Actions

Work Header

Ever Yours

Chapter Text

“Okay, Haught- you can do this. You’ve looked serial killers in the eye without flinching. You’ve helped bring down political corruption. You’ve faced bullets and knives, murderers and psychopaths. You did once bring a pistol to an AR fight, not your best moment. Other than that, you’re a badass. A couple of drunk, stoned, crazy or overly enthusiastic college kids? That’s nothing for a badass, right?”

Nicole Haught stares at herself in the bathroom mirror, before dropping her gaze and sighing loudly. She still dresses like an FBI agent- white shirt clean and starched, black pants and jacket pressed and fitted, black shoes laced and shined. The badge clipped to her pants is now just laminated plastic, instead of the weighty metal she prefers. She briefly wishes she felt as shiny and new as her shoes. If only she felt half as confident as she looks.

“You’re also giving yourself a mirror pep talk like a crazy person. Just try to be normal for once. Enjoy the moment. You can do this.”

She was born and bred to be a Special Agent, to hunt down criminals and essentially read minds. She was made to read emotions and facial expressions, to analyze micro-expressions and gauge reactions in milliseconds. Suddenly, standing in front of a room full of normal civilian college students seems even more terrifying than anything else she’s faced. Teaching students who don't know who she is, or care who she could have been- that was never a part of the plan.

She steps out of the small bathroom, and heads for the front door. The limp in her left leg is more pronounced today, a testament to endless nerves and a heavy rain overnight. She presses down with her heel inside of the shoe, confirming the added support and padding is there to help relieve some pressure and keep her now awkward gait from being too obvious. She can show no weakness to her students and colleagues, not today. Today, she is the badass new professor who is going to change things at her alma mater, UCLA. Today, she is confident and awesome. She hopes.

------------------------

Nicole checks her phone, and heads for her new office- Room 711. As she reaches into her pocket for the freshly made key, she notices the door looks to be unlocked and just slightly open. Weird, no one had been in the office in the days prior to Nicole’s arrival on campus. There’s music playing inside, peppy music.

“What the…”

She presses her shoulder into the door, reaching down to touch her right hip out of habit. No pistol there, per campus rules. The door slides open quietly and Nicole is ready, her gaze shifting to the presumably empty desk. Instead, she sees a smallish brunette woman sitting at said desk, Nicole’s desk. She’s typing animatedly and humming along to some poppy song from the radio. Is that Katy Perry? Nicole shakes the wonderment from her mind, before stepping into the room and making her presence known.

“Um, hi?”

The brunette looks up, awkwardly stutter-stopping her quiet humming. She stumbles over the edge of the desk, dropping a hand onto the sturdy wood. She mumbles to herself, frowning for a moment before looking up and flashing a mile-wide smile at her first visitor.

“Hi! Wow, I didn’t think I’d see anyone else so soon! Did we have a meeting or something? I just, I got here early, to set up my things. Had to double and triple check the room number. I mix up numbers in my head. Stupid dyscalculia, right? Of course they’d give me a room with the two digits I mix up the most! I mean, you know you have a problem when you have to ask your nephew if the room number is 711 or 717. I’m so glad I got one that’s easy to remember though! 711, like the convenience store! ...Oh god, I’m rambling. Let me try again. Hi, I’m Waverly Earp!”

Nicole can’t stop herself from grinning, head tilting slightly as she tries to process the bumbling, yet endearing woman before her. Waverly rushes through the words, adding lilting inflection. Her adorably excited voice seems to make each syllable and phrase sound unique and important. Haught likes this girl, Waverly Earp. She’s going to enjoy learning what makes her tick.

“Waverly, hi. I’m Haught. Sorry, I’m Nicole, Nicole Haught. A, uh, force of habit.”

Nicole scolds herself inwardly. Good one, idiot. She’s going to think you’re trying to be-

“A James Bond force of habit, hey? Interesting there, 00-Haught.”

Waverly’s playful smile slips, and her head droops. A pout settles across her features as she looks back up at Nicole.

“Wow, I should not make jokes, like ever. That was way better and funnier in my head.”

“No worries, I’m always up for a good last name pun. Honestly though, good luck finding an original one. I’ve probably heard them all by now.”

“Right, noted. Anyway, what brings you to my office today, Nicole Haught?”

Nicole has to chastise herself inwardly when her name is spoken. Stop staring at the cute girl and say something!

“Hmm? Oh, I’m new, a Professor of Forensic Psychology and Forensic Sociology. Could have sworn the paperwork I got listed this as my office. Maybe I read the sign wrong or something? One sec.”

Nicole steps back, just outside the doorway, and stares at the sign- 711. A quick glance at her paperwork confirms this is definitely her assigned office. Further down the list, she sees Waverly Earp assigned to Office Number 717. As she raises her head to share the confirmation, she notices Waverly is staring darkly at a paper in her hands, eyes fluttering up to her computer screen with an expression Nicole easily recognizes- embarrassment.

Nicole has always been able to read people in a different and unusual way. Her whole world revolves around reading people, and recognizing what a facial expression means in the context of the moment, or of past events. Seeing the look on Waverly’s face, she knows the office is a big deal to the woman. She was terrified to be in the wrong place, and has now unwittingly set her things down on the wrong desk. A decision is made in an instant. Nicole steps back into the room and flashes what she hopes looks like an embarrassed, slightly dopey smile.

“You’re right- I totally mixed up the rooms. I’ll just head down to my office, 717.”

“Oh, great! Glad I didn’t mix them up for once. I did that at my old school more times than I’d like to admit. Had to write all the digits down in my handwriting, so I could use special marks to know which is which. Now, I don’t have to rewrite and print the syllabus!”

“Yeah, that’s good to hear. Wait, rewrite? Couldn’t you just make a quick change on your laptop and send it to the printer?”

“Oh, no, I like to handwrite and photocopy each syllabus for the Languages courses I teach. Helps me get comfortable with everything, and it keeps the students from trying to talk me into making changes or watering things down. Already have them done for the semester. Wanna see?”

“That’s admirable. I’m good, thanks. Actually, I think I’m going to drop off my stuff in 717 and take a look around. I haven’t been on campus in awhile. Gotta find the best, hidden away coffee place and re-acquaint myself with the hotspots to avoid.”

“Smart idea, Haught! Maybe I’ll see you around. Well, I will see you around, since you’re right down the hall.”

“Yeah, you’ll see me around for sure. Maybe we can grab a coffee once I find a good enough place, yeah?”

“Definitely! Just drop by, or-- here!”

Waverly scribbles for a moment, before handing Nicole a photocopy of the aforementioned syllabus with her name, ten digits and a smiley face in bubbly print freshly penned at the bottom.

“You can call or text me, and we’ll grab coffee. I need to know where this mysterious, unbusy coffee shop is, too, if I plan to survive the semester.”

“You’ve got a deal, Earp. I’ll see you around?”

“Yup, see you!”

Nicole’s eyes focus and move like a camera lens, taking in and momentarily studying the woman before her. She wants to know more, see more and watch a million micro-expressions and strong emotions fly across that face. She wants to see every look, every moment, every feeling move across those eyes and hidden facial muscles. After a slightly awkward pause and brief staring contest, Nicole lightly shakes her head and flashes Waverly a confident smile. Waverly grins back and turns to her desk. She seems to flit around the office-straightening papers, dramatically kicking out her chair, typing energetically. Quick movements, all while humming along to a Taylor Swift song playing through Pac-Man ghost shaped computer speakers. Nicole drops her head to hide her widening smile, takes a deep breath and heads toward (not) her office. As she pushes the door open, she wonders who she needs to contact to have her and Waverly’s office numbers switched.

Chapter Text

Day one of classes has arrived, and Nicole is feeling less than badass.

Meeting other professors (including the adorable, wrong-office brunette), finding a coffeehouse and creating two syllabi were all fairly simple tasks. Stepping in front of her first non-badged or career investigator group is entirely different. To them, she is not well-known or renowned. Instead, she’s just another professor who likely followed the “those who cannot do, teach” mantra. How long will it take before some random not-quite adult asks her what she did to wash out and end up here, teaching to a roomful of maybes?

Her hands shake as she smooths the front of her starched dress shirt, and leans her weight back slightly against the desk. The uniform of black and white will be the hardest habit to break. Having the freedom to browse through her wardrobe like a normal person still feels wrong somehow. Eventually, she’ll add other color options to her wardrobe. Maybe she’ll buy something raspberry colored, or maroon. She’s always looked good in blue. It’s time to look less government-issued, and more relaxed, yet professional.

The doorknob turns and the door creaks open, revealing a group of eleven students. They wander inside loudly, looking at the board to ensure they’re in the correct place. Nicole keeps her face unreadable, quietly wondering if a group of students demands a special name, similar to a murder of crows or an unkindness of ravens. She watches carefully as each student takes a seat, analyzing and reading them like blueprints. They all exhibit something a little different- apprehension, disappointment, terror, excitement. Each one feels so differently about the same course.

Five minutes after the scheduled start time, Nicole presses her hands against the solid wood and pushes herself fully upright. She says nothing, allowing her gaze to slowly work its way around the room a final time before speaking. Slow movements and assured steps guide her vision as she scans, reads, inspects.

She speaks confidently, “How many of you chose this course because you wondered what Forensics has to do with Psychology or Sociology?”

The room is still. No raised hands, lifted gazes or uttered words. Nicole hides a frown beneath a piercing gaze.

“There are twenty-three of you in here. I can see you. You know that, right?”

Nervous laughter barely reaches Nicole’s ears. She hints at a sly grin before focusing on a student toward the back of the room. The boy simply can’t stop smirking.

“Alright, silence it is. Here’s the thing though- I don’t need any of you to say a word. Your faces told me everything I need to know. You told me exactly how you feel about this room, course, and me without even opening your mouth. The question I asked- you answered it faster than you can blink.”

The same smirking boy in the back lets a self-satisfied chuckle leave his lips. Target acquired.

“Good, a volunteer. Come down here, please.”

The boy stands, and swaggers to stand beside his professor. He’s slightly taller, and makes a point to puff out his chest. Nicole smiles inwardly. This will be fun.

“Class, meet Exhibit A. Now, Exhibit A here has a smirk he simply cannot contain. He made sure to make himself appear bigger and taller as he worked his way up here. He’s presenting dominance, strength and cunning to you all very clearly. What you didn’t see are the split-second flashes of raw emotion. Those unfiltered looks are something people in my line of work call micro-expressions. When I asked how many of you chose this course based on its title, he flashed something different than the rest of the class. As he thought about the real reason he chose this course, his pupils dilated and a wolfish smile appeared briefly at the corners of his lips. Exhibit A showed me arousal and desire.”

The boy instantly becomes flustered, beginning to splutter out excuse after excuse. He chose this course, because he wants to be a cop. He’s not attracted to some weird professor. Nope, no way. His cheeks flush, and his whole face shows his obvious surprise and need to protect himself from scrutiny and discovery. Checkmate. Nicole focuses her eyes on him, and all words cease.

“Now, what does that tell me about Exhibit A? It tells me he’s here, because he heard a rumor about a potentially hot, new lady professor. He was hoping for short skirts and tight dresses, and a chance to charm his way to an A. When I called on him to come forward, there was a second flash of emotion. The arousal he felt before converted into nervousness and fear. I have a feeling Exhibit A here chose this course without researching what we’ll be delving into, or looking into my background. The confidence he felt before turned to panic, once he realized this was not the low effort class he’d hoped for. Instead of a class he can sleep through, it’s a class that will challenge him. I’m a person who will challenge him, and all of you, every single day.”

Nicole’s eyes meet the boy’s again, her face still lacking expression. He gulps and looks pleadingly at his letterman jacket-covered seat.

“You were right to be scared when I called on you, Exhibit A. I do know exactly what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling. It’s written all over your face. Now, you may sit.”

Nicole returns her gaze to the front of the classroom, finally allowing an expression to cross her face- confidence.

“Forensic Psychology and Forensic Sociology work together in our justice system. They allow us to understand criminals, and teach law enforcement or beyond to build a criminal profile. With that profile and understanding, we can discover the who and why. The what, where, when and how are important. The who and why are vital, crucial. Without understanding who to look for, how their mind works and why they committed their crimes, we cannot find a criminal, let alone prosecute them.”

Nicole finally moves, her steps precise and calculated. She presses a little deeper into the soles of her one departure from the FBI dress code- blackout Converse sneakers. Her rehabilitated body adapts, and she focuses on transitioning from her left to her right foot smoothly. Her exterior is calm, collected and completely in control. She’s shown no weakness so far, and knows she can never allow this image of authority to evaporate.

“If you research me, you’ll find a common theme. I’m known to many as a human lie detector. Everything you’ve read, or will read, is true. I’m a deception expert, and a forensic criminologist. My job is to read people. Every eye and facial muscle movement, every millisecond long expression, every single thing that their face can tell me. You may be able to lie out loud, but you cannot tell your face to keep a secret. I have developed a natural talent into a well-honed skill you cannot bypass with trickery. I can see you, all of you, and I will read you like your mother reads a paperback at the beach.”

Several students shift awkwardly in their seats. They’ve realized playtime is over. The woman before them is serious. She already knows them.

“Now, if you’d like to learn how to be so valuable to law enforcement that departments and government officials will fight over you, stay in this class. You’ll learn from me. I’m not some washed up loser. If you’d prefer to coast through to graduation, see me after class and I’ll scan the course lists and professor photos with you. We’ll find someone.

Today was about reading you, and getting a feel for what this class will be like for all of us. Tomorrow, you receive your first case assignment. We’ll view photos as a class, and you’ll tell me who is a murderer and who is a bystander. Hopefully, you’re right. If you’re wrong, an innocent person goes to prison, or worse, is put to death for your assumptions. All of the evidence comes down to you reading an expression on someone’s face in less than a second. Be sure to pay attention.”

No words are spoken, no pens have scratched across paper, no keys have been pressed on keyboards. The students are motionless, unable to slide out from behind heavy desks and grab their bags as they chatter excitedly. The room stays silent.

Nicole makes eye contact with each student for a final time, before nodding slightly.

“You’re free to go, grab a syllabus by the door on your way out. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

She confidently opens the front classroom door, and steps into the busy hallway. Her gait is self-assured. Mission accomplished. The students stay in the room for an additional 45 seconds or so, before parading out together in stunned silence. Exhibit A can’t help but watch her walk down the long hallway, before turning the corner to enter her office.

Badass, indeed.

Chapter Text

“Ah, Professor Haught, can I see you in my office for a moment?”

Nicole’s gaze shifts from the carpeted floor to the man standing before her- Doctor John Henry Holliday, Dean of Humanities. A smile appears underneath his thick mustache, a very good sign. Rumor has it Dr. Holliday rarely smiles. Nicole follows, and takes a seat in an office three times the size of hers. An obvious perk of being a UCLA Dean.

“No need to look nervous, Haught. I just wanted to be certain the directory changes you requested had been completed. We cannot have your students walking into the incorrect office now, can we?”

Nicole smiles at the memory of the wrong office encounter, and subsequent phone call to the Dean’s secretary requesting a quick change. The woman sounded confused for a moment, before pulling up a database and pressing a few keys.

“No, sir, we can't have that. Rosita was very kind, and made the change for me right away. I really appreciate it. I’m sorry if it inconvenienced you or anyone on staff. I don’t want to start out on the wrong foot.”

“Haught, I can read into situations as well as you can read faces. I am aware of Professor Earp, and am willing to venture a guess that the mistake was not entirely yours. It was no trouble. I will also keep this piece of information to myself. Only the two of us, and dear Rosita out there will know. You have my word. Now, I wanted to be sure you’re finding everything around campus alright. Are you comfortable? Anything we can do to ensure you’ll stay with us for a while?”

Nicole attempts to hide the look of shock and slight embarrassment, before answering her superior.

“Yes, sir. Everything has been great so far. The class is going well. I appreciate you allowing me to combine the two specialties. We can always separate them next semester, if it’s too much or the students don’t take to my style of teaching.”

“From what I hear, they are taking to your style just fine. Exhibit A being all of the talk I am hearing around campus. Good things are being said, Haught. You are doing wonderfully,” Holliday says as he stands and smiles, guiding Nicole to the door. “That is all I required of you, Professor Haught. Thank you for allowing me a few moments. You have a good day now.”

Nicole nods, and thanks the Dean for his time. The look of mischief and amused enjoyment on Dr. Holliday’s face when he said the words “Exhibit A” were not lost on the deception expert. She’s making friends, and making her mark on the campus. Maybe she can do this after all.

----------------

After spending years trapped within the walls of various office buildings, warehouses and the occasional classroom, Nicole had nearly forgotten what it felt like to stand in the sun. Her time outside was always measured by the distance between a vehicle and front door. She can’t stop herself from finding a nearby tall tree, needing to take a few moments to sit quietly with fresh coffee and a battered paperback. It takes more effort than she remembers to ease herself down to the ground, hands sliding along the wide trunk of a campus coral tree. When was the last time she was still, and able to read her favorite book?

Time passes. Leaves sway in a slow waltz as daylight sparks overhead between living branches. Paper pages slide and touch their partner, moving at a trackless, slow pace as each word is absorbed. Thoughts are planted, preparing to grow like seedlings awaiting their future within the same hallowed ground the avid reader rests upon. Nicole loses all sense and understanding of the outside world, fully focused on the lives of Jim Nightshade and William Halloway. She is thoroughly engrossed, and everything is beautiful in that moment.

A voice emerges from the edges of Nicole’s mind, shyly trying to draw her back from the warmth and comfort of her mind.

“Nicole?”

She looks up, and realizes the world is still beautiful. Even more so. Waverly’s smiling face is radiant, brighter than the sun reflecting and burning the ground in a mosaic pattern through the tree’s canopy.

“Waverly, hi. What brings you to my tree? Well, not mine, not really. It’s just the tree I chose to stake my claim on for today.”

“Oh, it’s too nice to hide away with my sandwich indoors. I was looking for my own tree, or bench, or something. Couldn’t stand to be inside when it’s like this out here, you know? I needed the sun, and a moment. I guess we all need moments sometimes.”

“We definitely do. I can move over, if you wanna sit with me.”

Nicole shifts to her left without waiting for a response. Waverly momentarily winces at a glint of light reflecting from beneath the seated professor’s left pants leg. Strange.

“I’d, um, I’d like that. I-I don’t want to bother you though. You look… I don’t know how to explain it. Like you were somewhere else? In, um, in a good way! Is it the book? I can let you get back to it, Nicole. It’s fine if you’d rather read… Ray Bradbury, than listen to me ramble. Again.”

“Hey, I’m more than happy to share the space, Waverly. Reading ‘Something Wicked’ for the hundredth time can wait. How’s your first week going? Is everyone totally enamored by you yet, or will it take another few days?”

“Enamored? Um, doubtful. I’m like this all of the time, the rambling and long thoughts. I think it’s going well though. No one has walked out of the class so far. What about you? I heard about the whole Exhibit A, respect me or leave monologue. Are you trying to scare your students into being compliant, Professor?”

Nicole’s heart races at the use of her new title slipping so casually from Waverly’s lips. She takes a breath, hoping to tamper the match sparked within her chest at the simple words. Breathe, think, speak.

“Compliant, sure. More like, I want them to see that I care about this class. It matters to me. I can’t really do my old job, not anymore. That chapter of my life is over. So, I’m going to make sure everyone sees I like this, that I can be good at this. Does that even make sense?”

“Of course it does,” Waverly whispers, her smile honest and reassuring. “I kind of looked you up after we met. No wonder you’re so… calm. You know people better than they even know themselves in the moment. I can’t imagine it was easy to leave a job where you obviously excelled. I’m actually really terrified to even ask, but, um, but w-why are you even here? You’re kind of, well, beyond us.”

The million dollar question. Nicole was sure a student would ask first. She can handle students.

It takes several moments for a heavy decision to be weighed. She likes Waverly, and hopes she’ll one day return the sentiment. She wants a chance to get to know the brilliant professor, to eventually be friends or something better. Telling the woman you enjoy sitting beside that you’re a broken failure feels impossible. If she admits everything now, Waverly will walk away with the same look as Nicole’s friends, family and former colleagues- pity. She’s seen far too much pity splattered across every face for the past year. There is a problem though. Can she even lie?

Waverly breaks Nicole out of her mind, and starts to separate herself. The look on her face makes Nicole’s chest tighten. Waverly Earp is scared, of her.

“It’s too much. I-I’m sorry, Nicole. I’ll just go. We barely know each other. Surely you have people to talk to, who have earned the right to know you. It’s fine, I’ll just-”

“No. Waverly, sit, please. It’s fine, really. I just…”

“I shouldn’t have asked. We can pretend I didn’t. Can, um, can we please pretend I didn’t ask? I don’t want to mess this up, too.”

Nicole shifts her weight slowly, her left leg feeling heavier than it has in months. It's a burden she carries daily, something so ingrained that she sometimes forgets. She reaches her hand out to brush the back of Waverly’s, hoping to draw her gaze upward from her nervous fumbling.

“Waverly, it’s fine. I’m not mad, not even close. I just… I like you. I’m enjoying getting to know you, piece by piece, and I don’t want it to stop. The people in my life all stopped trying when… well, when everything happened. I’m used to watching the faces of the people I care about drop when they see me now. I see so much pity and sadness in them, and I don’t want to see it in you, too.”

She finally makes eye contact, hoping Waverly can see the honesty and vulnerability she’s allowing her face to show. She needs Waverly to see that the words truly matter.

“I’m honestly surprised you didn’t find out about it when you looked me up. I guess you didn’t add the right keywords or something? I don’t know. I'll tell you, just not all of it. I can't, for a few different reasons.”

She shifts again, looking down at her shaking hands as she speaks- “I was an FBI agent before. Went to school here, and got my degrees in Forensic Sociology and Criminal Justice. Things were going really well. I was finally good at something that mattered, you know? The Director noticed I had a knack for reading people, so I was sent for specialized training. Added a Forensic Psychology degree to my list of accolades over time, too. When I came back from Quantico, I could see people for the first time. Really see them, so easily. I was placed on a top level team, assigned tougher cases, moving my way up the ladder. Then, things got… I got hurt. That’s the easiest way for me to explain it.”

Waverly watches Nicole intently, brown eyes glazed by the memory of the day that would change her life completely. A hand is placed near Nicole’s right knee, drawing her gaze to her new friend and colleague. Waverly doesn’t fake a smile, she doesn’t pretend to care. She looks right at Nicole, into her, and doesn’t show hesitance or fear. There is no disgust or pity in her eyes.

“The case I was working on had been active for months. It was a challenge no one was ready for. I can’t really tell you much, except that it changed me in a lot of ways. I pulled away from people, initially to protect them. My focus shifted completely to work, and I pushed everything and everyone aside. I stopped being a person I liked, and became a shadow. When all was said and done, everything had changed. I’d pushed people too far. When I needed them, when I was finally scared, too… There was no one left. I was injured, badly, and I had no one around to help out or be there for me. My family had stopped worrying and moved on, my girlfriend left a letter at my bedside, and moved out while I was hospitalized. I spent my days in one hospital wing or another, trying to put myself back together, and heal. I had to work on healing everything, not just my leg. My mind and my heart were just as broken as my body. By the time I was ready to put myself back out there, I couldn’t be an active agent anymore. Too much time had passed, and the physical demands were too great. So, I kept on rehabbing and getting stronger, all while looking for something that could make me whole again. After a year of nothing, Dr. Holliday called, and offered me a job here. I couldn’t turn down a chance at a new chapter, a new life. So, here I am- a pretty broken FBI agent turned college professor. That's the short version anyway. I'm just… I'm trying, you know?”

Nicole stares at her hands for a long moment, before finally meeting the gaze of the woman beside her.

Waverly’s face tells Nicole everything.

Chapter Text

“You’re brave.”

Nicole tries not to laugh. Bravery is a character trait she’s been lacking for quite a while. It’s hard to disagree with Waverly though. The look on her face is a new one, and totally unexpected. Her eyes are so warm, so honest. She truly believes what she’s saying. There is no doubt, no disgust or pity in those eyes.

“I don’t feel brave. I feel… selfish in a way. Everything crumbled around me, because I let it. I smashed the foundations of my relationships long before anyone ever got hurt.”

Nicole tries to hide the look of shame from her darkened eyes. She tries to sound like she’s accepted her fate, and the connections she’s severed. She tries to pretend losing everyone she loved didn’t hurt.

Waverly ducks her head, forcing Nicole to meet her gaze. She grabs Nicole’s focus, and brings it back upward to her. She’s not afraid, she’s just… there.

“You, Nicole Haught, were brave. You put the lives of others before your own. Sure, some people had their feelings hurt along the way. I bet you saved a lot of people by doing what you did. That’s what matters. You studied, and you did everything you could. The case was solved, too, I’ll bet. You closed it by doing the right thing, didn’t you?”

“It was closed, yeah. I signed the final report and paperwork from a hospital bed. People died, there were casualties, but it was finally closed. So, that’s good, I guess.”

Nicole has to look away. She can feel herself slowly losing control of the calm exterior she’s built so carefully over the past year. Waverly Earp is about to crumble her, and she can’t allow it to happen here.

“Can, um, can we talk about something else? Actually, maybe I should just go. You can have the tree for a while, I’ll just-”

“Nicole. Look at me, please.”

Waverly touches Nicole’s face for the first time, trying to draw brown eyes to meet her hazel ones, instead of staring darkly at her left leg. She tries to get Nicole to see she means every word, every look. She tries, and hopes.

“Hey, you’re a good person, Nicole. Even though you may not believe it, I know you are. You’re here, and you didn’t have to be. You’re trying, and it shows. Your students like you, they respect you. You’re good, Nicole. Please, believe that.”

Nicole looks at Waverly in awe. Someone in the world believes she’s a good person. Even if it’s only one person, she silently hopes Waverly will be the most important one day. For the first time in a year, the self-hatred, helplessness and anger fades. She feels like someone who matters. She feels real again.

“Waverly, I-”

“Waves, there you are! We’ve been looking everywhere for you! Come on, get your fine ass up, let’s go. ”

Three professors Nicole vaguely recognizes stands above them, flashing their fake grins at their newly acquired target. One of the women grabs Waverly by her elbows and pulls her upright suddenly, creating a chasm between the two new friends. The brunette is pulled away, staring blankly at the two women excitedly squealing their faked enthusiasm. A man stands a little bit further back, hands stuffed awkwardly in his pockets. He gives Nicole a shy smile, one that whispers an unknown apology. Waverly looks back for a moment, making pained eye contact with Nicole. She desperately tries to convey displaced guilt, and to apologize without words. She doesn’t want to be pulled away. She wants to stay and understand.

As always, Nicole sees everything. It changes very little.

----------------

Nicole runs, sort of. In her mind, her stride is still sure and confident, not tired and dragging. She needs to get to her car as quickly as possible. Her car means she’s closer to home, an ancient punching bag and protective gloves. Her car means she’s closer to blasting music, counting miles and minutes, and sparring something that cannot defend itself. She needs to hit something, preferably without breaking her hands. She needs to destroy the reminder of a ruined moment, and make everything after Waverly telling her she is a good person disappear.

So, she (fake) runs.

----------------

Nicole places each punch with precision, working her way into a learned rhythm, obliterating everything she’s ever felt. Why does every moment of clarity seem to be shattered or taken from her? Why are things ruined every time she finally feels something real and good again?

Each hit is placed, calculated. Every time contact is made, the slapped sound echoes through the small garage. Music is playing loudly in her ears, and for a moment, the world outside of the sweltering garage doesn’t exist.

For a moment, Nicole Haught is a fighter again.
For a moment, Nicole Haught isn’t broken.

----------------

A brown glass bottle is opened, contents bubbling slightly over the top. Nicole skips the pint glass today. This drink needs to be had straight from the bottle. She takes the steps down into the small backyard, slumping down against the stone with a sigh. Her sweat-soaked tee shirt has been stripped away, and tossed carelessly across a deck chair. She doesn’t care right now. Everything from the day is hiding just beneath the surface of her skin: moving, tingling, burning. The memory of the broken conversation leaves her mind exposed like nerve endings, raw and pained. She needed that moment. She needed someone again.

Now, her mind won’t stop screaming. There are no happy snapshots, only punishing images and angered words: Stupid. Waverly isn’t yours. She can’t be yours. You’re broken, so damn broken. She doesn’t want broken, she doesn’t deserve that.

Nicole’s rescued Belgian Malinois, Delta, saunters down the steps, and presses his face firmly into her left thigh. He can sense her frustrations have transitioned into physical pain, reading her body language as well as she reads people. She’s pushed her body to the limit tonight, and it shows. Reaching down, she slides the sleeve exposed by her workout shorts downward, and removes her prosthetic with practiced ease. Instantaneous relief spreads through her system, and she finally feels a little better.

A low whistle escapes her lips. Delta returns to her side moments later with a forearm cuff crutch between his teeth. Now gloveless hands run along soft fur, silently thanking the dog for retrieving. He sits beside her, resting his head gently against her right shin. The two sit together, watching as the sun falls. The world around them starts to expand into stars, planets and endless sky. Everything is the sky, darkening and extinguishing all light. There is nothing to fear though. Tomorrow, the present darkness will once again be swallowed by daylight. Tomorrow holds so many new moments, maybe even a few spent with Waverly Earp by her side.

Chapter Text

The first week of classes have come and gone. Nicole and Delta make the short trip from their home in Calabasas to Los Angeles, deciding to spend the day on or around campus. Leash laws are a bit looser at the college, and the former search and rescue dog can handle himself just fine. Nicole commands the dog on occasion, mostly allowing him to play and work out all of the excess energy from the week. She’s happy in this moment. Watching her dog play and romp is gratifying. They understand each other on a different level. When Nicole first laid eyes on Delta months after her amputation, her focus quickly shifted to the energetic dog’s missing left paw. They were the same. Both felt unwanted after on-the-job injuries pulled them from normalcy. Both were missing part of a limb, and struggling to fit in. She needed him, and he needed her. They were both getting along just fine, living new lives. They were surviving.

Nicole is less than her best at the moment, moving around as little as possible. Today is a bad leg day. The overexertion from yesterday is taking its toll, and every step brings a new wave of pain. She treads lightly, gritting her teeth to prevent a yelp from escaping when movement is required. Pushing too hard and being angry never bodes well for her, or her metal attachment. Some days, she hates it. Some days, she feels invincible.

A command falls from her lips out of habit, calling the dog to return to her side. He always returns, no matter the distraction. Delta likes having a job to do, or a command to follow, just like his owner. Without a mission, life feels… empty. A new command is uttered, and the dog takes off after a previously hidden toy.

“You speak Dutch, too. What can’t you do?”

Nicole’s head snaps up, scanning the tree line. She smiles, and takes a few limping steps forward.

“Waverly Earp, today must be my lucky day. What brings you to my field?”

“Oh, so you own all of nature now, hmm?”

“Not quite yet. I’m staking my claim, piece by piece.”

Waverly’s smile is playful, a new look. A look Nicole hopes to continue to see often.

“So, Dutch. I don’t hear that language very often, even in my profession. Why use it?”

“Delta here is Belgian. I figure it’s good for him to hear his native language from time to time, especially when he’s in command mode. It’s how he knows I’m serious.”

Delta saunters up to the new person, looking up at Nicole for permission to advance. As she begins to issue the command, Waverly moves to kneel on the grass, calling the dog in Dutch with a wide grin. His ears perk as he steps into her outstretched hand, gladly accepting the attention. Nicole’s joy is obvious, spread unabashedly across her face and dimpled cheeks.

“Can, um, can I play with him? It’s just, you were giving him Dutch commands. I don’t wanna mess up your system, or take him out of command mode if you’re busy. We didn’t have pets when I was little. I always wanted a dog, or someone to play with. It’s fine if you’re busy, really.”
“Waverly, do you think I could deny this big softy anything? Of course you two can play. You do need to know- his idea of a game is different from most dogs. He was search and rescue before I adopted him, so you’ll need to be a little careful with your body language. He’s not a fan of someone laying down suddenly. He is really good at catching a frisbee or tennis ball though. I have both in my bag. Also, he might get tired faster than a normal dog. Sometimes, the missing paw catches up to him.”

Waverly is confused, until she notices Delta’s left paw is indeed missing. She hadn’t even noticed. Nicole holds up her bag, silently asking which object Waverly prefers. She’s never thrown a frisbee before, so she chooses a tennis ball. Delta takes off the instant the ball leaves her hand, tracking it in the air and chasing it down excitedly. He brings it back without being asked, and lays it at Waverly’s feet expectantly. The game continues for several minutes, allowing Nicole a chance to step back and observe. She wants to commit every detail of this moment to memory. Watching Delta and Waverly play so joyfully is something she’ll treasure for the rest of her life.

“Shit! Nic-”

Nicole sees Delta in mid-air right before impact, a rogue throw bringing them both to the ground. The dog lands on top of his owner, forcing the air from her lungs in an “umph” as she attempts to gasp in surprise. Waverly is by their side moments later, panic evident in her voice.

“Nicole, I’m so sorry! I didn’t have a good grip, and the ball, it-”

The sentence halts, everything seems to stall. Nicole is confused. What happened? She knows she’s not hurt, just temporarily breathless. After a quick shake of her head to lift the light fog, she focuses on the now silent girl standing above her. Waverly’s eyes are not on her face, but instead, deadlocked on her leg. Her left leg. Nicole’s loose jeans have snagged on the metal prosthetic normally hidden from sight, exposing it to just below where her knee should be. After an extended period of shocked silence, Waverly slowly meets Nicole’s gaze with tear-hazed eyes. The brunette is stumbling over herself, trying to back away quickly.

“Nicole, what… I… I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I only meant to-”

“Waverly, wait, please. You didn’t hurt me. It’s, um, it’s kind of hard to hurt me actually. I’m fine, really. Just, please...”

Delta has shifted off of his owner, and is now standing between Nicole and Waverly, assessing the situation. He’s ready to protect if called, or needed. His new friend is fun, but his owner comes first. Always.

“I’m-I- I have to go.”

“Waverly, don’t. I just, I need a second to get up, shift my weight around. Everything is okay. I’m fine, see? Still intact, mostly. Just, please, don’t go.”

Her voice is pleading. Nicole Haught doesn’t beg, ever. She’ll beg Waverly though. She needs someone to understand, to see she’s not as broken as she once was. She needs Waverly more than she’s ever needed anyone before.

Nicole gives Delta a low whistle, and the dog is within reach instantly. She wraps her arms around her companion and pulls, working to get her feet back underneath her again. She stands awkwardly, adjusting and shifting her weight to regain some semblance of balance. It’s a badly choreographed dance, and one of the worst thing about missing a flesh and bone limb. Waverly is still there, standing motionless, teary-eyed.

“Waverly, say something.”

A pause. “You weren’t kidding. You did get hurt, badly. Nic, I’m…”

“It’s okay. I’m okay. It took time, a lot of time, but I’m better. Delta helps. We get each other. I needed him. We’re… we match, see?”

Waverly laughs, and Nicole feels the sun again. They’re going to be okay.

“Well, that saves a big reveal later on, I guess. I was about to pack up, and take the big guy here to get some water. I could use a beer, personally. Do you, um, do you wanna go with us?”

A pause. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d really like that. Where can we go, and take Delta?”

Nicole smiles. “I know just the place.”

She extends her left hand to Waverly in silent invitation, dimples on full display. Permission granted. Their hands meet and lock, fingers lacing and flexing in wonderment.

Nicole was right- tomorrow did hold new moments. Ones highlighted by, and spent with, Waverly Earp.

Chapter Text

Waverly is familiar with romance. She’s heard her fair share of love stories, seen the occasional sappy movie, and read paper tales of epic romances. She knows the basics.

Attraction is always described as big things- a flash, lightning bolts, fireworks. Attraction is a production with an endless budget and big name actors. Attraction is everything.

In this moment though, attraction is the warm hand gently holding hers. It’s a little thing, a simple thing. Despite the world saying it’s too small, too insignificant to matter, the feeling of Nicole Haught’s hand in hers is everything.

Nicole’s voice breaks through her daydream, the teasing tone telling her she’s missed a good portion of the conversation. She blushes, looking over to her partner.

“Hmm?”

“I lost you for a second there. You okay?”

“I’m actually pretty perfect. This is… it’s really nice, Nicole.”

Waverly swings their arms to draw Nicole’s attention to their still joined hands. Her chest tightens a little when Nicole grins, dimples visible. Is this how attraction feels? Are moments like this what her friends were describing with their sugar-laced voices and dreamy-eyed, far off looks?

Her surprise at Nicole allowing her to stay on her left, so close to the prosthetic hidden under denim, has turned to contented pride. Nicole isn’t afraid of her. She trusts her, even without knowing things like her birthday or favorite sandwich. Waverly secretly wonders if she’s been placed here, so Delta can stick to his normal side.

“I like having you here, with me. It’s nice.” Of course Nicole knows. She always knows.

“I’m glad. I like being here, too. You did promise me a beer though, and I intend to take you up on the offer. Where are we going exactly?”

“Just up there, small bar with an outside patio. They’re fine with Delta hanging around, as long as he doesn’t steal food or stink up the place.”

Waverly can’t bury her smile. It’s right there, out in the open for everyone walking by to see. She’s happy, walking alongside equally. This is new, and she likes it. She’s surprised when the redhead starts to loosen their grip, preparing to drop their hands. Waverly’s eyes question Nicole’s. Brown eyes flick up, leading Waverly to check the sidewalk ahead. The man from yesterday is walking toward them, hands once again stuffed in his pockets. He’s smaller, shyer than the group he seemed to be pulled behind. Nicole leans, lightly pressing her side against Waverly’s.

“Is this okay? I can let go. We can wait, or pretend this-”

“Nic, I’m out to my friends. They know I like girls, and guys sometimes. If you let go right now, I’ll be pissed.”

Her smile tells Nicole she’s teasing a bit. Their hands stay intertwined, and the man notices. He grins excitedly, practically sprinting to meet them.

“Waves, hey! New Prof, hey to you, too. I’m Jeremy, cool to meet ya!”

Excitable Jeremy, noted. “You, too, Jeremy. I’m Nicole Haught. You’re in the Science department, right?”

“Guilty, ha! Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics. What are you teaching?”

“Forensic Psychology and Forensic Sociology.”

“Oh, shit. Smart stuff.”

“Says the guy who specializes in three things I barely understand.”

“Waves, I like this one! She’s good people. You two out for a stroll? Oh, three! Hey, puppy.”

“Excuse my manners. Jeremy, meet my dog, Delta.”

Delta looks at his owner for confirmation before sniffing the man cautiously. Jeremy grins, gently patting the dog on the head.

“Cool dog, Haught. Anyway, I should run. Sorry we stole ya away yesterday, Waves. Wasn’t my idea. I was just along for the ride. Well, was the ride. Professional DD and all.”

“It’s fine, Jeremy. No harm done. We’re actually gonna go grab a drink, sit outside for a bit.”

“Good plan! I’ll see ya Monday, yeah?”

Waverly nods, and Jeremy is off like a flash. Nicole shakes her head and grins at his back. He seems to almost fly away, goofily, like a little boy playing superhero.

----------------

Waverly is bubbly, telling stories of her solo travels and family back home, appeasing the pouting Delta by running her nails through short fur. She drinks occasionally from a tall glass of a pink-tinted beer Nicole scoffed at teasingly.

“Pink beer, Earp, really?”

“Don’t pick on me, Haught. You’re just jealous of my blackberry sour beer, and you should be. It’s delicious.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” she responds, taking a long drink of her own Scottish ale.

“Who knew Ms. FBI would be such a beer snob? I’ll have to remember that in the future.”

“Making a mental note of it, hmm? I’ll remember to buy you pretty beers, and keep them stocked at my place.”

Shit. That was… way too early. Nicole begins to backpedal, stuttering for a moment, before Waverly reaches for her hand.

“I’d really like that, Nicole. You better have good beer for me, or I’ll only come by to see Delta.”

“Oh, that’s how it is. You just like me for my dog, hmm?”

“I like you for a helluva lot more than the dog, Nic. He’s just a bonus.”

Waverly’s eyes have darkened slightly, pupils dilating, smile transforming into a smirk. Exhibit A. Nicole gulps, trying to find the confidence she’d been displaying moments before.

“I really enjoy leaving you speechless,” Waverly teases. “It’s becoming my favorite thing. I can see your brain analyzing the situation, looking for the right response. You better get used to it, because I’m making it my goal to get you tongue-tied as often as possible.”

Gulp. Nicole can’t think, her brain short-circuiting from Waverly’s clear intent. She’s still staring at the woman sitting across from her, reading, analyzing, trying. What can she possibly say to top it, or even stay on Waverly’s level?

“Y-you win. I’ve got absolutely nothing. I submit to you, the victor.”

Waverly’s eyes shine, her smile widens. She’s giddy, and in that moment, Nicole briefly wonders if she’s ever won anything before. Her new objective is to ensure Waverly never feels like she’s on the losing end of a conversation again. She tilts her head when a warm hand slides across the top of hers, pinky slipping underneath to flip Nicole’s hand. Fingers meet and link again, fitting together like the final two pieces of a puzzle. Maybe Nicole was wrong; it feels like she won something much bigger than a staring contest.

“I think we’re gonna get along just fine, Nic.”

----------------

Tipsy steps, light giggling, flushed cheeks. Waverly Earp is a vision. They’d spent the whole afternoon together, drinking slowly. She’d introduced Nicole to two more professors from the Linguistics department, a hint of pride in her voice. It’s so different to simply enjoy someone’s company without tracking facial expressions and hoping lies or exaggerations can be overlooked. Nicole was happy, really happy. She wondered how simple things could bring so much joy. Even in profile, Waverly’s smile was endless and brilliant. Amazement settled and grew in Nicole’s mind. She’s awe-struck by the woman walking beside her so naturally.

