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Prologue.

 

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Waverly is her own worst enemy, she’s known this for years.

 

Lately though, since Mikshun, it’s been worse.

 

Ever so slightly.

 

And it’s not heavy enough that she’s a completely different person, or that it floods her thoughts all the time. Some days she forgets it’s even there, and sometimes it retreats for weeks, but once in a moon's cycle, or maybe two or three, it comes back.

 

Because even now, with Nicole safe in her bed, with her arms warm around Waverly’s waist, she can’t stop the thought that things could have been so very different.

 

Because Nicole is ok, and Wynonna, and little Alice is, too, somewhere no one but Gus knows, but she can’t shake the taste of dread at the back of her throat.

 

Things have been different since Mikshun.

 

She’s still her, one hundred percent her, only sometimes it’s harder to find the light now.

 

Sometimes she wakes, choking on shadows, and Nicole rises next to her, immediately, always. She rubs her hand slowly and soothingly over Waverly’s back until her breathing slows and she allows Nicole to pull her close, sheltered within the strong curve of her back.

 

Sometimes the darkness comes to her during the day, but mostly, much more commonly, it comes to her in dreams.

 

Those are the worst. They’re by far the worst, because they’re so realistic that Waverly can’t discern them from a real memory at first. It’s only later, with a slower pulse rate and a calm mind that she can.

 

A slower pulse and a calm mind and Nicole .

 

Always Nicole.

 

Waverly’s never believed in true love. Not for herself anyway. True love is for princesses and movie stars and other people. Not her. But when Nicole’s hand slips into hers and the darkness flees, immediately, she thinks maybe .

 

Just maybe , it does.



-

 

One.

 

-



Once her mind shows her a world where Willa and Bobo never make it to the archway.

 

They never try and break the curse to breach the town lines.

 

Instead, Bobo takes their sister’s hand and anoints her as his Queen, and they stay and settle with the Revenants in Purgatory instead.

 

Waverly and Wynonna wait for the joke to end. They wait for their sister to turn around and kill him instead of taking him to her bed, but it doesn’t happen.

 

She stays, and they build a home amongst iron and smoke and ash, and they rule .

 

Waverly holds out hope that she will come back until the day that Peacemaker stops malfunctioning.

 

It’s fickle for a few days after Willa sets her course, refusing to fire for Wynonna with any sort of consistency, and Waverly begs whichever cosmic joke of a god is orchestrating this horrible reality, because things this bad don't just happen to people, even ones with a past like the Earps, that this inconsistency means her oldest sister hasn’t fully chosen.

 

But then it changes.

 

The day it works for Wynonna, better than it ever has before, they know. Because Willa has turned her back on her family and her duty, and Peacemaker knows . The gun no longer recognises her as the Heir.

 

Wynonna doesn’t tell her because she doesn’t have words.

 

Instead she comes home and takes Waverly’s hand, leading her from her place curled up on the couch with Nicole, to the makeshift firing range she’s set up outside.

 

She fires ten perfect shots through the middle of each target before she turns to Waverly with tears in her eyes and Waverly understands .

 

The weapon is hers now. It no longer has a conflicted heart.

 

She mumbles something about Doc and whiskey and a lot before she leaves Waverly alone in the homestead for the night with Nicole and a heart heavier than it has ever been before.



-



“Maybe it’s not fixed,” Nicole tries to reason with her as they lay side by side in her bed as sleep continues to evade them both, hours and hours later. “Maybe it’s something you can change, you know. If you talked to her, maybe….”

 

“You’ve met my sister,” Waverly deadpans as she turns on her side and looks at Nicole. “Right?”

 

They haven’t been intimate here yet, because the bruise on Nicole’s ribs is still a bright blue, but they’re so close to it that Waverly can taste Nicole on her tongue when she closes her eyes.

 

“I know,” Nicole says as she sighs heavily, and there’s no malice in her voice. Only exhaustion. And grief.

 

“Besides,” Waverly adds with a thick feeling in her throat. “Peacemaker wouldn’t have….”

 

“I know,” Nicole says with the same sad tone. “I know, I just….”

 

“It’s ok, Nicole,” Waverly offers, and she’s not sure why, but she doesn’t even feel very sad. Just numb. Bone-deeply numb. “You don’t have to try and make this better, I know it’s….I know there’s no hope and that’s….well, it’s not ok, but we’ll deal. God knows we’ve endured worse.”

 

“I’m here,” Nicole says as her hand finds Waverly’s beneath the blankets. “You know I’m here, right? I’m not going anywhere. I’m with you.”

 

“I know,” Waverly answers softly, and her whole body sighs towards Nicole’s. “How else do you think I haven’t fallen apart.”



-



“Wave, what….?”

 

Nicole’s voice is a soft question as Waverly turns in her arms and starts kissing her neck, her chest, the swell of her breast, her hands shaking a little as they move over Nicole’s hips.

 

“This isn’t about Willa,” Waverly whispers to the darkness. “I just need you, Nicole. I need to be….”

 

“I know,” Nicole says, her hand finding Waverly’s beneath the covers. “I know, baby.”

 

She needs Nicole to know that this isn’t about being sad. This isn’t a distraction. This isn’t because she’s been so crippled with grief the last few days that she’s barely been able to breathe.

 

It’s just time .

 

The stars woke her in the middle of the night to her lover’s warm hands around her waist, because it’s time .

 

“I need you to know….” Waverly starts, but Nicole quiets her with a kiss. It’s long and slow and peaceful and Willa’s name disappears from Waverly’s heart, and doesn’t come back until the morning.

 

“I know , baby,” Nicole affirms again with a patient gaze that Waverly can just see in the dark.

 

She moves, soft like silk between Waverly’s thighs, and one of Waverly’s calves wraps around Nicole’s so smoothly it feels like a dance.

 

Leaning in, Nicole ghosts her lips against Waverly’s before she pulls back with a smirk, evidently pleased at the slightly desperate expression it leaves on Waverly’s face.

 

It’s tempting to wind her fingers through Nicole’s hair and pull her closer, but she knows what Nicole is doing. What she’s always doing.

 

She’s trying to make this as good for Waverly as humanly possible. She’s trying to build as much pleasure against the bank before the river breaks.

 

One of her hands moves beneath the covers to slide up Waverly’s thigh slowly, dragging the bottom of the loose tee she’s wearing to bed, Nicole’s, she thinks with a smile , with her fingertips as her hand moves higher and higher and h i g h e r.

 

“You’re sure?” Nicole asks gently when her touch meets Waverly’s underwear at the curve of her hip. “Because you can change your mind at any time, ok, baby?”

 

“I want this, Nicole,” Waverly says clearly even though her hands are shaking with nerves. “I need this. I need you.”

 

“You’re sure?” Nicole asks one last time, and Waverly can feel her trembling, she can feel how much Nicole wants this, too, but she won’t take another step unless it’s what Waverly wants. What Waverly’s completely comfortable with.

 

“God, you have no idea how sure,” Waverly answers as she takes in as much of Nicole as she can, firing every one of her senses.

 

“So, show me,” Nicole purrs, her eyes dark and quick. “Show me, Wave.”

 

“God, I want to but…. are you sure?” Waverly asks Nicole with her hands light on Nicole’s neck. “Because I want this, Nicole, but I want this to be the right time for you, too. I don’t want you to feel like you have to, just because I’m asking.”

 

“Baby, I’ve been ready since the moment I met you,” Nicole says to her softly with a little laugh. “I know what you mean, though, and it’s so sweet of you to stop and ask, but I’m ready, I’m so ready, Waverly, if you are. Because you’re right, it feels like time .”

 

“Yeah?” Waverly questions and her breath hitches, because the thought that Nicole has wanted her bodily since the second she walked into Waverly’s bar, it does something to her.

 

She’s always known that Nicole found her attractive, but the fact that she’s thought about this, for that long, makes Waverly wet .

 

“Yeah,” Nicole replies, leaning down to kiss Waverly again in confirmation and affirmation and love.

 

Their kiss speaks .

 

It says everything they’re both thinking without the complexity of trying to find words to do them justice. To do this moment justice.

 

Nicole’s kiss asks is this ok as she moves Waverly’s tee higher and higher and Waverly’s says god, yes in return as she arches into Nicole’s hands.

 

“I know it’s soon,” Nicole breathes, her thumb brushing the underside of Waverly’s breasts as her top bunches below them, just covering her. “I know it’s so soon, Wave, but I need you to know something.”

 

“What?” Waverly sighs as Nicole’s hands move higher, splaying out over her ribs before her fingers just glance the swell of smooth, soft skin. “What, Nicole? You can tell me anything.”

 

She pauses from her pursuit so she can look to Waverly properly, giving Waverly her full, undivided attention, and Waverly’s heart starts pounding harder and harder because she thinks she knows what Nicole is about to say because the words are on the top of her tongue, too.

 

“I love you,” Nicole says simply and Waverly feels the air still around them, as though the molecules in the darkness recognise the significance of this moment, as well.

 

“I love you, too,” Waverly sighs in return as her hand fits over Nicole’s where it rests over her heart, and her eyes fill with tears.

 

Because her world might be coming to pieces outside of this room, but here, there’s only the two of them. And that is all that matters.

 

“You do?” Nicole asks, almost disbelieving, like she can’t possibly believe as much could be true, and Waverly nods as one stray tear escapes down her cheek.

 

“I do,” Waverly says as she pulls Nicole closer to her, pressing her lips to Nicole’s over and over again. “I love you, Nicole. I love you.”

 

Something in Nicole changes then, and she moves against Waverly a little more urgently. There’s more depth to her kisses than before, like she doesn’t have to hold back anymore, like she doesn’t have to hide how far into the ground her feelings for Waverly go, just in case it’s too fast for her and Nicole needs to pull back.

 

Because now Nicole knows . She knows they’re on the same page and in the same bed, and she can give everything to Waverly, because there’s nothing but truth between them now.

 

Her hands move up over Waverly’s chest, pushing her top out of the way so she can cup Waverly fully, and the moan that leaves her is entirely involuntary.

 

Waverly feels her nipples harden against Nicole’s hand in response, and Nicole leans down with a smile on her lips before she eases the piece of clothing over Waverly’s head and off completely.

 

Just like that, she’s bare, although her skin heats so rapidly beneath Nicole’s gaze that she feels warmer than she did before. The reflex is automatic and she moves to cover herself before Nicole stops her hands gently.

 

“You’re beautiful,” Nicole breathes to her, pressing kisses to each of Waverly’s hands as she allows them to be led away gently. “I want to see all of you, if you’ll let me?”

