt it.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they continued walking, their boots crunching in tandem through the frost on the ground. “So who exactly are we meeting that you’re suddenly so self-conscious?”

“I told you, an old friend.”

“But no one I should be worried about, right?” He played it off as a joke, but Whitney could hear the uncertainty in his voice.

“Don’t be silly.” Whitney nudged him with her elbow. “She’s a…a family friend.” It was the truth. But not the whole truth , her guilty conscience whispered back.

“Then how come I’ve never seen or heard of her before?”

“She moved away a long time ago and hasn’t been back since.” Whitney shrugged as nonchalantly as possible. “ It happens.” She playfully jabbed at his ribs with her elbow. “What’s with the interrogation, huh? It’ll be another few years before you’re eligible for the detective’s exam.”

Jesse winced. “Ah, sorry. I think I’m just a little on edge with all the surprises lately. There seem to be a lot more than usual.”

“Yeah…” She knew she should tell Jesse about who Nicole Haught really was, but she didn’t want to deal with a potentially negative reaction before their meal. “It just seems like that because of the extra stress of the wedding,” Whitney tried to rationalize, even though she too felt like they had hit a patch of bad luck, from the broken centerpieces and Jesse’s black eye to a text from her tailor stating that the stitching for all of the tuxedo and bridesmaid dress alterations had mysteriously come undone overnight.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Jesse nodded.

“Damn right, I’m right.” Whitney smirked. “And don’t you forget it.”

“Never.” Jesse sealed his promise with a quick peck on Whitney’s lips as they approached the old diner.

Through one of the foggy windows, she already could make out Nicole sitting in one of the booths and scanning the menu. Whitney’s heart skipped a beat. “She’s here.”

“Well then, let’s not make her wait.” Jesse walked forward and held open the front door. “After you, m’lady,” he said, gesturing her inside.

“Why thank you kindly, Officer James.” Whitney curtseyed before stepping into a warm blast of heated air and the mouthwatering aromas of fresh-brewed coffee, buttermilk pancakes, and sizzling bacon.

Whitney took Jesse by the hand, leading him past a partly torn “Seat Yourself” sign and toward Nicole’s table. She looked up as they approached, a smile on her face when she saw Whitney. It faltered when she noticed the sheriff’s deputy next to her.

“Hey Nicole.” Whitney smiled and waved, just like her mom had taught her to put people at ease. It seemed to work, as Nicole’s shoulders loosened.

“Morning,” Nicole said as she stood to greet them. Dressed in black corduroys and a blue cashmere sweater over a white oxford, Nicole appeared more relaxed than she had the previous night. And if she was hungover at all, she didn’t show it.

“I hope you don’t mind, I brought my fiancé Jesse along,” Whitney gestured to Jesse, “I like to make sure he eats a proper breakfast before work. Sometimes he forgets.”

Nicole shook her head. “Not at all. In fact, I’ve done that myself at times.” She stuck out a hand, an easy smile on her face. “Nicole Haught. Congratulations on your wedding.”

Whitney held her breath.

“Jesse James,” he said. They shook hands firmly, once up and down. “And thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

“Please, just Nicole,” she said. “And the pleasure’s all mine.” She directed them toward the opposite side of the booth. “Have a seat.”

Whitney exhaled, her stomach unknotting somewhat. She took off her coat and handed it to Jesse, who hung it and his jacket onto the hook on the side of their bench. The faded green vinyl of the booth creaked and groaned as she and Jesse slid into their seats.

“Tough night?” Nicole asked Jesse once they were settled.

“Hm?”

She pointed to her right eye.

“Oh that.” Jesse gave an embarrassed chuckle and scratched the back of his neck. “Some drunkard got loose from his cell somehow. Took me by surprise. Gonna make for some interesting wedding photos, that’s for sure.”

“Thank god for concealer and photoshop,” Whitney chimed in.

Nicole winced in sympathy. “Late night shift at the drunk tank. Been there and definitely don’t miss it.”

Whitney bit her tongue as Jesse raised his eyebrows. “You’re a cop?” He asked.

Nicole’s gaze slid toward Whitney, who half shrugged helplessly, hoping that Nicole would keep her word about not revealing too much. “Not anymore,” she replied casually. “Not for a long time.”

Before Jesse could ask a follow-up, their server moseyed up to the table, a portly old woman named Betty Johnson. “What can I get you two lovebirds?” She smiled warmly at Jesse and Whitney, but then frowned at Nicole. “And uh…” Betty squinted at Nicole through her large, coke-bottle glasses. “Have we met before, miss?”

“It’s Nicole, Betty,” Nicole said, lips curving into a tentative smile. “Nicole Haught.”

“Officer Haught, as I live and breathe!” Betty laughed. “My, it’s been a while! C’mere and give an old lady a hug!”

Whitney watched as Nicole reluctantly got to her feet and was swept into a bear hug. “Gosh, I haven’t seen you in, what? Twenty some years?”

“Something like that yeah,” Nicole said, surprised, awkwardly patting Betty’s back. Whitney had to hide a smile beneath a paper napkin.

Betty finally released Nicole, who sunk back onto her seat, cheeks pink. “She was my favorite deputy way back when,” she explained to a dumbfounded Jesse. “Used to help me get my cats down from the trees. You could learn a thing or two, Jesse.” She turned back toward Nicole, covered the side of her mouth, and stage-whispered, “He’s scared of ‘em.”

“Not scared!” Jesse defended. “Just, allergic.”

“Uh huh,” Betty rolled her eyes. “So I’m guessing the wedding brought you back into town?” She clicked her tongue, her gaze appraising as it bounced from Nicole to Whitney and back to Nicole again. Whitney felt her stomach sink. Did Betty know? Did everyone but her know about Nicole? “I’m glad everything worked out. I was hoping for a good long while.”

Nicole tensed, but kept a polite smile on her face. “Me too,” she said, her voice imperceptibly strained.

Oblivious to any growing tension, Betty whipped out a pencil and a small note pad. She licked the lead tip. “So what can I get y’all to drink?”

“Cappuccino, please,” Nicole and Whitney replied at the same time. Their brown eyes locked as Betty hummed and wrote down their order. It was just a drink -- a drink her mom always seemed to dislike for no apparent reason -- but the coincidence, and the thoughtful look on Nicole’s face, made Whitney’s stomach flip.

Jesse ordered a black coffee and Betty shuffled away, promising to return quickly.

“So you used to work for the sheriff’s department?” Jesse asked, and Whitney inwardly cringed. She wondered if he remembered the personnel file from yesterday.

Nicole swallowed, but nodded. “Sure did.”

“Huh.” Jesse’s brow furrowed, a contemplative look passing across his face as he regarded Nicole. He was about to ask another question when his eyes widened and he suddenly lifted up his menu, ducking his head behind it. “Ah shit.”

Nicole and Whitney’s lips turned down into near identical frowns. “What’s wrong?” Whitney asked.

“Ah, it’s just my dad,” Jesse explained. “I haven’t told him about the shiner yet and I’m not too keen to hear a lecture about he’d never let anyone lay a finger on him.”

Both women looked out the window and, sure enough, Champ Hardy was strutting across the other side of the street, no doubt on his way for a drink at Shorty’s. He paid no mind to the diner or its occupants.

“Is he gone?” Jesse asked.

“Yeah, baby, he’s gone,” Whitney chuckled, lowering the menu. She glanced at Nicole, who shook her head, eyebrows knitted.

“I’m sorry,” Nicole said. “But Champ Hardy is your dad?”

“Yup,” Jesse grimaced. “I love him and all, but sometimes he can be a bit much, you know?”

Nicole stared at him for several long seconds before turning to Whitney. “But isn’t he your father too? Does that mean you two are…?”

It took a moment for Whitney to put two and two together, and when she did, she burst out laughing. “Champ? My father!?” She was glad they hadn’t received their drinks yet. The thought of her sharing genes with Champ made her want to upchuck.

“Last night at Shorty’s, you called him dad.”

“He insisted since I was marrying Jesse,” Whitney explained. “But,” she shuddered, “God, no, he is not my dad dad. No offense, Baby,” she added, kissing Jesse on the cheek.

“None taken,” Jesse sighed.

“But you said your last name is James,” Nicole continued, still very much confused. “Not Hardy.”

“Hardy’s his first name.” Jesse nodded. “Hardy James. Champ was just his old rodeo nickname.”

Mouth dropping open, Nicole looked completely floored, as if all the air had left her body, and Whitney couldn’t figure out why unless… Holy shit… If Nicole had thought Champ was her biological father, then maybe that meant…

She doesn’t know, Whitney thought, her heart clenching. She doesn’t know I’m her daughter.

“That’s um,” Nicole was at a loss for words.

“Did you know him?” Jesse asked. “My dad?”

“I did,” Nicole cleared her throat. “Actually, I kinda knocked him out once.”

“What?” Jesse and Whitney both exclaimed.

“At the Wainright. A long time ago.” Nicole fiddled with the napkin wrapped around her utensils, tearing off bits and pieces. “So don’t believe him if he ever says no one got the jump on him.”

Jesse laughed. “I won’t.” He and Nicole both grinned warmly at each other and Whitney swore her heart grew in size.

“You’re staying at the Wainright, aren’t you?” Whitney asked Nicole.

“Sure am.”

“You should come to our rehearsal dinner,” Whitney forged ahead, paying no mind to Jesse’s curious glance. “The pavilion isn’t ready at the Homestead yet, so we’re having it at the Wainright. We’d be honored if you could make it.” She slipped her hand into Jesse’s. “Right honey?”

“Ah,” Jesse shrugged. “The more the merrier, I suppose. Anyone who managed to floor my dad is always welcome in my book.”

“I… don’t know,” Nicole looked apologetically at Whitney. They both knew just who might think otherwise about Nicole being welcome. “Mind if I take some time to think about it?”

“Fair enough,” Whitney said as Betty returned with two cappuccinos and one black coffee, sliding piping hot mugs to their respective recipients. And as Jesse asked Nicole more about the night she flattened Champ, a plan began formulating in Whitney’s mind. But first, she had to get a hold of her Aunt Wynonna. If anyone would be a likely accomplice, it would be her.

 


 

Wynonna sat in the chair facing the front door, her fingers playing with an eggshell colored envelope. She’d seen many of them before, had received one herself at the mailbox Black Badge kept for her. Well, the one she’d received had been slightly different, she pondered as she thought about the information card tucked in the invitation, the phone number and email address changed to information that was still familiar, yet not the ones they should be.

And hers definitely didn’t have Nicole Haught’s address on the outside in handwriting that was most certainly not Waverly’s.

She’d found the envelope in her pants pocket when she’d woken up that morning and had a moment to take stock of her memories. To her credit, she at least woke up in Waverly’s bed and not some random stranger’s.

There had been a lot more alcohol and tears after Whitney and her friends had called it a night and she remembered passing out cuddling with a crying Waverly, but by the time she woke up, her sister was nowhere to be seen. Whitney was nowhere to be seen.

She thought about the confrontation with Nicole. It had been somewhat of a relief, freeing herself of what she'd wished she'd said twenty years ago,  but on another level,  seeing Nicole just take it all…

Wynonna shook her head. This wasn't the Nicole she remembered. Then again,  she doubted she herself was the same person Nicole remembered.  

She couldn't help but think about what they'd all been like back then. Back when Nicole and Waverly were ridiculously happy. When Black Badge had gone from their allies, to enemies, and back to allies more than a few times.  

Back when Doc still cared enough to watch over them, helping them despite his utter hatred for Black Badge.

Back when Dolls had been the solid rock she needed.

Wynonna didn’t want to think about Dolls and how she hadn’t heard back, but she was sure the Black Badge would notify her if anything serious was happening.

Wouldn't they?

Wynonna shook her head as she took a sip from her glass of bourbon. She had bigger things to worry about,  like the envelope and the car that pulled up to the homestead.

Wynonna sat a little straighter,  waiting for the front door to open.

“Oh, hey. You’re awake.” Whitney smiled.

Waverly had been right about one thing way back when, Wynonna decided. While Earps had their share of dimples in their blood, those were 100% Haught dimples. “Hey Baby Girl Junior.”

“Getting started early?” Whitney set her bag on the table, her eyes moving from the glass and back to Wynonna.

“Hair of the dog and all that.” Wynonna shrugged. “You know what they say. The best way to avoid a hangover is to just…”

“Keep drinking.” Whitney chuckled as she snagged the invitation from her aunt. “I can’t believe I’m getting married in 2 days. It just seems so…” Her words trailed off as she flipped the envelope over to the addressed side, eyes scanning the outside before lifting to look at Wynonna.

“Take a seat, Whit.”

Whitney didn’t argue, just slid into the seat facing her. “Where did you… how did you get this?”

“From the person it’s addressed to last night.” Wynonna sipped from her glass. She’d promised Waverly years ago that she wouldn’t tell Whitney about her parentage.

“Wait. You saw Nicole? She didn’t say…”

“Wait.” Wynonna sat up a little straighter. “You talked to…”

“My mother?” Whitney’s voice was soft, uncertain almost.

Wynonna set her empty glass down. Hearing Whitney say that, it left a bad taste in her mouth. “Waverly is your mother,” she said certainly, refilling her glass with the almost empty bottle.

Whitney snorted. “Obviously.” She paused momentarily, pursing her lips before continuing. “She is always going to be my mother, just like you’re always going to be my Aunt… there’s no… DNA doesn’t change that, ya know.”

Wynonna looked her over, not seeing any anger there like she’d expected. “How did you...”

Whitney shrugged, reaching into her bag and pulling out the journal. She didn’t know why she kept carrying it around. Something about it just felt… right. Maybe it made her feel a little closer to the women in it. Not just Nicole, but to the person her mother was twenty years ago. “I found a box in the attic with a bunch of old stuff…”

“I remember this.” Wynonna smirked, reaching for the book and flipping through the pages. “Wait… you read this?” At Whitney’s blush, she chuckled. “Yeah… I read a few pages of it back in the day…” When Whitney gave her a surprised look, she laughed. “What? You were an only child so you didn’t get the joy of spying on siblings.” She cringed. “So you got to read all about Mommy and her lady lover…” She snorted. “I’ve read fanfic with less graphic details.”

“I just...” Finally Whitney’s face turned troubled. “Why didn’t Mom tell her?”

“Hmmm?” Wynonna looked up from the journal. “Tell her what?”

“About me.”

Eyes pinched in confusion, Wynonna set the journal down. “What do you mean?”

Whitney took the book back, sliding it back into her bag. “She doesn’t know I’m her daughter.”

How was that even possible? Wynonna leaned forward. “What do you mean she doesn’t know?”

“Nicole…” Whitney hesitated. “She thought Champ was my father.”

It didn’t make sense. “But your mom…” Wynonna thought about the past, thought about the many times Waverly had broken down crying, the attempted calls, the disconnected number… She remembered the threat from Nicole’s sister… Becky. “That bitch.”

“Hey!”

“Not your mom…” Wynonna took a sip, thinking about what it all meant. “Your Aunt Becky.” Just the sound of it made her anger rise.

Whitney perked up.  “I have another aunt?”

“Oh you won't anymore… once I get my hands on her…” That had to be it, Wynonna decided. Nicole's sister had done it on purpose and they'd all been so willing to blame Nicole.  “Oh shit,” she realized how bad it had to look from the outside.

Nicole, for some reason, thought Waverly had gotten knocked up by Champ. Nicole, who had been so willing to accept blame for everything. But did she know the truth now? “What did you tell her?”

“Nothing. We were having breakfast. I wanted her to meet Jesse.” Whitney sighed softly, reaching for the bottle and taking a swig with a grimace. “I thought she knew.” She shook her head. “But then we saw Champ and Jesse called him dad and…” She laughed. “Man, she must have some ideas about Purgatory cause I swear she thought we were a REALLY close family…” She hesitated just a bit. “I… invited her to the rehearsal dinner.”

Wynonna paused mid-sip, swallowing what was already in her mouth hastily. “No you didn’t… of course you did.” She shook her head. She was Nicole’s by blood, but she sure did have that Earp trouble streak. Oh God , she thought as she went over the consequences. “Your mother thinks she knows.” She watched Whitney freeze, eyes doubling in size. “She thinks Nicole abandoned the both of you. That’s why she never brought it up. She didn’t want you to think that…” She paused again, feeling the empathetic heartbreak that she knew was inevitable. “All these years, she thought Nicole knew.”

“And if Nicole comes, they’re both going to be at the dinner tonight…”

“With Nicole thinking Champ got your mom pregnant and your mom thinking Nicole abandoned her….” Wynonna had to snort in laughter. “Well this is a goddamned Greek tragedy if there ever was one. They make Broadway musicals about this shit.”

“Okay but… in a musical there would be a happy ending…” Whitney smiled. “So…” She reached over and refilled Wynonna’s glass. “What say you?” She held the bottle out. “Wanna help me Parent Trap my moms?”

Wynonna picked the glass up, pursing her lips before tapping the edge of her glass to the bottle. The next few days were going to be interesting at least, she decided as she drank back the alcohol, feeling it warm her from within. It was a much better idea than focusing on her own shit show of a life. “Saddle up, Baby Girl Junior. We’re in for a wild ride.”

 


 

Twelve boxes were stacked on the store’s glass counter, separated into two mini-towers of pink. John Baker, the 16-year-old son of Bob and Edith Baker of Purgatory’s finest (read: only) bakery, proudly opened up one box for Waverly to inspect. Inside, one dozen cupcakes were arranged neatly, each one with elegant swirls of white frosting topped with one pink rose blossom.

Waverly leaned in and breathed in the sugary richness. “They look amazing,” she said, trying to hide her relief. With everything that had gone wrong with the wedding lately, she was just waiting for another shoe to drop. “You all really outdid yourselves this time.”

“Thanks, Ms. Waverly,” John blushed, nervously smoothing down the front of his flour-stained apron. “If you give me a minute to assist some customers, I can carry the boxes to your car.”

Waverly waved him off, already pulling the first stack toward her. “You’ve got the holiday rush to take care of.” She glanced at the growing line of people waiting to be served, some of them glowering at Waverly and John with thinly veiled impatience. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine.”

John nodded. “Well, enjoy the rehearsal tonight. We’ll have the cake delivered to the Homestead before the big day.”

“Thanks John.” Waverly adjusted the knit cap on her head and hitched up her tote bag higher on her shoulder, wishing she had emptied it out a bit or left it in the jeep as she lifted half a dozen boxes. They were a bit heavier than they looked, but she was sure she’d manage just fine. She approached the door and turned around to back into it. The boxes wobbled mid-push and Waverly paused to adjust her grip. Just as she was confident they weren’t going to go tumbling out of her arms, someone behind her said,

“Here, let me get that for you.”

It was simultaneously the last voice she wanted to hear and, though she would never admit it, the only voice she wanted to hear. The one that had been echoing throughout her mind all night long.

Waverly’s heart pounded as the weight of the door eased off her shoulders. She shivered as a freezing rush of air stung her skin. Bracing herself, she turned to see Nicole holding the door open for her and, goddammit, looking as gorgeous as ever in her gray peacoat, dark pants, and blue beanie. A tentative smile adorned her face and Waverly hated the way her stomach still flipped at the sight of Nicole’s stupid dimples.

“I had it under control,” Waverly grumbled out, knowing she was being rude but unable to stop herself. Clenching her jaw, she brushed past Nicole and stepped onto the sidewalk.

Nicole shrugged and let the door close. “That’s an interesting way of thanking someone.”

“I’m not thanking you,” Waverly snapped. “I didn’t need your help.”

“I know you didn’t,” Nicole said. “But I wanted to lend a hand.”

“Yeah? You’re about 20 years too late for that.” The words tumbled off Waverly’s tongue before she could stop them.

Pain flashed in Nicole’s eyes. She blinked it back in a second, but Waverly still felt a pang of guilt.

Nicole shoved her gloved hands inside her pockets, resembling a chastised puppy despite her attempt at nonchalance. “Have a good day, Waverly.”

Waverly hesitated, torn between wanting to apologize and wanting to indulge in two decades of pent-up resentment. But she knew, deep down, that lashing out at Nicole wouldn’t change the past; wouldn’t erase years of grief; wouldn’t suddenly make her feel better about what they lost. So she did the only thing she could do: nod and walk away.

Like the previous night, Waverly was proud of herself for not giving into temptation and glancing back, at least after the first few steps. But the pull to sneak one more glimpse of Nicole was harder to resist that morning. She blew out a frustrated breath that billowed out like a white stream of smoke. One peek couldn’t hurt, could it?

When Waverly reached an intersection and started to cross the street, she took the chance to look back, not noticing the frozen puddle just past the curb. The heel of her boot slid on the patch of ice. She let out a yelp as she lost her footing and stumbled backward until a strong hand steadied her from behind while an arm quickly wrapped around her to stop the boxes from tumbling to the ground.

“Careful,” Nicole’s voice puffed against Waverly’s ear. Vanilla and shea butter enveloped Waverly, whose pulse fluttered at the warm, familiar scent.

Flushing, she pulled away from Nicole, careful to step back onto the sidewalk. The boxes remained safely in her arms and she sighed in relief.

“I…” Waverly began.

“Didn’t need my help, I know,” Nicole finished for her. “For what it’s worth, I wasn’t trying to help you.”

“No?”

Nicole shrugged. “I didn’t want anything to happen to the pastries.”

Waverly would have chuckled if not for the fact that she was embarrassed, and that she couldn’t believe she was even having this conversation with Nicole. “Cupcakes, actually. I suppose even they’re a little grateful.”

And perhaps Waverly was too despite her earlier surliness. The last thing she wanted was for anything else to potentially ruin Whitney’s wedding.

Nicole ducked her head down, a half-smile appearing before she looked back up and across the street. “Signal’s back on,” she said.

Nodding, Waverly turned back toward the street and began crossing, this time keeping an eye out for icy areas. She felt, rather than heard, Nicole follow after her. Waverly glanced backward and, sure enough, Nicole was trailing behind a few feet. Any lingering gratitude that Waverly might have felt from Nicole’s safe melted back into irritation.

“Why are you following me?” Waverly asked through gritted teeth.

“I’m not,” Nicole casually replied.

“This isn’t the way to the Wainright.”

“Who says I’m going to the Wainright?”

Waverly huffed out and continued walking forward, picking up her pace. She would just have to ignore her. Nicole didn’t follow suit, just maintained the same ambling pace, as if she were strolling down the street on a warm spring day.

Just as Waverly reached her Jeep, she felt the cardboard of the bottom box start to give way. “Shit,” she cursed, trying to arrange her arms beneath it to keep it from falling apart. Perhaps she had accidentally torn it during her near fall. There was no way she could fish her keys out of her purse and unlock her doors and trunk without sacrificing the cupcakes. She considered placing the stack of boxes on the ground, but it was covered in brown slush from the ice melt the town had laid the night before.

“Looks like the cupcakes could use a bit more help,” Nicole commented as she approached.

If Waverly had any hands free, she’d be tempted to smack Nicole. But instead she thought again of Whitney and swallowed her pride. “Just get your ass over here, Haught.”

Jogging forward, Nicole took the boxes from Waverly and secured the base of the one on the bottom. Their gloved hands brushed, and even that small amount of contact sent a jolt through Waverly, who quickly stepped back and focused on getting her trunk open. She told herself she hated it. Hated that Nicole still had that effect on her.

“New car,” Nicole commented as she gently laid the boxes down in the trunk. “When’d you get it?”

“A while ago,” Waverly found herself responding even though it was really none of Nicole’s business. “Whit…” She swallowed. “Some people convinced me it was time to upgrade. Nothing lasts forever, no matter how much you want it to.”

Nicole blinked at Waverly. “Right.”

An awkward silence settled between them and Waverly shifted her weight from one foot, unsure how to proceed. “Don’t you have other work to do besides saving cupcakes?” She asked lightly as she shut the trunk.

“Nothing more important than that,” Nicole said. “I don’t really have anything planned, except maybe pay my respects to Nedley. Finally.”

Waverly held her breath, remembering how she had hoped years ago to see Nicole at the memorial service. How, despite insisting that she was over Nicole, she still was crushed when Nicole hadn’t shown up.

“I should have come then,” Nicole said softly, as if reading Waverly’s thoughts. “I should have come back a lot sooner.”

Nicole locked eyes with Waverly, a quiet conviction in her brown eyes so intense that Waverly had to look away, suddenly breathless. “You’re here now,” Waverly said. “That’s something.”

“Is it?”

Waverly nodded. “I’m sure it is to Nedley.”

Nicole swiped at her nose, red from the cold. “Then I’d best be going.”

“Did you want a ride?” Waverly blurted out, surprising them both. “It’s freezing and, well, it’s the least the cupcakes could do to thank you.”

A slow smile spread across Nicole’s face, making Waverly’s traitorous heart thud warmly against her chest. “I appreciate the offer, but I’ll have to respectfully decline. It’s not that much farther and I could use the exercise.”

“Okay,” Waverly said, annoyed at herself for the disappointment sinking in her stomach. “I guess I’ll… see you around.” She didn’t know why she said it. Nicole would be long gone again before she knew it.

Nicole only nodded, eyes following Waverly as she hopped in her Jeep and turned on the ignition. Don’t look back. Don’t look back. Don’t look back. Waverly pulled away from the curb and made her way back to the bakery to pick up the last of the boxes. She would be damned if she carried the rest of them that far again. She turned on her hazards and got out of her car. When she was back on the sidewalk, she couldn’t stop herself from looking back down the street one more time.

It looked as if Nicole was typing out a text before she tucked her phone back in her coat pocket. She glanced up and, even from a distance, even as much as she didn’t want to acknowledge it, Waverly could still feel a connection between them, an invisible string tying them together after all this time. Nicole gave her a small wave and then turned back in the direction of the cemetery while Waverly, ignoring the pull to go after Nicole, swung open the bakery’s door and walked inside.

Chapter Text

You and I know
How the heartaches come and they go
And the scars they're leavin'
You'll be dancin' once again
And the pain will end
You will have no time for grievin'

 

"Pardon me." Tall, thin, and with a white handlebar mustache, the man tipped his hat after having accidently bumped into Jesse.

"No problem." Jesse tipped his own stetson, stepping aside until the way into the station was clear. He felt a bit of levity, breakfast with Whitney always bringing a smile to his face. The warmth of the station felt blissful as he stepped out of the frigid cold, hanging his jacket and hat on his designated hook before making his way back to his desk.

Whitney had led the discussion through most of breakfast, digging for information about the states and Nicole's job as a lawyer. He'd wanted to know a little more about when Nicole lived in Purgatory, about her punching out his dad to be exact, but Whit had a knack of taking over conversations so he'd focused on his stack of pancakes, just enjoying the warmth of her hand tracing lines on his knee.

"Big day soon, huh?"

Jesse jumped before spinning around, finding the Sheriff standing there, hands on belt. "Yeah. Day after tomorrow." He checked the clock, just to make sure he wasn't late. He adored Whiney, but she had the ability to make him late for work more times than he could count. He was glad to see he was actually a few minutes early.

"Nervous?"

"Excited." He never understood why anyone would be nervous about marriage. Being with Whitney was… natural. Inevitable. He couldn't imagine anyone else he would want to be with.

"Heard you got jumped last night. Any idea how Kenny got out?" Crissy Nedley stepped a little closer, just to get a better look at his eye. "That's a hell of a shiner. You're starting to look just like your dad."

Jesse tried not to cringe as he adjusted his glasses. "Not exactly sure. Everything was locked and suddenly it was like the door opened." He shook his head. "I called Bart to come take a look at it." He referenced the town's only locksmith.

Crissy nodded. "You pressing charges?"

"Naw." Jesse moved behind his desk, taking a seat. Looking down, his brow furrowing at the file sitting on his desk. "He was drunk, no sense making a fuss."

Crissy nodded again. "Good man." She pat him on the shoulder. "I'm going on an early lunch. I'll be back in an hour."

Jesse nodded. "Have a good one." He mumbled as he opened the file, his eyes falling on very familiar eyes. At first he wasn't exactly sure what to think. A million thoughts came to him at once and he couldn't quite understand what in the world it was doing there.

It was the same file Whitney had taken from the basement, but after an hour-long breakfast, he now knew who the woman in the personnel file was.

Nicole Haught.

He'd felt a stirring of familiarity over their morning meal, and now he finally understood why. Whitney had taken the file the morning before saying she didn't know who the woman was, but that was less than 24 hours ago and suddenly the woman was in town the weekend they were getting married?

He let his eyes drop down the page, seeing another familiar name in the Emergency Contact section. Waverly Earp.

So Nicole wasn't just a friend. You don't put just friends as emergency contacts. Confusion surfaced as he flipped through the thin employee file, reading through the few employee reviews that were hand-written by Randy Nedley.

Logging into his computer and pulling up the Purgatory Sheriff Department database, he double checked the dates of her employment before pulling up whatever information was available.

Jesse was taking a sip from his coffee when he got an alert of results. He didn't expect to find an expired license and registration for marriage in the database. But further more, he didn't expect to see the name Waverly Earp as one of the applicants.

Another few beeps came as results filled his screen and he reached for his notepad, beginning to note the puzzle pieces that slowly began to build a very unexpected picture. Something stood out to him as he picked up the file again, flipping to the last two pages.

Nicole Haught had been on an extended leave for about four months until officially resigning. He tapped his finger against the date, about eight months before Whitney was born.

His first thought was that maybe Waverly had cheated on Nicole while she was away, but that didn't set well with him. Whitney's mother was the kindest, most caring person he'd ever met and, looking at Nicole's picture, he couldn't see anyone cheating on someone as beautiful as her. Hell, she was almost as beautiful as…he let his eyes drift to the picture of himself and Whitney that sat framed on his desk.

Holy shit.

Why wouldn't Whitney tell him? He pondered, feeling a strange pull in his chest. He wasn't sure if he was sad, or just disappointed. He told Whitney everything.

He thought she did the same.


 

"Ms. Haught, you have an unannounced gentleman here requesting a meeting."

Nicole frowned at her speakerphone, her fingers stilling on the keyboard. She glanced at the time in the bottom right corner of her laptop. It was almost 6 p.m. Quitting time for the office staff. "Who is it, Fran?"

"Says his name is Nedley from… Purgatory?" Fran answered hesitantly, as if she thought he made it up.

To say Nicole was surprised was an understatement. Her heart lodged itself in her esophagus. "Um," she swallowed past the lump and cleared her throat,"send him in."

"Right away, Ms. Haught."

Fran signed off and Nicole quickly saved the amicus brief she had been drafting, closed the file, and practically leapt to her feet. She smoothed down her white blouse, hands clammy, and buttoned up her navy blue blazer. Ran a hand through her hair.

Nedley was one of the few people from Purgatory she had kept in contact with. Not that they talked every day by any means. But she always looked forward to her sporadic email exchanges with Nedley, who tactfully kept her abreast on the comings and goings of the town and its citizens. But never the Earps. That was one subject from which they both steered clear.

She hadn't seen Nedley in person in nearly 18 years. So what the hell was he doing here in Chicago? And why now after all this time?

Her first heart-clenching thought was that something had happened to Waverly, and he was there to deliver the bad news face-to-face. But when he appeared on the other side of her office's glass wall limping behind Fran, his demeanor relaxed, Nicole's own muscles slackened.

Nedley was dressed in a worn pair of jeans and a tan tweed sport coat, holding a black Stetson between his hands and fiddling with the wide brim. He looked a bit thinner than she remembered, hair now silver white instead of graying, but relatively good for someone pushing into his 70s. If he was at all impressed with his surroundings, its stark furnishings, sleek lines, and hard edges punctuated in black, whites, and grays, he didn't show it. His mouth was set in its usual straight line as his eyes took in the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

"Ms. Haught," Fran greeted as she pushed open the office door. "Mr. Nedley here to see you."

Nicole nodded. "Thanks, Fran. Have a great weekend."

Fran inclined her head forward and, after giving Nedley a not-so-subtle side-eye, left them alone.

"Haught."

"Sheriff."

"Guess you don't have to wear khakis in these digs." Nedley finally cracked a smile.

Nicole grinned back. "Thank God for that."

Nedley was never a hugger, so she walked around her desk to give him a firm handshake, and was surprised when he pulled her forward and gave her a quick clap on the back, a bit stilted but sincere.

He was still smiling when they parted. "Looks like you've done well for yourself," he said.

"Can't complain." Nicole shrugged, even though that wasn't exactly the whole truth. What good was any of it when she constantly felt empty. Incomplete. "What can I do for you?"

She invited Nedley to sit but he waved her off, preferring instead to make his way to stand at the windows, hands on his hips. It was strange seeing his silhouette against the backdrop of Chicago's skyline, the Willis Tower and Hancock building standing tall and bright in the orange glow of the setting sun. The last time she had seen Nedley in person was in his old office, right before she had begun an extended leave of absence that eventually resulted in her resignation. She had resigned with a courtesy phone call and a letter. She had known Nedley was disappointed when she had first left, and hadn't had the heart to face him in person.

But there was no disappointment on his face now as he turned back around to face her. "Was in town for a spell. Hopin' you might have time for a quick bite with an old boss?"

The question threw Nicole for a loop. She had planned on staying late to finish the brief. But she couldn't say no. Not to Nedley. Not after everything.

"Of course," she said. "Just let me pack up for the night."

She shut down her computer and placed it in her laptop bag, then motioned for Nedley to join her. They made small talk as they took the elevator down from the 40th floor. Betty Johnson's cats were still getting caught up in trees, Nedley told her among a number of random tales. Chrissy's daughter had just finished high school, while her son was set to start in the fall. Nicole listened intently as they walked a few blocks to a pizzeria, which welcomed them with the enticing scents of garlic, basil, savory tomato, and cheese. She hadn't felt hungry earlier, but her stomach growled as they were seated by the host.

They ordered two glasses of water and two draughts of Peroni, which their server fetched quickly and placed before them. They clinked their glasses together and took their first sips, the foamy head of the beer tickling Nicole's upper lip.

"So," she said as she set her pint glass down.

"So."

"Why are you really here, Sheriff? I can't imagine it's just to tell me that the taffy factory is expanding again."

One corner of Nedley's lips pulled up into a wistful half-smile. "No. Though their new plant is comin' along nicely." He leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair. "I've been thinkin' of hangin' up my hat."

Nicole's eyebrows rose. "You're retiring?"

"It's 'bout that time," Nedley said.

"Well you've definitely earned it." Nicole smiled sincerely even as guilt twisted in her gut. She didn't really want to know, but asked out of politeness anyway, "Got a successor lined up?"

"There are some candidates, yeah," Nedley said non-committally.

"That's… that's great." She hoped her voice didn't sound as strained as it felt.

Silence settled between them, thick with unspoken history, awkward from unfulfilled expectations. Nicole shuffled uncomfortably in her seat and reached for her drink.

"Now, I didn't come all this way to make you feel bad," Nedley said, showcasing yet again his uncanny ability to read people.

"I didn't think you did." And she meant it. Unlike her own father, Nedley had never questioned her decisions even if he didn't agree with them. Had always supported her even though she knew she had let him down by not staying to succeed him.

"And you know I don't like stickin' my nose in folks' personal business." Nedley leaned forward, chair creaking in protest. "But I also don't like livin' with regret. And I knew if I didn't say anything, I'd regret it 'til my dyin' day."

Nicole's heart stilled. "Say what?"

"Waverly Earp," Nedley said. "You've got some unfinished business there, I'd say."

Nicole didn't know how to respond. And even if she did, she doubted she could get any words out. They'd stick like glue to the sides of her suddenly parched throat. She forced down another drink.

"All I'm sayin' is think about it," Nedley said.

"About what?" Nicole asked when she finally managed to find her voice again. No matter how many years had passed, and no matter how often Nicole had tried to bury her past, Waverly was still very much a sore spot for her.

"Closure."

"Closure," Nicole repeated.

Nedley nodded and said nothing more, letting the sounds of the restaurant envelop them once more: the clink of metal utensils on ceramic plates, murmured conversation from the other diners, the low blare of some pop song off the jukebox.

"That's it?" Nicole almost laughed. "You flew all the way out to Chicago just to tell me that?"

"Yep," Nedley popped the P and pulled open his menu. "That and to eat some deep dish pizza. Your treat."

And just like that the Waverly conversation was over, with Nedley glancing down at the selections and voicing his interest in lots of sausage and pepperoni, leaving Nicole to ponder over his suggestion and her lost appetite.


 

About a year later, Nedley was gone. And soon after, Nicole had received the wedding invitation. Sadness swelled inside her, cresting and breaking like a tidal wave, as she stood in front of Nedley's grave. She had speared a bouquet of silk wildflowers into the hard ground, the array of crimson and violet and white bright against the gray of the headstone, which she had brushed clear of frost. Hot tears spilled down her cold-slapped cheeks as she wished, yet again, that she had been there for him, that she hadn't been such a coward.

"You know, I was always kind of jealous of you," a voice interrupted Nicole's thoughts.

Swiping at her face, she whirled around to see Chrissy Nedley approaching, embarrassed that she hadn't sensed her presence sooner. Nicole almost didn't recognize her. Gone was the slightly ditzy young woman who once cried uncontrollably as she recounted how Wavery Earp had scissored a stripper. In her place was the Sheriff of Purgatory, sporting a familiar black Stetson, hands stuffed in the pockets of her tactical jacket.

Chrissy's boots crunched on the frozen grass until she came to a stop next to Nicole. "You're the daughter he always wished he had." There was no anger in her tone. Chrissy said it so matter-of-factly, she might as well have been commenting on the weather.

"That's," Nicole shook her head, "that's not true."

"It's fine." Chrissy shrugged. "I made my peace with it long ago."

"He loved you," Nicole insisted.

"He did," Chrissy agreed, eyes taking note of the new flowers by the grave. "But we both know I'm not the one he saw as the next sheriff."

Nicole breathed out, wisps of white curling up like smoke. "Well, I guess we both proved him wrong, didn't we?"

At that, Chrissy gave a small smile and inclined her head. They stood side-by-side in silence for several long moments, not quite uncomfortable, each lost in their own memories of Nedley.

"He always said you'd come back," Chrissy finally said. "I honestly didn't think you would."

"That makes two of us," Nicole admitted.

"Then I'm glad you proved us both wrong."

The corners of Nicole's lips turned upward. "You're probably the only person in this whole town besides Betty Johnson who'd say they're glad I'm back."

"Well, no offense, but can you really blame them?" Chrissy didn't say it unkindly but it still stung.

"No," Nicole acceded. "Not at all." She clapped her gloved hands and rubbed them together, hoping the friction might provide some extra warmth to her number fingertips. It didn't quite work. "I'm surprised you're not reading me the riot act as well."

Chrissy chuckled. "I'm guessing you've already heard it and then some," she said sympathetically.

"You wouldn't be wrong." Nicole said, recalling how Waverly, Wynonna, and even Champ had reacted to seeing her again.

"Listen, I've got no beef with you, Nicole. And if there's anything I've learned since joining the force, it's that shit happens even when you do your best to avoid it." She turned to face Nicole fully. "Whatever happened with you and Waves… as long as it doesn't affect Whitney, you and I will be right as rain."

Nicole's brow furrowed. "Whitney?"

"She's like another daughter to me. I don't want to see her hurt."

"Why would I…" The rest of Nicole's sentence was cut off by crackle of the radio strapped to Chrissy's shoulder.

Sheriff, this is dispatch, do you copy?

Chrissy sighed and spoke into the mic. "Nedley here, over."

We've got a 503 on Main Street. Over.

"10-4. I'll be there in 15. Over and out."

503. An auto theft, Nicole thought with a frown, if she remembered the codes correctly. Not a particularly common crime in Purgatory, at least not when she lived there. But, of course, so many things could change in the span of two decades.

"Duty calls." Chrissy smiled apologetically. "Keep what I said in mind."

Nicole nodded, all the while wondering why anyone would ever think she'd do anything to upset Whitney. Once again, she was overcome with a niggling sensation that she was missing something (but what?) as she watched Chrissy walk back to her squad car parked in the distance.


 

"So sorry about that, Father." Whitney smiled as she shook the priest's hand. He had to be the tenth person she was apologizing to for the sudden relocation of their rehearsal ceremony and dinner.

"It's completely fine, Whitney." Father Charles laughed, waving her off. "You know I'd do anything for a taste of your mom's apple cobbler."

Whitney laughed. "Well there's going to be plenty of that at the reception." Leaning in a little closer, she whispered conspiringly. "I think I heard her say something about a separate pan just for you."

"Well!" A big smile spread across his face. "Gluttony is a sin, but that's why there's penance." He joked. "I'll see you later tonight for the rehearsal ceremony."

"See you later." Whitney waved, watching him leave the small room. Hands on hips, she looked around, taking in the small set up that had been put together hastily in one of the smaller event rooms. It would do just the thing for a rehearsal ceremony. She tried not to think too much about the small disaster that had happened at the homestead that required the temporary relocation, or really the series of issues that had arisen since the day before.

"Everything is fixable," her mother had told her and Whitney couldn't help thinking about Nicole. Hopefully her mother believed that for herself as well. Hopefully Nicole believed it as well.

Pursing her lips, Whitney removed the phone from her pocket, pulling up the text message she'd received not that long after breakfast.

I'll be there.

Three words and her hope increased drastically. She wanted it to work out, not just for her mother, but for herself. From what she'd seen so far, Nicole was amazing. While Nicole was mostly a corporate lawyer, Whitney was happy to hear that Nicole also worked pro bono on the weekends, helping battered and abused women with their legal needs.