“You’re beautiful.” She hadn’t meant to say it aloud. Thoughts should stay in minds, until they’ve been approved by the brain and heart to come out. It’s too soon, has to be. Moment ended. Idiot.

“R-really?” Waverly’s eyes shines a little more. She’s as awe-struck by the comment as Nicole is with her companion.

“Yeah, really. God, Waverly, you’re unfairly gorgeous.”

They both grow quiet. It’s still comfortable, still right. Nicole focuses on her steps, trying to be better, to appear worthy of this moment. She needs understand, to know why, and how.

“Why did you agree to walk around with me? I mean, I can’t exactly keep up with you. I’ll just slowing you down.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to walk with you? I like being beside you. I-I thought we were having a good time. Am I… wrong?”

“What? No! This has been the best day I’ve had in a long time, Wave.” She tries not to wince at the use of an untested nickname. “I just… You’re beyond me, on so many levels. You’re beautiful, and brilliant. Right now, today: you’re absolutely radiant. I just… I don’t wanna slow you down, or hold you back.”

Nicole can’t raise her eyes from her feet. She is giving Waverly an out before things get too serious, before she falls. She doesn’t want to, but she knows how these stories usually end. They end with the other person walking away, because she can’t quite keep up. She can’t stop looking at her major flaw, her unwanted anchor. She doesn’t even feel Waverly stop, until Delta is suddenly still, too. Both are watching, waiting.

“Nic, you have to look at me. Please.”

Her touch is so warm. She doesn’t deserve it.

“Now, you listen to me, Nicole Haught. This conversation is going to happen once, then it’s buried. I want to be here. You gave me a choice, and I made the right one. You are incredible. Even your dog is undeniably awesome.” She laughs. “I want to be here, Nic, with you. I plan to continue to be here. Not because I have to be, or because I feel obligated. I want to be here with you, anywhere with you.” She smiles. “I want to try this, Nicole. We have something, and I’d be an idiot to walk away now. You’re intriguing, and that’s big for me. Not many people intrigue me. I want to know you, too. So, you get to decide this time- do you want to keep walking, or are you asking me to walk away?”

Nicole is silent, eyes searching for anything. She sees everything in Waverly’s eyes.

“Let’s walk a little further, see how it goes. Just, don’t let go, okay?”

Waverly squeezes her hand with a blinding, megawatt grin.

“Trust me, Nic. I’m not letting go anytime soon. Not of you.”

Chapter Text

“You’re seriously only a dissertation away from your doctorate? I think you might be too smart for me, Waverly Earp. The thought of getting to call you Doctor Earp one day...” Nicole’s eyes glaze over slightly as she imagines using the term.

Waverly blushes, trying to focus on the compliment, instead of the warm blush spreading across her face and down her neck. Being complimented is new for her. She’s used to being underestimated, unappreciated and pushed aside. Nicole though, Nicole knows exactly what to say to make her grin or blush, after only a few days. She sees her.

“You’re smart, Nicole. Not everyone uses terms like micro expression or vocal pattern analysis in their daily life. That’s just as swoon-worthy.”

The two sit angled to face each other on a slate grey couch in Waverly’s office, conversation flowing easily. Waverly runs her hand across Nicole’s palm, sending electricity from her fingers into pale skin. She can feel the bolts hit her bloodstream, igniting her nerves and sending a shiver down her spine. A simple touch does so much to them. Neither will admit they arrived hours earlier than necessary on campus today, hoping to spend a few minutes together before classes start. The relationship is new, if the term can even be used to describe it. They’re still in the getting to know each other stage, hoping to become something bigger.

“Crap, I gotta go, Waves. I’ll see you later?” She plants a kiss on the top of Waverly’s head absentmindedly, pulling her backpack across broad shoulders and leaving the room with a heavier limp than usual. Waverly sits quietly, a little stunned at the action. Does Nicole even realize she did it?

----------------

Nicole’s leg aches. There’s no way around the soreness, no way to hide the long drag required to get herself moving forward. She just has to make it to her classroom. Even just walking down the hall is a battle. She tried to focus on the time spent with Waverly, the woman who makes her feel lighter. The woman who’s starting to make her feel whole.

As she touches the doorknob to her room, she remembers- she calmly kissed Waverly on the top of the head. She kissed Waverly on the top of the head, like it was a habit! Shit, she’d really done that. Her face warms, a wave of fear running through her at warp speed. It’s way too soon for that, right? Did Waverly even notice she’d done it? She tries to remember how to breathe. She has to turn off the fear, and be a serious and studied professor. Calm and collected now, major freak out later. The doorknob turns, and Nicole enters the room, hoping no one notices her calm is all an act.

----------------

“Micro expressions have two distinct categories: suppressed, and repressed. Suppressed micro expressions are the ones the professionals are tracking. These are a deliberate decision and effort to try and hide an expression, which may still briefly flash across the face. Repression expressions are more subtle, unconscious responses. If you can see these micro expressions on the faces of your target, you can spot concealed emotions. That’s the work highlight.”

She shifts, noticing the students are starting to drift. Time to make this real.

“In your personal life, recognizing micro expressions can be even more valuable. Sure, having emotional intelligence and a little trick to use at parties is nice. It’s not all about being a lie detector though. For me, the knowledge helped me with having and feeling empathy for the people in my life. I understand them, and how they feel. I finally have a capacity to care and feel things I never had before. So, don’t think learning this will screw up your life. I’m actually less of an emotionless jerk of a robot. Being able to read people makes me better, makes me human.” She smiles. “That’s it for today, guys. I can see your eyes are glazed over. Have a good weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday. No assignments this weekend. Just, watch and try to understand the world and people around you for once, yeah?”

Nicole stands at the front of the room, almost frozen, for a long time. She does feel like a different person now, than she did years ago. She understands what she sees, and feels things again. Sometimes, knowledge becomes a larger gift than intended.

----------------

“Hey, Professor Earp. Did I make it in time for your office hours?”

“Mmm, not exactly. I’ll try and make some time for you though,” Waverly says, leaning back in her chair. She can’t stop herself from smiling at the sight of Nicole Haught, leaning against the doorframe with a sly grin on her face. “You definitely look like you have a big question for me, though. What’s up?”

“Go out with me. Let me take you out. I wanna freak out over which shirt is my favorite, open every door we come across, hold your hand. I wanna take you out on a real date, Waverly, if that’s okay with you.”

“Absolutely,” Waverly responds. She looks happy, really happy. “I absolutely want to go out with you. What’s wrong with these clothes though? I happen to really like the FBI look. Well, now, I wanna see you in a tie. A skinny black tie. Ooh, what do I need to do to convince you to dress up super nice for me, Haught?”

“I’ll save the tie for a future date, I promise. Could I pick you up tonight, say 7?”

“You can, yeah. You’ll need my address though, unless your little mind reading abilities go beyond reading my face.”

“They don’t, not yet. I’ll work on it,” she says through a grin. Waverly stands quickly, grabbing a pen and Nicole’s hand. She writes her address across the inside of Nicole’s left wrist. She smiles, leaning upward to press her lips against Nicole’s cheek. “Now, you better go. I expect you to be on time, and looking… hot.”

Nicole can’t even laugh at the joke. She’s stunned, legs, hands and mouth completely useless. Waverly Earp will ruin her, and she’s going to allow it.

----------------

Nicole’s brain is short-circuiting, she’s sure of it. This is the end, and what a perfect ending it will be... She’d texted Waverly, asking her to wear casual clothes. Nice enough for dinner, and a little time spent outdoors. Heels not recommended. She could hear the small laugh response in her mind. Haught is used to the sight of the smaller woman in some sort of pencil skirt and blouse while she’s teaching; a look she definitely likes. The woman before her though, she can’t be real.

A sundress. Waverly Earp is wearing a sundress. Waverly Earp is smiling at her, looking unfairly beautiful in a sundress that looks like it was custom-made for her.

“Wow, you look… you’re…. Wow.”

“Two wows good, hmm? Well, thank you. I definitely approve of casual Nicole Haught, too. Very, very nice,” Waverly responds, running her fingers along the collar of Nicole’s leather jacket. It's hard to stop herself from pulling the collar just enough… She’s used to the redhead wearing black and white. The jacket is familiar, a staple of Nicole’s work wardrobe. The blue dress shirt and perfectly fitted jeans are totally new, and look incredible on her tall frame.

“Um, thanks. Just… you look incredible, Waverly. I don’t have words. I feel really under-dressed compared to you though.”

A hand touches Nicole’s face, pulling her gaze back to Waverly. “You look amazing, Nic. Blue is definitely your color. Though, I have to ask about the shoes?”

“What's wrong with my shoes? They're awesome!”

“They're maroon, Nic. Blue and maroon?”

“Hey, you can't compliment me, then take a shot at my shoes. I like ‘em!”

“Okay, okay, sorry I made fun of your clearly superior shoes.”

“Clearly. Are you ready to go? Do you need a jacket or something?”

“Hmm, I’ll just steal yours if I need one.”

“I’d let you. You wouldn’t even have to ask. Anyway, let’s hit the road, yeah?”

“Yeah, lead the way, Nic.”

----------------

The drive to their destination is shorter than expected, time passing quickly and easily. Waverly smiles at the sound of Nicole quietly singing along to an Ingrid Michaelson song. Hands slowly moved across the center console- sliding, touching, connecting. There are no words exchanged, just comfortable silence. Nicole says nothing, until they arrive.

“Don’t move, okay? I’m gonna do this right,” she says, grinning. Waverly watches her step out of the car, awkwardly hurrying to her side to open the door for her date. This is new, a date that opens door and shows their manners. The good kind of new. Waverly initiates the hand-holding this time, enjoying the comfort of the touch.

“Hey, Mary. Been a while. I think Em set up a table for us.”

“Haught! She did, come on back.”

“Thanks. I assume you’re gonna tell her I’m here, and I should prepare to be bombarded.”

“Oh honey, she already knows,” the hostess says with an evil smile, nodding toward the kitchen. Waverly can see a face taking up the whole window, wide grin spreading as they head to a table.

“I’ll try, but you know she won’t listen.”

The hostess starts to guide them to a table. Waverly feels herself gasp when Nicole’s hand separates from hers, instead coming to rest at the small of her back. She guides gently, leaning close to Waverly to whisper.

“The owner of this place, Emily, is my former partner’s wife. We go way back. She was thrilled when I called and asked for a reservation. I’ve never introduced her to my friends, or the people I like. Be prepared to be bombarded. She’s… intense, in a good way.”

Waverly can’t get past the feeling of Nicole’s lips so close to her ear, or of the hand resting against her back. It’s so different, almost overpowering. It’s all comfort and warmth. It’s perfect. She’s honestly disappointed when they reach a small table, much further back, and away from the rest of the dining area. They sit across from each other, staring across a candlelit cloth.

“Well, well, well- hey there, Haughtshot. It’s been too long.”

“Hey, Em. You just had to wait until I sat down to come out here, didn’t you?”

“I do love to make you work for my affections,” Emily responds, accepting Nicole’s hug energetically. “Vous avez enfin amené une jolie fille à mon restaurant. Je suis honoré.”

“J'ai bien compris. Emily, rencontre Waverly. Elle est professeur de linguistique à UCLA. Which means, she’s very familiar with the French language.”

“Damn, I was sure that would work! Hi, Waverly. Sorry for the language swap. I like to tease Nicky here, and gather intel on anyone I can. She’s a private one, never tells me anything good. I’m supposed to be living vicariously through you, jerk!”

“Nicky, hmm?,” Waverly asks playfully. “Well, hi, Emily. I’m Waverly. It’s nice to meet you. From what I’ve heard, you are her partner’s wife, right?”

“I am indeed. Hopefully, you’ll be meeting James soon. He’s insanely jealous that I get to see you first.”
“I’ll make sure James meets her when it’s time, Em. Now, it is pizza night, right? IF it’s not, then we’ll just go-”

“Sit down, you ass. Of course it’s pizza night! Half and half okay?”

“Good question. Wave, Em here has an amazing pizza oven. I normally let her make whatever she pleases, Chef’s Choice. Is there anything you’re allergic to, or totally against on pizza?”

“Um, no anchovies or olives, please.”

“That, I can work with. Normal wine pairing okay, too?” Nicole checks in with Waverly with a slight eyebrow raise. She shrugs in unsure agreement, making Emily chuckle. “I have good taste, Waverly, no worries. I’ll send Jake over with your drinks for now. Sit, enjoy, swoon over how amazing I am.”

Waverly watches the excitable blonde leave, before focusing her attention back on Nicole. They discuss the normal first date material, like siblings, favorites, pet peeves and life goals. Nicole’s simple bucket list items make Waverly laugh (chilled wine on a beach in Greece tops her list). Waverly’s need to listen to pop music while making lesson plans warms Nicole’s heart. They’re a little shocked when Emily reappears with a younger man in tow, carrying a large pizza dish. The smell is heavenly, and the first bite makes Nicole sigh in contentment. Waverly is momentarily stunned, before looking up at the chef and exclaiming, “Magnifique! La meilleure pizza que j'ai jamais goûtée.” Emily is beaming, insisting that Nicole better not screw up with the only woman she’s ever allowed to date from this moment on.

“I’ll try my best, Em. You have my word,” she responds, eyes locked on Waverly’s. She means every word.

----------------

“Thank you for tonight, Nic. It was amazing.”

“Trust me, Waves- the pleasure is all mine.”

They’d driven to a park within walking distance of Waverly’s home, ditching the car and walking together leisurely. Tonight has been perfect, the kind of date you see in movies or hear about from a friend of a friend. Waverly has stolen Nicole’s jacket, just like she’d teasingly suggested she might. Nicole didn’t know a date could feel like this- so normal, and comfortable. She had no idea simply holding someone’s hand could make her heart beat faster, or make her feel invincible. She never knew a simple moment could feel like everything. She’d give anything to document this moment, so she could always remember how she feels right now, with Waverly. She wants to bottle this feeling, and experience it every day for the rest of her life.

“Waves, this has been one of the best nights I can remember. Thank you for saying yes, for being here with me.”

“I wanted to, Nic. We have something, and I want to know what it is.”

“Me, too. Me, too.”

They turn, and walk in the direction of Waverly’s small house, hands still entwined and swinging with their movements. Nicole’s steps are sure, and smooth. She hasn’t felt this good in a long time. Waverly makes her feel alive, and good. Everything is going even better than expected. Every moment of their first date has been perfect. Walking away though, that will be a challenge. She pulls her date to a slow stop, facing the shorter woman and taking in the beauty of her date under the porch light. How do you say goodnight to someone you never want to leave?

“Thank you for tonight, Nicole. It’s the best date I’ve ever been on, and one of the best nights I can remember, ever. Just, thank you. Please let me know when you get home, okay? I wanna be sure you’re okay.”

“I will, I promise. But, before I do… Waverly, can I kiss you?”

Waverly can’t speak, instead looking up at her partner and nodding. Her smile is wide, and beautiful. Nicole looks into the eyes of the woman in front of her for a moment, taking in the look on Waverly’s face, trying to commit it to memory. She leans down, gently connecting lips to lips for the first time.

Every movie and television kiss is a production, with perfectly placed hands, carefully chosen camera angles and swelling music. Their first kiss is better- unscripted, warm and accompanied by the sounds of the night. Hands reach up to wrap around a slender neck, long arms wrap around a trim waist, hair moves gently with a slight breeze. Time seems to slow down, then stop altogether. It all feels like a new day, a new world, a new universe. Neither is sure who pulls away, both breathing the same air as foreheads touch and cheeks flush. Dimples appear on a pale face, lips stretch in a wide smile of contentment. They stay in place, never wanting this scene to fade to black. When it finally does, they separate knowing they will have their moment again, and again, and again.

“Goodnight, Waverly.”

“Goodnight, Nicole. Wait, your jacket.”

“Keep it. I like it better on you anyway. You look beautiful like this. All of the time, too.” She takes cautious steps backward, hands finally settling into denim pockets. “Tonight, though, I want to remember you just like this. Smiling, home and beautiful.”

Nicole sees everything, and tonight, so does Waverly.

Chapter Text

Nicole Haught is all business when seated behind a desk- eyes focused, head down, hands placed on the keyboard. Her face distorts slightly as she works on something out of view of the rest of the room. She senses a presence long before she hears a soft knock. Head lifting, her serious expression instantly melts away at the sight of Waverly. No one should look that good in a simple grey skirt and white blouse.

“Waves, hey! Missed you yesterday. How was-” Nicole is cut off, all breath leaving her lungs as Waverly lifts her head, pulling her into an unexpected kiss. It’s the kind of kiss that makes Nicole’s heart rate accelerate to a dangerous level, nearly threatening to escape her rib cage. She pulls Waverly into her more, accepting the bold kiss completely. It's messy and a little frantic, needy. She forgets her mouth can form words, instead focusing only on the kiss. A kiss she needs more than oxygen. Waverly laughs at her slight whine when she pulls away, smile soft.

“Hey.”

“Um, hi. Wow. Hi.”

“I really do like tongue-tied Nicole a lot. It’s adorable. To answer your question, I’m great. I just really needed to kiss you. It’s been two days, and that’s way too long.”

“Yeah, yeah, way too long,” Nicole responds, enjoying the feeling of Waverly curled into her lap, face pressed into her neck. “I-well-and… I think you broke my brain. I can’t make words happen.”

“Then, I achieved my goal for today. How was class?”

“I-I-um, don’t remember anything before right now honestly. Probably fine. Yours?”

“Really good, liking my students this semester. They actually try. I was a little afraid no one would take me seriously.”

“Well, if anyone won’t take you seriously, send them to me. I’ll fix ‘em for ya.”

Nicole feels Waverly’s smile, more than sees it. She feels lips press into her neck, the same bright smile stretching across her skin. This is one of those moments everyone talks about. This is the girl dreams are made of. Only she could make an office feel like home. Here, everything is warm, and Waverly.

“I don’t wanna move from here, ever.”

“Well, I won’t make you. Eventually, though, my right leg will probably go to sleep. Please don’t judge me if I have to do something weird to wake it back up.”

“Mkay, just don’t make me move?”

“I won’t, Wave. I won’t.”

----------------

It’s hard to focus with a sleeping girl in your lap.

It seems impossible to get anything done with Waverly curled up against her, face still hidden in her neck. She stops trying to work, and focuses on the woman in her arms. Waverly sighs, pulling the warmth gently wrapped around her a little closer. Nicole feels herself melt a little more, accepting Waverly’s light hold on her wholeheartedly. This moment, is perfect.

----------------

“I can’t believe you let me sleep like that,” Waverly says quietly, watching Nicole limp her way to her car. “It can’t be good for your leg to-”

“Wave, if I hadn’t been okay with it, I would’ve said something, carried you to the couch. I liked it, a lot.”

“I hurt you though.”

“You didn’t, pretty girl, I promise. Hey, um, I wanted to ask you something before I let you go.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“This is… this is real, right? Because, you’re amazing, Waverly. I want this to be real. I want to take you out again, hold your hand, let you cuddle against me. I don’t want to stop kissing you. So, I guess I wanted to ask- are we together? Can I, um… can I call you my girlfriend when I talk to Emily and James, when people ask about how things are going at school?”

Waverly is quiet, and Nicole can feel a cold sweat begin between her shoulder blades. She asked too quickly, too publicly. She prepares for Waverly to say no, or walk away. She prepares to pretend she can live without having Waverly within arm’s reach.

“You better, Haught,” Waverly whispers, hands suddenly on Nicole’s cheeks. Smiles press together. The kiss is filled with sunlight. It’s filled with promises and hope. It’s filled with Waverly.

----------------

“Haughtshot! What are you doin’ here? This is my turf now, ya know.”

“Holly? Hey! I teach here, too, actually. I didn’t know you were back here. Figured you’d be ID’ing the dead somewhere, with that weird ‘look how awesome I am’ look on your face,” she responds, hugging her friend. “How long have you been here?”

“Nope, huh uh, I get the ask the questions, Haughtshot. What the hell are you doing here? You’re a big shot now- nice suits, shiny badge. You’ve got no business here.”

“Was a big shot. Kinda… had an incident.”

“You go after your superior’s girl or something?”

Nicole had forgotten what it was like to banter with her college roommate, Holly Stewart. They’d always been told they bickered like a married couple, a statement Holly always grinned at playfully, before elbowing her roommate in the side. They’d been paired together their sophomore year, and had never looked back. No one could ever top Holly Stewart as a roommate and friend.

“No, I didn’t date someone I shouldn’t have, thank you very much. I have grown up a little. Give me some credit!”

So, what’d ya do, hmm? Too badass for their taste?”

Nicole raises her left pant leg, revealing shiny metal to her longtime friend. She hid her feelings about the attachment, hoping Holly would gloss over it like everything else. No such luck.

“Jesus, Haught. What… are you okay?”

“Now, yeah. I’m good. It’s been about a year now. Couldn’t meet the demands anymore. Dr. Holliday offered me a teaching position, and I jumped at the chance. It’s not Quantico, but I like it,” she responds, seriously. “Are you teaching Forensic Path here now?”

“Totally am, and I’m a rockstar at it. You still mind reading?”
“Of course you are,” Nicole laughs. “You know there’s more to it than mind reading. At least, I hope you do. Listen, I gotta go. Meeting someone across the way. Can we catch up sometime?”

“You mean, you’re blowing me off for a girl. I get it. Go get ‘em, dude! And yes, we’re totally catching up. You better call me, jerk!”

“Same number?” A nod. “Good, I’ll call this week. We’ll make a plan, yeah?”

“Yeah, now go get that girl you’re grinning about. I’ll see ya around, Haughtshot!”

“See ya soon, Stewart.”

----------------

Nicole scans the small coffee shop for her girlfriend. Girlfriend… wow. The word is new, and still feels a little strange to think. She wonders how it’ll feel to say the word aloud to Waverly, or to the first person she sees.

Her girlfriend usually chooses a table by the front windows, so she can admire the sunlit, green quad while they talk and drink coffee. Today, she’s not sitting by the big glass windows. She’s not at the table Nicole mentally stamped as Waverly’s favorite. Did she beat the smaller woman here?

She checks around the room, knowing Waverly doesn’t know the definition of the word late. She finds her near the back of the cafe on a loveseat, laptop open across her knees. Even after a day of teaching, typing and rushing, she looks stunning. Her hair is starting to slip out of its hold atop her head, strands falling in her face and down her neck and shoulders. Her blouse has been unbuttoned a little, a tell that she’s not in buttoned-up teacher mode at the moment. She look like Waverly- indescribable.

Waverly seems to sense Nicole’s gaze, looking up and smiling widely. She closes the laptop, before standing and walking across the room. Arms wrap around Nicole’s neck, hands slip upward and tangle in red hair. Waverly’s eyes demand Nicole’s attention, dragging her into them with a look Nicole can read so clearly. She choose not to.

“Hey,” Nicole whispers, sliding her arms around her girlfriend’s waist. She hadn’t expected the blouse to be as soft as it is. She wonders what Waverly’s skin feels like…

“Hey back. You’re here,” she whispers, accepting a brief, full kiss from Nicole.

“Of course I am. Where else would I be?”

Waverly’s hands leave soft hair, sliding down Nicole’s shoulder and arm to lace their fingers together.

“Come on, we have work to do. Plus, I got you that weird macchiato thing you like. I really wanna find out what it tastes like.”

“You can try it anytime, Wave. I mean, you have been sitting with it. Not like I’d know if you stole a drink.”

“I know I can, but stealing yours is boring. I wanna find out what is tastes like, from you.”

“Okay… so, describe it?” Nicole is confused, lifting the cup from the short table and taking a long sip. She thinks for a moment, placing the cup back down.

As she starts to describe the taste to her girlfriend, Waverly leans forward and presses their lips together. She can feel Waverly taste the coffee and hint of caramel from her lips, her mouth. She was right- this is way better than sharing.

Chapter Text

Hands. Sometimes, Waverly seems to be all hands. Warm, confident, wandering. Touching, considering, moving. Her girlfriend’s confidence lies in her hands, sweeping across fabric and skin. The touches make Nicole feel whole, a feeling she never expected to return.

Nicole used to be terrified of hands that were not her own. So many hands touching her shattered leg, cutting with precision, pushing her through physical therapy, adjusting and attaching prosthetics.

She feels safe, lying beneath the warm body of the woman she adores. She feels everything, kissing her a little too frantically on the living room couch. She feels good, until Waverly’s hand slides underneath the bottom hem of her shorts, and touches metal.

Then, everything changes.

Adrenaline kicks in, her body fights and protests, sweat begins to form and drip, a hiss escapes between suddenly gritted teeth. She fights to sit up, sending Waverly to the floor with a shocked gasp. She has to get away, and fast. Everything is telling her to run. She’s shaking, trying to get herself off of the long couch, and out of the room, out of the house, out of the city. Delta is by her side, sensing the shift. It's as if he can sense the fear.

“Nic, honey, where are you going? What happened?”

“I-I-I have to go. Now. I have to go now.”

“Go? Where are you going? This is your house. Did I do-”

“I have to go. I don’t- I was fine, and everything…”

“Nic, sit down, please. You’re kind of scaring me. I need you to tell me what happened, what changed.”

“You touched me, and I… I should just go.”

“I touched… oh. I touched your leg, and it scared you. I’m sorry, I didn’t even think about it,” Waverly says, voice softer. “Come here, please. Let’s talk about this, okay?”

Nicole nods and sits slowly, still shaking. She can’t look at her girlfriend, not after sending her to the floor in a blind panic. This is the end, has to be. Waverly will realize at any moment that Nicole can never be enough for her. She deserves someone whole, someone who can keep with with her.

“I, um… I’m sorry. I didn’t know-”

“Hey, it’s okay. Neither of us knew what would happen. We just need to talk about it, maybe set some boundaries. Can we talk about it?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s fine,” Nicole responds, looking at the exposed top of the prosthetic with disdain.

“Hey, this doesn’t change anything for me, Nicole. The leg, it doesn’t change what I feel for you. Not at all. Okay?”

“Mhm,” she says vacantly, still staring. Waverly’s hand touches her jaw, drawing Nicole’s gaze to hers. The touch is more firm, an attempt to make Nicole see what she needs.

“I like you, Nic. All of you. We’ll talk about this, figure out how to handle it. Little steps, not big leaps. Just… this doesn’t change anything. I need you to see me when I say that. Your leg doesn’t matter to me. I like you. Okay?”

Nicole can’t speak, instead giving Waverly a weak nod with tear-filled eyes. Waverly’s lips press against hers for a moment, before a small smile reappears.

“Good. Let’s talk about the leg a little bit, okay? It’s the elephant in the room. Can you tell me about it? Tell me what’s okay? Would it help if you showed me, all of it?”

“I-I don’t… We can try.”

“Then, we’ll try,” Waverly whispers, forehead pressed against Nicole’s. “So, what do I need to know?”

 

----------------

Waverly is learning. She’s learning to understand her girlfriend. She’s learning what a heavier limp means, how the prosthetic attaches and stays in place, where her hands can go without Nicole freezing and becoming stone. She knows there is a lot left to see and understand, and even more to learn over time. She’s honored to get to know more about her girlfriend. She means… everything.

“So, you haven’t been with anyone since… it happened?”

The couple spent the rest of the afternoon in the smaller downtown of Calabasas, walking down to the Bark Park with Delta and enjoying lunch at an outdoor cafe in the sun. The day had improved greatly after a long talk, and a fresh set of guidelines and boundaries were established.

“No, the girl I was dating at the time ended things pretty soon after I was hospitalized. I haven’t really even interacted with many people, let alone… You’re the first.”

Hands swing playfully, Waverly smiles widely. She likes being Nicole’s first real girlfriend, especially after something so affecting. They still haven’t talked about the actual event (Nicole isn’t ready), but she knows they will when the time is right. Today, they’re enjoying being together, and feeling something new. Something real.

Everything is perfect… until it isn’t.

As they pass a storefront, heading back to Nicole’s house, a car backfires. Nicole moves faster than Waverly knew she was capable of, grasping her girlfriend by the shoulders and pressing her against the nearest brick wall. Her eyes are glazed, hands shaking, breaths fast and shallow, body pressed firmly to cover Waverly’s. She protecting her girlfriend, absent and stiff. She's… waiting. Waverly looks down slightly and sees Delta beside her, holding his own leash between his teeth, waiting. Everyone is waiting.

“Nic. Nic, hey, look at me. We’re safe, okay? We’re alright. I’m right here. Delta’s here. We’re together, and we’re safe. It was a car, honey. Can you come back to me? I need you to breathe.”

Waverly waits, too.

“...I’m sorry. I-I’m fine. Let’s just go, okay?”

The conversation is over. Nicole picks up the leash, and wraps an arm around Waverly’s shoulders, trying to seem normal and strong.

Waverly can feel her shaking the whole way home.

-----------------

“Nic, you should lay down. At least sit.”

“I’m fine, I just need a drink of water or something.”

“You’re shaking, baby. You’re not okay.”

“I’m fine, Waverly! Don’t tell me how to feel!”

Waverly shrinks back, moving away from her girlfriend. Nicole has never raised her voice, even when one of her students said something disgusting about a female classmate. Was Nicole even capable of showing or feeling erupting anger? Apparently so.

“I’m sorry. I’m going to go, okay? You need space. I’ll see you… just call me.”

“Wave, wait. I’m sorry. I just… I didn’t know-”

“You won’t know until it happens. Something will always scare you. Something happened to you, Nic. Something bad. Of course you still harbor something, feel something. It’s okay if you want me to go. Delta’s desperate to help you anyway.”

“Don’t, please. Just… will you lay down with me for a little while? I’ll feel better soon, I promise.”

“Of course I will. Couch and mindless TV?”

Nicole nods. She lays down, moving back to make room for Waverly in front of her. They lay together for a long time, trying to calm each other. Trying to feel better, together.

 

-----------------

Nicole wakes an unknown amount of time later, vision a little blurry. She's warm and comfortable, even after falling asleep on her light grey couch. Moments pass, the room is quiet, and a little darker than when she last say it. Delta is dozing on the thick rug across the room, seemingly ignoring his perfectly plush dog bed.

Nicole looks down and finds Waverly has sneakily turned over as she always does, body curled more directly into Nicole's. She smiles at the sight of her girlfriend’s face lightly pressing against her self-proclaimed favorite spot near the redhead’s collarbone. Long, deep breaths move strands of red hair, sleep-warmed fingers hide under a soft tee shirt, a small patch of sleep-exposed skin dares calloused hands to make contact.

Most surprisingly, a shorter leg crosses over Nicole's partially robotic knee.

In this moment, Nicole doesn't fear Waverly. She doesn't feel the rush of tortured adrenaline, or ever-crashing waves of panic. Instead, she wishes she'd removed the prosthetic to save herself some stiff steps and a pained gait.

Waverly sighs in her sleep, unconsciously snuggling deeper into her girlfriend’s arms. Nicole accepts her, wrapping the smaller girl up. She wants Waverly to feel the same safety and anchoring she feels when the brunette hugs her, nose pressing into her neck and lips spreading in a brilliant smile. She fights the urge to pull the girl (somehow) closer, and whisper every kind word she can imagine. She presses her lips to the crown of brown hair, inhaling her favorite scent greedily.

Nicole feels a sigh of contentment leave her. For the first time in over a year, she's not afraid. She feels something brand new, and far better.

She knows, and soon, everyone will be able to tell- she's fallen hard for Waverly Earp.

Chapter Text

“Beautiful.”

Nicole shouldn't be surprised by the beauty of Waverly Earp. She shouldn't be so transfixed by the woman standing at the other end of the long hallway, talking animatedly to a student about the Latin language.

It's hard not to notice her. She looks… other-worldly. Long hair cascades, green eyes seem to spark, soft mouth moves and shapes. Her arms are hugged by the sleeves of a blazer Nicole swears has been “borrowed” from her own closet, ends of the sleeves slightly rolled. Her legs, half exposed and perfect, seem a mile long, despite her small frame.

Waverly's gaze leave the student’s, locking on Nicole's over the boy’s shoulder. Her smile softens, taking the shape of a smile only Nicole is lucky enough to receive. The student turns, confused by the shift. He grins at Nicole, too.

Busted.

----------------

“When's the latest event over, ‘Nonna? I feel like I haven't seen you in months.”

“Soon, baby girl. Couple more days, then I'll be in your face. I'm so ready to verbally torture your girl toy.”

“Nicole’s not a girl toy. She's my girlfriend. She matters.”

“Oh, come on. At least let me have my fun!”

Wynonna Earp steps closer to the camera, face taking up the whole of the FaceTime app screen. She's working, again. Only Wynonna could pull off essentially being a professional party planner, traveling the US and Canada (and occasionally Europe), setting up company events and meetings. More importantly to her- drinking unlimited, free booze at the end-of-event parties.

“Where the heck are you anyway? That's definitely not our place.”

“Oh, I'm at-”

The door behind her opens, drawing Wynonna’s vision upward. Her sister’s eyes widen, focusing on the new person in the room.

"Uh, baby girl, who is that?"

"Hmm?" Waverly turns away from her laptop screen, jaw slackening at the sight of Nicole Haught stepping into the living room. Only her sports bra, soccer shorts and hand wraps have survived her boxing workout. She wipes the sweat from her face and neck, exposed skin still flushed. No one should look that good sweat-soaked.

"Hey, Waves, who are you talkin’ to?” Nicole asks absently, heading to the fridge for a bottle of water.

“Huh? Oh! FaceTiming with Wynonna. She's coming back in a few days. We're planning the pick-up.”

“Cool. Hey, Wynonna. Heard a lot about ya,” Nicole says nonchalantly to the screen, towel now thrown across her shoulders.

"Hellooooo, Haughty with a body!” she says, letting out wolf whistle and flashing a mischievous grin. “Question- does my little sister let you leave the house like that? She does have good taste. I mean, I figured you'd be built, but… baby girl, seriously, do you let her take those arms and abs outside?"

"Nonna! Yes, I let her leave the house... like that."

"Shame. I'd keep that one chained to the bed-"

"Okay! We're done here. Text me your flight details. I'll pick you up then. Byeee!"

Nicole's eyebrow raises as Waverly all but slams the laptop shut. Her cheeks are red, skin hot, eyes down. She looks… nervous?

"You okay there, Wave?"

“Fine. I just, I don't like my sister... objectifying you," Waverly responds, standing and sauntering to Nicole with a grin. One very similar to her older sister’s. "Although, she's not wrong. You look... delicious."

"Waverly Earp, are you objectifying me?"

"Oh, absolutely."

“Rude. I should at least get to ogle you back.”

You did this morning, after class,” Waverly responds. “I have eyes, Nic. I could feel you staring. Did you like what you saw?”

You know I did. I always do. You're gorgeous.”

“And you're still really sweaty,” Waverly responds, removing her arms from around her workout-ripe girlfriend's neck. “Can I convince you to go shower, then we'll head to dinner?”

“If you insist. You should know- it takes me a little longer to shower. Lots of sitting and standing, precarious balancing. I just… I want you to know things. So, are you okay with waiting?”

“I'll wait,” Waverly responds, kissing the taller girl. “And Nicole, thank you for telling me.”

“Anytime, babe. You’ll pick the restaurant?”

Waverly smiles as her girlfriend heads down the hall. Babe. She's likes the new pet name, and plans to ask Nicole to say it again. Soon.

“Hey, Nicole?” she calls, making the redhead turn awkwardly. “Can you walk a little slower? I wanna enjoy the show.”

Nicole laughs, towel flying at Waverly from its place around broad shoulders. She sways her hips, and grins, knowing her girlfriend’s eyes are locked on her back (and backside).

----------------

The couple slips out of Nicole’s car, laughing quietly as they walk toward a small restaurant in the city. Waverly is swinging their arms, smiling up at the taller woman. Nicole lifts their joined hands, kissing Waverly’s hand and whispering to her playfully. They’re happy, enjoying more new moments together.

“Heya, Haughtshot, we meet again!” Nicole’s head lifts, eyes meeting Holly Stewart’s. Uh oh.

“Hey, Holly. Nice to see you out of a morgue, and scrubs.”

“Don’t be an ass, Haught. Oh, hi!” Holly focuses her attention on the woman holding Nicole’s hand.

“Oh, introductions! Holly, this is my girlfriend, Waverly. Waves, this is Holly. She was my college roommate here at UCLA once upon a time.”

“Holly, nice to meet finally you. I’ve heard good things. Really hoping you can tell me all the dirt on this one.”

“On Nicole? Totally. What do you want to know?”

“Okay, okay. Can we save the blackmail for later?”

“Aww, babe, I wanna know all about college Nicole. I bet you were adorable.”

“She was cocky, actually. Always flashing those dimples at the pretty girls. Confidence galore. Played soccer, bet she never told you that. Nicky here was a Haughtshot through and through. She totally earned the nickname,” Holly said with a smile, watching Waverly picture a cocky, soccer playing Nicole Haught. Her eyes glazed over, making Holly laugh a little. “This is too fun, Haughtshot. Your girl has so much to learn.”

“Please don’t, Hol.”

“Oh, come on. You always were too nice. It’s not like I have any good blackmail stories on you anyway,” Holly responds, eyes pleading. “Let me get to know your girl. We’re still friends, and we all teach together. Let’s get to know one another. Let me get to know the person you are now. Please?”

Nicole looks at her girlfriend and best friend, rolling her eyes and sighing. Waverly’s grin is brilliant and wide. Holly is shifting foot to foot, excited to hopefully get to spend time with one of her favorite people, and make a new friend. Nicole makes eye contact with Waverly, silently seeking permission to invite Holly to sit with them.

“Fine. Come have dinner with us, Holls. I really would like you two to get to know each other. Plus, I’ve kind of missed you.”

“Yes! I’d really like that, Haughtshot. Lead the way.”

Chapter Text

Nicole leans against the doorframe of Waverly’s office, smiling at the sight of the hard working brunette. Her focus is centered on the stack of papers in front of her. She looks so serious, so beautiful like this. It’s hard for Nicole to bring herself to interrupt, but she knows Waverly. She needs this break. She knocks quietly, drawing a hazel gaze upward.

“Hey,” Waverly says, looking up at Nicole with tired eyes.

“Hey, babe. I brought you some coffee and dinner. Figured you hadn't eaten, or noticed the time,” Nicole says softly, standing upright and placing the food on the edge of the desk.

“Thanks, honey. I was focused, didn’t see the time. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, it’s fine. I do the job, too. I get it,” Nicole responds, fingers gently running through brunette hair, enjoying the silky feeling. “Will I see you tomorrow?”

“Mmm, if you keep that up, I’ll fall asleep. You’ll see me tomorrow, yeah. Is that okay?”
“Of course it is, Wave. Just, don’t stay too late. Text me when you get home, too, please.”

“I will, promise. And, Nicole? Thank you.” Waverly leans upward a bit, kissing her girlfriend sweetly. Nicole lets her hand drop from Waverly’s hair, sliding it along her arm and squeezing her hand twice.

“Anytime, Waves. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you.”

Waverly’s gaze drops back to the papers, fingers slipping around the coffee cup. She takes an absent-minded sip, sighing at the taste. Of course Nicole knows her coffee order. Waverly is sure the sandwich in the styrofoam box will be her favorite asiago roast beef and chips combo from the deli a good fifteen minute drive from campus. The coffee is from their favorite cafe, located about a ten minute walk away from her office. Nicole made two stops, probably spending thirty minutes or more on the endeavor to retrieve her favorite things. She swallows, trying to stop herself from whispering the truth to the room- she’s falling in love with Nicole Haught.

Nicole stands in the hallway, leaning against the wall by Waverly’s door. She can’t make herself leave, not yet. She smiles when she hears Waverly’s sigh of contentment. The trips to the deli and cafe were worth it, simply for that sound. Waverly is always worth it, always will be. The simple interaction feels so normal, so domestic. Nicole wasn’t sure she’d ever get to feel this way again. She feels… loved.

Her heart beats faster, face warming at the thought. She’s definitely falling in love with Waverly Earp.

----------------

Waverly nears Nicole in the hallway, and tries to hide her excitement. The redhead’s attention is focused on one of the Psychology professor’s, nodding along as he excitedly talks about a future lesson plan. As they pass, Waverly slides her hand along her girlfriend’s bicep. She giggles as Nicole’s head snaps in her direction, eyes meeting. She grins goofily, asking the professor for a moment. She grabs Waverly’s hand, kissing it dramatically and grinning down at the smaller woman. She winks playfully, before turning back to the professor and responding to his question about possibly collaborating in a future class.

“Hey, Haught. Looks to me like Professor Earp turned you into a puppy in about five seconds. You really like her, don’t you?” He asks, drawing Waverly's ear to the conversation.

“Yeah, I definitely do. A whole lot,” she responds. Nicole can’t stop grinning.

Waverly blushes as she practically floats down the hallway.

----------------

The conversation earlier in the day has Waverly’s mind racing. She doesn't always think about things the way Nicole does. For a planner, Waverly has lost the ability to think ahead when it comes to Nicole Haught.

“So, I think you should come over tonight. Stay a while, maybe… don’t go home,” Waverly whispers into Nicole’s neck, hiding her face nervously at the sound of the forward statement.

“Waves, I can’t,” she says, feeling Waverly stiffen and loosen her grip around the redhead’s neck. “Not for the reason you think. I can’t… I need certain things, namely forearm crutches, a care kit and a way to shower. I do wanna stay over, Waverly. More than anything. I just need to know in advance, so I can prepare. Honestly, it’d be easier if you could stay with me. I have shower bars and a seat, a gigantic tub that can hold them.”