 

“Can I see all of you, too?” Waverly asks and it’s not piece for piece, but now that she’s thinking about it, she wants to see Nicole, all of Nicole, more than she wants her next breath.

 

“You can have everything , Wave,” Nicole offers with a sigh as she smiles and her hands move to the edge of her own top.

 

“No,” Waverly says, smirking as she reaches for the fabric instead. “I want to….”

 

It makes Nicole’s breath catch hard, her admission, and she can only nod a little blankly by way of permission as Waverly’s hands divest Nicole of each scrap of clothing, too.

 

She has no idea how they’ve managed to share a bed without doing this before, the thought insanity to her as Nicole’s skin meets her own, breast to breast, and she shakes with the desire it fires hot on the underside of her pulse.

 

Waverly’s hands move for Nicole’s breast, testing the reaction of Nicole’s nipple under her soft touch, smiling heavily when the skin changes beautifully in response.

 

Nicole holds the distance between their mouths for a moment, giving Waverly the chance to take in more of her skin before she can’t stand it any longer.

 

“Will you have me, baby?” Nicole asks before her tongue slides hotly against Waverly’s own and Waverly’s hands fist tight in her hair. “Can I touch you?”

 

“Yes,” Waverly moans into Nicole’s lungs and the redhead above her shakes .

 

Her hand moves from Waverly’s breasts, crawling down her stomach, inch by inch, in a pace so slow, Waverly thinks she might scream.

 

“Now, Nicole,” Waverly gasps, hard, when she can’t possibly take it anymore. “Please.”

 

So she does.



-



Waverly and Nicole are in the kitchen, sweetly shy with new love and molten lust as they move around the room making breakfast, when it happens.

 

Nicole’s tee hangs loose around Waverly’s thighs like a dress and the sheet from Waverly’s bed winds around Nicole’s body like a Grecian gown and they’re blushing, catching glances across the room when the first smoke grenade comes.

 

It smashes through the kitchen window, showering both of them with little diamonds of glass before Nicole reaches desperately for Waverly’s hand, pulling her towards the back door with her hand over her mouth.

 

“We need to go, Wave,” Nicole says urgently, her eyes searching the room for any kind of weapon on their way towards the exit. “ Now .”

 

Waverly manages to close her hand around a heavy knife on the table in their rushed retreat, and she presses it into Nicole’s hand before Nicole pulls the door open.

 

There’s a man standing there, dressed head to toe in black. And he’s human, he must be, to be on their land.

 

Nicole is still for a second before she twists the knife in her hands and moves for the place Waverly can see his Kevlar vest stops. She’s fast, quicker than he is, and the knife finds home before he lands a blow on Nicole that makes Waverly weak at the knees.

 

Nicole drops to the ground with a sickening thud and Waverly knows she should run, that that’s what Nicole would tell her to do, but she can’t leave Nicole, she won’t .

 

She drops to her knees, wrapping her arms around Nicole’s shoulders before she looks up to the man with as much contempt as she can muster in her present state of undress.

 

“We’re not here for her,” he says with a rough unfamiliar voice. “We’re here for you.”

 

“I won’t leave her,” Waverly growls as she pulls the prone shape of Nicole towards her. She’s breathing, thank god, Waverly can feel the puff of her breath against her hand.

 

“Then you’ll join her,” the man grunts before he moves the butt of his gun and everything goes black .



-



She wakes to a wedding.

 

If you could call it that.

 

They’re at the trailer park and a number of mismatched seats have been angled in some gross replication of a bride and groom’s side. There are flaming pyres lit down either side, leading up to an altar and an archway made from dead branches and twisted wire.

 

Waverly can feel her wrists burn where they’re bound to the chair she’s propped on. The bonds are tight and they pinch at her skin and her head aches, and she’s not actually wearing any more clothes, save someone’s thick coat that’s been thrown roughly around her shoulders that smells like smoke and oil or grease.

 

She turns quickly, remembering whose body she was draped over before the light had gone out, breathing an audible sigh of relief when she sees Nicole and Wynonna bound similarly, alone on what is assumedly the bride's side.

 

“Nicole,” Waverly half-sobs as her eyes move over her girlfriend’s face hungrily, searching for any lingering damage beyond the purple bruise at her cheek. “You’re ok.”

 

Nicole’s entire body softens like Waverly’s does, and Waverly can hear her swallow tears before she speaks.

 

“Thank god,” Nicole breathes in relief, and Waverly can hear the broken note in her voice, like she wasn’t sure if Waverly was actually going to open her eyes. “Thank god. Wynonna, she’s awake.”

 

She can’t see her sister well because the bonds are tight and they don’t give her a lot of leverage, but Wynonna must have a little more, because she leans forward as Nicole leans back and her face crumbles, too.

 

“Hell of a scare you gave us there, baby girl,” Wynonna says, her voice strained. “You ok? You’ve been out for a long time.”

 

“Aside from one heck of a headache,” Waverly answers, wincing, wishing she could assess the damage properly. “I think so, yeah. Are you guys?”

 

“We’re ok, kid,” Wynonna replies with reassurance strong in her voice, even though Waverly can tell she’s terrified herself. “Take more than a little bump to the head to put me and your girl out for long.”

 

“You’re ok? Waverly asks Nicole again, because the bruise on her face is huge and all she can remember is how hard Nicole had hit the kitchen floor.

 

“I’m ok, Wave,” Nicole says softly, her eyes searching for damage, too. “You didn’t run, did you? After he hit me?”

 

The note in Nicole’s voice is gentle and like she wants to tell Waverly off for putting her safety over Waverly’s own, but there’s another part, small, and so fine that Waverly has to squint to hear it, that sounds like it can’t believe someone would actually do something like that for her.

 

“I wasn’t going to leave you,” Waverly replies with a firm and preemptively defensive note, but she doesn’t need to have bothered, because Nicole breaks at the confirmation, and Waverly has to bite her lip to stop her own tears.

 

“Look, you two can have your romantic reunion later, and don’t pretend like I didn’t see those love bites on your bare legs, you little harlot,” Wynonna says, changing the subject with an eyeroll before she turns to Nicole and winks. “Kudos on sealing the deal by the way, Officer Haught. I had wondered if you were ever going to make a proper move.”

 

Wynonna ,” Nicole sighs exasperatedly before Wynonna nods reluctantly.

 

“Ok, fine, I’ll tease you later. Don’t think I’m done for a second, though,” Wynonna groans as her face turns serious. “How the hell are we going to get out of this?”

 

“What is this ?” Waverly asks, because she knows, but her brain seems to be refusing to admit it.

 

“A wedding, baby girl,” Wynonna says, and the sadness and pain and anguish in her voice make Waverly want to cry all over again. “Our sister’s getting married.”

 

“What, are we the only guests?” Waverly asks hesitantly. “Or….”

 

“They’re all here,” Nicole replies quietly as she looks to Waverly. “They’ll probably be here any minute.”

 

“Can’t we….” Waverly starts, but honestly, she doesn’t have a damn clue how she intends on finishing.

 

Can’t we make our sister see reason or can’t we make this stop or can’t we do something, anything, anything at all.

 

“I don’t think we can,” Wynonna replies, and Waverly realises she must have said at least one of those things out loud. “You know I want more than anyone to save her, Waverly, but I think she’s lost. I think the only thing we can do is try to get the hell out of here alive.”

 

“Peacemaker?” Waverly asks suddenly, looking over what she can see of Wynonna for the gun.

 

“Doc hid it,” Wynonna returns with a smile. “Clever old bastard heard them coming before I did, and hid it under the floor.”

 

“Thank god,” Waverly sighs heavily, although knowing they’re now outnumbered and unarmed makes the nerves in her blood crawl quicker. “Is he….?”

 

“He’ll be fine,” Wynonna says, smiling wryly. “They knocked him out and left him there. If he’s awake, he’ll be on his way here. Any luck, with that gun in his hand.”

 

“Yeah,” Waverly returns with a heavy drop of cynicism. “Because luck is something we always have a ton of.”

 

“Hey,” Nicole says suddenly, her eyes following something off to their side. “What’s that?”

 

“The wedding party,” Wynonna breathes in defeat. “It’s the goddamn wedding party.”

 

It’s Willa, resplendent in a white gown with a heavy fur cloak thrown over her shoulders - bear, by the look of it - holding Bobo’s hand, who is dressed in some ridiculous amalgamation of animal skin and formal wear, too.

 

They walk up the middle of the aisle as his men and women suddenly flood the area around them, closing in like a pack of wolves.

 

“Why,” Bobo says by way of a greeting, bowing dramatically in front of the three of them. “The other Earp sisters. How wonderful of you to join us.”

 

“You know me,” Wynonna snipes back as her eyes narrow. “Such a sucker for a good wedding. Especially when the dude is punching, hard.”

 

“Nice of you to bring your little girlfriend, too, Waverly,” Bobo says to her casually. “I’ve always wanted to have something to torture Nedley with. Do you think his deputy’s blood will do the trick?”

 

Waverly feels her own blood run cold like someone’s connected an IV filled with ice water to her arm, and she’s about to throw some sort of terrified threat his way before Wynonna does it for her.

 

“You hurt her and I’ll rip every appendage off your body with my bare hands,” Wynonna fires back to Bobo, her voice hot and dangerous. “I swear to god, asshole.”

 

“Later,” Willa says quietly with a calming hand on Bobo’s arm. “Save the torture for later, Robert. I don’t want to get blood on our clothes.”

 

“Right you are, my love,” Bobo replies sweetly, and it makes Waverly feel sick to her stomach because he means it. He loves her.

 

And, if the look Willa gives him in the seconds that follow means what Waverly thinks it does, she loves him, too.

 

“Who the hell are you?” Wynonna snaps at their sister. “What the hell happened to you to make you hate us this much?”

 

Willa’s face is soft as she looks to Bobo, but it twists horribly as she turns to look at the three of them.

 

“I’ve always hated her,” Willa says as the throws the barb at Waverly, and Waverly can feel Nicole’s fury beside her. “You, on the other hand. It took me years to hate you.”

 

“You didn’t answer my question, sis,” Wynonna seethes, and Waverly can hear her twisting her hands, pulling at the bonds around her wrists, hard.

 

“Because you left me,” Willa says with as much disgust in her voice as Waverly can hear in Wynonna’s. “Because you stopped looking. I was alive and so fucking close to you, and you stopped looking.”

 

She turns to Bobo again and her eyes soften immediately. “And do you know who didn’t stop looking?” Willa says to him sweetly.

 

“Let me guess,” Wynonna replies with a dull note of realisation. “Prince Charming here?”

 

“Got it in one,” Bobo taunts as he looks to Wynonna condescendingly. “And Willa tells me you’re the stupid one.”