It did, however, make her a little sad. Nicole was a beautiful and successful lawyer, but she spent all her time working, never taking time for herself. There was a loneliness in her eyes and Whitney knew there was one person who could fix that.

And if her mother wasn't going to do it of her own accord, she and her aunt Wynonna would definitely make sure of it. The door opened and Whitney jumped.

"Baby, what are you doing?" Whitney smiled as Jesse entered the room. "Aren't you supposed to be at work?" She reached for him as he neared, not expecting him to pull away.

"When were you going to tell me?"

"What?" Whitney froze, only now noticing the rigid state of his shoulders, his face an emotionless mask. "What do you…"

"Don't lie to me." Now, Whitney could see the slight tremble of his jaw, tense and full of emotion. In his hands was a file he pushed in her direction. "You've lied to me enough the past 2 days. How long were you going to keep this up?"

Opening the file, Whitney felt the air leave her lungs. She'd left it at the homestead. "Where did you... How did you get this?"

"It was on my desk at work. Don't change the subject." He spurt out quickly. "When were you going to tell me?"

This was exactly what she was trying to avoid. She knew she should have told him to begin with but now she was too far in it. "I just found out not that long ago."

"And suddenly she's in Purgatory?" He asked accusingly.

Whitney swallowed, shaking her head. "I invited her to the wedding."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Whitney didn't want to tell him the truth. She knew how horrible it would sound, but she also didn't want to tell him a lie. She was left with no choice. "I knew you'd say not to. That it was a horrible idea."

Jesse huffed, trying to hide his emotions. Whitney expected to see anger but all she saw was disappointment, which seared a million times more painful. "Is this what this huge wedding is about? Getting to meet your mother?" He gestured to the room. "You pushed for all of this. I just wanted something small and now we're renting out rooms just to practice for a ceremony that's a thousand times bigger."

"She has nothing to do with this."

"Are you sure?" Jesse stepped closer, cupping her cheeks in his hands. "I love you, Whit, but I know you. Can you honestly tell me this isn't to impress her? Because she's some big shot lawyer?"

It stung. Whitney could feel her eyes watering. She couldn't deny it. "I wanted to know who I am… is that so wrong?"

Jesse shook his head. "Nicole can't tell you that, Whitney. She doesn't even know you." He sighed.

It would have hurt left if he'd stabbed her in the heart. It was true, Nicole didn't know her, but that didn't mean she didn't have answers. She had to.

"I just wanted to marry you." Jesse continued. "Wasn't that enough for you?"

Whitney felt her heart stop. Surely he couldn't mean what that sounded like. "Wanted?" She swallowed. "Does that mean you don't want to marry me anymore?"

"Of course I want to marry you!" Jesse growled, dropping his hands and turning away. "I just wish you'd told me." Hands on hips, he shook his head. "I just…"

"Jesse, I'm sorry." Whitney stepped up to him and he moved away.

"I can't." He shook his head. "I just can't right now." Was all he said before he walked out.


 

The Wainright felt almost too hot after spending a good chunk of her morning out in the bitter Purgatory winter. Nicole's cheeks stung as her body adjusted to the hotel's dry, heated air. She unbuttoned her coat while she made her way through the lobby, which was busier than usual with workers scurrying about to prepare for the rehearsal dinner.

It had been a doozy of a morning, to say the least, and Nicole was looking forward to returning to her room and crawling under the covers for a nap. She needed to shut off her brain for a few hours, yank the emergency brake on the emotional rollercoaster that she'd been riding up and down and all around ever since she returned to town.

She was about to hit the call button on the elevator when she happened to glance toward the bar, where Whitney Earp sat with her head bowed. And just like that, the siren call of her hotel bed was drowned out by an overwhelming need to talk to Whitney. It was amazing, really, how close Nicole felt to Whitney after only knowing her for less than a day. Maybe it was because she was Waverly's daughter. Nicole always did seem to have an instantaneous connection with Earps, whether she wanted to or not. Or maybe Nicole just couldn't turn her back on someone who looked so forlorn that Nicole's own chest ached in sympathy.

Whatever it was, Nicole found herself abandoning all hope of taking a nap and walking toward Whitney, who stared down at an empty martini glass.

"Isn't that borderline treason for an Earp?" Nicole joked.

Whitney, so distracted by whatever was bothering her, startled at the sound of her voice. "Nicole!" Whitney tried to scramble to her feet, nearly knocking over her glass in the process, but Nicole laid a hand on her shoulder.

"Whoa, hey, sorry," Nicole said, gently guiding Whitney back into her seat. "Didn't mean to scare you."

Whitney glanced at her hand, and Nicole awkwardly pulled it back, hoping she hadn't crossed a line.

"You didn't." Whitney swiveled toward Nicole and gestured for her to sit on the stool next to her. Nicole noted, but didn't comment on the redness that rimmed Whitney's dark brown eyes; eyes that still inexplicably made Nicole's heart skip a beat. "I was just," Whitney waved her hand vaguely in the air, "lost in thought, you know?"

"I've got a penny if you wanna share them," Nicole offered, smiling.

Whitney raised her brows. "Big spender."

"I wouldn't sneeze at the value of a penny, young lady. It could mean the difference between being able to afford something or not."

"Who knew a hotshot lawyer from the big city would be such a penny pincher?" Whitney smirked despite her lingering sadness, tapping the rim of her empty glass, a smudge of lipstick on the edge.

Nicole chuckled. "Take it or leave it, it's my final offer." The bartender approached to take refill Whitney's glass and take Nicole's order. "I'll have whatever she's having." He nodded and set about his task.

Nicole glanced back at Whitney, whose shoulders slumped yet again. She wanted nothing more than to hug her. "You don't have to tell me anything," she said softly. "I just wanted to make sure you're all right."

Looking back up, Whitney smiled gratefully. "Thanks, I…" she hesitated, "it's a long story."

"I've got the time," Nicole said, echoing back Whitney's own words from the night they met.

Whitney wearily rubbed her hands down her face. "Jesse and I," she shook her head sadly, "we got into a fight."

Nicole only nodded and patiently waited for Whitney to continue, not wanting to pry even though her curiosity was screaming for her to go into interrogation mode.

"Or rather, I upset him because I kept something from him." Whitney winced. "It's not that I didn't want to tell him. I did. And I should have."

"Why didn't you?" Nicole asked quietly.

Whitney shrugged helplessly. "I don't… I don't know. I was afraid of how he'd react, I guess. And the fight we'd have if we didn't agree." She laughed sadly and tucked some of her dark brown hair behind her ear, a nervous gesture Nicole had seen so many times before from Waverly. "I guess in the end it didn't matter. I just delayed the inevitable."

The bartender returned with two fresh martinis, which he set down in front of them on black cocktail napkins.

"Am I a horrible person?" Whitney idly rotated her glass by its thin stem.

"Of course not, Whit." The nickname was out of her mouth before Nicole could process it and she was thankful that if Whitney was bothered by it, she didn't show it in the slightest. "We all make mistakes, even when we have the best of intentions. I'm sure Jesse understands that. And he loves you. Even I can see it after one meal, plain as day."

Whitney smiled even though the corners of her lips trembled and her eyes teared up again. She swiped at them with her fingers and bit her bottom lip. "Would you?"

"Would I what?" Nicole asked, confused.

"If someone kept something from you and didn't tell you right away," her voice was thick, almost warbled, "but they had their reasons, would you understand?"

Nicole exhaled through her nose as Waverly came unbidden to her mind. It was a simple question. She wished the answer could be just as simple. "I like to think I would. That I'd listen to the explanation and consider it."

"But?"

"But I make mistakes too," Nicole confessed, guilt flaring in her chest yet again as she wished for the millionth time that she had gone after Waverly the day she discovered she was pregnant; that she had confronted Waverly and hashed things out, no matter who the father was (thank God it wasn't Champ); and that maybe, possibly she could have had a chance to be a part of Whitney's life.

"I've heard people can learn from those pesky things."

"Yeah." Nicole chuckled sadly. "I suppose it can happen from time to time."

Sniffling, Whitney lifted her glass and waited for Nicole to do the same. "To making mistakes."

"And understanding." Nicole clinked their glasses together and took a sip of her martini, pleasantly surprised that Whitney also seemed to have a penchant for gin over vodka. Nicole couldn't even remember the last time she drank gin, and she nearly closed her eyes as the sweet evergreen flavor of juniper berries hit her tongue.

Whitney licked her lips and set her glass back down, a shadow of uncertainty passing over her face. "On that note, there's um, there's something I wanted to talk to you about, actually."

"That's not foreboding at all," Nicole tried to joke.

"It's nothing bad!" Whitney rushed out. "I mean, mostly not," she said, almost convincingly.

"O-kay," Nicole drew out the first syllable, confusion growing.

"Are you free later?"

Nicole very reluctantly nodded.

"I wanna fix my mistake first," Whitney explained, sliding off her seat. The legs of her stool scraped against hard wood. "With Jesse. Maybe you and I could talk more in a bit. Somewhere private?"

"Room 407," Nicole said against her better judgment.

The wide, dimpled smile Whitney gave her in response almost dispelled the dread expanding in Nicole's gut. Whitney leaned forward and gave Nicole a light peck on the cheek. It was completely unexpected, and yet, to Nicole's surprise, completely natural.

"Thanks, Nicole," Whitney said.

"Anytime," Nicole replied, warmth blooming in her chest at the display of affection.

Taking a deep breath, Whitney set off in search of her fiance. And Nicole was left to nurse the rest of their drinks, blissfully unaware of the pair of brown eyes that had watched her entire exchange with Whitney, nor the women to whom they belonged; a woman homing in on her like a launched torpedo ready to strike.


 

Waverly checked her wristwatch after dropping off the cupcakes and a few other supplies she'd gathered that morning. It seemed like the day was going by so quickly and she still had so much to do. She didn't think it was possible for so many things to go wrong in such a small amount of time and she felt like she was working double-time to just tread water.

Pulling her phone from her pocket, she checked her task list, checking off the top of the list and exhaling loudly at everything she still had to do. "Not even my wedding." She commented under her breath with a shake of her head as she walked by the bar, an unexpected sight getting her attention.

Two women sitting together at the bar sending a chill through her. Moving closer to the path into the bar, she overheard what appeared to be the tail end of the conversation.

"Room 407." Nicole spoke as Whitney stood.

Waverly froze, watching as Whitney leaned forward to press a kiss to Nicole's cheek. She felt the anger flood her senses. What the hell was going on?

"Thanks, Nicole." Whitney spoke as if the name was familiar to her.

"Anytime." Nicole smiled, two sets of dimples reflecting each other before Waverly watched her daughter walk away.

She couldn't stop herself, even if she wanted to. An anger had taken over, unfurling from inside her like a kindled flame, consuming her as she set her hand on Nicole's shoulder and spun her. "What the hell are you doing?"

A shocked look took over Nicole's face.

"I told you not to get any ideas."

"Ideas...what?" Shock turned to confusion and all it did was fuel Waverly's anger.

"Don't give me that. How dare you?" Waverly was sure that if it were possible, she would have steam pouring from her ears. "Who are you to think you can just show up and interfere with Whitney's…"

"Waverly, calm down." Nicole's eyes looked around the bar in paranoia, but Waverly was too upset to care about anyone hearing.

"Don't tell me to calm down! You have no right to…"

"I get it." Nicole rose her hands in defense. "I'm sorry. Whitney was just…"

"No!" Waverly cut her off. She had no intention on letting Nicole interrupt her anger. "You don't have the right to just traipse into our lives like you suddenly give a shit."

"Are you going to let me talk?" Nicole sighed, looking slightly defeated and it was like the anger in Waverly began to waver, but she had to stay firm.

Don't give in. "You had your chance to talk over two decades ago and you chose to run instead." Waverly saw the pain that inflicted, saw the way the tall woman shrunk back.

"You're right." Nicole dropped a bill on the bar to cover the tab and slipped off her stool. "You're always right." She spoke softly.

Waverly growled in frustration. "Can you just stop that?" She didn't want the anger to lessen, didn't want any of the fury she felt to bleed away. She wanted to be furious at Nicole because it made it so much easier.

Nicole gave her a sad smile, looking very much like a kicked puppy. "Don't worry. I'm going back to my room." She looked like she wanted to say more, fiddling with the buttons on her coat before shaking her head and stepping around Waverly.

Waverly felt the emotions starting to pile up, felt the sting in her sinuses as tears threatened to emerge.

"For what it's worth," Nicole's voice came from behind her, causing her to turn. "Your daughter is a great kid. You did a good job raising her." She spoke before turning and leaving.

Any sympathy Waverly had begun to feel turned away in a wave of new anger. She was about to follow Nicole when she saw her disappear into the elevator. Instead of following, she needed to get back to her car and scream.

Chapter Text

Under attack
I'm being taken
About to crack
Defences breaking
Won't somebody please have a heart?
Come and rescue me now
'Cause I'm falling apart

 

Jesse swallowed as he hooked a finger into the collar of his shirt to loosen his tie, his other thumb drumming against the steering wheel of the SUV. His stomach had been in knots all day and now he had to face family and friends for the rehearsal. It was the last thing he wanted to do after the earlier fight with Whit. His phone vibrated and he glanced at the screen.

Twelve new messages. No doubt they were all Whitney. He felt a bit of guilt at that, having had to ignore her avalanche of apologetic messages so he could concentrate at work. The last thing he needed was to emotionally break down in front of the entire station.

On one hand, he understood Whit’s need to investigate her past. And maybe she’d been right and he would have told her to wait until after their wedding to contact Nicole, but that didn’t give her free reign to lie to him. That was the worst of it. That Whit had done something because she knew he’d disagree with her and had kept it all from him.

But… Whit had just found out she had a mother she never knew about. He felt nothing but sympathy for her about that. He couldn’t even imagine what it would be like. Maybe it compromised her better judgement.

With a sigh, he grabbed his phone, feeling a tug at his heart as he read through the messages. Whitney was apparently to the point in which she was wondering if he was still showing up and he felt his guilt grow. He took a deep breath, exhaling all the negative emotions he’d harnessed the past few hours. Two more days and he was getting married to the most wonderful woman on the planet who happened to be a bit of a handful but was well worth it.

Nodding, he sent off a quick text before slipping into the cold, quickly hurrying into the hotel to get out of the wind, nearly walking into someone.

“Bit of a nipper.” The man laughed, indicating the outside.

Jesse laughed. “Yeah. Definitely.” His brow furrowed as he took in the man, tall and lean with a white mustache. He looked oddly familiar. “The ground’s a little slippery,” he offered.

“Thank you, sir.” The man tipped his hat before leaving.

Jesse tried to think of where he’d seen the man before when a hand grabbed his elbow.

“Baby, you came.”

Turning to see Whitney dressed in a seafoam dress that hugged her torso before flaring out, Jesse felt words leave him. “Whit…” he swallowed. “Of course I came.”

“I’m so so sorry. You were so right. I should have told you.”

Jesse slipped his hand into Whitney’s and pulled her closer to the wall so they weren’t standing in the middle of the lobby. “I’m sorry I made you think I wasn’t coming.” He intertwined his fingers with Whit’s, lifting their joined hands to press his lips against the back of her’s. “I understand why you did what you did. I don’t agree, but I can understand.”

Whitney’s eyes glistened with unshed tears as she squeezed his hand. “I shouldn’t have kept it from you. I’m sorry.” She sniffled softly. “It’s been such a hectic two days and I wanted to talk to you about everything.”

“Well… you can tell me now,” Jesse offered, reaching up to caress Whitney’s jaw. He felt the slight pressure of her leaning into the touch briefly before she turned to press a kiss to his palm. He swallowed audibly. How the hell did she do that, he thought as she stepped closer and he breathed in the scent of her perfume. “I mean, we’ve got a few minutes before Father Charles is expecting us. We could...”

A smile that Jesse was very familiar with overtook Whitney’s face and she stepped backwards, her hand holding Jesse’s tightly as she tugged him forward.

He didn’t expect to be pulled into the vacant family bathroom, his senses overtaken by the scent of antiseptic cleaner as he heard the lock slide into place. “Whit, what are you…” His words were cut off as her lips pressed against his own and she was pushing him against the wall. Even if he was angry, there was no way he could stay that way as he felt her hands unbuckling his belt. “Wait wait… Whit... what are you…Father Charles is...” His voice squeaked as her hand slid down the front of his slacks. “...expecting us.”

Whitney smirked. “Father Charles can take care of himself. I believe I owe you three minutes.”

Her jab had the intended effect and Jesse narrowed his eyes at her. “I’ll give you three minutes,” he commented as he easily picked her up, feeling her legs wrapped around his waist as he took the few steps to set her on the edge of the vanity counter.

Whitney giggled against his lips as her fingers easily undid the button and zipper of his pants and they slid to the ground in a soft clink of his belt buckle hitting the tiles.

“You know we’re going to be late,” he supplied, even as he easily removed her panties. The last thing he wanted was for her to stop him but he felt the need to give her the option.

“Stop talking.” Whitney commented with a grin that was borderline devious, her hands fisting in the front of his button down shirt, obviously not caring one bit about the wrinkles she’d no doubt leave.

 


 

 

Whitney cleared her throat as she smoothed down her dress. There was a bit of guilt nagging at her, but Jesse squeezed her hand and she couldn’t help but cast a smile over her shoulder at him as they entered the room where their friends and family members were milling around. Her mother was chatting with Father Charles and Whitney could see a tense twitch in her body.

Whitney had learned to steer clear of her mother during certain moods and this was definitely one of them.

Champ was slouching in one of the chairs, a flask in his hand while Jen and Anna were sitting as far from him as possible, laughing over something on one of their phones. No one had noticed they entered except…

“Holy rumpled clothes, Batman.” Wynonna strolled towards them, a smirk on her face. “You two are about…” She checked her watch, “four minutes late. I guess someone’s been working on his stamina.” She gave Jesse a wry grin.

“We were just talking.” Whitney smiled innocently. “I’m allowed to talk to my fiancé, aren’t I?”

“You sure are, Kiddo.” Wynonna stepped closer to Jesse, reaching out to straighten out his tie. “Did you have a good chat with my favorite niece? She give you that shiner too?”

When a dark flush colored Jesse’s cheeks, Whitney rolled her eyes. “Leave him alone. We should talk about Nicole.”

“Ruin my fun, just like your mother…” Wynonna rubbed at her nose with a huff. “Both of them actually, when I think about it.” She shrugged in nonchalance. “Your mo… Waverly has got her panties up in a bunch right now. I can probably guess why.”

“Nicole agreed to come to dinner.”

Wynonna sighed loudly and overdramatically. “That is exactly the wrong thing to say to me right now.” Looking around, she pulled a flask from her jacket before taking a long pull from it. Screwing the top back on, she shook her limbs out. “Why are you making my life difficult?”

“Because I love you.” Whitney couldn’t help but grin. “I want to tell Nicole the truth.”

“I thought you wanted to do some grand scheme. Waverly… Nicole… locked in a room until they scratch each other’s itches?”

That had been the plan, forcing them together, let the truth force them back together, but there had been something in Nicole’s eyes. “She deserves to know the truth.”

Wynonna scratched her neck, her lips pursed in disagreement. “How about we… NOT do that?” she suggested, looking over her shoulder.

Whitney’s eyebrows rose. “Why not?”

“Have you seen my sister right now?” She pointed a thumb over her shoulder where Waverly was now arguing with Champ, who seemed to not care about what she was saying. “You tell Haught and she’s going to come down and confront your mother and…” She thought about it for a second, “and I don’t have any popcorn right now.”

“You should tell your mom first.” Both Earps turned to look at Jesse who shrugged. “It’ll make her less angry.”

Whitney pursed her lips, looking at her aunt. It wasn’t a bad idea. Much better than having Nicole come down angry. “She doesn’t know I know.” She bit her bottom lip. “She’s going to be so mad at me.”

Wynonna sighed loudly once more. “God damn it.” Hands on hips, she regarded Whitney. “Shit, fine, whatever. I’ve battled demonic spiders and dick-eating vampires. I can deal with my sister.”

Whitney tried to smile through her cringe as she pulled her aunt into a hug. “Thank you so much. You’re the best aunt ever.”

“Yeah that’s cause you’re only other aunt is a fucking cun…” Pursing her lips, Wynonna shook her head instead of completing that statement. “I’ll talk to Waverly after this fake ass ceremony.” She wrapped one arm around Whitney’s neck and the other around Jesse’s. “Let’s get this completely unnecessary shenanigan out of the way.”

Whitney wiggled out from under her arm. “You two go ahead. I need to make a quick stop first. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

 


 

 

Humming to herself, Nicole ladled a large dollop of pancake batter from a mixing bowl and poured it onto a piping hot skillet, carefully forming six evenly sized circles. They sizzled as they spread across the melted, browned butter in the pan, and Nicole’s mouth watered in anticipation of breakfast. While they cooked, she turned on the coffee pot and continued chopping up strawberries on the cutting board, her fingertips staining red from the juices. She glanced at the pancakes, a few bubbles forming and popping on the surface. She was about to pick up a spatula when a pair of arms wrapped around her waist. A light kiss was pressed against Nicole’s left shoulder, and she smiled.

“It smells wonderful in here,” Waverly murmured against Nicole’s shirt.

“What are you doing up?” Nicole turned her head slightly to kiss Waverly’s forehead. “We’re supposed to bring you breakfast in bed.”

“I missed you guys.” Waverly snuggled closer, and Nicole slid her hands up and down Waverly’s forearms.

“You just didn’t trust me with the pancakes.”

“What? Of course I trust you!”

Chuckling, Nicole turned in Waverly’s arms. “Really?”

“Yes,” Waverly said, mock offended. “But if you happen to need any help…”

Nicole rolled her eyes. “I burned them one time and only because you were distracting me. Much like you’re doing now.”

Waverly kissed the corner of Nicole’s jaw. “You weren’t complaining then.”

“And I’m not complaining now.” She brought their lips together, and Nicole didn’t think she could feel happier, more content.

Waverly nuzzled their noses together. “How ‘bout I make a deal with you?”

“What kind of deal?”

“I’ll finish up in here, if you go and help the baby girl.”

It was an offer Nicole couldn’t refuse and they both knew it. “You drive a hard bargain.”

“That’s why you love me.” They kissed one more time before Waverly let go of Nicole and scooted her away from the kitchen. “Now get going before you make me burn the pancakes.”

“Yes ma’am,” Nicole said, playfully swatting Waverly’s behind before walking to the kitchen’s entrance.

She braced a hand against the door frame and smiled at the little girl leaning over their coffee table. Nicole’s heart warmed at the sight, a joy so sharp surging in her that it was almost painful. The girl was almost 5 years old, still in her dark blue police officer pajamas, bright red hair tangled and sticking up every which way. Her face was scrunched up in concentration as she worked on a massive puzzle. 1000 pieces. Much too complicated for her age, but Nicole and Waverly couldn’t turn down the gift from Uncle Randy.

“How’re you doing, Baby Girl?” Nicole asked as she sat next to the girl.

“I’m almost done,” she said, optimistically surveying all the scattered bits. The edges were all connected and she was working to fill in the middle, an image slowly taking form that made Nicole’s eyes mist. Two figures were easily identifiable as Waverly and the girl, while the third person...

“Do you know what it is yet?” Nicole sifted through the remaining pieces with a finger, nudging them into color-coordinated piles.

“Yes,” the girl answered with a dimpled grin. “It’s our family. Mommy, me, and... “

“Baby, breakfast is ready!” Waverly called from the kitchen.

“Coming!” The girl squealed and grabbed Nicole’s hand. “Let’s go, mom!”

“Mom?” Her heart stilled…

And accelerated as Nicole’s eyes snapped open. Her pulse pounded so hard that she felt disoriented, blinking rapidly at the white stucco ceiling of her hotel room. She covered her eyes with her hands and groaned. This was what she got for day drinking like some goddamn Earp, a headache and strange dreams that made her heart race.

It had all felt so real. She could still smell the buttery pancakes. Feel the softness of Waverly’s lips. And the little girl. Nicole’s heart clenched. She looked so much like...

A soft knock sounded at the door.

Nicole slid her hands down her face and pushed herself up to a sitting position. She picked up her phone and glanced at the time, ignoring the dozen or so notifications for missed calls and unread messages. It was a little past three o’clock. She’d been asleep for only an hour or so.

A louder knock came, more insistent, “Nicole? Are you there?”

Whitney.

Kicking off the covers, Nicole nudged aside the stack of pillows to her right, swung her feet over the mattress, and stood. She combed her fingers through her hair, nerves still jittery, and opened the door.

Whitney curled her fingers in a shy wave. She was in a seafoam-colored dress that made Nicole flashback to a gown Waverly had worn so many years ago.

“Hey.” Whitney flashed a dimpled smile.

Nicole, despite the effects of the lingering dream and grip of the past, shot one back. “Hi.”

“You’re still here,” Whitney breathed out, relief evident.

“Of course.”

“I was afraid you’d leave.”

“Why would I leave?” Nicole rested her forearm on the door jamb. “I still owe you a penny after all all.”

Whitney laughed and shook her head. “I heard my mom was on a rampage, and you weren’t texting back. I thought maybe she’d run you off.”

It was close to the truth. Waverly’s anger had been something to behold. And Nicole would only be lying if she said she wasn’t tempted to avoid another confrontation with her ex. But she thought of Nedley, and Chrissy’s words at the cemetery.

She needed closure. And if she wasn’t going to find it with Waverly, then the least she could do was be there for Whitney.

Nicole straightened back up. “Whit, I said I’d be at your dinner. I won’t go back on my word, no matter what. Okay?”

“Okay.” Whitney’s shoulders relaxed.

“Did you want to come in?” Nicole invited, pulling the door back wider.

“I’d love to, but the rehearsal’s about to start.” Whitney smiled hopefully. “See you in a few?”

“See you in a few,” Nicole agreed. Whitney turned to leave, but a question popped into Nicole’s head, nagging and insistent. “Hey wait.”

“Yes?”

“Earlier, at the bar, you said you wanted to tell me something.”

Whitney’s eyes widened. “Right. That. I do, but,” she took a deep breath, “maybe later?”

The dream with the little girl tickled at the back of Nicole’s subconscious, and with it an almost irresistible need to scratch at the surface and know what Whitney had wanted to say. But she didn’t push.

“Later then,” Nicole acceded. “But could you answer one question?”

“Sure.”

Nicole’s heart thundered in her chest. Your dad, she thought. If it’s not Champ, then who? Someone Waverly randomly met or… The other potential possibility felt like a blow to the solar plexus, nearly taking her breath away.

Whitney would know and could answer her right then and there. But Nicole’s courage failed her and she exhaled. “You know what, I don’t want you to be late. We can talk about it when you have more time.”

Whitney almost looked disappointed, but she covered it up with another smile. “I’ll have a penny ready for you then.”

Nicole watched Whitney walk away and round a corner to the elevators. When she was out of sight, Nicole stepped back and closed the door, chastising herself for being ridiculous. Waverly wouldn’t have… Nicole couldn’t even bring herself to finish the thought.

 


 

 

“You’re freaking kidding me right?” Waverly asked into her phone, exasperated. Every time she thought things couldn’t get worse... “How can an entire van full of instruments be stolen in broad daylight? Here? Where everyone and their mother and their second cousin and their third cousin once removed is up in everyone’s business?”

As she listened to the wedding band’s manager apologize yet again for the inconvenience and promise to provide a DJ at a discount, she walked past the doorway to the ballroom. Jesse was making small talk with Father Charles. The priest glanced disapprovingly every so often at Wynonna, who sat with her boots propped up on one of the dining tables, dozing lightly. Whitney was nowhere to be found, even though she said she’d be back quickly from the ladies room.

“Okay.” Waverly pinched the bridge of her nose. “Go ahead and tell your DJ to set up their gear at the Homestead tomorrow There’s nothing much we can do about it now. Yeah. We’ll be there. Bye.”

She hung up and inhaled deeply. Counted to 10. First in Latin. Then in Etruscan. So what if all of her intricately laid plans for Whitney’s wedding were suddenly unraveling? She had known to always expect the unexpected. It was the one piece of advice that appeared in every wedding planner book she had read. But none of them addressed what to do when unexpected was quickly morphing into disaster.

First the broken centerpieces, then the undone tuxedo alterations followed by Jesse’s black eye and now they were without a band. And to top it all off, the most unexpected, potential disaster of them all, the one Waverly never once thought she would ever have to anticipate, was somewhere four floors above her after getting all chummy with Whitney.

Her chest tightened at the memory of Whitney and Nicole sitting side-by-side, almost like mirror images, smiling those dimpled smiles at each other. Waverly had been harsh on Nicole. She knew that. But she reminded herself that she had to be. Had to maintain that anger at Nicole, lest she acknowledge the way her heart lurched at just how right Whitney and Nicole had looked together.

She was about to rejoin the rehearsal when the elevator dinged in the distance and Whitney stepped out. Waverly paused, frowning at Whitney, whose gait stuttered when she saw her.

“Where have you been?” Waverly asked, trying but failing to keep the frustration out of her voice.

“The restroom,” Whitney said as she walked up, guilt etched across her face. Whitney always had the worst poker face.

“Right.” Waverly narrowed her eyes at her daughter, grip tightening on her phone. “Since when do they have public facilities on the other floors?”

Whitney sighed. “Mom, can we not? We’re going to be late.” She tried to step around Waverly, who quickly blocked her path.

“Hold on now, missy. Where were you really?” Waverly asked even though she suspected she already knew where Whitney had gone.

Whitney lifted her chin, defiant. “Fine. You want to know? I went to see Nicole Haught.”

The confirmation of Waverly’s suspicions still hit like a ton of bricks. This was way worse than a stolen van. “What? Why!?”

“She’s an old family friend, isn’t she?” Whitney’s brown eyes bored into her, intense, just like Nicole’s.

“Is that what she told you?”

“Are you saying she’s lying?” There was a challenge in Whitney’s tone. A thinly veiled expectation. Waverly didn’t know quite what to make of it.

Instead of answering, Waverly crossed her arms and changed the subject. “How did you even meet her?”

Almost imperceptibly, Whitney’s face fell. “At Shorty’s last night when I went to get more bottles. She was having a drink. Dad was bothering her.”

Waverly shuddered. “Please don’t call him that in front of me.”

“Fine.” Whitney rolled her eyes. “I saved her from Champ.”

Waverly frowned. Champ hadn’t mentioned seeing Nicole. But then, it was possible he was so drunk that he thought he had imagined it. Or he outright didn’t remember. “And you decided to just visit her now?”

“She gave me some good advice and I wanted to thank her.”

“Advice about what?”

“Relationships.”

Waverly couldn’t stop the bark of a laugh that escaped from her. She couldn’t believe she was even having this conversation with Whitney, the absurd irony of it all...

Whitney lifted one eyebrow. “What do you have against her?”

Everything. The truth hung on the tip of Waverly’s tongue, ready to be flung out into the air, a grenade primed to explode and destroy the few things left going right with the wedding. But instead she chose the lie.

“Nothing,” Waverly said. “Just… be careful around her. I know she’s charming, but don’t be disappointed when she doesn’t stick around.”

Whitney blinked at her slowly. “Sure, mom, whatever you say.” She moved to walk past Waverly but paused when they were shoulder to shoulder. “But consider this: maybe you don’t know her as well as you think you do.”

 


 

 

A holiday song played over the speakers inside the hotel’s lobby, an instrumental rendition of I’ll Be Home for Christmas that tugged at Nicole’s heart as she stood outside the ballroom where Whitney’s rehearsal dinner would be held. She’d never felt more nervous in her life. Not during the academy. Not before the bar exam. Not even before the times she stared down the barrel of Willa Earp’s revolver or confronted a sack-faced Djinn or, hell, nearly shot a maybe possessed Wynonna. She rubbed her numb hands together and took a deep breath, looking down at her outfit and resisting the urge to change out of her black slacks and blue blouse for the dozenth time.

She promised Whitney. She wouldn’t turn back now.

Sucking in a lungful of air, she urged herself to walk through the open double doors, head held high, like she belonged there. The round tables were covered in white cloth and elegantly set with silver and fine china. Nicole glanced around and spotted Whitney across the room with Jesse and the officiant. To Nicole’s relief, neither of the other two Earps were present.

Looking at all the seats, Nicole couldn’t help but wonder if there was a seating arrangement or if it was a free for all. She would be more than happy hidden away in a corner where she could avoid the visual daggers that would no doubt be thrown her way. From what she’d gathered about Whitney, she didn’t doubt that assigned seating would put her smack dab next to...

“You must be Nicole.”

Nicole jumped, having not been paying attention enough to notice two young women approach her. They had expressions Nicole would label as manic excitement and she responded with hesitance, “That’s me.”

“Fucking fabulous.” The taller of the two spoke, all blonde hair and devious grin. “I’m Anna. This is Jen.” Anna got a little closer than expected, her eyes darting around Nicole’s face to the point that it made her a tad uncomfortable. . “Wow… it’s so crazy.” When she got an elbow from Jen, she shook her head. “I mean, your hair. Your hair is gorgeous.”

“Thank you.” Nicole cleared her throat, still not exactly sure who she was talking to. There was something about them though, more with Anna than Jen, that looked familiar. The daughter of someone maybe? “Are the seats assigned?”

“Well, they were.” Jen finally spoke, shaking her head. “But after all the trouble going on with the construction and the alterations, Miss Waverly said people can sit anywhere.”

Miss Waverly. Nicole nodded. “Ok then, I’ll just…” She looked for a table that was relatively far away.

“You’re not sitting way back here are you?” Anna gave her a disapproving look. “Whit will never forgive us if we let Nicole Haught sit so far away.” Leaning in conspiringly, she whispered, “We know all about you.”

Nicole froze. What exactly did they know?

“What she means is, Whit told us about you and her mom.” Jen cleared up, her hand on Anna’s bicep, giving her what looked like a warning glare before turning a smile towards Nicole. “I’m sure Whit would love for you to be seated a little closer.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Nicole looked longingly at a corner table.

“Absolutely. We would be horrible maids of honor if we let her mother…’s one true love sit in the corner.” Jen smiled sweetly.

Nicole winced. She wished people would stop saying that. One true loves didn’t just break up and cut off all contact, but still her brow furrowed at the hesitation. “Maids of honor? You mean bridesmaids?”

“As if.” Anna and Jen each took one of Nicole’s elbows. “Those roles are saved for the basic bitches that are Jesse’s cousins.”

It was almost like it clicked in her mind as Nicole looked at the blonde, her face merging with a memory. “Hey, you aren’t by any chance related to Chrissy Nedley are you?” She asked as she allowed herself to be hauled towards her own personal death sentence.

“You know my mom?”

Nicole just smiled a tight-lipped smile.

 


 

“Hey, Baby Girl.”

Waverly sighed softly as she tipped the shot glass back, wincing at the way the alcohol burned its way down her throat just as Wynonna slipped onto the stool beside her. “I know, I know.” Waverly grimaced as she set the glass down and slipped off the stool. “Rehearsal dinner.” She dropped some money on the bar before heading towards the reception hall they had reserved.

“Waverly, wait.” Wynonna quickly caught up to her.

“No time to wait. We need to get this over with.” Waverly checked her wristwatch with a sigh. “Somehow the band got its van stolen and now we have to make sure we can accommodate a DJ instead.”

“Ok, I know there’s all that, but I need to talk to you.”

“Can it wait for later?” Waverly pulled up her task list on her phone, adding another entry. “Why couldn’t they just have gone off to Vegas and elope?”

“Because she’s your daughter, not mine?” Wynonna joked.

Waverly’s step faltered for a second. “That’s not funny, Wynonna.” She commented softly as she pulled open the door to the hall. “Especially with Nicole…” Her words trailed off as she took in the sight of Nicole sitting at a table, bracketed by Jen and Anna who seemed to be showering her with questions.

Of all the disasters that had happened, this was the worst. What the hell was Nicole even doing there? “What the fu…”

“Super fun Earp family intervention time!” Wynonna wrapped an arm around Waverly’s abdomen and forcefully pulled her back out the door.

“Wynonna! What the hell?” Waverly tried to pull away but was powerless against Wynonna’s hold.

Pulling her into an empty conference room, Wynonna finally released her. “Settle down.”

“Wynonna I don’t have time for this. Nicole is crashing the party as we speak.” She couldn’t believe Nicole would have the nerve to...

“I invited her.”

A cold chill slid down Waverly’s spine as she froze, trying to gauge if Wynonna was joking or not. “What do you mean you invited her?” Just the words infuriated her and she found herself taking a step back as the feeling of betrayal set in. “After everything she did, how could you?” It was one thing for Whitney to talk to Nicole, not knowing everything that had transpired, but for Wynonna to invite her… Wynonna who knew everything. Wynonna who had been there to pick up the pieces. She felt tears stinging her eyes.

“Look, Waverly. I know it sounds bad but…”

“Sounds bad?” Waverly ‘s eyes narrowed. “Sounds bad. She fucking abandoned us over 20 years ago and you just decided it was ok to…”

“She didn’t know.”

It was the last thing Waverly expected to hear. “What?” She couldn’t even be sure she heard what she had.

Wynonna gave her a sympathetic look. “Nicole didn’t… doesn’t know Whitney is her daughter.”

That couldn’t be true, Waverly decided. Her sister had to be fucking with her in the worst way possible. “You really need to stop drinking all day. You’re getting as cruel as Daddy.”

“Ok…” Wynonna rose a finger. “That was completely uncalled for.” She stepped forward and grabbed Waverly by the shoulders, holding her firmly even as she tried to pull away. “I’m not messing with you. I would never joke about this.” Her eyes were clear of any deception. “Think back. You never actually spoke with Nicole about it.”

Waverly shook her head more in disbelief than confirmation. “I told...Becky.”

“And Becky with the good hair is just about as dependable as Champ.” Wynonna released her grip, satisfied Waverly wouldn’t leave. “That bitch never told Nicole.”

Waverly’s anger dissolved so quickly, it left her nauseous, morphing and developing into a cloud of sorrow and remorse so strong, the tears spilled from her eyes instantly, sliding down her cheeks and falling onto the hotel carpet.

 


 

 

Waverly could feel exhaustion pulling at her, ignoring the ache in her entire body as she watched Whitney nursing, no more than a week old. It was two in the morning and she had yet to get used to sleeping in two-hour increments before her needy daughter demanded to be fed… or changed… or just held.

She’d read a few dozen books about having a baby, but none of them seemed to convey the absolute distress she felt doing everything alone.

Well, Wynonna was there as much as she could be, and Gus was helping as much as she could, but at 2 a.m. when Wynonna was no doubt still at Shorty’s and the only other person in the room with Waverly was the one demanding all her attention, Waverly sighed.

She tried to tell herself this was a magical moment. That it was a bonding experience to be providing nutrients for a child that depended on her for so much. A child that wasn’t even hers biologically. She wanted to feel the magic, but she couldn’t help feeling as empty as the half of the closet that still contained nothing but empty hangers.

A minute later and Whitney was snoozing again, oblivious to her mother who carefully covered up, wiping away a bit of milk from tiny lips and cheeks. She set Whitney in the small infant sleeper Doc had gotten her which allowed them to safely sleep in bed together.

Curled on her side, she could just see over the low padded barrier, wispy auburn hair reminding her of another redhead that had once slept in the same spot. This was how it was going to be. Just the two of them. She didn’t have time to worry about whether Nicole was coming back, not when Whitney needed her attention and time.

Nicole wasn’t coming back.

Somehow, admitting that helped close the hole just a bit.

Maybe it was hormones, or maybe it was what any woman would feel when abandoned, but she reached over and smiled sadly as she lifted a tiny fist, running her thumb over tiny fingers. “Don’t worry, Whitney. I’ll never leave you.” Setting down the hand, she quickly wiped away the tears she couldn’t hold back. “I’ll make sure I’m the only mommy you’ll ever need.”

 


 

 

“You cannot tell me that.” Waverly took a step back, as if she could escape the situation. As if the last 20 years hadn’t been… “Oh my god, I’m gonna be sick.”

Wynonna looked around in panic. “Ok… ok… just breath.”

Waverly felt like her chest was going to cave in, like the roof was falling in on them right then and there. “I’m gonna throw up.”

“Please don’t.” Wynonna rubbed her back, trying to be any sort of comforting. “It’s going to be okay.”

“How am I…” All those years. She couldn’t even think about all those years that had passed, so filled with anger and sorrow over someone she was sure didn’t even love her. And Nicole. That was the worst part. She’d been so sure Nicole had known. Nicole had been so willing to take a verbal beating and hadn’t even known the reason why. “Oh God.” She rushed to the trashcan just in time for her stomach to rebel, rejecting the whiskey she’d had at the bar.

By the time her stomach was empty, her head was pounding and she knew she was a complete mess as she leaned against the wall, sliding down to sit on the ground. She didn’t notice Wynonna had left until she heard the door click the second time and Wynonna was kneeling beside her, offering her a towel and a bottle of water.

“Here, come on. Take a sip.”

Waverly did as she was told, the cool water soothing her burning throat. “She still doesn’t know, does she,” she spoke quietly.

“Yeah I thought it would be best to tell you first.” Wynonna dampened the edge of the towel, using it to wipe away the streaks of tears on Waverly’s cheeks. “Well on the plus side, this eyeliner is amazing. They should change their tag line to ‘it will stand up to decades worth of emotional trauma’ or something like that.”