“Oh. Oh! I didn’t think about that.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to, babe. I can handle the logistics. We’ll have our time soon, I promise,” Nicole whispers, cupping her cheek and kissing Waverly slowly.

Nicole had a much longer Friday than Waverly. She'd spent most of her morning meeting with two students concerned about a group project. By the end of her afternoon class, her limp was obvious, and looked painful. Waverly had been concerned, and a bit annoyed by Nicole’s casual brush-off.

“It’s fine, Wave. I’ll be done later, then I’ll go home, ice it and go to bed. Don’t worry.”

“I always worry about you, Nic.”

“I’m good, Wave. See you tomorrow, okay?” Nicole had called, walking away without so much as a squeeze of Waverly’s hand, or a kiss on the cheek.

She’d seen Nicole in the staff lounge after a long department meeting, groaning as she tossed herself carelessly across the couch.

One arm was thrown over her eyes, the other squeezing the area where her prosthetic and the remaining leg muscle connected. She looked exhausted, muscles stiff and teeth grit hard. Waverly had nearly dropped to her side, before remembering the earlier interaction. Instead, she regretfully left the tall professor slumped on a couch far too short for her long frame.

After thinking about the day, and allowing herself to no longer feel the hurt of Nicole’s tone and dismissal, she’d sent a text. No response. Thirty minutes later, Waverly grabbed her bag and headed to Nicole’s house, suddenly fearful something had gone wrong.

“Nic? Baby, are you here?” she called, voice wavering a bit. “Hey Delta, where’s Nicole, hmm?”

The dog seemed to understand, leading her back to a room Waverly had never seen. Nicole lay on top of her comforter, surrounded by freshly graded papers. Her rarely-worn glasses were still on, hair messily tousled on her pillow. She was sound asleep, facing away from the door. One arm was thrown across her abdomen, the other hooked under the pillow.

Delta soundlessly hopped onto the bed, laying down beside his owner with a sigh. Waverly realized in that moment that Nicole’s prosthetic was lying on the carpet beside the bed, just out of reach. A forearm crutch was leaned carefully against the nightstand, so she could get up fairly quickly if needed. Her leg was exposed, still a bit red and swollen from a long day.

The sight dissolved any fear or anger left in Waverly. She moved quietly to Nicole’s side, gently removing her glasses and placing them in their case on the nightstand. Her fingers brushed along the side of Nicole’s face, moving strands of red hair gently. She pressed her lips to Nicole’s forehead, before reaching for the blanket slung across the bottom of the bed. She covered her girlfriend up, and turned to leave the room.

“Hmm, Waverly,” the redhead sighed, a small smile gracing her face. Even in sleep, she could sense Waverly in the room. She knew her, really knew her.

“Goodnight, love. Rest well.”

Chapter Text

Nicole is nervous, really nervous. She wipes her hands on her jeans for the third time, trying to look outwardly calm as she leans against the wall beside Waverly’s office. She runs through the planned speech in her head yet again, hoping to ensure she sounds confident when the times comes. A hand is swiped through short red hair, tousling it nervously. This move is her big tell in the eyes of-

“Hey, baby! Uh oh, you’re nervous. Did something happen?” Waverly asks as she looks up at her girlfriend with a raised eyebrow.

“No! No, everything’s… good,” Nicole responds, gulping. She smiles, knowing the expression doesn’t quite reach her eyes. She can feel Waverly assessing the look on her face, the way she’s acting. She has to regain some composure, and just ask. “Fine, I’m nervous. Really nervous. You make me nervous.” She cringes at the sound of her own voice. “I, um… I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me tonight, and then… not go home.”

“Are you asking me to go on a date with you, and spend the night?” Waverly’s smile is mischievous, bordering on dirty.

“I am, yeah. I’d really like that, Waves. Is that… would that be okay with you?” she asks, eyes almost pleading with Waverly to agree. The nerves have settled into her features, now impossible to hide.

“I’d love to, Nic. I’ll need to go home first, pack a bag.”

“Great! That’s great. I’ll pick you up at 7?”

“You’ll pick me up at 7. See you later, stud,” Waverly whispers, ghosting her lips across Nicole’s jaw. She swipes her open palm against the back of Nicole’s thigh as she unlocks and enters her office.

Nicole stands slack-jawed outside the room for a full five minutes, before grinning at the thought of the interaction, and heading to her car.

----------------

“I can’t believe I saw you a few hours ago, and somehow forgot how beautiful you are. You look incredible, Waverly.”

“Thank you, baby,” Waverly responds with a blush, looking down at Nicole’s hands. “Are those for me?”

“Of course they are. I’m taking you out of the house, and stealing you away for the night. The least I could do is bring you flowers, so it’ll smell nice when you come back… eventually.”

Nicole’s eyes are darker than normal, her smile more of a smirk. Waverly feels her knees buckle a little at the statement. Nicole Haught will be the death of her, with that smile and those dimples, with that voice and those words.

What a way to go.

------------------

Nicole’s touch is fire against Waverly’s skin, innocent as it may be. The warm hand on the top of her thigh feels hot, nearly scalding its way through the light fabric of her dress. She’s sure she’ll have a reddened burn matching the outline and shape of Nicole’s hand there.

Nicole’s tendency to be a little shy and vulnerable when they’re alone has melted away completely. Tonight, she’s confident and cool. She asks intelligent questions of the waiter, making sure the wine will go well with the pasta Emily has prepared especially for them. She listens closely and smiles that perfect, dimpled smile when she asks Waverly about her day, her week. She toasts their meal, uttering sweet words and sentiments.

She smiles adorably, and leaves her warm hand exactly where it is, even after the food arrives. She knows exactly what it’s doing, how it’s slowly obliterating Waverly’s resolve.

“Wave, you okay? Looks like I lost you there for a second.”

“Hmm? I’m- I’m fine,” she responds, her voice lacking all confidence. “You know exactly what you’re doing to me, don’t you?”

“What I’m doing to you? I’m taking you on a date, ensuring you have a good meal and fine wine. I’m enjoying an evening with you. So, yes, I know exactly what I’m doing.”

“You- you’re seducing me, aren’t you?” Waverly asks, eyes widening.

Nicole smirks, leaning close to her girlfriend, firmly squeezing the top of her thigh.

“I am definitely seducing you, and I know it’s working.”

The words echo in Waverly’s ears, sending her pulse skyward. If she were standing, her knees would have buckled. The breathy, confident voice in her ear is slowly killing her.

“Let’s go home, love.”

Oh, they’re going home alright…

-----------------

Nicole’s confident streak doesn’t end at dinner. Oh, no, not even close.

Her right hand returns to Waverly’s thigh the moment they’re back in the car. She doesn’t speak during the short drive, instead choosing a song on her phone, and humming along. Waverly can’t remember what words sound like, in any language. She knew confident Nicole was attractive, but this version of her girlfriend is on a completely different level. Nicole is making Waverly hope she can simply survive the next few minutes, without losing the last shred of her composure. If she loses it, she’ll end up begging the redhead to pull the car over, so she can jump across the center console, and into her girlfriend’s lap. She has to keep herself together for a few more minutes…

Nicole pulls into her driveway and turns off the car, before looking over at her girlfriend and smirking. Waverly’s jaw is tight, muscles stiff and visible under smooth skin. Her eyes and glazed and distantly focused. She’s doing everything she possibly can to stay in her seat.

Mission accomplished, for both of them.

“Wave, we’re here. Wanna go inside?”

Waverly’s head turns whiplash-quick, eyes locking on their target. Pupils dilated, breaths shallow and fast, face fighting to hide a darker emotion. Arousal is a far better look on Waverly Earp than it should be.

Nicole steps out of the car, walking around to Waverly’s side, and opening the door wide. She holds her hand out to her girlfriend with a confident smile. The smaller hand is shaking a little, palm clammy. Nicole isn’t allowed a moment to feel sympathy. Waverly’s eyes are still locked on hers. They’re so dark, evergreen and obsidian, like the ocean after a storm.

Nicole gently pulls her from the car, turning and guiding Waverly onto the porch. She unlocks the door carefully, stepping inside, and pulling the large front door closed silently. Nicole whispers to Waverly before toeing off her shoes, and slipping to her home office to check on Delta. The dog is asleep on his large bed, seemingly dreaming as she pulls the door closed.

Waverly’s hands are gripping onto her shirt collar the moment she steps back into the living room. She’s pulled down hard, lips fused to Waverly’s. The kiss is almost harsh, teeth clicking for a moment. She gasps when her bottom lip is bitten, wonders briefly if blood has been drawn. The sound of plastic buttons scattering across the hardwood floor stuns Nicole back to reality.

“Waverly, I need- I need to know you’re sure first.”

“Yes, I’m sure. Now, please, stop talking.” Nicole doesn’t say another word, eyes darkening to match her girlfriend’s.

Waverly gasps when she is lifted off of her feet, and carried effortlessly. Her back touches the door frame for an instant, strong hands adjusting slightly to hold her weight for a few moments longer. She’s placed on the bed so gently, yet her breath still catches. The sight of Nicole in the remains of her carelessly torn shirt, looking down at her so lovingly, is breathtaking. She wants to remember this moment forever. She will remember this moment forever.

Tonight, Nicole won’t stop to think about her leg. She only lets her attention leave the woman in her bed for a moment, to remove the sleeve and prosthetic in a short series of practiced movements. In that moment, she doesn’t let fear or uncertainty take the lead. She focuses on Waverly, looking up at her in awe. She focuses on showing Waverly everything she’s felt for her in the past few weeks, everything she hopes to feel in the future.

Tonight, she thinks only of Waverly.

Chapter Text

Nicole had expected to draw lazy patterns across tanned skin in the early light of morning, knowing a feather-light touch would wake her partner. She’d expected gossamer curtains to filter the light across the bed and nearby wall, casting cuddled up shadows as the sun rose and hung in the sky. She’d expected the morning to bring sleepy-eyed glances, and lazy smiles capable of burying any words deemed worthy of being uttered. She’d expected quiet conversation, and a shared mug of fresh coffee to draw their dreamy-eyed focus between kisses.

Reality was far better.

Waverly lies so close, so still, so content. Her hair is spread out like a dark halo across Nicole’s pillow; a pillow she was more than willing to sacrifice to the woman in her arms. Her lips were still a little kiss-bruised, touching, breathing across the skin beneath Nicole’s collarbone. One hands splays across a toned abdomen, the other lightly grips the opposite shoulder. Her angelic face is peaceful and calm, lit and radiated across the room by the morning sun.

Waverly Earp was still there. She was real, and warm, and there.

Nicole smiled, breathing in the sun and Waverly. Reality was far better than any dream could ever be.

----------------

Nicole and her trusty forearm crutch slipped out of the bedroom, sneaking into the kitchen to make coffee. She had pulled on a UCLA Soccer shirt, softened by age, wear and washes. She leans back for a moment, taking in the past 12 hours. Flashes of the night dance and cascade, settling into her vision and replaying like an old projected film. She’d never felt so exposed, yet so comfortable with another person. She’s never felt so cherished, and adored. She’s never felt anything close to what she felt for Waverly in that moment, and beyond. She hopes to never feel anything close to this for another person in her life, only Waverly.

The coffee pot steams as Nicole sneaks down the hall to check on Delta. She whispers to the dog, laughing lightly as he seems to understand, and pads softly down the hall to the backyard. She watches him sniff and briefly play, before obediently returning to his room at the promise of food. Once secured, she slips back into the kitchen, instantly recognizing her dilemma. How is she going to carry two cups of hot coffee into the room with her crutch? She devises a plan, grabbing a thermos and filling it smoothly. She places two coffee mug handles in her crutch hand, and carries the thermos in the other, smiling at her plan. She pressed on the bottom of the door with the crutch, placing the mugs on the tall dresser and closing the door behind her.

Waverly has shifted, stealing Nicole’s pillow and hugging it tightly to her chest. Nicole’s eyes soften as she places the thermos on her nightstand and brings the mugs over. She leans the crutch in its rightful place, awkwardly peels off her shirt, and slips back into the sun and body warmed sheets. Waverly senses her warmth instantly, pushing the pillow aside and reaching for her girlfriend’s warm body. Nicole chuckles lightly, leaning down to kiss her forehead.

“Good morning, darlin’,” she whispers, brushing Waverly’s hair away from her face tenderly.

“Mmm, morning, baby. Say it again.”

“Hmm?” Nicole is confused. What had she said?

“You called me darlin’, and your cute accent slipped out. Sleepy Nicole is Southern Nicole. I like sleepy Nicole best.”

“Well then- good mornin’ to ya, darlin’. That better?”

“Much, and good morning,” Waverly responds. “I smell coffee. Did you sneak out of bed to make me coffee?”

“ I did. Also, sleepy Waverly is surprisingly talkative. I like it. Adorable.”

“I’m glad. Though, Sleepy Nicole is Southern, sweet, and sounds a little gravelly. Really like it. Come here,” she whispers, pulling Nicole down to make contact with her skin.

They share their first kiss of the morning. A morning after kiss for the ages.

Nicole pulls back, allowing her weight to rest on her extended arms. She smiles down at the girl in her bed. She turns and sits up fully, resting her back against the headboard. Waverly follows suit, gladly accepting freshly poured coffee from her girlfriend. They sit for a long time, side by side, fully exposed and enjoying the warmth of the mugs, sheets and touching skin.

The world can wait for a while.

----------------

“What do I need to say to convince you to stay in bed with me all day, hmm?”

“Waves, you know I want to. Saturday is park day with Delta. I need to let him run a bit, work out the energy,” she whispers to the woman beneath her. “How about we make a deal? You come with us to the park, and we’ll jump back in bed the second we get back?”

“I like the way you think, Haught. I’d like to add a bonus requirement though- I get to wear your clothes for this trip.”

“How about that soccer shirt over there, and a hoodie?”

“Perfect. Get dressed, and let’s go. I want you back in this bed as soon as possible.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh no, you’re not allowed to use that accent, and those dimples, for evil. Not fair.”

“Sorry, ma’am. Won’t happen again.”

“Liar.”

“Maybe, but you love me anyway,” Nicole says with a smirk, not realizing what she’s said.

“I think I’m starting to.”

Chapter Text

Waverly was practically vibrating, eyes flicking excitedly between baggage claim and the arrival gate. Wynonna’s flight had landed. She’s home.

Waverly had spent Saturday evening preparing Nicole for Wynonna. She needed to be ready for the biting sarcasm, and her love of puns. The moment Waverly had told her sister that her girlfriend’s name was Nicole Haught, she realized the redhead was doomed. She would never be prepared for the onslaught of Haught puns.

Hazel eyes lifted, meeting the ice blue belonging to her sister.

“Nonna!”

“Hey ya, baby girl,” the taller woman responded, struggling to stay balanced when her little sister leapt into her arms.

“I missed you! How was Texas?”

“Loud, crazy, music-y, hot.”

“Noted. Ready to head home?”

“Definitely, I need a shower stat. Also, a beer. Can you believe planes won’t serve the good stuff if the flight’s considered too short? No flight is too short for booze!”

“We’ll remedy that soon. I bought Jack Daniels.”

“And that is exactly why you’re the best sister. Let’s go, kid. I’ve got Gentleman Jack waiting!”

Waverly had definitely missed her sister.

----------------

“So, when do I get to meet the Haught new girlfriend? Did you finally decide you only liked her for her body? Is she chained to your bed? ‘Cause I do not wanna meet your girl while she’s wearing handcuffs, especially if she’s only wearing handcuffs.”

“Ugh, why? Nic’s at home. She spends Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the park with her dog, Delta.”

“Of course she has a dog. Please tell me it’s not some cutesy little fuzz-demon.”

“Delta’s a big dog, Nonna. A big dog, who follows commands in Dutch.”

“Oh god, really? No wonder you have the Haughts for this one. She knows Dutch.”

“And French. Those are the two other languages I know of anyway.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t meet her then. Not that you’d let me anyway. You’ll be sucking face the moment she walks in the door.”

“We would not. We’re perfectly capable of behaving in-”

Waverly’s phone rings. She blushes, suddenly remembering that she chose-

“‘Hot in Herre’. Your girlfriend’s ringtone is ‘Hot in Herre’. Wow, Waves,” Wynonna says, eye rolling and shoulders shaking as she laughs. “Oh, please answer. Please invite her over. I need to meet this one, right now.”

“Wyn, please,” Waverly scolds, answering the call. “Hey baby… Mhm, we just got home… No, it’s fine. You’re not interrupting… Actually, Wynonna would really like to meet you. Wanna come over for a bit? … You picking up dinner sounds great… Good question.” Waverly covers the mic on her iPhone, looking at her sister. “Chinese or pizza?”

“I like this one already. Chinese, the chicken thing I like.”

“We vote Chinese… My usual, yeah. Wyn wants sweet and sour chicken, extra sauce… Thank you, baby. See you soon.”

“Wow, you’ve got her whipped already. I’m impressed, baby girl.”

“Nicole is not whipped.”

“Oh, honey. She totally is. Knows your Chinese order, asks if she can pick up food, knows what you like. She’s whipped, and you know it.”

 

Waverly smiles. Nicole knows her well, right down to her takeout order. Nicole pays attention to the little things, and constantly surprises her with her small acts of kindness, or just because gestures. She’d always wondered what it would be like to date someone who paid attention, and used learned information for her benefit. Now, she had someone who cared, and showed it by listening and attending to her. She’d hit the girlfriend jackpot.

----------------

Nicole holds the takeout bag close to her chest, knocking firmly with her free hand. She’s nervous, and trying not to show it. Meeting the family is new for her. Many of her past girlfriends weren’t totally out, and would try to pass off Nicole as their roommate or a close friend. Meeting the family as an actual girlfriend? Never happened.

The door flings open, making the redhead jump back a step.

“Hey, Wave.”

“Hey, baby. You’re here, and you really did bring food.”

“Well, I did offer. It’d be a total dick move to say I was picking up Chinese, then show up empty handed. I do actually want your sister to like me after all.”

“Trust me- she will. The only possibly way she’d like more would be if you brought liquor.”

“You mean, like this?” she asks, revealing a comically large bottle of Crown Royal Black. Waverly’s grin widens, and she shakes her head. Of course Nicole knew to bring liquor.

“If my sister proposes, please say no.”

“I promise I’ll let her down easy. Now, come here,” Nicole whispers, reaching for her girlfriend’s hand. She cups her cheek for a long moment, smiling down at the girl she adores, before kissing her sweetly. “Hi properly, Waves. Missed you today.”

“Mmm, hi, baby. Missed you, too. Now, get in here before Wynonna decides we’re screwing on the front porch.”

“If you insist. Only if you’ll walk slowly though.”

She ducks out of the path of Waverly’s playful slap, grinning and winking slyly. Waverly laughs, bouncing to plant one more quick kiss before guiding Nicole inside and down the hall into the kitchen.

“Wyn, food!”

“Thank God and all her friends. I thought you prioritized a porch makeout over my need for sustenance. Glad you saw the error in your ways, kid.” Wynonna yells from a room away, voice quieting a bit as she enters the room. “You must be the girlfriend. I’m Wynonna, hey.”

“Nice to meet ya, Wynonna. I’m Nicole, which you apparently already know,” she responds, placing the bag on the counter.

“Oh, I know all about ya, Haughtstuff.”

“A nickname already, I’m impressed.”

“Oh, Red, I’m just getting started. Now, hand me my sweet and sour chicken.”

-----------------

“So, wait- you brought me, just me, that giant bottle of Crown? Not Waverly, me? Haught, I’m gonna need you to go downtown with me to pick a ring tomorrow, Haughtpants.”

“Gonna have to turn ya down, Wynonna. Your sister called dibs.”

“Damn right, I did!” Waverly calls from the kitchen, smiling at the sounds of her sister and girlfriend’s banter.

She’d expected the two would get along alright. The result was even better than she could have ever predicted. Wynonna had snuck a series of Haught puns into their conversation, while Nicole had rated each pun on a scale of 1-10 for creativity and context. Wynonna’s best of the evening had been Haughtsauce, which she’d used while asking Nicole to pass the extra sweet and sour. Nicole had willingly downed two shots in honor of their budding friendship, tense muscles and stress melting with the warmth spreading in her belly. The two were getting along, and Waverly couldn’t be more thankful.

“So, Haughty with a body, I have one request- at least try to be quiet while you’re banging my sister down the hall from my bedroom. Deal?”

“No promises, Wynonna. If you think I’m Haught, then your sister is fire. In bed.”

Oh boy.

-----------------

Nicole walks into the kitchen of the homestead (a nickname Waverly and Wynonna have given their ranch style house), grinning at the sight of Waverly making French press coffee. She stands close to the smaller woman, sliding sleep-warmed hands around her waist and kissing her neck lazily.

“Mornin’, baby.”

“Ooh, good morning, sleepy voice Nicole. I really missed you.”

“Oh, I’m sure. You really are a sucker for the accent and gravel, hmm?”

“I definitely am.”

“Good to know,” Nicole whispered, hands moving to rest on the counter, trapping Waverly against the counter. “So, I have a proposition for you. I promise to make it worth your while to accept.”

“Liking this sound of this proposition so far. What do you have in mind?”

“Drinks with Wynonna and Holly tonight. We can go out somewhere, or my place.”

“Hmm, maybe. What’s my motivation to agree?” Waverly asks playfully.

“Well, I hate to sound self-centered, but… me, in a bed. As an added bonus, you get to have total control.”

“I’d be an idiot to turn that down. Plus, I like Holly. Not sure you know what you’re getting yourself into though.”

“What do you mean?”

“Holly calls you Haughtshot, Wynonna loves coming up with new name puns. They’re gonna start a Haught nickname competition the moment they meet.”

Shit.

----------------

“Haughtshot.”

“Haughtsauce.”

“Haughtpants.”

“Haughtpocket.”

“RedHaught.”

“Ooh, good one, Holls!” Wynonna and Holly are sitting across from each other, downing shots when they pause for more than three seconds between nicknames. Nicole groans again, pressing her forehead against Waverly’s shoulder.

She should’ve known this was coming. Waverly tried to warn her.

“Haught and bothered.” Wynonna smirks.

“Haught damn.”

“Haughtbreaker.”

“Haught-blooded, check it and see!” Holly sings, smirk growing.

“Fine, Fine. Haught potato.”

“Too Haught to handle.”

“Alright, bringing out the big guns. My personal favorite- Haughty with a body.”

“Oh, that is brilliant! I’m totally gonna use that one at the worst possible moment, Haughtshot.”

Nicole drops her head to the table in front of her. This was definitely a mistake.

“I tried to tell you, baby. You did this to yourself.” Waverly whispers, patting Nicole’s shoulder teasingly.

“I was hoping you were wrong. Eventually, I’ll remember you’re a genius, and actually listen… Ow! Stop hitting me, woman!”

“Stop being an ass,” Waverly rebuts, grin still spread fully across her face, she swats her girlfriend’s arm playfully. “You might wanna switch to coffee soon, Nic. We made a deal, and I intend to ensure you follow through. Tonight.”

“But… but, we have work tomorrow.”

“Well then, you better make a store run for some energy drinks, baby. I’m keeping you up all night.” Waverly whispers against Nicole’s ear huskily. She steps back and pats Nicole’s cheek, before stepping just out of reach. She purposely sways her hips as she walks down the short hall, knowing Nicole is tracking her every move.

The redhead grabs her car keys, and calls to the group that she’ll be back in a few minutes as she limp-runs to the door. She’s going to need a case of Red Bull, stat.

Chapter Text

Wednesday was not meant to be Waverly’s day.

Her favorite shirt was still wet, despite a long tumble in the dryer. The power had gone out as she’d attempted to fix her hair and makeup. She'd spilled her Nicole-made coffee on the cement stairs outside of her building in the rush to her office.

The day’s lowlight had been two students starting a debate turned screaming match during her afternoon French class.

So, Waverly broke her own rules- she dismissed the class twenty minutes early, posted a sign stating she’d miss her regular office hours, and left. She was done for the day. She walked out to her car briskly, mumbling a string of rarely uttered curse words to herself. She needed a drink, or a hug, or just Nicole.

“Pick up. Come on, baby, please,” she chanted to her phone, frowning when it went to voicemail. She sighed, not quite ready to go home to an empty house. She brightened a bit at the sound of Nicole's text tone seconds later.

Nic: hey babe. sorry, hands are full. Siri is texting you, so be nice. hope you're okay. see you tonight?
Waves: hey. it's okay, just having a bad day. yes to tonight. so ready to see you. i need a Nicole hug.
Nic: i promise you'll get one the moment i see you, gorgeous.
Waves: thank you

Nicole always made her feel better, even when they couldn't talk in person.

Waverly pulled into a parking spot beside the small grocery store near Nicole's house. She’d decided wandering the aisles and buying unnecessary candy would brighten her day. She stepped inside, smiling absentmindedly when someone said her name. She rolled a small cart, throwing bags of Butterfingers, vanilla flavored Tootsie Rolls, Lemonheads, gumballs and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups into it.

As she headed for the first aisle to grab some snack cakes, Waverly spotted a familiar sight of red hair and maroon sneakers. Nicole! Her grin slipped when she noticed the hand sliding along her girlfriends forearm, a slow, almost practiced caress. The woman touching Nicole was pretty- slightly taller than Waverly, with blonde hair, green eyes and large… assets. She giggled falsely, flipping her shoulder length hair and moving just one finger down Nicole’s throat, and along her chest. The woman pushed out her own chest a bit, leaning into the redhead and whispering something in the taller woman’s ear with a smirk. Nicole stepped back, saying something to make the smirk leave the tanned face. The two talked for a few more moments, Nicole shifting a bit when the woman moved to touch her. The redhead seemed to stiffen when the blonde leaned up a final time, pressing red lips to her cheek for seconds too long, placing something in the shopping cart, and finally turning away with swaying hips and a playful attitude. Nicole stood still for a few more moments, before flashing a smile at the cashier and paying for the cart’s contents.

Waverly stood dumbfounded, jaw tight and eyes watering. She couldn't believe someone had put their hands all over her girlfriend, had flirted so openly, had kissed her cheek. Had Nicole… liked it? She'd seemed at least a little uncomfortable. Maybe she liked having someone all over her.

Every insecurity Waverly had ever felt crept into the forefront of her mind. She was short, not tall. Thin, not curvy. Brunette, not blonde. Sweet, not flirty. Did Waverly even know what Nicole liked in a woman? Did she even find her attractive?

Waverly shakes her head, bringing her mind back to the present. She pays for her candy and walks to her car, eyes watery. She slips back inside, turning on the car and dropping her head to the steering wheel the moment the door closes. Waverly sits, and sits, and sits in the parking lot. She tries to convince herself Nicole likes her, wants her, cares for her. She tries to focus on who they are together, and the promises made in the spaces between kisses. She tries to pretend the scene in the grocery store didn't terrify her.

She picks up her phone, re-dialing Nicole nervously. No answer. She waits, no text. Nicole always answers when Waverly calls, or sends a text right away. She's suddenly angry. She pulls out of the parking lot, heart rate accelerating as her foot drops to the pedal to match its beating pace. She needs to get to her girlfriend, now.

----------------

“Nic? Baby, where-”

Waverly gasped. She suddenly understands the cart full of food. She understands the presence of the blonde woman who stood too close and touched too intimately.

The dining room table is set with two new place settings, a tall candle resting in the middle. The room surrounding the table is covered in little tea candles, waiting to cast and flicker their golden glow. There is soft music playing as Nat King Cole croons about being unforgettable. Fresh flowers sit in a beautiful new crystal vase on the counter, drawing her gaze as she runs a finger along the soft petals and inhales. She inhales the light flowery scent, a smile starting to form. She knows these flowers well.

Nicole hadn't been flirting, she'd been talking to the touchy feely florist they often joked about. The same one who had complimented Waverly's necklace by running her index finger from beneath her jawline to the dip where the thin chain touched her sternum, drawing a shiver at the unwanted touch. Nicole’s eyes had narrowed as she’d placed her body between Waverly’s and the florist. It was the first time she’d ever seen Nicole jealous.

The final touch is the scent in the air. The whole house smelled of her ultimate comfort food- homemade vegetable soup (no beef, of course). The same ingredients she'd overlooked in Nicole's cart. Her girlfriend had been preparing for an evening with her, not testing feelings or considering other women. Nicole knew. She knew Waverly had struggled throughout the long, trying day. She knew, and she’d acted.

“Oh, Nic.”

She needed to see the woman who had planned every moment, the woman who had done something so incredibly sweet for her.

As she started to call out again, she looked down over the back of the grey couch. Her soft smile widened at the sight before her. Nicole Haught was asleep on the couch, pillows and cushions all thrown on the floor, so Delta could fit, too. Nicole’s arms were wrapped around the dog, holding him lightly as they both slept. Her heart softened, and the bad day melted away. Everything was perfect here, in the home of the woman who knew her, who really saw her.

She put her bag down, moving in front of the couch. Running her hand along Nicole’s face and jaw, she gently wakes her with the light touch. The redhead sighs, looking up at her girlfriend with a sleepy smile.

“Hi, Wave.”

“Hi.”

“Sorry we fell asleep. I had a longish day, though I think yours was longer,” Nicole says quietly, sleep still present in her voice. She sits up slowly, Delta huffing her lap before he moves to his dog bed. “Dinner should be ready if you wanna-”

“Nic, wait,” Waverly sits beside Nicole, taking her hand and pressing her lips to against the knuckles. “I saw what you did for me. Thank you, for all of this. You didn’t have to.”

“I know that, Waves. I wanted to, because I lo- you deserve a good day. I got the stuff to start a bath for you later, too. You deserve it. I bet you could even talk me into giving you a massage if you asked nicely.” she whispered, sleepy smile still gracing her lips. “I wanna help you, Waves, in any way I can. I’ll always wanna make your day better, make you happy. You're… you mean everything to me.”

“I know…” Waverly knows the next words she wants to say will change everything. She says them anyway. “I love you, Nicole.”

She watches as Nicole’s eyes widen, features softening as she leans into her girlfriend’s touch. She smiles, heart full and dimples popping. Her hands reaches, pulling Waverly closer, so their smiles nearly touch.

“I love you, too, Waverly.”

Chapter Text

Nicole is running. Her steps are sure and confident, a smooth pace set to the music playing in her ears. She’s wearing running clothes she vaguely remember throwing away in a fit of rage. Now, she feels weightless and free, seeming to float above the ground as if her steps can reach the clouds if she tries. She feels like everything fits again, like the world makes sense. She runs for miles, hours, days. Time doesn’t pass here, instead sliding and stalling as she sees fit. She feels infinite and invincible.

 

A voice rings through the air, and the peaceful work shatters around her like crystal. Suddenly, her feet are back on the pavement, but it's different. Everything darkens, Arabic shouts echo through the damp warehouse.

 

She knows this place.

 

The weightless feeling is gone. There is no music playing in her ears, no wind whispers across her face. Her comfort and peace has disappeared. It’s replaced by gunfire and rage.

She is not invincible.

 

She feels the stickiness of the blood dripping and drying along the side of her face. She recognizes the cool weight of her gun held in trembling hands. Her dress shirt is slashed and reddened, her pants torn at the knees. She remembers bullet holes and feels so much blood. If she focuses, she can feel the blood in her shoes with each awkward drag and step. The wet sound makes her jaw tighten.

 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was supposed to be easy.

 

The world changes again. In the midst of the blood and chaos, the room brightens like her smile should.

 

Waverly.

 

She can feel herself bite back a scream, fighting to get to the woman who brought the sun into battle. Waverly shouldn’t be here. She wasn’t there before, she’s sure of it.

 

She hears a shout that makes her blood run cold. She knows what comes next, only it’s wrong. A gunshot echoes, and all other sounds fade. Waverly slumps, her body soundless as it hits the dirty floor.

 

She screams. Waverly.

 

Nicole gasps, choking on the air she forces into her lungs. She sits up, sheets sticking to sweat-soaked skin as she tries to remember how to breathe normally. She reaches for Waverly, needing to feel her heartbeat under her hand, to press her ear to her girlfriend’s chest. She needs to know Waverly is real, and safe.

 

Her hands are desperate, fear rising and tightening its grip around her throat. She moves quickly, turning on the bedside lamp and preparing to explain. No Waverly. She hadn't stayed over last night. They both have classes today.

 

Nicole feels hot tears running down her cheeks, feels her breaths come out in fast pants. She's panicking. She's suddenly completely terrified something terrible has happened to her girlfriend at four in the morning on a Friday.

 

She slumps back against her pillows, trying in vain to focus on catching her breath. She hopes she can calm herself enough to not scare Waverly in the middle of the night.

 

---------------

 

Nicole's stupid ringtone jolts Waverly from her sleep. She stares at the phone, confused, before answering sleepily.

 

“Cole? It's… 4:30 in the morning, baby. Are you okay?”

 

“I-I'm sorry. I just… I need you to come over, Waverly. Please. I wouldn't… please.”

 

Waverly sits up in bed. She can hear the tears, the fear, in Nicole's shaky voice. She tries to focus on the words her girlfriend is quietly stuttering out, voice cracking and unsure.

 

“Honey, you need to rest. We have classes in-”

 

“I already called in, emailed and cancelled mine. The kids can have a long weekend. I don't care.” She rushing through her words, trying to remember what it feels like to be brave. “Waverly, please. I just… I need to see you. To know you’re okay. I need to know you still… please.”

 

“Cole, you're scaring me. Did something happen?”

 

“Let your class have a long weekend. We're closed on Monday anyway. Just… Waverly, I'll beg if it means you're come over. I can't- my leg- I don't trust myself to drive.”

 

“Are you hurt?”

 

“I need to… Delta knows you're coming. You can let yourself in. I'm not… I'll see you soon, okay?”

 

“I'll be there soon. I just need to email my classes.” Waverly rises from bed, reaching for her laptop. “Nicole, it's gonna be okay. I love you.”

 

Waverly hears Nicole take a shaky breath, voice barely audible.

 

“I love you so damn much, Waverly.”

 

----------------

 

“Cole? I'm here, baby.”

 

Waverly drops her keys and bag on the kitchen counter, bending down for a moment to scratch behind Delta’s ears. The normally stoic dog seems a bit jumpy, almost antsy. She hears the shower running down the hall, eyes wandering to the bathroom door. Is Nicole really showering at 5am?

 

“Baby?” she calls cautiously, knocking and pushing open the door. Nicole is sitting in the floor of the small shower, instead of the large garden tub. Her normal shower chair is nowhere in sight. She's shivering uncontrollably, eyes glazed and distantly focused. Her left hand is gripping the shortened end of her left leg white-knuckle tight. The other is holding her bent right knee close to her chest.. She looks… defeated. Her eyes are bloodshot, mouth a silent thin line, hair wet and hanging limply.

 

Waverly moves to the shower with a fluffy blue towel in hand, trying to make enough noise, so she won’t scare Nicole. She turns the showerhead toward the tiled wall, and whispers softly to the redhead. Nicole's arms drop to her sides for a moment, before lifting upward, and grabbing the shower bar. She pulls herself up, refusing to touch Waverly, not yet. Waverly wraps the towel around shiver-shaking shoulders and moves away.

 

“I'll- I'll be out in a minute. You can, um…”

 

“I'll wait for you in your room, okay? I'm not going anywhere, Nicole.”

 

“Okay…”

 

Waverly forces a smile, slipping out of the bathroom. She tries to hide and bury the sob that fights to escape her throat. She's never seen Nicole look so broken before. She's never seen her eyes so dull, heard her sound so scared. Waverly hopes. She hopes whatever has happened, she can help put Nicole back together again.

 

----------------

 

“I dreamed about running. I used to run every day, for miles. I loved it. Now, I don't run anymore. It's not the same. It feels… mechanical, not freeing.”

 

Nicole's voice is so quiet, so distant, it doesn't quite sound like her. She lying on her bed, still damp hair pulled up and out of her face. Her ear is pressed close to Waverly's chest. She breathes with Waverly, every inhale and exhale. She's trying.

 

“Then, I wasn't running anymore. I was in the warehouse where- where this happened,” she gestured to her leg, and the scars scattered across her upper body. “I'm in the clothes from that day. I can feel the blood on my face, on my shirt, in my shoes. My leg’s still there. Someone was yelling. Arabic. They're so angry. Then, everything is wrong. It's the same place, but you're me? You're in the chair I was in. I'm supposed to be there, not you. I hear a command and… and you're dead. And I can't… you didn't make a sound. Nothing. Everything is so quiet, and you're dead, and I have a leg. It was wrong.”

 

Waverly feels the shaking return. She feels the tears against her stolen t-shirt. She feels Nicole's hand move to feel her heartbeat its steady rhythm under her palm.

 

“I'm here, baby. I'm right here.”

 

“... I'm sorry.”

 

“What in the world are you sorry for?”

 

“I scared you. I called you, made you cancel your class. I worried you, and I never want to do that. I don't want you to be afraid of me, for me.”

 

“Honey, look at me. You don't scare me. Never. I was worried you were hurt, or that something had happened. Don't worry about class. I will always choose you over anything else. I love you, Nicole. I will choose you, again and again.”

 

The room is quiet, finally still. The heaviness of the fear is evaporating.

 

“Can I… I'm ready to tell you what happened. If that's okay.”

 

“I'm ready. I'll be right here.”

Chapter Text

The case went far beyond the normal lie detector, hope for the best scenario pattern she was used to. The man they were hunting had murdered innocent victims for his own enjoyment. He covered his tracks so carefully. He was a monster so cunning, he could not be caught in a lie, or a shred of evidence. The Bureau had been hunting him for months. Profiler after profiler had failed, only narrowing him down to male, youngish, strong. Agent after agent had tried to follow the paper trails and clues to no avail.

 

Nicole Haught was a last resort, in a way.

 

“We already know his MO. We know what he does to kill his victims. We know everything, except how to properly nail the bastard to the wall. That's your job, Haught. Bury him.”

 

She had a name after nine days of research. Nine days of reviewing footage, scouring websites and photographs, reading case files and reports. Their man was Nathan Harlowe. Nathan appeared in the background of various crime scene photos. He'd been poorly interviewed, and subsequently cleared. He was a glaring mistake, one that had killed for fun the moment all eyes had moved on. She could see it all over his face in the taped interview and still photographs. He was playing a game, and winning.

 

Her partner, James Grey, hadn't been surprised. He knew Haught would find their man. James knew Haught well. Not as well as she knew him, but well enough. He trusted her. Hell, even his wife Emily liked and trusted Nicole. Everyone trusted the quiet genius.

 

“You know it's him?”

 

“I know it like I know you just wanna go home to Emily and a bottle of red, Jamesy.”

 

“This guy, Haught. He's killed a lot of people. He's a genius. If he knows about you, he'll end you.”

 

“Well, we better end his lucky streak first.”

 

----------------

 

Tracking Nathan Harlowe to a warehouse two hours away before calling James had been a terrible idea. She knew she needed her partner, and as many Agents with her as she could acquire before approaching. If it hadn't been for the woman she watched him throw lifelessly into his SUV, she would have waited. Instead, she'd followed him carefully, noted her location in her phone and email, loaded her weapon, and breathed deeply. She called James before exiting her vehicle.

 

“Haught, Jesus. Don't get out of the damn car. Just wait, okay? Observe and wait.”

 

“I can't let him kill her, James. I can save her.”

 

“Haught-”

 

She'd ended the call, disabled all sounds and vibration on her phone, turned on Do Not Disturb and breathed deeply. She would end this, right now.

 

The warehouse was damp, quiet. The air was heavy and humid, stale and thick. She listened, tracking the sounds of a man working to a back room. He was… singing (?) in Arabic. The woman was turned toward her in a chair, arms behind her back, head slumped forward, blood pooling at her feet. The man stood a few feet away, hammering. She could hear metal hitting metal. She tried to scan the room through the thin window, tried to prepare to be a hero.

 

She entered the room soundlessly, raising her gun. She breathed deeply, exhaling harshly at the sharp scent of fresh blood and warm metal. She moves to stand a few feet from Nathan, ready to react to any movement. She never saw the heavy object that made full contact with her temple. She only felt the blood begin to drip…

 

When she comes to, she can't move. Her hands are chained above her head, arms at an uncomfortable angle, hands together in heavy cuffs. She’s pulled upward toward the ceiling, nearly enough to warrant standing on her toes to get relief from the constant stretch and pull on her arms. Her shirt has been cut, likely to ensure she's not wearing a wire. There are small superficial cuts along her abdomen, arms and legs. Little tears in her clothes, small droplets of blood on torn fabric.

 

The girl she remembered seeing tied to the chair is now standing. There is no blood on her face or clothes like before. Now, she's in fresh clothes.

 

She's smiling.

 

It’s the smile of someone who had won a game by cheating, by writing their own rules. The smile of someone who had played a game of cat and mouse as the cat.

 

“Agent Haught, nice of you to join us. I see you've already met my associate, Nathan. He's quite the actor, hmm?”

 

“...What?”

 

“Nathan. You tracked him, followed him. You believed everything.”

 

“I-I… I did.”

 

“Well done. He does play an important part. Helps me prepare, find, finish things up.”

 

“Who- who are you?”

 

“Well, I'm the one who dented your pretty face. My apologies. I'm also the one who set up this elaborate little game. You're quite cunning, figuring out all of the clues. You should be proud.”

 

“Game? All of this is a game to you?”

 

“All the world is a game, Agent. A lovely game dear Nathan and my other associates like to play. Now, it's going to be even better. We finally have a worthy contestant.”

 

“There are more of you?”

 

The door behind Nicole opens. A man with an AR-15, a hunting knife and a small tray of scalpels walks toward her. His smile makes Nicole's stomach drop. His smile is sickening, cruel, intentional. He raises a scalpel, running the back his dirty hand along her face.