 

“Yeah, and do you know what else I am?” Wynonna says with a clenched jaw. “The one Peacemaker works properly for now. So mind your goddamn manners.”

 

“Ah,” Bobo says smiling. “Which brings us to your purpose for being here today. We had thought that might be the case, but do you know what we think might just fix that?”

 

“What?” Wynonna asks with a hesitant look on her face, and Waverly knows what she herself has already surmised.

 

That the gun won’t work for Willa now that she’s turned her back on her family. Not while Wynonna is alive, at least.

 

“No,” Waverly snaps, her voice scared but her anger palpable. “You can’t. I won’t let you.”

 

“What is going on?” Nicole asks as her head flicks between Wynonna and Waverly.

 

“Smart one,” Bobo says with a smile as he points towards Waverly before turning his index finger on Wynonna. “Dumb one.”

 

“You’re a real piece of work,” Wynonna hisses to Willa with as much presence as she can summon sitting tied to a chair. “A real fucking piece of work.”

 

”Waverly?” Nicole asks again, her voice sounding more scared now. “What is going on?”

 

“What’s going on, young Officer Haught,” Bobo says with a deep smirk. “Is that we’ve invited you all here to witness our wedding, and then I’m going to kill your girlfriend’s sister for my new bride as a wedding gift.”

 

“You….” Nicole says disbelievingly before her voice fails her.

 

“I can’t?” Bobo asks, crouching so he can look Nicole in the eye. He takes her chin in his hand and Nicole rips it away as viciously as she can manage before he smiles, pleased. “She’s a live-wire, Waverly. I approve.”

 

“Go to hell,” Waverly snaps with as much fury as she can throw at him, and Bobo turns to Willa with a grin.

 

“Are you sure she’s not one of you? She certainly speaks like an Earp,” Bobo asks Willa, waiting for Wynonna’s reaction.

 

She’s not one of us,” Wynonna spits at Bobo, about Willa. “She’s the odd one out.”

 

“I think not, Wynonna ,” Bobo purrs back to her. “I think you’ll find your sister and you share more similarities than you care to admit.”

 

Waverly can see that Wynonna wants to hurl it back in his face, but he’s right, too. And they all know it.

 

Satisfied at having thrown Wynonna off guard, Bobo pulls back, smirking. Waverly can almost hear his brain working as he pulls Willa close, kissing her hard as Wynonna growls and Waverly looks away, sick, before he leans back in towards Nicole.

 

“And, Officer, I think you’ll find I can do whatever the hell I want.”

 

Waverly watches as Nicole’s expression changes, because Waverly knows she wants to challenge him, but he’s right, he can do whatever the hell he wants. Especially now, with them bound and at his mercy, without hope of rescue in sight.

 

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Bobo says neatly, as though they’re sitting at a formal dinner, and not elbows deep in a war. He takes Willa’s hand and turns to walk her towards the altar. “We have a ceremony to perform.”

 

“I’m gonna kill you, you son of a bitch,” Wynonna growls as they walk away together. “Maybe not today, but I’m gonna send you into the ground for good, so deep down you’ll forget what light ever felt like.”

 

He turns, and all pretence of cordial relations evaporate instantly, the look on his face hard and terrifying and demonic, and his next words are chilling.

 

“Not if I kill you first.”

 

Nicole speaks before Waverly can, and when she does, Waverly loves her for it. Because she could speak the same words to Wynonna, but they have more strength coming from pragmatic, realistic Nicole, and not hopeful, light Waverly.

 

“We’re not going to let that happen,” Nicole says gently, but firmly, in a tone that Wynonna will not argue with. “We’re going to take them down first, Wynonna. You know we will.”

 

“I’m not so sure, Haught,” Wynonna replies with gritted teeth, watching as one of Bobo’s men hands him an enormous knife at the top of the altar, and he throws Wynonna one heavy look before he tucks it into the new sheath at his calf. “I think I’m out of my lives.”

 

“No you’re not,” Waverly says to her, peering around Nicole to look her sister in the eye. “I won’t let that happen.”

 

“If it's a choice between me and you, baby girl, you damn well will,” Wynonna says strongly as she looks to Nicole. “You get her away from here safe, ok?”

 

She can see the clear conflict on Nicole’s face, not wanting to leave Wynonna, but gripped most dominantly by the need to keep Waverly safe.

 

“Wynonna,” Nicole tries to reason, but Wynonna shakes her head, looking between Bobo and Nicole.

 

“Don’t be stupid, Haught, for once in your goddamn life,” Wynonna growls. “You might not know what he’ll do to her, but I do. And nobody’s life is worth that. Promise me you’ll do everything you can to get her out of here.”

 

Nicole looks back to her with eyes full of tears before she turns back to Wynonna and nods.

 

“I promise,” Nicole says thickly. “But screw you if you think I won’t do everything I can to get you away, too.”

 

“Not at the cost of her safety,” Wynonna returns as she holds Nicole’s gaze. “Ok?”

 

“Ok,” Nicole says, nodding reluctantly. “Fine, Earp. You’ve got yourself a deal.”

 

Waverly’s about to yell in objection before Bobo’s voice booms over the gathered crowd, silencing any attempt Waverly might have tried.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Bobo yells, and the crowd quiets immediately. “We are about to begin.”



-



The ceremony is long and Waverly has to bite her lip to stop from crying when they exchange rings, garish and so representative of Bobo’s nature that Waverly could laugh if she wasn’t so upset.

 

The celebrant, some terrified looking stranger, pronounces them husband and wife as they finish, and the second the syllable leaves his lips, Wynonna bends in pain next to her at the same second that a much more muted throb sounds between her own ribs.

 

“Jesus Christ ,” Wynonna snaps, her voice full of pain as her head bows to her chest, and Waverly can imagine her pulling at the bonds in an attempt to put her hand to her chest.

 

“What?” Nicole asks desperately, looking between the two of them. “What’s happening.”

 

“No way,” Wynonna grumbles on the other side of Nicole. “A fucking broken heart? You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

 

“I don’t think she’s our sister anymore,” Waverly says around a wince of pain as her mind rushes to play catch-up. “It’s final now.”  

 

“But if that’s the case, then killing Wynonna will be….” Nicole replies quickly, her eyes moving over Waverly’s face.

 

“Pointless,” Wynonna says dully. “ Wonderful . Good luck telling them as much, though.”

 

As if he can hear their conversation, Bobo turns to them with a gleam in his eye. He takes Willa’s hand, leading her back over to them as he turns the enormous knife in his hand.

 

“Nicole,” Waverly says, and the fear is clear and present in her voice now. “Wynonna….”

 

“Don’t worry, baby girl,” Wynonna replies, not taking her eyes off Bobo. “You’re going to be just fine.”

 

He stops in front of them, crouching down in front of Wynonna and taking her chin in his hand like he had with Nicole. She pulls away sharply, spitting at his feet, but it only makes his grin widen.

 

“I really am going to enjoy this,” Bobo says, and Waverly can hear the glow of joy in his voice.

 

“At least untie me asshole,” Wynonna says to him, her reply low and dangerous. “Or don’t you people have honour at all?”

 

“Why risk it?” he returns pragmatically. “You could probably beat me hand to hand. And I don’t care about my pride. Not over this. I’d rather have you dead. And so would they.”

 

“It won’t work,” Waverly tries to reason desperately as tears start falling down her cheeks.

 

Bobo turns to her with a softer smile on his face, and it makes Waverly’s skin crawl, but she doesn’t push.

 

“What do you mean, my little sparrow,” Bobo asks her, leaning in close. Waverly can see Nicole pulling as hard as she can at her own bonds as he moves closer to her, and Waverly throws her a look, one desperate plea to hold, just for a moment.

 

Just in case.

 

“We can feel it,” Waverly says, her eyes filling with tears. “She’s not our sister anymore. It won’t work, killing Wynonna, because Peacemaker doesn’t recognise Willa as an Earp anymore.”

 

“You….” Willa spits furiously, moving for her.

 

Bobo grabs her before she can even get close, but the threat alone is enough for Nicole to snap clean from the bonds at her wrists.

 

“Everybody calm down,” Bobo says to them all sweetly, holding Willa back as he holds the knife to Waverly’s throat, keeping Nicole at bay. “Sit down and behave yourself, Officer Haught. You might be good, but I don’t think you’re good enough to stop someone bleeding out.”

 

Robert ,” Willa grits out, and Waverly can hear the fear and anger in her voice, watching the way her hands ball into fists and she looks at Waverly like she could kill her with her bare hands if Bobo would just let go.

 

“If that’s true, my love, then we will deal with it,” Bobo says soothingly before he turns back to Wynonna. “But I think we need to kill your sister, regardless. Perhaps both of them.”

 

“No,” Nicole snaps and Waverly can see her trembling with the effort not to leap for Bobo. “You hurt her, and….”

 

“And what, Miss Haught?” Bobo asks as he shifts his body towards Nicole, keeping the knife flush and cold against Waverly’s throat. “You’ll die, too?”

 

“If I have to,” Nicole seethes at him easily, already prepared to lay her body on the line to save Waverly’s.

 

“Please,” Waverly begs desperately as he stands and starts to move back towards Wynonna. “Please, I’ll do anything. Anything, just don’t hurt her. It won’t work, you know it won’t.”

 

“Shut your mouth, Waverly,” Wynonna breathes between clenched teeth as she catches and follows Bobo’s gaze. “Let her go, please. You know she’s not the Heir. You know she’s not in line. She doesn’t need to die.”

 

And it hurts, more than Willa’s final decision before, even though she knows Wynonna doesn’t mean for it to sting.

 

“I never thought I’d get the Heir to beg ,” Bobo says as his eyes g l o w. “Say it again, and I might just consider it.”

 

“Please,” Wynonna says quickly, and without hesitation. “ Please .”

 

He thinks about it for a moment, leaning back on his heels as one of his palms cover his thighs.

 

“Tempting,” He replies before his face goes hard and cold. “But I think not, just in case.”

 

Nicole starts to move, but Bobo is quick, holding the knife proud to Waverly’s throat.

 

“Tell your guard dog to back down, Waverly, or I’ll kill you first and I’ll make her watch,” Bobo snaps, and the resultant spike of fear that runs through Waverly’s blood makes her feel sick.

 

“Nicole,” Waverly pleads, and Nicole relaxes, reaching for her leg. The red lines around her wrists show themselves when her sleeves pull back, and Waverly can see how hard she must have pulled, because the marks in her skin are deep .

 

“Ok,” Nicole says softly, so softly that Waverly could close her eyes and think she was in Nicole’s bed again, and not about to die. “Baby, it’s going to be ok.”