Waverly couldn’t help giving her a small laugh as she stood with Wynonna’s help. “God… what the hell am I going to tell Nicole?” She rinsed her mouth out with water as she thought about it. How would she even start that conversation? Less than a few hours ago she’d completely yelled at her.

“Do you want me to tell her?”

“No.” Waverly shook her head, wincing at the throbbing in her skull. As if she didn’t have enough to deal with. “I should tell her… and Whitney. God Whitney is going to kill me too.”

“That kid is resilient.” Wynonna gave her a tight-lipped smile, reaching up to push some of Waverly’s hair behind her ear. “Don’t worry about her. And for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure tall, pale and gorgeous out there has been waiting 20 years for you.” Wynonna tugged on a bit of her hair. “Not unlike my incredibly stubborn sister.”

“I haven’t been…” Waverly let the words trail off. Who was she kidding? No one had ever compared to Nicole, male or female, and she knew no one ever would. She thought she had just given up, but had she been waiting? Maybe. “She’ll never forgive me.”

“Stop being such a dummy.” Wynonna removed her flask, taking a sip before offering it to Waverly who shook her head. “No one’s to blame except Nicole’s sister and I’m half-tempted to fly to the good ol’ US of A to show her what happens when you mess with Earps.”

“You and me both.” Waverly sighed softly.

Both Earps looked up as the door suddenly opened, letting in Gus who took in the scene with speculative eyes. “When you girls are done coddling each other, there’s a bit of a problem in the kitchen.”

Waverly froze. Not another problem. Please not another problem. It was the last thing she could deal with.

Gus limped over, capturing Waverly’s chin in her hand and tilting her face to the light, obviously seeing the tears. “You alright?”

Waverly nodded, despite feeling anything but all right. “What’s the problem?”

Gus relinquished her hold. “I have no idea how, but the food’s gone south.” Her eyes looked over Wynonna who at least tried to hide the fact that she was taking a pull from her flask. “I don’t know if someone left the door to the frigidaire open or if those chefs don’t know their ass from a casserole, but the only thing that appears edible are those lovely cupcakes y’all brought with ya.”

Taking a step away, hands on hips, Waverly took a deep breath before releasing a laugh. What else could possibly go wrong?

Chapter Text

I don't wanna talk
About things we've gone through
Though it's hurting me
Now it's history
I've played all my cards
And that's what you've done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play…



The stench wafting from the hotel’s kitchen stunk worse than the goddamn town dump, and Gus McCready swallowed back her gag reflex. She lifted the bandana tied loosely around her neck and used it to covered her nose and mouth as she watched Waverly speak with the hotel’s manager. Waverly had cleaned herself up earlier in the lobby bathroom, washing away any signs that would indicate she had been crying, but she still looked wan and distracted. Whitney stood nearby with Jesse, who had his arm wrapped around her waist. Although Whitney nodded along to the conversation, her eyes kept drifting back to Waverly, obviously more concerned with her mom’s well-being than the spoiled dinner. It’s why Gus loved the kid so damn much.

 

Next to Gus, Wynonna was about to take another swig from her flask. But Gus snatched it from her hands.

 

“What the...,” Wynonna protested as Gus shrugged, dropped her bandana, and easily downed the rest in one gulp.

 

“I’m gonna need you as sober as possible if this turns out to be any more of a shitshow.” Gus smacked her lips and tossed the empty flask back at Wynonna, who caught it with a scowl, screwed the top back on, and slipped it back inside the inner pocket of her leather jacket. “Well, sober enough for you I guess.”

 

“Believe me, you’d be drinking too if you had to do what I had to do,” Wynonna muttered, slouching back against the wall behind them and absentmindedly swatting away the fronds of a potted palm tree.  

 

“Told Waverly the truth about Nicole?” Gus guessed.

 

Wynonna’s head snapped toward her so fast Gus was surprised she didn’t get whiplash. “How…?”

 

“I may be old, but I still know all.” Gus tapped a finger against her white curls then formed a V with her index and middle fingers and pointed at her own dark irises. “I see all.”

 

Wynonna narrowed her eyes. “So Whitney told you.”

 

“Whitney told me,” Gus confirmed, chuckling. “But only ‘cause I was ‘bout to fetch my 12 gauge when I saw Nicole.”

 

Wincing, Wynonna ran a hand through her thick brown mane, frowning when her fingers got snagged in a tangle. “Guess we should have let more people in on the plan.” She looked around. “Where is the prodigal gay anyway?”

 

Gus shrugged up a shoulder. “Getting tortured by Whit’s friends.”

 

“A fate worse than death.” Wynonna shook her head slowly, inordinately pleased that Nicole finally had to put up with Whitney’s exhausting friends. She straightened out. “Maybe I should go save her.”

 

“Nah, she’s a big girl.” Gus fiddled with the triangular edge of her bandana. “It can be part of her penance for leaving in the first place.”

 

They watched as Whitney excused herself from the conversation with the hotel manager, Waverly, and Jesse, and sauntered over to them.

 

“You two are thick as thieves.” Whitney crossed her arms. “What are you whispering about over here?”

 

“The trouble you’re stirring,” Gus said.

 

Whitney’s eyebrows rose. “Me? I had nothing to do with the food.”

 

“No, but you invited a whole ‘nother whirlwind of trouble that could be worse than even that,” Gus countered, canting her head toward Waverly.

 

Whitney grimaced, glancing at her mom before turning back to Wynonna. “How’d she take it?”

 

“About as well as can be expected,” Wynonna sniffed nonchalantly. “I didn’t get any barf on me at least.”

 

Whitney’s mouth dropped open. “She threw up!?”

 

“Yeah, but it wasn’t nearly as gross as when she upchucked a tentacle monster.”

 

Whitney breathed out, devastated, and Gus hobbled forward to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder.

 

“She had to know,” Gus said. “Now we’ve just gotta help her get through these wedding setbacks before she snaps.”

 

“Yeah.” Whitney nodded, still crestfallen. She rubbed the back of her neck. “It’s just a bit of bad luck. I mean, everything was fine until…,” she trailed off, brow furrowing.

 

“Until?” Wynonna prompted, arching one eyebrow.

 

Whitney swallowed. “Until yesterday.”

 

All three women stared at each other. Dread sunk in Gus’s stomach like one of Waverly’s favorite gluten-free pizzas.

 

“You mean when Nicole showed up?” Wynonna asked.

 

“No!” Whitney shook her head. “That’s…”

 

“A coincidence,” Gus finished. “I mean, your delinquent ass showed up yesterday too, Wynonna. A bunch of folks did.”

 

Wynonna rolled her eyes. “If there’s anything I’ve learned about Purgatory? There’s no such thing as coincidences.”

 

“What coincidences?” Waverly’s voice chimed in. She joined them with Jesse in tow.

 

“Nothing,” Wynonna, Gus, and Whitney answered simultaneously and not at all guiltily.

 

Waverly and Jesse both frowned at them.

 

“All right.” Waverly took a deep breath. “Well, dinner’s shot unless we find something else to eat. The hotel’s reimbursing us for the dinner and will foot the tab for whatever we get to substitute.”

 

“Chinese?” Wynonna offered. “Noodles for luck and a long-lasting marriage.”

 

“Long life,” Waverly corrected.

 

“What?”

 

“The noodles symbolize long life,” Waverly explained.

 

“Whatever,” Wynonna said and smirked at Whitney and Jesse. “A true test of ‘til death do you part.”

 

Jesse ignored Wynonna. “I’m fine with Chinese if you are, Whit,” he said.

 

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Whitney agreed. “I can call and get it delivered.”

 

An idea flickered into Gus’s head. “Someone should pick it up.” She raised her hands to stop the oncoming protests. “With how everything’s been goin’ to hell in a handbasket lately, d’ya really wanna risk it bein’ delivered.”

 

“Good point,” Whitney said, looking around at her family. “So who’s going?”

 

“Waverly,” Gus said matter of factly. There could be no one else.

 

“Me?” Waverly pointed at herself.

 

“Whit and Jesse should stay and entertain their guests. Wynonna’s too drunk. And my bones are too brittle to go out in that damn cold again.” Gus pointed a wrinkled finger at Waverly. “So that leaves you. Unless you want to send Champ, Whit’s harebrained maids of honors, or Jesse’s clueless groomsmen.”

 

“Hey,” Whitney and Jesse protested at the same time.

 

Waverly sighed. “All right,” she said, very hesitantly. She couldn’t exactly argue with that logic.

 

“It’ll probably be a lot to carry,” Gus said, “so you should bring someone.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Maybe…”

 

Right on cue, Nicole emerged from the ballroom. She nervously looked over her shoulder and wiped her brow, as if she’d barely escaped a demon with her life. The universe couldn’t have planned it better.

 

“Haught.” Gus hid a devious smile.

 

“What?” Waverly squeaked. “No!”

 

Nicole stopped in her tracks, visibly gulping at the five pairs of eyes now staring at her. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

 

“Not at all.” Gus limped toward Nicole. “You’re just in time.” She slapped Nicole on the shoulder, hard, causing Nicole to stumble forward. “Food’s gone south so we need you to go pick up a new order before we all starve to death. With Waverly.”

 

Nicole’s eyes snapped toward Waverly’s and they held each other’s gazes for all of one second before they both blinked and looked away. It was fleeting, but damn, Gus swore she could still feel their connection, the way the air seemed to crackle and charge around the pair. The moment wasn’t lost on the others too, with Wynonna not-so-subtly rolling her eyes, Jesse watching with polite curiosity, and Whitney not even bothering to hide the stirrings of hope that lit up her face.

 

“Well?” Gus asked.

 

Nicole’s eyes darted to Whitney, who bit her bottom lip. “I’d be happy to help.” She turned her attention back to Waverly. “If that’s okay with Waverly.”

 

With her head ducked, Waverly seemed fascinated with the tips of her boots and each fiber of the plush carpet. “It’s fine,” she mumbled.

 

“What was that?” Gus asked, cupping her ear with her hand. “Speak up, girl.”

 

“I said it’s fine.” Waverly avoided Nicole’s gaze. “Grab your coat and meet me out front. I’ll bring the car ‘round.” She nodded at Wynonna. “Put the call in and tell them I’ll be there in 20.” With that, she walked off, bound and determined, leaving the rest of them to watch her retreating form.

 

“The hell you still doing here Haught?” Gus gruffed.

 

“Uh, right.” Nicole started for the elevators when Whitney called out her name. Nicole paused.

 

“Thanks,” Whitney said with a grateful smile.

 

Nicole smiled right on back, and Gus was struck by just how much they looked alike, from their dimples, to the curve of their lips, to the way the corners of their eyes crinkled just so. She wondered why Nicole hadn’t picked up on it.

 

“Anytime,” Nicole said, a look in her eyes that suggested that maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t nearly as clueless as Gus thought..

 

When Nicole boarded the elevator, Wynonna whistled and stood beside Gus.

 

“Gotta hand it to you, Gus,” Wynonna said. “For an ancient fox, you’re still as sly as they come.”

 

“Don’t say I never loved you,” Gus said as Whitney flanked her to the right. “Either of you. Or those two idiots. Here’s hoping they don’t end up killin’ each other before the night’s through.”

 

Whitney only grinned and kissed Gus on the cheek.

 


 

 

The explosion knocked Nicole off her feet, the ringing in her ears damn near unbearable. The high-pitched sound pierced straight through her skull. Her body ached all over, the taste of metal sharp in her mouth.

 

Somehow through it all, she just barely made out the sound of a soft groan. But even though it was muddled, as if she was listening to something from underwater, she knew who it was.

 

Waverly.

 

Despite the heaviness of her eyelids, the sluggishness of her muscles, Nicole forced herself to open her eyes and roll over. Her heart stopped when her blurred vision came back into focus at Waverly sprawled next to her, cradling her ribs.

 

With a burst of adrenaline, Nicole pushed herself up and crawled toward Waverly. “Baby? Are you okay?”

 

Waverly blinked up at her, pupils blown. She most likely had a concussion. “Nicole…”

 

“Sh, it’s okay.” Despite her soreness, Nicole managed to scoop Waverly up. “I’ve got you.” She heard a demonic growl behind her, from the revenant who had set the small bomb that Nicole and Waverly had narrowly avoided. Cold panic rose in Nicole’s chest. She couldn’t reach for her firearm while she was holding Waverly.

 

“Nicole, run,” Waverly said.

 

“No, I’m not leaving you.” Nicole closed her eyes, getting ready to sprint as fast as she could from the revenant when a gunshot rang through the air and Wynonna appeared with Peacemaker in hand. Nicole didn’t think she’d ever felt happier to see the Heir. The gun’s sigils glowed gold. Wynonna nodded at Nicole, who strained to get to her feet, but managed somehow even with Waverly cradled in her arms.

 

She didn’t spare Wynonna or the revenant a second glance, focusing only on getting Waverly and their unborn child away from danger.

 


 

 

Waverly cranked the heat up in her SUV, heart pounding as Nicole opened the passenger side door and slid into the seat. She avoided Waverly’s gaze, and Waverly was thankful. If she looked directly into Nicole’s big brown eyes, she would surely burst into tears again. Wynonna’s revelation hung heavily in her mind. Her soul. Waverly didn’t know if hearing it was a relief or an added curse. She suspected it was the latter as she drove out from underneath the hotel’s porte-cochère and pulled onto the road.

 

She snuck a sidelong glance at Nicole, who kept her eyes trained firmly on the dim road ahead. The Christmas lights strung up on lampposts cast Nicole’s profile in light and shadow, alternating between blinking greens, reds, and whites. She looked so beautiful, and Waverly couldn’t believe she was there and not a figment of her imagination. How often had Waverly looked to her right and seen nothing but empty space, wishing Nicole had been there, smiling at her? Too often to count. And now, here Nicole was, sitting by her side. Where she always belonged, her heart squeezed out.

 

Gripping the steering wheel with numb hands, Waverly internally debated over how to tell Nicole the truth, or even to tell her at all. Nicole deserved to know. But what would it accomplish? Would the truth set Nicole free? Waverly hadn’t felt freed at all. When she thought of the time they missed together as a family, all because of something so silly, the pain was nearly debilitating. Could she do that to Nicole? Put her through even more pain? On one hand, Nicole would know that Waverly hadn’t given up on her. On them. But on the other, it wouldn’t fix the past. Wouldn’t give them back everything they had lost. Would ignorance in this case truly be bliss?

 

Waverly didn’t know where to even start, so instead she blurted out, “Is it too hot?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“You can turn down the heat on your side if it’s too hot,” Waverly said, pointing at the temperature controls.

 

“I’m okay.” Nicole shifted in her seat. “I know you get cold easily.”

 

Waverly’s cheeks flushed over Nicole remembering something so inane. They continued to drive in silence. Waverly tried to focus on anything but her whirling thoughts. She even switched on the radio, the jingle bells of a Christmas carol replacing the hum of the engine and the sloshing of her tires through half-melted snow. But she couldn’t ignore how it was getting harder and harder to breath, the cabin air thick and stifling with overwhelming tension, that she finally cracked open her window and turned down the heat on her side.

 

They stopped at a red light, and Waverly could feel Nicole’s eyes on her, curious and patient as always.

 

“I’m sorry,” Waverly breathed out.

 

“It’s okay. It was getting a bit stuffy.”

 

“No, I mean,” Waverly licked her lips, “For earlier. I was… out of line.”

 

Nicole paused for a beat. “That’s okay too,” she replied.

 

“No, it’s not.” Waverly finally turned toward Nicole head on, her puffy jacket and slacks rubbing loudly against her leather seat. “You didn’t deserve that.”

 

Nicole’s eyes softened and Waverly’s breath stilled. She couldn’t look away. Didn’t even notice when the muted crimson glow in the car switched to green until someone honked at them from behind and sped around them.

 

Waverly jolted and broke eye contact, overcompensating by pressing a little too hard on the accelerator and pushing them both back into their seats.

 

“Thank you,” Nicole said. “For what it’s worth, I understand why you were upset.”

 

Inhaling evenly, Waverly shook her head. “Please don’t do that.”

 

“Do what?”

 

“That thing you do where you excuse my bad behavior.” Waverly flipped on her turn signal and hung a right, the clicker slow in cadence compared to the rapid beating of her heart. She thought back to when the first two IVF cycles failed and how, no matter how hard Waverly pushed Nicole away, Nicole had always been so even-keeled save for their last fight.

 

“I’m not excusing it. Just saying I understand.”

 

“Can’t you just, I dunno, be angry that I was an asshole?”

 

“Do you want me to be angry?”

 

“Yes! Then we both can move on.”

 

Nicole huffed out a tiny laugh. “Well, I’m not angry, sorry to say. But if you need me to say you were an asshole,” she shrugged, “then fine, you were an asshole.’

 

“Thank you!” Waverly threw her hands up and then quickly grabbed the wheel again. “Was that so hard?”

 

Nicole half-grinned, and Waverly couldn’t help but smile in response, and in that moment the unease between them ratcheted down a notch, enough for Waverly to at least breathe easier, if only by a bit. Waverly had missed this. Just being with Nicole. Her chest ached yet again.

 

“So,” Nicole pushed the vents pointed toward her up and away, redirecting some of the warm air toward Waverly, “where are we heading? I heard Panda Garden closed down a while ago.”

 

Waverly’s brow furrowed. “You knew about that?”

 

“Nedley,” Nicole explained. “I think he, ah, missed his calling to be the town reporter.”

 

“I see.” Waverly wondered about everything else Nedley had “reported” back to Nicole, and everything he hadn’t. “Well, closed down isn’t exactly 100 percent accurate.”

 

“No?”

 

“More like, blew up. Couple of revenants knew just where to hurt the Earp Heir.” Waverly felt rather than saw Nicole tense up, and just like that they were back on edge, an awkward tension suffusing the air around once more.

 

Nicole cleared her throat. “I hear they’re all gone now.” She turned her head to look out her window, hands balled up into loose fists in her lap. “You guys did good.”

 

“Yeah,” Waverly said, heart squeezing. “Yeah I guess we did.” She rested her right hand on the gearshift.

 

“I knew you would,” Nicole murmured so softly that Waverly nearly missed it.

 

It had been no small task, breaking the Earp curse, and Waverly tried not to think about how much easier it might have been if Nicole had been there. Not necessarily to fight the demons head on. But for moral support. To help keep an eye on Wynonna. To help protect Whitney. Or even just to hold Waverly when the fear and uncertainty and looming danger became too much to bear. She tried not to think about how Nicole might have been there if things had happened differently, if mistakes that in hindsight seemed so ridiculous hadn’t occurred.

 

Waverly shook her head. What was done was done. Neither of them could change the past no matter how much they wished they could.

 

“After the restaurant was destroyed,” Waverly said, “the owners got an anonymous donation to build a new one and call it The Flaming Dragon.” Out of the corner of her eye, Waverly could see Nicole smile.

 

“I’m guessing that donor knew Purgatory would be in trouble if certain residents didn’t get their fix of Gong Bao chicken or sweet and sour soup.”

 

“You remember all that?” Waverly didn’t mean to ask the question out loud, but she did.

 

“I remember everything.”

 

Waverly stared straight ahead as she slowed the car to another halt at a stop sign, too afraid to look Nicole again in the eye, hating the way her heart thudded painfully against her ribs.

A white van drove through the intersection from the left, a colorful decal emblazoned on its side. Waverly froze.

 

“The Bryan Madams.” Nicole chuckled.

 

“Holy shit.” Waverly gaped.

 

“Cute, right?”

 

“No!” Waverly shook her head.

 

“No?”

 

“I mean, yes, but,” Waverly gunned the engine, tires squealing on asphalt, and set off in hot pursuit, “that’s the van!”

 

“Wha?” Nicole’s hand flew to the roof handle and wrapped around it in a white-knuckle grip. “What van?”

 

Waverly’s sudden chase didn’t go unnoticed by the van’s driver, which sped up down the two-lane road toward the industrial sector. “The wedding band’s van,” she gritted her teeth. “It was…”

 

“Stolen?”

 

Waverly’s head whipped toward Nicole. “How the hell did you know that?”

 

“Chrissy was at the graveyard when the call came in.” Nicole braced her left hand on the dashboard when Waverly pressed even harder on the accelerator.

 

“Jeez, did you visit half of Purgatory in the, what, 12 hours you’ve been here?” Waverly muttered, slamming on the brakes and hanging a sharp right to keep up with the van.

 

“Christ Wave!” Nicole pushed herself back into her seat, fumbling in her pocket for her phone, but dropping it when the van suddenly veered down an alleyway and Waverly promptly followed. “Dammit. Don’t you think you should call the cops?”

 

“And have something else go wrong?” She brought the SUV to a screeching halt in the alley when the van pulled into an empty garage. “No offense to Chrissy, but her deputies couldn’t even keep a drunk in the drunk tank last night, so I’m not about to trust them with this.”

 

“They could be dangerous,” Nicole protested.

 

Waverly reached behind into the backseat and unzipped something. She pulled out a short-barrelled shotgun. “So can I.”

 

Nicole’s eyebrows shot up, lips slowly stretching into a smile despite her reluctance. “Glad to see some things don’t change.”

 

Grinning, Waverly hopped out of the car, rounding the front. She waited for Nicole to retrieve her phone and join her.

 

“Do you still keep a piece in your sock?” Waverly asked as she moved toward the van, now idling in the garage, its tail lights glowing bright red. A cloud of exhaust fumes rose its tailpipe until the engine abruptly cut off. The windows were tinted too dark to see the driver or any other possible passengers.

 

“No.” Nicole dialed out a number on her phone. “I haven’t had the need. Not since I…” She shrugged up a shoulder, neither of them needing her to finish the sentence.

 

“Hey!” Waverly shouted at the van. “Whoever’s in there, come out slowly.”

 

They heard the door unlock with a click and Waverly tensed. Before Waverly could blink, the door flew open and someone--or something --bum rushed her in a hazy blur of speed and surprise. She was bowled over before she could even think to aim or pull the trigger of her gun, which was yanked from her grip. Her back collided painfully with the hard floor, breath knocked clear out of her lungs. Waverly heard something crack against cement before the sound of a garage door motor rumbled and the overhead door slammed shut.

 

Groaning, Waverly rolled to her side and pushed herself up. She scrambled unsteadily to her feet when she saw Nicole lying prone a few feet away, her cell phone in pieces nearby.

 

“Nicole,” Waverly breathed out, crouching down next to her. She laid a tentative hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

 

Nicole let out a soft moan as she blinked her eyes open. She had a small cut above her left eyebrow, shallow, but oozing blood. Waverly helped her into a sitting position. Nicole’s eyes darted to her broken phone and the closed garage door. “I’m guessing we’re trapped?”

 

“Looks like it.” Waverly smiled apologetically and fished out a packet of tissues from her pocket. She pulled one out and pressed it against the cut. Nicole sucked in a pained breath. “Sorry.”

 

“Never a dull moment with you Earps, huh?” Nicole half grinned, half grimaced.

 

“Bet this isn’t what you signed up for when you had to come here for work.” Waverly couldn’t stop her stomach from clenching with guilt at the way Nicole watched her, eyes deep and dark and wide.

 

“No,” Nicole admitted. “But I don’t mind.”

 

But you did, Waverly thought. Didn’t you?

 

It was partly why Nicole had left, and Waverly was reminded of the long nights she cried herself to sleep because of it. Reminded of emptiness and loneliness mixed in with the joy of the first moment she held Whitney in her arms, thinking how tiny ears looked exactly like a certain missing deputy’s ears. It reminded her of the longest nine months of her life, dealing with being pregnant alone. It reminded her of the last time she’d seen those eyes watching her, quivering with emotion as Waverly had screamed words she didn’t even mean at the time.

 


 

 

Waverly didn’t know that an already broken heart could yet splinter into a thousand more pieces. But she found out that it could, painfully so, as she pressed her cell phone to her ear and listened to the apologetic platitudes of the fertility nurse. It hurt more than she thought possible, more than the bruised ribs and concussion she had received from the explosion a few days ago. Waverly closed her eyes, stifled a sob, and nodded.

 

“Of course,” she said, voice thick. “I understand. Thanks Jo.”

 

She hung up and took a deep, shuddering breath. She had thought for sure that this time it would work. They had done everything right and on time. Cut out caffeine and alcohol. Ate so healthy that even Wynonna had scaled back on all her Gong Bao chicken, whiskey, and donuts to support her. And it still wasn’t enough. How was she going to tell Nicole?

 

Waverly could hear her fiancée pacing in the kitchen, arguing with Becky on the phone for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past few weeks. Waverly absentmindedly twisted the simple solitaire engagement ring on her finger as she listened to the one-sided conversation.

 

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she heard Nicole say. “We’ll think about it. Why? Because what if…” A huff. “Christ, Becky, how many times do I have to tell you? It’s my goddamn money and I can do what I like with it.”

 

Nicole sounded frustrated and angry, which was par for the course whenever she talked to Becky. Waverly wished she could take it from Nicole. But Waverly could barely let go of those emotions herself.

 

And now, all she would do was add to them. Nicole’s call ended with a fairly loud, “Fuck off,” followed by the sharp clatter of her phone landing on laminate countertop. Nicole emerged from the kitchen, tense and agitated. It had become Nicole’s resting state lately that sometimes Waverly hardly recognized her. The laidback deputy she had met so long ago had been missing for quite some time. Waverly was ashamed to realize she didn't know quite when the transition happened--sometime after the first failure--and she didn’t know if that Nicole would ever come back. Waverly wondered if Nicole felt the same about her.

 

“Becky says hi,” Nicole said, clipped. She collapsed next to Waverly on the couch. The springs in the worn cushions squeaked in protest.

 

“How is Ms. Sunshine?” Waverly asked, trying to keep the mood light. There was only a slight quiver in the question. Nicole didn’t notice.

 

“Oh, you know, same shit, different toilet.” Wearily, Nicole ran her hands down her face. “They want us to visit for the holidays.”

 

“Oh.” That was unexpected. “What did you say?”

 

“That’d we’d think about it.” Nicole swiveled her head toward Waverly. “Would you want to go?”

 

Waverly hesitated. Nicole’s family had made it no secret that they disapproved of Nicole’s life and everything--scratch that, everyone --in it. They were less than pleased when Nicole announced their engagement, and her sister in particular went completely ballistic when she found out about the IVF. Waverly knew how important family was to Nicole, but the thought of spending the holidays with them after their second loss, to see relief or smug satisfaction on their faces...

 

“I don’t know,” Waverly finally said.

 

“Why?” Nicole sat up straight.

 

Waverly almost laughed. “Are you kidding? Your family doesn’t like me.”

 

“They like you just fine.”

 

“No, they don’t think I’m good enough for you.”

 

“That’s not true,” Nicole protested. “Wave, they just haven’t had a chance to get to know you. And if they did, they’d know that you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

 

“Am I?”

 

Nicole frowned. “Of course you are!”

 

Waverly wasn’t so sure. Not anymore. There was no denying that things had been off ever since their first IVF failure, both of them so wrapped up in trying to mask their grief and tiptoe around each other. “If you want to go, you should go. I just want to spend time with my family here.”

 

It was the wrong thing to say.

 

“Your family?” Nicole asked, hurt. “What the hell am I then?”

 

“Nicole...”

 

“When the hell are you gonna see us as a family?”

 

Waverly shook her head. “You know I don’t mean it like that. It’s just Wynonna…”

 

“Wynonna, of course.” Nicole rolled her eyes and Waverly’s hackles rose.

 

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

 

“Nothing,” Nicole said as she got to her feet and walked toward the window, putting as much distance between them as possible.

 

“No, clearly it’s not nothing. Spit it out.”

 

Nicole sighed harshly. “If you don’t want to go just say it. Don’t hide behind the person who left you for three years without a second thought.”

 

Waverly felt like she had been slapped across the face. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“Wynonna’s an adult, Wave. She doesn’t need you here to babysit her or fight her battles for her.”

 

“That’s not what I’m doing.”

 

“Isn’t it?”

 

“No.” The heat of Waverly’s anger escalated, picking up more and more steam like a runaway train. “Where is this coming from?”

 

Nicole crossed her arms. “I just think you and the baby would be safer if we got away for a little while.”

 

Waverly’s heart clenched so hard she couldn’t breath. “Away from Wynonna?”

 

“Away from all the crazy!” Nicole threw her hands up. “With all the revenants and witches and demons and whatever the hell is out there. It can’t be good for either of you. Hell, one of them nearly killed you the other day, Waverly.”

 

“Well it didn’t.” Waverly angrily swiped at her eyes. “And you don’t have to worry about the baby.”

 

“And why is that?”

 

“Because we don’t have one!”

 

That stopped Nicole cold. A deafening silence surrounded them.

 

“What?” Nicole asked, stunned.

 

“I just got off the phone with Jo and,” Waverly shrugged helplessly, “It didn’t work. I guess you can say you told me so.”

 

“Baby…” Nicole stepped forward, but Waverly put up a hand to stop her.

 

“I mean, that’s what you were implying, wasn’t it? That I put our baby in danger.”

 

“Wave, no...”

 

Knees wobbling, Waverly stood. “You knew what you were getting into when you decided to be with me. The curse...”

 

“I didn’t sign up for that!” Nicole said, exasperated. “I signed up for you, Waverly. You and me and making our own family someday. I’m not risking another life over these revenants and your sister.”

 

“The curse and I are a package deal!” Waverly was sure the entire apartment building could hear them but she honestly couldn’t care less.

 

“You are not the heir!” Nicole shouted.

 

The words were like a knife straight through Waverly’s heart. “Fuck you,” Waverly spit out, seeing nothing but red.

 

“Fuck me?” Nicole pointed at herself incredulously.

 

“Yes, fuck you!” She said, seething, breaths coming in harsh pants. “If you don’t know how much… If you can’t accept that I… then you’re not the person I thought you were.”

 

“Maybe I never was,” Nicole said.

 

“And maybe this was a mistake,” Waverly said, lifting up her left hand, the diamond on her ring finger catching the light just so. “All of it. Nothing but a waste of time and money.”

 

Nicole’s mouth dropped open. “Wave, you don’t meant that,” her voice cracked.

 

“Maybe I do.” And with that Waverly left, clinging to her fury, the only thing that allowed her to ignore the hollowness within.

 


 

 

Nicole didn’t want to let on just how much her head hurt. It wasn’t the break in the skin that was still bleeding, but rather a newly formed headache from the impact. It wasn’t a concussion, she’d had a handful back in the day when it wasn’t uncommon for her to get thrown through a door or a window pane, but it was starting to piss her off. She looked over at Waverly who had moved to the door of the garage, hands on hips as she inspected their options.

 

There weren’t a lot, Nicole knew. Even twenty years ago, she knew about the industrial part of Purgatory enough to know the only way to get out of the doors was to have a key. The open plains around Purgatory left the town susceptible to tornadoes and while most of the homes could be knocked over by a simple tree falling, the industrial buildings were built to last.

 

Trapped in a room with Waverly Earp and a mountain of history. Nicole would have laughed if not for the throbbing in her skull.

 

God, she had a new client meeting on Monday. She was going to show up looking like she joined a fight club. ‘ What did you do this weekend?’ she imagined either her mother or father asking. ‘Oh, just got attacked by possibly a demon possibly just a drunken hillbilly in Purgatory with Waverly Earp, yes that Waverly Earp.’ It was funny enough to lure a chuckle out of her.

 

“What’s so funny?” Waverly asked suddenly.

 

Nicole had the sense to blush. “Just imagining explaining my beaten mug to my parents.” She waved off the impending apology that Waverly was about to get into. “Find anything interesting?”

 

Waverly bit her bottom lip, obviously still wanting to say something, but thankfully she decided against it. “There’s a window.” She pointed to the glass rectangle that would possibly be big enough for Waverly to crawl through if it could be opened. “I just need to find something to pull under it so I can try climbing up. Stupid short genes.”

 

Eyeing the window, Nicole worked the math in her head before pushing herself up off the ground. “Okay. Let’s do this.”

 

Waverly froze. “What?”

 

“I don’t really see anything you can drag over there so… I’ll give you a boost.”

 

There was a slight hesitation as Waverly moved slowly to the window, looking from Nicole to the window.

 

Nicole rolled her eyes. “I’m not trying to cop a feel, Waverly. We’re both adults here.”

 

A strange look came over Waverly’s face. Disappointment? “You’re right.”

 

Intertwining her fingers, Nicole leaned back against the wall under the window, facing Waverly. “Okay.”

 

An uncertain look on her face, Waverly stepped close, her hands settling on Nicole’s shoulders. There was another hesitation before she shook her head, urging Nicole to bend down a little before settling her boot in Nicole’s hands.

 

This close, Nicole tried not to think too much, tried not to focus on the warmth of Waverly’s hands she swore she could feel through her coat. She tried not to think of the way Waverly’s eyes locked with her own for the briefest of moments before she was pushing upwards and Nicole was carrying her easily. She was lighter than Nicole remembered, or maybe she’d just forgotten what it felt like to lift her.

 

What the hell had she been thinking, Nicole wondered as she closed her eyes, concentrating on not dropping Waverly. It was too much. Too close. Too intimate to be safe.

 

“Shitballs.” Waverly exhaled in frustration. “Whoever the maintenance is for this building really needs to do a better job. It’s rusted shut.”

 

“Okay.” Nicole thought for a second, bracing her back against the wall. “Maybe you can shoot it open?”

 

Waverly sighed loudly. “No, I’m pretty sure whoever attacked us grabbed my gun on the way out.” There was a brief pause before she tapped Nicole’s shoulder. “You can let me down.”

 

Releasing her hold, Nicole slowed Waverly’s descent with her arms around her body. It was just the barest second when Waverly’s feet touched the ground and Nicole’s arms were still around her, but it felt like an eternity, as if time had slowed to a standstill that gave her enough time to admire the changes to Waverly’s face after all this time. She was still beautiful, but had lost a lot of her innocence. How much of that had been being a mother, and how much had been from the heartache caused by Nicole?

 

Twenty years ago, it would have been the perfect opportunity to steal a kiss, and Nicole couldn’t help but wonder if the same thought occurred to Waverly as she watched her face twist from a slight smile into a confused frustration and Waverly pulled away as soon as Nicole dropped her arms.

 

“Well,” Nicole cleared her throat. “That’s a no go.” She looked around, trying to put space between them while also trying to find any solution and coming up empty. She’d been out of the demon-hunting business for too long, or maybe it was the headache, but she just wanted to sit and take a breather. “Maybe we should just… wait for someone to come along.”

 

“We have the van.” Waverly was pulling herself into the vehicle, checking for the keys. “Finally something good...” She growled as the engine turned over, the vehicle sputtering to life. “When in doubt, bust your way out.”

 

“Waverly, these doors were meant to withstand a tornado. You’re just going to get hurt.”

 

Waverly rolled her eyes. “If you’re not going to offer any helpful solutions, I’d appreciate it if you just… shut up.”

 

“Shut up?” Nicole’s eyes narrowed. She was surprised at how easily her emotions flipped,  confusion and sorrow turning to aggravation.  “You can’t just bust your way out of everything. I get it, you’re an Earp, but not everything can be solved with force.”

 

“Yeah well sometimes you just don’t have the option to turn around and do nothing.” Waverly looked surprised that the words came out and Nicole swallowed audibly. “ I’m not going to just give up.” Waverly’s voice broke and her eyes were filled with tears. Nicole knew they weren’t just talking about the door.

 

“Hey.” Nicole reached out to open the door. The last thing she wanted was for Waverly to get hurt.

 

Buckling the seatbelt, Waverly shook her head. “I’m not giving up.” She repeated, her voice a bare whisper before yanking the door closed and flooring the gas pedal, tires squealing against the pavement and kicking up black smoke before the van suddenly lurched into movement.

 

“Waverly!” Nicole called out, eyes wide as the van crashed against the door in a deafening boom. Her already throbbing headache screamed at her in agony but she ignored it as she ran to where the crippled van was pressed against the unmoving door. Of course it looked like all the damage was done to the van, but Nicole was more worried about the driver as she pulled open the door, finding Waverly staring out the windshield in shock, tears streaming down her cheeks.

 

“Hey.” Reaching in, Nicole unbuckled the seatbelt and Waverly seemed to pour out of the driver seat, somehow ending up in Nicole’s arms. For a moment, Nicole froze, remembering the last time she’d cradled her this way, that last attack that had started the snowball of emotions that led to… she shook her head, focusing on the here and now. Waverly barely weighed anything as their bodies molded together, twenty years of distance dissolving into nothing for the longest moment until Nicole swallowed audibly. She held Waverly’s form carefully, carrying her away from the smoking vehicle before kneeling and setting her down on the ground. “Are you hurt?”

 

Waverly scrubbed away her tears, shaking her head quickly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” She took a shuddered breath, regaining her composure. “I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s fine.” Nicole gave her a sad smile. “We’ll get out of this.” She knew there were a dozen layers to their conversation, a dozen dimensions filled with what could have beens and if onlys , but she couldn’t let them get distracted. “We just need a little patience, someone will notice we’re missing and your car is right outside.”

 

Waverly looked up at the word patience, her eyes glistening with more unshed tears.

 


 

Waves?”

 

Waverly curled in on herself, hugging the pillow to her chest. She’d been up for two days straight now, unable to find even the slightest bit of solace in sleep. Not since Nicole had left. Squeezing the pillow tight, she could still smell Nicole’s shampoo on it.

 

Wynonna got tired of waiting, and the door clicked open. “Waves.”

 

The bed shifted and Waverly flinched just slightly as an arm wrapped around her waist, a hand pressing against her stomach and the vacant emptiness that only reminded her of how much of a failure she was. She recognized Wynonna’s longer form, always so tense even when trying to be comforting. “Hey, Baby Girl,” Wynonna kept her voice soft and low, as if her voice could possibly shatter Waverly’s soul anymore than it already was.

 

Waverly didn't say anything, just hugged her pillow tighter,  staring at the framed picture on the nightstand on Nicole's side of the bed -- a smiling version of a couple she barely recognized anymore.

 

How had things gotten so bad? How could she have let them? Fresh tears didn't even bother to pool in her eyes before spilling out,  following the same saline trails left behind by their predecessors.

 

“Look,” Wynonna spoke,  running her fingers through the tangle of her hair. “Nicole loves you,  and you love her. She'll be back.”

 

Waverly didn't have the strength to be hopeful.  Not anymore.  The part of her that was all positivity and hope,  Nicole had taken that part with her to Chicago.

 

“I know I'm the last person that should say anything.  Gods know I've screwed up my own love life a hundred times over, but you and Nicole, you guys are like ying and yang, completely different but part of each other.”

 

Waverly felt the brush of lips against her temple accompanied with the scent of Whiskey.

 

“Don’t worry, Waves. Be patient. She’ll be back, even if I have to go to Chicago and drag her back myself.”

 

Patient. Waverly scoffed internally. If there was one trait all Earps lacked, it was patience.

 


 

 

Patience. Waverly couldn’t stop the tears from falling again. They’d had their problems in the beginning, but she’d never felt so connected to anyone in her entire life and the pain was unbearable thinking about how she’d given up on Nicole, on the two of them, and that had resulted in twenty years of single parenthood she could have avoided. How was she even going to make it up to Nicole? Nicole who had missed everything.

 

Whitney’s first steps at the luring of Wynonna and a donut.

 

She’d missed Whitney’s first mumbled word that had ending up being a screamed “Doc” one day when he’d popped up unannounced with toys and cookies for her.

 

Okay maybe Nicole would not have approved of Whit joining the cheerleading squad for the Blue Devils, but that would have been an argument she would have loved to have, and now here they were, twenty years later, locked in a garage just like old times and she couldn’t stop crying.

 

It had taken a village to raise the youngest Earp, and it was a village that should have included Nicole.

 

“Waverly.” Nicole’s voice was soft as she hesitated briefly before wrapping an arm around Waverly’s shoulders, pulling her into a hug.

 

Waverly absorbed the warmth greedily. She knew she shouldn’t allow herself to fall into the embrace, allowing memories and emotions to consume her, but for just the barest of moments, she could pretend things hadn’t changed at all, that they were still in their 20s and chasing down some stupid revenant that had been wreaking havoc.

 

But they weren’t, and Waverly felt the loss of possibilities in her heart. They were so much older now. She had… they had a daughter about to hit 21 in less than a week and getting married in a matter of days. “I’m sorry.” Waverly sniffled, looking up into concerned eyes. “I should have listened to you.”

 

“You’re allowed to question me, Waverly.” Nicole looked down, suddenly unable to look at her. “I’m not always right.”  And suddenly she was pulling away, putting space between herself and Waverly as she moved to the small accident scene.

 

It wasn’t fair to Nicole, either way. Telling her or not telling her. Both held their own burdens, but Waverly could see it in Nicole’s eyes, pools of caramel heavy with guilt and sorrow. Nicole blamed herself for leaving, that much was obvious to Waverly, and to a point it was true. Nicole had left, returned home to Chicago without a second look back, but Waverly didn’t have the strength to be angry about that, not when Nicole hadn’t known the whole story.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Waverly blinked, having not realized Nicole was speaking to her. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

 

Nicole pursed her lips, doubt coloring her gaze as she stood with hands hooked in the waist of her slacks. It was a very familiar pose and Waverly barely stopped herself from crying again. “You sure you’re okay?” Nicole gave her a worried look. “I just want to move the van back, see if you did any damage to the door at all.”

 

Waverly nodded, hugging her knees to her chest.