 

“Let's play, Agent. Try not to scream.”

 

----------------

 

She loses track of time between the slices, the shallow cuts, the quick stabs, the hard punches. She only hears her own screams. Her head feels like it's under water, ears feeling like they should pop to release the pressure. She only knows the feeling of blood on her face, her shirt, her pants. She's starting to realize there's blood pooling and standing in her shoes. She's wonders when they'll ask her a question worthy of the torture, or if she's simply a pawn in a game she never had a chance to win.

 

The door behind her opens. “There are more, and we are ready.”

 

“Excellent. The show is about to start. It appears that your friends are here.”

 

The woman gives a sharp command in Arabic- kill. Nicole hears the room outside of hers erupt in gunfire and shouting. Arabic and English commands mesh, overlap, and hang in the air. She recognizes a few voices, and feels guilty.

 

For the first time in a decade or more, Nicole prays. She prays for James and the men he brought along to rescue her. She prays for someone to find her eventually. She prays, and waits, and breathes. She can't breathe deeply anymore.

 

“Let's make the game more fun, shall we?”

 

Nicole is confused, concussed brain not quite working. Her hands are freed. She slumps to the floor, trying to send signals to her muscles. She needs to move. Her gun is placed in her hand forcefully, taped to a shaking hand. The grin on the woman's face widens.

 

“Stand up, Agent.”

 

She can't. A man she can't quite see stands her up, and she tries to make her knees stable. She feels like she knows these hands. They're familiar, warm yet careless. She looks the woman before in the eye.

 

“Good, but not quite fair. You're trained. You know how to kill. Let's even the score.”

 

A gun barrel is pressed into the muscle of left thigh, aimed directly at the underlying bone.

 

“Did you know an AR-15 round can destroy up to four inches of bone, Agent Haught? That's the best case scenario. Let's see what happens when four, maybe five rounds enter the human leg, shall we?”

 

Nicole only remembers screaming.

 

----------------

 

She's somehow in the main part of the warehouse. She doesn't remember leaving the room with the chains.

 

“Red is your color, Agent Haught.”

 

The blood on her face is sticky and drying. Her shirt is torn and reddened, useless against the cool damp. Looking down, she can barely make out the bullet holes in the left thigh of her black pants. Her leg is heavy and useless, and she wonders if there's a way she can just leave it behind. Every step feels like endless sawing of leftover bone and sinew. She can feel the blood in her shoes, the wet sound seeming to echo with each awkward step and drag.

 

She knows she's pale, and bloodied. She knows she's slow and exposed.

 

She knows she's dying.

 

“Haught!”

 

She doesn't know how she even got out of the room where her blood was spilled. She doesn't know where her partner is, or if he's even alive. She's doesn't know how much longer before all the blood from her veins will be in her shoes.

 

“Haught, stay with me. You're gonna be okay. We gotta go.”

 

She screams when warm hands touch her. Every word sounds like the AR-15 rounds echoing in her head. Every touch is a knife blade in her abdomen.

 

The hands are the same as before in the room, now gentle and protective. She decides to let them help her. The hands seem to feign frantic movements when she decides she needs to lay down and rest. The hands are all she can feel.

 

----------------

 

“I don't remember anything else. I just remember being fixated on blood in my shoes. It's all I could focus on, then and now. I woke up in the hospital a few days later without a leg. The surgeon made the call. I didn't have an emergency contact or next of kin so James and Emily… they did what they had to do. It was the right choice. If they'd tried to save my leg, I'd be worse off.”

 

Nicole breaths deeply as she always does when she's trying. She presses her cheek harder against her girlfriend's chest. She revels in the strong heartbeat against her soft skin.

 

“Nic…”

 

“There's nothing you need to say, Wave. Nothing you can say. It sucked. It was awful.”

She breathes, and tries. “I made stupid decisions. Some say I was a hero, some say I was reckless. They're both right. I did what I thought was right. Maybe it was, I don't know. I do know I wouldn't take it back. I'd always choose to help first. That's who I am.”

 

Waverly sits up, pulling Nicole with her. She places Nicole's palm against her chest, letting her feel her heartbeat. She touches her jaw with her fingers, before sliding up to touch the scar over Nicole's right temple. She runs her hands along her sides, knowing where the small scars and marks run along her abdomen.

 

She looks back up at the quiet woman she adores, face serious and honest.

 

“I love you, Nicole. So damn much. So much it scares me sometimes.” She runs her hand along a strong jaw, pulling her girlfriend's face up to meet her gaze. “I look forward to meeting James, so I can hug him so tight, he won't be able to breathe.”

 

Nicole laughs, really laughs. James was never one for a strong hug, but she knows he'll accept one from Waverly.

 

“I'll make sure to prepare him for that.”

 

“I'm proud of you. I didn't even know you then, but I'm really proud of who you are. You’re a good person, Nic. You did the right thing. I'm so sorry you got hurt being brave and good. It hurts me to know someone hurt you without feeling.”

 

“It's okay. It happened,” Nicole responds absently, eyes dropping away from Waverly’s. She's nervous in the moment. Waverly will think she's weak.

 

“It did,” Waverly responds, trying to dip her head to meet Nicole's fear-filled eyes. “Is that why you called before? The dream, it reminded you of that day, didn't it?”



Nicole's breathes, she tries. She moves out of Waverly's reach, laying down slowly on her back. She holds her hand out to Waverly, inviting her into her space. She needs her close.

 

“Yeah, I remembered that day. I called because... I needed to know you were okay. I can’t… I don't know the world without you in it, Waverly. I just needed to see you, know you're okay and safe. That you're happy.”

 

“I'm definitely happy. You make me happy.”

 

“I needed to know… that you could still love me.”

 

Waverly lays her head on Nicole's chest, fingers playing with the necklace she never takes off. She's quiet, thinking.

 

“Nothing from your past could tear my heart away from you, Nicole. I love you. I intend to keep loving you for as long as I possibly can. Your leg, the scars, your past- they won't take away what I feel for you.”

 

“Sometimes, I think you're too good for me. That I'll just slow you down.”

 

“I’m not; you don't.”

 

“I'm glad. I love you, Waverly Earp. More than I've ever loved anyone.”

 

“I love you, too. So much more than I thought I could ever love another person.”

 

Waverly moves up a few inches, pressing her lips to Nicole's. She smiles, and thanks Nicole for trying. For sharing her something that scares her.

 

“Now, how about we get some sleep? I'll be here, as long as you want me.”

 

“You're gonna need a bigger overnight bag then. I don't intend to let you go until I have to. So, Tuesday.”

 

“Then, we'll go and pack a bigger bag together.”

 

“Good,” Nicole whispers, lips pressed to Waverly's temple.

 

“Sleep, baby. I'm right here. I'm not leaving.”

 

“Okay,” Nicole responds, voice sleepy and eyes heavy. She curls an arm around Waverly, pulling her closer. She smiles at the hand sliding across her chest, resting above her heart. “Never leave, Waverly.”

 

“I won't.”

 

Chapter Text

Nicole wakes, eyes fighting to focus against the morning sun lighting the room, casting gentle shadows as it moves. Waverly's head still rests against her chest, body curled into her side. She holds onto Nicole as if she might disappear, as if the nightmare that brought her to her scared girlfriend’s door might be real. Nicole feels Waverly sigh, fingers spreading, splayed across her abdomen. She smiles, moving to gently press her lips to brown hair. She whispers sweetly, promising to come back to bed soon. She fights to leave the bed when Waverly whimpers, missing the warmth of the body beside her instantly.

 

Nicole smiles, gently resting Waverly's head on her now abandoned pillow and, brushing hair from her face. She kisses her forehead, whispering her affections for the smaller girl against her skin. Waverly smiles in her sleep, and Nicole feels like she’s floating. She slides to the edge of the bed and grabs her forearm crutch. She definitely owes her girlfriend breakfast.

 

----------------

 

“Mmm, morning, baby.”

 

Warm hands slide under Nicole's worn shirt, searching for contact with as much hidden skin as possible. She feels Waverly kiss the back of her shoulder, before leaning her cheek back against the fabric. Nicole chuckles, knowing Waverly would fall asleep if she'd allow it. She leans back, and breathes in her girlfriend’s scent with a soft smile.

 

“You're supposed to be in bed. I was gonna be all romantic. Bring you breakfast and coffee, do something nice. I owe you a huge thank you for yesterday. You came when I called, and… it means everything to me, Wave.”

 

Her voice is so quiet. Waverly strains her ears to catch the words. She feels Nicole take a long breath. She feels lungs expand and fill, before the breath releases and her abdomen softens under Waverly's touch. She knows Nicole is new to the idea of feeling vulnerable. It makes the words mean even more.

 

“I love you,” Nicole finally adds, voice stronger, more certain.

 

“I love you, too,” Waverly responds, hugging her girlfriend from behind. She feels Nicole relax back into her, sighing and accepting her warmth fully. She turns in Waverly's arms, pulling her up into a lazy morning kiss.

 

“So, do you wanna have breakfast in bed, or do you prefer sitting at the table like civilized adults?”

 

“How about you sit down in the big chair?” Waverly points to the plush armchair Nicole rarely uses. She laughs at her girlfriend's raised eyebrow. “We’ll sit together, have breakfast, enjoy the morning.”

 

“Sounds perfect.”

 

They each grab a plate, placing them on the coffee table. Waverly pushes Nicole into the chair with a playful giggle, walking back to the kitchen for their filled coffee mugs. She places them down, sitting across the redhead’s lap. Waverly happily accepts bites of blueberry pancakes, bacon and strawberries between kisses, grinning so hard that her face hurts a little.

 

This is the kind of morning Waverly had always dreamed of- slow and quiet, with shared smiles and gentle laughter. She’s always wanted something so easy in a relationship, someone who could be with her in the quiet without complaints. She hopes they have pancakes more often.

 

Waverly hopes to share peaceful mornings like this with Nicole every chance she gets, for the rest of her life.

 

-----------------

 

“Delta- Vrij, Apport!”



Waverly has never seen Delta move so quickly. The command sends him full speed across the long park lawn. He retrieves a toy, sits, and looks back expectantly.

 

“Hier!” Delta heads for Nicole, and stands awaiting the last command. “Af… braaf.”

 

When Nicole’s authoritative tone fades into her normal one, Waverly briefly mourns the loss. Commanding Nicole Haught is extremely sexy. The tone and serious look on her face does things to Waverly, unfair and fantastic things. She wonders if she could convince Nicole to take on her serious persona in the bedroom...

 

“Wave? You okay? You look a little flushed.”

 

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. I’m fine! Good, all good.”

 

“Mhm, I’m sure you are.”

 

Shit. There is a downside to dating a deception expert- Nicole can read her with a simple, casual glance. Her girlfriend is smirking, walking toward her so confidently. For the first time in their relationship, Nicole shows no signs of a subtle limp. She shows no signs of the fatigue that settles into her eyes after a long day. She’s so confident, and Waverly loves it.

 

Nicole stands so close, their bodies not quite touching. Her lips move beside Waverly’s ear, and she breathes.

 

“You need something, babe? You know all you have to do is ask. Anything.”

 

Nicole’s voice is darker, teasing. She knows exactly what that tone does to Waverly. She knows, she learns, she uses, she adapts.

 

“Take me home.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole replies, stepping back to call Delta.

 

A warm hand slides across the small of Waverly’s back, resting in the dip above her denim waistband. The touch sends a shiver down her spine. Nicole grins wolfishly, leaning down to nip the skin below Waverly’s jaw. The brunette hisses, knees threatening to buckle. She feels the dirty smile return to Nicole’s lips before she sees it.

 

Sometimes, she hates that Nicole Haught can read her so easily. She hates the smug look on the redhead’s face when she sees her pupils dilate and darken. She hates the way Nicole adapts, and use the moment for her own personal gain.

 

She hates the moment, but loves the ending.

 

Chapter Text

Hey there, fair reader! Hi. Hello. You look great.

My apologies if I potentially excited you. Double post! Well, sort of. This will be too long for an end of chapter note. Please see the previous post for today's new chapter.

First- I just wanted to take a moment to thank you. This experience has been truly amazing. I expected very little out of this fanfic, and you're exceeded everything I could have ever imagined. Seriously, thank you.

Now, to the actual point- I am at a crossroads with how I want to proceed with this story. After thinking about it, I realized this is yours more so than mine. So, I'm asking you all to help me make a decision. I have an idea brewing would be a slight departure from the fluff-fest you see now. It would involve Nicole taking on and consulting on a case with the FBI, which will utilize her skills more fully. She will still teach and be around for Waverly, never fear. This would be an end of semester deal, so it would likely take a few chapters to get there. I think it could be fun to write, as it would really elevate the level of the story closer to the last few chapters. I'll still follow my two rules: no cheating, and fluff when it fits.

Ultimately, I want to make sure you are all onboard with this. The shift would introduce more tension, and some angst. The catch is, Nicole would be very focused on the case at times, and may pull back to protect Waverly.

So, here's your time for input. Which do you like?

A) Ever Yours stays adorably fluffy, and continues as is.
B) Nicole will consult on a case during the timeline if this fic
C) Split Ever Yours and the new concept up into two totally different, update every other day.

Please let me know what you like. You can comment here, or send me a PM or tweet @iwaseliteonce. Again, it wouldn't be an immediate change. I just don't want to screw this up. This story is for you, not me.

Thanks for reading my weird ramble. You're the best!

 

UPDATE: 

Wow! I am stunned, honored, and so excited to keep this going!

Based on your votes, option B won (by a lot). I'll be adding the FBI consulting storyline into this fic when it's time. Looks like it will take a few chapters to fit naturally. You have my word that I'll keep my two promises: no cheating, and fluff when applicable. I will not make this an angst fest by any means.

I'm excited you are all onboard with this plan, too. I think the addition to the storyline will really elevate the story to the level of Chapters 16 and 17. There will still be fluff and goodness, too. There's no way Waverly and Nicole could ever pull away from each other, not after all the world they've put in building their lives together.

Chapter Text

Waverly is surprised by a light knock on her classroom door during the biggest Linguistics and Anthropology exam of the semester. She took attendance, no students are missing. She takes a step back, and smiles at the sight of her girlfriend leaning down, so her face is visible through the small pane of glass. She pulls open the door quietly, takes in Nicole leaning against the frame.

 

“Hey, baby. Fancy meeting you here.”

 

“Hey,” Nicole rasps, head leaned back against the wooden doorframe.

 

“Wow, are you okay?”

 

“Not feeling so great. Didn’t want you to worry. Just gonna head home and spend the day on the couch.”

 

“Oh, I can cut out of here early-”

 

“Wave, no. I’m good. You teach, scare the kiddos, be a badass. I’ll see you later, okay?”

 

“Okay… you’ll call if you need me?”

 

“I’ll call if I need you, promise.”

 

Nicole tries to smile, leaning down to plant a kiss on her girlfriend’s cheek. Waverly’s smile fades when she notices how pale and tired Nicole looks. She rests the back of her hand on Nicole’s forehead, surprised by the heat. She rests her hand on the redhead’s cheek for a moment, drawing her gaze and sharing her concern without words.

 

“I’ll be okay, Wave. You should get back to it. I'll see you later.”

 

Waverly nods as Nicole rises from her spot against the doorframe, and heads down the hall. She frowns as she watches Nicole sway a bit, before limping heavily toward the exit.

 

----------------

 

Waverly Earp is a planner through and through. When she can't plan, she goes overboard to compensate for the lack of preparation. Today, for example, she gathered the exams into her bag, locked her office, and headed for the small grocery store she and Nicole frequent. She buys three of each different kind of medicine for a fever, cold or flu. She grabs two different tissue brands, picks out several different hot tea flavors, stocks up on liquids and food. She even tolerates the touchy-feely florist long enough to buy some lightly scented flowers for Nicole's bedroom. The cashier asks Waverly to tell her favorite redhead to feel better soon, and gushes over Waverly's cart full of goods.

 

She arrives at Nicole's soon after, deciding not to call ahead in case her girlfriend is resting. Delta greets her at the door, accepting a gently scratch behind the ears. He follows her to the kitchen, watching her put away groceries and flit around the living room. Waverly is surprised Nicole is not on the couch, her normal place to hunker down and nap. Delta seems to read her as well as his owner, turning and guiding Waverly to the back bedroom. He moves to lay on the carpet near Nicole's forearm crutch, ready to help if needed.

 

Nicole is sweaty and shivering. Waverly's chest tightens when the redhead whimpers in her sleep. She moves carefully to sit on the edge of the bed, pressing the back of her hand to Nicole's still hot forehead.

 

“Baby, I'm here.”

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey. You still sound raspy, and you’re burning up. How about I run you a bath, and start on dinner?”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Good. Can you get undressed on your own?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“Okay, take your time. I'll get a bath ready.”

 

“Not too hot, please.”

 

“Not too hot, I promise,” she responds, smiling. “If you felt better, I'd have made a pun.”

 

“Always like your puns.”

 

“You're a terrible liar. Pretty, smart, but terrible liar.”

 

Nicole nods, sitting up slowly as Waverly disappears into her bathroom. She hears the water running, and smells lavender in the air after a few moments. She sighs. Waverly Earp is a godsend.

 

----------------

 

“Wave…”



Delta’s head lifts from atop Waverly’s feet on the couch, waiting to see if he is also called. Delta and Waverly had cuddled up on the couch together, Waverly reading through exams while Delta napped.

 

“You okay, Nic?”

 

“Yeah, I just… I kinda need help. Can you send Delta in?”

 

The dog huffed, jumping down from his happy place and trotting into the bathroom. Waverly can hear Nicole talking quietly to the dog, before she hears movement. Nicole appears in the hallways a few minutes later, wrapped up in a towel, with Delta following closely. Waverly watches the two as they walk together, slight signs of their leg and paw issues noticeable in their gaits. She can’t stop the wide smile that crosses her lips at the sight of them. Delta is starting to feel like her dog, and Nicole has felt like hers for quite some time. They all fit together, like a strange little family. The kind of family Waverly always wanted.

 

Nicole heads into the room moments later, dressed in loose sweatpants and a UCLA shirt she’s had since her sophomore year of college. She lays across the whole couch, resting her head in Waverly’s lap and smiling up at her.

 

“Hi.”

 

“Hi, baby. You sound better.”

 

“I feel better. Thanks for coming. You didn’t have to.”

 

“Please, I wanted to. Dinner’s ready, and I got you some meds,” Waverly points to the counter, and Nicole laughs.

 

“Did you buy out the whole store?”

 

“No, jerk. I just… I didn’t know if you were allergic to anything, or maybe if a certain med didn’t work well for you. It was safer to-”

 

“Amoxil.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m allergic to Amoxil, amoxicillin. Advil or Aleve work better for me than Tylenol. I also like the lemon lime Gatorade the best.”

 

“I’m going to make you write that down.”

 

“Oh, I’m aware. I’m sure you’ll make me a list, too,” Nicole laughs, enjoying the widening grin on her girlfriend’s face. “C’mere.”

 

Waverly leans down, kissing her girlfriend with a full smile on her lips. It’s mostly teeth, making them laugh loudly. Even when they can’t stop laughing and everything is messy, the day is brighter when they’re together.

 

“Thank you. I love you, Wave. Even though you definitely talked to touchy-feely florist before coming over. I can smell that weird perfume on you. Ironically, all over your chest.”

 

“I love you, too. Even though you’re a big goof. We can fix that- I’ll go steal one of your shirts again.”

 

“Ooh, can it be the soccer hoodie? You look really adorable in that one. I don’t think I could resist you if I tried, with the sleeves hanging over your hands.”

 

“Don’t be mean. It’s not my fault you’re a giant! Now, let’s eat, yeah?”

 

The two climb off of the couch, Nicole wrapping Waverly up in a quick hug before grabbing her hand and excitedly dragging her to the kitchen. They laugh together, enjoying being each other’s home for a little longer.

 

Chapter Text

Nicole stares at her computer screen, a wide grin slowly spreading across her lips, and into her cheeks. A Doctor from the UCLA Medical School wants to meet with her to discuss adding her as a patient and test subject for a new prosthetic called the C-Leg 5. The two communicate back and forth for a few days, discussing when they can meet to discuss the logistics. The Doctor seems very excited about the prospect of having a patient who has an active lifestyle, meets all of the requirements based on previous scans and testing, and works so near her office. Nicole researches the new technology, amazed by the confident gait the patients wearing the prosthetic have. She’s vaguely familiar with the already available C-Leg 4, a real gamechanger for amputees. She shows Waverly the new tech, and talks excitedly about what it would mean to have a powered leg and knee. The brunette smiles. Nicole is excited about something outside of their relationship again, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

 

----------------



Waverly sits atop Nicole Haught in Office 717, keeping the redhead in place with her body weight. Her smile is deadly, eyes darkened and teasing. She dares Nicole to try and move her, to defy her. Waverly’s been in a good mood all day, and decided to share the wealth. Her hands are gripping Nicole’s black skinny tie tightly, keeping the taller woman’s mouth attached to hers. She’d begged to see Nicole in a suit, or at least a tie, for weeks. Today, she got her wish.

 

Nicole groans, trying to decide what to do with her hands. Waverly has been insatiable since Nicole swaggered onto campus this morning. She’d even taken a seat in the back of her girlfriend’s morning class, keeping her eyes locked on the redhead teaching so casually in a full suit with unbuttoned jacket.

 

“Prof, what’s with the suit?” a student had asked curiously.

 

“Well, I have a girl to impress for one. I actually have a meeting later today as well. So, a combination of the two.”

 

“That why Professor Earp is here?” a girl sitting near Waverly asks teasingly.

 

“That’s exactly why. She asked very nicely, and Professor Earp’s wish is my command.”

 

“Smart woman!” the same girl calls out, making the class laugh. Waverly doesn’t move an inch, doesn’t crack a smile. She continues to eye Nicole Haught intently, biding her time. She smirks when Nicole gulps, adjusts the tie, and returns to the lesson.

 

Waverly had dragged Nicole from the classroom by her tie after the class had ended, and everyone has dispersed. Since then, she won’t allow Nicole to move an inch, and it’s slowly killing the redhead. She'd pushed Nicole into her desk chair, and climbed into her lap with a dirty grin. She’s been trapped beneath the lithe brunette ever since, just trying to survive Waverly’s attempts at leaving her breathless. If Nicole is completely honest though, she adores the attention. She makes a mental note to wear a tie more often.

 

Waverly won’t stop. Her hips move slowly, deliciously in Nicole's lap. Her mouth is hot and biting, nipping, marking. Her hands feel like they're everywhere all at once. Nicole can't keep up. She struggles to decide where her hands should be, finally tangling in brunette hair to try and gain some semblance of control. Waverly moans, and Nicole fights to control herself. They're in her office, at work, with people walking up and down the halls. Nicole has a meeting in a few minutes. She has to calm Waverly down.

 

“Wave, I need to-”

 

“Shut it, Cole. Not a word. You're mine until I say otherwise.”

 

Waverly won't stop. She won't stop, until the door to Nicole's office opens unexpectedly.

 

“Professor Haught, I'm Dr. Torres. I'm here to talk with you about- woah!”

 

Waverly doesn’t falter for a moment. Instead of stuttering or diving away, she smiles warmly at the woman entering Nicole’s office.

 

“Dr. Torres, hi! I’ve heard so much about you. I’m Waverly, er, Professor Earp. I teach Linguistics and Anthropology. Nicole and I are together.”

 

“I, uh, noticed. Nice to meet you, Waverly. I’m Callie Torres,” the taller woman responds, smiling widely. “I suppose that makes you Nicole Haught then?”

 

“Huh? Um, yeah! I’m Haught- Nicole! I’m Nicole.”

 

Waverly giggles, grinning widely at her flustered girlfriend. Nicole seems to recover, standing awkwardly and moving to shake hands with her new doctor and prosthetics consult.

 

“Sorry I headed your way early, Haught. I’ve been a little excited about getting to work with and test the newest version of the C-Leg before it goes public. I have a neuro partner available to help us out with the sensors if we need them, too. This is going to be… amazing!”

 

“Glad to hear your excitement, Torres. I’m pretty excited, too, actually. This is a big deal for me. I’m hoping I can feel more confident in a gym, or maybe even be able to go for a run before work.”

 

“I’ll make that happen for you, Haught. So, can I steal you for a bit? We can head to my lab, look at some specs and find a good fit for you.”

 

“Yeah, for sure. Wave, I’ll see you later, yeah?”

 

“Of course. Good luck, baby,” Waverly responds, squeezing her girlfriend’s hand. She happily accepts a kiss from the practically bouncing Nicole Haught.

 

-----------------

 

Waverly is surprised when her phone rings about three hours later. She’d just finished grading all of the exams, and was ready to head home, when Nicole’s face appeared on her phone screen.

 

“Hey, baby! How did it go?”

 

“Good, but I’m exhausted. Would you mind coming to pick me up, and drive me home?”

 

“Of course. Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah, I just need to take it easy. Really pushed myself today. You can come up to the second floor of the med building. We’re in the Physical Therapy wing.”

 

“Okay, I’ll be there soon.”

 

“Thanks, Wave. Hey- I love you.”

 

“I love you, too, Nic. See you soon.”

 

Waverly smiles, grabbing her bag and heading for her car.

 

-----------------

 

“Hi. I’m supposed to pick up my girlfriend, Nicole Haught. She said she was on this-”

 

“Wave, look!”

 

Waverly turns, eyes widening at the sight of Nicole Haught in a tank top and soccer shorts, walking toward her with a huge grin on her face. Her steps are more certain than she’s ever seen, brown eyes glistening as she makes confident eye contact. Waverly can’t stop her eyes from watering at the sight. Nicole looks so happy, almost weightless. She walks the whole length of the hallway, until her arms are wrapped around her smaller girlfriend, burying her face in her neck. Nicole hugs Waverly tightly, suddenly overwhelmed by the progress and what the new leg means. She sighs, and pulls back, looking down into hazel eyes.

 

“Hi. Sorry for making you walk all the way up here. I just… I wanted you to be a part of this. It’s big, Waverly. It’s a huge deal, and… I feel good again, normal even.”

 

“You look amazing right now. Your smile is near-blinding though. Maybe turn it down a notch?

 

Nicole grins even deeper, dimples pronounced, eyes bright, lips upturned. She’s never looked more beautiful to Waverly.

 

“Never,” Nicole whispers, leaning down to kiss her girlfriend. They laugh quietly when their teeth meet before their lips, smiles too wide. “God, I love you.”

 

“I love you, too, Nic. Can you show me what you two did today?”

 

“Totally. You up for a demo, Torres?”

 

“Absolutely, come on in, Waverly. I’ll show you what we’ve done, and what we’ll be doing over time.”

 

Nicole smiles down at her girlfriend, grabbing her hand and leading her into the physical therapy room. Finally walking confidently beside the woman she loves, she feels infinite and strong. She feels poised and self assured. She feels... everything.

 

Chapter Text

The semester is coming to a close, and everyone is in exam mode. Waverly has stopped all assignments, and is fully focused on finals prep. Nicole's students are diligently working on their final projects in lieu of an exam. Everyone is on high alert. The library is packed, coffee shops stay busy and the students all seem to have headphones permanently attached as they walk around the campus.

 

The couple talked over dinner a week ago, and decided to make the final week of the semester the priority. Waverly is back at the homestead, and Nicole is home with Delta at night. They see each other between classes, sharing a smile and quick kiss before heading their separate ways. It's not the ideal routine, but it's enough.

 

----------------

 

Nicole is done for the semester. She breathes a sigh of relief, bouncing on her toes a bit. It's a new habit with the C-Leg, and a slight throwback to her normal days. The action was a bit of a nervous habit she’d adopted, and had actually missed over the past year. She smiles at the prosthetic’s response, before grabbing her laptop bag from her desk and turning out the lights. She locks the door to her office and heads to check on Waverly. Her eyebrow raises at the sight of an empty office. She tilts her head, wondering where her girlfriend has gone. She shrugs, smiling at a few professors in the hall before sending Waverly a text.

 

Nic: hey babe. done for the semester. didn't see you in 711. lemme know when you're done. we should celebrate. i miss you. love you!

 

The redhead slips her phone back in her pocket, heading for her home and an evening spent with Delta in the yard.

 

----------------

 

Nicole's phone rings, Wynonna’s obnoxious self-assigned ringtone piercing the previously quiet air. She stares at the screen for a moment, before accepting the call.

 

“Wynonna? Hey. You, um… you never call me. Are you okay? Shit, is Waverly okay?”

“HAUGHTSTUFF, heyyyyy! How are ya?”

 

“I’m good, Wy. You sound… where are you?”

 

“Bar, downtown. The one Wavey likes. They put the lil umbrellas in her girly drinks. OH, and the tacos!”

 

“Cabo Cantina, got it. I’ll be there soon, Wy. Don’t go anywhere, okay?”

 

“Where would I go, Haughtstuff? They have tacos! See ya.”

 

Nicole stares at her phone when Wynonna hangs up, confused. Why didn’t she call Waverly? She shrugs to herself, before taking Delta outside and ensuring he’s all set to spend the night in her office. She grabs her homestead go bag, grabs her now necessary C-Leg charging cable, and locks up. Time to pick up a very drunk Wynonna.

 

-----------------

 

“Wy, you gotta help me out. I can't exactly carry you in the house.”

 

“You're basically half bionic or whatever, Haughtstuff. Figure it out.”

 

“I'm not bionic, Wy. I just have a robotic knee essentially.”

 

“Big words, don't care. Just carry me, or stop whinin’.”

 

Nicole shakes her head, supporting Wynonna's weight as she helps her girlfriend's sister into the homestead. Wynonna keeps on talking, loudly bragging about the hot guy she made out with, and the free drinks she consumed. Nicole listens absently, occasionally making sounds of agreement. She convinces Wynonna to drink a full bottle of water, and gets her situated in her room.

 

“I know you've always wanted to get in my bedroom, Haughtshot. Congrats on making it through the door.”

 

“Oh yeah, Wy. You're all I've ever wanted. Just get your ass in bed, please.

“Yeah yeah, so bossy. How does my sister stand it?”

 

“Combination really. I look good in a tie, treat her well, and she likes my dog. Oh, and I'm amazing in bed.”

 

“Ugh, didn't need to know that. You're the worst.”

 

“Maybe for you. Your sister definitely likes it when I-”

 

“Don't finish that sentence, ever. I'll go to bed, just… no.”

 

“Glad you got the message. I'll be down the hall if you need anything, okay?”

 

“Will do, Haughtshot. Try and be quiet when you ravish my sister. That's all I ask.”

 

“I'll cover her mouth. Night, Wy.”

 

“Night,” she responds, slumping back against her pillows. “Hey, Haught. Thanks. Not many people would be come to get me. So, you know, thanks for showing up.”

 

“Anytime, Wynonna. You can always call me. You okay with the greasiest breakfast possible tomorrow? After 10am, of course.”

 

“If Waverly won't marry you, I will. Grease sounds good.”

 

“You got it. I bought and hid real bacon.”

 

“I take it back, asking now. Marry me?”

 

“Raincheck, Wy. Get some rest.”

 

“Nighty night, Haughty Haught.”

 

“Goodnight, Wynonna.”

 

----------------

 

“Nic? What are you doing here? Not that I don't wanna see you, it feels like it's been years since we had an evening together.”

 

“Hey. Wynonna called me actually. She was really drunk, and needed a ride.”

 

“Wait, you went into town to pick up my sister, and brought her home?”

 

“Yup, got her to down some water and into bed. I brought stuff to make a greasy breakfast in the morning, too. She gets real bacon. Brought stuff for you, too, of course. Figured we could all have breakfast together, sometime after 10. I know if I wake Wynonna up earlier, she'll ban me from the homestead.”

 

“Wow. Did she propose again?”

 

“Mhm, I rainchecked. She won't remember asking tomorrow.”

 

“True. She will remember you promised breakfast though.”

 

“Naturally,” Nicole responding, standing to wrap her girlfriend in a hug. “I forgot how good it feels to hug you. You smell incredible.”

 

“Please, I've been at work all day. No way I smell good now.”

 

“You do. You always do.”

 

“Liar.”

 

“Never.”

 

Waverly smiles, grinning up at Nicole before pulling her down into a kiss. Waverly nuzzles back into Nicole's neck, enjoying the warmth and safety of her girlfriend's arms.

 

“God, I missed this. Are you staying?”

 

“I’d planned on it, if that's okay.”

 

“More than okay. I'm gonna take a quick shower first. Long day.”

 

“Shit, should've done that before I came over here.”

 

“Oh… um, actually… come with me.”

 

“Wave, I need-”

 

“I know, just… come here.”

 

Waverly slips her hand into Nicole's, leading the redhead to her bathroom and shower. Her cheeks redden when they enter the bathroom together, and Waverly points into the shower. Nicole stares in shock, jaw dropped and eyes wide.

 

“You… there are shower bars.”

 

“There are, and a shower stool thing in the linen closet.”

 

“Wave, you didn't… thank you.”

 

“You're welcome. I want you to feel like you're home here. You're always welcome at the homestead. I just… you always do things for me. Amazing, sweet things. I wanted to do something nice for you.”

 

“This is… thank you, Waverly. I can't believe you did that.”

 

“I wanted to. Plus, they're actually really handy. Wish I'd done it years ago.” Waverly steps closer to Nicole, sliding her arms around her girlfriend's neck and into red hair with a smile. “Wanna try them out?”

 

“Definitely. You did call the shower first though. Go ahead and get clean.”

 

“In a second. I wanna at least kind of thank you for taking care of Wynonna. You didn't have to do that.”

 

“I care about her, too, Wave. She needs someone who can look out for her. I wanna be that person for her.”

 

“You're sweet. She likes you, you know.”

 

“Well, I hope so. I let her call me Haughtstuff 24/7.”

 

“True. I definitely owe you, and I know exactly how to repay the favor.”

 

“Oh, really. How do you intend to do that?”

 

Waverly whispers dirty things in Nicole's ear, smirking as she draws a low growl from her girlfriend's lips. The next kiss is far more frantic than the earlier sweet ones. It's going to be a very good night.

 

“Okay, we have to stop. You get clean. I'll make some tea, and we'll spend a quiet evening in bed.”

 

“Perfect.”

 

“Yeah, you are,” Nicole responds, kissing Waverly sweetly, before swatting her on the butt and grinning. “Get clean, babe. I'll see you in bed soon.”

 

Waverly grins as Nicole slips out of the bathroom, a goofy smile on her face. The YouTube video tutorials and two hours of work were totally worth it for the look of utter surprise on Nicole's face. Nicole Haught is worth everything.

 

Chapter Text

Nicole is sweating. Her heart rate is elevated, seeming to echo in her ears. It's another day spent in the physical therapy wing of the UCLA Med Center. Lab days, as Dr. Torres calls them, mean tests galore, ranging for walking up and down stairs, to running outdoors. Today's lab focuses on one of Nicole's favorite activities- boxing.

 

Her body is still so reactive and quick, even the doctor seems surprised. She can move around the bag far better than before, easily ducking away from imaginary punches, and confidently leading footwork with her left leg. Her movements are practiced, solid and sure. She feels good, stable and strong. For the first time in over a year, Nicole feels whole.

 

They spend another hour in the lab, moving on to walking on uneven surfaces. Nicole points out the moments her leg doesn't quite react like the real one. Dr. Torres takes pages of notes, nodding and observing. The redhead is regaining lost muscle mass and confidence, with each passing day. She's had the C-Leg 5 prototype on for about five weeks, and has become the favorite test subject, both for Callie and the manufacturer. She's the tester who's willing to say what's good and bad, what can be adjusted or needs to be scrapped. They've made huge progress as a team.

 

They've actually become friends over the past few weeks. Nicole gushes about Waverly and Delta with a dimpled grin, while Callie talks about her time in the Peace Corps and the bad dates she goes on weekly. They spend time together both in and out of the lab, occasionally grabbing a post-consult beer or burger. Callie says trust will be important, if they're going to continue to push the boundaries of what the C-Leg prototype can do. Waverly always joins, slipping into the booth beside Nicole and commenting on how adorable she looks when she's tired.

 

Tonight, the plan is to finish the session, then clean up and head to grab a burger and a beer downtown. Waverly spent the week meticulously planning a night out with the new friends, as well as Wynonna and Holly.

 

“Time to pack up and head out, Haught. Your sweaty butt needs a shower, or your girl won't come anywhere near you.”

“You'd be surprised, Torres. I can be very persuasive,” Nicole responds, smirking as she grabs a towel to wipe down the table and her face.

 

The two head to the shower facilities, ready to get out of the stifling building and out into the world again.

 

----------------

 

“Haughtshot!”

 

“Haughtpants!”

 

“Nic!”

 

Nicole can't stop herself from laughing when three voices loudly announce her presence, each in their unique way. She flashes a smile at the table, before pointing at the bar. Everyone nods, and Waverly heads her way to help carry the pitcher and glasses.

 

“Hey, baby.”

 

“Hey yourself. You look gorgeous, Waves.”

 

“Thank you. You look… sinfully good actually.”

 

Waverly slips her hands under Nicole's jacket collar, pulling the redhead down for a quick kiss. Nicole laces their fingers together, pulling the brunette alongside her to the bar.

 

“How was your day with Torres?”

 

“Good. Woman kicks my ass. Gotta thank her though. I feel great. Starting to actually look like a normal person again.”

 

“Mhm, you look incredible. I'll be sure to thank her for the body you're hiding under there,” she whispers, slipping a hand under Nicole's shirt to run her nails along a noticeably more toned abdomen.

 

“Easy tiger. We've gotta behave, at least until we can head home.”

 

“You're no fun. Where is Callie, by the way?”

 

“Phone call. She'll be in soon. Why, you two dating?”

 

“Hmm, do you think she would? I bet she'd be a blast to take home.”

 

“Rude. Also, cruel. I'll never get rid of that mental image.”

 

Waverly elbows her girlfriend playfully, signaling to their favorite bartender that they are ready for a pitcher and glasses.

 

“Hey, Wave.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I love you.” Nicole's gaze is so serious, so honest, that it nearly brings tears to Waverly’s eyes.

 

“I love you, too. Now, come on- I need to con Holly into telling me some more college stories.”

 

Nicole groans. She's not sure which is worse- the Haught pun competitions, or Holly stories of the cocky college Haught.

 

----------------

 

“Wait, you’re telling me Ms. Perfect was actually a troublemaker?” Wynonna’s eyes widen at the new piece of information.

 

“Not only that, Haughtshot here was the biggest prankster on the soccer team, and in our dorm. I think she successfully pranked everyone we knew.”

 

“We’re talking about the same person, right? Nicole Haught, resident sweetheart, nice girl.”

 

“She plays nice, but deep down, she’s a sneaky prankster through and through.”

 

Waverly eyes Nicole suspiciously, smirking at the thought of Nicole being goofy and making everyone laugh. She’s not surprised that Nicole was the one who tasked herself with being open and funny, she’d always been the type to want to make everyone feel equal and appreciated by whatever means necessary.

 

“I can picture it, Nonna. Nic has a playful streak, believe it or not.”

 

“She does not! She’s super serious! Look how red she gets when we call her Haughty Haught, or Haughtstuff, or Haughtpants.”

 

“I don’t care if you call me a billion nicknames, Wy. Not a fan of hearing them shouted the instant I step into a room.”

 

“I actually think Haught is pretty funny,” Callie interjects, smiling at her new friend. “Never heard a joke, but she has a pretty good pun game.

 

“Yes, thank you! Someone thinks I’m funny!”

 

“Oh, honey. You can be funny. Most of your puns are just cheesy though.” Waverly adds, smiling widely as the redhead’s forehead wrinkles in confusion.

 

“But, I’m funny, right?” Nicole pouts, lip protruding and shaking a bit. Waverly laughs, leaning in to kiss the pout.

 

“Sometimes, not always though.”

 

Waverly giggles loudly when Nicole groans, faking rejection as she slides out of the booth to grab a drink refill. She eyes the table silently, counting the nods and deciding to grab a pitcher. Holly slips out behind her, grabbing her friend’s elbow as they walk.

 

“Hey, did I overstep? I don’t want to do that, I just… I like your friends, Nicole. I like Waverly. I want to get to know them, and help them get to know you better. If you want me to shut up, just-”

 

“It’s fine, Holl. I want you to get along with everyone, too. I love that Waverly enjoys getting to know who I was before… I’d never want to take that away from her. You’re a better resource for that than me. I’ll always play innocent.”

 

“True, you always were a good kid deep down. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. So, if I say something, or start to, that you’re not okay with revealing, just kick me or something. I refuse to lose you over something stupid.”

 

“Deal, Holl. Now, you carrying or buying?”

 

“Have you met me? Carrying, always.” The two laugh and lean against the bar together, awaiting a fresh pitcher of beer.

 

----------------

 

“So, Torres, how much longer until Haughtpants here is the hopscotch champion of the world?”

 

Holly spits, choking on her beer for a few moments. Nicole groans, hiding her face in her arms as she leans down to the table. Waverly is dumbfounded.

“Nonna!”

“What? I dunno what your girlfriend wants to do with her life. Maybe Torres here can get her all fixed up, make her a mega athlete. She can take the Paralympics by storm in 2018 or whatever.”

 

“Well, um… there is no women's paralympic soccer team. Sorry, Haught. As for when she'll be back to normal, I'm not sure. She's progressing remarkably well. Her gait looks good, balance is better, and she seems sure-footed. I'd say I can have her running circles around you by winter, Wynonna.”

 

“I like this one, Haughtpants. She gets me. Well, kind of. I definitely don't run ever. She didn't act like an idiot when I asked a simple question though. I like you, Torres.”

 

“Thank you?”