 

“Disgusting,” Willa seethes, but Bobo clicks his tongue, silencing her.

 

“Now, now,” he says calmly as he blows her a kiss. “I think it’s sweet. Little lost Waverly, finally has someone to love her.”

 

“I’ve always loved her, asshole,” Wynonna says furiously, and he stands as he makes his way, finally, to her.

 

“Funny way of showing it,” Bobo parries, his face drawn in a smug smile. “Abandoning her for a decade.”

 

“I was doing what I thought was right,” Wynonna returns, unflinching. “When it comes to her, I’ll always do what’s right.”

 

“Even if it’s dying?” he asks, tilting his head to the side as he observes her.

 

Especially that,” Wynonna says, and Waverly can feel the fury absolutely pouring off her. “Now hurry up and do this, I don’t have all day.”

 

“No,” Waverly says, her stomach rolling with panic as Bobo stands and readies himself. “No, no, no, you can’t .”

 

“Close your eyes, baby girl,” Wynonna says softly. “I love you, ok. Don’t ever forget that.”

 

“No,” Waverly cries, and the tears are falling freely down her cheeks now. “No, Nicole do something!”

 

“Stay still, Haught,” Wynonna orders, and Waverly can feel Nicole’s nails dig hard into her thigh, trying to distract her.

 

“Please, baby,” Nicole urges gently. “Close your eyes. You don’t need to see this.”

 

“No,” Waverly sobs, but she moves to close them anyway because she can’t see that. She can’t .

 

This is wrong, she cries in her mind. This is wrong, this is wrong, this is all so wrong. None of this was supposed to happen.

 

How the hell did they get here, she wants to yell. How the hell did they get this far off track.

 

Nicole’s nails bite into her leg, but it grounds her and she tries to concentrate on that, on the throb of Nicole’s pulse in her palm where it meets Waverly’s body instead of….

 

Instead of….

 

She can hear Wynonna's breathing calm down as her own picks up, and she fills her lungs ready to scream this whole damn town to ash when her eyes close fully.

 

And everything goes black .



-

 

Interlude.

 

-

 

Some dreams are cruel, but others are so much crueller.

 

-

 

Two.

 

-



At least it’s raining , Waverly thinks solemnly as her dress gets wetter and wetter by the second, the water freezing against her skin.

 

Because rain is sad, and that’s fitting, because there’s fresh earth on her girlfriend’s grave, and that’s fucking tragic.

 

Wynonna will pull her away soon, Waverly knows she will as soon as she brings the truck closer to the plot.

 

It’s been raining all day.

 

It’s been raining all week, actually, ever since….

 

Ever since….

 

It should be snowing, but for some reason the temperature has changed just enough to keep the freezing water liquid. To match Waverly’s grief.

 

Because Waverly feels like she’s drowning, and now the world does, too.

 

She hasn’t eaten. She hasn’t slept. She doesn’t think time works the same way anymore, because when she closes her eyes, she can still feel Nicole’s hand on her wrist, the kiss she placed to Waverly’s palm before….

 

Before….

 

She raises her hand, watching the rain fall along the lines of the bones. They track the pale white just under the surface of her skin, down Waverly’s fingers, before they disappear between Nicole’s rings warm on Waverly’s hand in spite of the freezing cold.

 

Like Nicole’s life is still contained within the metal, still warm against Waverly’s skin.

 

When she closes her eyes, she can still feel the gentle weight of Nicole’s arm draped over the curve of her hip when they sleep, or the delicious stretch when Nicole pushes in .

 

Her ghost is heavy at Waverly’s shoulders. She can feel it. Not enough for to see or hear or touch, but so close to her fingertips she can still hear the beat of Nicole’s heart.

 

It was angry at the hospital, furious as it tried to drive the poison out. Desperate when it felt the battle slip, victory out of reach.

 

“I’m sorry, Miss Earp.”

 

The doctor's words still ache at the base of her spine. They taunt her.

 

“We did everything we could.”

 

Wynonna had carried her to the car, once the nurses finally ushered them out. Because her legs didn’t work anymore.

 

She wishes her heart wouldn’t, either.

 

Because the soil is dark and rich on her girlfriend’s grave, and everything hurts.

 

“Come on, baby girl,” Wynonna says eventually, her voice gentler than Waverly’s ever heard it, and when Waverly turns to the sound of her voice, she can see Wynonna is soaked, too.

 

She’s waited in the rain , Waverly realises. She’s waited for me to say goodbye.

 

“I’m not ready,” Waverly says, shaking her head, and her voice comes out as a sob, tears joining the rain on her face. “I can’t leave her, Wynonna. She’s there and she’s alone and she’s….”

 

“It’s ok,” Wynonna breathes as she pulls Waverly to her, hard. Her arms are crushing around Waverly’s ribs, but it’s welcome, because everything feels so numb and god, she needs to feel .

 

But she doesn’t want to, either, because the dirt is clean, and so is the fissure down the centre of Waverly’s heart.

 

“It’s ok, kid,” Wynonna says as she strokes Waverly’s hair, her head tucked under Wynonna’s chin. “We’ll stay here, until you’re ready to go.”

 

“You should go,” Waverly sobs as her hands fist in Wynonna’s dress. “It’s freezing and wet….”

 

“So we’ll get wet,” Wynonna replies, kissing the top of Waverly’s head. “I’m not going anywhere, Waverly.”

 

“But she did,” Waverly cries, and she can feel Wynonna’s heart break beneath Waverly’s cheek against her chest, too. “And she’s never coming back.”



-



“I don’t know what to do,” Waverly hears Wynonna say helplessly outside her bedroom door. “She won’t do anything, I’m not even sure she’s still in there.”

 

“Part of her is not,” Doc’s soft lilt comes in reply. “Part of her is buried in that soil with….”

 

Don’t say her name,” Wynonna says, and Waverly can hear the tears in her voice from through the wood. “I just can’t….”

 

She hears the rustle of movement, and she can picture Wynonna turning in a circle, beyond lost, in her mind’s eye.

 

“I failed her Doc,” Wynonna half-sobs. “I failed them both.”

 

“We all did,” Doc says gently, and Waverly can hear him pulling Wynonna reluctantly into his arms. “But we cannot do disservice to young Miss Haught’s memory by leaving Waverly in this state.”

 

She’s not expecting him to use her name, and it’s like a fresh, deep stab to her heart at the sound.

 

“What do I do?” Wynonna pleads to him. “How do I fix this?”

 

“We cannot fix death, Wynonna,” Doc returns, and he’s quiet, but the anger at the simple fact is clear in his voice. “But we can help her deal. I have something that might assist her with sleep, if that continues to evade her.”

 

“If it’s medicinal, comes in a pill, or you can smoke it, I’ve already tried,” Wynonna grumbles into the depths of Doc’s chest. “But sure, whatever you’ve got is better than nothing. It’s better than sitting around feeling beyond useless.”

 

“Come then,” Doc says calmly as his hand finds the door knob. “We can only try .”



-



Doc sees her closer to sleep then any other, sitting like a sentry at the foot of her bed while Wynonna sits on the other side.

 

“Close your eyes, Waverly,” he says gently as his hand finds the curve of her ankle beneath the blankets.

 

She’s wearing Nicole’s tee to bed, and if she closes her eyes she can taste the way Nicole’s lips did when she pulled it from Waverly’s head last.

 

They close and Nicole floods the black space immediately.

 

“I want you to think of something for me,” Doc’s soft voice asks through the dark. “I want you to think of peace. Not of happiness, or joy, but peace. Find a moment like that in your mind’s eye with Miss Haught, if you can.”

 

Her name is a fresh dash of alcohol in the invisible wounds that litter Waverly’s body, and she wants to hiss, but she doesn’t have the breath.

 

“I don’t know if I can,” Waverly whispers quietly as her throat thickens and narrows and closes. “It hurts too much.”

 

“I know it does, Waverly,” Doc says soothingly, and it’s not dismissive, it’s cathartic. “I know, but it’s important. I would not ask you to cause yourself pain if it was not.”

 

Wynonna is silent at the foot of the bed, her hand on the bend of Waverly’s knee.

 

She closes her eyes and ignores the searing pain as she calls Nicole’s ghost closer to her, from the corner of the room to the bed beside her.

 

Memories flood her mind: Nicole smiling, Nicole laughing, Nicole coming , but none that she would assign only peace to.  

 

She thinks, thinks hard, clenching her teeth until Nicole’s ghost reaches for her, her hand moving towards Waverly’s heart as something settles.

 

“Ok,” Waverly breathes as the vision fills the space between her ribs. “I think I have one.”

 

It’s simple. Not flashy or dreadfully romantic.

 

But beautiful.

 

And peaceful.

 

“You need not tell us what it is,” Doc says simply and Waverly feels her grip on reality slipping as she gives herself over to the spectre beside her. “Just hold it there. Let it fill your mind.”

 

And she does, Nicole fills her lungs and her soul and her veins and it makes the band at Waverly’s throat ease, even though she thinks it should be tightening.

 

Their first time, well, after it at least, when they’d been lying in this bed, completely bare, mind body and soul, with more than just their physical selves intertwined.

 

That’s what Waverly thinks of.

 

That’s the moment Waverly recalls.

 

She’d been happy then, too, and excited and aroused, but most of all, she’d felt peaceful.

 

Beyond anything and everything else.

 

With Nicole’s hand warm in her own, and her arms strong and safe around Waverly’s shoulders, and her heartbeat beneath Waverly’s ear, she’d known peace .

 

“Where do you think Miss Haught is now, Waverly?” Doc asks gently.

 

“I don’t know,” Waverly says, and her voice breaks over the emotion. Here , she wants to say. In this bed with me.

 

“Yes you do,” he says, patiently, and Waverly can see the smile in his voice, even with her eyes closed. “Where is she Waverly, say it for me.”

 

“She’s in my heart,” Waverly says finally, and she can feel Wynonna’s hand tighten over her knee.

 

“She is ,” Doc breathes softly. “And in mine, and in your sister’s, too. But most of all, she is in yours.”

 

“But, that’s not here,” Waverly says as her nails bite into the palms of her hands to hold back the flood at her chest. “That’s not with me.”

 

“The living have no peace, Waverly,” Doc says calmly in reply to Waverly’s half-spoken plea. “But the dead do, the good ones at least. And our Miss Nicole? She was the best .”

 

“She was the best,” Waverly breathes as she begins to cry again. “The best.”

 

“When you think of her, I want you to think of the memory you are holding right now, because that is where she is. That is where she will always be, at peace. And Waverly my dear, while I know your heart is broken now, and will always be, for that we must rejoice .”