 

Nicole put the van back into park a few meters away, slipping out and moving in front of it. “Well, Waves. You sure Earped that van up.” She commented with a chuckle before inspecting the door. “Not the door though. There’s some denting, but the van will give long before the door will.” With a sigh, she took a seat on the ground, not far from Waverly but leaning back against the door. “I think we’re stuck here till someone comes along.”  

 

They were quiet for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably more like a few minutes before Waverly knew she had to say something. “Nicole?” Waverly picked at a scuff mark on one of the knees of her slacks.

 

Nicole was probing her forehead, wincing slightly. “Yeah?” When Waverly didn’t speak right away, she turned to look at her, a question in her eyes.

 

Waverly knew she needed to tell her, needed to reveal the truth that had been hidden from the both of them. “I… um…” But still the words stuck in her throat, refusing to emerge.They were stuck together, there was no escaping, and it was probably the best moment they would get, but looking up into those dark eyes that watched her with a gentle concern, she couldn’t do it. How could she condemn Nicole to the agony that she herself felt eating her alive? “Feels like old times, huh?”

 

Nicole smiled, turning away and resting her head back against the gate. “Not exactly like old times, but pretty close.”

 

No, not at all like old times. Old times would leave her pressed against Nicole’s side, an arm wrapped around her shoulder as Nicole’s other hand would be wrapped around her own. If Waverly closed her eyes, she could feel the ghost of a thumb brushing over her knuckles and it brought tears to her eyes again, threatening to spill and reveal more secrets than her mouth ever could.

 

Waverly knew she had to tell her. It wasn’t fair to her. It wasn’t fair to Whitney. It was too late for Nicole and herself, half a lifetime wasted because of a miscommunication, but Whitney had her whole life ahead of her. She deserved to have her mother… her biological mother. “Nicole…” She spoke again, only to have a bright light shine in from beneath the door, the sound of a car approaching.

 

“Please don’t be a damn demon.” Nicole grumbled as she stood, dusting off her black slacks, getting ready to bang on the door, to get the attention of whoever it was.

 

“You two in there?” A familiar voice sounded from the other side.

 

“Chrissy.” Waverly breathed a sigh of relief as she stood, dusting off the seat of her pants. “Nicole and I got locked in, Sheriff.” She spoke loudly. “Don’t suppose you can help us out?”

 

There was a long silence instead of a response and Waverly was beginning to wonder if Chrissy heard her when suddenly there was a disgruntled mechanical sound and the door began to move ever so slowly. “There are some folks wondering where you are.” Chrissy’s voice was louder now as more space formed between the door and ground. “Well… wondering where their supper is really.”

 

“Sounds about right.” Waverly laughed, looking up at Nicole nervously. With the sudden presence of the sheriff, Nicole had put more space between them, more than likely to prevent the rumor mill from churning out a few new bits about the two of them locked together for over an hour.

 

“Y’all alright?” Chrissy Nedley’s form began to reveal itself, watching as the door raised ever so slowly, the newly formed dents causing the gears to grind in protest. “You sure did a number on this.”

 

“Sorry, we were trying to get out and the only thing we really had was the van.” Waverly pointed a thumb over her shoulder, the back of the van banged up and dented. “They sure do make these doors sturdy. How did you know where we were?”

 

Clipping the keyring full of various keys back to her belt, Chrissy shrugged. “Your sister called asking me to track either your phone or Nicole’s. Something about late chinese food… she sounded pretty tanked and I would have ignored it but we’d received a call that cut off which matched the number Wynonna gave us for Nicole so…”

 

Nicole sighed softly. “Thanks Chrissy. I was trying to call but I dropped it.”

 

Chrissy nodded. “Well we got a general area track and after that it was just a matter of patrol and finding Waverly’s car. You guys seem to have had a night...”

 

Nodding, Nicole winced as she touch her cut. “Neither of us got a look at the driver, but something is going seriously wrong around here.”

 

“I’ve got some boys coming down to gather forensics. Don’t suppose either of you would be willing to give me a statement?”

 

“I think…”

 

“We’re good.” Waverly spoke up quickly. “We saw the stolen van, followed it. We didn’t see who was driving and don’t know why they attacked us.” She spoke matter of factly, casting a look at Nicole.

 

Waverly expected surprise from Nicole and got it,  no doubt expecting some sort of fight from Chrissy. Instead, the sheriff pursed her lips in hesitation, “Alright then.” Chrissy nodded, hands dropping to her belt. She didn’t ask any further questions, obviously used to the routine.

 

Moving to her SUV, Waverly couldn’t help but wonder if Nicole would have ever be able to have done that job. She’d been driven so much by honesty and integrity, barely able to keep track of the small-town politics that kept everything running smoothly. She thought about a life of Nicole covering things up, compromising her own morals making the extraordinary pass as ordinary.

 

She couldn’t see Nicole doing it easily. Even the few years she’d done it before leaving, with Nedley taking most of the guff and leading the way in cover-ups, Nicole had begun to feel the daily strain of dishonesty.

 

But she'd done it, for Waverly, and she probably would have continued to, but would she have been happy?

 

Waverly saw her chatting with Chrissy and rolled her eyes, honking the horn. They had a dinner to get back to. When eyes turned gold in the headlights looked up her way,  and a familiar smile graced Nicole's features, Waverly felt her heart skip a beat. She would have made sure Nicole was happy, or at least would have tried to if she had gotten the chance.




Chapter Text

“People everywhere
A sense of expectation hanging in the air
Giving out a spark
Across the room your eyes are glowing in the dark
And here we go again, we know the start, we know the end
Masters of the scene
We've done it all before and now we're back to get some more
You know what I mean”

 

What a difference 24 hours made, Nicole thought as she stepped out of the Jeep and watched Waverly hand her keys to the Wainright’s eager valet.

Last night, Nicole had been accosted by both Earp sisters and had borne the brunt of their open hostility. But now? Now she was walking side-by-side through the hotel’s front entrace with Waverly Earp, if not necessarily on friendly terms, than at the very least with less animosity.

Waverly had been mostly silent on the ride back, but not uncomfortably so. The anger she previously directed at Nicole, so keen and palpable the few times they had interacted, had melted away. And after spending the better part of the last hour locked in a garage together, with Waverly’s startling burst of emotion, Waverly now seemed almost reticent. Nicole wasn’t sure what had caused the change in Waverly’s demeanor. One part of her was silently grateful. She honestly wasn’t sure how much more Earp anger she could take. But the other part couldn’t help but worry. Waverly clearly hadn’t been fine in the garage, but Nicole hadn’t pushed, not wanting to disrupt the tenuous detente they had achieved. But maybe she should have. Inaction and fear and avoidance had been symptoms of the larger problem that led them to where they were today. And how different might things have been if she had just powered through them decades ago?

They moved quickly through the lobby, bypassing a cheerful Randy Nedley who waved at them both, and made their way back to the rehearsal dinner where they were greeted by the driving upbeats and booming downbeats of a random pop song. Waverly glanced at Nicole reluctantly as they entered the ballroom.

Nicole’s eyebrows arched upward as she took in the scene. About two dozen Chinese takeout containers and cupcake wrappers were strewn about the formerly pristine tables, the white cloth coverings now splattered and stained with brown sauce, lo-mein noodles, and bits of rice. In the far corner of the room, someone had set up a portable speaker, and Nicole marveled at the amount of noise emanating from such a small box. Whitney and Jesse were dancing with their wedding party, all carefree laughter and clear inebriation. Their joy was contagious and the corners of Nicole’s lips unconsciously curled up.

“‘Bout time you two showed up,” someone gruffed to Nicole’s right. She turned to watch Gus McCready limp toward them, a large brown paper bag gripped tight in one gnarled fist. “Where the hell have you been?”

“We, uh, we got a little sidetracked,” Nicole answered.

“Sidetracked?” Gus squinted at them. “Chrissy Nedley told me you couldn’t stay out of trouble for the 30 minutes it should have taken you to get there and back.” She shook her head. “The more things change…” Sighing, she held out the bag to Waverly. “Saved you two some food before those drunken Tasmanian devils wolfed everything down.”

“Thanks Gus.” The paper crinkled as Waverly unrolled the top and peered inside the bag. She smiled. “Where’s Wynonna?”

Gus shrugged lazily, clearly not giving two shits. “Went to stuff Champ in a cab for being a perv or somethin’. Actually, that was a while ago. She’s probably off gettin’ even more free drinks from the hotel now.” She clapped them both on the shoulder and started toward the exit.

“You’re leaving?” Waverly asked.

“I’ve had ‘bout enough crazy for one night.” Gus threw a hand up and as she hobbled off. “Call me tomorrow to finish up the rest of the party plannin’. Try to stay out of any more trouble.” She gave them both pointed looks over her shoulder and winked at Nicole. “On second thought, maybe don’t.”

Nicole fought a losing battle against the blush warming her cheeks. She cleared her throat. “Shall we?” She asked Waverly, who nodded and led them through a serpentine path in a maze of pulled out dining chairs until they reach a fairly clean table.

Waverly pulled out several containers and one plastic container filled with hot and sour soup. She placed a pair of chopsticks atop two white boxes with red dragons stenciled on their sides and handed them to Nicole.

Nicole accepted them gratefully, unable to hide her pleasant surprise when she opened them to find brown rice and…

“Shrimp and broccoli right?” Waverly smiled at her, small but genuine. “You’re not the only one who remembers things.” She pulled the lid off her soup as Nicole scooped her dinner onto a plate.

“Well I appreciate it.” Nicole picked up the chopsticks, broke them apart, and dug in, almost moaning with the first bite. “I’m starving.”

Waverly blew across the top of the steaming brownish-red broth. “Nothing works up an appetite like fighting a demon.”

Unraveling a cloth napkin, Nicole wiped her lips and swallowed. “You really think it was a demon?”

“I’ve never seen a human move like that so…” Shrugging, Waverly dipped a spoon into the soup and brought it to her lips, slurping softly. “Guess this isn’t what you signed up for, huh?”

Nicole winced, the memory of their last blowout fight still haunting her.

You knew what you were getting into when you decided to be with me…

I didn’t sign up for that. I signed up for you, Waverly…

The curse and I are a package deal…

“I’m sorry,” Waverly said as soon as she realized her word choice. She shook her head. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant, when you came to town for work, I’m guessing Earp shenanigans weren’t on your agenda.”

“Not really,” Nicole answered. Not demon shenanigans at least. “But I’m not complaining.” Waverly’s eyes softened and Nicole popped a piece of broccoli into her mouth to ignore the way her pulse fluttered at the sight. “Wynonna’s gonna want to know.”

Waverly nodded, biting her bottom lip. “We can tell her tomorrow though. I don’t think she’ll remember much of anything tonight.”

We.

Pausing mid-chew, Nicole wondered if she had heard right. Was Waverly willingly inviting her to talk shop with Wynonna? Judging by the way Waverly fiddled with the handle of her spoon, she was just as anxious about it as Nicole was.

“Tomorrow for sure,” Nicole reassured her with a smile. Waverly returned it with a relieved one of her own.

They ate in silence and let the music and revelry swirl around them. Nicole chewed methodically on her food and tried to focus on Whitney and her friends instead of sneaking glances at Waverly out of the corner of her eye. Nicole was on her way to a second helping when Waverly, who had since moved on from soup to a plate of tofu and stirfry vegetables, spoke up again.

“How, um, how long are you in town?” Waverly asked after taking a deep breath.

Nicole’s flight left Sunday, less than two days away. She was expected in the office Monday to meet with a potential new client. And yet, she answered, “As long as needed.”

Waverly nodded slowly. “Big case?”

“It’s… complicated, that’s for sure.”

“Are you allowed to talk about it?” Waverly leaned back in her chair. “Or is it confidential?”

“I can’t go into specifics, attorney-client privilege and all,” Nicole deflected. “But I guess you could say I’m trying to help resolve a…a family matter.” She was proud of herself for keeping her gaze trained on Waverly even though the temptation to look over at Whitney again was strong. “Why do you ask?”

Waverly ducked her head, absentmindedly rotating the ring on her right index finger. Nicole wanted nothing more than to reach out and lay a hand over Waverly’s, but she forced herself to remain still.

“Things have been so crazy with the wedding lately,” Waverly started. “I have to focus on that right now. To make it perfect for Whitney.” She met Nicole’s eyes again.

“Of course,” Nicole agreed.

“But, I…” Waverly tucked her hair behind her ear. “I was hoping after the wedding that, you know, maybe we could have coffee or something. That is, if you’re not too busy with work and all.” Waverly’s hand flitted nervously through the air as she stumbled through the invitation, and Nicole reached out and captured it between her own hands, bringing them to rest in her lap.

“Wave.” The nickname made it past Nicole’s lips before she could stop it, and Waverly’s breath hitched in response. Waverly’s hand was cold, and Nicole slid a thumb across the ridges of her knuckles. “I’d love to have coffee with you.”

“Really?”

“Just name the time and place and I’ll be there.”

Waverly exhaled, shoulders relaxing. “Great.” She leaned closer. “Because there’s something I really need to…oof.”

The rest of Waverly’s sentence was cut off when someone barrelled into them from behind and pulled them both into a tight embrace.

“You guys are back!” Whitney smelled like a distillery, and Nicole marveled at how Whitney seemed to share her aunt’s uncanny sixth sense for interruption.

“We’ve been back a while, you just didn’t notice,” Waverly said, exasperated, but hooked an arm around her daughter and hugged back.

“No.” Whitney shook her head. “I don’t believe it.”

“It’s true.” Nicole awkwardly pat Whitney’s hand where it was curled around her shoulder.

Whitney rolled her glassy eyes. “Of course you’d take her side.”

Nicole’s gaze slid to Waverly, who blushed.

“Just how much have you had to drink, young lady?” Waverly asked.

“Not that much, I swear,” Whitney said, though her rosy cheeks belied that claim. She straightened back up and teetered ever so slightly. “Since you both missed most of the dinner, you’ll have to make it up to me.”

Waverly gave her a sidelong glance. “How?”

“Dance with me.”

“Oh no,” Waverly laughed at the same time Nicole put up a hand and said, “I’ll have to pass.”

“Please?” Whitney pouted.

“No way,” Waverly said.

“This is the only rehearsal dinner I plan on ever having,” Whitney reasoned. “Even if I get divorced or, God forbid, widowed.”

“Romantic,” Nicole observed dryly.

“You know what I mean,” Whitney said, exasperated. “Please, just enjoy it with me?”

She trained her deep brown puppy dog eyes on Nicole, who caved instantly. And she never caved to anyone. At least, not anymore.

“Okay,” Nicole said.

Waverly’s eyebrows shot up. “Okay? Don’t go caving in too easily now.”

“What can I say? I guess I can never say no to an Earp.” Nicole winked at Whitney. “One dance couldn’t hurt. If your mom doesn’t mind, of course.”

Waverly looked from Nicole to Whitney then back at Nicole, and sighed. “Lead the way.”

Whitney actually squealed, high-pitched and excited, while Waverly watched Nicole with mild surprise. Grabbing Nicole’s left hand and her mom’s right hand, Whitney led both women to the makeshift dance floor where they were welcomed by hoots and hollers from Jen and Anna.

The music was near earsplitting this close to the portable speaker, and Nicole could feel the driving bass of the dance song boom against her chest and rattle her bones. Whitney didn’t let go of their hands as the three of them began moving to the music, awkwardly at first but then with more and more ease and fluidity. Waverly tried not to smile, but Whitney’s happiness was so infectious that it didn’t take long for Waverly to give in. Before it even registered, Nicole too was caught in the moment, freely losing herself to the rhythm.

And for the briefest of moments, everything seemed to fall into place. Nicole felt like she finally belonged again. It was a feeling she hadn’t had in a long, long time. And as she watched Whitney laugh as Waverly twirled in place, Nicole was struck by how right it all felt, how inevitable.

Round and round they went, with Nicole’s heart soaring, until the music slowed to a guitar ballad that she vaguely remembered.

Face red from exertion and too much alcohol, Whitney finally brought them to a stop. She leaned toward Nicole and pecked her on the cheek, then ducked her head and repeated the action with Waverly.

“What was that for?” Waverly asked, breathless and gorgeous.

“To thank you.” Whitney grinned before pointing at the ceiling. “Also, tradition.”

Nicole looked upward and froze. Dangling above them was a small bundle of green leaves accented with white berries.

Mistletoe.

By the time Nicole’s eyes snapped back down, Whitney had already moved on to Jesse and was dancing slowly in his embrace.

“We don’t, uh, that is…” Waverly stumbled over her words, still so adorable even while flustered. “It’s a silly tradition,” she finished lamely, taking a step backward.

Somehow feeling bold, Nicole gently took Waverly’s hand and stopped her before she said, “The older I get, the more I seem to enjoy traditions.” She almost laughed at the way Waverly’s lips parted in surprise. “But if it’s all the same to you, we could dance in lieu of a kiss.” She could feel the twitch in soft fingers, felt the hesitance and the debate warring within Waverly just the way they warred within herself.

“Song’s almost over.” Waverly smiled sadly as the soft notes of the old country song began to wind down.

It was almost like fate, however, as another slow song began, soft notes on an acoustic guitar that brought fresh memories back to Nicole again, of a dance two decades in the past in an empty bar with Waverly’s favorite Joni Mitchell album pouring from her cell phone.

“Funny thing about songs,” Nicole commented, her thumb brushing against Waverly’s knuckles, “one finishes, and another starts right up.” Even with the space between them, she could still remember the feel of Waverly against her, swaying just as Joni began to sing the lyrics.

Just before our love got lost you said, “I am as constant as the Northern Star.”

Waverly looked her right in the eyes, searching for what, Nicole didn’t know. Maybe she was just as lost in the memory as Nicole was.

And I said "Constantly in the darkness
Where's that at?
If you want me I'll be in the bar

The next thing she knew, Waverly stepped into her space, releasing Nicole’s hand and lightly rested her own on Nicole’s shoulders. Nicole instinctively took hold of Waverly’s waist, long fingers splaying over the smooth silk of Waverly’s blouse, and they swayed together in unison. The song’s melody wrapped around them and time seemed to still. Everything faded into the background until all Nicole could see through her tunneled vision was Waverly. She knew that if she closed her eyes, she could pretend nothing had happened, that the immensity of their history hadn’t become so dark and twisted, but she also knew she’d lose sight of the woman Waverly became, still beautiful, still 90 percent bravado and 10 percent pure stubborn recklessness.

Oh you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Nothing else, no one else, mattered, not even a memory.

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I'd be on my feet
oh I would still be on my feet

Nicole wanted nothing more than to pull Waverly closer, to feel her body pressed against hers again. But she didn’t. She had to remember they weren’t the same -- foolishly in love and overrun with hormones and booze. She kept Waverly at a safe and measured distance, inwardly chuckling at how it reminded her of junior high dances back at her old parochial school, where the chaperones told students to leave enough space between them for the Holy Spirit. It was sound advice now, though, all so Waverly couldn’t feel the way Nicole’s heart was trying to hammer straight out of her chest.

I remember that time you told me you said
"Love is touching souls"

“I, um, I don’t think I ever thanked you,” Waverly murmured softly.

Surely you touched mine
'Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time

Nicole’s brow wrinkled. “For what?”

“Helping me tonight. Earlier, I mean. You didn’t have to do any of that.”

“I know,” Nicole answered honestly. “But I wanted to.” She debated continuing and ultimately decided to throw caution to the wind. “I’ll always want to.”

Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Waverly’s movements slowed to a stop, and she stared at Nicole in what could only be described as silent wonder. Her hands tightened briefly on Nicole’s shoulders before she rose up on her tiptoes and kissed Nicole on the lips.

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

It was a chaste brush, over before Nicole could even process that it actually occurred, but it nevertheless left her completely and utterly electrified. All of Nicole’s senses sharpened, nerves thrumming like live wires, stomach bottoming out. She could still feel the ghost of Waverly’s kiss, seared on her skin. Could practically taste her floral perfume. Nicole’s palms itched to cradle Waverly’s face and kiss her back properly. But then Waverly stepped back as the last beats of the song played out, severing their physical connection even though her eyes were honed in on Nicole’s mouth.

“Goodnight,” Waverly breathed out. Uncertain. Confused. She turned on her heel and left, not bothering to wait for Nicole’s response.

Nicole was tempted to run after her. But she remained rooted in place, only able to bring her fingers to her lips in a daze and stare dumbfounded at Waverly’s retreating form, not at all noticing the small smile that graced Whitney’s face as she watched them.

 


 

 

“You are so beautiful.”

Waverly grinned, tracing a path down Nicole’s sternum with the tip of her nose, pausing to nip at the pale skin that still trembled from a recent release. “And you are so tasty.” Looking up between the valley of bare breasts, she could see Nicole’s desire-clouded eyes watching her closely. They had to get ready for the day soon, but she was far from ready to give up their morning recreation and she knew it wouldn’t take much to…

“Come here.” Nicole’s fingers tangled in Waverly’s long hair, pulling her up gently for a kiss. It was soft and tender, a gentle exploration that Nicole refused to deepen.

Waverly chuckled, allowing the kiss to soften as she melted against the long frame, wrapping her arm around her and snuggling against her side as Nicole pulled the comforter over them. Maybe she could try a different route. “Do you think we can call out sick today?”

Nicole snorted. “Bad guys aren’t going to catch themselves you know.”

“I know.” Waverly sighed softly, her thumb brushing along Nicole’s lowest rib. “But… I’m really comfortable and… I think I’d really like to just spend the day with you. No revenants, no BBD…” She let her voice trail off, surprised at how true that was. They hadn’t had a moment together in forever and when they did, they were always so few and far between. When there was no response, she looked up and saw a strange look in Nicole’s eyes, one that was part surprise, part sadness and she was pretty sure she could see the shine of tears forming. “Hey… are you ok?”

Nicole nodded, closing her eyes and pulling Waverly closer just a bit. “I’m fine, but you know what? I’d like that too.” Nicole spoke softly, pressing a kiss to the top of Waverly’s head. “I don’t know if anyone will believe it if we both call out sick, but I don’t care. We can definitely do that.”

Feeling a small wave of relief, Waverly smiled, returning her head to Nicole’s shoulder. “For how long?”

“However long you want, Baby.”

 


 

 

The loud sounds of construction pulled her from her sleep and Waverly groaned as she woke up, pulling the covers tighter around her as she wished her dream to slip away from her like her dreams often did. This one wouldn’t, however, not since it was rooted in an actual memory. It lingered, teasing her already fragile emotions with a mixture of remorse and arousal. She’d be lying to herself if she didn’t admit how drawn she still felt to her ex… the mother of her child.

Just the thought of it made Waverly groan, tossing the blankets over her face. “Cut it out Earp. You are not some stupid 21 year old anymore.” She cursed her own weakness, the way Nicole had felt in her arms as they danced the night before.

And the kiss...

“What the balls...” Waverly cursed as a chill ran through her, the memory of Nicole's warm embrace remaining just that, a memory. If anything it reinforced the fact that it was the middle of winter and it was ridiculously cold in her queen-sized bed. Twenty years and she was still sleeping to just one side. Not that she hadn’t tried to be more sensical, trying to fall asleep in the center or diagonally or anything other than the half of the bed she’d grown accustomed to, but it had been futile. Even if the bed wasn’t the same one she’d shared with Nicole -- having been replaced long ago.

She hadn’t thought of such nonsense in forever.

No, that was a lie. It was always on her mind, but she’d never let herself linger in the thoughts. If only she could just…

“What in the seven levels of hell!”

Waverly groaned as she heard the front door slam shut and the sound of Gus hollering. She tossed back her blankets and scrambled to slip into a long knitted cardigan, hugging it close. “What are you…” She opened the door to be hit by a wave of colder air. “Sweet Jesus it’s colder than frozen shit balls in here.” Stepping into the den, she saw Gus struggling to get one of the windows closed, snow dusting most of the area. Her eyes fell on what had once been a neatly arranged seating chart now on the ground, soaked through from the night’s snow, ink bleeding into pools of black and red. “No no no no.”

Finally getting the wayward window closed, Gus shook her head, rubbing her hands together to fight off the chill. “Don’t think there’s much savin’ the lot of that mess.” She spoke, moving to the kitchen.

Waverly felt frustration welling within. It had taken so long to get everyone into seats that wouldn’t cause another world war. When your daughter was one of the town’s most loved residents, yet directly related to one of the town’s most notorious residents, any seating arrangement could be hell, because god forbid Wynonna be anywhere near the Parsons or the Shaws, not after that fire two years ago, and everyone knew about the hundred year feud between the Gibsons and the Dales. She didn’t even want to get into how many people had a problem with Champ alone.

And now all her hard work was trash. Looking up at the window, she glared at it in challenge. She’d personally made sure every door and window was closed before going to sleep, hadn’t she?

“Here you go.”

Waverly looked up in time to see a mug shoved in her face and she gratefully accepted the tea. “Thanks, Gus.” With a disheartened sigh, she stood straight, letting the soggy bits of paper fall from her fingers. “This wedding is cursed… like I thought we were done with this doody when we broke the curse.”

“Now, this is no worse than my wedding to Curtis,” Gus commented as she turned on one of Waverly’s precious space heaters. “You weren’t even born yet but there were no less than three gunfights after the first case of firewhiskey was opened and how do you think Janis Van Meter got that limp?” Gus eased herself into a chair at the dining table, Waverly following suit. “To this day no one dares bring up her daddy’s potato salad recipe.”

Waverly had to laugh at that. Only in Purgatory would that sentence make sense. “Thanks, Gus. This whole wedding… and then Nicole showing up…” She took a sip of her tea, tasting the honey sweetness sliding down her throat and warming her from the inside. “Not that I’m not glad you’re here, but I thought you weren’t coming by this morning.”

Gus shrugged. “Got a call this mornin’. The tux shop has been trying to reach you for hours.”

It was all she got out before Waverly got up and rushed back to her bedroom. Her phone was sitting on the nightstand, the charging cable half hanging out of the port, doing absolutely nothing. “Shit!” She groaned, plugging it all the way in and seeing the dead battery sign flash across the screen before going black again. Setting it down to charge, she returned to the table with a frustrated growl. “Perfect. My phone is dead. What happened at the tailor?”

“There was a mixup and I guess Champ and Jesse’s measurements got swapped somehow.”

“Oh geeze.” Waverly pinched her eyes shut. Maybe they were close in stature, if Champ was the same size he was twenty years ago, but he’d taken hard to the bottle and well…

“I got ahold of Whitney and she’s gonna get the two of them dragged back in.”

Waverly still felt a knot in her stomach. This wasn’t just normal wedding issues. Alteration shops made errors, but not two nights in a row. Maybe it was a spell? Something to do with bad luck? She tried to go over the mental catalog of creatures, but she’d been out of the demon game for so long, focusing on raising a little girl and keeping her out of danger.

Well, now that something seemed hell bent on ruining it, she wasn’t going to let anyone interrupt Whitney’s wedding, no matter what.

As if on queue, there was a chorus of loud yells from outside right before a loud BOOM filled the air.

 


 

 

Wynonna pursed her lips as she looked at the whiteboard, taking a moment to review her work before adding another arm to the elephant-shaped demon with a santa hat that was running away from the stick figure labeled Waves.. She was trying to stop her mind from focusing on the task at hand, something she really wished she wasn’t responsible for -- that she hadn’t even signed up for. She just felt… so guilty. She knew she had to apologize but god dammit, the Earp heir didn’t apologize to anyone. The door of the BBD office clicked open and she closed her eyes, taking a steadying breath.

“It’s almost like no time has passed.” Nicole's voice filled the room easily. “Except the boards are white now.”

“Yeah well when Criminal Minds got cancelled, Waverly demanded they be changed.” Wynonna looked over her shoulder, taking in the sight of Nicole who was peeling the protective plastic from what was obviously a new phone while dressed in tight jeans and a leather jacket over her dark sweater, white button-down combo. “Time's definitely been kinder to some.” She capped her pen and set it on the edge of the board. “While some of us are rocking the sexy high-powered attorney look… some of us are stuck sporting the bloated fish look courtesy of one cup of coffee.” She admitted with a frustrated sigh.

Nicole rolled her eyes, setting a cup on the table before shucking off her jacket. “Tea is better for you anyway.”

Tea. Wynonna gave her a distasteful look. “I’d rather gargle Satan’s piss.”

“Well the coffee at Shorty’s is pretty close.” Nicole moved over to the board, looking over the plot points. “Waverly must have been devastated. She always did love those weird crime shows.”

“She never gave up hope that JJ and Prentiss would do the dirty deed.” Wynonna couldn't resist a sideways glance. “I guess with her own personal life in the shitcan, she put all that focus on tv.”

Nicole looked like she wanted to say something, but instead she nodded towards the board. “These the incidents?”

“As many as I know about.” It had taken Wynonna a good hour or so to remember all the issues that had happened, texting with Waverly, once she could get ahold of her, to get the full details of which events happened and when.

“Something happened this morning?” Nicole’s brow furrowed as she seemed to notice a few points marked as today.

“Tailor screwed up the tuxes overnight. A window mysteriously opened itself at the homestead, ruining Wave’s seating chart, and the barn collapsed.”

“Oh my god. Is everyone ok?”

“Well if I have to listen to Janice Van Meter talk about pickles in potato salad with a smile on my face again… oh you meant the barn…” Wynonna shrugged. “No casualties.”

“Good.” Nicole cleared her throat, taking a sip of her tea. “Good.”

There was a silence that descended on them, making Wynonna severely uncomfortable. Not that she blamed Nicole. The last time they were alone, she’d yelled at Nicole. She didn’t like eating her own words, but she also remembered what it was like having Nicole as a friend and… she shouldn’t have said what she had. “Look Haught, I uh… The other night, I said some shitty things…”

“Wynonna,” Nicole rose a hand to stop her, “you don’t have to…”

“Yes I do.” Wynonna cleared her throat, “I don’t apologize often, but… I’m sorry.”

There was a brief moment that Wynonna was certain Nicole wouldn’t accept it, a silence that fell over the room, making her skin crawl until Nicole finally spoke.

“It’s not like you weren’t telling the truth.” Nicole looked down at the cup in her hand, as if she couldn’t bare to look at Wynonna.

It made Wynonna feel a thousand times worse. “It wasn’t fair. You’re… you’re not an Earp and I get it. I always hated being attached to that stupid curse and I get that you didn’t sign up for it.” When Nicole looked up, it was Wynonna’s turn to look away. “It’s not like I have the best track record for sticking around myself.”

“Wynonna…” Nicole’s sigh was loud enough to fill the room. “I don’t blame you for yelling. I would have done the same. We both love…” her words trailed off for just a second before she corrected herself, “care about Waverly and I did leave. I shouldn’t have, but I did and here we are, right back where it all started.”

Wynonna nodded, clearing her throat again. “Ok well… I’m still sorry.”

“Me too.” Nicole spoke softly, not bothering to say exactly what she was sorry about.

Wynonna didn’t ask. There was already too many emotions on the table. Instead, she gestured to the board. “Well, maybe we could do some research and try to see if there’s anything in the history or whatever. I’ve been trying to get ahold of Dolls to maybe see if he had any ideas but…” She let it trail off. She didn’t want to think about not hearing from him since she’d left him in Europe. It had only been what, 2… 3 days? He could take care of himself. “We should head down to the archives and see what we can rustle up. We’ve got some time before the party…”

“Another party?” Nicole looked at her dubiously.

“Of course,” Wynonna snorted, grabbing her coat. “Bachelorette party at Shorty’s. You should swing by. Ladies only tonight.” She wiggled her eyebrows and gestured Nicole to head out first.

“Oh… I don’t…” Nicole froze as she passed by a desk, covered in mostly files and office supplies.

Wynonna was about to say something when she saw Nicole’s eyes locked on the single framed portrait on the desk, one of a younger Waverly sitting on a picnic blanket in the sun, a gentle smile on her face with a toddler sitting on her lap -- a toddler with very unmistakably bright red hair and eyes the shade of caramel when the light hit her just the right way.

Shit, was all Wynonna could think as she cleared her throat. “You alright there Haught?”

Jumping slightly, Nicole nodded, a confused look on her face. “Yeah. yeah. What time was that party again?”

“Purgatory rules. Starts at 5, keeps going until we run out of alcohol or the cops show up.” Wynonna smirked. “Good news is Wave’s just got a fresh shipment in and we’re in good with the cops.”

Nicole only nodded, obviously lost in her own thoughts.

 


 

 

“One more sleep!”

Whitney raised a shooter filled to the brim with whiskey.

“One more sleep!” A gaggle of friends echoed back, hooting and hollering, before they all knocked back their shots.

Shorty’s was packed with what seemed like half the female population of Purgatory, dressed to the nines, all there to celebrate Whitney’s last night as a single woman. Over Gus’s grudging objections, her mother had replaced all the old country and classic rock songs on the old jukebox and programmed it to play all of Whitney’s favorite music, a mix of dance tracks and lovey dovey pop ballads. With the exception of Jen and Anna, the rest of Whitney’s friends dispersed after the toast, dancing away throughout the saloon, by the bar and between the pool tables.

“One more round.” Jen snatched Whitney’s glass the minute it hit the bar and slid it to Anna for a refill.

“Noooo!” Whitney raised her hands in protest when Anna placed a fresh drink in front of her. “I want to be able to actually remember tonight.”

The blonde waved off her concern with a flippant flick of her wrist. “Girl, quit being so extra. A few drinks won’t kill you.”

Whitney sighed. “This is the last one for a bit.” She downed it in one smooth gulp, hardly noticing the way it seared down her throat and settled warmly in her stomach.

“Sure.” Anna nodded. “At least until the strippers get here.”

Whitney nearly coughed the whiskey back up. “The what!?”

Anna canted her head to the side, blonde hair falling over a shoulder left bare in her bright pink halter top. “Bitch, did I stutter?”

“Guys.” Whitney buried her face in her hands. “I told you no strippers. My mom is gonna be here.”

“Which one?” Jen asked, mousy features perking up.

“God,” Whitney groaned, “Both of them, knowing my luck.”

“Then it’s good we got a guy and a girl.” Jen beamed. “Equal opportunity fun for all!”

Whitney’s stomach dropped. “You didn't.”

“We totally did.” Anna and Jen high-fived each other, both supremely proud of themselves.

Whitney scowled up at her so-called best friends. “I’m gonna need another to get through this night.”

“Atta girl,” Anna chuckled, quickly preparing three new shots, one for each of them. “So what’s going on with them?”

Whitney rolled the base of her glass between her thumb and forefinger. “Who?”

“Don’t play dumb, Whit.” Jen gulped down her drink, sucking in air through her teeth from the sting. “Your hot moms.”

“Hot?” Whitney scrunched up her face.

“Um, yeah? So hot that I might have questioned my sexuality for a second.”

“Way hot,” Anna agreed. “They were practically tonguing each other last night.”

“True story.” Jen nodded.

Whitney’s mouth dropped open. “No they were not, and ew.”

“C’mon you gotta admit they were, like, so into each other,” Jen insisted with Anna bobbing her head up and down eagerly next to her.

“I guess,” Whitney shrugged. Of course she had noticed. She wasn’t blind. Whitney had never in her life seen her mom look at someone the way she looked at Nicole Haught last night. The air had practically crackled around them. It was insane, and Whitney felt dizzy from the memory. Or maybe it was the shots.

“Fine.” Anna’s eyes drifted to the entrance and a wide, mischievous grin spread over her face. “Be that way. We can just ask one of them directly.”

Confused, Whitney turned toward the door. Sure enough, Nicole had just walked through the swinging saloon doors, dressed smart casual in a pair of dark jeans and a black wraparound blouse. Her eyes scanned the crowd for a moment before landing on Whitney and her friends. A shadow of uncertainty crossed her features before she gave them a tentative wave, and Anna and Jen practically fell over themselves to beckon her over.

“Guys, please don’t make it awkward,” Whitney begged under her breath as Nicole approached.

“Us?” Jen mouthed, laying a hand over her chest. “Never.” She turned a 1000-watt grin onto Nicole, who smiled back politely.

“Ladies,” Nicole greeted, giving each of them a brief hug, though she lingered with Whitney. “You all look beautiful.”

“You don’t look half bad yourself,” Anna winked and Whitney barely suppressed the urge to kick her in the shins with the points of her high-heeled sandals. Anna pointed to their bottle of Jack Daniels. “Care for a shot?”

“No thank you,” Nicole declined with a polite shake of her head. “I hope you don’t mind me popping in.” She turned her attention back on Whitney, tucking her hands into her back pockets. “Your, uh, your aunt invited me this morning.”

“Of course not,” Whitney said, ignoring Anna and Jen’s barely contained glee. “You’re always welcome, Nicole.”

“She’s not here yet, by the way,” Jen blurted out, batting her eyelashes innocently. “Deputy Earp. Neither is Miss Waverly. In case you were wondering.”

“Oh,” Nicole said. “Um…”

“Don’t you guys have somewhere to be?” Whitney cut in, giving her friends a pointed stare.

“Nah, not really.” Jen shook her head just as Anna’s cellphone rang out.

Anna looked down at the screen. “Well speak of the devil. Gotta take this. It’s the entertainment.” She smirked at Whitney. “C’mon Jen.”

“Huh?” Jen looked confused.

Anna pulled her off the barstool. “Maid of honor duties. Besides, we should let Whit spend some time alone with her mom…’s galpal.”

Whitney watched with relief as they disappeared toward the back office to take the call. She smiled apologetically at Nicole and gestured toward an empty barstool. “Sorry about them. They get a little excited whenever there’s fresh blood in town.”

“No worries.” Nicole slid onto a seat. “They’re pretty, uh, entertaining.”

“Yeah, they can be,” Whitney acceded. “Guess it’s why I love them.” They shared identical dimpled smiles and Whitney’s eyes dropped back down to her unfinished whiskey. Silence fell between them, not quite as comfortable as in their previous meetings. Whitney could sense some underlying tension from Nicole, but she couldn’t quite place it.

“I heard there was some trouble at the Homestead again,” Nicole said after a minute of crowd watching. “Everything okay?”

“Oh. Yeah. It was a little crazy, but we got it all sorted. My mom’s wrapping things up there now, actually.”

Nicole nodded, that same uncertain look from earlier darkening her face for a second.

“What about you?” Whitney asked. “How was your day?”

“Oh, you know, it was pretty uneventful.” Nicole shrugged. “Did a lot of thinking.”

“Ah, say no more.” Whitney reached inside her clutch purse, which hung from a hook underneath the bar. She fished out a penny and slid it across the scarred mahogany toward Nicole, who chuckled. “There’s more where that came from, depending on how much you’d like to spill.”

Nicole picked up the copper-plated coin and twirled it between her knuckles. “You know, we never did have that talk you wanted to have.”

Whitney stilled. “No, we didn’t.”

“I suppose now isn’t the best time.”

Whitney took a deep breath. This wasn’t exactly how she planned the evening, but… “It’s as good a time as any.” She needed another drink, so she finally downed the rest of her whiskey. It did little to soothe the increasing tempo of her heart.

“If it helps,” Nicole placed the penny back down on the bar. “I think I know what it might be about.”

“You do?” Whitney nearly squeaked.

“I also think it’s why you invited me to your wedding.”

Nicole laid a reassuring hand over Whitney’s and squeezed gently. The party continued to swirl around them, but Whitney could focus on nothing but her mom and the uncovered truth between them.

“Your dad isn’t Champ,” Nicole said.

“No, he’s not.” Whitney shook her head. “But you already knew that.”

Nicole licked her lips. “Then who is?”

It was a simple question. One with a simple answer. This was the moment Whitney had been waiting for, ever since she found that old diary and that damned white Stetson. But now that it was here, a part of Whitney wanted to run. Wanted to hide. But she couldn’t. Not while she was staring into dark eyes that were near mirror images of hers.

“I don’t know who he is,” Whitney answered, her voice barely above a whisper. “Mom used an anonymous donor.”

Nicole exhaled sharply, as if she had been holding her breath, and pulled her hand away, shoulders straightening as she looked down at her lap.

Whitney’s chest squeezed painfully from the lost connection. “He was open to contact when I turned 18, but…”

“But?”

“I guess I never really cared one way or another if I met him.” Whitney dug deep inside for the courage to say next: “But I did want to meet my other mom.”

Nicole’s head snapped up, eyes wide as their gazes locked once again. Her lips parted and closed and parted again, but no words came, and tears blurred Whitney’s vision. Had she fucked up? Had she ruined it all? But before she could apologize, a pair of arms wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her close.

And Whitney, breathing out a relieved sob, hugged Nicole back.

Hugged her mom back.

Nicole smelled like vanilla. It reminded Whitney of Waverly’s favorite donuts, the ones she’d buy every Sunday morning for breakfast. When she was younger, Whitney would eat them on the couch with Waverly, buried under a blanket with the newspaper crossword puzzle. She had never felt more content or at peace that in those moments, and those memories sprung to mind as she and Nicole clung to each other, both shaking.

One jukebox song melted into another before Nicole finally pulled away, but still kept hold of Whitney’s shoulders. Whitney was afraid to look at Nicole, but she chanced a glance anyway, heart swelling at the teary-eyed smile on her mom’s face.

“You are an amazing young woman,” Nicole said, bottom lip trembling slightly. “And I’m so honored to have finally met you.”

Whitney swiped at her wet cheeks, but the tears kept coming. She couldn’t stop them. “Me too.”

Nicole squeezed her shoulders before releasing Whitney, still smiling despite the whirlwind of turmoil clear in her eyes. “I have to go.”

“What? Why? You just got here.”

“I have to talk to your mom.”