 

“Honestly, you should feel honored. I barely like everyone else at this table. Except you, baby girl. I'm required to like you.”

 

Waverly grins. Wynonna has always struggled to make friends, tending to come across as bitchy or mean. Seeing her older sister fit in with a group of women she also likes has been eye-opening. There's nothing wrong with Wynonna , she was just spending time with people who didn't understand her.

 

“Glad you tolerate me, Wy. I think Wave would be pissed if you didn't at least try.”

 

“Please, she'd never lay off if I didn't at least pretend to like you.” Wynonna's smile is playful and wide, gaze locked on the redhead sitting across from her. “For some reason, she does. I'm gonna assume it's because you're dynamite in bed or something.”

 

“Oh, I am. You'll have to ask your little sister for details sometime. I’ve gotten really good at-” Waverly elbows Nicole hard in the ribs, glaring at her girlfriend. “Okay, fine. Better idea- maybe we find you a nice girl who can show you what you're missing. You could use a little bedroom dynamite, too, Wy. Hey, Holls, you up for the challenge?”

 

“The challenge of bedding Wynonna Earp? Totally.”

 

Wynonna actually blushes, causing everyone at the table to laugh loudly. Nicole briefly wonders if Wynonna and Holly would be a good romantic fit, before pushing the idea away and focusing on the small girl tucked into her side. She smiles down at her girlfriend, pressing her lips against her hairline and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Waverly leans into the touch, enjoying being surrounded by a group of women who get along, and can have fun.

 

“If, um, if Holly isn’t up for the challenge, I might be. I bet I could rock your world, Earp.”

 

Callie grins, and the table explodes in laughter. She’s definitely fitting in.

 

----------------

 

“Remind me to never put myself in a room with Holly, Callie and your sister again. Everyone gangs up on me. Can't even get one word in.”

 

“Aww, poor baby,” Waverly teases, hand entwined with Nicole’s. “You did come up with the plan, and picked the people. Sorry, but you won't get any sympathy from me. Ya did this to yourself.”

 

“You wound me, Wave. Right here.” Nicole taps her chest two times, grinning playfully. “It wasn't so bad. They're just… a lot together.”

 

“Maybe. I'm glad Callie fits in. She's actually a lot of fun. And, she can match Wynonna shot for shot. Very impressive.”

 

“She definitely kept up. Poor Holls was left in their drunken wake. Glad we didn't let ‘em drive.”

 

“No way, Uber was basically invented for nights like this.”

 

“True. Thank you for tonight, Wave. It was nice to get to hang out with everyone. Even if they did just have an hour long Haught pun tournament.”

 

“Of course, Nic. I had fun. Just wish I'd had a chance of winning the tourney. Maybe next time.”

 

Oh, honey, you'll never beat your sister in a pun competition.”

 

Nicole dodges the slap from her girlfriend, moving to lift and twirl her around. She smiles, Waverly giggles, and all is right with the world.

 

Chapter Text

It's a Tuesday when Nicole shyly asks Waverly if she'd like to meet James.

 

“Partner James?”

 

“Partner James. You’ve met Emily, and that’s great. I just… I really want you to meet James. He’s like family to me, and you’re the most important person in my life. Is, um, is that okay?”

 

“Of course it’s okay! I really want to meet James, too. He’s a big person in your life. It’ll be nice to get to know him. Plus, I already like Emily.”

 

“Good. How does dinner sound, maybe tomorrow?”

 

“Dinner sounds great. Go call your boy, and we’ll all have dinner together.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole responds, pressing her lips to Waverly’s hairline, before grabbing her phone and placing the call.

 

----------------

 

“Nic, you don’t need to be nervous. Everything is going to be great!”

 

“I know, I just… I’ve never introduced James to anyone before.”

 

Waverly stops outside of the restaurant, staring at the back of Nicole’s head in shock. Nicole looks around for a moment, before noticing Waverly isn't beside her.

 

“Wave, everything okay?”

 

“You've never introduced James to a girl?”

 

“No. He knows I'm gay, but I never introduced him to people I dated.”

 

“But, you had a girlfriend when you got hurt.”

 

“I did, yeah. She never met James, or Emily. I never took her to Emily's restaurant or anything like that. The Greys are… they're my family. I wanted to save the big introduction for the right girl.”

 

Waverly's gaze lifts from the sidewalk, smile small and unsure. She looks at Nicole with fear and uncertainty in her eyes, trying to understand.

 

“I'm… I'm meeting your family. I'm meeting the people who you care about most. I met Holly and Delta. I'm meeting your partner and his wife. You… I just…”

 

“Hey, this is good, Wave. You're a part of my family now. You're the centerpiece. I want everyone in my life to know you. I don't have to worry, everyone loves you the moment they meet you. You're… you're it for me, Waverly. You're the first and last person I'll ever introduce to the Greys. You're the person I'll have by my side, for as long as you'll let me.”

 

Waverly eyes glisten in the streetlights. Her smile is beautiful and pure. She feels like she's floating above the sidewalk at Nicole's words. The promises hanging in the air between them makes her heart pound, and her eyes widen. Nicole Haught is introducing her to her family, and promising a lifetime with her. She wraps her arms around her girlfriend in a strong hug, hoping her actions can say what she can't with words.

 

Waverly realizes she'll marry Nicole Haught one day, and the very idea makes her heart flutter. She never knew how much she wanted to be a wife, until this moment.

 

----------------

 

“Haught.”

 

“Grey.”

 

Waverly is nervous. Nicole and the man standing across from her aren't speaking. They're staring, analyzing, determining. The silence is nerve wracking, until the man cracks a wide smile and wraps Nicole in a tight hug.

 

“I missed you, Haught. So good to see you again. Been too long.”

 

“It's been way too long, James.”

 

“Don't think I've forgiven you just yet. You let my wife meet your girl before me. You wound me, kiddo.”

 

“You're never going to give up the kiddo nickname, are you?” She shakes her head when James grins. “Well, you'll have to work on your cooking skills if you wanna see me more.”

 

“He wouldn't dare,” Emily responds, smiling at the young couple. “Can we sit, please? You two can stare each other down in chairs.”

 

James turns, smiling down at his shorter wife. Waverly is intrigued by the man. He stands inches taller than Nicole, around six feet tall if she had to guess. His smile is welcoming and kind, and his eyes seem to crinkle when the grin rises across his features. Waverly can't stop looking in his eyes. They're two different colors- one blue, and one green. She's never met someone with heterochromia before. Those eyes are so unique, so warm and truthful. Waverly is sure they are his best feature. His hair is cut fairly close, occasional patches and streaks of gray peppering his temples and near his ears. He's an attractive man a few years older than Nicole, with a beautiful wife. If she's honest- he's nothing like what she expected.

 

“I’d like to at least meet Haught’s girl first, honey. I'm honored to meet you, Waverly. Nicole has told me a lot about you, all good. She really care for you. It's nice to hear her happy. I'd missed happy Haught.”

 

“Nice to meet you, too, James. Nicole speaks highly of you.”

 

“She'd better,” he responds, winking at his partner. “Now, let sit. We'll order some wine, have dinner, get to know each other.”

 

“Sound great,” Waverly says, nodding. She smiles when Nicole presses her lips to her temple, moving to pull out Waverly's chair before sitting beside her. Always a gentlewoman.

 

----------------

 

The two couples talk, drink and laugh together over the next two hours. Nicole smiles so widely, that Emily can't help but point it out.

 

“I've never seen you this happy, Nicole. It's honestly a relief to see. Things were so dark the last time we had dinner together. I was worried.”

 

“We were worried. You matter to us, kiddo. We were afraid things would… I'm glad you're doing better now, Haught.”

 

“It took a long time. I hated myself, hated being broken, hated everything. I turned it around. Waverly though, she changed everything. She's the reason I'm happy.”

 

Waverly beams at her girlfriend, squeezing her hand under the table. She's never felt like this before. Nicole makes her feel safe, important, and so loved. She means everything.

 

“Then thank you, Waverly. You brought Nicole back to us. She's always deserved more than she was given. It's nice to see someone treat her so well.”

 

“She makes it easy. I adore her, so much.”

 

Nicole smiles back, lifting their joined hands and kissing Waverly's. Her eyes say what she cannot in that moment- I love you.

 

“I'm glad you came to the restaurant, Nicole. Seeing you again, seeing you happy, it did my heart some good. It was nice to see you again. I wasn't sure we would.”

 

“I'm sorry I pulled away. I stepped back from everyone's lives. I just… I needed to learn to live with myself first.”

 

“It's okay, kiddo. You did what you needed to do. Nothing wrong with that.”

 

Nicole's smile slips a bit, eyes dropping to the table. She'd missed talking to James every day. He had always been like an older brother to her, the one person who would tell her when she was screwing up or doing the right thing. He cared for Nicole in a way her family never really had. Having James and Emily back was another piece of her life she was thrilled to have back.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Always, kiddo.”

 

----------------

 

“I really like them, Nic. James is… he's so different than what I expected. I guess I pictured an older man, all protocol and seriousness. James is so warm and kind. He's like you in so many ways. And Emily, she's gorgeous and wonderful.”

 

“Aww, so you have a little crush, Wave? I can't blame you, Emily is definitely gorgeous. I prefer my brunette girlfriend though.” Nicole winks, making Waverly blush. “I'm glad you got along okay. James has always been like a brother to me. I'm glad you like him.”

 

“I really do. I’m looking forward to getting together again actually. Maybe we can have coffee or a drink next time?”

 

“Sure, Wave. Ready to go home?”

 

“Not yet. Can we go get some yogurt or something?”

 

“Of course,” Nicole responds, pulling Waverly into a quick hug.

 

----------------

 

James calls on Sunday. His voice is quiet, and serious. Nicole is instantly afraid.

 

“Grey, you sound serious. Did something happen?”

 

“Sorry, Haught. I have a case that's… it's a lot. I hate to even put this in your mind, but I could really use your help. Our consult is… he's a moron. I don't think he's looking at the full picture. His profile and ideas don't make sense, they're like random thoughts. I miss you, Haught. I know you could move this one forward.”

 

“James, are you asking me what I think you are?”

 

“I am, Haught. What would I need to do to convince you to consult on a case with me again?”

 

“James-”

 

“No field work. I can be the boots on the ground. I need your mind, Haught. No one sees people and paper the way you do.” He pauses, breathes. Nicole knows he's about to tell her something personal. “I wouldn't ask if I didn't have to. I can't keep the constant chase up much longer. It's gone on too long, too many people have died. We need you, Haught.”

 

“I… I need time, James. I won't make this decision without Waverly. She needs to know.”

 

“You really love her… Take your time, kiddo. Think, talk it over, whatever you need. I'll be here when you're ready.”

 

“I'll call you, James. It'll be okay.”

 

“I know it will, kiddo. Thanks again for dinner. Waverly is incredible. You chose well.”

 

“Thank you. We'll talk soon.”

 

“That, we will. Night, Haught.”

 

“Goodnight, Grey.”

 

Nicole ends the call, sitting still for a few moments. She drops the phone to the couch, placing her face in her hands and breathing deeply.

 

Can she do this?

 

Chapter Text

Nicole Haught is scared. She's never really felt total panic like this before. The hours spent in the warehouse had been terrifying, but she had quickly accepted her fate. She'd come to terms with losing her life, so others could live. Now, she understood real fear.

 

She was afraid, while also struggling to hide the full-bodied excitement she felt when James had offered her a chance to suit up, and be an Agent again. She missed her old life. The routine of pulling on a lightweight t-shirt, dress shirt, black pants, socks and shoes was so ingrained, even now. She missed blazers and suits. She missed the weight of her badge, and a gun holstered on her hip or inside of a jacket. She missed feeling like one of the good guys.

 

Waverly, though. Waverly had changed everything. Even if she was only consulting, there would still be risks. There would still be chances, and dire situations. There would be mind games and tennis match style battles. Nicole would have to devote herself to the case. She wondered if her relationship could survive that. Could they survive?

 

Her hands shake as she drives. Her only comfort comes from Delta lying in the seat beside her, head resting on her right thigh. He seems to understand somehow, staying close ever since the phone rang. She runs her free hand through his soft fur, trying to take comfort in the dog who understands her better than most humans. She gasps when the phone rings again, Waverly's ringtone playing loudly. She grips the wheel tighter, tapping a button to accept the call.

 

“Hey baby!”

 

“H-hey.” Nicole cringes at the sound of her nervous stutter.

 

“Nic, are you okay? It sounds like you're driving.”

 

“Yeah, I'm fine. I just, uh… can we meet somewhere? I wanna talk to you about something.”

 

“Of course, honey. Where are you?”

 

“How about the pizza place downtown? I've got Delta with me.”

 

“Okay, I'll head that way,” the pause is so loud. “Nic, should I be worried?”

 

“We'll talk, Wave. I promise. I'll see you there.”

 

“Okay. I love you.”

 

“Love you too, babe.”

 

------------------

 

Waverly sees Nicole sitting at an outdoor table, Delta lying by her feet. The redhead looks nervous, hands fidgeting and right leg bouncing. She takes a long draw from the beer bottle in front of her, before leaning back in her chair. Waverly wonders if Nicole ever smoked. If she did, she'd definitely have a cigarette in hand.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Wave, h-hi.”

 

“Can I sit?”

 

“Of course you can. I went ahead and ordered, so we can… so we can talk.”

 

“Okay… Nicole, what is this? Did something happen?”

 

Nicole suddenly realizes Waverly looks scared. Her hands are shaking a little on top of the table, eyes looking down and away. The fear in her hazel eyes is reflected with a glaze of tears, just waiting to slide down her cheeks.

 

“Wave, it's not that kind of talk. I promise you. It's just… James asked me to come back. He wants me to consult on a case, a big one. And… I'm scared. I devote myself to work. I can't… I'm not good at pulling myself out of a case. You mean everything to me, Waverly. I wanna do it. I wanna feel like me again, but I won't sacrifice this. I kind of expect you to tell me no, or to just tell me to do what I want. But, I won't make this decision without you, Waverly. We are in this together. I just… cases change me. They mold me, and make me a different person. I don't know if you'd like me when I work. I just… I don't know what to do. I've been terrified, and excited, all at once. What do I do?”

 

Waverly is quiet. She'd expected Nicole to suddenly become cold, and push her away. Being called to work a case with the FBI again wasn't on her radar. She sees the fear in Nicole's eyes, watches her fidget with the napkin under her beer. She's never seen Nicole look so unsure, so conflicted, before.

 

“I think you should do it.”

 

“...what?”

 

“The case, Nicole. Take it. You're amazing at what you do. I know this means a lot to you. It was your life for years. You should do it. Take the case, and know I'll be here. This isn't the end. I won't let it be.”

 

“You… you want me to take it?”

 

“Yes, you should. I trust you. I trust James. You should take the case, Nic.”

 

“But I-”

 

“Don't question it, Nic. This is what you do, it's what you excel at. Take the case.”

 

“... I love you,” Nicole whispers, eyes watering.

 

She's never loved anyone as much as she loves the woman sitting across from her. Waverly Earp understands her, and it's the best feeling in the world.

 

Waverly reaches across the small table, touching Nicole's face and smiling sweetly.

 

“I love you, too.”

 

----------------

 

Nicole sits on her living room couch, feet (well, foot) up with her back pressed against the armrest. Her laptop is open and holds her full focus, eyes moving across the screen quickly. She looks so serious, so transfixed. Waverly watches quietly from the doorway, enjoying the sight of Nicole in her element. She watches a giant smile stretch across her girlfriend's face, eyes wide and excited. Waverly hears the printer start on a nearby bookshelf, and moves to grab the files.

 

“Wave, hey. No, leave it. It's… it's a surprise.”

 

“Oh yeah? You do know I don't especially like surprises, right?”

 

“I'm aware. I was gonna tell you enough about it, not everything. Please, let me have this one?”

 

“Fine, you owe me though.”

 

Nicole stands, grabbing her forearm crutch and taking the papers from the printer. She steps into Waverly's personal space, smiling down at the girl wearing her US Women's Soccer jersey, and little else.

 

“I promise you'll like it, Wave. I just need you to do one thing: pack a bag for three nights. Long sleeves, sweaters, comfortable clothes. Think you can do that?”

 

“Hmm, I could. Where are we going?”

 

“Away, just you and me. Delta is gonna stay with Holly for a bit. I wanted time with just you before I start consulting.”

 

“You took the case?” Waverly's eyes widen, lips turning up into an excited grin. Nicole smiles back, leaning against the doorframe and setting the crutch against the bookshelf beside them. She slides warm arms around Waverly's waist, moving hair out of her eyes and cupping her cheeks.

 

“I did. This is my way of saying thank you.”

 

“You don't have to.”

 

“I want to. Plus- I really want to have you all to myself. Totally selfish reasons, of course. You okay with that?”

 

Waverly arms wrap around Nicole's neck, fingers sliding into red hair. She smiles, leaning into the strong body in front of her.

 

“Definitely okay. I'll go pack.”

 

----------------

 

Waverly awoke to lips on her neck, and warm hands on her hips. She sighed, curling into sleep-warmed hands and miles of skin. Nicole chuckled, enjoying a slow morning with her girlfriend. Her hands traveled skin she knew well, drawing sighs and quiet moans from the woman beneath her. A nip to the pulse beating in Waverly's neck drew a quick gasp, and nails in her back.

 

“Mmm, you better intend to finish what you started.”

 

“Oh, I fully intend to.”

 

Nicole slides her fingers down from Waverly's collarbone, flipping to the back of her hand as she passed between the valley of her breasts to a toned abdomen. Waverly breathes hard, eyes closing at the lingering touches.

 

“I plan to take my time with you, before I force you to sit in a car with me for a few hours. Is your bag already packed?”

 

Waverly nods, grin spreading. She locks her arms behind Nicole's neck, pulling the woman above her down into a hard kiss.

 

Hands slide, fingers touch, lips press. The drive can wait, Nicole needs Waverly first.

 

Chapter Text

“So, hang on a second. You asked Waverly's permission to take on a case, then planned a romantic getaway as a thank you? That's why I'm dogsitting?”

 

“Yup,” Nicole says with a calm smile. “Plus, Delta’s basically your god-dog. He should get to know you, Holl.”

 

“Wow, how do I get myself a Nicole Haught?”

 

“What?” Nicole's head tilts. Did Holly Stewart just hit on her?

 

“Not like that! It's just… you respect Waverly. You consider her feelings, make decisions with her, not for her. You plan things for her, nice things. It's rare, Nicole. I wish I could find someone like that. I wish someone cared for me like you care for Waverly.”

 

Holly stares at the hardwood floor beneath her feet, avoiding the gaze of her best friend. She's so serious in this moment, calling Nicole by her actual first name. The redhead steps forward, lifting her friend’s dipped chin and smiling softly when their eyes meet.

 

“You'll find it, Holly. I swear it. Don't you dare accept anything less, alright? You deserve to be treated well. You always have.”

 

Holly nods, smile returning to her face. She accepts Nicole's warm embrace, enjoying a moment of comfort and support from one of the few people she respects. She laughs and wipes her forehead when Nicole smacks a loud, fake kiss to the skin there. She slaps at Nicole's chest, pushing her back playfully. Sometimes, she wonders what she did to deserve a friend who cares for her so deeply.

 

“So, do I need anything else to take care of my god-dog properly?”

 

“Nope, it's all in your car. Just know, he'll follow you around over the weekend, until you take him to a park or something. Delta takes play time very seriously.”

 

“Noted. He's in good hands,” Holly’s voice turns serious again, as she steps forward and hugs Nicole. “Be safe, Haughtshot. Enjoy the time with Waverly. You both deserve it.”

 

“Thanks, Holl.”

 

“Mhm, I'll try to act surprised if Waverly comes back wearing an engagement ring.”

 

Holly walks away, laughing at Nicole's flustered stuttering.

 

-----------------

 

Waverly had fallen asleep mere minutes after sliding into the passenger's seat of Nicole's car, head hidden in the gray hood of a stolen sweatshirt, and hands tucked in the front pocket. Her head rested against the glass, which had cooled with every hour that passed. Nicole glanced over at her sleeping girlfriend every few minutes, admiring how peaceful and content she looked. The woman beside her was beautiful beyond measure, perhaps even a bit more when she was hidden within the warmth of Nicole's hoodie.

 

Waverly had a tendency to select her preferred Nicole Haught clothing items, and claim them as her own. The zip-up hoodie was one Nicole had purchased in high school. She had cut small holes in the cuffs to slide her thumbs through, and the fabric was exceptionally soft from numerous washes. Waverly had taken to the hoodie instantly, grinning each time she refused to give it back to its owner. She sighed, snuggling further into the hoodie and smiling in her sleep. Nicole smiles softly, slipping her right hand across the center console to hold Waverly's left one. She lifted both hands to her lips, pressing a kiss below her knuckles.

 

Nicole allowed a thought to slide across her mind for a moment, before shaking it away. She wished she had bought a ring.

 

----------------

 

“Wave, baby, we're here.”

 

The brunette turned toward the sound, blinking and adjusting to the brightness. The world outside was whiter than she was used to. The window she had leaned against had grown cold as they headed up. This world was so different than the heat of Los Angeles.

 

“Where are we?”

 

“Big Bear. Booked us a nice cabin, figured we could just enjoy the slower life for a while. There's a hot tub around here somewhere, I think.”

 

“I've never been here before.”

 

“I know. I might have called Wynonna, did my research. I wanted to go somewhere that could be ours.”

 

Waverly grinned, leaning across the console to kiss her girlfriend.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Anything for you, Wave. Wanna check it out?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

----------------

 

“Wow. Nic, this place is insane. It's gorgeous!” Waverly practically drags Nicole through the cabin, gasping and excitedly exploring each and every room. She finds a hot tub, and squeals excitedly. She seems to forget every word she's ever learned for a few moments when she steps out into the wrap-around porch. She leans into her girlfriend's arms, sighing and looking out across a landscape of green and white.

 

“Nic, this is… It's amazing. You know, I don't think I've seen snow in years. I forgot how beautiful it can be.”

 

“It's incredible. So, you've seen it all. What do you wanna do first?”

 

“I know exactly what I wanna do.”

 

Waverly unzips Nicole's jacket, sliding her hands underneath and slipping them under the hem of her thermal shirt. Her nails lightly scratch a toned abdomen, drawing a gravelly sound from the redhead.

 

“I intend to thank you properly for this. In order to do that, you're gonna need to lose the clothes. All of them.”

 

Waverly's fingers climb, nails digging in a little as they scratch along Nicole's sides. She moves to her tiptoes, nipping at wind-cooled lips, and smirking at the whimper the action draws. Her hands slide out of the shirt, bringing a more frustrated sound to her ears. She grabs the collar of Nicole's leather jacket, pulling the redhead into the warmer air. Nicole doesn't fight. She accepts Waverly's hand, knowing her girlfriend can't navigate a new space backward for long. She follows willingly, eyes darkening along with Waverly’s.

 

The hands return, sliding the jacket down strong arms and letting it fall to the floor. Waverly moves, looking up for a moment for permission, before pulling the thermal shirt over her girlfriend's head. Nicole's eyes are so dark, face serious and focused. Waverly wonders if she's ever been this serious within the four walls of a bedroom before.

 

Nicole forgets how to breathe when hands slide along her abdomen, tangling in the leather of her belt. Waverly smirks devilishly, dropping to her knees and pulling. She's unbuckles the belt without breaking heated eye contact. She pulls, and the leather makes a heavy noise. It slides from its looped home, and clangs metallically as it makes contact with the wooden floor. She slips the button loose, and torturously pulls the zipper of sun-lightened jeans down. Fingers grasp, and Waverly's head tilts, eyes meeting Nicole's. Her girlfriend looks nervous, scared.

 

“I just… y-you don't owe me anything, Waverly. Never. I don't-”

 

“I know, Nic. I wouldn't do anything I didn't already want to. Not with you.”

 

Waverly nuzzles against Nicole's skin, metal from the zipper lightly touching the edges of her jaw. She plants a featherlight kiss to tensing skin, and nips just once. Nicole hisses, hands flexing. She tries to remember what Waverly's name sounds like when she whispers it, the way it sounds only when they're together like this. She closes her eyes, drawing in her held breath before looking down again.

 

“Is this okay?”

 

“Y-yeah, s’good.”

 

“Are you sure, Agent Haught? You don't really sound very sure of yourself right now.”

 

White teeth nip again, leaving blue intentions on the skin. Waverly hums, and Nicole gives in. The edges of Nicole's vision fade and darken. She sees, she knows, only Waverly.

 

Hands move. Waverly is lifted, pulled, manipulated. Her eyes flash, and darken to near obsidian at the sight of Nicole taking control unexpectedly. The moment of intense action lasts only a few moments. Opened jeans, well worn sports bra and striped boy shorts slide across the floor, meeting the abandoned belt. Metal, plastic and cloth reunite like old friends when the prosthetic meets discarded clothing. Waverly remembers how to move her head, eyes lifting and taking in her girlfriend hungrily.

 

“I'm very sure of myself, Professor. Just needed a green light.”

 

No one should look that good leaning against the wall, blissfully naked, with arms crossed and eyes dark. Nicole Haught is unfairly sexy like this.

 

“You have the green light. Definitely have it. Had it all day, all week, all of the time. ...God, you're sexy.”

 

Nicole smirks. “Good, and you have way too many clothes on. Let's fix that, shall we, babe?”

 

----------------

 

“You are really not fair sometimes.”

 

Nicole smiles, looking over her shoulder at her girlfriend. Waverly had opted to wear only Nicole’s tattered FBI National Academy shirt, eyes still half-closed as she stumbles sleepily into the kitchen.

 

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

 

“You… we… all night, Nicole! I don’t even remember falling asleep! How are you even awake right now?”

 

“It’s called stamina, love,” she purrs, pulling Waverly close and wrapping her up tight. “You’re wearing the shirt that made me into the machine I am, by the way. Thought you’d appreciate a good marathon. Was I wrong?”

 

“What? No! You’re just unfairly sexy, and way too good at… that.”

 

“Why, thank you. Ready for some, well, brunch?”

 

“Mmm, definitely.”

 

“I’m glad. You’re definitely gonna need to refuel, so we can go again.”

 

“I’m dating a machine!”

 

“Well, kind of,” Nicole teases, shaking her exposed prosthetic playfully. Waverly giggles, moving to take a seat at the small kitchen table. She gasps when long arms wrap around her, lifting her up onto the counter with a flourish. Nicole smiles, enjoying having Waverly closer to eye level.

 

“One thing first.” Waverly is swept into an unexpected kiss. Her eyes widen for a moment, before she sinks into the body in front of her, hands gripping a soft t-shirt. She revels in the kiss, once lazy, now a little steamy. She smiles dopily when Nicole pulls away, pressing her lips to Waverly’s cheek for a moment.

 

“Okay. Now, food.”

 

----------------

 

Nicole sits on the couch in the living room, staring out of the panoramic window thoughtfully. She's been quiet for most of the afternoon, seeming to realize they only have one more night in the cabin. It's been so calming to get away from everything, to spend a few moments just breathing and sharing a space with Waverly. She wonders if she's ever felt this normal, this complete, before.

 

“Hey, you okay?” Waverly asks, running her hand along the couch and across Nicole's shoulders. She leans down, kissing the crown of red hair and loosely wrapping her arms around her girlfriend's neck from behind.

 

“Yeah, just thinking.”

 

“Oh yeah? What about?”

 

“This. Being here. I didn't know I could feel like this, you know? It's so different to feel so… right with someone. To feel like I fit. You've changed everything for me, Waverly. I'm not sure how I could ever begin to thank you for that.”

 

“Thank me? Why would you ever think you needed to thank me? You've made my life better, too. That's thanks enough.”

 

“If you insist. C’mere.”

 

Waverly moves, walking around the couch. Nicole reaches for her hand, gently pulling her girlfriend down to the couch. Nicole grins as legs bracket hers. Warm hands move around a perfect waist, grazing pointed hipbones and circling soft skin. They're quiet for several moments, Waverly's fingers tangling in red hair and massaging the back of her neck. Nicole looks serious, thoughtful.

 

“I love you. You know that, right?”

 

“I know. l love you, too, Nic.”

 

“I'm glad. Thank you for coming here with me. We needed this.”

 

“I agree. It's been nice to be here with you.”

 

“I wish we didn't have to go back sometimes. I like this. I don't wanna give it up. Don't wanna share you with the outside world again.”

 

“You never have to share me, Nic. You have all of me.”

“Good,” Nicole whispers, leaning up to kiss her girlfriend. Her fingers dig into slim hips, testing to see how much pressure Waverly can tolerate. The brunette sighs, pulling back and grinning at Nicole's slight growl.

 

“Easy, tiger. How about you head to the bedroom for me?”

 

“Why would I wanna do that?”

 

“Maybe I bought something for the weekend, and haven't worn it yet.”

 

Nicole forgets how to speak. She stares up at Waverly, eyes wide. She can't move when Waverly slides off her lap, winking before turning to walk down the hall with swaying hips. She finally regains the ability to respond,  scrambling off the couch and heading to the large bedroom. She sits awkwardly on the edge of the bed, pulling off her jeans and leaning down to remove the prosthetic with shaking hands. She places it under the bed, and sits up, hands nervously fidgeting in her lap. Brown eyes lift to stare at the bathroom door when it swings open. Waverly leans against the doorframe, a dirty smile on her face at the sight of a nervous Nicole Haught. She watches her girlfriend's jaw drop, eyes widening. She can't speak.

 

Waverly is wearing a sinfully sexy outfit, perfect body on display. Her legs are covered from thigh to foot in sheer black stockings. The stockings are clipped to a matching garter belt, slung low around her waist, in order to expose miles of soft skin. Nicole's mind can barely comprehend the silky underwear and a push-up bra set gracing Waverly's compact frame. Her vision momentarily goes as black as the full lingerie set on her favorite body. The body she's learned, and knows better than her own. She can't speak, can barely breathe. Waverly Earp is the most beautiful woman on the planet.

 

“Wave.”

 

“Hey there, tiger. I see you do listen to commands.”

 

She giggles when Nicole nods dumbly, hands still fidgeting in her lap.

 

“Do you like following commands, baby?”

 

Brown eyes widen, head tilting slightly at the question. Waverly is rarely this assertive in the bedroom. She briefly wonders what's gotten into her girlfriend. The thought evaporates when Waverly crosses the room, legs seeming to stretch and flex for miles.

 

“Lay down, Nic.”

 

“Yes, ma'am.”

 

“Ooh, I like it when you're charming. Keep it up, baby.”

 

Waverly's movements seem almost predatory, hands moving along Nicole's bare thighs. She's like a lioness, stalking her prey. She will pounce, and her girlfriend will be defenseless.

 

“Now, you got to be the boss yesterday, despite my best efforts. How about you let me take care of you tonight?”

 

“Yes ma'am.”

 

“Good answer. Lay back, Cole. I fully intend to actually thank you this time.”

 

The lioness strikes. Her prey is helpless.

 

----------------

 

“Wow.”

 

“That all you’ve got, Haught?”

 

“Yes. Yes, it is. You broke me. I don’t think I can move.”

 

“That good, huh?”

 

“You’re kidding, right? Wave, you are insatiable. I don’t think my legs… leg, will ever work again. I’m never going to be able to leave this bed.”

 

Waverly smiles, sliding back up her girlfriend’s body. She stops only once, to nip a somehow unmarked collarbone. She presses herself against the sweaty body below her, lips grazing a flushed neck. She revels in the pulse beating rhythmically beneath her lips.

 

“Too heavy?” she whispers, testing by pressing her full body down into the woman below her.

 

“Never. You stay right there.”

 

“Good. I don’t plan on moving, maybe ever.”

 

“Sounds good to me.”

 

Shaky arms wrap around Waverly, holding her loosely. Her hands are still tingly, and a little clumsy. Fingers graze the dimples of Waverly’s lower back, drawing a shiver and slight gasp. She smiles at the feeling, letting her teeth run along the tripping pulse so close to her mouth.

 

“Nap?”

 

“Definitely.”

 

-----------------

 

“Nic, no, don’t! Baby, please.”

 

Waverly is shouting, boots crunching across snow as she runs. She looks for a snowdrift to hide behind, anywhere she can breathe for a moment. She’s lost sight of her opponent, and is certain this won’t end well for her. A hiding place has been spotted, and she all but skids to a stop behind an actual woodpile. She presses her back into the side, peering around the corner to check for Nicole. Nothing. As she moves to check the other side, her hands automatically begin to form new snowballs. She has to defend herself against the trained Agent as best she can.

 

She squeals when arms wrap around her, pulling her out of the safety of the woodpile and out into the open. Note to self: never start a snowball fight with an FBI agent. You will lose.

 

“Cole, don’t you dare.”

 

“Don’t what, bury you in the snow? I told you I’d win, babe. You asked for this.”

 

“I forgot you’re so sneaky. Can I surrender?”

 

“Hmm, maybe. Or…”

 

Nicole lifts Waverly in the air, turning them and diving into a deep snowdrift. Waverly squeals when snow packs into her jacket, sliding down beneath the collar and under the raised hem. She shivers, slapping at Nicole’s chest and squeaking.

 

“Cold, cold, cold! Nic!”

 

“Sorry, babe. I always get my man, or girl. Admit defeat, and I’ll let you go.”

 

“I surrender. Just, please-”

 

Waverly loses her breathe when Nicole leans down, kissing her deeply. She can taste Nicole’s smile, and feel her body radiate heat between them. She relaxes into her girlfriend’s warmth, wishing the moment would never end.

 

“I love you,” Nicole whispers, eyes still closed as she hovers above Waverly.

 

“I love you, too. Even though you’re kind of an ass.”

 

“Can’t win ‘em, all. Here,” Nicole pulls Waverly upright, helping her shake out her jacket. Her cheeks warm when Nicole sheepishly holds out a dry jacket for her, one she’d seen the redhead wear the day before while chopping wood for their nightly fire. Waverly pulls it on quickly, nuzzling into the warmth with a sigh.

 

“You ready to go?”

 

“Do we have to?”

 

“Technically, yes. We’ll have to remember this place when one of us wins the lottery, writes the Great American Novel or robs a bank though. I think even Delta would like it here.”

 

“I've missed Delta following me around all weekend. Deal.” She pauses for a moment, taking it all in. “Hey Nic, thank you. This weekend, it’s been perfect.”

 

“It has. I’m glad we did this.”

 

“Me, too. Now, let’s get in the car. I have a three hour nap to take.”

 

“You’re kind of the worst road trip partner ever. Cute, but boring.” Nicole grins, pulling Waverly along by the hand. “Come on, I already started the car. It’s nice and warm for ya.”

 

“You’re too good to me, Agent Haught.”

 

“Damn right I am, Professor Earp.”

 

The two walk to the car, hands loosely linked. Waverly can’t stop herself from swooning when Nicole opens the door for her, kissing her sweetly before gently shutting the door and heading to the driver’s side.

 

Moments like this make her wonder how she ever lived in a world without Nicole Haught. She realizes the answer is simple- she wasn’t really living, just surviving.

 

Chapter Text

“You look incredible, Agent Haught.”

 

Waverly grins from the doorway, admiring the sight of her girlfriend back in FBI black and white. Her shirt and pants have been meticulously ironed, shoes shined, jacket hanging on the closet door. Waverly wonders how anyone could willingly walk away from Nicole. She's so… good.

 

“Thanks.”

 

“You're nervous.”

 

“Yeah, I am. I-I didn't think I'd get to do this again. It feels good… and scary. I don't know how to be this person again. What if I can't do it anymore, Wave?”

 

“Hey, c’mere,” Nicole's hands are shaking when she moves to stand in front of her girlfriend. Waverly's hand slide along Nicole's chest, moving up to strong shoulders for a moment. She cups flushed cheeks, smiling at the woman in front of her.

 

“You are brilliant, Nicole. You can do this. I have no doubt. Plus, James will be there. He won't let you screw up too badly.”

 

Nicole nuzzles her face into the hands touching her, looking down at the woman standing so close.

 

“What did I do to deserve you?”

 

“Good question. I ask myself the same thing about you every day.”

 

----------------

 

Nicole Haught looks cool and confident as she strolls into the FBI Building. She removes her sunglasses and locks eyes with her partner. James strolls to stand in front of his partner, face serious.

 

“Grey.”

 

“Haught.”

 

The two stand still for a few moments, arms crossed and eyes steely. James breaks first, a grin spreading across his features. He steps forward, pulling Nicole into a tight hug.

 

“Missed you, kiddo.”

 

“Kinda crushing me here, Grey.”

 

“Yeah yeah, you always were a bit of a whiner. Let's head up. You have a briefing to attend.”

 

James Grey slings his arm around Haught’s shoulders, guiding her to the elevators. The team is finally back together.

 

----------------

 

Nicole finds herself in the Director’s office, eyes focused on the large man behind an equally giant desk. He looks seriously at Nicole, studying. After uncomfortable silence, FBI Director Marcus Williams speaks.

 

“There's a lot to learn, Haught. We’ve already placed all of the available files in your office. I know how much you like your research.”

 

“Thank you, sir.”

 

“Are you sure you're up for this, Haught? It's been a while. This is a make or break case.”

 

“I'm here, sir. If I had any doubt, I never would've walked into the building.”

 

“That's the Nicole I remember. I'm glad to see you again, Haught.”

 

“You as well, Director.”

 

“Well, we have work to do then. Time to play ball, Haught.”

 

----------------

 

Nicole is stunned. The case is far beyond anything she expected. Someone is planning systematically and tormenting randomly chosen victims, spending an unknown amount of time with them, before they choose to kill themselves.

 

She stares at the photos of fourteen victims, trying to find a pattern. Anything to get the case moving. She looks for the best way to unravel the knots of the case, to begin to make the picture clearer.

 

James stands across from her, watching closely. He's watched quietly all day, only interjecting when his partner asks a question. When his phone beeps, he finally breaths and steps into the small office.

 

“End of the day, Haught. Time to head home.”

 

“I can- I can stay. Make some progress. I wanna figure this out, Grey. I just need time.”

 

“Hey, you'll have time tomorrow, Haught. Go home, kiss your girlfriend, have dinner. It'll all be here tomorrow.”

 

“Yeah, you're right. Let's go. More tomorrow.”

 

James wraps his arm around his partner's shoulders again, mentally admitting he missed this habit of theirs. They walk to the elevators together, no words exchanged. Once inside, Nicole leans back against the wall, taking a deep breath and pressing her fingers into her temples.

 

“You'll get ‘em, Haught. We will figure this out, together. Put it on the back burner for tonight. Spend time with your girl. We’ll make progress tomorrow.”

 

“Okay,” she whispers, looking back up when the door opens.

 

“That’a girl. Let's get outta here, shall we?”

 

----------------

Nicole unlocks her front door, body starting to sag as she steps inside. She sees Waverly curled up on the couch with Delta, fingers absently stroking fur as she reads. Nicole gives a low whistle, making Delta’s ears perk. He saunters over to her, happily accepting a scratch behind the ears before heading outside. Waverly's face brightens as she makes eye contact with her slightly rumpled girlfriend. She moves to stand, raising an eyebrow when Nicole shakes her head. She watches the redhead complete her routine- shoes placed on the mat near the door, wallet, badge and keys in the catch-all on the kitchen counter, gun checked and placed in the small gun safe on her desk. She slumps onto the couch beside Waverly, leaning her head back and sighing loudly. She slips her fingers under her belt, removing it and the black dress pants laboriously. The redhead groans appreciatively when her prosthetic has been removed and set aside.

 

“Hi, baby,” Waverly says quietly, watching her girlfriend closely.

 

“Hey, babe.”

 

“Good day?”

 

“Good. Long. Very, very long.”

 

“What's the case like?”

 

Nicole is quiet for a moment, before whispering, “Terrifying.”

 

“That bad?”

 

“Nightmare fuel. Can we talk about something else?”

 

“Yeah, of course. I ordered pizza. Figured we'd have a slow night at home. That okay?”

“Yeah, sounds good. Thank you.”

 

Waverly watches, and Nicole breathes. She tries to move the case aside, and focus on the woman sitting beside her so patiently.

 

“C’mere.”

 

Waverly grins, sliding herself onto Nicole's lap, and wrapping her arms around her neck loosely. She nuzzles a pale neck, inhaling the scent of Nicole deeply and smiling. When she moves back, Nicole is there. Hands slide under her chin, and lift Waverly into a slow kiss. Time stops for a few moments as they finally meet in the middle, and place the world around them on pause.

 

“Missed you. God, I needed that.”

 

“Me, too,” Waverly responds. Her hands slide down from Nicole's neck, moving to unbutton the dress shirt still gracing her tall frame. Nicole is still, allowing her girlfriend to help her get comfortable, to finally relax. She moves only for the shirt to be removed and placed atop her discarded pants.

 

Waverly slips off of Nicole's lap long enough to let Delta back in, sliding back across warm thighs the first chance she gets. Their foreheads touch, lips so close. Waverly can smell the hint of cinnamon from the gum Nicole chews when she thinks. She can practically taste the slight spice in the air they share. They're quiet, waiting, enjoying.

 

“How harshly would you judge me if I said I'm ready for bed?”

 

“Hmm, minimally. How about you take a hot shower first? It'll help you relax. I'll get Delta sorted.”

 

“Sounds great. You ready for bed, too, big guy?”

 

Delta rests his head beside the couple, looking up at his owner expectantly. He moves to nuzzle against Waverly's hand, eyes closing when her nails lightly scratch soft fur. He huffs, pressing the tip of his nose into Nicole's thigh twice.

 

“He's ready. I think he likes you better anyway.”

 

“Really? He doesn't always listen to me like he does you.”

 

“True, but you also sneak him food when you think I'm not looking.”

 

“Busted.”