 

Docs voice seems further away now, and her sister’s touch lighter as her grip on consciousness finally, finally begins to slip.

 

Nicole’s heartbeat is steady though, her ghost’s that is, and slowly, softly, gently , it sees Waverly to sleep.



-



Nicole’s ghost finds her when she sleeps, and the spectre is so realistic that Waverly can smell her perfume.

 

“You’re not real,” Waverly says, even though her hands ache with the desire to reach for her. “I know you’re not.”

 

Her voice is quiet, so as not to wake Wynonna, asleep at her feet, and Doc on the floor at her side.

 

“You got me,” Ghost Nicole says. “Doesn’t mean I’m not here, though, even if I’m not real. Doesn’t mean this isn’t happening.”

 

She takes a moment to breathe Nicole in, the curve of her eyebrow, the angle at which her smile bends. The smell of her hair.

 

Waverly is happy, for one fleeting second, and then she remembers.

 

“Why did you have to leave me?” Waverly asks as a sob escapes unbidden. “Why did you have to go.”

 

“Believe me, baby,” Nicole says as her face falls, and the guilt etches itself hard on the underside of her skin. “I fought. I fought tooth and nail with every inch of my body to stay with you, but….”

 

Her words stop, and Waverly can see how deep her own pain goes. How much she absolutely hates that she has left Waverly here.

 

Alone, with half a heart.

 

“It was too much, Waverly,” Ghost Nicole says as tears run down her face. “It was just too much.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Waverly crumbles. Her hands reach for Nicole’s, and her heart stops because she’s solid, well, solid enough at least for Waverly to feel the faint suggestion of her touch. “Nicole I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you. I’m so sorry that I ran out of time.”

 

“Oh, baby ,” Ghost Nicole breathes as she places her palm on Waverly’s cheek. It’s cool, but not unpleasant, like the morning air before a crisp sunrise. “None of this is on you. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough. I’m sorry I….”

 

“You were, though,” Waverly says as tears soak the pillow beneath her head. “God, Nicole you were so strong, it was just….”

 

“Shhhhhh,” Ghost Nicole soothes. “It’s ok, Wave. I promise everything’s going to be ok.”

 

“How can it be?” Waverly half-sobs, half-laughs. “How can anything ever be ok again, Nicole? You’re gone.”

 

“I’ll never really be gone,” Nicole says calmly, and a balm descends over Waverly’s body, like she’s put her head underwater.

 

She reaches for Waverly’s chest, setting her hand over Waverly’s heart, and Waverly sighs in the relief it brings, even as light as her touch is.

 

“I’ll always be here, baby. Always. Just like Doc said. I’ll never, ever leave you.”

 

“But, Nicole,” Waverly sobs harder, hard enough to make Wynonna and Doc - both now awake and listening silently, trying to give Waverly privacy with the spirit neither of them can actually see - jump to attention immediately.

 

She doesn’t care, though; she’s not sorry or embarrassed.  Because nothing, no amount of Doc’s soothing words or Wynonna’s stable presence or Nicole’s half-existence next to her, none of that changes for one second the fact that makes Waverly feel like she’s drowning.

 

“You already have .”



-

 

Interlude.

 

-

 

The cold sweat that follows that dream lasts for hours and hours, and Waverly doesn’t let the warmth of Nicole’s body move more than a breath away from her, for a week .

 

-

 

Three.

 

-



Tragedy comes in different forms, this Waverly knows well.

 

Sometimes it twists into watching your soulmate pass in front of your eyes, and sometimes it takes the shape of your sister taking your other sister's life, but sometimes it’s much simpler.

 

(And so much more complicated at the same time.)

 

Sometimes, it’s watching the love of your life love someone else.



-



One night, Waverly’s mind shows her a world where Nicole comes into her life loving another.

 

Not that she knows this to begin with, however.

 

And it’s not because Nicole keeps it from her, no, it’s because her dreams are cruel and sometimes they come for her with sharp knives and pain, and sometimes they come for her in a manner softer .

 

Nicole arrives in town to a Waverly that dropped Champ months ago. Nicole arrives in town to a Waverly that’s battled with her sexuality for years , because she thinks she’s gay in this world, but she’s never actually found anyone that she’s drawn to enough to test her heavily researched theory with .

 

Not until Nicole, that is.



-



In this world, straight off the page of a romantic comedy, she meets Nicole on her mission to fetch her morning coffee.

 

That should have been her first clue that this was never going to go the way she wanted. Because things like that just don’t happen to Waverly Earp here.

 

She’s already running late and rushing to meet Wynonna at the Black Badge offices when she literally runs into Nicole.

 

“Woah, easy there,” Nicole says to her with a smile as she draws Waverly carefully back from her body, her hands soft on Waverly’s biceps. “You’ll take someone’s eye out if you’re not careful.”

 

She’s grinning at first, but then she looks, she properly looks at Waverly, and her face changes .

 

(And Waverly knows it’s ridiculous, but she thinks she’s seen that look before—when people fall in love at first sight in movies—but that can’t possibly be true.)

 

“Uh, hi,” Nicole offers a little slowly as she clears her throat and tries to collect her thoughts. “I’m sorry, I….”

 

“Was the unfortunate casualty of a Waverly Earp missile?” Waverly asks a little sheepishly, and she’s not sure why, but she can’t stop looking at Nicole, the same way she thinks Nicole is looking at her.

 

Or thinking about how w a r m Nicole’s hands on her arms are, either.

 

“Waverly Earp,” Nicole breathes, nodding. “ The Waverl….”

 

Waverly feels her blood cool, but she’s wearing a police department uniform, so of course she already knows who the Earp’s are, and what the town thinks of them.

 

“Yep,” Waverly says with a grimace as she cuts across Nicole gently, because she’s really not in the mood to stand and listen to someone she doesn’t know give her a hard time. “The very same. Look, I….”

 

“Oh, no,” Nicole returns, shaking her head, and she looks to Waverly with a genuine apology and regret in her eyes. “It’s not a bad thing. You have a wonderful reputation around this place, actually. I’ve been meaning to come and introduce myself.”

 

“Oh,” Waverly replies softly, and she tries to untense herself beneath Nicole’s hands, knowing the threat of an insult has receded. “Well, hello then.”

 

Nicole senses Waverly’s muscles relaxing under her grip, and her eyes widen when she registers that she’s still holding Waverly’s arms.

 

“I’m sorry,” Nicole says, wincing as she releases Waverly gently. “That was terrible, god, I’m not making a great first impression, am I?”

 

“I think you’re doing ok,” Waverly laughs softly before it’s her turn for her eyes to widen, because where the hell did that come from.

 

“Glad to hear it,” Nicole says as she recovers, and her voice goes smooth. “Hey, I’m Nicole by the way. A name helps, right?”

 

“Nicole,” Waverly repeats, rolling the name around between her hands.

 

“Haught,” Nicole says by way of clarification as she admonishes herself. “Nicole Haught, that is.”

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nicole Haught,” Waverly replies as she takes the hand Nicole offers and shakes it gently.

 

“The pleasure’s mine,” Nicole says easily, smiling when Waverly accepts her hand. “Definitely, definitely mine.”

 

Her hand is warm in Waverly’s own, warm and soft, and there’s something that tastes so strongly of home in the touch that Waverly finds herself temporarily speechless.

 

There’s something slightly cooler against Waverly’s fingers, too, that she registers as not being Nicole’s skin, and she frowns before she turns Nicole’s hand gently to inspect it, not thinking about the familiarity of the gesture until it’s too late.

 

She almost wishes she hadn’t, though, because Nicole follows the movement, turning her hand, and it allows Waverly’s eyes to fall on the thin gold band around her wedding finger.

 

Nicole doesn’t register what she’s looking at, though, she’s too busy watching Waverly’s gaze, but before Waverly can ask her about it, someone behind the counter hollers her name.

 

“Oh, that’s me,” Nicole says as her hold releases around Waverly’s hand softly, regretfully, like she really, really doesn’t want to let go. “Excuse me.”

 

She leans around Waverly, her hand soft on Waverly’s elbow as someone presses a hot drink into her hands, before she comes back to meet Waverly’s eyes again.

 

“I really have to go,” Nicole sighs, her hand falling from Waverly’s arm. “But maybe I could come find out a bit more about the famous Waverly Earp some other time? If you wouldn’t….”

 

“No,” Waverly replies quickly. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind.”

 

“Good,” Nicole says, smiling as she nods and takes a step backwards. “Shorty’s right? That’s where you work?”

 

“Yeah,” Waverly nods a little dumbly, because yes, she wants that, but Nicole’s wearing a wedding ring and what does that mean . “Shorty’s. We don’t open until three, but I’m normally there at noon, if you want. I make a half-decent coffee, too?”

 

“Tomorrow?” Nicole asks with a raised eyebrow. “That too soon?”

 

Not soon enough , Waverly thinks before she checks herself, because where did this thirst come from.

 

“Tomorrow sounds great,” Waverly says aloud in reply, struggling to control her grin in response when Nicole beams at her.

 

“See you then, Waverly Earp,” Nicole says, smiling with the full bend of her body before she reaches the door. She looks down at her drink, and then to Waverly again, as if she can’t stop herself, her elation following her out the door.

 

It leaves Waverly in a complete state of confusion, because this whole gay thing is pretty new to her, but she’s pretty sure, she’s pretty sure , that almost every inch of that conversation could be considered flirting.

 

But the ring.

 

The ring .

 

What the heck does the ring mean.



-



Waverly finds out sooner rather than later, and as soon as she does, she wishes, harder and firmer than anything else in her entire life, that she could give that knowledge back.

 

Because Nicole does come to Shorty’s the next day, at one pm, but she brings her wife .

 

And it breaks Waverly’s tentatively hopeful heart open and red and bleeding on the bar in front of them both, because she’s spent the last twenty four hours running over seventeen different ways in which she could ask Nicole out and not completely fall to pieces.

 

Because she’s wearing a ring, but she was flirting, at least Waverly thinks she was, but now she’s not sure because she’s never had a woman flirt with her before. She’s never exactly had a bunch of people speak to her kindly either, so maybe that’s it.

 

Maybe that’s all it was.

 

It doesn’t matter, though, none of it. None of her speculation. Because Nicole walks in with her wife, and Waverly does everything she can not to fall apart.

 

They look happy . That’s the first thing that Waverly notices when they walk in, hand and hand, Nicole’s wedding ring glinting traitorously from across the room.

 

They look happy .

 

Well, at first glance anyway, because Waverly looks, she really looks, and when she does, she starts to see cracks.

 

That Nicole’s wife - Shae, she will learn later; Shae - that Shae looks around the bar with a glare faintly resembling displeasure, while Nicole looks around in wonder.