Whitney felt a pressing need to defend Waverly. She knew what it must look like to Nicole. But it wasn’t her place. Her moms would have to hash things out on their own. They owed each other that much. “She doesn’t know that I know about you. Go easy on her, will you? Hear her out.”

Nicole’s jaw clenched slightly, but she nodded once and made to leave. She paused a step away, turning her head. “Whatever happens, I’d like to be in your life, if you wanted of course.”

Whitney’s heart flipped despite her anxiety at what would happen between her moms. “I’d like that too.”

Smiling one last time, Nicole left and a fresh surge of emotion swelled inside Whitney, cresting and breaking just as Jen and Anna returned.

“Whit, oh my God, what happened?”

“Are you okay?” Her friends asked their questions simultaneously as they sandwiched her between their bodies.

“Yeah,” Whitney sniffed and then laughed, warbled and joyous and full of hope. “I think, somehow, everything’s going to be okay.”

Chapter Text

“So I'll be there when you arrive
The sight of you will prove to me I'm still alive
And when you take me in your arms
And hold me tight
I know it's gonna mean so much tonight”

 

The drive from Shorty’s to the homestead felt dreary and never ending, especially when Nicole had to keep reminding herself to breathe.

She had a daughter.

Whitney.

Beautiful, intelligent, and just overall delightful Whitney.

There were so many emotions coursing through Nicole as she looked out along the empty road, completely vacant once she left the more populated streets of the town.

The truth was finally out and she couldn’t lie to herself anymore. Now that she was being honest, she could admit that she’d known that first day, those overly sharp features that looked nothing like Waverly. The tall stature and familiar dimples. God, she’d known right away but she hadn’t let herself believe it. She'd allowed dark hair and an unwavering faith in Waverly's integrity to derail her thoughts, but the moment she saw that picture, with the genetic improbability of an Earp ever having a redheaded child, it was the confirmation she needed.

In reality, she’d begun thinking about it when she’d first received the invitation, when she’d first seen the name Whitney that had been her own suggestion before all Hell had broken loose in their relationship, or at least had let herself be pulled into a world of what-ifs. She couldn't believe Waverly would name any offspring of Champ Hardy a name she hadn't been sold on in the first place.  It’s one of the reasons she’d packed her bags, headed back to Purgatory and a life she’d turned her back on long ago.

Holy shit. She had a daughter. She couldn’t believe it, but even as she continued to think about it, her emotions began to morph, turning from elated disbelief to distraught disappointment.

She’d put so much faith in Waverly, that she wouldn’t ever do that to Nicole, that such a betrayal was impossible even after everything they went through. She’d trusted Waverly and that trust had been betrayed.

God she had been betrayed beyond words and it crushed her.

She felt the immensity of it all at once, the missed opportunities she would never ever get back.


 

Nicole nearly laughed when she stopped at the door to the bedroom. She had thought Waverly would be sleeping, had spent the last half an hour scraping together a breakfast of banana pancakes and a bowl of mixed fruit, a freshly pruned rose laying across the top of the tray beside a cup of tea and a cup of orange juice.

She hadn’t expected to see a very awake Waverly standing in front of a mirror with her t-shirt raised, her stomach puffed out as much as she possibly could considering her usual fit physique. Waverly had the most adorably pensive look on her face as she ran her hand over her bare stomach, lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed.

Nicole couldn’t help smiling, her heart swelling larger than Waverly was attempting to force her belly to be. When Waverly had said she was ready to start a family, Nicole couldn’t have even imagined the glee she felt from such simple things like this. She’d heard a million horror stories of hormones and discomfort that led to frazzled nerves and constant arguments, but in that moment, she couldn’t wait for them because it meant they were really doing this.

They were going to start a family. Not just the rag-tag group of revenant hunters and do-gooders that they’d been a part of down at the station, but an honest-to-god family. Two moms, happily married, with a tiny daughter, or son, she didn’t really care which, to call their own.

“Nicole!” Waverly suddenly yelped, quickly tugging down her shirt and diving back into bed, as if to pretend she hadn’t been caught.

With a shake of her head, Nicole moved to the bed, sitting on the edge. “Good Morning, Cutie.” She set the tray between them, trying not to laugh at the ruby blush touching Waverly’s cheeks.

“You didn’t have to bring me breakfast. I could have joined you downstairs.”

“Well I thought you were still sleeping.” Nicole couldn’t resist poking, the blush darkening on Waverly’s cheeks.

“Sorry,” Waverly just shrugged, her finger picking at the edge of the tray with uncertainty. “Just being stupid I guess.”

“Stupid?” Nicole’s eyebrows rose sharply. “You are many things, Waverly Earp. Beautiful. Brilliant. Determined.” Waverly’s features began to soften, her lips seeming to hold back a smile. “God, just the sexiest woman I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” With that she was rewarded with a full grin. “But you will never be stupid.”

“You are so biased, but…” Waverly hesitated just briefly, picking up a blueberry and popping it into her mouth, “will you still think so when I’m like twice my size and super pregnant.”

Jesus. Nicole wanted to roll her eyes. One of the books she’d started reading had warned her  of pregnant women being insecure about their appearance, but Waverly hadn’t even started the fertility treatments yet. “Baby you are going to be the most gorgeous pregnant woman in all of Purgatory… no in all of North America!” Nicole exclaimed a little too loudly.

Waverly laughed, looking down as she rolled another berry between her fingers. When she looked up through her long lashes, purposefully demure, Nicole felt her breath hitch, her heart pounding against her chest. “I love you.”

“Oh you better.” Nicole chuckled, leaning over the tray to capture a quick kiss. “Cause I’m not raising a kid with someone who just kinda likes me.”

Waverly laughed again, grabbing the tray and setting it on the floor before wrapping her fist in the front of Nicole’s shirt, pulling her forward. “I mean… I do kinda like you…”

“Yeah?” A smirk pulled at Nicole’s lips as she moved closer, her body covering Waverly’s as she laid back, pressing her into the pillowtop mattress. “I kinda like you too.” Kissing her way down Waverly’s throat, she paused to nip at a collarbone. “I love you,” she whispered as she eased up the thin material of Waverly's shirt before leaning down to brush soft kisses along the skin she found there. “And I’m going to love every part of this journey with you, from possible morning sickness, to a swelling belly, to even you yelling at me during the delivery.” Looking up, she was surprised to find the beginning of tears in Waverly’s eyes. “I’m going to love you and our future baby every day for the rest of my life.”

Sniffling, Waverly laughed as she wiped at her eyes, pulling Nicole back up to her. “God this pregnancy is making you so sappy and I’m not even pregnant yet.”

“What?” Nicole gave her a mock hurt look that was quickly wiped away by Waverly pulling her down for another kiss.


 

The road blurred just slightly as Nicole’s eyes burned with tears. She refused to cry, refused to let her emotions get the better of her even as she felt herself being swallowed by the anguish that was easily beginning to turn to anger towards Waverly.

How could Waverly have done that?

Waverly had robbed her of it all. Not just being there for the pregnancy and birth, but being there for first steps and first words. Whitney’s first day at school and her high school graduation.

Stopping at an intersection only reminded Nicole that she hadn’t been there to teach Whitney to drive and it almost broke her resolve.

She should have been there. She should have been given the chance to be there for her daughter.

The closer she got to the homestead, the more that anger and hurt began to grow.


 

Waverly lifted the velvety petal of a white rose and leaned down, smiling as she breathed in its clean, sweet scent. She smoothed her hands down the lacy front of her violet cocktail dress as she straightened out, feeling moderately pleased that everything seemed to be coming together despite all the setbacks earlier that day. If she left soon, she wouldn’t be too late for the bachelorette party, which would most likely rage into the wee hours of the morning knowing Whitney and her friends (not to mention Wynonna).

And then she could finally see Nicole again.

Her heart sped up as she again thought of her ex, and their dance, and that damned kiss, all three playing in her mind on a continuous loop all damn day. Waverly had tried to ignore the disappointment she felt about not going with Wynonna to meet up with Nicole at the BBD office. But it had been futile. And eventually she had given up and allowed her anticipation to build. Told herself it would be okay if she wore her new dress, the one that had been hanging in her closet untouched ever since she bought it months ago for an online date she had backed out on at the last minute. Convinced herself that it’d be fine for her to spend a little extra time primping her hair and getting her makeup just right. And if Nicole happened to appreciate it...

But first things first.

She needed to make one more pass around the wedding tent. Setting herself to the task, Waverly became so engrossed with making sure that all the flower arrangements were in their exact places that she didn’t even notice the car that crossed the old wooden bridge and pulled up to the Homestead. She double checked that the generator-powered heat was still working and was so busy draping the last of the garland on the white fold out chairs that she barely heard the soft click of boots on plywood.

Dusting off her hands, she turned and nearly leapt out of her own skin when she finally noticed the figure standing at the entrance of the wedding tent.

“Nicole!” Waverly practically squeaked, hand covering her heart. “Jesus, you scared me.”

Nicole didn’t respond. Only stared at Waverly, an unreadable look on her face, muscles taut. Her eyes traveled up and down Waverly’s length in a way that made her stomach flip.

“I thought you were going to the party?” Waverly wanted to walk toward her, but the tension she now sensed radiating from Nicole held her in place.

“I was there, but,” Nicole looked at the floor, struggling with some internal debate before she glanced back up at Waverly, “Whitney.”

Waverly’s worry skyrocketed, heart rate zooming instantly into overdrive. “What happened?”

“Nothing.” Nicole raised a hand to staunch Waverly’s oncoming panic. “Whit’s fine. She’s…” Nicole swallowed, nostrils flaring slightly, “she’s my daughter, isn’t she?”

All the air squeezed out of Waverly’s lungs and she nearly staggered backward. She had known this moment would eventually come. But nothing could prepare her for the simmering anger in Nicole’s dark eyes, or the icy dread that gripped at her heart.

“I want to hear you say it,” Nicole whispered when Waverly remained mute.

Hot tears pricked at Waverly’s eyes. “Yes.”

Inhaling sharply, Nicole turned away, eyes squeezed shut. Even with several feet separating them, Waverly could see that Nicole was shaking, hands clenching into fists and unclenching.

“Nicole…” Waverly took a step closer.

“Don’t.” Nicole’s voice wavered as she met Waverly’s eyes once again, the intensity of her gaze warning Waverly not to come any closer. “Why?”

Words failed Waverly. She didn’t quite know what Nicole was asking her. Why what? Why did she have Whitney? Why did she…

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Nicole clarified.

Waverly licked parched lips. “I tried.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Nicole bit out.

“I’m not lying,” Waverly snapped back. “I didn’t have your number. You weren’t answering my emails. So I tried your emergency contact at the sheriff’s office.”

Nicole’s eyes narrowed. “ You were my emergency contact.”

“Your original one.”

The muscles in Nicole’s jaw ticked as she considered that revelation. “Becky?”

“I asked her to tell you to call me. I even told her I was pregnant.” Waverly’s vision blurred with unshed tears. “She said she’d get a restraining order if I didn’t stop calling.”

“No.” Nicole shook her head and began to pace, agitated, two steps forward, three steps back, four steps forward, two steps back. “No, she would have told me.”

“Are you sure?” Waverly asked softly, causing Nicole to pause. “What wouldn’t she have done to keep you away from here?”

From me?

“I thought you didn’t want me anymore.” Tears spilled down Waverly’s cheek. “Didn’t want us .”

Nicole gaped at her, unblinking, ripples of confusion and fear and disbelief warring for control over her features. And pain. Waverly felt every single emotion pierce her own heart. Nicole shoved a hand into the pocket of her peacoat and pulled out her cell phone. Cradled it in the palm of her hand and looked down at it.

Waverly stilled as Nicole swiped through various screens and placed a call, bringing the phone up to her ear. She turned and left then, without sparing a single glance at Waverly, who blew out a shaky breath. Knees weak, she grabbed the back of one of the fold out chairs for balance with one hand and swiped at her eyes with the other. She knew she should let Nicole go. Give her the space and privacy she needed if she was calling who Waverly thought she was calling. But her heart spurred her forward, wobbly legs and all, and she emerged from the tent.

It had begun to snow. The air was so bitingly cold that Waverly’s skin stung almost immediately, the freeze chilling her to the marrow.

She caught sight of Nicole stalking toward the collapsed barn, too far to make out what she was saying on the phone. But whatever it was, it was heated, the cadence of Nicole’s voice rising as Waverly tentatively approached. She was only a few feet away when Nicole, without warning, pitched her phone against the still-standing barn door in an uncharacteristic fit of rage. Waverly startled at the crack of splintering plastic and glass.

Nicole stood with her shoulders heaving, her frame rigid, snowflakes dusting her hair and clinging to her coat. Waverly’s heart pounded hard as she tentatively called out, “Nicole?”

Nicole whirled on her and Waverly had to take a step back, not used to the fury emanating from the normally even-tempered woman. “How did… if you knew about Becky… then why…”

Waverly wrapped her arms protectively around herself, but it did little to ward off the bite of the subzero temperatures. “I didn’t know. Not until last night.”

“Last night?” Nicole asked incredulously, face red, cheeks glistening in the moonlight. “And you didn’t think to say anything!?”

“I didn’t know how!” Waverly answered back, desperately. “I couldn’t think. With the wedding and Whitney. It’s why I wanted to meet after…”

They stared at each other, breaths coming in harsh pants of condensing white. It felt like an eternity passed before Nicole shook her head. “I can’t.” She raised her hands, as if to ward off Waverly.  “I can’t do this.”

Nicole walked away in a rush, leaving Waverly helpless. Waverly watched her go, just like she had 20 years ago. She was halfway to her car when something snapped in Waverly. She had let Nicole walk out of her life once before. She wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. She ran after her, sprinting as fast as she could, almost slipping on the snow dusted ground, until she practically collided against Nicole’s back. Waverly wrapped her arms around Nicole’s middle from behind.

“Waverly.” Nicole reached for her wrists, but Waverly only tightened her grip.

“I won’t let you go,” Waverly said. “Not until you know.” She pressed her cheek against the wet, scratchy wool of Nicole’s coat. “When you left… when I pushed you away,” she amended. “I didn’t think I could go on. Didn’t know if I wanted to.” A frisson passed through Nicole. “But Whitney? She gave me a reason to live. Because she was ours.

Reluctantly, Waverly let go of Nicole and stepped back. Nicole didn’t turn around.

“Every time I looked at her, even if it broke my heart, I saw you,” Waverly continued, trying and failing to not openly cry. “I got to have a part of you, even if you never came back.”

Nicole spun on her heel then, despair etched across her tear-stained face. “Well isn’t that just fucking great for you?”

Waverly winced. “I know. It’s not fair.” She shrugged helplessly. “Unfair doesn’t even begin to cover it.”

“You had Whitney, while I had nothing… Nothing… for 20 years,” Nicole cried. “Nothing except knowing that you hated me.”

“No.” Shaking her head, Waverly ached to reach out to Nicole again, but knew her touch might not be welcome. “No. I didn’t hate you. God, I wanted to. And even when I convinced myself I did.” She held Nicole’s gaze, infusing her words with all the conviction she could muster. “I never stopped loving you.”

The confession hung suspended in the air, floating with the free-falling flakes. Waverly didn’t move a muscle, and neither did Nicole, both frozen in place, afraid to disturb the expanding stillness. Waverly blinked, and in the mere fraction of a second it took for her eyelashes to flutter closed and back open, Nicole erased the gap between them.

Hands gripping Waverly’s waist, Nicole brought their lips together with an intensity so strong, so fierce, that the kiss seared straight through to her soul. Waverly responded instantly, fingers threading through Nicole’s hair and drawing her in. She tasted salt when she kissed back. Trembled when Nicole whimpered.

“You’re shaking,” Nicole whispered against Waverly’s mouth, breath warm. She wrapped her arms fully around Waverly, one hand sliding up to a shoulder while the other cradled the small of Waverly’s back. “It’s freezing.”

Waverly almost laughed, because of course Nicole would focus on Waverly’s well being after her own world had gone topsy-turvy. No, she wasn’t shaking from the cold. Not even close. Waverly couldn’t even feel it, not with Nicole holding her so close. Her body vibrated with each beat of her pounding heart.

Waverly nuzzled the tip of Nicole’s nose. “Come inside,” she pleaded softly, hating how weak she sounded but unable to stop herself from kissing Nicole again, their lips magnetized. “Please.”

A reluctant nod from Nicole was all it took for Waverly to disentangle herself and reach for Nicole’s hand. Their fingers interlaced. Swallowing, she tamped down her nerves and led them through the snowfall, which grew heavier and heavier by the second, covering the ground in a sheet of silver. By the time they reached the old wooden porch, Waverly had to remind herself to breathe.

The front door creaked as they stepped inside, and Waverly shivered from the change in temperature. She was glad she had left the lights on and lit the pellet stove earlier, the extra warmth sorely needed in a house that remained drafty despite Waverly’s repeated attempts to improve its insulation. Nicole stood right in front of the door after it clicked shut, as if afraid to enter even further. Her eyes darted around the interior and took in all the changes, from the newer floorboards and the brighter furniture, to the dozens of framed family pictures hanging on the wood-paneled walls.

“Can I take your coat?” Waverly asked, releasing Nicole’s hand to nervously rake her fingers through her slightly damp hair.

Nicole didn’t move, instead remaining silent as she considered Waverly, eyes dark and intense. Was she having second thoughts? Would she change her mind and walk right back out? Waverly licked her lips, preparing to convince Nicole to stay once again, when Nicole began to undo her buttons, one by one. Inwardly, Waverly sighed in relief. Nicole slipped off the coat and hung it on the rack next to the door.  

When she turned back to face Waverly, another hush settled between them. Waverly was almost afraid to disrupt it, to break the delicate connection keeping them bound together even when circumstances seemed to dictate its destruction. But someone had to break the ice. Waverly, taking a deep breath and digging deep for the courage to be brazen once more, cleared her throat and lifted the hammer.

“We should talk.”

And, God, there was so much they needed to talk about. Multiple volumes worth of material that would give the Encyclopedia Britannica a run for its money. They just needed to start.

“We should,” Nicole agreed, canting her head forward slightly.

Their gazes remained fixed on each other. And then they crashed together, meeting each other halfway in a frantic embrace. Nicole’s lips were like fire, and Waverly let herself be consumed by the inferno, all thoughts of further talking and processing going up in a smoke in the heat of the moment.

Without breaking their kiss, Waverly walked backward toward her bedroom, now on the main floor, using sensory memory to lead them both. Her knees almost buckled when Nicole’s tongue dipped into her mouth, tasting as sweet and heavenly as she had remembered. Maybe even sweeter. She remained upright only by the strength of Nicole’s hands on her hips.

Waverly blindly opened her bedroom door, somehow managing with only one hand behind her to fumble with the knob. Once inside, she broke away from Nicole to kick it shut and made sure to lock it because if either Wynonna or Whitney somehow interrupted them, Waverly was sure she would murder them.

The room was nearly pitch black, with barely any moonlight thanks to the cloud cover of the snow shower. Nicole, however, easily found Waverly again in the darkness and wasted no time in reconnecting. As their lips met over and over and over again, Nicole’s nimble fingers deftly unzipped Waverly’s dress and let it pool at her ankles. Not to be outdone, Waverly tugged Nicole’s blouse up and over her head, giggling softly when it snagged briefly in Nicole’s hair.

Her laughter died out quickly and was replaced by a gasp when Nicole pushed Waverly up against the door. Static electricity arced across her bare skin where they were pressed together, settling between Waverly’s legs in a delicious ache. Nicole slid her hands down and lifted Waverly up. Instinctively, Waverly wrapped her legs tightly around Nicole, thighs squeezing Nicole’s waist, ankles locking behind Nicole’s back. Waverly couldn’t stop herself from rocking her hips, moaning as pleasure sparked throughout her entire body just from that small bit of friction.

Nicole carried her to the bed, groaning when Waverly tugged at her bottom lip with her teeth. She gently set her on the edge of the mattress. With Nicole leaning over her, Waverly made quick work of Nicole’s belt, frantically undoing the buckle and yanking the leather apart so Nicole could finally pull off her pants. Neither showed any sign of slowing down, lest the overwhelming enormity of the moment catch up to them. Next came their bras, their underwear, until finally, finally , they sunk into the mattress together, skin-to-skin, silently groaning as their bodies melded into one.

Waverly couldn’t believe any of this was happening. It all felt like a dream. How she had longed for this moment. Yearned for Nicole. And now here she was, and Waverly swore her heart was on the verge of bursting. As they continued to kiss each other deeply and marked each other’s bodies, Waverly felt herself come to life, all her senses finely honed to Nicole, and only Nicole. She nipped at the sensitive skin of Nicole’s inner wrist, felt her pulse stutter against her lips. Nicole’s hands roamed and explored and reacquainted themselves with Waverly’s body, gliding her palms down her thighs, skimming her nails up along her back. Each stroke, every caress sent tingles down Waverly’s spine. And when Nicole finally slipped inside her, Waverly’s eyes rolled shut, nails digging grooves down the tensing muscles of Nicole’s shoulders.

Sharp gasps and desperate moans soaked the air as Nicole set a fast, undulating rhythm. Waverly clung to Nicole, bliss increasing in intensity with each roll of her hips to match each thrust, every soft clap of their breasts. It had been so long since she’d last been intimate with anyone. Too long. And no one had ever known her body quite like Nicole. The sudden heat that spread throughout Waverly took her entirely by surprise, blazing from her core in scorching waves until she was breaking and shattering. All the while, Nicole held her together. Kept her whole.

Waverly was still coming down from her high when she flipped Nicole over. Her vision had finally  adjusted to the dark and she could just make out Nicole’s silhouetted features. Could see the warmth in eyes hooded with desire. Waverly kissed the tip of Nicole’s nose, the curve of her cheeks, the arches of her eyebrows, the skin of her forehead. Pressed her lips along her soft hairline, her temples, her jaw, until she reached that sweet spot, just below Nicole’s ear, that always made Nicole’s breath hitch with just the right amount of pressure.

“Waverly, please,” Nicole whimpered, trembling with barely controlled want.

Waverly slid lower. With their fingers intertwined, Waverly tasted Nicole, savoring the silky sweetness that spread across her tongue. She lavished Nicole with meticulous, but unrelenting  attention. Reveled in the arch of Nicole’s spine, the snap of her body, and the spasm of her thighs as she cried out Waverly’s name in a sharp crescendo.

Nicole quivered as Waverly crawled back up and settled on top of her, heart hammering so hard she was sure the beats reverberated in Nicole’s own chest. Nicole laid her forearm across her eyes, unable to hold back a sniffle.

“Nicole?” Waverly lifted Nicole’s arm away from her face and gently cupped her cheek. “Are you okay? Talk to me.”

“You,” Nicole took a shaky breath, “you had our baby.”

Waverly stilled. “Yes.”

“You had our baby,” Nicole repeated, voice breaking, “and I wasn’t there for you. I’m sorry, Waverly. I’m so sorry.

Waverly’s heart, already so swollen and tender, cracked. “No, shh, shhh,” she cooed. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Wrapping her arms around Nicole’s shoulders, Waverly pulled her close, eyes stinging as Nicole buried her face in her neck and succumbed to shuddering sobs. They held each other tightly, so tight Waverly felt like she could barely breathe, neither holding back their emotions, a cathartic release in the quiet nocturne of a cold winter’s night.


 

The sky was just starting to peak over the horizon, workers beginning to make their way onto the homestead as they started preparing for the wedding. The house built on the homestead, however, was still quiet.

Whitney yawned as she carefully stepped around the slumbering forms of her two friends, still drunkenly passed out on the half-deflated air mattress. She scrubbed at her eyes with the heel of her hand, making a quick stop to the bathroom before beginning to descend the stairs. Her head was foggy and just twinging slightly from the alcohol. She’d managed to not get completely tanked, unlike Anna and Jenn.                                                                    

She was getting married.

Coming down the stairs, a smile on her face, Whitney didn't expect to see her aunt standing beside a window, hands cradling a coffee cup as she stared at something outside. “Good Morning.”

“For some more than others.” Wynonna chuckled, still looking outside.  

Her brows furrowing, Whitney joined her aunt by the window, taking the coffee cup from her and taking a sip.  Not surprisingly,  it was more whiskey than coffee, but she didn't mind, and certainly didn't comment on it, looking out to see what her aunt was looking at. Nestled alongside her mother's SUV was a car that screamed rental.  

Had that car been there all night? She'd concentrated on helping an overly drunk Anna in the house the night before and hadn't noticed it. “Whose…”

Taking back her cup, Wynonna turned around and pointed towards the coat rack.

Pursing her lips, Whitney took a step towards the hook, seeing a familiar pea coat hanging there. Her hungover brain put two and two together before a huge grin took over her face. “You mean…” At Wynonna’s nod, she would have jumped up and down. “Oh my god, Nicole figured it out last night and she said she was going to talk to Mom and…” She looked at the door that was suspiciously closed and leaned toward Wynonna. “Are they still in there?”

Wynonna snorted. “Well, the door is locked.”

Whitney couldn’t help laughing at that. “I can’t believe you checked.”

Wynonna just shrugged. “Okay, so… we’ve got the idiots back together, they know about you but… does your mom know you told Haught?”

“I told Nicole she didn’t know. I don’t know what they discussed last night.” She suddenly felt a bit of nervousness settling in. Would her mother be furious with her? Her mother hated secrets so much and she had kept probably the biggest secret she’d ever kept in her life.

Wynonna, as if sensing her hesitation, threw an arm over her shoulder. “How about we make some pancakes? You’re getting married today.”

Whitney smiled. “I am.” She allowed herself to be tugged towards the kitchen, casting one last look at her mom’s door.


 

Nicole groaned softly as nails raked down her bare back, dragging soft trails of fire over her skin. Her body was beyond spent and her throat was scratchy but still she chuckled, hearing a noise from outside the bedroom door. “I think someone is up.” Nicole had her arms around Waverly’s bare waist as they sat facing each other on the bed, Waverly’s legs wrapped around her waist. Having been up all night, she thought she’d be more tired, but she couldn’t stand the thought of falling asleep, worried she’d wake up and it would have all been a dream.

Waverly shrugged, pressing a kiss to Nicole’s jaw. “I locked the door.” She made no intention of stopping, obviously intending on making up for 20 years worth of nights that could have been spent together. “Those assholes aren’t getting in here anytime soon.” There was a smile in her voice.

Nicole laughed at that, tilting her head down to drag the tip of her nose along the length of Waverly’s nose. “That’s not what I meant.”

“I know what you meant.” Waverly placed what had to be the thousandth kiss on Nicole’s lips since the emotional explosion the night before, her exploring hands showing no signs of slowing.

Nicole groaned. They had been up all night, trading touches that alternated from soft and delicate, to purposeful and passionate. There hadn’t been a lot of talking, not that they had avoided it, but instead they spent the night absorbing each other’s presence, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. She couldn’t believe, that after 20 years, Waverly was in her arms, kissing her, touching her. Instinctively, she tightened her hold, bringing Waverly’s body closer. “You know… I would love to spend all day here with you…” Reaching up, she ran a hand through Waverly’s long hair, pushing it behind her shoulder and revealing more than a few marks along her shoulder that made Nicole feel about 80 percent guilty and 20 percent ridiculously proud of herself. “But your daughter is getting married today.”

“Our daughter,” Waverly corrected her, as if it were as natural as day and night.

But it wasn’t for Nicole. She swallowed, feeling the tears threatening to consume her again. As if sensing her dilemma, Waverly’s hands came up to caress her jaw, eyes filled with despair and understanding locking with her own.

“Our daughter,” Nicole confirmed, their lips pressing together once more. “Our daughter.”

Waverly nodded, kissing her deeper.

Nicole wanted to say it was like no time had passed, like they had picked up where things had left off 20 years ago, but every kiss and every touch held a history behind it. She could see Waverly’s confidence had changed, not lessened, but she was definitely more self-conscious, as if aware of every inch of her body visible to Nicole. And as much as she wanted to say she loved Waverly, to let those words spill from her lips, she was afraid of being rejected again.

The truth was they didn’t know each other anymore. There was no just… picking up where things left off. They both lived such different lives now and they weren’t the same people they were 20 years ago. They still had so much to talk about, but today was not the day. Whitney was getting married and there was something in town trying to ruin the wedding.

As if sensing their reluctance to leave the small nest of bliss, Waverly’s phone went off. Waverly seemed keen to ignore it, her hands traveling up Nicole’s sides with intent.  Nicole pulled back slightly. “Your phone.”

“Your body,” Waverly responded.

“Waves…” Nicole felt a small bit of frustration, the touch traveling down her sides to her front with more intent, “the wedding.”

Waverly groaned in frustration.  “You know what? You are making it really difficult to ignore responsibilities.”

Nicole laughed.

As if sensing they were awake, someone knocked loudly on the door.

It made Nicole laugh harder.

“You two get your asses up.” Wynonna's voice came through the door.

“Shhhh.” Waverly reached up and covered Nicole’s mouth.

It didn’t deter Wynonna. “FYI Whit wants to know whose car is parked out front. I told her it was the plumber here to check out her Mommy’s indoor plumbing.”

“Dammit.” Waverly let her forehead drop against Nicole's shoulder, could obviously feel her laughing still. “Stop it.”

Nicole leaned back slightly, curling a finger under Waverly’s chin to tilt her head up. “Hey, we should get going. It’s going to be a busy day.”

“But I don’t want to.”

“Mamma?” There was another knock, this one softer, Whitney’s voice sounding a hundred times more innocent than it normally sounded. “Are you ok in there? Aunt Wynonna said your pipes were clogged?”

Nothing could hold back Nicole’s laugh at that.

“I HATE YOU BOTH!” Waverly yelled at the door, pushing Nicole away. “You too, asshole.” With a sigh, she pressed one more quick kiss to Nicole’s lips before untangling herself and heading to the closet to find some clothes. “Can I not just have one day of unadulterated bliss with my ex-fiancee slash the most gorgeous woman on the planet?” Pulling out a pair of pants and a shirt, she carried the small stack over to the bed, handing them to Nicole.

Inspecting the garments, Nicole froze. “Waves?” She unfolded the shirt, recognizing the Purgatory SD softball design easily. It was in perfect condition, or rather the same condition it had been in when she left it… twenty years ago. When Waverly turned to her, she lifted the shirt up with a questioning look.

Waverly just shrugged, slipping into a fresh shirt and a pair of sleep pants. “You forgot it.”

“Twenty years ago?”

Waverly shrugged again, pulling her hair up into a ponytail. “It’s either that or your clothes from last night.” She spoke as if it wasn’t strange to still have Nicole’s clothes after a couple decades.

Nicole wanted to pretend that it didn’t hurt. That it didn’t re-open the wound that a night of intimacy had just barely began to heal. Instead, she just slipped into the clothes, surprised everything still fit considering she wasn’t as fit as she’d once been, now that she wasn’t battling demons on a daily basis.

“You and I really need to…” Waverly stopped mid-sentence as she took in the sight of Nicole, dressed in familiar clothes. “I…” Her eyes began to fill with tears again. “Shit.” She turned away.

“Hey.” Nicole moved to her side. “We need to talk about all this, but I’m not going anywhere.” Capturing soft cheeks in her hands, she pressed her forehead to Waverly’s, hardly able to believe she was there herself. “Not until you tell me to leave.”

Waverly sniffled, giving her just the smallest of nods.

“Now, I believe we have a wedding to make sure goes off without a hitch.”

Waverly nodded again. “You’re right. We can do this. We… Shit what am I going to tell Whitney?”

Nicole blinked, confused for a second before she remembered what Whit had said. Waverly didn’t know she knew. Once again, Nicole found herself in a bind. She’d just rekindled… whatever last night had been with Waverly and the last thing she wanted was to ruin the progress with a secret. But did she want to betray Whitney’s trust? Shit. “Waverly…”

As if on queue, there was another knock on the door. “Come on slackers! Pancakes are getting cold!”

Nicole froze. “Pancakes… Wynonna can cook?”

Waverly nearly laughed, brushing a quick kiss against Nicole’s lips. “Oh you are in for a surprise.”

Before Nicole could stop her, Waverly unlocked the bedroom door and opened it, the scent of breakfast wafting in instantly. Okay then… we’ll talk later, she decided, preparing herself for the inevitable walk of shame she knew was in her immediate future.

Chapter Text

“I won't feel blue
Like I always do
'Cause somewhere in the crowd there's you.”

 

“Thank you, Honey.” Waverly accepted the mug of coffee from Whitney who, as it would appear, was doing her very best to not stare at the bathroom door that Nicole had escaped through. This wasn’t exactly familiar territory for them and she wasn’t sure how her daughter was going to take it, but unfortunately she seemed to be siding with her aunt as far as attitude and finding humor in the situation.

“Soooo…” Wynonna cradled a mug between her hands, leaning onto her elbows that she had propped up on the table. “Did someone have a sleep-over?”

Looking up to see Whitney was busy retrieving pancakes from the stove, Waverly smirked. “Actually, there was no sleeping involved, thank you very much,” she spoke into her coffee, loud enough for just her sister to hear.

“Hey now.” Wynonna leaned back before speaking too loudly. “I’m gonna need you to keep that sinful filthy language away from my niece.”

“Aunt Wyn!” Whitney gave her an appalled look. “Homosexuality is not a sin…I heart my lesbian mommy… lesbian? Bi?” Whitney tilted her head in mock confusion. “Pan?”

“How about you shut up and eat your pancakes, Little Missy.” Waverly narrowed her eyes. “Both of you are going to behave yourselves.”

Whitney nodded, making the cross over her heart before taking a big bite of pancakes.

Wynonna laughed, getting up to start another round of pancakes now that Whitney was seated. “You know I would never…” She didn’t get to finish the statement as the bathroom door opened.

Stepping into the room with everyone staring at her, Nicole ran a hand through her hair, obviously nervous. “Hey guys.”

“Just like old times except now I can cook. Come on over.” Wynonna waved Nicole over.

Waverly felt slightly anxious as Nicole walked over to the stove.

“So, Haught,” Wynonna held a plate of pancakes in her hands. “Are you hungry or did you get enough to eat already?”

Whitney looked up in mock surprise. “Like fast food? You got my mother to eat fast food?”

Waverly cleared her throat, narrowing her eyes at her daughter. Why did Whitney have to take after Wynonna so much?

“Always room for...” Nicole paused as she accepted the plate from Wynonna. She glanced down at the plate and raise her eyebrows. “What is this?”

“Chocolate and walnut pancakes,” Wynonna spoke with certainty. “What the hell do they look like?” She asked, depositing a dollop of whipped cream to the center of the stack.

“Since when do you cook?” Nicole took her plate over to the chair Waverly pulled out right next to her.

“Turns out… chicken wings and chili fries are not the best diet for mini me.” Wynonna winked as she refilled Whitney’s coffee. “You know that saying it take a village to raise a child? Well they sure weren’t making shit up.” Wynonna picked up her own coffee cup, leaning back against the counter as she watched them eat.

Waverly swallowed down the emotions that rose at that statement. She didn’t want to make a scene of it, but she could see the way Nicole froze at that. Reaching over, she set her hand on Nicole’s knee, squeezing gently.

Waverly felt a hand cover hers, fingers intertwining with her own and she tried to hold back a smile, knowing she was failing miserably as she looked to her right where Nicole was innocently attacking a stack of pancakes. For a split second, the corner of a caramel eye slipped her way before darting away quickly, the corner of Nicole's mouth tweaking up in a barely disguised grin.

“Hey Waves?”

“Hmmm?” Waverly, taking a sip of coffee, looked up to see Wynonna pulling a small pack out of one of the kitchen drawers.

“So you don’t need these D batteries now, right?” Wynonna lifted the pack up, a completely serious look on her face.

Waverly nearly choked on the coffee.

Nicole reached over and sympathetically pat her on the back before looking up at Wynonna. “Are you in need of something D powered?” She asked innocently, getting a pointed look from Wynonna.

“Nothing like talking about vibrators to start off a wedding day,” Whitney commented as she took a bite of her pancakes.

“Ew!” Wynonna gave her a disgusted look.

“Hey!” Waverly gave her daughter a look. “Some of us are eating here.”

Nicole looked like she was trying not to laugh, attacking her breakfast in earnest.

With the banter out of the way, they quickly devoured their meals, knowing the wedding was at noon and that they needed to get the day started. They had to wake Jen and Anna upstairs and then there was Whitney needing her makeup and hair done. Waverly had to make sure they were ready for not only the ceremony, but the reception as well. She had to consult with the caterer to make sure everything was set and there wasn’t a repeat of the rehearsal dinner. She doubted the Flaming Dragon would be able to whip out enough food for the 326 guests.

On top of everything, Waverly knew Nicole would have to head back to the hotel and she resisted the urge to beg her to stay. She had to get ready for the day, knew Nicole needed a shower and fresh clothes, but she allowed herself a moment, slipping her hand into Nicole’s and dragging her towards the bedroom once Whitney headed upstairs to shower.

Closing the bedroom door, Waverly smiled as she watched Nicole picking up her clothes from the night before. “I’m sorry about them.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Nicole chuckled softly.

“I um…” Unable to keep the distance between them, Waverly stepped beside Nicole, her hand reaching out to tug at the shirt Nicole wore. “I wanted to thank you. I know you came to Purgatory for work and I feel like we’ve kind of monopolized your time.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Nicole repeated, leaning forward to press her forehead to Waverly’s.

It was a familiar comfort, a gesture Nicole always did when they were together the first time. There were so many things she felt, so many things she needed to say and express, but she wasn’t ready for them. Instead she bathed in the close proximity of the person she thought she’d never see again.

“I have to go get ready.” Nicole smiled, brushing the tip of her nose against Waverly’s.

Waverly sighed softly, pushing herself up to meet Nicole’s lips in a kiss, tasting the chocolate and syrup on her tongue. “You won’t be long?”

“I’ll be as quick as legally possible.”

“Ok.” Waverly nodded, her hand reaching up to tangle in red hair. “I just… I can’t believe you’re here. There were just...” She felt her eyes burning with tears that were so easy these days and she had to look away.

“Hey.” Nicole curled her finger under Waverly’s chin, tipping her head up. “Neither can I.” She caressed her jaw with a gentle touch. “So many times I dreamed of this -- feeling you in my arms after a night full of unadulterated bliss…”

Waverly’s nostrils flared as her body pressed closer on instinct. Unable to resist, she pressed a quick kiss to Nicole’s lips once more. “Ok… you have to go before I change my mind,” she spoke softly with a smile before pushing Nicole away.

 


 

 

From the moment she left the Homestead, Nicole couldn’t get Waverly out of her head. She swore she could still smell the honey and wildflowers of Waverly’s perfume, feel the warmth of Waverly’s body beneath hers, taste the maple sweetness on Waverly’s lips as they kissed goodbye. It took all of Nicole’s willpower to not floor the accelerator in an attempt to get to town and back to Waverly as quickly as possible. But she managed to keep herself in check. Although the highway had been treated and plowed, the road was still slippery and the last thing Nicole needed was to end up in a ditch. Again.

So she kept her speed well under 80 kph and continued to replay the memories of the previous night and breakfast the morning after. Even with all the ribbing from Wynonna and Whitney, it had all been worth it, to sit with the family she knew she was always meant to have. Nicole had always felt, ever since she left Purgatory, that something was missing in her life. That no matter how much money she made, no matter how far up she climbed her career ladder, no matter how many women seemed to throw themselves at her, it all felt empty without family. Her real family. And now, finally, she found them again. And if Waverly and Whitney would have her, Nicole hoped they’d continue to let her be a part of their family for many more years to come.

As she crossed over the town limit, Nicole was reminded of how pretty and peaceful Purgatory could be in the winter. Freshly fallen snow dusted the streets and shops and houses. Everything that morning seemed extra bright, almost blindingly so, and Nicole couldn’t hold back the grin stretching across her face.

Nicole pulled up in front of the Wainright and absentmindedly tossed the keys to the valet. She was so lost in the haze of euphoria that she didn’t notice Randy Nedley approach.

“Ms. Haught?” He wrung his hands, hesitation in each step.

“Hey, Randy, beautiful morning for a wedding, isn’t it?” Nicole still couldn’t stop smiling as she walked inside the lobby.

“Oh, um, yes ma’am, very much so.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Don’t mean to be a bother, Ms. Haught, but you’ve got a bunch o’ messages at the front desk.”

That stopped Nicole in her tracks. Her hand automatically slipped inside her coat pocket for her cell phone before she remembered that it lay in pieces outside of the Earp’s barn. “From who?”

“A Rebecca Taylor, Esq. Emphasis on the esquire.” Randy cringed. “She said she’d sue us out of business if she didn’t get a hold of you soon. Can she actually do that?”

Anger erupted in Nicole, hot and sharp, but she took a deep breath, set her jaw, and tamped it down. Becky wasn’t going to ruin any more moments in her life.

Nicole resumed walking toward the elevators. “I’ll take care of it.”

Randy hooked a thumb toward the front desk. “But…”

“She can’t sue, Randy.” She pushed the call button. “Don’t let her intimidate you. And if she argues, kindly put her in her place.”

Randy nodded reluctantly. The elevator arrived quickly and Nicole stepped inside.

“Consider it training for when you’re sheriff.” She smiled at him when she turned around, and Randy instantly stood straighter, his chest puffing out slightly.

“Yes ma’am,” he said.

“Good man.” The doors began to close. “See you at the wedding?”

“Wouldn’t miss it!” Randy called out just as he disappeared from sight and the elevator ascended.