 

“Big time. Go put your boyfriend to bed, Wave. I'll go clean up some.”

 

“One thing first.”

 

Waverly kisses Nicole hard, teeth nipping and pulling at her bottom lip playfully. She smiles when Nicole groans, suddenly boneless beneath her. She whimpers when Waverly stands, sliding her hand along Nicole's jaw for a moment.

 

“Come on, Delta. Bedtime.”

 

The dog follows obediently, head close to Waverly's hand. Nicole laughs, before she realizes her dog only responds to English commands when given by her girlfriend.

 

“Can't blame him,” she whispers to herself, “he has excellent taste in women.”

 

Chapter Text

The weather has cooled, and so has Nicole’s responsiveness to Waverly’s touch.

 

One day has spread like a wildfire, burning and melting into thirteen days. Nicole is distant, pulling and stepping backward from the warmth of familiar hands. Hands that have studied, hands that know her on a level she never believed possible. Nicole keeps moving away, taking hesitant steps back until she hits a wall. Then, she slides down and crawls. She crawls, and hopes no one notices.  

 

She spends hours, near lifetimes at the FBI offices, staring at a whitewashed sea of papers, or her wide computer screen. She keeps earphones in, eyes focused, mouth a thin line, head down. No one knows what she hears, or how she survives the world without clock ticks. Her neck is tight, muscles pulled taut and tensed to steel. Her hands constantly make contact with her face and hair. They need work to do, but never receive a signal.

 

James worries. He stands, and he worries. He paces, and he worries.

 

He calls Waverly, and apologizes. I’m sorry. I didn’t think. I thought this would be good for her. He apologizes, and orders dinner again. Another meal that will inevitably grow cold atop the glass desk she never notices. He calls Emily, and hears his own quiet voice, weighted by concern. He’ll be home soon, he just needs to get Haught into her car, or his car. He needs to decide if he’ll have to carry her out of the building.

 

He hopes he can find a way to get his partner back, before everyone ends up losing.

 

------------------

 

“Nic, hey.”

 

There’s so much silence in this house. Waverly waits. She hopes. She’s surprised when she hears a word hover in the air.

 

“Hey.”

 

“How was your day?” she cringes, stupid question. “I just… you didn’t call or text, so I don’t know how-”

 

“It was fine, Wave. I’m going to bed.”

 

Lips touch a creased forehead absently, then heavy steps move down the wooden hall. Waverly chokes on her breath. She misses when simply being in Nicole’s presence would set her alight. When Nicole would steal her gaze, and set the room on fire. Now, everything is dry, and emotionless. The wildfire smoldered itself to ash.

 

Waverly tries to pretend it doesn’t hurt.

 

-----------------

 

Nicole stands alone, files moved haphazardly to the large, glass conference room. She stares at the long table covered in documents, the whiteboard covered in evidence; photos and patterns. She thinks, studies, and analyzes in silence. She looks for anything that can point to a suspect.

 

The Chinese food ordered and delivered hours ago sits on the opposite end of the table, untouched. Her coffee grew cold, forgotten. She doesn’t seem to remember that she needs food to keep her mind active, to prevent her body from destroying itself from the inside out. Her charcoal dress shirt is unbuttoned and untucked, limply hanging. The black v-neck is bared to the room, seeming like nightfall against the background of white paint and recently cleaned glass. She leans, fingers clawed and pressed into her left thigh. She doesn’t remember a world without dulled pain sinking in and holding.   

 

The sun is a bit lower in the sky, casting the room in a burnt orange hue. Nicole looks more fiery, more ignited, than before. James stands outside of the glass room, watching. He feels guilty, knowing he dragged Nicole back into this world. He did this. He's brought Waverly down, too. He sighs, preparing to enter the room again. Pep talks have failed, it’s time to be a reprimanding father figure.

 

His head snaps to the side when the elevator sound. He hopes. Breath finally leaves his chest when a  woman steps out of the elevator, and confidently strides toward him.

 

“Dr. Foster?”

 

“Yes, Gillian. You must be James Grey.”

 

“I am. Thank you for coming.”

 

“Of course. I have to admit, hearing Nicole's name again was… intriguing. I'm ready to help if she needs me.”

 

James can’t help but admire the woman. Dr Gillian Foster is beautiful. She is dressed impeccably, somehow managing to appear well put together and professional after spending hours on an airplane. James briefly wonders if his partner had a crush on the older woman standing before him. Everything that is Dr. Foster is grace and authority, from her long heeled stride and strong presence, to her navy blue belted dress.  

 

“I'm glad. She… you know how she can get. She's living and breathing this case. She won’t leave, doesn’t eat. I just… I don’t want her to forget the world outside of here.”

 

“Haught was one of my best students. Her talent is unmatched. She's worth a flight from D.C. May I see what you have so far, please?”

 

James holds the door open for his invited guest, staying in the hall. He hopes seeing an old friend will help pull Nicole back. He finally leaves his post, heading down the hall to retrieve coffee for Dr. Foster and Nicole.

 

-----------------



“Hello, Nicole.”

 

“Foster? Wha-what are you doing here?”

 

“I was called. I heard you have a case, and thought I could be of service.”

 

“I can do this. I have to do this. All of these people…”

 

“Nicole, I need you to look at me. You're right- you can do this. I’m here to ensure it. You need something to work with, somewhere to start. I can help, James wants to help. Let us start to piece this together, then you can use your mind. You can’t use magic or psychology to narrow this down, not yet.”

 

“Okay. Okay, yeah.”

 

“Good. Show me what you have, Haught. I want to see everything- every pattern, every name, every photograph. We will start to put the puzzle together, build the edges and work our way in.”

 

Nicole smiles for the first time in days. She shows her mentor everything.

 

----------------

 

Waverly is stunned when her phone vibrates. No one has texted her in days. James always calls. Her eyes water at the sight of the screen full of messages.

 

Nic: i’m sorry, Waverly. i love you so damn much.

Nic: dinner tonight at Emily’s place. call a car. there’s someone i want you to meet.

Nic: i’ll tell you everything. i promise.

 

Chapter Text

Waverly jumps, skin tingling and shifting above exposed nerves and tensed muscle. Her body reacts, and tries to fight her battles for her. She wasn’t expecting the touch; it’s been days, weeks. She forgot what those hands feel like.

 

“Easy, babe. It’s just me. I’m sorry, I thought you heard me.”

 

Her breath is choked, and a brief haze of tears form in her eyes. She’s missed that voice, the way Nicole’s fingers run along her body so perfectly. The way her simple touch can calm every storm in her mind with easy contact. The way Nicole reads her, and knows her so intimately.

 

“Sorry, just jumpy, I guess.”

 

“That’s my fault. I’m sorry, Wave. I’m so sorry.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Can I… come here, please.”

 

Waverly accepts Nicole’s extended hand, and smiles softly when Nicole looks to her for consent to touch. She always checks in first, no matter the situation. Waverly revels in the contact, resting her cheek against her girlfriend’s chest. She’d missed the way Nicole’s heartbeat felt just beneath her skin, and the way her arms always found the right place to wrap and hold. They stay wrapped together on the sidewalk for a long time, bodies remembering how the other feels. Nicole can’t stop herself from pressing her lips to the dipped crown of Waverly’s head. She’d missed feeling strong, like she could save someone again.

 

“Hi, love. God, I missed you. I forgot how good it feels to hold you.”

 

“I missed you, too, Nic. Too much.”

 

“I know. I’m sorry, Wave. So damn sorry. I didn’t-”

 

“Don’t. We’ll talk, I promise. You said you wanted me to meet someone.”

 

“I do. Let’s go inside, yeah? Emily kicked everyone out. It’s just us, the Greys and my mentor.”

 

“Your mentor?”

 

“Long story. I’ll add it to the list. Can I, um… can I kiss you before we go in?”

 

Waverly steps back, smiling up at her girlfriend happily. Her Nicole is coming back, piece by piece.

 

“You’d better, Haught.”

 

---------------

 

Nicole grins. She adores the sight of James and Emily Grey, sitting and talking with Gillian Foster like they’ve known each other for years. She feels Waverly’s hand in hers, and knows she needs something more. She gives the brunette a reassuring squeeze before pressing her lips to a soft cheek, and wrapping an arm around the smaller woman’s shoulders. It feels better to have Waverly beside her, not in front or behind. Gillian’s eyebrow lifts at Nicole’s affectionate move. The sweet and loving side of her former student is a new sight. UCLA and Quantico Nicole was cocky, with a tendency to flaunt her ability to make her face shift expressions quickly. She could change from angry to teasing to serious in milliseconds. She was protective, strong and focused. She was more like the Nicole standing in the conference room, scowling at pages of data.

 

Gillian stands when the couple nears her, moving to shake hands with the woman who instantly put a smile on Nicole’s face. She needs to know this woman, to understand what she’s done to shift her student from a cocky powerhouse to a kind-hearted adult.

 

“Wave, this is Dr. Gillian Foster. Though she’ll definitely disagree, she made me the person I am today. Taught me everything I know, and see. Went above and beyond for me. Without her, I’d still be a cocky jerk, probably with a broken jaw and no friends. Foster, this is my girlfriend, Waverly Earp. She’s a-”

 

“Professor of Linguistics and Anthropology at UCLA. I’m perfectly capable of researching, Haught. Surely you expected me to have done my homework on the girl you can’t stop talking about. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Professor Earp.”

 

“And you, Dr. Foster. I’ve heard many things, all good. This one really took a liking to you.”

 

“How you tolerated a cocky Nicole Haught, I’ll never know,” Emily says, interrupting with a widening grin. “Now, we all know each other. Sit down, before the food gets cold. We can talk over pasta just as well as a tablecloth.”

 

Nicole laughs, moving to pull out Waverly’s chair. She smiles, pressing a kiss to waiting lips for a brief moment, before sliding the chair and Waverly closer to the table. She sits beside her girlfriend, arm returning to rest across her shoulders.

 

Wine is poured, plates are filled, bites are eaten and shared. They talk for hours, discussing anything they can legally mention about the case with Waverly and each other. The brunette is fascinated by the group of people around her. She loves hearing Nicole speak, allowing a glimpse into the way her mind works underneath all of the layers of armor she wears daily. Her mind is infinite- beautiful and pressing, calculated and determined. Waverly knows Nicole is intelligent. She’s seen flashes of her brilliance when she gives Dutch commands, hints at her knowledge of French and Arabic and responds to Waverly’s excited rambling about languages and their impact on humankind. Seeing her at work, breaking things down and comprehending at breakneck speed is beautiful to behold. She knew Nicole specialized in deception, but honestly had no idea she was considered a deception expert and renowned criminologist by most in her field. Listening to Nicole begin to narrow down the possibilities and develop a profile may be the most attractive thing she’s ever heard.

 

“Sorry if this is boring, babe. We’re on the right track. Learned a long time ago I do my best work when I can work through things aloud.”

 

Nicole’s lips are close to her ear, breath tickling and warm. She can smell the alcohol consumed over time, and a hint of that damned cinnamon gum. She stays still for a few moments, waiting. Nicole doesn’t move an inch, body pressed against Waverly’s side. Her lips turn up, smirk developing like a Polaroid photo. It’s moments of black and dark, slowly beginning a reverse fade to white and color.

 

“You okay there, babe?”

 

Waverly turns slightly, holding in a sigh when Nicole inches her face away.

 

“Yeah, good. I like listening, actually. You don’t normally talk me through things like this. It’s nice. I’m learning how your mind works. Plus, I like the Greys and Dr. Foster.”

 

“I’m glad. If you’re bored, we can go. James says we’ll start later tomorrow, after lunch. We got a lot done tonight.”

 

She indicates the notepad in front of her, full of fresh ink from the brainstorming session that started over dessert. Nicole would move between scrawling across the page for a few moments, and sweetly sharing bites of the turtle cheesecake with her girlfriend. She shifted between business mode, and sweet girlfriend so easily. Gillian had commented on it, smiling at her protege as she pointed out the welcome change.

 

“Seeing you happy has been wonderful, Nicole. I don’t recall ever seeing you smile this much. Not that I would spy on your personal life, I just happen to see more than most. Your face was never this… bright, before.”

 

“I feel different, in a very good way. Waverly’s been good for me. She doesn’t let me shut down, or act like a jerk. I tried to, when the case started. I pulled back and made things about me. I can see that now. Thankfully, she knows I’ll always come back. Doesn’t mean I won’t apologize properly later. I have lots of things to be sorry for. Not one of them is choosing her.”



Waverly grins, reaching for Nicole’s jaw. She kisses her girlfriend hard, smile never slipping. Nicole’s back, and the world feels bright again.

 

Chapter Text

James and Dr. Foster enter the conference room, confusion written across their faces. Nicole sounded excited on the phone. She insisted she’d had a breakthrough, and asked the two to hurry back from the coffee shop.

 

After their Wednesday night dinner, Nicole seems to have normalized. Having Dr. Foster around has made a monumental difference. She remains clearly focused on the case, with the added ability to turn off the research side of her brain when it’s time to go home. She eats lunch with her team, takes breaks, excitedly groups documents and theories, and even smiles on occasion. James is glad to have his partner back, mentally and physically.

 

Now, her smile is blinding and wide, eyes bright and excited. Gillian Foster would know that look anywhere- the student side of Nicole has come out to play, and she’s figured out the puzzle before the rest of the class.

 

“Alright, Haught, what did you figure out?”

 

“Everything, James. All of it. I went through our notes from dinner and all of the new stuff, and started piecing things together. We have a profile.”

 

“Nicole, are you saying you developed a full criminal profile, in the time it took us to walk down the street?” Dr Foster asks, intrigued.

 

“Exactly what I’m saying, and it’s a good one. We finally have a starting place. Do you wanna see it? I just finished writing it up on the board.”

 

“You’re joking, right? Of course we do! Show your work, kiddo!”

 

Nicole turns the whiteboard over, revealing a wall of text in her noticeably neater scrawl. She watches Gillian’s face, smiling at the slow transition from concentration to understanding. The final, lasting expression is the best part- Dr. Gillian Foster is proud of her protege.

 

Criminal Profile:

 

Male, age 25-45

 

Criminal justice background

Experience with crime scenes (no evidence)

Leadership role in background?

 

Victims likely find him charming/attractive

Tracks victims, knows their routines

Calculating, patient, meticulous

Commanding, persuasive, conniving

 

Able to convince victims to kill themselves

Does he use only words, or threaten action?

What is the alternative to suicide if the victim refuses?  

How does he convince the victim to end their life?

 

Nicole Haught is back, and better than ever.

 

----------------

 

Director Williams looks pleased. He actually smiles, and puts the reunited Grey-Haught team in charge of a task force. He promises any and all resources the two need, and makes Dr. Foster an offer to keep her in California indefinitely.

 

Gillian nods and smiles at Nicole, sneaking away to James’ office to call her business partner. James grins and wraps his partner in a side-hug, whispering how proud he is against her cheek. Nicole steps into her new office, and calls Waverly.

 

“Hey ya, gorgeous.”

 

“Hi, baby. You sound happy.”

 

“Very happy. We have a profile, Wave! We can finally get to work, and start tracking this guy down.”

 

“Nic, that’s amazing! I’m so proud of you.”

 

“Thanks, babe. We have to celebrate tonight. Dinner, at the least. I have plans for you.”

 

“Ooh, I love it when you have plans for me. Anything I need to prepare for?”

 

“Nope, just be ready to be wined and dined, and then some.”

 

“I really like the sound of that. When will you be home?”

 

“6:30, I’ll change and we’ll go from there.”

 

“Perfect. I’ll see you then.”

 

“You will… hey, Wave? Thank you. I know this has been hard on you. I’ve been a jerk. Just… thanks for letting me do this.”

 

“Always.”

 

“Okay, I’ll see you in a bit. Love you.”

 

“Love you, too, Nic.”

 

----------------

 

An hour later, James leads the task force briefing. He calmly walks the chosen few through the case, profile and next steps. They’re ready to work to catch their man. Nicole and Dr. Foster stand on either side of James, a few feet back. They’re watching, observing. Nicole looks serious, arms crossed and gaze focused. Gillian stands straight and strong, notebook in hand. They watch the faces in the room closely, careful to ensure no one seems to be unaffected or already privy to the new information. The room of faces all look surprised, shocked or upset. After the briefing ends, the psychologist and the deception expert meet for a few moments, making quick notes about the task force members. They identify everyone, and talk about what they saw. Everyone seems to check out.

 

The three meet in the Director’s office for a final time, discussing the plan for the next few days. James can’t stop grinning, hands fidgeting excitedly. Gillian is poised and professional, as always, continuing to take notes. Nicole can feel her stomach fluttering. She finally feels like a part of the team again. No one misses Director Williams clapping Nicole on the back and congratulating her on a job well done.

 

----------------

 

Waverly is in Nicole’s arms the moment the redhead steps into the house, giggling when she’s spun around the room. She buries her nose into her girlfriend’s neck, smiling. She has her Nicole back. Waverly sighs when she’s gently set back down to the floor, not wanting to pull back from the embrace. She’d missed this feeling of weightlessness and warmth she finds in Nicole’s arms.

 

“Hi, baby,” Nicole whispers, lifting Waverly’s chin gently.

 

“Hi.”

 

“You look beautiful. Ready for dinner?”

 

“Yeah, do you need to change?”

 

“In a sec, need to do something important first.”

 

Nicole pulls Waverly back against her body, leaning down to kiss her fully. Waverly’s hands tangle in red hair, Nicole holds Waverly’s face gently. Nicole whispers “I love you” like a mantra between kisses, ensuring Waverly never doubts her feelings.

 

All the time in the world seems to pass by in the time it takes to snap your fingers. Together, they feel endless and strong. Waverly Earp is all Nicole will ever need to be happy. She’s everything.

 

Chapter Text

Nicole struggles to catch her breath, lungs burning with labored effort. She lays flat on her back, trying to calm her racing heart. Everything within her feels heavy, and she’s so tired. She wonders if she’ll ever get the feeling back in her hands, if she’ll ever be able to move.

 

“Jesus, Wave. That was… wow. Just, wow.”

 

“Two wows. I’m so proud.”

 

“You should be. How do you keep getting better at that?”

 

“Learned from the best.”

 

The kiss that follows is messy, and definitely not appropriate outside of the bedroom. Nicole swears when they separate. Waverly Earp owned her. Her collarbone is bruised from Waverly’s shameless branding and quick nipping bites. She wants to berate the smaller woman, but honestly, she loved every second of it. She makes a mental note to button her shirts a bit higher this week.

 

Waverly moves, finding a comfortable spot atop Nicole’s still shaking thighs. She smirks as only Nicole’s eyes move, admiring the woman above her quietly. Her eyes tell Waverly everything. There is so much love in them, with an underlying hunger she’s never seen on another face. The room is still, no longer filled with the light sounds of Nicole’s heavy breaths.

 

Nicole admires, observes; she hopes. She hopes she can spend every day of her life admiring Waverly Earp in all of her glory.

 

----------------

 

“Haught, we’ve got suspects. Conference room in five.”

 

Nicole nods to her partner, heading to the lounge to retrieve coffee for herself and Dr. Foster. She smiles at her mentor, shyly handing over a perfectly prepared cup in a porcelain FBI mug.

 

“You’re quiet today, Nicole. Everything alright?”

 

“Yeah, I just didn’t think we’d make progress this quickly. I’m excited, and a little nervous. I want to close this case clean, no casualties.”

 

“You’ve done great work, Nicole. James is ready, you’re ready. Just stay focused, and you’ll do well. We won’t let you fail.”

 

“I know. Just… I'm afraid. I don't want to get hurt again, or let anyone else get hurt because of me. I don't want to hurt or scare Waverly. I have more to lose this time, you know?”

 

“You might have more to lose. More importantly- you have more to fight for.”

 

Nicole grins, nodding in agreement.

 

“She's worth fighting for. You've always been the smartest woman I know, Foster. Just, don't tell Waverly I said that.”

 

They laugh, Gillian's hand resting on Nicole's shoulder as they walk to the conference room.

 

----------------

 

“Alright, everyone sit down. We've got some faces to check out. Our forensic technology team reviewed footage and photos from the crime scenes, and found some familiar faces. We've got five men to check out. They all seem to fit Haught’s profile. Andrew is passing out some packets with photos. Those photos don't leave this building, no exceptions. I want names, address and life stories yesterday. Find these guys. Dismissed.”

 

The room mostly clears, some staying behind to discuss the photos and new information. James is quiet, leaning against the heavy desk in the front of the room. Gillian stays close to Nicole, strategizing where they can go to review the photos on a bigger screen.

 

There is work to do.

 

------------------

 

It’s been a long day. Nicole runs jittery hands through her hair, trying to pull herself out of work mode. She needs a break, and a chance to breathe. Stress sits across Nicole’s shoulders, hovering and pressing down with each new document and photo. She needs a spotter, someone to take some of the weight, so she can get her feet back underneath her. She needs to be surrounded by people outside of the case, who can make her forget the seas of faces for a little while. Waverly is the answer.

 

Nic: hey babe. any interest in a drink with the gang tonight? i could use a break from all of this.

Waves: sounds great actually. Holly, Wynonna, Callie?

Nic: perfect. i’ll come home and change, then we’ll call a car. no driving tonight. i need a night with little responsibility.

Waves: you got it. i’ll head to your place, let Delta out.

Nic: thank you, Wave. i love you.

Waves: love you, too, Haughtstuff.

 

Nicole groans. Wynonna is rubbing off on her younger sister.

 

-----------------

 

The group of women are all shockingly quiet when Waverly and Nicole arrive. They smile wordlessly, each hugging the newcomers warmly. Nicole raises an eyebrow when Holly hugs her tightly, refusing to let go for several long moments.

 

“Hol, you okay?” she whispers into dark hair.

 

“Yeah, I just… I’ve been worried,” she whispers, nodding toward the bar and pulling Nicole along by the hand. She mimes for new a pitcher to the waiting bartender, before turning to her friend, face serious. “Waverly says you’re okay, but I know you. When you go all or nothing, you tend to forget the world around you. You forget the people around you. Just... don’t screw this up, Cole. Don’t sacrifice your girl for a job. You won’t find anyone better for you, ever. So, just... don’t go and sacrifice your own happiness to play hero, okay?”

 

“I won’t, Hol. I promise. Did I really scare you that much?”

 

“Yeah, you did. I know you in a different way than everyone else, Cole. I know who you are. I don’t want you to try and be a superhero this time. You not allowed, okay? We like you here. We need you here.”

 

“Holly, I’ve got this. I’ve got James, and Dr. Foster is here to help out. We’ll find this guy, as a team. No plans on working through my hero complex this time. I’m not going in the field.”

 

“I know you say that now, but things change. Please be careful, Cole. This guy, he kills people with his words. He knows how to manipulate. Please, don’t fall for anything. Put yourself first for once.”

 

“I’ll be okay, Hol. I’ll be careful. Now, how about we go down this pitcher, and pretend the world is better than it really is for a little while?”

 

She holds out her hand, grinning goofily when Holly accepts it with a shy smile. The sound of her friend’s strangled laugh warms and cracks her heart simultaneously. Nicole changes tactics, pulling her friend closer and hugging her tightly as she chokes and sobs into her shoulder. She comforts the one person who knows her tendency to go above and beyond firsthand. She holds her close, and makes promises she hopes she can keep.

 

Chapter Text

Nicole walks out of the elevator the next day, head down and eyes locked on the floor. She’s quiet and unfocused, her unusual silence immediately captivating James Grey. He looks over to Gillian, eyebrow raised. She appears to be just as surprised and confused. Neither understands why Nicole isn’t scanning the room as she always does, unconsciously watching faces and learning all about the people around her. He gets his answer when she finally steps into his office and looks up- her right eye is swollen and bruised. Nicole Haught has a black eye for the first time since playing college soccer.

 

“Jesus, Haught! What happened?” he asks, just stopping himself from touching her face like a comforting parent.

 

“Waverly,” she mumbles back.

 

“Waverly? Is- is Waverly hurt, too?” James is approaching his partner quickly, panic creeping into his voice. “Nicole, tell me what happened, right now.”

 

“Waverly. She kind of… did this.”

 

James’ head tilts, he’s even more confused than before. He turns to Gillian when she lightly elbows him, drawing his gaze to the smiling brunette practically skipping out of the elevator. She’s a literal ray of sunshine, grinning and humming to herself happily. Both make a mental note of the coffee carrier and paper bag in her hands.

 

“Wait, Waverly hurt you? That Waverly? Tiny sweetheart Waverly, the human sunbeam?”

 

“Yeah, she is... Well, I wouldn’t say she, um, hit me exactly.” Nicole says quietly, blushing. Gillian Foster turns away for a moment to hide her knowing grin, before locking eyes with the smiling girl approaching Nicole.

 

“What, so Waverly hit you somehow, and it was Black Haught Down?”

 

“...I really hate you sometimes, James. It’s not funny, you know. I’m gonna have to sport this stupid thing for days, maybe even a week or two.”

 

She pouts, arms now crossed, body language closed off. Waverly arrives in the office, placing the coffee carrier on the desk. She nudges Nicole lightly to get her to move over a bit, before leaning up to gently press her lips to the corner of her bruised eye in renewed greeting. She smiles the whole time, happiness and contentment never fading for an instant. She seems to remember there are other people in the room after several lightly-placed kisses to the bruised skin around her girlfriend’s eye.

 

“Hi, guys! I brought coffee. Oh! And, some pastries.”

 

“Good morning, Waverly. Thank you.” Gillian responds, taking the bag from the brunette. “We were just admiring Nicole’s fresh bruise. I believe James will want to inquire about it, before we get back to work.”

 

“Oh, the eye! Yeah, I sort of did that. My bad.”

 

“Right. So, how did you sort of bruise the crap out of my partner exactly?” James asks defensively.

 

“James, I’m sure Waverly has a perfectly-”

 

“In bed. She’s really good in bed. Kind of surprised me. I forgot she can do so many things that completely rock my world.” Waverly purrs the words, running her fingers along Nicole’s bicep. “Why are you blushing, baby? You should be proud that you’re a rockstar in bed, and out of it. Lots of places and ways really. So very good .” Her voice is darker, and still honey sweet as she toys with edges of Nicole’s shirt collar subconsciously. An action that makes Dr. Foster smile knowingly. “Anyway, she surprised me with something I like. Really like. I sat up kind of fast, headbutted her in the eye socket. Was hoping it wouldn’t bruise that badly after we iced it, but here we are.”

 

James is stunned, mouth opening and closing as he struggles to find words. Gillian is still smiling, albeit a bit sympathetically. Nicole Haught has found someone who can tame her, and draw passion from her with a word or touch. Nicole is flushed, trying to find anywhere to look. She can’t make eye contact with her shocked partner, or her grin-fighting mentor. Waverly just keeps smiling dirtily at Nicole, running her hands from Nicole’s biceps up to her shoulders and back down in a torturously slow pattern.

 

Gillian speaks first. “Thank you for letting us know, Waverly. Perhaps we’ll find a more... work-appropriate explanation to use for the next few days before you go.”

 

“Ooh, good plan! Yeah, let’s make up somethin’ else. Anything you prefer, baby? What’ll make you sound tough, hmm? Got it, how about the time we were fu-”

 

“Shark attack! No, shit… um, st-street fight for my girlfriend’s honor? Unexpected elbow to the face during an intramural basketball game? Joined a… fight club? A-anything! Foster, please, pick something. Save me?”

 

Waverly is smirking. Her fingers rub Nicole’s collar and tease the buttons of her dress shirt with newfound purpose. Nicole gulps, trying to focus on the words coming from her mentor’s mouth, to no avail. She can’t think of anything but the beautiful girl with whom she spends her evenings tangled up in soft sheets.

 

Waverly Earp will be the death of Nicole Haught; there is no doubt.

 

-----------------

 

Nicole sits in her office, ice held over her right eye, and left leg propped up on the desk. She’s quiet, staring out the window absently as she thinks. The profile she’s created hasn’t been super helpful so far. They’ve made little to no progress, other than ordering a review of all crime scene photos. She needs more, they need details and explanations. How is this guy convincing people to kill themselves? Why? She stares at the world outside her office, wishing the people out there could find a way to heal themselves without hurting others. She barely flinches when the door opens.

 

“Haught, meet me in the car in five. We’ve got a body. Apparently, our killer left us a little gift this time.”

 

“Yeah, will do. Thanks, James.” her voice is hollow, empty.

 

“Haught, we’ll get this guy. We needed more information. I know it’s hard to accept getting it this way, but the more we know, the better.”

 

“Got it. I’ll be there.”

 

James sighs, heading out to the car. He sends up a silent prayer for his partner.

 

---------------

 

James quietly prepared his partner for the crime scene. He told her all he knew, careful to ensure she knew there would be blood. What they didn’t expect though, was to end up in a quiet neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood you’d raise a family in. A brick elementary school stands at the beginning of the street, its attached playground all new, sun-warmed plastic. The swing set is still swinging, as if ridden by a ghost of the children that have been. There were so many children outside, playing in the sun. At least, until the parade of nondescript black cars arrived. Then, the safe neighborhood mood is shattered. Parents hover in doorways, escorting confused kids inside with the promise of an afternoon snack. Dogs bark and howl, then eerily fall silent.

 

Nicole feels sick. They’d been warned about the violence of the crime scene they’d be visiting. The body though… the body before them has been brutalized in a completely new way. The previous victims had died in less grisly ways than the woman before them; most had taken a variety of pills, leading to ruptured blood vessels in their eyes, foaming at the mouth and more of an internal devastation type of death.

 

Victim Number Fifteen was not so lucky. She is covered in superficial cuts and shallow wounds from head to toe. The final blow had to have come from another source. Her sternum and the surrounding ribs have been obliterated, a perfect hole left behind. Her abdomen seems to be painted. Nicole doesn’t have to touch the “paint” to know it’s blood, the victim’s blood. A message is left on her pale skin: I SEE YOU

 

Nicole’s head feels so heavy, full of racing thoughts and hollow words. She can’t hear the world around her anymore. She feels like she’s underwater, struggling to find  any source of life-giving oxygen. Everything feels heavy; her world nearly closes in. She flinches when James touches her shoulder.

 

“There’s a note this time. Typed. You need to see this.”

 

She can only nod.



Hello, Agents.

 

I’d like to introduce you to Rachel Leicaster.

She was beautiful. So young, so full of life.

 

Convincing her to die by her own hand was difficult. She had dreams, aspirations. She had so much hope. It was adorable really. Thankfully, her partner was more than willing to sacrifice her life for the sake of his. You’ll be meeting him soon. The guilt weighed too much on his soul. He was easy to convince. Another mess for you to admire.

 

Rachel is my welcome back gift to you, Agent Haught. We shall meet again soon.



Nicole looks sick. She’s sure she’s underwater, and there’s no oxygen left. The woman in front of her could be anyone. She’s so young. She’s too young. She didn’t deserve this. Nicole’s vision blurs and darkens. She slides to the pavement beside Rachel, gasping. She can’t hear James anymore. She can only see the face beside her start to shift and change.

 

The realization that crosses her mind burns and brands her, then makes her stomach rebel- Rachel Leicaster looked exactly like Waverly.

Chapter Text

“She looked like Waverly.”

 

Nicole’s voice is low, seeming to crack on the name of the woman she loves. She’s pale, body slumped forward in the passenger seat of James’ SUV, head in her hands. He can see her body shaking silently under the weight of her own words, and what they’ve seen.

 

“I know, Haught.”

 

“What if… what if he knows about her? I can’t… I won’t put someone else in danger. I can’t lose her, James.”

 

Nicole’s voice is so uncharacteristically quiet, and broken. She’s not herself, huddled in the seat like a terrified child. Even when James rode along with her in the ambulance after the warehouse, she was still responsive. Granted, she was pale and distant, but she was there. Now, Nicole is a shell built messily around fear and regret. She’s not the agent he knows. She’s no longer his badass partner.

 

“Nicole, she’ll be okay. We can put together a detail for her. We can keep her safe.”

 

She laughs, the sound hollow and full of pain. James tries to stop the shiver the heartless sound brings.

 

“I can’t keep anyone safe. She shouldn’t need a security detail. She shouldn’t have to go through any of this.” Her voice raises, self-hatred and anger bleeding in. “Maybe I should… I should pull back. I should send her back to Wynonna’s, where she’s safe. She’d be safer with someone else, with anyone but me.”

 

“Haught, no. Don’t you dare hurt that girl. She loves you. I know Waverly would rather be followed around by agents, than be pushed out of your life. You don’t get to push everyone away this time. We do this as a team, and that team includes Waverly.”

 

“I can’t risk her, James. I won’t.”

 

“You aren’t going to, Haught. We will make sure Waverly is safe. No one is going to get hurt this time. You hear me?”

 

“...Okay.”

 

Nicole’s voice betrays her. No one is safe, not as long as this psychopath is alive. She’s going to have to spill blood, either her own or the unnamed suspect’s. She has to find him, and put an end to this.

 

----------------

 

Waverly is waiting at Nicole’s house, pacing the living room floor to alleviate her nervous energy. She’d received a desperate phone call from James, letting her know about their findings today, and Nicole’s shutdown during the ride home. He sounds concerned, and a little scared.

 

“She’s going to try and pull away, Waverly. Don’t let her. She needs us, more than she knows right now. She really needs you.”

 

Waverly hears the telltale crunch of tires of gravel, and takes a deep breath. She has to be strong and present for her girlfriend. She steels herself, knowing she can’t give any indication that she’s afraid. Delta presses against her side, ready to do his job, too. She smiles faintly at the dog’s understanding. He knows Nicole well.

 

Shoes move across gravel, a key turns in the lock. She hears a heavy, uneven breath taken in as the door is pushed open. Nicole looks shockingly unlike herself. She looks defeated, and small. She’s never looked small before. She always seems larger than life with her confident swagger and deadly grin, Right now, her face is pale, hands shaky, steps uneven. She keeps her eyes down, limping heavily to the couch. She stands awkwardly beside it, staring at the piece of furniture, unsure of what to do.

 

Her facade crumbles the moment she looks up and locks eyes with Waverly. Her lip quivers, face dropping as hot tears streak down her face. She’s stiff and silent, unable to say a single choked word. Waverly is at her side in an instant, arms wrapping around her sagging girlfriend. Her hands run along Nicole’s dress-shirt-covered back gently, reassuringly. She keeps her voice low, whispering kind assurances that they’ll be alright.

 

Nicole never speaks, instead staying buried against her girlfriend’s chest and neck. She’s collapsing in on herself, tall frame slumping and heavy.

 

Waverly takes the despair, the hurt and the anger, without a fight. Nicole is always strong and stable for her. It’s Waverly’s turn.

 

------------------

 

“Nicole, hello. I’m surprised to hear from you.”

 

“Hi, Dr. Foster. It’s Waverly actually. I hope this is okay.”

 

“Of course, Waverly. I hear the case took a bit of a turn today. Is Nicole alright?”

 

“No. She’s… she’s despondent. I don’t know what to do, how to help. She’s so quiet, and she looks so small. I’ve never seen her like this.”

 

“Hmm, are you at home with Nicole now?”

 

“Yeah, she got here a little while ago.”

 

“Good. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to come over. I have a degree in psychology, it’s my first love. I know Nicole well. Perhaps having someone else she trusts around will help get her talking. Can you text me the address?”

 

“I’ll send it now.”

 

“Got it, I’ll be there soon. Go ahead and start a pot of tea. She likes it when she’s worried or stressed. It’ll help.”

 

“Thank you, Dr. Foster. I’ll do that now.”

 

“Good, I’ll be there soon. And Waverly, Gillian is fine.”

 

“Thank you again, Gillian.”

 

“Nicole is a good one, Waverly. I’ll do anything I can to help her.”

 

----------------

 

“Dr. Foster, hi. Please come in.”

 

“Thank you, Waverly. And honestly, you can call me Gillian. Oh, hello, dog.”

 

“That’s Delta, he’s a really great dog. Quiet, very protective of Nicole and me.”

 

Gillian bends delicately, allowing the dog to smell her before gently petting the top of his head. He huffs, pressing his head further into her touch. She speaks quietly to Delta, taking the time to enjoy the feel of soft fur for a few moments before standing again. Waverly smiles down at the dog. She loves the big guy just as much as Nicole does at this point.

 

“Anyway, I assume Nicole is in the living room.”

 

“She is, yeah. I just made her some tea like you suggested. She’s quiet, hasn’t said a word. I just… it scares me when she’s quiet.”

 

“We’ll figure it out together, Waverly. Can you take me to her, please?”

 

“Of course. You can, um, you don’t have to wear the heels here. I know you aim to look super professional, but we’ll make an exception, given the circumstances.”

 

“Sounds nice actually. I’ll leave them by the door. Delta won’t eat them, correct?”

 

“Definitely not. Nicole makes sure he doesn’t chew on things. He’s crazy well-trained.”

 

“Good, good.” Gillian looks human-sized without the heels. The air of seriousness and professionalism is still there, yet she seems more relaxed somehow. Waverly smiles, and pauses in the doorway.

 

“Could, um… could we talk about Nicole sometime? I’d really like to know what college Nicole was like. I’ve only heard funny stories from Holly.”

 

“Ah, her roommate. As long as it’s alright with Nicole, it’s fine with me.”

 

“Thanks. Anyway, Nicole’s in there. I’ll just stay in here, out of the way.”

 

“Nonsense, Waverly. She needs you far more than me. Your presence will help, not hinder. Sit with her, be there for her.”

 

Waverly nods, gently sitting beside Nicole. Her girlfriend is staring out of the large living room window, eyes glassy and unfocused. She looks so distant and lost in her own mind. Waverly runs her fingers along her girlfriend’s arm, reaching to entwine their fingers. The action draws Nicole’s attention. She turns her head, blinking owlishly at the sight of two women before her.

 

“Foster, hi.”

 

“Hello, Nicole. I heard today was a difficult one. I hope I can help in some way. You cannot keep what you’re feeling to yourself. It will crush you. Can you tell us what happened, what scared you so badly?”

 

“I- I don’t…”

 

“Take your time, Nicole. Waverly and I are here. We’re safe, and we’re not going anywhere.”

 

“She looked like Waverly.” Nicole’s voice is quiet and hollow. “She was dead, and she looked so much like Waverly. I don’t want… I won’t lose you, Wave. I can’t.”

 

“I’m right here, baby. I’m fine. No one hurt me. It wasn’t me, okay?”

 

“Could’ve been you. Still could be you. I can’t… I’d rather die than lose you, Waverly.”

 

Waverly squeezes Nicole’s hand, looking at her gently. She tries to share every emotion with Nicole without saying a word. Gillian smiles faintly at the sight. Waverly understands Nicole, she loves her. It’s so obvious, and so different from any other person in the redhead’s life.

 

“There are things that can be done to keep Waverly safe, Nicole. I know you’re scared, and you’re being careful. You’ve always been careful with the people around you. You’re missing an important detail, though. You don’t need to sacrifice yourself, or forfeit your happiness, for this case. Waverly will still be here tomorrow, and the days after. James and I are alright. We will keep each other safe, and make a plan to ensure everyone is kept out of harm’s way.”

 

“Okay…” Nicole answers distantly.

 

“No, you don’t get to lie to me, Nicole. You’re not alright, and that is okay. We will work through this, the three of us. We will be alright.” Gillian moves, sitting by Nicole on the long couch. She places her hand on her student’s shoulder, pulling her scattered attention directly to her. The next words are crucial. “Waverly loves you just as much as you love her, Nicole. She’s here, and she will continue to be. James and I will ensure you’re both safe. We already have a plan. For now, you need to rest. The job will still be there tomorrow. The case will still be open and waiting. Tonight, you need to focus on healing, both for yourself and for her. Can you do that? Can you put the case aside for tonight?”

 

Nicole is quiet, thinking. Gillian watches the thoughts race across her mind, across her face. She watches Nicole’s lips momentarily tighten and grow stern, before her expression softens at the thought of Waverly. She lightly squeezes Waverly’s hand, looking down at their linked hands laying across her right knee. Progress.

 

Nicole realizes they’re safe. The cruelties of the world have not breached her front door. The monsters are still outside, but they can’t get in. The ghosts of her past can’t haunt her here. She and Waverly are safe, and that is all that matters right now. She looks up at her girlfriend, answering Gillian’s question without breaking eye contact.

 

“I can do that.”

 

“Good, how about I head to my hotel then? I’ll see you tomorrow. You may come in after lunch time. Tonight, the world outside of that door doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter.”

 

“That sounds great actually. I’ll see you tomorrow, Foster, right?”

 

“Of course. I’ll be waiting in your office after lunch. I’ll even make you some of the tea I have regularly imported from London.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Of course. Anything for my favorite student. Do you think Delta would mind seeing me out to my car?”

 

“Of course. Delta- naar buiten.”

 

The dog heads to the front door, waiting for Dr. Foster so he can go outside as commanded. Gillian smiles sweetly, she likes Nicole’s dog far more than expected. As she opens the door, a soft voice catches her attention.

 

“Foster, thank you.”

 

“Anytime, Nicole. You can always call me. The offer applies to you as well, Waverly. I’ll be asking Nicole for your contact information tomorrow. I am always here for you, both of you.” She smiles, eyes bright as she admires Nicole and Waverly for a moment. She hopes to find the person she fits with like they fit one day. “Rest well, you two. I’ll see you in the office tomorrow, Nicole.”

 

“Goodnight, Foster.” “Goodnight, Gillian.”



“Goodnight,” Gillian responds, smiling at the couple before following Delta into the front yard.

 

----------------

 

Waverly presses her lips to Nicole’s temple, whispering that it’s time for bed. Neither had the energy or appetite to prepare dinner. They need to endure the silence of the night together, wrapped in welcoming arms and warm blankets.