 

She sees the way they’re not really holding hands, not really. It looks like they’re just holding on, instead.

 

Nicole takes her Stetson off the second she walks through the door, lowering it to her chest with the hand not holding Shae’s before she looks over to Waverly and beams.

 

“Good afternoon, Waverly Earp,” Nicole says cordially as they both reach the bar.

 

Her face changes a little when she sees the slightly crestfallen expression on Waverly’s face, which is fine because Waverly feels like her heart is cracked on the inside, so coming off as crestfallen is a small price to pay.

 

“Everything ok?” Nicole asks gently, leaning into the bar with a concerned look on her brow as her companion looks around the bar, vaguely interested, but more bored.

 

“Yeah,” Waverly says, shaking the melancholy from her bones. “Sorry, someone walked over my grave, I think.”

 

It takes every ounce of neutrality she can muster, every inch of self control she has not to grimace or frown when she turns to Nicole’s wife, her wife , to introduce herself.

 

“I’m Waverly Earp,” Waverly says kindly, reaching her arm across the bar as Shae walks towards it. “You must be….”

 

“Shae,” Nicole finishes for her with a smile that’s almost apologetic as she takes proper stock of Waverly’s expression and softens. “This is Shae.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Shae says as she takes Waverly’s hand, shaking it for a few seconds before dropping it, and the first thing that Waverly notices is the way her touch doesn’t echo like Nicole’s had when….

 

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Waverly says, even though it’s a damn lie. “Anyway, what can I get you both? I’m sure you didn’t just come in for the ambience or my company.”

 

“The ambience is….” Nicole starts before she trails off, searching for an appropriate insert.

 

“It’s not amazing, but it’s a damn sight better when you’re the only ones here,” Waverly says with a wry smile. “I promise you.”

 

“I’m sure it’s wonderful for your regulars,” Nicole says politely, and they both laugh for a moment before Nicole looks over to Shae, who’s busy not engaging in their conversation. “Hey, do you want anything?”

 

“I ate on the plane,” Shae answers vaguely as she reads something on one of the walls. “I’m fine.”

 

“Guess it’s just me then,” Nicole says with a kind of shy shrug. “But only if you don’t mind. I know you’re not actually open.”

 

“We’re always open for Purgatory’s finest,” Waverly replies patriotically, trying to keep a straight face, until it breaks. “Not really, or Nedley would be in here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but for you….”

 

She doesn’t say the always , because Nicole knows what she means, and she beams at Waverly in response to the unsaid words.

 

Nicole reaches across the bar to touch Waverly’s hand softly in thanks, completely forgetting herself, before she pulls her hand away a little reluctantly.

 

They both look for Shae, but she’s all the way over by the door now, not party to whatever that was, and they both sigh, a little relieved, and a little confused, too.

 

“So, coffee?” Waverly asks, trying to change the subject.

 

“Please,” Nicole says with a small smile. “And if you have any of that chocolate powder….”

 

“I’ll mix it in,” Waverly returns with a little laugh. “Sweet tooth, huh?”

 

“Kinda,” Nicole says guiltily, and Waverly can’t help but grin in response because the shyness is new on Nicole, and it’s kind of adorable. “Don’t tell anyone though, ok?”

 

Waverly mimes locking her lips before throwing the key away, and Nicole exhales in exaggerated relief before Waverly turns to make her drink.

 

“So,” Nicole says carefully when Waverly returns with her takeaway coffee. “I was thinking one lunch hour when I don’t have to show Shae round, I could come and you could give me a little history of this place? As a paying customer, of course.”

 

And Waverly knows Nicole’s just trying to do her job, because people are already talking around town about how competent she is, but she can’t help but think it might not be the best idea, because Waverly is already daydreaming about other things she’d like to be doing with Nicole and the bar they’re both leaning against, but it’s wrong, because Shae .

 

But she doesn’t say no, because she wouldn’t say no to someone new to town who was horrible, let alone someone like Nicole.

 

“Totally,” Waverly says instead, and honestly, whatever turmoil comes from this future lunch date will be worth it for the smile it breaks across Nicole’s face.

 

You’re crushing, Waverly , she thinks to herself. Hard .

 

And you’re totally, totally screwed .



-



It should be fine, because she hadn’t even known Nicole before. She hadn’t ever been a possibility or an option, so Waverly shouldn't be upset now.

 

But she is.

 

Because it feels like she’s lost something significant.

 

But how can you lose something you never had?



-



She tries to avoid Nicole as much as she can, because she’s not that girl.

 

She won’t do that. Get involved in someone else’s relationship.

 

She’s not that girl.

 

Try as she might, though, she doesn’t actually know how solid her self-control will be if it’s properly tested, so she resolves to keep her distance instead.

 

But this isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare, so of course that doesn’t work.

 

Of course she bumps into Nicole at every available opportunity.

 

On her way to work, and on her lunch breaks, and at the pharmacy, and at the general store, and outside by her car.

 

Because this isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare, and she doesn’t get peace and quiet to deal with her crush, she gets inundation, of the best and absolute worst kind.

 

And of course Shae is never with Nicole when they see each other, of course they’re free instead to look at each other like they have the other part of their souls in each other’s eyes.

 

Her nightmare brings things to a head before long, bored with only torturing them quietly, set instead on complete destruction of them both.



-



“Give me a frickin’ break,” Waverly grouses to herself as Nicole walks into the bar, just after closing one night. One of the arms of her shirt is ripped and bloodied, hanging in tatters and exposing the bend of muscle in her bicep.

 

“Hi,” Nicole offers apologetically, looking up from poking tentatively at her arm and wincing, to Waverly. “I know you’re closed, but….”

 

“Come in,” Waverly says at once, gesturing for Nicole to come over to the bar. “Jesus, Nicole. What happened?”

 

“Barbed wire fence and a stray cat,” Nicole growls as the plonks herself onto a bar stool. “Damn thing. He’s much better off now than I am, though, so that’s something.”

 

“You’re really one of the good ones, huh?” Waverly says as she swats Nicole’s hand away so she can have a proper look, frowning at the deep, but clean gash.

 

“I try,” Nicole admits as she grits her teeth. “Not that it does much damn good, or that anyone notices.”

 

She’s uncharacteristically sharp, not at Waverly, just outwardly, and it makes Waverly feel sad somewhere deep in her bones, because Nicole is wonderful, and she’d tell her that every day, if she could.

 

Except that she can, Waverly thinks with a jolt. Because they’re friends, and friends say nice things like you’re a good person.

 

“I notice,” Waverly says softly, her hand closing over Nicole’s arm, and Nicole looks up to her with a face clear of pain, instead, full of hope.

 

“You do,” Nicole replies, and Waverly’s not sure if it’s a question or a statement, but it doesn’t matter, because the comment has done its job in lifting Nicole’s sorrow from her shoulders.

 

“You didn’t want to go back to the station?” Waverly asks as she tears the arm of Nicole’s top completely so she can see the wound properly.

 

“Too much paperwork,” Nicole grimaces as Waverly touches a particularly tender part. “I’m tired, I just want to go to bed.”

 

“It might need stitches in the morning, but I think you’re ok for tonight,” Waverly says as she reaches into the first aid kit she had grabbed from behind the bar, pulling out the disinfectant. “This is going to hurt, though. I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s ok,” Nicole says, closing her eyes as she braces herself. “I’m tough. I think.”

 

Super tough,” Waverly replies as she moves in closer, leaning her thigh against Nicole’s in an attempt to offer her a small piece of comfort. “Hey, if you need, just grab hold of something, ok?”

 

Nicole doesn’t say anything, she just takes a deep breath and nods, gesturing for Waverly to go ahead, and Waverly winces herself in sympathy as she starts quickly, but thoroughly cleaning the wound.

 

Nicole is impressively stoic to begin with, before Waverly presses a little harder and some of the disinfectant sinks deeper. Nicole hisses sharply, but she remains frozen still, not moving an inch.

 

Except for her palm, that is.

 

Her hand moves to rest ever so lightly against the curve of Waverly’s hip, so gently she’s not actually sure that Nicole has registered the movement.

 

“I’m sorry,” Waverly offers softly as she continues her own ministrations. “Almost done, I promise.”

 

She works quickly and efficiently, applying some antiseptic ointment before she wraps the top of Nicole’s arm in a bandage that covers the butterfly closures holding the wound shut.

 

“There,” Waverly says quietly as she moves her hand down Nicole’s arm, squeezing Nicole’s hand gently when she reaches it. “All done. You were very brave, Officer.”

 

Nicole raises her head from her gaze sitting in her lap to looking at Waverly directly, and Waverly bows a little when she sees the tears sitting high on Nicole’s cheek bone.

 

“Gosh, I’m so sorry,” Waverly breathes, panicked, as she moves to catch the tear before it falls. “I didn’t know I was hurting you that much, Nicole. You should have said.”

 

“You did a wonderful job,” Nicole replies as she catches Waverly’s hand. “Really, Wave, you were perfect. I’m just a wuss.”

 

“Yeah,” Waverly says as she rolls her eyes. “Because not passing out when you cut your arm that badly, that was real wussy behaviour.”

 

They both laugh for a second before everything slows down, and Waverly registers how close they are, and that Nicole’s still holding her hand, and how beautiful the stray piece of Nicole’s hair is, free from her braid, down by her cheek.

 

She reaches for it with her spare hand, without even thinking, and tucks it behind Nicole’s ear softly. Nicole sighs heavily and her eyes close before she draws in a breath that moves Waverly, too.

 

Nicole looks to Waverly again, and then to Waverly’s lips, and Waverly’s breath catches because Nicole’s hand is still on her hip, and they’re holding hands, and Nicole’s turned her body just so, making room for Waverly to lean in if she wants, and honestly, she’s about a second away from doing that, right or wrong be damned, when her phone buzzes on the bar next to them.

 

“Damn it, Wynonna,” Waverly mutters underneath her breath, even though she knows that it’s for the best, because they’d been so close to….

 

So close to….

 

“Everything ok?” Nicole asks with hazy eyes and a husky voice.

 

“Fine,” Waverly says, taking a fraction of a step backwards in an attempt to give Nicole some space. “Fine, she just checks up when I’m here by myself before I leave.”

 

“Good,” Nicole says as she drops her hand from Waverly’s hip. “That’s good, Waverly. I’m glad you have someone looking after you.”

 

And she knows what Nicole’s asking without actually asking it. She’s trying to clarify if there’s anyone waiting at home for Waverly that Waverly hasn’t mentioned.

 

Just in case.