Nicole exhaled and rested her hands on her hips, shoulders tense with agitation. She couldn’t even be happy for more than 12 hours without Becky appearing to ruin it all. Nicole would have to deal with her, but now wasn’t the time. She wanted to focus on Waverly and Whitney before she butted heads again with her sister and, knowing Becky’s penchant for tattling, her parents as well. They’d had an unspoken pact to never speak of Purgatory and Waverly Earp. And she could already feel the inevitable fight brewing. The longer she could put it off, the better.

She entered her room and headed toward the closet to pull out her dress for the wedding when the phone on the nightstand rang. Nicole already knew who it would be and she had half a mind to ignore it, but if she could save Randy and the hotel staff from the wrath of Hurricane Becky…

“If you don’t stop calling, I’ll request a TRO on you,” Nicole said into the receiver after immediately picking it up.

“Is that any way to speak to your mother, Nicole Elizabeth Haught?”

Nicole winced. “Mom. I’m sorry. I thought you were Becky.”

“And why would you need a restraining order against your sister?”

Suppressing a snort, Nicole sat on the edge of her neatly made bed, springs creaking. “Like you don’t know already.”

“I most certainly do not. What is going on, Nicole?”

“Why don’t you ask Becky?”

“I already asked her and all she said was that you were making another mistake.”

Nicole rolled her eyes. “Of course she did.”

“Nicole, please, talk to me. Why are you back in that godforsaken town?”

Another bolt of anger flashed through Nicole. “It’s where I belong.”

“What are you talking about? You belong in Chicago.”

“I belong with my family.”

Silence fell over the line. Her mom stayed quiet for so long that Nicole wondered if she had hung up. “We’re your family, Nicole.”

“I know you like to believe that, mom. But dinners every other month where all we do is listen to Becky and dad brag about how much rain they make. That’s not a family.”

“Then what?” She could hear the hurt in her mom’s voice, and it made her heart crack. Her mom was never as bad as her dad and Becky. And even though things had grown strained between them over the years, she was still her mom. “You’re telling me some girl you dated decades ago is family to you.”

“Waverly wasn’t just some girl I dated. She was...is... the love of my life.” Nicole switched the wireless receiver from one ear to another, inhaling deeply to stop herself from snapping at the way her mom scoffed on the phone. “She’s my family. Her and… my daughter. Our daughter.”

Nicole’s mom laughed, a harsh bark that crackled over the speaker. “What?”

“Her name’s Whitney, mom.”

“That’s…” Her mom cleared her throat. “That’s not possible.”

“I thought so too. But through the power of science, you have a flesh and blood granddaughter.” Nicole pinched the bridge of her nose to keep tears at bay. “And we both missed out on 20 years of her life because of Becky.”

“Becky?”

“Becky knew about the baby and never told me. That’s why she’s freaking out right now. That’s why I said I’d get a TRO.”

“I don’t… can’t believe that.”

“It honestly doesn’t matter to me what you believe.” It was perhaps overly blunt, and borderline callous, but it was the truth. Nicole was done with saying and doing things she thought other people wanted. It was time to put herself first. To put her real family first. “I’m staying in Purgatory for the foreseeable future. You can either accept that or take this conversation as my informal notice of resignation from the firm.”

“Nicole, please, can’t we talk about this?”

“I’ll call you in a few days.”

“Nicole,” her mother tried again, voice bordering on desperate, “I don’t want to lose you. Or…” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.

“I really will call you. I promise.” Nicole heard her mom take a shuddering breath, but hung up before her mother could respond.

Nicole sat with her head hung for several long moments, chest aching from the conversation and not even really understanding why. On a whim, she picked up the phone again, hand trembling slightly, and dialed Waverly’s cell number. She already knew it by heart.

“Hello?” Waverly’s voice came in after four rings, and Nicole felt her entire body relax.

“Hey you,” Nicole greeted, feeling stupid now that she had Waverly on the line.

“Hey.” Waverly’s voice grew even softer. “I’m guessing you made it to the hotel, okay?”

“Yeah.” She debated about telling Waverly about her call with her mom. She decided against it. There was no use upsetting Waverly before the ceremony. “I, uh, I just wanted to hear your voice.” Shaking her head, Nicole nearly smacked herself on her forehead. “That’s… that’s dumb, right? Sorry.”

“No! Not at all.” The sound of door clicking shut drifted over the line. Perhaps Waverly went back to her room for more privacy. “I’m glad you called. I… I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Nicole’s stomach flipped pleasantly. “Me too.” They sat in a comfortable silence until Nicole coughed lightly. “So how’s everything going?”

“Well, everything’s still standing upright at least. Even Wynonna.”

Nicole chuckled. “That is a feat.”

“Yeah.” She heard the smile in Waverly’s voice. “Though I suppose I should get back to it before Whitney goes full-on Bridezilla.”

“Would she?”

“I want to say no, but I don’t want to take the chance.”

Nicole’s gaze landed on her suitcase. She thought of the unpacked item still in it. “Then I won’t keep you.”

“I’ll see you soon though, right?” Waverly said it casually, but the question was tinged with apprehension.

“Of course.” Nicole stood and walked to her luggage. “Gimme another hour or so.”

“Okay. I’ll time you.”

“And if I make it within the time frame, do I get a prize?” She unzipped the suitcase and dug a hand into one of the inner pockets..

“Guess you’ll have to find out. And what if you don’t make it on time?”

Nicole pulled out a small box, the fuzz of its black velvet faded. She flipped it open with her thumb and stared at the diamond solitaire, its facets catching and reflecting even the dim light of the hotel room. “Guess you’ll just have to find out too.”

“Well I look forward to it.”

Smiling, Nicole set the box down. “Me too.”

 


 

 

Her eyes locked on the body-length mirror, Whitney took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. She was getting married. Hair done and makeup applied, she wiggled just slightly as Jen laced up the back of the dress, watching as the bodice hugged her closely, taking it’s final form. After all the alterations, it fit perfectly, a second skin made of silk, lace, and sparkling crystals.

“How’s that?” Jen asked, stepping out from behind her and looking at her reflection. “Whoa…”

“Holy shit!” Anna handed off two flutes of champagne, keeping one for herself. “I’d totally do you if you weren’t getting married.” She held up her glass, indicating Jen and Whitney follow. “Here’s to the first one of us suckered into indentured servitude.”

Even with the ridiculous sentiment, Whitney felt her eyes sting with tears. Still she laughed, clinking her glass against the others before taking a sip. The bubbles tickled her throat as she swallowed the champagne and she looked around her bedroom. Not counting the week leading up to today, she mostly didn’t stay at the homestead, just one or two days a week but it still felt like a turning point. She hadn’t been a little girl for a while now, but it still felt surreal to be getting ready for her wedding in the middle of her childhood room.

A knock came just seconds before the door opened and her mother peeked in… her birth mother? Now that she had two of them, what did she refer to them as? She’d been calling Nicole by her name, but should that change? Did Nicole want to be called Mom?

“Oh Whit…” Waverly’s eyes shook with emotion as she stepped into the room. “What did you do to my little girl?”

As Jen and Anna stepped out of the room to give them a moment, Whitney smiled. “Sorry, Mom.” She noticed the way her mother’s smile wavered just slightly and felt a pang of guilt. She knew she needed to come clean, but so far there hadn’t been a single disaster and she wasn’t going to be the one to break the good fortune. “I thought you were dealing with the family.”

Waverly nodded. “I wanted to see my baby.” She reached out, straightening the silk drape of Whitney’s dress. “You are beautiful. You look so grown up.”

Setting her glass down, Whitney smiled, covering her mother’s hand with her own. “I am grown up, thanks to you.” She felt the need to reassure her, knowing that Waverly now knew Nicole knew, but she didn’t know that Whitney had invited her. She didn’t know that Whitney had basically tricked the both of them.

“You’re still going to visit me, right?”

Whitney laughed. “I dunno. Are you and Nicole going to be wanting alone time together? Defiling all the surfaces?”

“Ew. Please.” Waverly rolled her eyes. “That is a solid no, Kiddo.” Reaching up, she adjusted one of Whitney’s dark curls. “By Monday evening, Nicole is going to be back home in Chicago.” There was a slight hitch in her voice but still she smiled. “So you definitely better check on me regularly. You’re leaving me alone with your aunt and you know how she can be.”

Whitney couldn’t help it. She pulled her mom in for a hug. “You’ll be sick of seeing me around. Besides, you don’t know that Nicole is going back. She seemed pretty happy this morning.”

“Oh hush up already with that.”

Whitney couldn’t believe it. Her mother was blushing, even if there was a sadness behind it.

Waverly shook her head. “Ok, Jesse can have you, Brat.” Looking at the clock, she took a deep breath. “Well, the guests have started to arrive. I need to go make sure your aunt doesn’t knock the cake over or something.”

There was a knock on the door and they both jumped before Anna’s head popped in. “Ok, hopefully that was long enough because we need to finish getting ready, and by that I mean…” She held a bottle of whiskey up, four shot glasses carefully arranged on her hand, “time to shake those nerves.”

Whitney smirked. “I’m not nervous.” She was surprised at how true that was. It was like this was where she was meant to be.

“Not for you.” Anna expertly spun the cap off the bottle with her thumb, not caring as it flew off and landed on the ground and pretending she didn’t see Jen bending down to pick it up. “There’s one reason alone to be in a wedding party and that’s to get my choice of…” Her eyes drifting towards Waverly, she suddenly thought about who was in the room, “I mean we’re here to support you on such an important day.”

Whitney tried not to laugh as she accepted a glass. They’d been through so much together, she, Anna, and Jen. They were the sisters she never had, there for her when she first fell for a boy, and when she found out demons were real.They’d been there for her since she could remember and couldn’t think to have anyone else with her on her wedding day.

“Take it.” Anna insisted, thrusting the shot glass at Waverly.

“Fine.” Waverly huffed, accepting the drink.

They were about to lift their glasses in a toast when there was another knock on the door.

“For Christ’s sake, who else could be here?” Waverly exclaimed.

Whitney couldn’t help but hope it was Nicole, but given the fact Waverly didn’t know she knew, it wasn’t likely. Still, when her aunt’s head popped in the cracked open door, Whitney smiled. Of course.

“Wait… are you guys drinking?” Wynonna closed the door. “Without me?”

“Oh not to worry, Wynonna. We knew the sound of whiskey pouring would draw you in.” Waverly smirked.

“We don’t have another glass.” Jen frowned.

Waverly shook her head. “Here, take mine.”

“No need.” Wynonna reached into her pocket, pulling out a silver disk about half an inch thick and three inches across. With a flick of her wrist, it popped out and expanded into a full shot glass. “There we go.” She held it out towards Anna. “Fill me up.”

It was Jen who laughed first. “That’s what she said.”

“That’s what Nicole said, no doubt.” Wynonna winked at Waverly who gave her an outraged look.

“Wynonna! Please not in front of my daughter.”

Jen and Anna both laughed. Whitney pursed her lips.

“You sure weren’t concerned about her hearing anything all night long… and morning…”

“I can’t believe you let us sleep through that walk of shame,” Anna complained.

“Can we just do this shot, please?” Waverly growled.

“Okay, okay.” Anna held her glass up. “To Whit, our best friend.”

“To our amazing sister.” Jen lifted her own glass.

Wynonna lifted her own. “To the best thing to crawl out of my sister’s vagina.” She winked at Waverly.

Waverly cleared her throat. “Great… thanks Wynonna…” She smiled at Whitney. “To my heart.”

Even with the jokes, Whitney felt herself becoming emotional, fighting back the tears as she reached down to slip her free hand into her mother’s. “I love you guys.” She lifted her glass. “To the best family a girl could ask for.” She wished again that Nicole was there, saw the far off look in Waverly’s eyes that meant maybe her mother was thinking the same thing too. With a subtle nod, she swallowed the shot in one quick gulp, feeling it burn all the way down to her gut, mingling with what was left of her breakfast. “Alright…. Let’s get married… I really want some cake right now.”

“Hells yeah,” Wynonna agreed, snapping her shot glass flat again and slipping it back in her pocket.

Waverly stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Wynonna…” She looked down at the torn jeans and band t-shirt she wore. “You’re not wearing that, right?”

 


 

 

Nearly half of Purgatory was at the Homestead by the time Nicole returned with 10 minutes to spare before the ceremony. It was almost impossible to find a parking spot, but Nicole managed to squeeze her car between the old windmill and a black vintage Buick LaCrosse, a dent on its chrome bumper. She shivered when she stepped out of her rental, shoving her hands in the pockets of her peacoat and wishing she had worn slacks instead of a dress, or at the very least a long skirt. The snow still blanketing the ground snapped and cracked as she walked carefully toward the wedding tents, pausing a few feet away when she thought she heard a loud thump behind her. Nicole stopped and turned around. But nothing appeared out of the ordinary among the stationary cars in the makeshift parking lot.

Shrugging, she kept walking, unable to keep her gaze from wandering toward the house. An overwhelming urge to make a detour to see Waverly and Whitney before the ceremony swelled within her, but she managed to stay her course. They were probably busy, Nicole concluded, and they didn’t need her there to potentially gum up the works.

Once inside the main tent, Nicole was greeted with a soothing song played by a string quartet and the familiar smile of Chrissy Nedley.

“Bride or groom?” Chrissy asked. “Just kidding, Haught, I know where you belong.” She pointed to the row of chairs to her right.

“Thanks, Sheriff.” Nicole inclined her head forward slightly with a smile and headed toward a seat in the back. “You’re looking lovely today by the way.”

Chrissy rolled her eyes. “Just get your ass to the front.” She chucked a thumb toward where Jesse stook speaking with the officiant, but it wasn’t Father Charles. In place of the priest Nicole had seen at the rehearsal dinner was a new pastor with slicked back white hair and a matching handlebar mustache. Something about him didn’t sit well with Nicole. An unnerving tingle shot down her spine; a feeling she had experienced often when on the force in a supernatural town like Purgatory. But she ignored it to turn her attention back to Chrissy.

“The front?” Nicole asked, brow furrowing.

“That’s where I was told to send you.”

“By who?”

Chrissy canted her head to the side. “Who the hell do you think? The ghost of my old man?” She placed a hand on Nicole’s shoulder and gently nudged her forward. “Waverly, of course.”

Nicole’s heart skipped a beat. “You, uh, talked to Waverly?”

“Mmhmm, sure did.” Chrissy smirked. “She seemed awful happy this morning.”

Nicole’s cheeks warmed.

“I mean, it is her only daughter’s wedding day.” Chrissy shrugged, a mischievous sparkle in her eye.

“Yes.” Nicole coughed into her fist. “Yup.”

“You’ve got a lot to celebrate yourself.” Chrissy smiled genuinely. “Enjoy it.”

Maybe it was the light. Or the haze of tears threatening to blur Nicole’s vision. But something about Chrissy in that moment reminded Nicole of Chrissy’s father. “Thanks, Sheriff.”

Nicole made her way to the front. It felt like everyone’s eyes were on her, and her stomach twisted with nerves. She had no doubt that she and Waverly would soon be the talk of the town, if they weren’t already. But she tried to not pay it any mind as she approached Gus, who sat in the first row. She wore a sensible, navy blue pantsuit, accented by a silver bandanna scarf. The two chairs to her right, closest to the aisle, were empty. Small signs affixed on the seatbacks announced that they were reserved for family. Nicole paused, unsure of what to do, until Gus sensed her presence and raised a disinterested eyebrow.

“Well?” Gus asked gruffly. “You gonna sit down or what, girl?”

Nicole gestured vaguely at the chairs. “But these say…”

“They’re for family,” Gus said, slapping a hand on the seat next to her. “You’re family, ain’t ya? Just save the one on the end for Waverly.”

“Yes ma’am.” Smiling gratefully, Nicole shrugged off her coat and draped it on the seatback. She sat down and directed her gaze at Jesse who, she supposed, would technically be her son-in-law. Which meant, in some odd twist of fate, Champ Hardy would also become part of her family, but she tried not to think about that too much.

Jesse noticed her arrival and gave her a small wave. He looked handsome in his dark gray tuxedo. And also nervous. He fidgeted in place and clasped his hands behind him, then in front. He repeated the action a few times, alternating the motions with glancing at his wristwatch and looking toward the back of the tent in anticipation. It comforted Nicole on some level, knowing that Jesse didn’t feel the need to hide behind false bravado and machismo, unlike his boy-man of a father. Nicole shuddered when she thought of Champ, unable to wrap her brain around the fact that their genes might some day mingle. But if Jesse made Whitney happy, then that was all that mattered.

Nicole glanced at the new pastor, who gave her a thin smile. That unsettling feeling returned.

“Who is that?” Nicole asked Gus.

“Father Kramer,” Gus said.

“What happened to Father Charles?”

“Caught a bug all of a sudden, so I hear.” Gus shrugged up one shoulder. “Why?”

“I don’t know.” Nicole shook her head. “Something about him--”

“Gives you the heebie jeebies?” A breathless Wynonna cut in. “Same here.”

“And just where in the hell have you been?” Gus asked irritably. “You’re late.”

“Had to take care of some last-minute shit.” Wynonna quickly walked to the opposite side of Gus and sat down, cleaned up nicely in an ice blue sheath dress, hair glorious and tousled. The sharp and unmistakable scent of whiskey trailed faintly behind her.

“Last-minute shit? Haven’t seen that label before,” Gus muttered.

Scowling, Wynonna ignored Gus to nod at Nicole. “Haught.”

“Earp.”

“Was half worried you might not show up.” Wynonna gave her an appraising look in an attempt to be casual, but Nicole knew better. Wynonna never could hide her protective streak when it came to Waverly.

Nicole dipped her head for a beat before she met Wynonna’s gaze and held it, unwavering “Like I told Waverly this morning, I’m not going anywhere. Not until she tells me.”

Gus cracked a smile and nodded. “Atta girl.”

The string quartet finished its set and a brief lull settled over the murmuring guests. When the violins, viola, and cello began playing the first lilting notes of Palchelbel’s Canon in D, Nicole turned in her seat toward the tent’s entrance in the back, excitement palpable in the air.

This was it.

Nicole held her breath.

 


 

 

Waverly huffed as she entered the separated prep tent, smoothing down the length of her dress as she took a calming breath of the heated air.

“What’s wrong?” Whitney was on her in a flash, as if expecting the worst like everything else that had happened.

“There’s just…” Waverly shook her head. “It’s fine. There was a small issue. Father Charles couldn’t make it, but he sent a replacement.”

“Wait… so we’re going to have a complete stranger marry us?”

Waverly had to smile. “Looks like suddenly you’re nervous.” She reached out and rubbed Whitney’s arms. “It’s ok. I walked him through everything. Just... relax and everything will be fine.”

Whitney swallowed audibly. “It’s just ceremony. It doesn’t matter.” She nodded.

“We should get ready.” Waverly took another steadying breath as she looked at the wedding party that were scattered around the room, various states of nervousness mixed with intoxication. “Chrissy said Nicole just got here and if your maid of honors drink any more shots, they’re going to stumble down the aisle.”

“Will you give me away?” Whitney suddenly blurted out.

Waverly blinked, not expecting that. They had talked about it and what was traditionally the father’s job. Even Wynonna had jokingly brought up the idea of Champ walking her down the aisle, but in the end Whitney had ended up deciding she would walk down the aisle alone.

“I mean… I don’t want to put you on the spot or anything.” Whitney suddenly looked unsure, her eyes darting around. “You don’t have to.”

Waverly felt her eyes tearing up. “It would be my honor.”

Whitney relaxed in relief. “Ok good cause I don’t think I can walk down the aisle alone.” She laughed, sniffling just slightly. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

It took them a few minutes to get everyone organized, especially when Jen and Anna insisted on walking down the aisle together, instead of with the groomsmen who just shrugged. Jesse’s high school buddies seemed almost relieved to be off the hook.

“You ready?” Waverly looked at her daughter, seeing the way she seemed to be staring at the bridesmaids and groomsmen that disappeared through the opening in the main tent, her lips silently counting the beats to the music. “Hey.” She spoke a little louder, nudging Whitney in the ribs.

“Sorry.” Whitney laughed, nervousness evident with a slight quiver. “What?”

“I asked if you were ready.”

“Oh.” Whitney nodded. “Yeah. Totally. I look ready, right?”

Waverly smiled, hooking her arm around Whitney’s. “You look perfect.” As if on queue, the music changed and the sound of everyone standing could be heard. “I think that’s our signal.”

“Yeah… ok.” Whitney nodded, taking a deep breath before allowing Waverly to pull her towards the opening.

Over 300 sets of eyes were on them and Waverly found the only pair of caramel colored irises that mattered and were locked on them. In another time, it could have easily been their own wedding, with Nicole standing where Jesse was, the biggest smile on his face.

Their original separation hadn’t been Becky’s fault. Would Nicole have come back on her own? Would they have been able to get over all the bullshit that happened between them? The curse? The broken shell Waverly had become after the failed IVRs? The hormones of pregnancy when it finally took? Would the strain of protecting Whitney from the constant attacks of revenants have been too much for Nicole?

Twenty years later, all they had were regrets and what-could-have-beens. How many important milestones had Nicole missed because of a stupid miscommunication? Well, she had a stack of scrapbooks she was sure Nicole would be interested in. With Whitney out of the house, maybe she could convince the wayward lawyer to a post-wedding trip down memory lane.

Yeah, Waverly decided with a smile as they reached the front of the aisle.

Setting Whitney’s hand on Jesse’s, Waverly smiled and brushed a kiss against his cheek before whispering, “Take care of her or you will beg for death when I’m through with you.” The smile never left her face as she pat him on the shoulder. She nearly laughed at the shocked look on his face as she took her seat beside Nicole. She wasn’t going to cry. She made a promise to herself that she wasn’t going to cry, even as she felt the warmth of Nicole pressed against her side.

Her only daughter was getting married and the love of her life was there with her. Even if it was bound to end when Nicole went back to Chicago, it all felt perfect… or as close to perfect as anything could be.

“We are gathered here to join Jesse Marcus James and Whitney Elizabeth Earp in holy matrimony.”

Over 20 years had passed and Waverly didn’t think much of it until she heard Nicole’s small gasp. It was just a name, but she could see the tears welling in Nicole’s eyes and she reached over, squeezing Nicole’s hand.

 


 

 

"Come on, Nicole. Tell me.” Waverly persisted.

Nicole was trying not to be distracted by the fact that Waverly Earp was wearing just one of her oversized sleeping shirts and nothing else as she straddled Nicole’s waist. She tried not to think about the fact that she herself was completely naked and had a lot of vulnerable skin available to the youngest Earp. “Not happening, Baby.”

“That’s not fair. You know my middle name.” She put the biggest pout on her face, hands splayed against Nicole’s ribs.

“I’m a cop.” Nicole used the same excuse she’d used at least a dozen times before.

“Oh yeah? I can easily find out myself, Officer Haught. I was, for a time, an actual Black Badge Consultant.” She smiled brightly, eyes turning to adorable crescents. “I’d just rather you tell me of your own volition.”

“Yeah well I’d rather you find something better to do this morning than pester me about my middle name.” Nicole chuckled, reaching up to slip her hand behind Waverly’s neck, pulling her down for a kiss.

Waverly’s body melted against Nicole’s, pressing to deepen the kiss. She felt the way the smaller frame adjusted to slide a thigh between her own, applying just enough pressure to make Nicole whimper into the kiss.

“Tell me.” Waverly suddenly whispered into the kiss.

Nicole’s brow furrowed. “What?”

“Tell me,” Waverly pressed closer, kissing a path down Nicole’s throat, “and I’ll make it worth your while.” Nipping the soft skin of her collar, Waverly slipped her hand slowly down Nicole’s side, caressing the curve of her hip.

“Waverly…”

“That’s not your middle name.” Waverly smirked as she let her hand move inward. “Tell me.”

There wasn’t any reason Nicole remained defiant. There was only so long she could delay the inevitable. With a growl, she wrapped her arms around Waverly’s shoulders and rolled over, pinning her to the bed.

Waverly didn’t look at all surprised as she found her hands pinned above her head. “God you are sexy.”

Nicole shook her head, leaning down to brush the tip of her nose along the length of Waverly’s before whispering, “Elizabeth.” She spoke softly before capturing Waverly’s lips in a kiss.

 


 

 

Nicole smiled back, intertwining her fingers with Waverly’s.

The rest of the ceremony passed by in a blur of vows and tears, moments of unspeakable happiness tinged with melancholy for Nicole, knowing that this could have been her and Waverly, if only… But she quickly pushed those thoughts aside once she locked eyes with Waverly, who gave her a smile that warmed Nicole straight to her toes.

When they reached the ring exchange, Nicole’s heart felt so full, she was surprised it hadn’t yet burst. The pastor smiled as he beckoned for the wedding rings, lips curling up into his white mustache.

He raised his hands and addressed the crowd. “Should anyone present know of any reasons that this man and woman should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Nicole didn’t expect anyone to actually respond. And she most certainly didn’t expect to hear the tell-tale click of a revolver cocking, followed by a chorus of startled gasps. The fine hairs on the back of Nicole’s neck stood on end. At nearly the same time as Wynonna and Waverly, she turned her head to look at the tent’s entrance. Her mouth dropped open.

There stood Doc Holliday himself, grayer than she remembered but as roguishly handsome as ever. He aimed a silver gun straight at Whitney and Jesse. “I do reckon I’ve got at least one.”

Chapter Text

"You make me talk
And you make me feel
And you make me show
What I'm trying to conceal"

 

 

As the familiar form of Doc Holliday filled the entrance, backlit by the noon sun, time slowed to a crawl. For the briefest of moments, Waverly noticed the way Doc had aged, his mustache and hair now a distinguished salt and pepper, before she felt confusion and dread fill her at the sight of two pistols aimed at her only child.

"What the Hells?" Wynonna drew Peacemaker, aiming it at Doc as the crowd gasped loudly and did what the residents of Purgatory were used to doing, diving to the ground for safety.

"You best turn that barrell towards the altar, lest you miss the snake you've invited under your own tent," Doc informed Wynonna without hesitation.

There was a wave of confusion that coursed through the crowd until a clap could be heard. Everyone turned to see the priest, an unnerving smile spread from ear to ear as he clapped slowly. "Well done, John Henry." He held up his hands in mock surrender. "You caught me."

"What the…" Wynonna swung Peacemaker around.

"Well, I wasn't expecting this… or was I?" The priest's grin grew impossibly wider before he snapped his fingers and all Hell broke loose.

Waverly wasn't sure how she hadn't noticed, maybe in all the disasters that had happened she hadn't previously noticed the two men before they suddenly jumped up from the crowd, one heading towards Wynonna, and one towards herself, but all Waverly focused on was the priest who moved to grab Jesse or Whitney. "Oh hell no!" Waverly was moving but found a hand clamp down on her arm and she was face to face with a man she'd never met before trying to physically restrain her.

"Get off her!" Nicole grabbed the shoulder of the stranger who was pulling at Waverly's arm, spinning him away from Waverly before picking up the chair she'd been sitting on and smashing it across his face.

One of the strangers pushed a guest aside, catching Champ who seemed to be on his way out of the tent and easily knocking him out out with a single punch before heading towards Wynonna, obviously intending on sneaking up on her. The stranger didn't expect Doc to notice and fire on him, hitting the stranger right in the shoulder and knocking him away. To Doc's dismay, the man snarled in pain before disappearing in a black cloud, surprising everyone.

Nicole looked down to see the man on the ground display a look of panic before he disappeared as well. She narrowed her eyes as she took in the whole scene, a thoughtful look coming over her even in the midst of the chaos.

"Leave him alone!" Whitney yelled, swinging a fist at the priest who ducked the punch, releasing Jesse at the same time. The missed punch left Whitney off balance and she found herself suddenly grabbed.

Waverly was moving before she could process the chaos around her, her hand finding the familiar shape beneath the seat.

"Are you serious?" Wynonna had a smirk on her face as she sat cross legged on the ground, hogging the flow of warm air from the space heater.

Waverly gave Wynonna a wry look. "You are the Earp heir. We have seen the destruction of over a hundred revenants, demons, and all around douchey bad buys and you're asking me if I'm serious?" She straightened to her full height and set the RESERVED sign on the seat. "After all the shit that's been happening the past few days, are you planning on leaving Peacemaker behind?"

"Okay…" Wynonna conceded. "You're right."

"Damn right I am."

The tearing sound of velcro separating could barely be heard over the commotion as Waverly pulled her shotgun out from under the chair, leveling her sights straight at the priest who now had his hand wrapped Whitney's throat, using her as a shield. "Let her go, Shit Ticket."

"Now now." He spoke with a grin, the tips of now sharp nails pressing into Whitney's throat. "I'd hate for anything bad to happen to dear Whitney here."

Waverly felt anger welling inside her, seeing Whitney struggle against his hold.

"Put it down or not only will Whitney here have a few new breathing holes, but you'll never know where Agent Dolls is."

Waverly saw Wynonna's entire body tense at that, daring to take her eyes off her daughter to meet her sister's look.

"Didn't expect that huh?" The priest commented with a sickening chuckle. "Frankly I thought you'd figure out he was missing much sooner, but I guess too much whiskey does that."

Wynonna's eye twitched as she held Peacemaker towards him, an obvious battle going on behind her stoic expression. After what felt like forever, Wynonna uncocked the gun, lowering her arm.

Waverly resisted just a moment more, barely able to control her rage. Finally, she lowered her gun. "What do you want?"

"I thought you would never ask." The priest grinned. "I do so hate interruptions. You." He pointed a finger at Jesse. "Let's continue with the ceremony, shall we?"

Jesse's eyes narrowed at him, his hands clenching.

"The rings, my boy." The priest gestured towards Jesse's fist.

"Dude, who are you even?" Wynonna asked. "Obviously you don't know how this works. We point our guns at you, you introduce yourself… tell us your devious intent and all that shit. Come on."

"Forgive me." The man in white smirked. With a flourish of his fingers, he pulled a card out of nowhere. "I am Agent 85903 of the King's Rebellion and Misbehavior Punition Utilization Service." He flicked the card at Wynonna who scrambled to catch it.

"The King's a-whata?" Wynonna looked at the card, her eyes opening wide. "Are you shitting me?"

"What?" Waverly took the card from Wynonna. "King's Rebellion and Misbehavior Punition Utilization Service? K.R.A.M.P….Krampus?"

Wynonna snorted. "Sounds like someone stayed up all night with a thesaurus to come up with that one."

Waverly looked from the man to Wynonna. "This is a joke, right?" She looked at the agent. "Like you can't be serious. Krampus as in THE Krampus?"

"Well… we're more of an organization than an old bloke with goat hooves or whatever the legends say." He shook his head. "My associates, it appears, are less dedicated to the cause than myself. Rookies." He sighed heavily. "Even at the top of their class, they're not quite up to snuff. But that's besides the point. You're stalling." He pointed at Jesse. "The rings if you please."

Looking down at the rings in his hand, Jesse noticed a strange gleam to them, an almost bluish glow that was barely visible. "What did you do to them?"

"Just a little spell, dear boy. Nothing deadly." The agent responded matter-of-factly. "Come on. You know the drill. One for you, one for the bride." When Jesse didn't move, the agent gave him an exasperated look. "Surely you rehearsed this the other night. I made sure at least that part of the rehearsal went uninterrupted so this very moment wouldn't be stalled."

"No." Jesse stood his ground, closing his hand around the rings.

The agent rose an eyebrow. "No?" He snorted, digging his nails into Whitney's throat. "No for dear Whitney surviving the day? Or no for good ole' Agent Dolls ever being found?"

"Hey now." Wynonna held up her hands. "Why don't we all just relax, Agent 8...67...5309."

"85903."

"Whatever," Wynonna shrugged. "How about we let the kids go, and I can help you out with...whatever you're doing."

The agent snorted. "This is a wedding, Misssss Earp." He hissed. "And you are not exactly the marrying type, are you? Closest we got is those two over there."

Waverly blinked as the agent pointed to herself and Nicole. Strangely, all the color drained from Nicole's face when the agent winked at her. "What are you…"

"Nonetheless," the agent interrupted Waverly, "this spell is one crafted specially for these two. Now, come along. No more dawdling."

"Whit…" Jesse wanted to step forward, his eyes darting around from behind his glasses, trying to find a way out that would be to his advantage.

"Tik tok." Agent 85903 rose an eyebrow. "How about we start making holes in dear Whitney's throat?" He pressed hard enough for a bead of blood to appear.

"NO!" Jesse called out. "Let her go. Take me."

The agent rolled his eyes. "You mean nothing to me alone." He shook his head. "If everyone follows my instructions, everyone gets home safe. Keep it up and…" He dug another nail deeper, causing Whitney to yelp.

"Okay okay okay!" Jesse held up his hand. "Don't hurt her." He slipped one of the rings on his own finger, hesitating when it came to Whitney's.

"Just do it." Whitney held her hand out.

Jesse swallowed, sliding the ring onto her finger slowly.

"Good boy." Agent 85903 exhaled, suddenly releasing Whitney who stumbled away into Jesse's arms. "Testing." He waved his hand and both Jesse and Whitney cried out in pain as the rings on their fingers glowed bright.

"What the F…" Whitney tried to pull the ring off her finger but cried out again in pain. "Shit!"

"Stop that." The agent scolded her. "Alright. Same threat. No one try to interfere or else the lovebirds get it." He waggled a finger at Wynonna who had begun to raise Peacemaker. "Ok. Where were we? Dearly beloved…. Yadda yadda. We're gathered here to reveal the truth."

"How about you start," Waverly commented, just barely able to keep herself back from checking on Whitney.

The agent snorted. "Cute. I only ever speak the truth, but we know the truth is barely known around here. Let's…" Agent 85903 turned to Jesse. "Yes, let's start with you." He laughed, waving his fingers in a flourish, causing the wedding band to glow bright blue.

"Ah!" Jesse winced, obviously in pain.

"Now that you know the effect of the rings, the only way to make it stop is to give us your biggest secret."

Waverly swallowed, feeling a bit of wariness taking over. It's not that she didn't trust Jesse, he was the sweetest kid she'd ever met, even more so than her daughter. But if there was one thing she'd learned in the past few days, it was how much memories could affect everything.

"Come on." The agent smiled an eerie smile.

Jesse held out for another second, the gold of his ring burning brighter until he finally blurted out, "I wipe Mrs. Lee's tickets from the system every time she gets a parking ticket!"

The entire room froze, the agent's brow furrowing. "What?"

"I know I shouldn't," Jesse looked on the verge of tears, "but it's not her fault the city rezoned the parking and she lost her reserved stall." He looked up, finding Chrissy in the crowd, receiving a knowing smile instead of a disapproving look.

When the agent gave Jesse a disgusted look, Wynonna barked out a laugh, getting everyone's attention. "Not what you were expecting, huh?" She gave Jesse a thumbs up and a wink. "This creampuff can't keep secrets. He once drove all the way back to the market because the checkout girl only rang up 5 limes instead of 6."

Agent 85903 sneered, waving his hand to stop the glowing of Jesse's ring. "Well, it's a good thing I didn't come for him." He turned his hand to Whitney, getting a yelp of surprise from her. When Waverly took a step forward he shook his head at her. "Uh uh uh. Another step forward and Agent Dolls is a goner."

Waverly's nostrils flared as she tried to decide what to do. On one hand, Whitney wasn't in mortal danger while Dolls very well could be. On the other hand, no one who ever hurt her daughter got away with it.

Whitney clenched her teeth, ignoring the glowing of the ring and the pull of its power.

"What's the matter, Dear? Afraid someone will hear those secrets?" The agent grinned, waving his fingers.

Whitney's eyes quivered with emotion and it took everything in Waverly to stay back. Whitney's lips pursed as she tried to resist, her body almost vibrating as she struggled against the effort to not let the ring control her. Suddenly the ring flared, glowing a bright red and she yelped. "I invited Nicole to Purgatory for the wedding," she blurted out quickly, her breath coming out in a shuddered sigh as the ring returned to its silver tone.

"What?" Waverly felt shock radiate through her as she looked at her daughter.

"I invited her." Whitney repeated, her voice wavering just slightly. "I…" She tried to resist but the ring on her finger glowed again and she grit her teeth in pain. "I was packing up my stuff and I found a box in the attic…"

"The one labeled Do not open?" Waverly winced. She had debated throwing the box away, but something in her had stopped her - the voice that told her one day she would reveal the truth to Whitney.

"I might have read your diary." Whitney admitted.

Waverly winced again. She didn't remember exactly what she wrote, but considering that time in her life, she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "All of it?" She knew there were a few nights she had just poured her heart and excitement out, mostly about Nicole… and a few entries that were definitely not PG-13.

"Yeah we did." Anna commented with a snicker.

"Anna!" Whitney glared at her friend. "Well… I read about the IVF and there was a picture of the two of you and God the two of you looked so happy and well… I put 2 and 2 together, so I sent Nicole an invitation to the wedding and she might have thought it was from you," Whitney spoke quickly.

"I thought you were in town for a case." Waverly turned to Nicole who had the decency to at least look guilty. "You knew all along?" She wanted to feel betrayed, to get angry with Nicole, but she just couldn't. After everything, she couldn't waste another moment angry with her.

"Don't be mad at her," Whitney quickly spoke up. "I told her I invited her the first day and she wanted to leave but I begged her to stay." She gave Nicole an apologetic look. "She didn't really know she was my mother until last night, not for certain anyway."

"Wait…" Waverly turned to Nicole. "You didn't know she was your daughter and you came anyway?" There was so much to unpack and she was trying to deal with the situation at hand, that her daughter and friends were in danger, but still she needed to know the truth.

Nicole swallowed audibly, nodding. "I thought you wanted me here." She shrugged nonchalantly and pursed her lips, obviously conflicted about her own actions. "Twenty years and all it took was thinking you wanted to see me and I came."

Even with their friends and family in danger and a demon or whatever taking glee in the situation, Waverly couldn't help but smile, slipping her hand into Nicole's. "Thank you."

"Ugh, enough of this… Let's get back to the lies. So many delicious lies in the past few days." Agent 85903 spoke, his smile unnerving the entire room. "I thought I had a chance to pester one of the Black Badge's best agents, and I've walked into a world of unending deceptions."

Wynonna grew tired of the agent, raising Peacemaker towards him, the tip beginning to smolder. "You did your little spell, got your little rocks off at our expense. Tell us where Dolls is before I bust a cap in your Christmas Ass."

The agent laughed, holding up his hands. "I was just here to have a little fun, but you all take things so seriously." He sniffled. "I heard you talking with the dear Agent Dolls about our dear youngest Earp who, as it turns out, isn't an Earp at all…"

"Hey!" Waverly stepped forward but Wynonna shook her head.

"You better watch your mouth before I give you a second one with my little friend here." Wynonna wiggled the tip of her gun at him.

"Yeah yeah yeah. The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb." He spoke with a dramatic roll of his eyes.

Wynonna pulled the hammer back on Peacemaker. "What the hell else do you want? Why did you take Dolls?"

"I was going to just come over and let the punishments rain, but I figured I'd need a little protection. Everyone said not to bother, that you weren't worth it but…" The agent grinned. "Come on now… The chance to punish the niece of The Earp Heir? How could I resist?" He snorted.

"Wait… punish for what?" Whitney spoke up. "What the hell did I ever do to you?"

"To me? Nothing." Agent 85903 twisted the tips of his mustache between his fingertips. "I'm just doing my job - punishing bad children."

"Children. What the hell? I'm not a child."

"Punishment knows no age."

"Wait." Nicole stepped forward. "You think Whitney is a bad kid? Where the hell do you even get off?"

Taking a step back in surprise, the agent looked between Nicole and Whitney. "Do you know how many lies she's told these past two days?"

"I don't give a fuck."

Both Waverly and Whitney's eyes doubled in size as Nicole took another step forward.

Waverly reached for Nicole's hand to stop her, not wanting to risk the lives of Dolls or Whitney, but Nicole just gave her hand a reassuring squeeze before releasing it.

"I don't know who you think you are." Nicole's glared at him. "But Whitney has done nothing but try to do good. She's gone farther than anyone would have to try to make her mother happy. To try to make me happy." She let her eyes fall on Whitney, giving her a soft smile. "She got me to finally come home - reminded me of who I really am. She's brilliant, funny, and the most beautiful soul I've ever had the pleasure of being connected to."

Nicole took another step forward until they were toe to toe, the agent seeming to be surprised yet stuck in place, as if not sure what to do with the unarmed threat. "You have some nerve coming in here and ruining her wedding. She may not be perfect, but she's ours and I'll be damned if I let some half-assed demon-wannabe hurt her." Wrapping her fists in his suit, Nicole pulled him closer. "Remove the curse. NOW."

The agent swallowed, seeming to think over the now very-real-threat. "Now now," He gave a wave of his hands and the rings on Whitney and Jesse stopped glowing, returning to their normal shine. "No need to…"

Before anyone could move, Nicole released him and hit him square in the jaw with a right hook, causing him to stumble backwards. "You ever touch my daughter again and I will personally rip the flesh from your body and use it to line my boots."

Agent 85903 looked like he wanted to say something, his eyes narrowing at Nicole. But instead, he laughed. "I like you… so noble yet so self-righteous." He rubbed at his jaw. "Well, I'd love to stick around and torture the family more but there are plenty of nasty children that still need punishment." He straightened the wrinkles of his suit and smirked at Whitney. "I look forward to seeing you in the future," he commented, his eyes drifting down to Whitney's stomach then back up to her face, offering her a wink before he dissolved in a swirl of smoke, surprising everyone.