 

Nicole nods soundlessly, calling Delta and guiding him back to his room. He follows obediently, leaning against her briefly to accept a scratch behind the ears before slipping into the room and climbing into his large bed.

 

She limps back down the hallway to the bedroom, body tiring more with each step. She takes a moment against the doorframe, quietly admiring the bare back of girlfriend as she digs for a shirt to sleep in. She can’t stop the small smile from spreading across her face, dimples appearing for the first time all day. Waverly Earp is beautiful. She’s warm, sunny and hers. For some reason, the beautiful genius in her room chose Nicole, too. They are the centerpiece of each other’s lives. She wonders what she did to deserve a woman like Waverly in her life, and in her bed.

 

“You can stop staring, and come to bed, baby. I grabbed your Academy shirt for you.”

 

“Thank you,” her voice is light, as if raising it even a fraction will shatter the best moment of her day.

 

Waverly smiles, gently pushing Nicole onto the bed. She unbuttons the white dress shirt, sliding it off long arms. Nicole’s white undershirt falls to the floor beside it moments later. She lays back when prompted, feeling slight pressure and hearing the clink of her belt as it’s unbuckled. Nicole stills Waverly’s hands, removing her pants on her own. She reaches to disconnect the prosthetic, and is surprised when Waverly speaks.

 

“Can I?”

 

“Of course. I can show you how to-“



She removes it effortlessly, carrying the leg across the room to connect to power, resting it across the arms of a nearby chair. Nicole stares wide-eyed.

 

“How did you-“

 

“Torres. I asked if she could teach me more about it. I want to understand what the leg means, be able to help you when you need it.”

 

“Wave, you didn’t have to do that.”

 

“I know. You’ve never forced me to do anything. I wanted to.”

 

Nicole smiles, gently pulling Waverly down onto the bed. Knees bracket her hips as she runs her fingers just beneath the seam of her stolen shirt.

 

“I wonder what I did to deserve you sometimes. You’re… you’re amazing, Waverly. I hope you know how much I love you. That you never question it.”

 

“I know, baby. I love you, too.”

 

The kiss that follows is slow and sweet. Waverly enjoys having the height and angle advantage, fingers slipping under the shirt and up to lightly scratch along a toned abdomen. She grins against Nicole’s lips at the sound and feel of the gasp and slight growl the action draws.

 

“We should go to bed, Nic. You’ve had a long day.”

 

“Mmm, we should, but I don’t want to. You’re more important than sleep.”

 

Waverly grins, kissing her girlfriend a bit more possessively. She whines for a moment when pushed upright, smile returning when her shirt is removed and tossed carelessly to the floor.

 

“I stared at a woman that looked like you today. It almost broke me. If it weren’t for you and Foster, it would have broken me. I just… I need to feel you, Waverly. I need to know your heart’s still beating. I need to know you’re real, and mine.”

 

“You have me, Nic. Take what you need.”

 

The room is quiet, only occasional sounds of gasped breaths and light moans slipping into the air. Tonight, the world outside of the bedroom doesn’t exist.

 

Waverly is alive. She’s real, and Nicole’s.

 

Chapter Text

“You’re broken, Andrew. You’re broken, just like Rachel was. Do you remember Rachel? Do you remember how it felt to cut her so deeply? Do you remember what her lifeblood felt like between your fingers?”

 

“...Yes.”

 

“Good. You should remember killing the woman you love. Loved. It will haunt you, always. You’ll never forget the way she sounded, gasping and pleading with you. You’ll never forget the sound of a blade slicing through her skin. The sound of a hammer crushing and obliterating bone. You’ll always know it, Andrew. Always. There’s only one escape.”

 

A gun slides across the table to the shivering man. The boyfriend willing to kill his girlfriend to save his own life. He’s still blood-soaked and sticky days later. He wasn’t allowed to change clothes or bathe. He didn’t deserve such luxuries.

 

“You can end this on your terms, Andrew. You can make the sounds stop. You can turn on the light, so you can no longer see the film of your crimes replay. All you have to do is lift, place and pull. It’s easy. Would you like that, Andrew? Would you like all of this to stop? Would you like silence?”

 

“Please.”

 

“Good choice, Andrew. You made the right choice. Now, lift, place and pull. Then, it all stops.”

 

A shot rings through the air, then feeling of fresh, warm blood spatter makes contact with the only living face moments later. Another victim convinced.

 

A smile. It’s always so easy.

 

------------------

 

Nicole tries. She lays awake, savoring the feeling of Waverly’s body pressed against hers. She can feel slow patterned breaths across her skin with every exhale. Her smile longs to be buried in the soft hair splayed across her chest. She lives for the leg thrown across her hip in a selfish attempt to be impossibly closer. Her entire world is tucked against her side, skin still warm from slow lovemaking.

 

Waverly is so peaceful like this. Her hands occasionally drift in her sleep, as if they crave a little more softness beneath them. She’s quiet and calm, body relaxed and free of tension. She’s perfect like this, face clear of rippled waves of anxiety or terror. Waverly looks almost angelic when she sleeps.

 

While Waverly sleeps in her arms, Nicole worries. She lets her fears run rampant. They dig into her mind with their sharp claws and pointed teeth. They dig, and dig, and bury themselves deep below her skin. They wait for the right moment to strike, wreaking havoc on her heart and mind. She’s still haunted, still vulnerable. She has been for a long time, even before the incident that ended her actual FBI career.

 

Tonight, she dreams while she’s awake. She can’t stop it. Her mind plays the same incomplete film, over and over.

 

Waverly instead of Rachel.

Waverly covered in red.

Waverly used as a crude art project.

 

Waverly, gone.

 

She can’t shake the images burned so deeply into her mind. Will she ever escape them?

 

Waverly whimpers in her arms, letting a faint cry escape once peaceful lips. Nicole’s heart clenches, she chokes on a breath. Waverly is supposed to feel the peace Nicole can’t. She’s supposed to be safe and sound, while Nicole is sacrificially brave.

 

This isn’t the way her life should be. She deserves safety, not nighttime fear.

 

Waverly whimpers again, hands moving. She grips tight, nails digging into Nicole’s skin. A tear falls down a soft cheek, burning Nicole. Her heart aches.

 

“...Cole...” she whispers in her fitful sleep.

 

“Wave, baby, it’s okay. I’m right here.”

 

“Cole… no, please.”

 

“Waverly, hey, open your eyes for me. I’m right here.”

 

Hazel eyes open, and widen. Waverly’s head lifts, moving unnaturally as she fearfully checks every inch of the room for something she’ll never be able to see. She pants, and shakes. She’s terrified the world in her head has escaped into the still room.

 

“Wave, I’m right here. You had a nightmare. I’m okay, see? I’m here.”

 

“But, you- you were… Cole.”

 

“I’m here, Wave. Right here. Can I- can I touch you?”

 

Waverly nods, just barely perceptible. She falls into waiting arms, face immediately buried in Nicole’s neck. She’s shaking, tears starting to slide and drip across sleep-warmed skin. Nicole pulls her close, wrapping her up as tightly as she can without scaring her. She whispers, and promises. She tries.

 

After several minutes, Waverly stills. Nicole loosens her hold, just enough to be able to move her lips close to an ear.

 

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

 

“No.”

 

“Okay. What do you need, babe? Can I be here, or do you need space?”

 

“No. Don’t leave, please.”

 

“I won’t, not unless you ask me to. I’m here as long as you’ll let me be.”

 

“Don’t go today. Just, call in or something. Don’t go to work, Cole. Please.”

 

“Okay, Wave. I won’t go.” she whispers into sleep-mussed hair. “I need to call James though. I’m gonna move, just so I can grab my phone. Will you be okay?”

 

“Don’t go.”

 

“I won’t. I’ll sit here on the edge of the bed and call. I won’t leave your sight.”

 

Waverly nods, listening silently as Nicole wakes her partner at 4:30am. Her eyes are desperate, pleading. She’s asking so much, too much, but she needs to be able to see Nicole. She needs to spend the morning in her arms, feel her heart beating. She needs to know she’s real. She jumps when arms wind around her waist moments later, pulling her close. Her nose drops to soft skin nuzzling into her rightful place between Nicole’s neck and shoulder. She finally lets herself cry.

 

----------------

 

Painting a fresh canvas of unblemished skin is invigorating. So careful to ensure every detail is correct. Everything must be perfect.

 

Bodies make the best canvases. It’s so easy to take the blood already within, and use it to paint the picture, to spread the word. Sometimes they ask the canvas nicely, and they fetch the blood themselves. It trickles along soft skin, and pools. Sometimes they have someone else to take what they need. Though the process may change, it’s the same means to an end. The blood is still spilled. The death is still permanent, a sacrifice for the greater good.

 

A sharp slice echoes in the concrete room. White teeth make an appearance as they grin. Slices are always followed by a wet dripping sound that seems to slip into your ears, and stay there. They always do what they’re asked, mindless sheep fulfilling the call of their master without fail. The love they preach, it’s real. It’s temporary, and easy to sever with the right words.

 

The blood flows like a reddened river, filling the shallow container. One knows better than to leave anything behind. Not a trace, not a drop. All of it is needed for the next message to the Agents.

 

Everyone will fear, and be haunted by their name when the time comes.

 

Before, life was ruined by carelessness and violence. After, revenge is only fair.

 

Chapter Text

Nicole wakes hours later, eyes fighting to focus in the light of the afternoon sun. Waverly is still curled close, body wrapped around her girlfriend as if she may disappear if she lifts even a finger. Her eyes and cheeks are still a little puffy from crying. It’s hard to lay beside Waverly when she’s upset. Nicole wants to do something. She has to.

 

Her girlfriend whimpers for a moment when Nicole slides out of bed. She slips a pillow between seeking hands, watching the smaller girl pull it close and tight. She smiles lightly, grabbing her forearm crutch and phone before moving quietly out of the bedroom. Delta looks up at her, unsure of why his owner seems so different today. She runs her nails along his neck a few times, before standing upright and whispering the command to go outside. He goes willingly. She leaves the front door open a little, so he can nose it open and come back in once done. Coffee brews and oil heats as she stands against the counter, leaning distantly. She spins her phone between her fingers, thinking. Her hands move automatically, locating and tapping. The phone rings twice.

 

“Grey. How did everything go today?”

 

She listens, just stopping herself from pacing. She can’t exactly pace with a forearm crutch and no left leg. James and Foster had spent the day looking at the case from every angle. Apparently, her mentor is looking at all of the audio, video and photos related to the crime scenes, and the case in general.

 

“That sounds like Foster. She likes to see things clearly.”

 

She leans her weight against the kitchen wall, staring out the small window into the yard. Her mind wanders. She wishes it had somewhere useful to go, somewhere that could break open the case. She needs to make progress, and soon. The killer targeted a woman who looks like Waverly. He might know she exists, what she means to Nicole. She has to keep Waverly safe.

 

“I know, James. I’ll be in tomorrow, I promise. Waverly just… I needed to be here today. We needed to be together for a little while. More than the hour I’m home before bed.”

 

She frowns when James sighs. She feels guilty, knowing he would probably love to spend a day with his wife. She hopes Emily doesn’t hate her.

 

“Thank you, for letting me have today. I know you could’ve pushed, and I’m thankful you didn’t. Waverly needed me, and… god, I need her all of the time.”

 

She gasps when warm arms slide around her, lips pressing against the back of her her fabric covered shoulder. Waverly.

 

“Yeah, I’m good. Stepped on a melted ice cube on the floor,” She lies. Waverly grins into her back. “I’ll be there tomorrow morning, as promised. Go home, James. Call it a day early. Have dinner with Em, get some rest. Send Foster home, too. We’ll go back to work tomorrow, as a team… Yeah, thanks again, James. See ya then.”

 

She ends the call, fighting the urge to lean back into the warm body behind her. Her lack of balance suggests she’d send them both to the tiled kitchen floor.

 

“So, I’m just melted ice to you now, hmm?”

 

“Yup, very sexy melted ice.”

 

Nicole turns, pressing Waverly back into the wall she’d been leaning against. She grins, dimples flashing across her cheeks.

 

“Ugh, too early for the dimples. Put ‘em away,” Waverly jokes, poking a finger into the one on her right cheek. “Those things should require a permit, a license to flash or something.”

 

“I’ll work on it. How’d you sleep?”

 

“Okay, not long enough. You?”

 

“Hmm. I don’t think I did.”

 

“Well then, we should get you back to bed, Agent Haught.”

 

“Rude. You know how much I like it when you call me that.”

 

“I definitely do. Now, come on- let’s spend the day in bed. Oh, can we bring Delta’s bed in? I kinda miss the big guy. I feel safer when he’s close by.”

 

“Sure, babe. Can you carry it? I kinda have the wrong equipment.” Nicole wiggles her crutch, making Waverly laugh.

 

“Yeah, I got it.”

 

Nicole slides her fingers around Waverly’s wrist before she can move, drawing her back.

 

“One thing first.”

 

She leans down, kissing her girlfriend softly. Her dimples reappear, and she tastes Waverly’s grin spread.

 

“Good, um… afternoon, Wave.”

 

“Mmm, good everything, baby. Now, get your butt in bed. Delta and I will be there soon.”

 

Nicole watches Waverly, beaming at the sight of purposely swaying hips. The woman she loves is worth everything.

 

-----------------

 

Nicole enters the FBI building, finally feeling well rested and human again. Nicole turns on professional mode, switching to stone-faced by the time she steps off of the elevator. She has no time for hopeful comments, or useless task force meetings. She wants progress. She wants a suspect in handcuffs, stuck in a interrogation room. She wants justice.

 

Her eyes move, looking for something. Anything. She catches a glimpse of Gillian Foster staring hard at a wall of photographs. She’s frowning. Nicole’s eyebrow raises. She knows that look well.

 

“You see something, don’t you?” she asks, stepping into the room quickly.

 

“I do. I’d like to speak with my team back in DC first, to make sure I’m not just projecting what I want to see.”

 

“Foster, you don’t project things. Let me see.”

 

Nicole stares at a series of zoomed in photographs of a man she’s never seen before. He’s bearded and dressed messily. The thing that stands out most is his face- his smirking face. He’s loving what he’s seeing, he’s proud. The faces around him are horrified and angry, hurt and saddened. Everyone is struggling to hide their sadness, while she fights to hold back his glee. His sickening, half-hidden smile makes Nicole shiver.



“Where did these photos come from?”

 

“I asked for photos from the crime scenes and news reports on the deaths. Given the profile and case history, I would expect our suspect would return to the crime scene and dump sites. He’d want to see how his work is viewed.”

 

“Foster, we have to find out who this guy is. He’s… he’s loving this. We have him in two photos, same expression. We need to tell James, get this guy in as soon as possible.”

 

The two women jump when the door behind them opens, slamming into the wall. James walks into the room, face serious. He looks down at the photos before them, and nods. He’s not surprised.

 

“I expected this. Haught, Dr. Foster, meet Robert Svain. We identified him a few hours ago. Dr. Foster showed me the photos. Didn’t like the look on his face either, and I barely know what it means. We’re planning on bringing him in soon. He’s either our guy, or he knows something.”

 

“Why are we still standing here? Let’s go get him! I want to be there when he’s picked up. I want to be in the interrogation room, Grey.”

 

“Fine, then we’ll need to go now. Dr. Foster, please stay here. If you need to send anything to DC, feel free. We’ll be back. I’d like you to observe the interrogation.”

 

“I’ll be ready.”

 

Nicole has already brushed past her partner, heading to the SUV. They have work to do.

 

----------------

 

The man in the interrogation is sneering, clicking his teeth. It feels like he’s chuckling playfully, every sound targeted at Nicole Haught through the two-way glass. It’s like he knows she’s outside, waiting. He can’t stop saying her name in that tone... His voice makes her skin crawl. It’s wrong somehow, too dark and somehow joyous. Every word seems to bleed from between his teeth, they crawl and slither into her ears without permission. He’s… unsettling. He’s exactly what she expected, and nothing like what she wanted.

 

“You ready, Haught?”

 

“Yeah, I’m good.”

 

“You need to breathe first, kiddo. This guy is just dying for a chance to get in your head. He’s targeted you. I know you want to pin him down and take that smile off of his face, but we have to do this cleanly. You have to stay in control. If you lose it, I’ll kick you out. You hear me?”

 

“I hear you. Can we please go do our jobs now?”

 

“This hasn’t been your job for a year, Nicole. This is my world. I am running point on this case. You’re here to observe, and quantify. Remember that.”

 

Her jaw tightens, teeth scraping the edge of her tongue. She nods, keeping her mouth closed. He nods and leads Nicole into the room. She tastes blood for the first time the instant she locks eyes with Robert Svain.

 

“Agent Haught, how nice to see you.” He draws out the “t” in her last name, lips caressing the letter as it drags across his tongue. She hides her disgust.

 

“You say that like you know me, Robert.”

 

“Oh, I do. I really, really do.”



“Mr. Svain, I’m James Grey. My partner and I would like to ask you some questions.”

 

“Hello, James. Feel free to stay a while. I must admit- I have no intention of speaking with you. I’m happy to speak with your, lovely partner. She is the reason we’re all here, after all.”

 

“What do I have to-”

 

“Haught,” James reprimands, locking eyes with her for briefly. He turns his attention back to the handcuffed man. “Mr. Svain, my partner here is merely a consultant. Her expertise lies elsewhere. I’ll be asking the questions.”

 

“Very well. I cannot promise I’ll answer them.”

 

“We have photographs of you at two crime scenes. Can you explain these?”

 

“I can.”

 

“Will you explain them, please?”

 

“Not to you, dear James. I prefer when women beg for me. You’re simply not my type.”

 

Nicole tastes blood between her lips. His words make everything taste metallic and wrong. Her heart rate accelerates, eyes darkening. She has to regain control. She needs him to admit to what he’s done. She takes a few steps forward, sitting down across from Robert Svain. She watches him carefully before speaking.

 

“Alright, Robert. I just have one question for you- why?”

 

“Why, hmm? Why not , Agent Haught? Why not convince people to do the exact thing they carry every day in the back of their mind? Why not say the right words, but never pull a trigger? Why not ruin lives without having to get blood on your hands?”

 

“Thank you, Robert. That’s all we’ll need.”

 

She stands, angling her head toward the door to signal James. His eyes narrow as he follows her into the hallway. Robert laughs, chanting her name with growing volume. She’s silent, steps sure as she knocks on the observation room door. She opens it, quietly asking Dr. Foster to follow her to the conference room. No one speaks, they only move mechanically. Once the door closes, James blurts out his thoughts angrily.

 

“What the hell, Haught? What the actual hell did you just do?”

 

“Exactly what I needed to, James. Foster, I assume you saw what I did.”

 

“Yes, I’m certain I did.”

 

“What you saw? Well, mind to share with the rest of the class? All I saw was the beginnings of a confession. Why did you stop him?”

 

“Because, James- Robert Svain lied through his teeth. He was recalling a learned memory the entire time. He didn’t kill anyone.”

 

“What? He told us why he killed people, Nicole! He was ready to confess to you. Are you insane?!”

 

“Nicole is correct, James. Robert was lying to you, very clearly. He tried to mask it, but his eyes gave him away. He told you something he was taught, not something he knows from experience.”

 

James throws his hands in the air, throwing papers across the room. He’s pacing, eyes fierce and face set in a frown. Nicole tries to remember the last time she saw her partner angry.

 

“I’m sorry, James. I really am. We need to release him, have someone track his movements. He can lead us to our killer, but he-”

 

“But he’s a good boy who would never hurt a fly. Jesus, Haught. This is- this is insane. You’ve lost your damn mind! We can’t let this guy back on the streets. He was there! He knows something.”

 

“Then, let him guide us.”

 

“He’s not a damn dog, Haught! He’s not someone’s puppy. Director Williams will bury me for this, kiddo. He’ll put me in the ground if I let this guy go. We need to hold him for at least 24 hours, let him sweat it out.”



Nicole steps into James’ path, eyes softening. She locks eyes with the man she trusts above all men. The man who is like a brother to her. She meets his conflicted gaze, and pauses. She takes a deep breath, and speaks quietly.

 

“I’m sorry, James, but Robert isn’t our guy. We have to let him go. We can track him, run surveillance. He’ll lead us to his boss, like the dog he is.”

 

James’ defenses drop, his shoulders lose their tension. He understands, and trusts his partner.

 

“Fine, I just hope he’s a good dog.”

 

Chapter Text

Nic: hey babe. listen- it’s been a long day. don’t have the energy to go anywhere. please tell me we don’t have plans tonight.

Waves: nothing planned, no. are you okay?

Nic: getting there. nothing a little couch time with you (and Delta) can’t fix.

Waves: ok, i’ll order Chinese. lemme know when you’re heading home.

Nic: will do. love you, Waves.

Nic: i love you too, Nic.

 

-----------------

 

Nicole was confused when only Delta appeared at the door to greet her. She frowned, placing her wallet and keys in her catch-all, and wandering into the living room. Her mood changed instantly at the sight of Waverly curled up on her couch, reading her battered paperback copy of “Something Wicked this Way Comes”. She grinned excitedly, leaning over the back of the couch to press wind-chapped lips to the crown of brunette hair.

 

“Hey, baby.”

 

“Hey yourself. I see you finally decided to read an American classic?”

“Well, you basically begged. Thought I’d try it at least.” Waverly responds, smiling playfully as her girlfriend sinks onto the couch beside her, slinging an arm around her shoulders.

 

“Hmm, so you’re just trying it out, huh? And…”

 

“And, it’s so good! The light and dark comparisons, and- and deep contrast between the two boys is… this is great, Nic.”

 

“I’m glad you like it, Wave. You eat yet?”

 

“Grazed mostly. I ordered early, so the food would be here in time.”

 

Nicole smiles softly, slipping a finger beneath Waverly’s chin. She breaks the brunette’s focus, turning her head until green eyes meet hers. She kisses her girlfriend sweetly, chuckling when she feels Waverly hum into the kiss.

 

“Kinda ruined a good kiss there, babe.”

 

“Not my fault you’re really good at that. Been waiting for it all day.”

 

“I know. Someone refused to accept a goodbye kiss this morning.”

 

“What a monster. Sorry I’m not a morning person, baby.”

 

“S’okay. Gonna go warm up my beef and broccoli. You good?”

 

“Yup. Hurry back, I have a million questions about the book.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

----------------

 

Nicole lays across the couch with her head in Waverly’s lap, smiling as fingers gently work through her hair. Blunt nails run along her scalp, drawing a hum of contentment. She struggles to stay awake, fully focused on the woman above her.

 

The moment is perfect. Nat King Cole is playing at a low volume on the turntable across the room. Delta rests on his bed in the corner, content after a day spent with Waverly. Nicole lies still, belly and heart full. She beams proudly as Waverly reads, occasionally gasping, giggling or raising an eyebrow at the text. Her smile widens and dimples are revealed when Waverly reads the passages or dialogue she enjoys most aloud, voice soft and a bit husky from a day of little use.

 

These are the moments Nicole Haught lives for. They are the small snapshots of the life she plans to spend with Waverly at her side. Suddenly, the engagement ring hidden in her locked bottom left desk drawer at work seems like the best decision she’s ever made.

 

She’s going to marry Waverly Earp one day. She’s sure of it.

 

-----------------

 

James has been quiet all day, hiding away in his office. He’s pacing now, balancing his phone between his ear and shoulder as he takes notes. His eyes are glazed, he looks upset and serious. Nicole hates the look. It means there’s bad news. She tenses when he swings his office door open, eyes locked on his partner’s.

 

“Haught, we’ve got a body. Looks like you’ve got another secret admirer letter, too. SUV in 5.”

 

She nods silently, face grim. She can’t move. Her legs are simultaneously iron and jello. Gillian moves to stand beside her, reaching to lay her hand on Nicole’s shoulder.

 

“We made great progress, Nicole. Robert will have to go back to his master soon. We will find him. You go do your job. I’ll look at more photos and evaluate some things. You can do this, Nicole.”

 

“Thanks, Foster. We’ll be back.”

 

“I know. I hope to have something for you. At the least, I expect you’ll have something for me.”

 

“Always, Foster. Always.”

 

----------------

 

Nicole can nearly taste blood in her mouth, tongue slicked and sticky from the accidental bite. The sight of the unrecognizable man before her makes her stomach turn. His face, or what’s left of it... she’d hoped to never see something like this again. She fights to keep control of her stomach, to keep herself upright. James stands beside her, accepting her weight when her knees buckle. He catches her, dropping his head to rest against the side of hers.

 

“Haught, it’s gonna be okay.”

 

“James, th-this message is for me. They said it to me, and now, it’s written in his blood, on his skin. I…”

 

She can’t breathe any longer. She feels like she’s suffocating on dry land. Nicole hides her face in James’ shoulder, struggling to get her feet back beneath her. James quietly asks the photographer on the scene to take a photo of the message painted in blood on the dead man’s chest. A message they’ll never forget.

 

RED IS YOUR COLOR

------------------

 

Nicole looks small, pressed against the door and window. She is silent, huddled. James had hoped they’d never be in this position again. Nicole can’t take much more of this. When he finally speaks, his voice is soft, almost fatherly.

 

“Haught, how do you- you know what it means. You just, you broke down after the message-”

 

“I know exactly what it means,” she whispers, voice broken and quiet.

 

“How do you-”

 

“Harlowe. He and the- the woman. They kept taunting me with that phrase. I had… I had, um, blood in my hair, and on my face. She laughed… I-I wanted to die, James. I wanted them to just kill me, so it would be over. I didn’t think I’d ever hear that again, see it. They’re dead, right? You told me they’re dead.”

 

“They are, Haught. I saw it with my own eyes.”

 

“...No one should know those words, James. No one else was there, except…”

 

James pulls over to the side of the road, leaping out of the SUV and collapsing at the edge of the pavement as his stomach betrays him. He realizes only a select few could know the words spoken that day. Their killer is close to them, knows them. It’s someone at the warehouse that day.

 

The killer is someone he knows, and it breaks him.

 

Chapter Text

“But, I-”

“No, don’t come here, Svain. All of my work, I won’t let it go to waste. They know your face now. They know you. We can’t be seen together, in any capacity.”

“Right. I’m sorry. I understand. I-I won’t come around again.”

“Good boy. Now, hang up the phone. Find somewhere to lie down. Goodbye, Svain.”

“Bye, sir.”

 

Robert stares at the phone in his hands, trying to decide what to do now. His world has revolved around helping the former FBI agent, in any way he needed, for months. Now, he can’t even see or speak to him. He can’t remember what life felt like before.

 

Robert Svain has been called crazy his entire life. The voices in his head have only grown louder with age, pushing and pulling him in every direction. He had given up on a normal life decades ago. He had been saved though, and given a purpose. Robert had become someone of worth. A life without meaning is unimaginable…

 

The sound of a single gunshot echoes through the night. Blood paints the interior and windows of the ancient compact car.  The sight and sound shatters the quiet of the grocery store parking lot. The parking lot of the store Nicole and Waverly frequent. It’s almost poetic that he end his life in the place where it started- the place he was calmly recruited to wreak havoc on the city, and the FBI.

 

------------------

 

Nic: Wave, i’m coming to get you. pack a bag. need you to go to Wynonna’s.

Nic: you can’t be at my place. need to be safe. you can take Delta if you want, he can keep you safe.

Waves: Nic, you’re scaring me. what happened?

Nic: we found a body, and the message…

Nic: this psychopath knows me. he knows about the warehouse.

Nic: think he’s been watching us. you need to be safe. Wynonna can shoot, you know shotguns. my place isn’t safe enough, not if you’re alone.

Nic: i won’t risk your life for mine. there in 10, get ready.


----------------

 

Nicole is engulfed in a hug the instant she steps out of the car. Waverly can feel her girlfriend trembling. Nicole’s face is stone, brow furrowed and teeth clenched. She’s scared, and very angry.

 

“Nic, can you tell me what happened?”

“Once we’re in the car, yeah. Are you packed?”

 

“My bag’s by the front door, but-”

 

Nicole walks past her, and into the house without a word. Waverly can hear her talking to Delta, before both dog and owner appear in the yard with three bags. Delta jumps into the backseat, laying across the leather with a huff. His leash is attached and lies across the dark carpeting. Nicole almost never puts him on a leash. Waverly jumps when her bag, and two additional ones, are slung into the backseat floorboard, staring at Nicole in confusion.

 

“In the car, Wave. Please,” she pleads, moving to shut the door behind Waverly. Nicole crosses in front of the car, eyes flitting around the yard and driveway nervously.  She sighs in relief once she’s in the car, and the doors are locked.

 

“Nic, am I taking Delta, too?”

 

“I dunno yet. I just… I can’t leave him alone. Besides you, he’s all I’ve got”

 

“Okay. Can you tell me what happened, please? I don’t-”

 

“Yeah,” Nicole says quietly, turning the car around, and guiding it out onto the pavement. “The new body, it had a message on it. The words were meant for me. Something that was said to me in the warehouse. They know me, they know James, they know you. I can put you in something like witness protection, or you can stay with Wy.”

 

“I want to be with Wynonna, if she’s actually home.”

 

“She is. I already called.”

 

“Nic, are you gonna be okay? If I’m not at the house, then-”

 

“I won’t be either. I’m gonna move into my office for now. I’m safe at work.”

 

“You didn’t pack.”

 

“I keep a go bag at work, in my office at school, in the hall closet at home and in the car. I’m good.”

 

“Jesus, Nic.”

 

“I have to be ready, Waves. Always.”

 

“Are James and Emily safe? Dr. Foster?”

 

“They will be. I just… I didn’t trust anyone else to come get you. The game’s changed, Waverly. I don’t trust anyone right now. Not until we figure this out.”

 

“It’s not… could it be Gillian? James?”

 

“Foster was called in long after the deaths had started up here. James… he’s been with me from the beginning. He’s like the brother I never had. I just don’t… he wouldn’t do this to me. I’m not a game to him.”

 

“Okay, baby, okay. I don’t want you to be alone, Nicole. Please. I need to know you’re safe.”

 

“I will be. I dug out some burner phones, so we can still keep in contact. My number is the only one programmed into yours already. We can stay in touch without being tracked.”

 

Waverly gasps when the car stops. She’s home, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore. Not without Nicole.

 

“Nic, please.”

 

“Take Delta, he’ll keep you both safe. His stuff is in the black duffle.” Nicole’s voice softens, hand sliding across the center console to hold Waverly’s. “Wynonna’s here, Wave. She’ll protect you. I have to go. I’ll be okay, trust me.”

 

“I do, I just… I love you, Nicole.”

 

“I love you, too, Wave. So much. I’ll call tonight, okay?”

 

They share a kiss that is far too short for Waverly’s liking. She feels Nicole’s hand leave hers, and her body reacts. She fights her sister as she’s pulled gently from the car . She can hear Delta pad across the grass to lay at her feet. She can feel the bags drop onto the ground beside her feet. Waverly sinks to the ground, watching Nicole drive away.

 

She hopes to see Nicole again, to see her alive.

 

-----------------

 

Nicole calls James on the drive back to work, hands gripping the steering wheel white-knuckle tight. She sighs when he answers.

 

“Haught- all safe?”

 

“Yeah. Waverly, Wynonna and Delta are secured.”

 

“It was the right thing to do, Haught. I know it’s hard. I had to do the same for Emily. She’s at her sister’s place.”

 

“Good, good… Is Foster okay?”

 

“She’s here, refused to leave us high and dry. We called out for dinner, and I’m pulling the records for everyone who participated in your rescue.”

 

“...This is my fault, James. This guy was on our side. He was in that warehouse, because I had to be a hero. This is-”

 

“Haught, no. You didn’t do this. You did the right thing. Any of us would’ve gone in. This guy, he did this all on his own.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Just get here in one piece, Haught. I already pulled the files. We’ll be ready for you.”

 

“See you soon, Grey.”

 

She hears the call end, and sighs. Every muscle in her body is tensed, eyes distantly focused.

 

She screams into the emptiness of the car until her throat is raw.

 

----------------

 

Nicole and James are silent as they stare at the report, re-reading it for the hundredth time. They try to picture every face, recall every moment. Gillian sits across the room, waiting for individual files and photos. She quietly drinks her coffee, subtly watching the face of her protege. The look is a new one- equal parts devastated, angry and focused. She hopes to never see the look again.

 

Director Williams steps into the room, face grave. He drops a folder onto the table, making direct eye contact with Nicole.

 

“I have the list of names from the warehouse mission. There weren’t very many, so it should be easy to narrow down. The building is on lockdown. No one in or out without approval from myself or you, James.”

 

“Thank you, sir.”

 

“You three be safe.”

 

The agents stare at the list of six names. Only six FBI agents were called and responded to the warehouse hours from headquarters. Six possibilities.

 

Anthony Mendoza-

He was a rookie then, could barely fire his weapon without shaking. Mendoza had no issues during the incident, and no issues with Nicole. He is a decent agent now, a year later. James marks him off the list.

 

Benjamin Anderson-

Much older than the profile calls for, responded voluntarily. Ben is one of the few agents who visited Nicole in the hospital. They’re all still friends today. Ben had quietly  retired a few months later, citing a need to be with his family. James knows he’s the one who put a bullet in Nathan Harlowe. Nicole is stunned at the news, and very thankful. James crosses him out.

 

David Salyer-

James’ partner after Nicole’s early retirement. Another willing volunteer. David is a longtime friend of both agents, and adores Nicole. He and his wife, Lydia, sent flowers to Nicole in the hospital and at home. He’s also older than the profile. The report showed David had fired the shot that killed the unnamed woman who had planned Nicole’s abduction. James crosses him out.

 

Marcus DeVane-

Right age, wrong intelligence level. He responded to the warehouse, because Marcus is an adrenaline junkie. He fired the most shots, and made sure to brag about it. Marcus is nice enough, but far from a criminal mastermind. James crosses him out.

 

Allison Hayes-

Female, doesn’t fit the profile. Still an active agent with no issues or reason for doubt. James crosses her out.

 

The last name makes Nicole pause. She’s sure it’s a misprint.

 

Xavier Dolls.

 

Xaver Dolls, who had seemed to appear in the warehouse later in the gunfight. He had reported he had found Nicole in a pool of her own blood while sweeping the west side. He claimed he had assured her she would be okay. Then, he’d disappeared. No one remembered seeing him help Nicole out of the building, or to the ambulance. No one remembered or noted seeing him on the drive to or from the warehouse. He had  reappeared later, same suit free of any blood stains, dirt and debris. James remembers him looking pristine, despite the dingy nature of the warehouse. Everyone else was dirty, or bloodied. Xavier was clean.

 

Xavier Dolls, whom the Director had fired two months later for insubordination reported by one James Grey. Xavier Dolls, who blamed James, and subsequently Nicole, for his job loss.

 

Nicole’s stomach drops, her face pales. She knows Xavier. They went through the Academy together, trained together, even acted as each other’s sparring partner. He was a far better marksman and sharpshooter than Nicole, using his body and athletic abilities to excel as an agent. Up until Nicole’s promotion and specialization in deception and behavior, they were incredibly close. After Haught had returned from Quantico, Xavier had severed all ties. He cut her off completely, glaring silently in the hallways and refusing to work with her in any capacity. According to the agents she trusted most, he had been livid with Nicole’s promotion and sudden notoriety.

 

Her brain kicks on, sending her back to the warehouse:

“Stand up, Agent.”

She can't. A man she can't quite see stands her up, and she tries to make her knees stable. She feels like she knows these hands. They're familiar, warm yet careless. She looks the woman before her in the eye.

“Good, but not quite fair. You're trained. You know how to kill. Let's even the score.”

A gun barrel is pressed into the muscle of her left thigh, aimed directly at the underlying bone.

“Did you know an AR-15 round can destroy up to four inches of bone, Agent Haught? That's the best case scenario. Let's see what happens when four, maybe five rounds enter the human leg, shall we?”

Nicole only remembers screaming.

She's somehow in the main part of the warehouse. She doesn't remember leaving the room with the chains.

"Red is your color, Agent Haught."

The blood on her face is sticky and drying. Her shirt is torn and reddened, useless against the cool damp. Looking down, she can barely make out the bullet holes in the left thigh of her black pants. Her leg is heavy and useless, and she wonders if there's a way she can just leave it behind. Every step feels like endless sawing of leftover bone and sinew. She can feel the blood in her shoes, the wet sound seeming to echo with each awkward step and drag.

She knows she's pale, and bloodied. She knows she's slow and exposed.

She knows she's dying.

“Haught!”

She doesn't know how she even got out of the room where her blood was spilled. She doesn't know where her partner is, or if he's even alive. She's doesn't know how much longer before all the blood from her veins will be in her shoes.

“Haught, stay with me. You're gonna be okay. We gotta go.”

She screams when warm hands touch her. Every word sounds like the AR-15 rounds echoing in her head. Every touch is a knife blade in her abdomen.

The hands are the same as before in the room, now gentle and protective. She decides to let them help her. The hands seem to feign frantic movements when she decides she needs to lay down and rest. The hands are all she can feel.

 

Xavier was there. He had handled her, held her still, pretended to care for her. She’d recognized the hands from years of sparring and learning hand-to-hand combat. Her blood had been on his hands.

 

She shakes her head, finally looking up at her partner. James is clenching his jaw tightly, hands in fists at his side. He’s barely holding back.

 

“James-”

 

“That son of a bitch!”

 

“James, don’t. We need to do this the right way. We have to-”

 

“Fuck off, Haught. Dolls, he helped them, didn’t he? He let them hurt you. I can’t- that promotion drove him to hurt people for what, for fun?!”

 

Nicole tries to stop her partner from rushing to the elevators. She can’t keep up with him, not now. He frantically slams the elevator button, stepping in and pulling the emergency stop. She watches him snap the handle off, looking at her for a moment before dropping the handle and rushing down the stairs.

 

James knows she can’t run now. There’s no way she can catch him if she has to take the stairs. James Grey has made a terrible decision, and will be facing down a sharpshooter alone.

 

----------------

 

Nicole feels the air shift. She turns, and instantly feels her stomach drop away. Everything changes when Emily Grey steps through the front doors of the FBI building, heading straight for Nicole. She ignores the protests of Director Williams and security as she glares at the redhead. Her eyes are darker than Nicole has ever seen them, face tight and serious, hands clenched into fists at her side. She’s angry, and more than a little terrified.  Everyone can hear the heated conversation to follow.

 

“You! This is your fault! You were supposed to keep each other safe!”

 

“Emily, I didn’t-”

 

“No, you don’t get to make excuses! You’re supposed to back up your partner, Nicole. Why didn’t you go after him?”

 

“I-can’t- Emily, please.”

 

Nicole’s head snaps with the force of the open hand making contact with her face. She can feel the heat of the handprint left behind below her already bruised eye, along with a fresh trickle of blood where her friend’s wedding band has split her cheek open. She can feel the break in her bottom lip from the quick contact with her own teeth. Nicole wipes blood from her face, looking down at her longtime friend, her eyes soft and pleading. She communicates better with her face than her words. How can she make Emily understand?

 

“I trusted you, Nicole! I trusted you with the only person in this world that I care about. Why did you have to choose right now, in the middle of a blockbuster case, to act like a child? Why can’t you focus on your damn job, and your partner? Didn’t you learn your lesson the first time?”

 

The words sting more than the slap, digging into her sternum and tearing a hole in her heart. The aftermath of this will be a giant scar on her career, and her relationship with the Greys.

 

Her partner’s dangerous decision has changed everything.

Chapter Text

Emily finally realizes Nicole is sweat-soaked and struggling to breathe. Dr. Foster stands protectively at her side, ice pack pressed to her protege’s swelling cheek. Nicole looks like she can barely stand, legs threatening to give out at any moment. Anger transitions to concern as Nicole takes the pack and slides down the wall, head hanging in defeat. She whispers to a crouching Gillian, who turns to glare at Emily before rising and walking away.

 

“Nic, what- why are you sweaty?”

 

“James took off. He broke the elevator… I couldn’t follow him. I had to… take the stairs.” she’s panting, voice choked and short. “Torres is coming. Battery died or something… about halfway down. Had to drag myself.”

 

“Nic-”

 

“Don’t, Em. This is on me. I’ll-I’ll fix it, okay? I just need-”

 

“Nicole, I overreacted. I was close by, hoping to bring James dinner, maybe say goodnight. I didn’t… I didn’t know.”

 

“S’okay. I just… I need to rest a bit. I’ll get out there. I will.”

 

“I know, Nic. Has anyone tried calling James?”

 

“Everyone who has his phone number. It’s going to voicemail after a few rings.”

 

What about Waverly- have you called her yet?”

 

“No, I didn’t want to… scare her.”

 

“Nic, you’re practically laying in the floor. Breathe, wait for Torres. How about I call Waverly? She’ll wanna know you’re okay.”

 

“Fine, but speakerphone? I don’t have the energy... to hold the phone.”

 

Emily nods, moving to sit beside Nicole against the wall. She quietly asks a nearby agent to fetch some fresh ice for Nicole’s face, guilt pressing into her ribcage. Waverly answers after four rings.

 

“Emily, hey. Is everything okay?”

 

“Hey, Waverly. I came by the offices to see James, and… well, things have escalated quickly. I’m with Nicole. Thought you’d wanna say hi, maybe check in.”

 

“Is sh-is she okay?”

 

“Mostly. They know who they’re after now, I think? James sort of broke the elevator and ran off. Nicole had to take the stairs. Torres is coming by, some sort of leg issue. It’s a bit of a mess.”

 

“She’s gotta be exhausted. Make her drink water or Gatorade or something, okay? She’ll keep going until she collapses if James needs her.”

 

“Already on it, Waverly. I also sort of… slapped her in the face.”