 

“She’s good,” Waverly confirms with a nod and a smile. “She knows there’s no one else askin’ so….”

 

“How is a girl like you single, Waverly Earp?” Nicole asks as she shakes her head.

 

Because it makes this so much harder, Waverly thinks to herself. Because this is a nightmare, no matter how bright your eyes are. Because if this was a dream, I wouldn’t be. I’d already be happy in someone else’s bed.

 

In yours.

 

“Guess I’m just no one’s first pick,” Waverly says quietly as she takes a proper step back, breaking the moment between them because her self-control is on a fine wire now, and it’s getting thinner and thinner by the second.

 

She’s not sure whether Nicole says it out loud, or whether it’s all part of this cruel illusion, but Waverly hears it, soft and gentle, all the same.

 

“You would have been mine.”



-



She’s shaking when she pulls up to the front porch of Nicole’s house a few days later, and it doesn’t make sense, because the real Waverly might only have been asleep for a few hours, but time doesn’t conform to rules in her nightmares, so it feels like she’s been here for weeks.

 

The first thing she notices through the pouring rain outside the truck is the single squad car in the driveway.

 

Shae , Waverly thinks as a thick spike of ice makes its way between her ribs. God, she hadn’t even thought, she’d just driven to Nicole without thinking….

 

She closes her eyes as she shifts the truck into park, and when she opens her eyes, she finds Nicole already waiting on the porch for her, like she’d felt Waverly’s presence.

 

Nicole picks up an umbrella next to the door before she walks to meet her, holding the door open for Waverly and closing it behind her, the perfect gentlewoman, before she walks Waverly up to the porch.

 

“This is a nice surprise,” Nicole says genuinely, her voice like a love song next to the soft patter of rain on the tin roof.

 

And Waverly doesn’t think there’s anything else to it, anything warmer or deeper , but it’s there regardless of whether Nicole intended it to be, because it always is with them.

 

Always.

 

“I was in the neighbourhood,” Waverly replies with a shrug and a soft smile, which they both know is complete nonsense.

 

“Well, it’s a nice surprise regardless,” Nicole says warmly before she gestures to the dish in Waverly’s hands. “Can I give you a hand?”

 

“I’ve got it,” Waverly returns with a quiet blush, ducking her head so Nicole can’t see the depth of it. “Thanks, though.”

 

She can feel the ghost of Nicole’s hand at her lower back as they step into the house, and it sends a shiver from Waverly’s head to her fingertips.

 

“Shae’s not here?” Waverly asks a little shyly, even though the answer is obvious.

 

“She’s out of town for the week,” Nicole says as she shakes a few stray drops of water from her hands after she folds the umbrella by the door. “Or two, I’m not sure yet.”

 

Waverly doesn’t know what that means, whether it’s benign, or if there’s something in the gaps between Nicole’s words that she’s trying to communicate to Waverly, so she doesn’t pry.

 

Yet.

 

“I just wanted to bring you a welcome to town dish, I guess?” Waverly says nervously by way of making conversation, the casserole in her hands a welcome distraction as Nicole gestures for her to take a seat.

 

“That’s darn sweet of you Waverly Earp,” Nicole replies with a smile, and it’s her turn to blush, at goodness knows what, Waverly thinks, because there’s only her to look at. “Even if I’ve been here a week now.”

 

Me , Waverly thinks suddenly as realisation sinks in. It’s just because she’s looking at me .

 

She’s looking at me and she’s blushing and I love it, Waverly thinks before she reprimands herself sharply. Because she can’t think like that. Because Nicole has someone else.

 

So she bites the bullet. She steadies herself to do the thing she had actually come here to do, consciously or not, because she’s not a bad person. She’s not the kind of person that does that .

 

“And I, uh…” Waverly says hesitantly. “I kinda wanted to apologise.”

 

Nicole’s expression has been warm and soft, but at Waverly’s words, a frown crosses her brow.

 

“You don’t have anything to apologise for, Waverly,” Nicole says carefully. “We’re both adults. I knew what I was doing, too. And look, nothing happened.”

 

But I wanted it to , Waverly thinks. God, I wanted it to.

 

“Yeah, but you’re married,” Waverly says and it pains her to speak the words. “You’re married, and I need to keep my distance, it’s just, god, sometimes that’s hard because you’re really great, Nicole.”

 

“I know that feeling,” Nicole mutters under her breath, but Waverly hears it. Just .

 

And she gets it. More than anything else in her life right now, because it’s probably the hardest thing Waverly has ever had to do to just keep her hands to herself. Because it feels like their bodies are magnetised, and Waverly’s never, ever experienced anything like this pure pull towards Nicole before.

 

“What would you have said if Shae was here?” Nicole asks after they’re quiet for a moment, her mouth turned in curiosity. “You said you came to apologise, what would you have said if….”

 

“I don’t know,” Waverly says a little dumbly as she shrugs again and sets the casserole on the table so she can wring her hands together. “I hadn’t thought it through. I didn’t think, I just needed to come here and….”

 

To come here and see you , Waverly and Nicole both finish in their heads.

 

“You know what,” Waverly breathes, suddenly feeling flustered and very conscious of the fact that she shouldn't be here. “I should go. Get out of your hair. I’m sorry to bother you, Nicole.”

 

“Waverly, wait,” Nicole says, reaching for Waverly as she stands and moves towards the door. Her fingertips just brush the inside of Waverly’s wrist and it’s enough that she stops in her tracks.

 

Waverly turns, an apology fresh on her lips and ready to slip out the door and away from Nicole and the ever-increasing desire to move towards her instead of away from her, but Nicole asks her to stop, so she does.

 

“Come on, Waverly it’s really coming down outside,” Nicole reasons as she throws her gaze towards the darkness outside, and Waverly’s not sure if it’s resignation in her voice, or acceptance, but there’s something there. “I can’t let you go out in that. Come on, I’ll make up the couch up for you.”

 

“Nicole, I couldn’t,” Waverly tries to reply, but Nicole isn’t having any of it.

 

“You’re not goin’ out there in that rain,” Nicole says stubbornly, and Waverly tries to glare at her, but she knows Nicole won’t budge. “Please, I’ll set you up in the spare room and you can go as soon as you want in the morning, but I couldn’t bear thought of you driving tonight and something…..”

 

“Of course,” Waverly says quickly, because Nicole looks so terribly conflicted at that thought that Waverly thinks she might actually be in pain. “Of course I’ll stay, Nicole. If that’s alright? And….”

 

And your wife wouldn’t mind , Waverly wants to add, but doesn’t, because this is twisting her heart into enough pieces as it is without verbalising the extra guilt.

 

“Good,” Nicole says, smiling at her hands before she looks up to Waverly with an expression that honest to god makes Waverly fall a little bit in love with her, (or a little bit more in love with her), because it’s so soft and so happy that it feels like a gift.



-



It’s only about eight in the evening when Waverly arrives, after dinner, but well before bedtime so they have the evening to pass before they call it a night, and because this is a nightmare, it goes perfectly.

 

Because this is a nightmare, it’s one of the best nights Waverly has ever had in her entire life.

 

With someone else’s wife.

 

Because if it was a dream, she wouldn’t be.

 

Or she’d be Waverly’s wife, instead.

 

But she’s not.

 

They talk, and Nicole asks more questions and listens with more hunger than anyone else in Waverly’s life ever has before, and it makes Waverly’s veins burn because this is all she’s ever dreamed about having with someone, and now that she has it, it’s only temporary.

 

It’s only there to torture her and show her what could be, but that isn’t.

 

Because she’s not Waverly’s, even if Waverly is hers. Even if Waverly is already hers.



-



Nicole sets Waverly up in the spare room sometime after midnight, when Waverly’s voice is hoarse from talking and her cheeks ache from smiling.

 

She presses one of her old tees into Waverly’s hands to sleep in before she retreats back into her own room, wishing Waverly a shy goodnight before she pushes her door to, but not closed.

 

Waverly lies in bed, with the scent of Nicole heavy in her lungs as sleep evades her for hours before she slips downstairs just after three am.

 

“Can’t sleep either, huh?” Waverly asks softly from the couch as she watches Nicole creep down the stairs, clad in a baggy hoodie and a pair of boy shorts, about half an hour after she does.

 

“I’m sorry,” Nicole says, wincing when she hits the ground beneath the bottom step. “Did I wake you?”

 

“Not at all,” Waverly replies with a slightly gravelly voice as she props herself up against the arm of the couch. “I haven’t actually been to sleep.”

 

“God, I’m sorry,” Nicole says as she takes a few steps towards Waverly, running her hand through the hair at the base of her neck. “The spare bed is new, no one’s actually slept on it yet, I didn’t think about it being….”

 

“Nicole,” Waverly says gently, interjecting across Nicole’s ramble. “The bed is fine. I’m just…. I have a busy mind tonight, I guess. And I haven’t exactly had a ton of sleepovers, so sleeping in a different place throws me. People tend not to invite Earps a lot.”

 

“Oh,” Nicole says quietly as she walks over to the couch. “I’m sorry, Waverly. If it’s any consolation, I definitely would have invited you over. They don’t know what they’re missing out on.”

 

Again, it’s innocent enough, but it’s never that simple, and Waverly’s struck with this image, swift between her hands, of this going so very differently.

 

Of Nicole arriving in Purgatory single and unattached and being able to fall in love freely and without complication.

 

She stands there awkwardly for a moment before Waverly pulls her feet back and gestures for Nicole to take a seat.

 

“If you want, that is?” Waverly asks quietly. “I mean, it’s totally fine if you just want to go back to bed, but if we’re both awake….”

 

“I’d love to join you,” Nicole says, smiling and sinking onto the end of the couch as Waverly pulls her feet back far enough that they’re not touching.

 

Nicole leans back against the back of the couch, her eyes falling shut and her hands moving to the column of her neck, and it’s all Waverly can do not to moan at the sight because, Jesus, it’s something .

 

Nicole takes one deep breath before she opens her eyes and shivers, and Waverly responds immediately.

 

“You’re cold,” Waverly says before she reaches down and throws her blanket over Nicole’s knees, now covered in goosebumps. “Here.”

 

“Thank you,” Nicole offers, smiling softly at Waverly down the length of the couch. “Quite the pair of terrible sleepers, huh?”

 

“Quite the pair, indeed,” Waverly says as something warm runs through the veins in her wrists. “I’m sorry for imposing tonight. I feel….”

 

“Don’t you dare say bad or guilty or anything similar, Waverly Earp,” Nicole replies a little sternly, and Waverly can only smile in reply. “Or else.”

 

“Or else, what?” Waverly says before she can stop herself, and she has to suppress the urge to hold her hand to her mouth after the words leave her.