"What the hell does that mean." Whitney huffed after he disappeared.

Waverly sighed, reaching up to massage her temples. She had an inkling, but she wasn't going to bring it up now. There were bigger fires to deal with.

Whitney looked at Waverly, guilt evident on her face. "Mom… I…"

"Shhh." Waverly shook her head, wrapping her arms around Whitney and pulling her in for a hug. "Don't worry about it. I'm sorry you had to find out on your own. I should have told you." Reaching up, she wiped away tears that escaped Whitney's eyes. "Hey, no crying. You're gonna ruin that make-up."

Whitney laughed. "God… I just…" She looked up at the empty place vacated by the agent. "You don't think Xavier or Father Charles are…"

"The pastor is probably fine." Came a voice from the door.

Dolls was being supported by Jeremy, who seemed to strain under the weight. Doc quickly moved to help support Dolls's other side. "Krampus are just tricksters. They don't kill," Dolls explained, "It's against their bylaws."

"Dolls." Waverly felt a wave of relief wash over her.

"Found him in a trunk in one of the cars." Jeremy commented as he slipped out from under Dolls's arm and adjusted the space heater to point at them. "Been tracking the big lug for days."

"Did you know that? That they couldn't kill?" Waverly looked at Nicole who was inspecting Whitney for injuries.

Nicole gave her a half smile. "Not specifically but I mean, in the legends about Krampus, the kids were never permanently harmed and with all the opportunities they had, none of those creeps hurt us seriously in the past few days."

Waverly wasn't sure if she was that comfortable with such a gamble, but she let it drop when Wynonna stepped up.

"You three." Wynonna stepped in front of Dolls, Doc, and Jeremy, stopping just a few inches away. Unsure what else to do, she threw her arms around all of them, creating what had to be the most awkward hug. Moving back just slightly, she pushed Dolls gently on the shoulder. "You, Stupid. I can't believe you let yourself get captured. And you…" She turned to Doc and let her eyes drift over his aging features, giving him a small smile. "Would it kill you to call once in awhile?"

Waverly barely hid her eye roll before turning back to Whitney who was checking over Jesse. "Everything ok?" She reached up and put a curl of Whitney's hair back in place, lifting her daughter's chin to inspect her throat and the damage from the previous hold. "You're okay. Just a few scratches. You two ready to get this back on track?"

Whitney nodded. "Yeah we're ok but…" She let her eyes drift to the empty space beside them. "We don't have anyone to finish the ceremony…"

The thought hadn't even occurred to Waverly. "Shit." She looked around. They didn't really have the holiest of friends, not a single pastor in the group. What the hell were they going to do?

"What's going on?"

Waverly felt Nicole's presence before she even heard her speak, found herself leaning back into the welcome warmth of the tall form. "We don't have anyone to perform the wedding."

Nicole wrinkled her nose in thought, her arm wrapping around Waverly's waist. "Well, can't someone just do an online thing?"

"Oh honey…" Waverly pat Nicole's hand. "This isn't the US. You need to either be ordained by an officially recognized religion or an officer of the court."

"Oh." Nicole sighed. "Maybe we can just have an unofficial thing and then later get it official?"

"I guess we could do that." Whitney gave Waverly a weak smile, one that did little to hide her disappointment.

"Why don't you just have Wynonna do it?" Dolls spoke from behind Nicole, causing the group to jump.

"What?" Waverly laughed. "Wynonna is many things, but she's definitely not a minister."

"Yes she is."

All eyes turned to Wynonna who just gave them a nonchalant shrug. "What? The pope and I are like best buds."

"What?" Waverly looked to Dolls for an explanation.

"The details are classified of course, but let's just say that when papal lives are in danger, they're more than willing to ordain the only person capable of offering protection." Dolls gave them an unnerving smirk while Wynonna just rolled her eyes.

"Yeah yeah yeah." Wynonna waved off all the shocked looks as she moved to the front of the room, looking from Whitney to Jesse. "Let's get this shit over with. My flask is empty."


 

Wynonna was probably the most-foul mouthed minister to ever finish a wedding ceremony ("Well good fucking damn Halleluja, I finally pronounce you husband and wife!"), but finish it she did to everyone's relief.

After the recessional, Nicole was eager to make a beeline toward the open bar in the reception tent, nerves still frayed after the encounter with K.R.A.M.P.U.S. She slipped on her coat and took all of two steps before Wynonna hooked an arm over her shoulders and yanked her away from the main exit. Gus hobbled behind them.

"If I can't get a drink yet, then neither can you," Wynonna said.

Nicole frowned and looked longingly at the other guests filing out for cocktails and appetizers. "Where are we going?"

"To freeze our asses off," Gus grumbled.

"Wedding pictures," Wynonna explained, directing them toward a hidden flap in the tent. "Whitney wants photos with the family first before she and Jesse do theirs."

Once they stepped outside, the frigid air instantly numbed Nicole's cheeks and fingers. Gus swore under her breath. Near the Homestead's fence line, the wedding party gathered next to an array of outdoor heaters and pine trees covered in ornaments, tinsel, and Christmas lights. The wintery white landscape glistened in the pale glow of the afternoon sun. Against the silhouette of the mountains, purple and majestic in the distance, Whitney and Jesse made a striking couple. They could have fallen out of a J. Crew catalogue. But Nicole had eyes for only one person.

Waverly.

She still stole all the air from Nicole's lungs. Nicole rubbed her hands together, partly for warmth, partly out of nerves. Waverly hadn't seemed upset about the role Nicole played in keeping the truth from her. But that was in the heat of the moment, and Nicole knew Waverly despised secrets. Would Waverly feel differently now that things had cooled down and she could think about things more objectively?

Nicole supposed it was time to find out. She exhaled slowly as she watched Waverly, shivering and beautiful in her cream-colored coat draped over the light-blue, off-shoulder midi dress, even as she stood directly beneath one of the heat lamps.

Wynonna made a retching noise. "Gross."

"Huh?" Nicole reluctantly tore her gaze from Waverly.

"You two," Wynonna said. "I'm surprised your breath's not coming out in little white hearts."

Nicole couldn't keep a blush at bay. She knew she was probably wearing her heart on her sleeve, and she didn't care. After spending 20 years keeping her feelings for Waverly under wraps, she wasn't going to waste another second pretending she wasn't still head over heels in love.

Waverly turned then and noticed them approaching, giving them a wide smile, fingers curling in a small wave. Nicole waved back with one hand while reaching inside her coat pocket with the other. Her fingers wrapped around the soft velvet of the box tucked inside. How did that K.R.A.M.P.U.S. agent know about it? She shook her head. It didn't matter anymore. He was gone. She gave it a squeeze and set a course for Waverly when someone stepped in her path and blocked her way.

Someone big and stupid.

Nicole rolled her eyes. "Champ."

"You again." Champ sneered. Even in a dark suit, he still looked bloated and unkempt. A bruise was starting to form around his right eye. "What're you doing here, huh? This here's for family only."

Nicole clenched her jaw, ready to rumble with the oaf as her anger spiked. But Wynonna wedged herself between them before she could respond.

"She is family, Chump," Wynonna said.

"Yeah?" Champ asked. "Says who?"

"Says me," Whitney answered as she approached, hand-in-hand with Jesse.

Nicole's heart swelled.

"And me," Jesse echoed next to Whitney.

"Basically everyone who didn't run away at the first sign of trouble, you washed up Cowboy," Gus added with a wry smile.

"Is there a problem here, Dad?" Jesse asked.

Nicole smiled at the four of them even as her eyes began to sting and blur.

"No problem," another woman said as she walked up to them. She had long, dark brown hair and Jesse's blue eyes. "Just your father being an ass as usual." She linked her left arm through Champ's to tug him away. "Isn't that right, Dear?"

Champ grumbled under his breath, but didn't say anything. He avoided looking in Nicole's direction.

The woman stuck out a hand toward Nicole. "Hi, I'm Irene. Jesse's mother." She pointedly didn't say she was Champ's wife, and Nicole noticed that she wasn't wearing a wedding band.

Nicole shook Irene's hand. "Nicole Haught."

"Whitney's other mom, right?" Irene smiled at Nicole, warm and lovely, and Nicole now knew who Jesse took after. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," Nicole replied.

"C'mon, Cowboy," Irene dragged away a red-faced Champ. "It's our turn for pictures."

Whitney and Jesse beckoned Nicole, Wynonna, and Gus to follow. They fell into step behind them, following their trail of footsteps through the snow.

"Thanks," Nicole said under her breath to Whitney, who only smiled and winked as she led her toward Waverly.

"Everything okay?" Waverly asked, her forehead creased with worry as Nicole closed the gap between them.

The air around Waverly felt 20 degrees warmer and helped soothe Nicole's hackles.

"Just Champ being his usual charming self." Nicole linked their hands together. Waverly's fingers were icy.

Waverly grimaced. "He means well."

"If by that you mean being an asshole, then yes, I'd be inclined to agree."

Waverly ducked her head forward. "Yeah, he can be a bit of an overprotective asshole," she sighed, "but an asshole nonetheless. I'm sorry."

Nicole chuckled. "Don't apologize. I get it." She shrugged. "In his shoes, I'd probably be an asshole too." Nicole looked down at their joined fingers. "I mean, he was there for you guys when I… I wasn't."

"Hey, no." Waverly reached up and gently touched Nicole's chin, tilting her face back up. "He wasn't there for us," she said, voice steady and clear as she stepped closer. "I don't want you thinking he was some sort of replacement or anything." She ran her hands down the lapels of Nicole's peacoat. "Okay?"

Nicole thought about how she had thought Champ was Whitney's father, stomach churning with guilt from her actions all those years ago. Or inaction. She didn't fight for Waverly. She just walked away. Nicole briefly considered bringing it up, but now wasn't the time.

Instead, Nicole captured Waverly's hands again and warmed each knuckle with her lips. "Okay." She took a deep breath. "So about earlier."

Waverly tilted her head to the side.

"About not telling you why I was really in Purgatory," Nicole clarified. "I'm sorry."

Waverly exhaled slowly, breath misty. "It's all right." She squeezed Nicole's hand. "I understand why you did it. But... we really do still have a lot to talk about."

"We do," Nicole agreed, thankful for Waverly's calm reaction. "I haven't forgotten."

In the distance, Wynonna cleared her throat. Loudly. "If you two are done with your sappy, emo foreplay, we do have some wedding photos to take," she yelled, eliciting titters from Anna and Jen and even Whitney.

Nicole tried to step away quickly-a lingering reflex-but Waverly held her in place. She linked their fingers together and tugged her toward the photographer. Nicole, smiling, could do nothing but follow, thinking about another photo that, thanks to their over curious daughter, had made this moment possible.


 

"Smile!"

The camera flash nearly blinded Waverly as she stepped inside Shorty's. The bar was unusually packed for the mid-afternoon, the jukebox blaring an old country song.

"Jeremy, what on earth?" She blinked away spots from her vision.

"Sorry!" Jeremy eagerly approached. "I wanted to document your pregnancy from day one."

He showed her the display on his DSLR and Waverly grimaced. The candid picture he took of her entering the saloon was far from flattering, to say the least, with her eyebrows raised and mouth half opened.

"Technically, I'm not pregnant yet." Waverly's hands unconsciously cradled her stomach. Even in Shorty's dim lighting, her engagement ring sparkled against her dark green cashmere sweater. "It was only the embryo transfer."

"Ah-ah, your blood type from now on is B positive!" Jeremy said as they walked toward the bar.

"It's O negative."

"I know that." Jeremy rolled his eyes. "I mean you have to..."

"Be positive," Nicole chimed in from behind them. "I've been trying to tell her that all morning."

"Oh, there you are!" Jeremy twirled around and snapped a quick photo of Nicole, also catching her unaware. He squinted at the preview screen. "You know, for two lovely ladies, you guys aren't particularly photogenic in candids."

"Thanks, Jeremy." Waverly giggled at the image of a surprised Nicole, her gorgeous eyes comically wide. "Why don't we try one where we're both ready?" She suggested, sliding toward Nicole, who perched on a bar stool.

Jeremy sighed. "Sure, we can do a boring posed one." He lifted the camera.

Waverly settled back into Nicole, who wrapped her arms around her and rested her chin on Waverly's shoulder.

"I love you," Nicole murmured into her ear.

"I love you too," Waverly answered, reaching up to cover Nicole's hands as they both smiled in Jeremy's direction. His camera's shutter clicked and they were bathed in another flash of white.

"Aww," Jeremy canted his head to the side as he regarded the photo. He showed it to the couple. Unlike the previous two shots, this one was perfect.

"Print one out for us, will you, Jer?" Waverly asked, her chest warm with hope and happiness. She already had an empty frame at the Homestead just waiting for the picture. "That one's a keeper."


 

The wedding photoshoot went smoothly. Amazingly enough, the rest of the reception and late lunch did too.

At their table, Nicole was sandwiched between Gus and Wynonna, who grilled Dolls, Doc, and Jeremy about their recent whereabouts. Even Chrissy and Randy Nedley chimed in with polite follow-up questions for the two men. Nicole kept up with the small talk as best she could. She preferred to remain silent and focus on her food and drink, trading smiles with Waverly and Whitney, who sat at the head table, until it was time for the dances.

Jesse and Whitney, blissful and lovestruck, began their first dance as husband and wife. They beamed at each other, their joy palpable and infectious. And when it came time for their parents to join them, Nicole braced herself against having to watch Champ dance with her daughter. But Champ didn't approach Whitney. Instead, he remained respectfully to the side while Waverly stepped up to her daughter and began swaying with her to the music while Jesse danced with his own mother.

Nicole's heart contracted and expanded as she watched the two most important people in her life dance together. Waverly and Whitney spun around the parquet dance floor, their laughter mingling with the soft notes of music, until they came to a stop near Nicole's table. Waverly shared one last smile with Whitney before stepping away, one hand still linked with her daughter's. She locked eyes with Nicole and nodded toward Whitney, who grinned brightly.

Nicole's mouth dropped open. Was Waverly…? Someone shoved Nicole on the shoulder roughly.

"Get going, Haught," Wynonna said in a whispered growl. "Song's not gonna last forever."

She didn't need to be told twice. Nicole stood, self-consciously smoothing the front of her dress with shaking, clammy palms, and made her way toward Waverly and Whitney. She closed the gap in three strides, and Waverly handed Whitney to Nicole.

Whitney gave Nicole a quick, eager embrace before they began to dance. It was everything she never knew she needed. The last 20 years melted away, leaving nothing but that one perfect moment with her daughter.

"Congratulations again," Nicole murmured, eyes misting.

Whitney smile grew even wider, cheeks rosy. "Thanks… Mom."

Nicole's heart skipped a beat. She'd never get tired of hearing that.

"And thanks for having my back with those K.R.A.M.P.U.S. freaks," Whitney continued.

"Anytime. Nobody messes with my daughter."

Whitney glanced down at her feet, suddenly bashful. "About that," she looked back up, a more serious expression on her face, "I feel like I have to ask what your intentions are for Mom. I mean, other Mom."

"That's fair." Nicole nodded. She knew what she wanted. It was the same thing she'd wanted for the past two decades, but was too stubborn and too afraid to pursue. "I can't change everything that happened. But I want to make things right. I want to make her happy." The small velvet box she had transferred to the pocket of her dress felt heavy. She took a deep breath, putting it all on the line. "We could be a family."

Whitney's bottom lip trembled.

"Do you think," Nicole swallowed, "Do you think she'd have me?"

"Are you kidding me? Whitney laughed as tears spilled down her cheeks. "Of course she would. I'd bet all the pennies you owe me."

Nicole chuckled too, unable to keep her own tears at bay. "But now it's my turn to ask a question," she said with a sniffle and a swipe of her cheeks.

Whitney nodded her head forward. "Shoot."

"I feel like I have to ask what your plans are."

"My plans?"

"You know, for life. With Jesse. Where do you see yourself in five years? Are you staying in Purgatory? What are your plans for your career, kids, et cetera, et cetera." Nicole spun Whitney in a circle.

"Oh God." Whitney rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "I take it back. I don't want two moms."

"Sorry, Kiddo, no take backs." Nicole grinned.

"Fine." Sighing with great exaggeration, Whitney lifted one hand and ticked off each point with one finger. "Criminal mastermind in five years or bust. Staying in Purgatory, for the time being. Grad school, maybe. Kids some day, but not anytime soon. Et cetera, et cetera."

They both grinned at each other, dimples mirrored on each other's face.

"Sounds good," Nicole acceded.

The song ended to the applause of the wedding guests, whistling hoots and hollers ringing out with the clapping. When the music started up again, Whitney led Nicole back to Waverly and pulled them both into a bear hug.

"I love you both," Whitney whispered. With one last squeeze, she left them together to reunite with Jesse.

Nicole turned toward Waverly, who wound her arms around shoulders and linked her hands behind Nicole's neck. Unlike their dance at the wedding rehearsal, Nicole didn't hesitate to pull Waverly closer. She didn't want any more space. As far as she was concerned, nothing would get between them again, not Becky, not the Holy Spirit, no one. Nicole's automatically rested on the jut of Waverly's hips and they began to sway, slowly, matching the easy tempo of the next love song.

The rest of the reception barely registered in Nicole's fuzzy mind. How could it when Waverly looked at her with such awe, her eyes flitting across Nicole's face as if she was trying to record every single detail to memory?

"Once upon a time," Waverly started, fingers tracing random patterns through the fine hairs on Nicole's nape, "this was supposed to be us."

Nicole followed Waverly's gaze to Whitney and Jesse, so happy, so in love, surrounded by all their friends and family. Something clicked into place inside Nicole, a puzzle piece long lost now finally found. It spurred her to throw caution to the wind.

"It still could be," Nicole answered.

Waverly's eyebrows knit in confusion. Nicole's heart pounded so hard that her entire body vibrated with each beat. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the tiny box, cradling it in the palm of her hand. Waverly recognized it immediately, lips parting while their movements slowed to a standstill.

"This is still yours," Nicole said then shook her head. "I'm still yours," she corrected, flipping the box open easily with a flick of her thumb. The diamond solitaire, nestled inside its dark cushion, glinted as Nicole raised it. "What do you say, Waverly Earp? Maybe we could try again?"

Chapter Text

“Honey I'm still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain't no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try”

 

The ring.

Nicole’s smile.

Both blindingly beautiful.

To Waverly, it was all surreal; a waking dream as she stood in the middle of her daughter’s reception, heart pounding, with the love of her life asking for her hand in marriage. Again.

Waverly could hardly string together two coherent thoughts, or even remember how to breathe. Nicole watched her expectantly while other couples joined them on the dance floor. Waverly imagined herself inside a snow globe, hundreds of eyes peering directly at her and Nicole as they stood on the edge of a precipice, ready to jump. The wedding blurred around them like a swirl of snowflakes. But no one paid them any mind, their attention focused rightly on Whitney and Jesse.

“Wave?” Nicole asked, smile faltering.

Waverly wanted nothing more than to reach up and smooth the wrinkle that appeared between Nicole’s eyebrows. Instead, she gently covered the ring with her left hand and closed its velvet box with a muted click.

Nicole’s expression fell instantly, but Waverly gave her what she hoped was a reassuring smile. Encircling Nicole’s wrist, Waverly gently led her to the side, politely smiling at the other guests and pointedly ignoring Wynonna’s exaggerated wink and finger guns. She was grateful that Nicole went with her willingly. The last thing they needed was to cause another scene after the fiasco that was the wedding ceremony.

They reached the edge of the tent and stepped outside. It was colder now with the day winding down. The heat lamps did little to ward off the encroaching chill. Waverly turned toward Nicole, who had on her brave face. But Waverly could see right through it. She knew Nicole was nervous, like a lamb to the slaughter, waiting for Waverly to tear out her heart.

Nicole’s eyes reflected the sunset, golden brown and burnt orange. She looked so beautiful that Waverly couldn’t stop herself from tugging Nicole closer, standing on her tiptoes, and kissing her. Nicole inhaled sharply in surprise, but she immediately grasped Waverly’s waist, one hand still clutching the ring box.

Waverly moved her lips gently before pulling back. She hoped it was enough to lessen the coming sting.

“Is that a yes?” Nicole breathed out. The happiness in her voice was nearly enough to make Waverly cave to the desires of her heart, to take the leap hand-in-hand with Nicole, but...

“No.”

Waverly’s answer was quiet, but it might as well have been as loud as a gunshot with the way Nicole jerked away. Waverly felt the loss instantly. “Nicole, please…”

Nicole held up one hand as she squeezed the box with the other. “It’s okay.” She avoided Waverly’s gaze. “I understand.”

Waverly’s heart clenched painfully as she watched hurt and disappointment flash across Nicole’s face as she tried to keep her reaction in check. Her eyes watered anyway.

“It was silly of me to ask,” Nicole said, slipping the box back into her pocket. “Of course you wouldn’t want…”

“But I do,” Waverly interrupted, voice quivering. She stepped forward. “I want to. So much.”

“Then why…?”

“Because I,” Waverly grasped at the air, as if she could capture all the right answers that would make this less difficult, “I don’t want to get married in a fever. I don’t want us to make a mistake.”

“We’ve already made the biggest mistake there is by staying apart.” Nicole raked a hand through her hair. “We can fix that.”

Waverly shook her head. “It’s not that simple.”

“It doesn’t have to be hard.” Nicole closed the gap between them and took Waverly’s hands. Her grip was warm, and Waverly was tempted to take one more step and melt into Nicole’s arms. “We lost 20 years together, Waverly. I don’t want to lose any more.”

“I don’t intend to lose any more time with you,” Waverly said earnestly. “But we’re not the same people. I mean, we spent one night together.” One beautifully intense, mind-blowing night. “But we don’t know each other.”

“Okay, we may not know every single last detail about each other anymore,” Nicole agreed, “but when all is said and done, you know me, Waverly Earp.” She leaned forward and pressed their foreheads together. “And you know I know you too.” Nicole cupped Waverly’s face between her hands. “Do you love me?”

Waverly released a shuddering breath. “Yes.”

Nicole’s smile was radiant even as tears escaped from beneath her lashes. “I love you too.” She brushed her thumb across Waverly’s cheek, wet from her own tears that she hadn’t realized had fallen. “Marry me.”

Just say yes, Waverly’s heart whispered. It would be so easy. She could slip the ring on her left hand and announce their engagement to their friends and family. They could be happy. At least in the moment, her logic warned. If they jumped, would they fly? Or would they crash and burn spectacularly? As much as she still wanted to believe that love conquered all, like her younger, naively romantic self did all those years ago, she knew that sometimes love just wasn’t enough to make a relationship work, let alone a marriage. And there was no telling if they could avoid making the same mistakes they had made in the past.

“No,” Waverly said again, but this time she held onto Nicole’s wrists so she couldn’t pull away. She looked straight into Nicole’s eyes. “Not until we’ve spent more time together, and,” she swallowed, “and work through everything.”

Nicole’s gaze softened. “So, not an outright no forever. Just a not yet?”

Waverly nodded, cautious.

Nicole took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“I told you once before that if you want me, I’ll be by your side.” Nicole’s smile was full of hope. “I meant it then and I mean it now. I will do whatever it takes, however long it takes, to prove it to you.” She covered the ring in her pocket. “This is yours when you’re ready.”

Waverly let out laugh, warbled from a relieved sob as she brought their lips together in a kiss filled with the promise of a future life together.

They stayed locked in the warmth of their embrace for what felt like a small eternity, until someone cleared her throat behind them. They didn’t pull apart, even as Nicole turned her head toward the intruder.

“Wynonna, of course,” Nicole said with affectionate exasperation.

“Everything copacetic out here?” Wynonna stood just outside the tent flap. She eyed them both, taking in their red-rimmed eyes and wet cheeks.

“Yeah,” Waverly said, taking Nicole’s hand. “Everything’s good.”

“Well if everything’s fine and dandy, you better get your asses back in here.” Wynonna chucked a thumb back toward the wedding. “Whitney’s about to throw her bouquet.”

Waverly swiped at her eyes. “We’re coming.”

“I’ll bet you will be.” Wynonna waggled her eyebrows before disappearing back inside. Waverly rolled her eyes.

With one last smile, Nicole squeezed Waverly’s hand and led them back to the dance floor, where Whitney was surrounded by a sea of eligible bachelorettes. Waverly and Nicole stood just outside the circle, intending to be only observers and not willing participants. At the count of three, Whitney turned around and lobbed her bundle of flowers over her shoulder. It arced high and wide, just out of the reach of dozens of eager hands, heading in a trajectory toward… Wynonna.

With a grimace, Wynonna blocked the bouquet with her left hand, supernatural Earp Heir instincts kicking in, and knocked it straight into Nicole. She caught it just before it could smack her in the face and, surprised, looked over at Waverly just as crowd cheered.

They both burst into laughter.

 


 

 

It had been the best day of Whitney’s life.

Even with the mishaps and shenanigans, the near ruined ceremony, and the possible near-death experience (she wasn’t quite convinced that K.R.A.M.P.U.S. had a no-kill policy, no matter what Dolls said), Whitney wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

Warmth spread in her chest when Jesse reached for her hand and intertwined their fingers. She looked down at their joined hands, loving the way her white gold wedding band paired so well with her diamond engagement ring. They stood just inside the reception tent, ready to make their way to the white stretch limo that would whisk them away to the airport.

“Ready for Greece, Mrs. Earp-James?” Jesse grinned.

“So ready.” Whitney smiled. They were headed to the island of Kalokairi, where they would be staying at a villa recommended by her Aunt Wynonna. Her mother had always wanted to go, but never had the chance, not when she had a daughter to raise. The thought caused an unexpected bout of melancholy to surge within Whitney. She wondered if Waverly would now have the opportunity with Nicole back in the picture.

“You sure?” Jesse watched her with concern.

“Yeah.” Whitney squeezed his hand, her thoughts centered on her moms. She saw what had happened on the dance floor--the small box in Nicole’s hand, her mom’s reaction in shutting it. And she had definitely noticed how subdued they seemed after they disappeared together and then reappeared, with no new accessories on her mom’s ring finger. “I guess I just don’t want this day to end.”

It was the truth. But a small knot of worry nevertheless formed in her gut about leaving her moms. What if they needed her there? What if things fell apart while she was away?

“Me too.” Jesse brought Whitney’s knuckles to his lips. “But we’ve got plenty more days of happiness ahead.”

“You think so?” Whitney looked straight ahead.

“I know so.” Jesse nodded sagely. “Your moms do too.”

Whitney’s head snapped back to Jesse, her mouth dropping open. It still amazed her, even after all this time, how well he could read her.

Jesse grinned at her. “I saw what happened on the dance floor. They’ll work it out, Whit. You’ll see.”

Before Whitney could react, the tent flaps were drawn back. Floodlights kept the encroaching darkness of night at bay and revealed their family and friends. They lined up on both sides of a white carpet that led to their waiting ride, all smiles and anticipation. Jesse linked their arms and together they stepped outside.

They passed through a shower of white rose petals, stopping periodically for personal goodbyes. Jesse accepted a firm handshake from Chrissy Nedley and Whitney kissed Randy on the cheek. They continued onward. Whitney rolled her eyes when Jen and Anna made lewd hand gestures that made Jesse blush a deep red. Crazy bitches, Whitney thought affectionately as she bear hugged them both.

More hugs came from Gus, Dolls, Doc, Jeremy, and Jesse’s parents. Until finally they reached her moms and Wynonna, beaming at them next to the limo.

“See ya, Kid.” Her aunt punched Jesse hard in the shoulder and gave Whitney a peck on the cheek. “Do everything I would do.”

“Thanks, Aunt Wynonna,” Whit said, picking a few petals out of her hair before enveloping Nicole in a close embrace while Jesse paid his respects to Waverly.

“I’ll see you again soon, right Mom?” Whitney held her tighter, irrationally afraid Nicole would disappear.

“Count on it.” Nicole squeezed back.

“And please,” Whitney said, “please be patient with her.”

Nicole stiffened in her arms, but then relaxed as she pulled back, looking Whitney straight in the eye. “Always.” She hugged Jesse too while Whitney turned to Waverly.

She was at a loss for words, tears welling in her eyes yet again. It felt like she had spent most of the day crying. Whitney opened her mouth and then immediately shut it -- what could she possibly say to convey her thanks to the most important woman in her life? The woman who raised her in a house full of love? The woman who always placed Whitney’s happiness first?

“I know, Honey,” Waverly said, bottom lip trembling as she pulled Whitney into her arms. “Me too.”

They reluctantly parted. It was the end of one chapter in their lives, and the beginning of a new one. Whitney and Jesse gave the crowd one last wave before they took their final steps toward the limo, but before Whitney could climb in, she had second thoughts and ran back to Waverly.

Hugging her one last time, she leaned down and whispered into her mother’s ear.

 


 

 

“Don’t be afraid to be happy.”

Waverly watched the “Just Married” sign on the limo shrink in the distance, buzzed from several glasses of champagne and Whitney’s parting message. Could she still find happiness when it came to her lovelife? Did she even remember how? The clinketyclank of the aluminum cans tied to the bumper grew fainter and fainter, replaced by the sounds of car doors shutting and engines turning over as other guests prepared to leave the Homestead.

“You did good, Baby Girl.” Wynonna wrapped an arm around Waverly’s shoulders and pulled her close, kissing the crown of her head. “Now go on and git.” She shoved Waverly slightly and gave her a swift pat on the rear.

“But I still have to coordinate the cleanup and…”

Wynonna held a finger against Waverly’s lips to silence her. “Black Badge, at your service,” she said in a tone that left no room for argument. “Besides, you’ve still got your own house to get in order.” She tipped her head toward Nicole, who was chatting quietly with Dolls, Doc, and Jeremy. Nicole had been no less kind and attentive since the proposal, but Waverly could sense the undercurrent of hurt that emanated from her. Waverly knew she had to soothe it away before it formed a second rift between them.

“You really are the best, Wynonna.” Waverly rubbed her nose to cover up a sniffle. The tip was quickly turning red in the cold.

“Now don’t say I never did nothing for your plumbing.” Wynonna winked and turned to yell at her team. “If you’re done with gossip hour, ladies, it’s time to get a move on.”

“Are we going to the house now?” Jeremy excitedly asked as Waverly walked up to Nicole, linking their hands. She smiled politely at Dolls and Doc.

“No, Nerdling, Waverly and Nicole are going home to take it easy,” Wynonna answered. “You’re coming with me to make yourself useful.”

“I do expect to see you all for dinner on Christmas Eve,” Waverly said.

Doc tipped his hat. “I would not miss it for the world.”

“Likewise,” Dolls agreed, cracking one of his rare smiles.

“Good.” Waverly looked pointedly at Wynonna. “And not a minute sooner without ample notice.”

Wynonna gave her a jaunty salute, and Nicole chuckled beside her. The group said their goodnights and parted, leaving Waverly and Nicole alone once again.

“Are you sure we shouldn’t help them?” Nicole asked.

“I’m sure.” Waverly tugged her away from the tents and back toward the house. Like earlier, Nicole offered no resistance as Waverly led them away from the brightness of the floodlights and into the evening’s moonlit shadows. After a dozen or so strides, they were back on the Earp’s dark porch, the old wood creaking beneath their weight. It was difficult to keep her thoughts from drifting back to the night before and everything that had transpired between them. Shivering slightly from the memory, Waverly let go of Nicole’s hand long enough to unlock the door, enter, and switch on the lights for the foyer. Nicole, however, remained in place, just across the threshold.

Waverly turned back around, frowning. “Nicole? Aren’t you coming in?”

“It’s, um, it’s been a long couple of days,” Nicole said tentatively, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “I mean, I can go back to the hotel so you can rest or…”

“Nicole.” Exhaling, Waverly walked back out and took Nicole’s hands once again, gently skimming the ridges of her knuckles with her thumb. “You’re free to go back to the Wainright if you’d like. But you’re welcome here too. I,” she swallowed, “I want you here.”

“Are you sure?”

Waverly nodded. “I meant what I said earlier. I’d like for us to spend some time together. To get to know each other again. But only if that’s what you want too.”

Tension drained from Nicole’s frame. “I do.”

She tucked a strand of hair behind Waverly’s ear. Waverly reached up and cradled Nicole’s hand against her cheek. She kissed her palm before slowly drawing her inside the house and shutting the door. Waverly hung up their coats, just as she did the previous evening. She pushed aside an irrational feeling of disappointment that they didn’t immediately crash together again in a haze of heat and passion. Instead of dwelling on it, Waverly made her way to the family room where they were greeted by the fresh scent of sweet pine from the Christmas tree. She plugged in its lights. They twinkled and reflected off shiny ornaments in multi-color.

“The house looks great,” Nicole commented, her eyes drifting from the beautifully wrapped presents beneath the tree’s branches to the stockings hanging from the fireplace. Her attention was drawn to the framed pictures on the mantle and the surrounding walls, but she didn’t step any nearer to them. “I’m sorry I didn’t notice before.”

“Well, we were a tad bit busy,” Waverly said.

“And will we be busy again tonight?” Nicole playfully suggested, one eyebrow arching.

Waverly chuckled even as she failed to keep a blush from warming her cheeks. “Busy sleeping maybe. I’m honestly exhausted.” Now that the rush of adrenaline from the wedding had faded, the lack of sleep from the previous night coupled with the emotional intensity of the past few days were now starting to catch up to Waverly. Her limbs had grown heavy with fatigue. “I was kind of hoping we could just clean up and rest a bit?”

Nicole smiled. “Best plan I’ve heard all day.”

Waverly walked toward her bedroom, beckoning Nicole to follow. She paused just outside the bathroom door.

“I’ll be there in a minute.” Waverly motioned for Nicole to continue onward.

As Nicole disappeared down the short hallway, Waverly entered the bathroom and turned on the faucet for the clawfoot tub. She placed a hand beneath the rushing water and adjusted the temperature until it was just a tad over hot, but not scalding. She shook out her hand then proceeded to light candles. The salty aroma of burning matches and lavender-scented wax filled the room. Satisfied, Waverly gathered a couple of white terrycloth towels from a linen closet and hung them on a rack.

Once she was done, she brushed her teeth quickly and left out a spare toothbrush for Nicole. She made her way back to her room, where Nicole sat at the edge of her mattress, patiently waiting. The sight made Waverly pause in the doorway. She still couldn’t believe after all this time that Nicole was here, with her.

“Taking a bath?” Nicole asked.

Waverly nodded then turned, presenting the zipper of her dress. “Join me?” She asked over her shoulder, shivering at the heat in Nicole’s dark irises as she rose to her feet. Waverly closed her eyes the moment she felt Nicole’s fingers brush the back of her neck and pull the zipper slowly down. Nicole pressed a gentle kiss to her nape and Waverly sighed. The dress slipped off and pooled at her feet.

Turning back around, a thrill passed through Waverly at the way Nicole visibly swallowed, her gaze traveling the length of her body.

“Your turn,” Waverly instructed.

Nicole did as she was told, letting Waverly return the favor of unclasping and unzipping her own dress. Waverly peppered Nicole’s shoulders with angel kisses, loving the way Nicole trembled beneath her lips before she turned back around. Waverly marveled at how Nicole’s body was both familiar and new. She recognized the scar on Nicole’s chest from where Willa had shot her, but there were others along her arms and ribs that Waverly had never seen. She wondered if Nicole had similar thoughts as they padded their way back to the bathroom.

The tub was filled about halfway and Waverly turned off the water. Nicole’s eyes darted around the room.

“I meant to say earlier today how much I liked the renovations,” she said.

“Thanks, we did it awhile ago,” Waverly said as she took a few steps toward the shower stall and turned on the spray. “Figured after more than a century, it was time for some updates.” She quickly unhooked her bra and stepped out of her matching panties. Nicole watched her with an appreciative grin, and Waverly rolled her eyes even as her stomach twisted pleasantly at the attention.

“We should hurry before the water gets cold.” Waverly stepped inside the shower and wet her hair as Nicole finished undressing and brushed her teeth. When Nicole joined her underneath the spray of hot water, gorgeous in the nude, Waverly couldn’t stop herself from kissing Nicole’s slickened lips. She trailed her tongue up the side of Nicole’s neck, catching rivulets of water and eliciting a soft groan from Nicole.

“I thought we had to hurry,” Nicole breathed out, fingers clutching Waverly’s waist.

“We do,” Waverly agreed reluctantly, reaching for a bottle of shampoo. The sooner they finished, the sooner they could move on. They lathered their hair and soaped their bodies as quickly as possible, detoured only a few times by wandering hands seeking to provide extra assistance.

Finally, after rinsing off, they turned off the shower and stepped onto a bathmat, shivering in the cold air. Waverly carefully lowered herself into the tub first, sighing in pleasure as heat enveloped her. She smiled at Nicole, who followed suit, sinking into the water and sitting between Waverly’s bent legs. Waverly pulled Nicole back toward her until the back of her head lay on Waverly’s shoulder and they settled against one another, cheek-to-cheek.

“This is exactly what I needed,” Nicole murmured, hands finding Waverly’s beneath the surface of the water.

Waverly hummed in agreement. Every muscle in her body relaxed as they lay together. The candles flickered light and shadow across the walls in soothing patterns. If Waverly wasn’t careful, she would fall asleep right then and there, arousal be damned.

“The wedding was amazing by the way,” Nicole eventually broke the hush that surrounded them.

Waverly shook away her lethargy to answer. “Thank you. It was more than I could have hoped for.” She shifted to kiss the edge of Nicole’s jaw. The water sloshed gently against the porcelain. “So… tell me about yourself.”

Nicole laughed in surprise. “Right now?”

“No time like the present.” Waverly shrugged, smiling as she nuzzled the shell of Nicole’s ear.

“I honestly don’t know what to say that you don’t know already.”

“Try me.”

“Okay,” Nicole exhaled. “After I moved back to Chicago, I went to law school. Been practicing corporate defense ever since.”

“Do you enjoy it?”

Nicole paused, weighing her words carefully. “I enjoy the challenge, questionable morals of some clients aside.”

Waverly had to smile at that. Nicole always did have a strong sense of justice. “What if your clients are guilty?”

“Well,” Nicole stared up at the ceiling, “I’ve come to believe that everyone deserves their day in court and to be fairly represented.” She traced a lazy pattern on one of Waverly’s knees that broke the surface of the water. “It’s why I also do pro bono work on the weekends too.”

“But?”

Nicole shrugged. “But if the prosecution just happens to beat me in those cases and a scumbag gets sent to jail, then so be it.”

Waverly chuckled. “Once a cop, always a cop.” A thought sobered her. “You’re going back soon right?”

Nicole’s fingers imperceptibly stilled on Waverly’s skin before resuming movement once again. “First flight out of Calgary Monday morning,” she answered quietly.

Waverly tried to ignore the way her heart squeezed in her chest. “What’s Chicago like?”

“Loud and crowded. Always busy. Everything you’d expect from a big city.”

In other words, everything Purgatory was not, Waverly thought. “But exciting too?”

“It can be,” Nicole agreed. “It gets old after a while.”

Waverly let that sink in. She never left Purgatory, having opted to raise Whitney in her quiet hometown. If she had to do it all over again, she would still make the same choice. But she had often wondered what life elsewhere would be like, had yearned for new sights and sounds and experiences. Would she have felt the same as Nicole?

“You’re happy there, though, right?” Waverly ventured, not sure if she really wanted to know the answer or not.

Nicole didn’t respond right away. After several more beats of silence, Waverly began to think Nicole hadn’t heard the question or was outright ignoring it, but then she finally said, “I thought I was, but something was always missing.” Nicole turned her head to capture Waverly’s gaze. “Someone.”

Waverly melted as Nicole leaned forward to join their lips in a soft kiss, warm and comforting. “Enough about me,” Nicole said. “What about you?”

“Me?”

“What else have you been up to besides, you know, breaking curses and raising an incredible daughter?” Nicole said it casually, but Waverly could still hear guilt straining her voice. It was something that would take time for them to get past.

“Let’s see.” Waverly leaned her head back so it rested against the edge of the tub. “I got my master’s in ancient cultures.”

“That’s terrific, Waves!”

Pride swelled inside Waverly at Nicole’s excitement. “It’s no big deal. It’s not like I’ve put it to use, though I’ve thought about getting my PhD someday.”

Nicole shook her head. The damp tips of her hair tickled Waverly’s skin. “Of course it’s a big deal. Would you get your doctorate here or somewhere else?”

“I don’t know. With Whitney all grown up now and married, maybe I could consider other options.” Waverly licked her lips. “I hear Chicago has some terrific programs.”

Blinking slowly, Nicole gave her a small smile. “It does.”

“Maybe I could check them out,” Waverly suggested tentatively.

“Maybe you should,” Nicole agreed, hesitating slightly before adding, “People would miss you here. Wynonna, Whit, Gus and...and everyone.”

“Wynonna’s hardly ever home, Gus loves her solitude, and it wouldn’t necessarily be for forever,” Waverly said. “They’ll live.”

“So there’s no one else you’d stay for?”

“No,” Waverly said, firmly but softly, when she finally realized what Nicole was really asking. “There’s no one else.” Waverly hadn’t realized how tense Nicole had become until she relaxed against her once again.

“Never?”

“There’ve been a few, here and there,” Waverly admitted. There was no point hiding it. Twenty years was a long time and Waverly wasn’t a nun by any means. Far from it. She avoided mentioning Rosita, though, and the accompanying complications that situation raised with Wynonna. All water under the bridge now, but it was a story for another time.