 

“WHAT?! Emily, what… I’m coming down there, right now.”

 

Nicole fumbles for the phone, taking a deep breath before speaking aloud.

 

“Wave, don’t. I’m fine, babe. Nothing a little ice won’t fix. I have… as soon as Torres gives me the green light, I have to go after James. We already sent a team to Dolls’ house, and-”

 

“Xavier did this?” Emily asks, eyebrows raising nearly into her hairline. She knows Dolls. Hell, the four of them had dinner together multiple times over the years. He felt like a part of the family.

 

“Shit, I shouldn’t have said that. Um, yeah. It-it’s Dolls. I’m sorry, Em.”

 

“I’m missing something, aren’t I?” Waverly asks, tentatively.

 

“Our guy, he was an agent, with James and me. We went to the Academy together, he was my friend. And, now…”

 

Nicole gulps, staring at the tile between her knees. She can feel Gillian move to sit at her side, hand sliding to hold Nicole’s free one. Emily rests her hand on her friend’s shoulder. Both women hurt for Nicole and James.

 

“Baby, I can come to you. Wynonna can bring me. It’ll be-”

 

“Wave, please. I need you to stay put, okay? I’m gonna be fine. Emily’s here, and hopefully not mad anymore. Gillian is here, and taking care of me. Torres will be here soon. I’m in good hands.” her voice lowers, shaking a little. “I’ll be careful, I promise.”

 

“You better be, Nicole Haught. You owe me, big time.”

 

“I know, I definitely do,” Nicole responds, laughing lightly. “I promise you I’ll spend the rest of my life making this up to you, Wave. You have my word. I’m coming home, okay? We’ll- you can move in, or we’ll find a place together. We’ll get married. Maybe Delta can have a dog-sibling, or, um… or a human one, someday. This isn’t the end for us, Waverly. I promise.”

 

She can hear Waverly choke back a sob, her own eyes glistening at the words. Emily rests her cheek against her friend’s shoulder, whispering a series of apologies against red hair. Gillian squeezes Nicole’s hand, trying to communicate how proud she is without words. When Waverly finally speaks, her voice is quiet and light.

 

“I’ll hold you to that. I love you, Nicole. Be safe.”

 

“I will. I love you, too, Waverly. See you soon.”

 

The call ends as Dr. Callie Torres walks in with a large plastic box in tow. She forces a smile, moving to crouch in front of Nicole, Gillian, and Emily.

 

“Heard someone could use a shiny new leg.”

 

Nicole laughs for what feels like the first time in days. Something is finally going right.

----------------

 

“Haught, may I have a moment?”

 

Torres nods her okay, helping Nicole get to her feet. The redhead smiles, walking (a little awkwardly) over to the Director. She’s surprised when he leads her to a small room away from the main reception area. He keeps his voice low, trying to keep the details private.

 

“We’ve been trying to reach Grey. I had IT track his phone, and… it’s here. We found it in the parking garage, cracked and damaged. We think someone hit him with their vehicle, and took him. There’s- there was blood around the area, all his. Whomever has him-”

 

“Xavier Dolls has him, sir. We’re certain.”

 

“Dolls… Well then, James is an injured FBI agent. We’ll consider this an abduction. If Dolls survives what is to come, the charges will be heavy.”

 

“I hope for the sake of all of us that someone puts a bullet in his head, sir. He doesn’t deserve the luxury of prison. He deserves to die.”

 

“I… I’ll say off of the record- I hope you bury him yourself, Haught.”

 

“I would with pleasure, sir.”

 

“Do you know where Dolls would take him?”

 

“I think so, sir. This has all been- it’s targeted at me. He’ll want to take James somewhere he knows I’ll go. He wants to hurt me.”

 

“You think-”

 

“He’ll take James to the warehouse, sir. He wants an old-fashioned standoff, and I intend to give him one.”

 

“Haught, you haven’t been cleared for fieldwork. We don’t know-”

 

“James is my partner, sir. He would do it for me. Hell, he already did. I can do this. Give me some guys. We will end this.”

 

Director Williams is quiet, considering his options. If he denies Nicole’s request, she’ll go in alone. At least if he supports her, she’ll have backup. He owes her that, at the very least.

 

“How many agents do you need, Haught?”

 

“As many I can I fit in two government issued SUV’s, sir. We’ll need better firepower. Handguns won’t cut it.”

 

“Take what you need, Haught. One condition- you bring everyone home, alive.”

 

“I’ll do my best, sir.”

 

------------------

 

James Grey wakes up on the cold cement floor of a building he doesn’t immediately recognize. His leg aches. His suspicions are confirmed when he looks down- it’s definitely broken. He vaguely remembers taking the brunt of the unexpected vehicle strike to his right leg and knee.

 

A door opens into the small, wet-smelling room. He shifts upright, flinching as bone moves and shifts within his shattered shin. Xavier Dolls appears, a smirk on his face.

 

“Well, well, well, nice to see you again, Agent Grey. It’s been a while.”

 

“Dolls.” James spits the name, eyes narrowing.

 

“You always were a man of few words, Grey. At least, until someone riled you up.”

“I don’t have anything to say to you.”

 

“That’s a shame. We could talk about something more your speed. How about your wife. How is Emily, by the way? She looked quite pretty the last time I saw her. I liked the orange dress.”

 

James tenses. He purchased an orange dress for Emily a few weeks ago. She had worn it to dinner for the first time just five days ago. Xavier Dolls, or perhaps Robert Svain, has been watching him. He knows Emily. He could hurt Emily.

 

“Dolls, please. Leave Emily out of this. Your anger isn’t aimed toward her. You’re mad at me, at Haught. Just, leave her alone.”

 

“If you give me what I want, then we have a deal.”

 

“What do you want, Dolls?”

 

“I want Nicole Haught. That’s why I picked you up. I need her here. She’s smart, she’ll know where to go once they find your phone in the garage.”

 

James is quiet. How would Nicole know where they are, without a clue?

 

The warehouse. James Grey is bleeding in the same small room where Nicole’s blood was spilled over a year ago.

 

“The warehouse.”

 

“Exactly, well done. I look forward to her heroic arrival. Hope that shiny new leg of hers can hold up. I doubt she’s been field tested.”

 

“Xavier, you don’t have to do this. We can end all of this.”

 

“Oh, but I do. I don’t want you, James. I have much bigger plans. You’re a pawn to get what I want.”

 

“And, what is it you want, Dolls?”

 

“I want Haught to die, right here, like she was supposed to the first time.”

 

James jaw tightens. If he could stand, he’d bring Xavier down with one blow. He grits his teeth, trying to find words. Dolls finds them first.

 

“You know, Harlowe and his wife paid me handsomely to help land her, the big target. They nearly got their wish, should have really. I delivered on my end of the bargain. They just couldn’t seal the deal, and bury the agent. It’s a shame really. She’d be better off dead by their hand. I’ll enjoy her suffering far more.”

 

“What’s your game, Dolls? What are you going to do to her?”

 

“Oh, James. I’m going to watch her bleed, like she bled out my career. I’ll watch her suffer, like she made everyone around her suffer, right here. I’m going to watch her end her own life, like she ended so many others. She’ll be begging me to die, for me to kill her. I’m going to enjoy every second of it.”

 

-----------------

 

Waverly is pacing. She paced across the hardwood floor endlessly, Delta watching her from his spot by the couch. Wynonna had given up on stopping her, heading to her room to watch her small TV, and drink. Waverly paced, mumbling Latin curse words as she stared at her phone on the coffee table. It had been an eternity, in her mind.

 

Why hadn’t Nicole called? Why hadn’t Emily updated her? Could she call Callie and find out... something?

 

Her phone rings, and Waverly messily slides across the floor in sock-covered feet. She grabs it desperately, eyes widening at the sight of the name on the screen.

 

“Nicole.”

 

“Wave, I don’t have long. I just… I have to go get my partner back. That bastard took James. Hit him with a car. He’s hurt, and bleeding. Who knows what that psycho will do to him. I can’t lose him, too.”

 

“It’ll be okay, Nic. You’re- you’re not going alone, right?”

 

“Hell no. I’m in one of two SUV’s, full of agents from our Enhanced FBI SWAT Team. We have more firepower than most drug cartels. I’m not alone, Waverly. I promised you, I’m coming home. I fully intend to keep that promise.”

 

“You’d better, Nicole.”

 

“I will, baby. I just wanted to… I love you, Waverly. I don’t know of I say that enough. I don’t know if I tell you often enough, if I show you every day. I really hope I do. I hope you never question it.”

 

“Nic-”

 

“Wait, just let me get through this… You’re it for me, Waverly. There’s no one else, there’s never going to be anyone else. No one else could ever make me as happy as you do, could completely steal my heart like you have. You’re my entire universe, and I love every second of it. I just… I need you to know that you’re it. I wasn’t kidding before- I’m gonna marry you someday, Waverly Earp. I’ll propose, we’ll marry and start a family. Or, you know, breed Belgian Malinois like Delta. I don’t care, as long as you’re by my side. I need you to know you’re my endgame, Waverly. I love you, and I’m never going to stop.”

 

“Damnit, Nic. I finally stopped crying like an hour ago.” Waverly says, laughing lightly as tears crack her voice.

 

“Sorry. Sorry, I just… I can’t hold it in anymore, Wave. I’m so damn excited to come home to you every night. I, um… I put a key to my place in your bag. It’s in the inside zipper pocket. Meant to give it to you weeks ago. My home is your home, too, Wave. You, and Delta, and me. As long as you’ll have us.”



Waverly gingerly unzips her bag, slipping a hand into the small zippered pocket. She feels the cool metal of the key, and gasps. She smiles at the sight of the keyring and keychain attached to the lone key.

 

“A Taylor Swift plastic keychain, Nic. Really?” she asks playfully.

 

“So we won’t get them confused.”

 

Waverly beams, laughing wholeheartedly into Nicole’s ear. She swears she can see, hear, and feel Nicole’s dimpled smile through the earpiece.

 

“Nicole? Do what you have to. Don’t be a hero, okay. Do your job, and come home to me. I need to hear you say it.”

 

“I think it’s more like you’ll come home to me, Wave. I’ll do my job, and we’ll go home together. You have my word.”

 

Waverly can hear raised voices in the background. She breathes deeply.

 

“I have to go, babe. My phone is gonna be off, so don’t freak out. I’ll call or text as soon as we’re out, okay?”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I love you, Waverly Earp. An embarrassing amount.”

 

“I love you, too, Nicole Haught. Endlessly.”

 

“Just what I needed to hear. We’ll be home soon, baby. I promise.”

 

When the call ends, Waverly hugs the silly keychain to her chest, and cries.

 

-----------------

 

“Five minutes, Haught.”

 

“Thanks, Banks. Everyone ready?”

 

“We’re ready, Haught. You good?”

 

“Yeah. Sorry you guys had to hear my sappy call.”

 

Allison Hayes, the only agent from the original warehouse raid, speaks up.

 

“I, for one, think it’s kind of nice to know you’re still a human sometimes, Haught. We’ll make sure you keep that promise, no worries.”

 

Nicole nods, pulling on and strapping in to her ballistic vest.  She checks and holsters her Glock 27 pistol, then loads and activates the safety on her MP5. She’s as ready as she can be.

 

“Oh, I’m keeping my promise. The only death today will be Xavier Dolls.”

 

Chapter Text

Nicole stands behind an armored SUV. She’s a few feet from Jason Hunt, the commanding agent for the Enhanced FBI SWAT Team. She calmly checks her ballistic vest, and ensures that her special armored gear is all in place. Hayes playfully slaps the top of her helmet, commenting that she looks cooler in this gear than her usual “stuffy agent suits”. Haught smiles flatly; she really doesn’t want to go back inside the warehouse where her life nearly ended all of those months ago. She shakes her head, mentally willing the sweat and nerves to dissipate. Her focus needs to be on the situation, not her fears. She can do this- she’s Nicole Haught.

 

“Hey, Haughtsauce, it’s gonna be okay. We got this. Hunt is the best. He’ll get us in there. We’ll find Grey, and we’ll all go home tonight. No worries.”

 

“Thanks, Hayes. Sorry, I’m just… I never thought I’d be back here, you know?”

 

“Not somewhere I want to be either. Bad things happened here. We’ll have a better outcome this time though. You’re not gonna be at risk this time.”

 

Nicole nods, laughing as her helmet shakes with the movement.

 

“You should consider this gig, Haught. You look good in combat gear.”

 

“I’ll be sure to tell Waverly that later. Maybe take a picture.”

 

“So, Waverly, she’s good for you?”

 

“Yeah… yeah, she is. She’s amazing.”

 

“Good, then let’s get you home.”

 

Hunt finally speaks, calling the team of nine other agents around him.

 

“Alright, we’ve checked the layout of this place. Based on blueprints and information from Hayes and Haught, we’ve determined Grey will likely be in the west end of the building, toward the back. I want to breach from both entrances, so we don’t miss anything. We’ll go in fast and clean. Understood?”

 

Everyone agrees, and returns to the task of checking their gear. Weapons are loaded, helmets are tightened. Some slip on knee pads or use ear protection. Nicole just waits. Hunt steps in front of her, pulling her gaze up from the pavement.

 

“You’re gonna stay back, Haught. I’m teaming you with Hayes as the lead. I trust her to keep you safe. Stay behind cover or behind Hayes, alright? These guys are trained, so they’ll handle the big stuff. You’re here for Grey only. Got it?”

 

“Got it, sir.”

 

Hunt slaps her on the shoulder, lightening his tone.

 

“We got this, Haught. In and out. We’ll locate Grey, get him out of there, eliminate any targets. Do you think Dolls will have a team?”

 

“I, um… I don’t know. I don’t think so? He’s more of a- a booby trap kind of guy.”

 

“Noted. I’ll tell the team, alright? In and out, nice and clean.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

----------------

 

Xavier Dolls smiles.

 

“I see we have company, and they brought friends.”

 

He shifts the video screen, so James can see the swarm of agents standing back from the warehouse. He can’t focus well enough to count them, head swimming from some unknown drug injected into his bloodstream. His movements and thoughts are sluggish and inaccurate. He’s useless.

 

“Haught’s smarter than you give her credit for, Dolls. Of course she brought backup.”

 

“She may very well be, or perhaps she’s just bringing more friends along for the slaughter.”

 

“Correct if I’m wrong, Dolls, but there’s no one else here.”

 

“No one else, nope. I have much more… interesting things planned for your friends.”

 

James’ eyes widen when Dolls lifts some sort of remote control from the metal table in front of him.

 

“Watch and learn, Grey.”

 

The camera switches to the inside of the warehouse. The floor looks shiny and slick with a substance James can’t quite identify. When the sound of a breach is heard, Dolls presses a button. The large main room of the warehouse is suddenly alight in a perfect circle of flame. The fire licks and consumes the gasoline on the cement floor, lighting patterns along the way until about 75% of the room is inaccessible. The team accessing the warehouse are essentially cut off from James and Dolls.

 

“This is only the beginning, Grey. Now, get up. We have a trip to make. Let’s gets a birds eye view of how big, bad SWAT plans to rescue you, hmm?”

 

----------------

 

“Too Haught to handle already? Figured he’d at least wait it out a bit before lighting up the place.” Hayes says against Nicole’s ear.

 

“You knew?”

 

“Can’t hide the smell of that much accelerant, Haught. No worries, we’re ready for it. Got extinguishers out in the SUVs.”

 

“Okay, so what do we-“

 

Nicole is cut off by a loud, echoing voice. It seems to come from loudspeakers places around the warehouse. It fills all of the space not engulfed by flame.

 

“Good evening. I see you’ve decided to come and retrieve Agent Grey. How chivalrous of you.”

 

“Dolls,” Nicole growls under her breath.

 

“Agent Haught, glad you’re back. I know how much you like it here. Hope you’ll enjoy your return visit.”

 

“Just give us James Grey, and this is all over, Dolls.”

 

“Agent Hunt, it’s been a while. Glad you made the trip. You know it won’t be that simple. I have some… requests. Firstly, I’d like to see Agent Haught. I know she’s here, no way she would stay back with the wives.”

 

Hunt and his team move across the room in a pattern, ensuring they are near enough to Haught and Hayes’ team to assist if needed. Nicole steps out from behind Hayes for a moment, holding her hand in the air. She know Dolls can see her. There are cameras scattered around the room. No corner is uncovered. She’s showing him something he already knows.

 

“I’m here, Dolls.”

 

“Yes, like the good little soldier you are. I’ve missed you, Agent Haught.”

 

“Oh, I’m sure you have. Well, you’ve got us all here, Dolls. Why all of the fanfare? Why kill all of those people?”

 

Guns lift at the sound of movement above their heads. James and Dolls appear on the metal grate catwalk overhead. Dolls stand back a few feet, while James’ is forced to the edge, legs hanging in the air. Nicole can see the tear in his pants leg, and an occasional whitened flash of bone. The loudspeakers have all faded, all sound now coming directly from the source.

 

“There’s no blood on my hands, Haught. Not like yours.”

 

“You killed him, Dolls,” Hunt calls back, interrupting Nicole’s thoughts. Dolls ignores him.

 

“Do you remember being here before? Do you remember the decisions that led you here, all of the mistakes?”

 

“I tracked a serial killer here. Went in without backup. I did what I thought I needed to do to save her.”

 

“And, how did that work out for you, Haught?”

 

“Good people lived. Killers were eliminated. All in all, not too bad of a day.”

 

“You sacrificed others for your mistake, Haught. People died for you, like you were their God.” She can hear the anger in his voice now. “You don’t get to be a hero! You’re not a hero, you’re just another child who ran out of toys.”

 

Nicole can see Dolls pacing above her head. James is motionless, eyes focused straight ahead. His stiffness and lack of eye contact is concerning. Something is wrong.

 

“I’m no different from you, Agent Haught. Instead of leading lambs to slaughter like you, these innocent ones are guided by words. Instead of making a decision for them, the victims as you call are given new options outside of their mundane lives. I never laid a hand on those people. Their blood not on my hands, but the deaths in the warehouse that day are surely on yours.”

“We didn’t- I was advised no FBI lives were lost that day...”

 

She wishes she could see James, that someone would tell her if the statement he had made time and time again had been a lie. Hayes won’t look at her, Hunt is focused on the catwalk above their heads.

 

Had she been lied to?

 

“You don’t remember my partner, hmm? You never thought to check on her, to see if she was okay?”

 

“Lucado.”

 

“There it is. My partner died for you, Haught. The only person in that building I cared about bled out on this floor, for you! Your mistake cost a life, and no one ever talks about it. No one cares! Everyone pretended you were still the golden child, that you were still a decent human being. You’re a murderer, too, Agent Haught.”

 

Nicole’s world seems to dim. She remembers asking if anyone had been hurt in the raid. Everyone had said the same thing- only non-Agents had been killed. She had never been informed of the loss of Agent Lucado. In trying to protect Nicole, an agent she knew and trained with had died without fanfare.

 

Nicole Haught had inadvertently killed someone.

 

Nicole sways on her feet. She steps back into the body of Allison Hayes, trying to remember how to breathe. How can she be allowed to breathe, when someone so good had died for her? She tries to remember how to be a good agent. She tries… everything she can think of to try and make this okay.  

 

“Everything I’ve done has been for Lucado. She deserves to have someone recognize that her death is a loss, that her death matters. I’ve been fighting with myself for weeks, trying to decide how to teach you that lesson, Agent Haught. What better way than to sacrifice your partner for your sins, just like you sacrificed mine?”

 

The next few moments drag along, and fly by at warp speed.

Xavier Dolls raises a gun to the temple of James Grey.

Nicole can feel a scream leave her mouth.

Hayes gasps, raising her weapon.

The fire still smolders, the room is still hot.

The warehouse still feels like a morgue.

 

A gunshot sounds, echoing around the large room. It’s deafening, and wrong. The sound is too loud for the caliber and type of handgun that had been in the hands of Xavier Dolls. She knows that sound.

 

Her head snaps skyward. Dolls is no longer standing. She can see his face pressed against the metal grated catwalk. She can see something oozing, dripping. A blood droplet stains the floor a few feet in front of her. Her mind flies. She shifts her gaze to James. He hasn’t moved an inch, eyes still focused straight ahead. Nicole thinks she can see tears in his eyes, but it’s hard to tell from the angle.

 

Her gaze shifts when Hayes touches her shoulder.

 

“Ewan was waiting for Dolls to make a move. Hunt gave the command. We eliminated the threat, Haught.”

 

Nicole can only nod. She doesn’t trust her voice, or her legs.

 

“There’s no one else here, Haught. No other heat signatures, no traps. We scanned and checked everywhere. Dolls was it. It’s over.”

 

“Ho- how can I get to James?”

 

“They’re bringing him down now. He’ll need to go to the hospital. Leg’s in bad shape. Do you wanna ride with him?”

 

Nicole can only nod. She doesn’t trust her voice.

 

She doesn’t trust anything. Not until she can see it with her own eyes.

 

----------------

 

Waverly runs. She leaps from the passenger seat of her own car, and runs. She ignores the protests of her sister, and runs.

 

She can’t remember what it feels like to breathe, for her lungs to not burn, for her heart to not ache in her throat. Foster had called, voice grave. She quietly recommended Waverly head to UCLA Medical Center to meet an ambulance transporting Nicole. There was no other information, she was simply relaying information heard over the radio. Waverly had been halfway to the car when the name appeared on her phone screen. She’s desperate and terrified, heart racing.

 

Was it over?

 

Waverly flies into the emergency room, asking the first person she sees behind the desk for an update on the FBI agent or agents brought in. The woman pauses a moment, preparing to send the brunette away. The desperation on her face screams concerned family member. She speaks.

 

“They were brought in a little while ago, and rushed down for surgery. We have a waiting room down the hall for you. Someone will be out soon to update the family.”

 

Waverly nods, head dropping. Wynonna is at her side, guiding her to the small waiting room. They huddle together, eyes wet and hazy. Neither sister talks, they only wait.

 

Moments later, Dr. Foster appears in the doorway, Emily Grey in tow. Emily smiles faintly, before moving to the far corner of the room to accept a phone call. Gillian sits beside Waverly, moving to wrap her arms around the woman. She can feel tears soak through her blouse. They hold each other quietly, desperately.

 

After what feels like an eternity but is actually only  about fifteen minutes, a young doctor strolls into the room.

 

“Grey family?”

 

Emily stands, moving to speak with the doctor about James. She hears occasional words, like leg, broken, surgery. Waverly feels the tears rise again. What about Nicole?

 

She fights to find her voice when the doctor turns to leave.

 

“Excuse me, is there any information about Nicole-“

 

“Who are you waitin’ for, Wave?”

 

Waverly’s head snaps up at the sound. Nicole Haught stands in the doorway, eyes concerned and focused solely on Waverly. She’s upright, and talking. Nicole’s alive.

 

“Nic.”

 

Waverly moves at lightning speed, leaping into her girlfriend’s arms. Her legs and arms wrap around Nicole’s body, holding on to her as if she’ll disappear if released. She doesn’t fight the tears this time. Nicole catches her. She always catches her.

 

“You’re okay,” Nicole hears, Waverly’s face hidden in her neck.

 

“Of course I am, baby. I promised.”

 

“But, but, Dr. Foster called. You were in an ambulance. Someone was hurt, and-“

 

“James has a broken leg, and the start of an infection. A treatable one. I rode with him in the ambulance, needed to know he was okay. Torres took him down for surgery. It’s going really well. She checked out my leg really quick, gave me the once over. I’m all good. Not a scratch.” Nicole taps her sternum goofily, flashing her dimples.

 

“I can’t believe you’re okay. I thought-”

 

“I made a promise, Waverly. I made a promise to you, and I kept it.”

 

Nicole smiles sweetly, leaning to press her lips against her girlfriend’s temple. She steps back, just barely, looking up at the three remaining women in the room.

 

“Sorry I didn’t call, guys. My phone is in my duffle, which is in the SUV. I didn’t want James to be alone... He’s in good hands, Em. I made sure of it.”

 

Waverly moves out of Nicole’s arms, making room for Emily Grey. She can hear Emily whisper thank you, over and over. Nicole tells her James did the same for her last time. They hold each other for a few moments, savoring the feeling of safety and peace. Wynonna and Gillian stand beside Waverly, ready to embrace the agent the moment she’s free. They all stand together, breathing in the feeling of safety. The nightmare is over.

 

Waverly asks the question everyone is afraid of as soon as she is once again wrapped in Nicole’s embrace. She speaks into her girlfriend’s neck, voice quiet.

 

“Nicole, is there anyone left? Will anyone- will someone try to hurt us?”

 

“No, it’s over. Dolls was the final piece of the puzzle. He- he wanted me there. He wanted to hurt me, blames me for his partner’s death. He wanted to- to hurt me by hurting James. But, he didn’t get a chance to. It’s over, Waves. It’s really over. ”

 

Emily, Gillian, Wynonna, Waverly and Nicole stay together until James is out of surgery. They smile to Emily as she heads for the hospital room.

 

“I’ll visit later, Em, I promise. James needs you right now.”

 

“Thank you, Nicole.”

 

“Anytime. I’d do anything for you two. Now, go be with your husband.”

 

Emily smiles, hugging Nicole again before slipping out of the room. Nicole breathes, throwing an arm around Waverly’s shoulders, and grinning widely at the woman she loves.

 

“So, ready to go home, Wave?”

 

“What- what about Delta, and-and your stuff?”

 

“The rest of the world can wait. Let’s go home.”

 

Waverly nods. They’re going home, together.

 

Chapter Text

Nicole pants, body sinking limply into the mattress. She finally catches her breath, and laughs. She turns on her side, smiling lazily at the sight of an equally dazed Waverly Earp. She can’t stop dimples from cratering down in her cheeks as she grins, reaching to move a sweat-matted stripe of hair out of her girlfriend’s face. They share a delirious laugh, fingers meeting and lacing across Waverly’s stomach. Nicole speaks, once her voice returns.

 

“I wish someone had told me how great moving in together sex is. Would’ve asked weeks ago, maybe even months.”

 

“Don’t ruin this, Cole,” Waverly says, gruff tone deceived by her grin. “That was… wow.”

 

“Yeah?” Nicole asks, glancing at the woman beside her.

 

“Definitely yeah.”

 

They’re quiet for a few moments, heart rates slowing and breaths returning to their normal, inaudible volume. Nicole’s gaze falls upon her girlfriend’s profile, savoring the image of a mussed and giggly Waverly. She thanks whatever twist of fate allowed her to be here now, whether it be a good deed or something/someone omniscient. Whatever the case, she’ll always be thankful for this, for Waverly.

 

“I forget how good you are at… that, sometimes.”

 

“Oh, you forget, huh? Should I be worried?”

 

“God no. I just… you’re really good in bed, Wave.” Nicole says dreamily.

 

Waverly laughs, sitting up a bit and turning onto her side. She rests her cheek in her hand, elbow bent for support. Fingers graze a flushed cheek and strong jaw, moving to dip into the deep dimple in the redhead’s right cheek. She giggles when Nicole leans into the touch, nuzzling playfully against the hand. She gasps when brown eyes meet hers, so soft and honest. Waverly lives for these quiet moments, the ones that define and strengthen their relationship. Nothing will ever surpass how it feels to share a bed, to share intimacy, with Nicole Haught.

 

“Glad I still manage to impress you, baby. Now, are you ready for round two?”

“Mhm, always. Well, as soon as I can feel my, um… leg again.”

-----------------

 

[Six Weeks Later]

 

“I hear Professor Haught is some kinda FBI super agent or something. She, like, helped take down one of the biggest serial killers in California history! That’s why her class is so stacked. I can’t even get on a freakin’ waiting list.”

 

“Haught? You mean the gimpy teacher? Please, she can barely carry a stack of books. No way she took down some killer guy, unless he was the world’s wimpiest psychopath.”

 

“Dylan, come on, man! Haught is cool! She’s the best professor I’ve had here. If you’d pay attention some time, you’d learn something from her.”

 

“Wait, you got into Haught’s class? Dylan, drop it, please! I want in that class so bad!”

 

Waverly giggles cheerfully as she walks past a small group of students talking about her girlfriend. It’s strange to think that Nicole’s life has normalized so quickly. She had stepped right back into teaching when the semester started, as if no time has passed. As if she hadn’t saved lives, and exceeded expectations.

 

Waverly practically skips up to Holly Stewart, grin widening at the sight of her girlfriend’s best friend.

 

“Holly, hey!”

 

“Well, hey there, Waverly. How are ya?”

 

“Good, good. It’s a little weird to be back here, you know? Nic makes it seem so easy.”

 

“Haughtshot is good at making things that are difficult look easy. How is my favorite FBI something or other anyway?”

 

“She’s great, meeting me here actually. Maybe you’ll get to say-”

 

“Hey.”

 

Holly turns and beams, leaping into Nicole’s arms with an excited squeal. Waverly laughs as the redhead spins her once, before placing her friend back on the sidewalk.

 

“Haughtshot, I missed you! It’s about time you came out of hiding. Wait, were you in hiding, or just under Waves?”

 

“Hey, be nice to Waverly. She’s little.” Nicole responds with a playful grin, ducking out of the way of Waverly’s shoulder slap.

 

“Why did I ever allow you two to communicate? She’s worse than my sister!”

 

“Hmm, probably because you love me, Wave.” Nicole’s voice lowers suddenly, the tone raising Waverly’s blood pressure. She sighs at the feeling of Nicole’s arms wrapping around her waist, lips close to her ear. Her haze of adoration is lifted by Holly’s protests.

 

“Please don’t be gross in front of me. Catching you two making out in a dirty bar bathroom was enough for me, thanks. I’ll never get the image of Waverly on the sink with her legs around your waist out of my head.”

 

Nicole’s eyes glaze at the memory. She grins goofily, unable to escape the irritated shoulder slap from Holly. Waverly reddens, looking down and away from the pair.

 

“Don’t be a perv, Haughtshot.”

 

“Me? Never,” she responds, feigning seriousness. “Can you really blame me though? I mean, look at her, Hol. She’s… she’s perfect.”

 

“Your sap is showing, bud.”

 

“I know, and I don’t care. She’s worth it.”

 

“Damn right, Haughtshot. Damn right.”

 

“Anyway,” Waverly interjects, face still red. “I was hoping maybe the three of us could have lunch together, like old times.”

 

“I’m in. Haughtshot?”

 

“Absolutely, lead the way, Waves.”

 

----------------

 

Doctor Holliday knocks on the door to Office 717. He smiles lightly at the sound of a light giggle and quiet words, before steeling his expression as the door opens. Nicole Haught stands in the doorway, looking a bit… rumpled.

 

“Ah, Professor Haught. Sorry to bother you in the middle of your day. I just wanted to say I’m glad you’re back with us this semester.”

 

“Thank you, Doctor. Happy to be back.”

 

“I am very glad to hear that. You would have been missed. Actually, before we part ways- I wanted to check and see if you grew to like this office, or if you’d like to move to your intended one, 711.”



Nicole’s eyes narrow in thought for a moment, before widening with realization. She smiles sheepishly.

 

“I, um… well, I-I- this office is great.”

 

“Is it now? Excellent. That’s all then. I bid you a good day, professor.”

 

As Doctor Holliday turns to leave, he hears a voice inside the room.

 

“Wait, so 711 was supposed to be your office? Nicole!”

 

Holliday grins. Professor Earp will have a field day with the new piece of information.

 

------------------

 

Waverly stares at her sister’s truck in Nicole’s- in their driveway. She wracks her brain for the reason the blue truck is parked, and cool to the touch. Did they make plans with Wynonna, on a school night? It seems like it’s too soon to be game night already.

 

She shrugs, pulling her keys from her pocket out of habit, and opening the door quietly. She steps inside, smile widening when Delta appears beside her. He’s nothing if not predictable, huffing as he leans against her leg and waits for her behind the ear scratches. Waverly drops to one knee, letting her nails dig in a little more as she scratches behind both soft ears and freshly shorn fur. She starts to call out to her girlfriend and sister, when Wynonna’s voice breaks the quiet.

 

“Nicole, did you really think I’d say no? Seriously? Of course I want you to-”

 

“Wants you to what?” Waverly asks, stepping into the kitchen and putting her keys in their designated bowl. Nicole freezes, back turned to her girlfriend. She stiffens, eyes widening as they stay locked with Wynonna’s. She tries to remember how to form a sentence.

 

“Well, uh… it’s just that we, um… your sister and I-”

 

“WESHOULDGETEVERYONETOGETHERFORABARNIGHTBEERNIGHTBABYGIRL!”

 

“Woah, drop the volume there, Nonna. What?”

 

“We should call Torres and Holly. We could all go have a beer, eat some pizza. It’s been a long time, baby girl. About time we all get together again, right Haught?”

 

“Uh, yeah, mhm, definitely.”

 

Waverly raises an eyebrow at the two. They’re hiding something, badly. Nicole won’t meet her gaze, hands nervously fidgeting in her lap. Wynonna is smiling too big, dimples not quite appearing. She puts the thought away, smile softening as she nears Nicole. Her hands slide along strong shoulders, lips dropping near her ear.

 

“Hey, baby.”

 

“Hi,” Nicole whispers shyly, tilting her head back to accept a quick kiss. Wynonna fake gags, chair scraping across the tile as she stands upright and forces her hands into her tight pockets.

 

“Well, I’ll see ya around, Haughtstuff. You, too, babygirl. I was serious about beers this weekend, so don’t forget. Call Torres and Holly.”

 

Wynonna is gone before either can respond. Even Delta tilts his head at the abrupt departure.

 

“That was weird,” Waverly adds, stepping in front of Nicole and grinning as she takes a seat in her girlfriend’s lap. “Now, how about a proper hello, hmm?”

 

“A proper hel-”

 

Waverly cuts off the end of her sentence, mouth sealing the words in Nicole’s. The kiss is messy, desperate and more frantic than expected. Hands slide and tangle in red hair. Waverly swallows an absentminded groan, before her lips start to travel and descend Nicole’s neck. She smirks at the gasp a nipped bite near Nicole’s pulse point draws.

 

“Take me to bed, Cole.”

 

“I, um, yeah...”

 

Waverly shifts, ready to be lifted and carried to the bedroom. Nicole is motionless.

 

“But, we should- shit -should maybe- damnit, Wave- walk this time? I nearly dropped you. Tile-tile’s slick, and my leg...”

 

Waverly groans, stopping her frenzied kisses, and standing upright. She huffs, drawing a head tilt from a confused Delta. That’s his signature sound.

 

“Fine. You’re really no fun sometimes, Cole.”

 

She walks toward the bedroom, looking back when she hears no movement behind her. Nicole is stone-still in one of their kitchen chairs, eyes glazed and unfocused.

 

“You coming, baby?”

 

“Oh, I intend to,” Nicole growls back, standing and following her girlfriend’s swaying hips with hungry eyes.

 

Waverly Earp is too much sometimes. Too much, and just enough.

 

---------------

 

It’s Saturday, and Waverly is suspicious. Nicole has been weird all week- unusually quiet, sneaking off to make phone calls, constantly fidgeting, and even a little jumpy. She’s not the normal, confident, sweet Nicole that Waverly is so used to. This version is awkward, nervous and easily startled. Something is going on, but what?

 

Waverly smirks at the sound of the Nicole’s blasting music and calculated punches against the punching bag located out under the carport. She’s missed the sight of boxing Nicole, body glistening with sweat, and face flushed from exertion. It’s easily one of the sexiest sights she’s ever seen. She sneaks around the house, enjoying the view of a sports bra and tight shorts-wearing girlfriend as fist meets bag, over and over. She pouts when the redhead steps back, removing her gloves and downing a half-full bottle of water in one go. She moves to slide her hands along an exposed abdomen, frown forming when Nicole side-steps out of her touch.

 

“Hey. Sorry, Wave, I’m all sweaty. Gonna go grab a quick shower. We’ve got drinks with everyone tonight. Don’t forget, yeah?”



Waverly stares at Nicole as she walks away, running a towel over her sweaty face. Her eyebrows furrow. Something is going on. She stays outside by the punching bag, thinking, wondering. Did she do something? Did Nicole do… something? Her head floods with every terrible possibility.

 

Delta appears, seeming to know his co-owner needs emotional support. She smiles faintly at his huff and lean, fingers moving behind soft ears and along the top of his head as she wonders.

 

She can’t take it anymore. Waverly stomps into the house, Delta following close behind. She can’t stand not knowing what’s wrong. She wants answers.

 

Waverly throws open the bathroom door, knob slamming into the wall. She grits her teeth, and throws open the shower curtain. Her eyes lock on to the wet and confused face of her now fully-exposed girlfriend.

 

“Waves, what the-”

 

“I want an explanation, Nicole!”

 

“An explanation for wh-”

 

“You’ve been weird, and quiet. You’re not- you’re not you. What happened? Did I do something? Did you do… something?”

 

“What are you talking about, Wave?”

 

“Are you- did I- I just… I miss you. You’re all quiet and awkward, and I don’t…”

 

“Baby, there’s nothing wrong. Give me a few to get this soap out of my eyes, and we’ll talk, okay?”

 

Waverly nods, eyes drifting along the tall, exposed form just once. She stops when she meets Nicole’s smirk.

 

“I’ll just, um-”

 

“Yeah… be out in a sec, Waves.”




“She’s somethin’, buddy. Really somethin’.”

 

----------------

 

Nicole holds the door to their favorite bar open for her girlfriend, laughing when Waverly pulls her in quickly by the hand. They’ve been inseparable since their talk earlier in the afternoon. Waverly had explained her fears, and Nicole had been her usual sweet self.

 

“Wave, I’m not cheating. I’m not mad, or hiding anything. I just… you’re here. You’re really here every morning when I wake up. Every night when we go to bed together, I’m terrified you’ll be gone before the sun rises. Sometimes, this all feels too good to be true, you know? I just… I love you, and I’m still learning what that actually means. I’m still trying to figure out how I got so lucky. So, I’m sorry I’ve been weird. I’ll try to be better, I promise.”

 

Three heads turn, three different different versions of Nicole’s last name are shouted. The couple smiles in unison, Waverly’s hand squeezing Nicole’s as they separate. Waverly slides into the booth first, grinning at Callie, Holly and Wynonna. She laughs at the sight of two fresh beers already waiting for them. She sighs at the warmth of Nicole as she slides in beside her, arm moving to rest across her shoulders. She sneaks her hand up to hold the one resting around her shoulders. This is the feeling she missed- pure, unedited bliss.

 

“Hey ya, Haughtstuff!”

 

“Hey, Wy. Hi Hol, Torres. Good to see you all.”

 

“Always good to see you up and walking, Haught,” Callie responds genuinely.

“Hi ya, Haughtshot, Mrs. Haughtshot. How’s life?”

 

Nicole chokes on her beer, spluttering at the Mrs. comment. If only…

 

“We’re good, Holly. Thanks for asking. Callie, hi! I feel like I haven’t see you in forever. How are things?”



Waverly carries the conversation, voice bright and bubbly. She’s a vision when she’s surrounded by friends (and her sister). The Earp sisters bicker playfully about the best draft beer options to pair with their pizzas. Holly and Wynonna debate which Haught pun is funnier, and fits Nicole better- Haughtstuff or Haughtshot. Callie talks animatedly about her latest project in collaboration with a neurosurgeon and the Wounded Warrior Project. Holly and Callie are both shamelessly teased about their secret new girlfriends. Waverly brags about how great it is to share a living space with her girlfriend. The conversation is light, funny, and perfect.

 

Waverly’s hand is warm and ever-present in Nicole’s. She can’t get past how right this feels. They’re here, together. They’ve handled every curveball thrown at them- change, work, consulting, serial killers, danger. They’ve braved every storm with ease and learned finesse, focus never shifting away from their relationship. They’re together, even now. Nicole knows this feeling, the complete and utter happiness bubbling in her chest, will never fade.

 

Waverly is practically bouncing in her seat. Wynonna cracks a joke at Nicole’s expense, and everyone laughs.

 

Waverly frowns for a moment, missing the warmth of the hand that has slipped from hers. She watches Nicole dig into her right pocket for a moment out of the corner of her, switching between her hands. Her smiles returns when the same arm slings over her shoulders, and lips press against her cheek. She can feel a hint of teeth against her skin from Nicole’s wide grin. She looks up into brown eyes, eyebrow lifting playfully. Nicole simply grins back, eyes drifting to Wynonna’s for a moment, drawing a beaming smile from her girlfriend’s sister. Nicole’s eyes seem to say everything in that moment. They’re always so expressive. It’s almost as if...

 

Waverly can feel warm breath against her ear, spine tingling at the sensation. She can still feel the fingers of the arm behind her sliding delicately across the soft fabric of her silken shirt. Nicole’s other hand slips into hers under the table for just a moment, placing a cool, metallic object there. She tries to look down to see the mystery object, but a finger beneath her chin pulls her gaze back upward. The brown eyes she meets are so warm, so bright and excited. Those brown eyes, they’re home.

 

She can’t focus on the whispered words, only Nicole’s eyes and their endlessness.

 

“Hmm?” she hums, eyes dropping to Nicole’s mouth to process the words.

 

“Marry me.”

 

Waverly gasps. She can feel the cool metal of the ring between her fingers. There’s a hint of a sharp edge near the crease between her ring and middle finger. Is it really there, or did she imagine the words, the feeling?

 

Opening her hand, her eyes widen. She’s really holding a diamond engagement ring. It’s really there, shiny and beautiful. Nicole really said those two words in her ear. This is real.

 

She lifts her eyes from her open palm, misty hazel eyes meeting the gentle brown ones.

 

Nicole breathes, and waits.

 

Waverly’s face though. Waverly’s face tells Nicole everything.