“It was mostly first dates. Nothing ever lasted.” Waverly lifted one hand and threaded her fingers through Nicole’s hair. The strands, which were beginning to dry, stuck to her skin. “What about you? Should I be worried about running into a bunch of your exes if I go to Chicago? Or, Christ, women you’re currently seeing?”

“No!” Nicole laughed. “Waverly, I’m not seeing anyone.”

Waverly breathed out in relief. “Good. That’s good.”

“I did, um,” Nicole cleared her throat, “I had a sort of fiancée at one point.”

Waverly froze, heart thumping against her ribs. “Sort of fiancée? How does that work?”

Nicole intertwined their fingers, as if to reassure Waverly. “Her name's Melanie. We met building temporary shelters in California during one of those wild fires. Got drunk one night and decided to get married. I guess you could say we were engaged for the four hours it took us to reach the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Vegas.”

“Oh God.” Waverly didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or cry, stomach churning with irrational jealousy. “So what happened?”

“In the end, I couldn’t go through with it.”

“Why?”

Nicole twisted so that she was kneeling between Waverly’s legs. She reached up and cupped Waverly’s cheeks between her hands, fingertips wrinkled, cooling water dripping from her arms.

“Because she wasn’t you.”

Fighting back the sob that threatened to escape from her chest, Waverly lifted herself upward and captured Nicole’s lips, almost desperately. “Let’s get out of here,” she whispered and Nicole readily agreed.

They both got out of the tub and dried off quickly, wrapping the towels around them and kissing each step of the way back to the bedroom. Waverly made sure to lock her door and discarded their towels into a laundry hamper before drawing Nicole down onto the bed.

Laid bare and clean, they wrapped themselves around each other in the moonlit room, kissing and caressing, reveling in their closeness. Waverly couldn’t stop herself from rocking her hips up against Nicole, whimpering at the pleasure that shot through her body. Nicole groaned in response, but not quite in the way Waverly expected. Nicole stilled her movements and reluctantly pulled away.

“What’s wrong?” Waverly asked, breathless and confused, desire cooling immediately. Even though her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, she could barely make out Nicole’s features.

“Nothing,” Nicole answered instantly.

“Are you sure? Do you not want…?”

“No, I do!” Nicole, cradled between Waverly’s thighs, rested their foreheads together. “God, I want you so much, Waverly.”

“But?”

“I’m about to pass out,” Nicole confessed. “I think the bath did me in.”

“Oh,” Waverly exhaled in relief. “It’s okay, Baby.” The endearment slipped out so easily.

Nicole melted against her. “I’m sorry. I usually have more stamina than this.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Waverly trailed her fingers up Nicole’s spine. “It’s not no. Just a not yet?”

Nicole laughed, happy and soft despite her exhaustion. “Exactly.”

“Okay,” Waverly said gently. “We’ve got time.” She ignored Nicole’s looming flight and the pit that threatened to form in her stomach.

Gently extricating herself from Nicole, Waverly stood and pulled back the duvet, two extra layers of blankets, and the bedsheet covering her mattress. She encouraged Nicole to slide underneath and then followed suit, tucking them both in snugly.

“Thanks, Wave,” Nicole murmured, voice already growing cottony and thick with sleep.

“No problem.” Waverly nestled in the crook of Nicole’s arm and laid her head on Nicole’s chest. “Are those enough pillows for you?” She asked as an afterthought.

“Hm?”

“At the Wainright, Randy brought you extra pillows.” Waverly said, recalling the stack in Randy’s arms on the night she and Nicole had seen each other again for the first time in two decades. “Is the one you have now enough?”

“Oh,” Nicole took a deep breath and kissed her forehead. “Yeah, I don’t need them anymore.”

Content, Waverly snuggled closer, letting the steady rhythm of Nicole’s heart lull her to sleep.

 


 

 

They tore down a clear stretch of highway toward the big city, windows down, the sweetness of spring permeating the air billowing around them. Waverly’s long, brown hair flew free, swirling and rippling.

“Are you ready?” Nicole asked over the wind. Their first embryo transfer was scheduled for that morning. Or was it the second? She couldn’t quite remember.

Waverly turned to Nicole and smiled, nervous but blindingly radiant. “With you? I’m ready for anything.”

Nicole’s eyes began to sting, but she didn’t dare close them. She didn’t want to lose sight of Waverly for even one second. The early light from the sunrise glinted off the diamond ring adorning Waverly’s hand, catching Nicole’s attention.

Nicole smoothed her fingertips over Waverly’s fingers, turning them over so she could etch the lines stretched across her palm.

“It’s gonna work this time, right?”

“Yes,” Nicole said with all the conviction she could muster. “We just have to be positive.”

Someone leaned forward from the backseat and stuck her head between them.

“Would you guys quit worrying already?” Whitney asked with exasperation. “Everything will be just fine.” She sat back in her seat with a huff. “You’ll see.”

Nicole and Waverly chuckled but otherwise remained silent. Waverly interlaced their fingers together and brought Nicole’s hand to her lips. Nicole spared her another quick glance and a tender smile before turning her eyes forward to the endless road ahead.

 


 

Nicole awoke with a jolt, getting a slight moment of panic as she forgot where she was. It wasn’t until Waverly shifted against her, arm draped over her waist hugging her closer, that she remembered the previous night. She’d dreamt of this before, had thought for sure that when Waverly was finally in her arms, she would sleep like a rock, but a quick glance at the clock on the nightstand told her it was still about an hour before sunrise.

Maybe she was subconsciously afraid Waverly would disappear in the middle of the night, like a phantom that her mind had conjured up in loneliness. Or maybe she just wasn’t used to sharing a bed with someone anymore.

Or maybe they just went to bed way too early.

Whatever it was, she lost all interest in falling asleep again. It only took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, the sparse light coming in the window to highlight the details of Waverly’s face.

Waverly was still so beautiful, especially relaxed in sleep. She had been so tense the past few days Nicole was in town. Maybe it had been longer than that, there was no way of knowing, or maybe it was just Waverly shielding herself from a possible rejection from Nicole once again.

Nicole couldn’t ignore the hurt she still felt from the proposal. She’d smiled and let Waverly know it was ok, but she couldn’t pretend like the refusal hadn’t stung.

Thinking back on the conversation they had in the bath, Nicole sighed softly. When she’d spoken of leaving, Waverly hadn’t protested. She hadn’t even tried to convince her to stay. Nicole was sure Waverly loved her, was sure she wanted to keep things going, yet when the opportunity was in front of her, Waverly had just let it slip by, made some glib comment about maybe going to Chicago for school.

Making out the curve of Waverly’s cheek, Nicole reached out to run her fingertip along the length of her jaw. How could Waverly deny this? Even after 20 years, it was so obvious, the tether that connected the two of them, pulling them back together even as they tried to fight it.

It wasn’t just love, although there was a lot of it. It wasn’t just lust, Nicole smirked as she pressed her lips to Waverly’s shoulder, although there was definitely a lot of that as well. There was something else at work there. Fate, destiny, or whatever people called it, sure did take its time. But in the end, she was in Waverly’s bed back in Purgatory, a place she thought she’d never see again.

Their daughter was the one that had gotten married and Nicole couldn’t help but feel like she herself was on her own honeymoon with Waverly. When Waverly shifted again, Nicole smiled. She’d forgotten what it felt like to be in love, for her breath to hitch and her pulse to race just in the presence of someone.

In the presence of her someone.

Nicole had forgotten about the insatiable craving she felt embedded so deep within her, her body pressing closer on its own accord. She let her mind drift from thoughts of destiny and fate, settling on something a little more visceral, like the way she could smell Waverly’s shampoo and feel the way fingertips twitched against her side. What was it about Waverly Earp that made Nicole’s body react in ways it hadn’t in over 20 years? Whatever it was, she found herself brushing kisses along a bare shoulder. She was still tired, having not slept at all two nights before, but the rest she’d gotten had given her a much-needed second wind.

Waverly seemed to sense her moving, unconsciously pulling her closer.

Nicole closed her eyes, willing herself to go back to sleep. They needed the energy to get through another day of whatever emotional turmoil they managed to drag up, but even as she thought it, her fingertips idly stroked Waverly’s skin. Would it be a horrible idea to wake Waverly? She let her fingertips run up the side of bare ribs and up to cup Waverly’s jaw in her hand. Would she want Waverly to wake her up?

Cut it out, perv. Nicole scolded herself, instead carefully extracting herself from the bed. She slipped on Waverly’s robe and quietly made her way to the bathroom to distract herself from her ridiculous hormones. She couldn’t help but admire the changes Waverly had done around the house, no doubt changes that were made once demons and Black Badge stopped dropping in to crash through windows. But even with the new fixtures and more decorative moulding, there were still duck shaped friction stickers at the bottom of the shower and tiny stick figures that were drawn in permanent marker on the wall, just little bits that spoke to the presence of a child growing up there. As she washed her hands and looked at her reflection, she laughed at the mustache sticker that seemed stuck in the middle of the mirror. It took a bit of ducking down before her reflection wore the bit of facial hair, shorter than even Waverly would be, maybe perfect for a 10 year old or so, an older child but not yet one that hit a major growth spurt of adolescence.

With a shake of her head, Nicole exited the bathroom, making a quick detour to the kitchen for some water before heading back to the bedroom. Taking a sip from her glass, she set it on the bedside table as she slipped out of the robe and under the covers again, her mind still running a hundred miles an hour.

Is this what it would have been like? Waking up in the middle of the night for water, shaking her head at her daughter’s marring of their home and heading back to bed where her wife was still asleep? How easy it would be to pretend that’s how the past 20 years had been. Nicole sighed heavily. Barely two minutes had passed before Nicole realized she was not going back to sleep.

“Go back to sleep.” Waverly mumbled as she curled up against Nicole again, as if reading her mind.

Nicole laughed. “I can’t. I think we went to sleep too early.”

“No such thing.” Waverly responded, tossing her arm over Nicole’s abdomen and pulling her closer.

With a knowing smile, Nicole pressed a kiss to soft lips, waiting the few seconds until she felt the kiss being lazily returned.

“Mmm, Nicole?” Waverly mumbled as she broke off the kiss, her eyes blinking open in the darkness as if she were finally realizing how early it was. “What time is it?”

Nicole chuckled, peppering kisses along Waverly’s jaw. “No idea,” she responded, her hand traveling south.

“What are you….” Waverly let her words trail off as Nicole’s thumb circled her nipple, intent suddenly very clear. She didn't make any further comment, just returned her lips to Nicole's and slid her hand behind her neck, pulling her closer.

If there was any part of Nicole still sleeping, it wasn't anymore..

As if suddenly realizing she was awake and not dreaming, Waverly suddenly broke the kiss off, groaning. “Ok well… that definitely wakes someone up.”

Nicole nodded. “Good because I don’t think we’re quite at that place where I wake you up via orgasm.” She gave Waverly a silly grin.

“Yeah, hold that thought.” Waverly commented as she rolled out of bed and didn’t bother donning a robe as she slipped out of the room.

Nicole groaned a little louder than she intended as she laid flat on her back, looking up at the ceiling. Even the shortest moment of returned affection had caused her pulse to race and her blood to boil and she found herself waiting impatiently for Waverly to return. For the first time in two days, she really wished she had her phone, wincing as she thought about the device that had shattered against the barn. She wondered how many times her mother or family had tried to contact her. She wondered, but didn’t feel bad at all.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

Looking up at the door, roused from her musings, Nicole shook her head, pushing herself to sit up. “I seem to be ending up with a lot of pennies lately.” When Waverly tilted her head in confusion, Nicole shook her head. “Nevermind. Just thinking I need to buy a new phone. What have you got there,” Nicole asked, seeing Waverly had something in her hands.

Waverly flipped on the bedside lamp before she took a seat on the bed, facing Nicole. “Well, someone must have come in last night while we were sleeping. There was cake in the fridge.” She scooped off a corner with her fork, holding it out towards Nicole.

Nicole accepted the bite without thinking. “Cake before 6 AM. You’re quite the rebel, Miss Earp.”

“Yes because eating cake for breakfast is the most rebellious thing I’ve done.”

Nicole laughed at the wry look Waverly gave her. “Well, I suppose when you consider stripping in front of a complete stranger and then asking for help as if you hadn’t been undressing yourself for years could be considered pretty rebellious.”

Waverly gave her a look of mock outrage. “Excuse me! I was stuck… and someone was supposed to be a professional officer of the law.” Licking frosting from her lips, Waverly offered another bite of cake to Nicole. “Don’t think I didn’t notice how close you were standing. I bet you were lingering outside the door for a while before coming in, trying to put on your smooth operator face.”

Swallowing, Nicole laughed again. “Ok, you know I was. I was trying to make a good impression.”

Taking another bite of cake, Waverly took a moment to think about it, seeming to be lost in the memory of long ago. “You did.” She commented after swallowing. “You threw me for such a loop that day… you still do.” She offered another forkful.

“So do you.” Nicole shook her head, taking the plate and fork from Waverly and setting it on the bedside table next to her water.

“What’s the matter? You don’t like it?”

With a chuckle, Nicole moved closer to Waverly. “It’s actually really good but… You’re all the sweetness I need in my life.” She commented before pressing her lips to Waverly’s, wrapping her arm around a strong waist and pulling her closer.

Waverly laughed, following along with Nicole’s lead as she laid back. “That was really cheesy,” she said as she covered Nicole’s body, brushing the tips of their noses together before stealing another kiss. “Good thing I like cheesy.” A smirk appeared as she slipped her thigh between Nicole’s, pressing closer.

Nicole groaned into another kiss, reaching out to turn the lamp off and accidentally knocking it off the table. She would have laughed if her breath wasn’t stolen by a gasp as Waverly’s hands began to travel.

 


 

“What are we doing?” Nicole sat on the couch, her feet propped up on the coffee table as Waverly plugged something into the TV, the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling on the blank surface. She was feeling pleasantly buzzed from the bottle of wine they’d already polished off. They’d spent all day in bed and Nicole was pretty sure they’d still be there if Waverly hadn’t been insistent on showing her something after another meal of leftover wedding cake and wine.

Waverly, dressed in a tee and pajama pants, danced a little in victory as she got it set up, moving to the couch and curling up beside Nicole. “This is probably going to end in tears but…” Waverly picked up the remote from the coffee table before pulling the blanket over their legs. “I had this made for Whitney’s graduation party. We had it projected against several screens around the party, muted with some horrid music playing.”

Nicole gave her a wary look. The whole thing seemed a little ominous but she shrugged. “Okay.” She watched as Waverly hit a few buttons, the TV flickering to life. A brightness filled the room before Nicole’s eyes readjusted and she recognized the hospital and whoever was responsible for filming had a less than steady hand.

“How do we know which one it is?” Nicole recognized Wynonna’s voice immediately as the camera turned towards the nursery of babies on display. It was pretty empty, just 4 of the plastic bassinets having inhabitants. “Scratch that.” Wynonna laughed as she zoomed in on one, obvious red hair sticking out from under a tiny beanie, the side wall marked with a bar code and the name W. Earp.

Nicole gasped softly. She wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting, but this wasn’t it.

“Will you stop calling her It?” Gus chastised her from off camera.

The newborn didn’t move, didn’t cry like two of the others did, just slept easily without a care in the world.

“Man, newborns are hella boring. Can we wake her up or something?” Wynonna complained, reaching out to tap on the glass like the babies were fish in an aquarium.

Waverly snorted at the memory before the scene changed to a different room, the room in the house that had been changed to a nursery.

“Whitney!”

Nicole smiled as the video circled around a crib only to pan over a tiny infant, dressed in a white and yellow sleeper, tiny feet kicking in the air.

“Are you awake, Whitney?” The infant squealed in delight, arms clumsily reaching toward the camera. “You wanna go kick some demon ass with me, Kiddo?” The camera fumbled before turning to Wynonna’s much younger face, holding a babbling infant. “Can you say, make your peace?”

“Bck!” Whitney yelled before headbutting Wynonna in the cheek.

“Hey…” Wynonna juggled the camera and baby. “Stop that.”

Nicole didn’t realize she had started crying until she laughed, sniffling as she reached up to wipe away her tears. She looked down to see Waverly watching her with a sad smile.

“Come here, Sweetie.” Nicole recognized Waverly’s voice coming from behind the camera as a bigger child clung to the safety padding around the edge of the coffee table, unsteady legs wobbling. “You can do it, come on.”

“You have to lure her.” Wynonna entered the shot suddenly, kneeling a few feet away from Whitney with a donut in hand. “Who’s your favorite aunt? You want a bite of my donut?”

Baby Whitney squealed in delight, reaching for Wynonna and taking two very unsteady steps towards her before stumbling into Wynonna’s waiting arms.

“Wynonna, you jerk.” Waverly’s voice came through with a laugh.

Waverly slipped her hand into Nicole’s, getting a squeeze back in recognition as the scene changed a few more times until it got to a clip that made her groan in memory.

“Tell her what happened.” Wynonna’s voice was behind the camera, focused on a Whitney who had a scuffed nose and chin and had to be no more than 6 or 7. Waverly was dabbing at her chin with a rag, wiping away the oozing blood as gently as she could.

“Bobby Ray was pushing him into me and I got mad.” Whitney looked so defiant, her head held high and arms crossed over her chest.

“Oh, Honey. You know what I told you about fighting.” Waverly sighed softly.

“But Bobby Ray is always picking on Jesse.”

Nicole raised an eyebrow at that. She’d known a little bit about Whitney and Jesse’s relationship, but not enough to know they grew up together. But, didn’t everyone in Purgatory grow up together?

“Keep going.” Wynonna seemed excited.

“So when he pushed Jesse, I punched him in the face.”

“But what did you say.” Wynonna was almost beside herself.

Waverly gave her daughter a confused look before Whitney looked up through auburn bangs, a determined look on her face.

“Make your peace.”

Nicole had to laugh. No matter what blood flowed through her veins, Whitney was, without a doubt, an Earp. The video continued to show that memory by memory and Nicole tried to swallow the lump in her throat, but the emotions were getting the better of her. The video went on with little clips of milestones, a tiny red-headed girl growing up in Purgatory with one mom and an aunt that would leave for stints of time and show up with toys and treats from all over the world. She’d missed out on it all and for what? Because Becky was a lying bitch?

Or because she’d seen Waverly and Champ that day in the parking lot and assumed Waverly had given up on her. She’d known Waverly was pregnant, but like an idiot she’d made the worst assumption and just...left. She wanted to blame Becky, but she knew it had been partly her own fault.

She'd given up.

Waverly must have felt the emotions shudder through Nicole because she was sitting up, concern in her eyes. “Hey.” She scooted closer and wiped away the tears that slid down Nicole's cheeks. “I'm sorry. This was too much too soon.”

Nicole shook her head, sniffling. “No. I'm sorry, Waves. I can blame Becky till I'm blue in the face but it's my fault too. I'm the one who left.”

“No, Baby. I said some horrible things.” Her own eyes glistened with unshed tears. “I let the hormones and emotions mess with my head and instead of talking to you, I shut you out completely. I don't blame you for leaving.”

“Not then.” Nicole wanted to pull away, felt her resolve crumbling as emotions began to overwhelm her. “When I came back. And I… I thought Champ was Whitney’s dad.”

Waverly barked out a surprised laugh. “What?” She lowered her voice, her expression still incredulous. “Why would you even think that?”

“Because I…” Nicole licked her lips. She wasn’t sure why she was telling Waverly all this now, but she couldn’t stop herself. She didn’t want any more secrets between them. “This isn’t my first time back to Purgatory. I came back before.”

Waverly stilled. “W-when?”

“About three months after I… after I left.” Nicole swallowed. “I drove into town and parked in the lot across from Shorty’s. I saw you and Champ.” Her stomach still churned from the memory. “You must not have seen me but I overheard you saying you were pregnant and I just…” She shook her head, her bottom lip trembling with emotion, “I just assumed. I’m such a fucking idiot. If I’d just taken the moment to talk to you, to let you know I was there...” She suddenly found it hard to breathe, one bad decision crushing her in an almost physical way as she felt tears slipping down her cheeks again. “I should have trusted you. We could have...” She looked away from Waverly, wiping at her eyes angrily. “I fucked it all up. I’m so sorry.”

“Stop.” Waverly reached up to force Nicole to look at her. “Don’t blame yourself.” Her voice was soft and soothing yet leaving no room for argument.

“I can’t stop. I should have trusted you. I’m sorry.” Nicole repeated. No matter how many times Waverly told her not to blame herself, she knew it would never happen. She’d done this to herself. She’d done this to Waverly and Whitney… her family that grew up without her.

“Shhhh.” Waverly brushed away a tear with her thumb, pushing a lock of auburn hair behind Nicole’s ear. “This blame isn’t going to help anything.” Leaning forward, she pressed her lips to each cheek in turn, kissing away the tears that still fell. “The only thing we can do is move forward.” Waverly whispered, pressing her lips to Nicole’s.

Nicole felt herself melting against Waverly, the warmth of her body like a lure, drawing her in. Leaning forward, she pressed her forehead to Waverly’s, closing her eyes and willing away the pain of two decades apart. She knew they probably should talk about where they were heading. Even as Waverly continued to pepper her cheeks and jaw with kisses, she was filled with uncertainty. Waverly had said she was interested in marrying in the future, but what about the here and now? There was still the question of what would happen in the morning when she was scheduled to leave.

They lived in two different countries, two completely different worlds. Nicole had responsibilities to her clients and to her family. Not Becky, never again Becky, but with her parents who had been grooming her to become a partner in their firm.

Could she just give up her life in Chicago? What would she do in Purgatory? She couldn’t be a cop anymore. She could practice law in Canada if she wanted to go that path, but did she even want to be a lawyer? Did she want a daily reminder of the life she gave up her family to live?

A hand sliding through Nicole’s hair got her attention as she felt another hand sliding around her waist, a thumb slipping under her shirt to rub against her bare skin. Her emotions warred with her body’s obvious intent to push everything away and focus on Waverly who appeared to be more than willing to put history aside for the moment. “Waves…”

“Nicole…” Waverly smiled, “I don’t want to think about all the time we missed. I’d rather think about the time we have now.” To prove her point, she kissed Nicole with a bit more pressure. “We’re right here, Baby.” Another kiss and she was pressing closer. “All that matters is the present and right now, you are right here on my couch, looking gorgeous…” Waverly nipped at Nicole’s bottom lip with intent.

Nicole hummed softly, finding it harder to stay morose as she returned the kiss, her own hands beginning to explore. There was just something about Waverly, something that was so magnetic, drawing her in and distracting her common sense.

“Mom, stop.”

Both women froze as they looked at the screen, a teenage Whitney trying to hide her face from the camera.

“Ok this is creepy.” Fumbling around just slightly, Waverly reached for the remote, turning off the video. “We can watch that later, maybe?” Setting the remote on the coffee table, she turned back to Nicole, a mischievous glint in her eye.

Nicole laughed, nodding. “Yeah, good idea. Come here.” Unable to resist, she slipped her hand behind Waverly’s neck, pulling her close again for another kiss. She leaned back, stretching along the couch as Waverly covered her body. She didn’t want to think about the fact that later might never come, that they were avoiding the things they needed to talk about because it was so much easier to fall into the physical addiction they shared than deal with the adult aspects of life.

Purgatory. Chicago. Nicole didn’t care about any of it at the moment, not with Waverly’s hands sliding her shirt up and off. “You’re really distracting.” Nicole commented with a laugh.

“Good.” Was all Waverly said as she pressed closer.

 


 

 

Nicole blinked her eyes open as the alarm on her watch went off. Checking the time, she sighed, silencing the tone before looking down at Waverly’s slumbering form. Her flight was in less than 4 hours. If she was going to leave, she needed to get up and get ready.

But was she going to leave? Waverly hadn’t outright said no to her proposal. She’d said “not yet” but what did that mean for the present? Were they going to casually see how things went, while she lived in Chicago and her family lived in Purgatory? Just the thought of that caused a spike of pain in Nicole’s chest.

She didn’t even want to leave. In just a few days, she’d allowed herself to get addicted to being in love again, and now she was faced with the very real possibility of having to leave it behind.

As if sensing her dilemma, Waverly’s arm draped over her waist tightened its hold, snuggling closer with a soft hum.

They hadn’t gotten around to discussing everything, hadn’t gotten around to discussing anything at all about their plans for the present actually. They just pushed it aside, ignoring the elephant in the room in exchange for making up for 20 years of separation. Nicole sighed softly. Would Waverly even want her to stay or did she need some time alone to think? Nicole knew she had to make a decision. She could just fall back asleep, tell Waverly she’d slept through her alarm and let the chips fall where they may.

“Stay.” The word was so soft, Nicole wasn’t sure she was hearing correctly until she felt Waverly shift against her again.

“Stay?” Nicole repeated.

“Yes. Stay, please.” Waverly was huddled against her side, not looking up, a fact Nicole was glad for because surely she would take one look in her eyes, and Nicole knew she’d break.

Nicole pressed a kiss to the top of Waverly’s head, thinking about the request. Was it just stay for the day and take a later flight? Or was it something more? “For how long?” Waverly had refused the proposal, and Nicole understood the reasoning, but it allowed a doubt to blossom within her chest.

Only then did Waverly move, pushing herself to her elbows so she could look at Nicole in the sparse light. “Forever.”

It was all Nicole needed to hear before the sting of tears filled her eyes. She nodded, unable to find her voice as she captured Waverly’s face between her hands, pulling her up to kiss her deeply.

Waverly laughed into the kiss, her lips trembling with emotion. “Good… good.” She pressed her forehead to Nicole’s, sharing the air between them. “I mean… I don’t know if you have anything important to do back in Chicago…”

“Nothing more important than you.” Nicole quickly spoke up.

Waverly nodded, her eyes closing in relief.“I can’t lose you again.”

“You won’t. You’re stuck with me now.” Nicole spoke, wiping away Waverly’s tears.

Waverly sighed softly, settling back down along Nicole’s side, tracing her bottom rib with a fingertip. “Good… cause I’m not going to be stuck dealing with a pregnant Whitney alone.”

“Wait, what?”

 


 

 

After a long day at the office, Becky Taylor really wasn’t in the mood to have dinner with her parents, but she had promised, and the last thing she wanted to do was break her promise to her boss. They’d barely spoken to her the past two weeks, as it was, since her mother had spoken with Nicole. She’d actually been surprised by the formal request she’d received to attend dinner.

Pulling her Lexus into the private driveway of the three story tudor, Becky’s brow furrowed as she eyed the motorcycle sitting besides her mother’s BMW and her father’s Lexus, where she normally parked when she came over for dinner.

“What the hell?” She grumbled, putting her car in park and shutting it off. “What the fuck is going on around here?” She grumbled as she grabbed her purse before exiting the car, heading to the front door.

Becky hung her coat on one of the hooks by the door, sniffling as she made her way to the large dining room, freezing at the entrance when she noticed an unknown visitor sitting with her parents.

The woman sitting across from her mother at the table wasn’t the usual type of person her parents had over. Long brown waves flowed over her shoulders that were leaning against a leather jacket draped over the back of her chair and Becky was certain she saw a devious look flash in the woman’s eyes when she entered the room. “Hello?”

Mrs. Alexandria Haught looked up from her glass of wine, her face surprisingly blank. “Rebecca. Please, have a seat.”

“What’s going on?” Becky noticed that there were no plates on the table, instead each place setting had its own stack of files. “Are you going to tell me who this is?”

“My bad. We’ve never met.” The woman sat up, resting her forearms on the table as she leaned forward. “The name is Wynonna. Wynonna Earp.” When Becky froze, the woman’s smile stretched across her face. “Well, Deputy Marshall Wynonna Earp of the Black Badge Division, but you may know of my sister, Waverly Earp?”

Becky felt a chill run down her spine as she sat down, looking at her parents. “What the hell is she doing here?”

“Oh you know,” Wynonna spoke up, taking a flask from her jacket pocket and taking a long pull from it. “Nicole trusted me to deliver some paperwork. Your father is her legal counsel and since returning to Purgatory, Nicole’s had a change of heart on a few things.” She waved her hand towards the stack of paper.

Becky’s nostrils flared as she opened the first folder. She had a feeling she knew what it would be, and her guess was right as she recognized the official paperwork for co-maternity, already completed. She rolled her eyes as she flipped through the copies of change in beneficiaries for her life insurance and her will.

“As you can see, despite your attempted intervention, Nicole has been successfully reunited with her daughter, Whitney Elizabeth Earp...well Earp-James now I suppose,” Wynonna turned to the two oldest Haughts. “Her wedding was really quite something. Jesse is a deputy in the Purgatory Sheriff’s Department, something that totally freaked out Waverly at first because of the weird similarities but he’s a good kid.”

“Nicole didn’t have the decency to delivery these herself?” Becky snarked, closing the first folder in exasperation. If Nicole was going to be a bitch about everything, that was her priority.

“Oh,” Wynonna pointed to the stack. “You might want to look in the second folder.”

Picking up the second folder, Becky froze as she read over the legal document. She blinked as there was a flash, seeing Wynonna holding up her phone.

“Rebecca Taylor, you have been served,” Wynonna grinned. “Sorry, the photo wasn’t really needed but I’m keeping it for my Wall of Shame.”

Becky felt a tightness in her chest as she read over the restraining order. “You can’t be serious about this.”

“It is serious.” Mr. David Haught spoke up finally, after having been quiet. “I thought we had raised a smarter person, groomed a better lawyer to become a partner, but it’s obvious from the turn of events how wrong we were.” He straightened up in his seat.

“What the hell does that mean?” Becky looked at her father in shock. She knew exactly what he meant by that, but surely he couldn’t be basing that off of the actions she took that were for Nicole’s own good. “You can’t be serious.”

“Oh I think he is.” Wynonna slipped on her jacket, pulling her hair out from the back of it. “Well, I’ve got a flight back home to catch in the morning. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Haught.” Walking around the table, she stopped next to Becky, close enough for Becky to smell the liquor on her. “Have a shit life.” She commented with a snide smile before walking away.

Becky felt the anger bubbling up within her. How dare this backwater bitch come into her parents house, and tell them about what she did when she was just trying to protect her sister. How dare this woman meddle in what was none of her business.

Becky barely registered what her parents were telling her but she pushed herself away from the table, her feet carrying her towards the front door. She didn’t even have her coat all the way on as she was storming out the door, heading for where the woman was mounting her motorcycle. “Where the fuck do you get off?”

Wynonna looked up from putting on her gloves, a smile etching its way across her face. “Excuse me?”

“I don’t know who you think you are, getting involved in something that is none of your business…” The gravel crunched beneath Becky’s feet as she stepped up to the motorcycle as Wynonna slipped off the bike, standing to her full height.

“I’m going to stop you right there, Silver Spoon.” Wynonna gave an arrogant laugh. “I know you thought you were being all cute and sneaky, like the weasel you are, but you didn’t just fuck with Nicole’s life. You messed with my sister and my niece. I had to pick up the pieces of my sister’s broken heart and watched her barely drift through life for 20 years, carrying on just because she had a kid to raise.”

Becky scoffed. “I’m sure she managed. That’s what you small town creatures do right, pop out a dozen kids that have less than 10 teeth across the lot?” Becky crossed her arms over across her chest. “Hell, the kid probably isn’t even Nicole’s. I’ve heard about you Earps. She probably got wasted one night and…” The words weren’t even out of her mouth before she felt an explosion of pain against the side of her face and she was crumbling to the ground.

It took a minute as Becky’s ears rung and she tasted blood in her mouth before she realized what had happened, looking up at Wynonna who was towering over her with fists clenched and eyes blazing with anger.

“Do NOT talk about my sister like that.” Wynonna growled, her teeth clenched.

Becky froze, the left side of her face continuing to throb as she looked up into light eyes that were narrowed at her. She could feel the hostility rolling off Wynonna, causing a sense of panic to wash over her and she scrambled backwards just a bit, ignoring the bite of gravel into her palms and legs.

After a long moment, Wynonna seemed to calm. Sniffling, she wiped at her nose in nonchalance. “You really should thank your sister… well after the restraining order expires maybe. It was Nicole’s idea to get one after all.” She picked up the helmet from her bike, taking a moment to inspect it as she gathered her words. “Me?” Wynonna looked at Becky again. “I’d have rather put a bullet between your eyes.” She leaned a little closer, close enough for Becky to flinch in fear. “But trust me. If you ever come near my family again, and that includes Nicole, I will not hesitate to not only kill you, but first I’ll make you beg for death.” Suddenly, Wynonna smiled and it was the most unnerving look Becky had ever seen. “You have a good night, ok?”

As Wynonna settled the helmet on her head, the bike roaring to life, Becky had to shield her eyes against the spray of gravel as she watched the woman disappear down the driveway. Swallowing audibly, Becky stood, dusting the dirt and gravel from her hands and clothes. Looking up at the doorway of the house, she was greeted with the blank faces of her parents who lingered for just a moment before stepping back into the house, closing the door behind them.

Chapter Text

"It's so strange, when you're down, and lying on the floor
How you rise, shake your head, get up and ask for more
Clear-headed and open-eyed, with nothing left untried
Standing calmly at the crossroads, no desire to run
There's no hurry anymore when all is said and done."

 

"Shit." Nicole cursed under her breath as she dove to the ground, taking up the space beside Waverly. She was feeling a little winded but still she smiled. The overturned table kept them protected from the chaos behind them. "You still armed?"

Waverly nodded. "Just barely." She couldn't help but smile, her eyes drifting over Nicole's form, the casual yet still elegant wedding dress she wore split up the side, revealing a very long leg that brought a flush to Waverly's cheeks. "If I don't get another chance, I wanted to say I really love you." She spoke wistfully, watching caramel eyes lighting up in delight.

"You are the love of my life, Mrs. Haught." Nicole smirked, leaning towards her new wife for a kiss.

"Earp-Haught." Waverly corrected her with a chuckle before returning the kiss in earnest. A loud crash sounded and Waverly pushed Nicole away. "Let's continue this later when stakes are a teeny bit less dire."

"You bet your ass we will." Nicole lifted her gun. "On 3?"

Waverly nodded. "3…"

"2…"

"1!" They shouted together as they popped up from behind the table together, only to find themselves staring down the barrels of two guns pointed directly at them.

Brown eyes narrowed at them, turning a lighter shade of caramel in the sunlight, blazing red hair tucked under a black stetson. "Make your peace." The 2-year-old spoke with as menacing a voice as he could before pulling the triggers, dousing the chests of both women with a fair amount of water.

"Ahhh!" Nicole yelled. "I'm hit! I'm hit!" She crumbled to the ground, holding her chest as the boy squealed in delight.

"Noooo…" Waverly crumbled beside Nicole. "We never should have taken on the infamous Billy the Kid!"

"At least we'll die together." Nicole groaned, pulling Waverly to her.

The boy laughed louder, throwing both hands up in victory until a surprising yell caused all three to jump.

"William Henry James! What did I tell you?"

Whitney stalked over with intent, taking the guns away from him. "For the hundredth time," with a smirk she aimed the guns at her mothers, "right between the eyes, Honey." She told him before pulling the triggers, hitting both Nicole and Waverly right in the foreheads just before a water balloon burst against her shoulder, dousing her completely. "Oh my god!" She turned. "Aunt Wyn... You're so dead!"

Pushing herself up to her elbows, Nicole watched as her daughter took off after Wynonna. Around them, kids were running about, shooting each other with water guns in the corralled area. On the other side of the fence, however, the adults were in varying stages of inebriation. "You think anyone would notice if we snuck off?"

Waverly laughed at the prospect, standing up and trying to dust off the dress she wore. "Sweetie, I don't think we can escape the Kiddie Corral without someone noticing." She offered her hand down to Nicole who took it more for the gesture than actually needing help up.

As if on queue, their tiny assailant ran straight into Nicole's leg with a grunt before he looked up, a huge smile on his face as his arms reached towards her. "Grandma, up?"

Nicole laughed, picking him up easily and settling him on her hip. "Kid, you are gonna be too heavy to carry soon." She kissed him on the cheek. "You wanna go get some cake?"

"Yes!" He yelled happily.

"Like he needs more sugar." Waverly commented as she followed Nicole, barely avoiding a crowd of running kids.

Nicole smirked, leading the way out of the area and over to the food tent. "You know what the best thing about being a grandma is?" She asked as Waverly's hand slipped into her own, their fingers intertwining.

"That we don't have to worry about him not going to sleep?"

"Exactly." Nicole headed straight for the dessert table, smiling at Jeremy who was expertly dishing out slices of the brightly colored wedding cake.

"Hello ladies… and gentleman."

"Jeremy, could we have the largest slice of cake you have that also has the most frosting?" Nicole asked specifically.

"I might have kept a corner piece for you specifically." Jeremy winked as he pulled out a plate already loaded with a large piece of cake. "Only the best for my special guy." He leaned forward, offering his palm to Billy.

"High five!" Billy yelled as he slapped Jeremy's hand.

"Yes!" Jeremy handed the cake out. "At least someone around here loves me."

"Awww. We love you." Waverly took the plate. "Thanks, Jer." She followed Nicole and Billy to their table, enjoying the moment to sit down and just take a minute to be calm.

"Hey Kid. Use your fork." Nicole scolded their grandson, handing him the plastic utensil. Her eyes tilting up to look at Waverly, she found her wife watching her with a sappy smile. "What?"

"You're beautiful." Waverly reached up to remove a blade of grass from auburn hair.

"You're not so bad yourself." Nicole laughed. "Actually you're gorgeous." She corrected herself, leaning towards Waverly for a kiss.

"Ewww. No!" Billy pushed them apart. "My Grandma." He told Waverly with a scowl, waving his frosting-covered fork in her direction..

"What?" Waverly laughed, grabbing the fork from him. "Don't you threaten me, Kiddo. She was mine first." Looking up at Nicole, she rolled her eyes. "This is what happens when you spoil him."

"What?" Nicole gave her a mock surprised look. "You're not spoiled, are you Billy?"

"No!" He laughed, his mouth covered in frosting.

"You spoilin' my kid?" Whitney asked with a huff, plopping down on a chair. "Oh man, how much cake has he eaten?"

Knowing exactly how much, Nicole shrugged. "We lost track."

"You're doing this on purpose," Whitney complained. "I don't know why I ever brought you two back together." She joked. "You're lucky I love the both of you. I should make you watch him so I can study for my finals."

"Oh no." Nicole laughed as she wiped a bit of frosting from Billy's cheek. "Tonight is my wedding night and it is my sworn duty to deflower your mother."

"Mom!"

"Awww, Sweetie." Waverly gave Nicole a sympathetic look, reaching up to cup her cheek. "You were too late the first time, but we can pretend if you want."

"You guys are so gross." Whitney covered her eyes.

"What's gross?"

Nicole looked up with a smile at her mother who sat down at the table with a newly filled glass of champagne. "Hey, where's Dad?"

"I don't know. Talking about hockey or politics or something with Jesse." Her mother took a sip of her drink before clearing her throat. "What's gross again?"

Nicole smirked. "Premarital sex." She answered before taking a sip from her own glass.

"Oh." Mrs. Haught sniffled. "Well, that hasn't really been a concern of yours since you were 15 now has it?"

"Wait… 15?" Whitney's eyes grew in size.

Nicole choked on her drink. "What? How the…"

"You always were as subtle as a freight train, Nicole." Alexandria gave her a straightforward look, daring her to argue.

"Ok can we not talk about this in front of my grandson?" Nicole gestured to Billy who seemed only interested in shoving fistfuls of cake into his mouth.

"Oh like you were talking about deflowering my mother on her wedding night?" Whitney laughed. "I'm sure my mother wouldn't mind hearing about your teenage conquests."

Waverly snorted. "Oh I know every single name on that list."

"Ok can we not?" Nicole felt her cheeks burning a bright red before Waverly leaned over and pressed a kiss to one of said cheeks. "Thanks, Mom." She glared at the oldest Haught.

A loud commotion from the the grilling area got everyone's attention and Nicole was surprised to see Wynonna in what looked like a heated debate with both her father and Jesse.

"Oh no." Mrs. Haught stood up, dusting her slacks off. "I should go calm your father."

"Oh boy…" Whitney stood up. "I better go too…"

"Hey." Nicole thought quickly, lifting up Billy with a huff. "Go hand him to Wynonna. She'll calm down quickly."

"Good idea." Whitney commented, grabbing her son and rushing off after Nicole's mother.

Nicole shook her head, wiping the frosting off her hands on the only clean napkin she could find. She looked up to find Waverly watching her with a soft look. "I love you."

"I love you too." Waverly moved right next to her, bumping her gently with a loving smile. "Thank you."

Raising her eyebrows, Nicole returned the smile with a slightly more bewildered one. "For what?"

"Coming back to Purgatory."

Nicole's smile softened. "Where else would I be?" Leaning forward, she pressed a soft kiss to Waverly's lips, feeling a love that had grown between them the past few years. She'd thought it was impossible to love Waverly any more than she had 25 years ago, but everyday she found that love growing just a bit more.

"I can think of somewhere else we could be." Waverly wiggled her eyebrows.

"So can I," Nicole laughed, leaning forward for another kiss just before something hit Waverly and a cold rush of water splashed over the both of them. Looking up in shock, Nicole was surprised to see Wynonna standing in shock behind a laughing Billy, another water balloon in his hands.

"My grandma!" He yelled.

"He's gonna get it." Waverly finally growled, pecking a quick kiss on Nicole's lips before she took off after the now running toddler.

Nicole could only laugh as she pushed off the seat and followed.