 

Just like that, she feels the air chill between them. The room quiets, and it feels, impossibly, like they’ve almost slipped into another universe.

 

She knows without even looking at Nicole that something has changed, that whatever has been holding them both back has just snapped, finally , under pressure.

 

“Say something, and find out,” Nicole says, her voice low and dangerous, and in a second, she lays her intent in front of Waverly and waits, always waits , for Waverly to make her own choice, too.

 

Her whole body is screaming at her to move , and her brain is telling her to stay put, but her heart is pushing her, and that’s what wins out in the end.

 

Because it feels so right, even though she knows it’s so, so wrong.

 

She bends at the knees and crawls her hands forward, moving closer to Nicole on the end of the couch, not missing the way Nicole’s breath catches when she registers Waverly’s choice.

 

“I don’t want to ruin anything for you,” Waverly says when she can feel the puff of Nicole’s breath on her cheek. They’re not touching, not yet, but she can feel Nicole’s entire body pulled like a band waiting to break. “I don’t want to be that person.”

 

“Neither do I, but this doesn’t feel wrong,” Nicole replies breathlessly as her eyes fix on Waverly’s lips. “I don’t know what it is, this thing between us, but it feels like I should have been with you all along. Like everything’s been out of focus, my whole life, but the second I came to town and saw you, everything was clear.”

 

“I know,” Waverly says as her hand moves for Nicole’s cheek slowly. She waits, pausing for Nicole to make that final move, and they both sigh heavily when she does.

 

When Nicole’s hand covers her own, and she chooses, too.

 

She chooses, and everything changes . Everything falls seamlessly into place in every gap between her bones, and Waverly knows that even though this might be wrong, it’s so, so right, too.

 

“I know, Nicole,” Waverly says as her hand moves from Nicole’s cheek to thread her fingers in her hair and Nicole breathes before she moves into the touch. “God, I know .”

 

She can hear Nicole thinking, weighing up every possibility and every cost, and then she looks at Waverly, into Waverly, and then she moves.

 

She moves slowly, giving Waverly time to back away if she wants, but she doesn’t, of course she doesn’t. She reaches for Waverly’s face, palms on either side before she leans in and finally, finally, finally , they kiss.

 

She almost wishes it would be anti-climactic, but of course it’s not. Of course it’s everything like every true love’s kiss Waverly has ever read about.

 

It’s fireworks and an electric shock to her heart and it hurts , that’s how good it is.

 

It’s chaste to begin, just lip to lip, but then Waverly sighs and Nicole’s hands move to the base of her neck and collectively, they open . They inhale deeply, and then Nicole’s tongue is sliding into her mouth, and Waverly is kissing her back like her life depends on it.  

 

“I need you to know something,” Nicole says, breaking away as she looks at Waverly, heavily. “This isn’t just….this means something to me Waverly. This….”

 

This isn’t just a one time thing , that’s what Nicole says without saying. This can’t just be a one time thing. This is it for me, forever now. And whatever the consequences are, I’ll take them, all of them, if it means I can have you .

 

“I know,” Waverly says as she pulls Nicole closer by the neck of her hoodie. “It means something to me, too. I think….I think it means everything.”

 

“It does?” Nicole asks breathlessly. Like she almost can’t believe what she’s hearing.

 

“Of course it does,” Waverly says with a sigh as her pulse reaches for Nicole’s. “Can’t you tell?”

 

That seems to change something for Nicole, because she moves, fast, and before she can exhale again, Nicole’s kissing her again.

 

She finds Waverly’s hands and her neck and her lips and it’s desperate and hurried, like she knows they’re on borrowed time, but they’re not shallower for that, they’re deeper.

 

Nicole’s hands settle tentatively on Waverly before Waverly moves her own hands to press over Nicole’s, showing her that this is ok, that she can touch.

 

That Waverly wants this, too.

 

Waverly slides her arms around Nicole’s neck as they kiss and kiss and kiss , and all of a sudden, it’s not enough that they’re still sitting up. So Waverly moves, she turns her body and, still holding Nicole close to her, pulls her weight down until her back meets the couch cushions and Nicole settles between her legs.

 

She slides her calves around the back of Nicole’s, locking her into place and bringing them into closer contact, and Nicole does well to keep her head until it’s all too much, and she surfaces for air.

 

She looks to Waverly, and for a second, all the urgency is gone. For a second, Waverly sees her, and how much this means, and how significant every single one of her touches is, hurried or not.

 

“You’re beautiful, Waverly Earp,” Nicole says softly as her forefinger slides along the line of Waverly’s jaw, tilting her head backwards and exposing her neck. “Beautiful.”

 

She leans in and draws the racing pulse of Waverly’s throat between her teeth, hard, hard enough to bruise, and Waverly almost moves to tell her to stop before she realises with a cold slap that it doesn’t matter for her.

 

Because this is a nightmare, and she doesn’t have anyone to hide them from, but Nicole does.

 

Not that she seems to care, because Waverly’s hands are just beneath the edge of her hoodie at the neck and she’s half-clawing Nicole to get her to move closer but Nicole hasn’t said stop.

 

And Waverly doesn’t think she will, either.

 

Nicole sucks hard and Waverly’s thighs tense, bringing the heat of both their bodies very, very close together, and this time it’s Waverly’s turn to take a shaky breath as she slides her hands into Nicole’s hair.

 

Nicole feels the shudder move through Waverly’s body and she stops immediately, pulling back from Waverly’s neck.

 

“Is everything ok?” Nicole asks, her voice a little rough and worried. “Did I….do you….”

 

“I don’t want to stop,” Waverly answers quickly, smiling as she scratches lightly at the nape of Nicole’s neck and Nicole moans in return. “Unless….”

 

“I don’t want to stop either, Waverly,” Nicole says softly to her as she looks down at Waverly, biting her lip.

 

“So don’t,” Waverly replies coyly, rolling her body heavily against Nicole’s in an attempt to make it unfailingly clear exactly what she wants to happen next.

 

Nicole smiles a little dangerously, before her hands squeeze at Waverly’s hips and she rolls her pelvis down and Waverly’s mouth falls open in a moan, because, wow.

 

Wow .

 

Because this isn’t a dream, this is a nightmare, so of course the one person she knows she can’t really have can make her feel like that without even touching her properly.

 

“God, I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything or anyone in my entire life,” Nicole says breathlessly between her kisses, like she can’t take as much of Waverly in as her body needs because it isn’t possible for her brain to process the information. “Will you….”

 

“Yes,” Waverly replies with a gasp as she leans back, offering herself to Nicole. “Please, Nicole. I’ll have you, I need you, I just….haven’t done this before.”

 

“I’ll show you,” Nicole says as her hands move to Waverly’s hips before they slip beneath the borrowed shirt, over her stomach, towards her breasts. “Don’t worry, I’ll show you.”



-



“I don’t want this to happen on the couch,” Nicole says somewhere between Waverly pulling her hoodie off and Nicole kissing her way up Waverly’s now bare abdomen. “Will you….”

 

“Upstairs,” Waverly breathes as Nicole’s hands sweep across her ribs. “Please.”

 

Nicole carries her, wrapping Waverly’s legs around her waist as she slides her hands beneath Waverly’s ass, up the stairs before the pause at the top.

 

“My room,” Waverly whispers against Nicole’s lips, because it’s bad enough that they’re doing this here, but Waverly won’t have a ghost in the bed with them, too. “If you still want….”

 

Nicole doesn’t reply with words, she replies with her tongue instead. And her lips. And her hands. And her moans.

 

And she says yes .



-

 

Four.

 

-



Waverly wakes in the morning with guilt so heavy against her chest that she can’t breathe.

 

Because Nicole’s arm is around her middle, and they’re both naked, but she doesn’t regret it one bit.

 

That’s why she feels so guilty that she can feel the echo of shackles against her wrists, because they’d touched and touched and touched, and she can’t find it in herself to want to take even a second of it back.

 

She knows she should leave, though, because Nicole said Shae will be away for a week, but this is a nightmare not a dream, and knowing Waverly’s luck, she’s just as likely to walk through the front door right now.

 

She tries to slip out of Nicole’s hold, but the redhead grumbles in her sleep and her grip around Waverly’s waist tightens.

 

“No,” Nicole mumbles, sleep-drunk. “It’s too early. Where are you going?”

 

“I have to leave, Nicole,” Waverly answers with a melancholic sigh. “What if…. someone …. comes home.”

 

“Who’s coming home?” Nicole asks, opening her eyes slowly, wiping the sleep from them as she sits up, looking confused.

 

“Shae,” Waverly whispers quietly. “What if Shae comes home?”

 

“Why in sweet heck would Shae be here, baby?” Nicole asks with a frown as she pulls the sheets up, tucking them beneath her arms, looking more and more puzzled by the second.

 

It’s the use of that particular term of endearment that does it, because Nicole has used that nickname in other nightmares but she hadn’t in this one yet, and it feels out of place that Nicole would presume familiarity with her after one night, even if Waverly is perfectly comfortable with it herself.

 

“Who is Shae to you?” Waverly asks slowly as her brain flies a million miles an hour.

 

“What do you mean, Wave?” Nicole replies, beginning to look concerned. “Are you ok? What’s going on?”

 

“Just humour me for a second,” Waverly pleads as she finds Nicole’s hands and threads her fingers through them, taking note of the depth of feeling the contact brings. “Who is Shae, is she your wife, or….”

 

“She’s my ex-wife, Waverly. That’s why you’re wearing my engagement ring, and not her,” Nicole says with a serious and slightly scared tone. “Please, baby, tell me what’s going on.”

 

“You’re sure?” Waverly asks with a frown, because she thinks now that this is the real world, her real world, their real world, but she’s been fooled before.

 

Pretty sure,” Nicole deadpans as she holds up her own hand by way of demonstration. “See, no ring. Not yet, anyway.”

 

“Oh, thank god ,” Waverly says as she falls back against the bed with a heavy thump.

 

She presses the heels of her palms against her eyes until she sees stars, and she bites her lip in an attempt to stop the thickening of her throat, but that and the tears come anyway, shaking her body in relief.

 

Baby ,” Nicole says a little desperately as her hands move over Waverly’s biceps. “What’s going on, please, you have to talk to me. Are you ok?”

 

“I’m fine,” Waverly sniffles, even though it sounds like she’s definitely not. “I promise I’m fine.”

 

“You’re not, though,” Nicole says as she pulls Waverly’s hands away from her face gently so she can look at her properly. “Tell me what’s going on, please?”

 

She blows a shaky breath out between her teeth, and it’s so reminiscent of a sterile room and Nicole writhing in pain that she has to suppress the urge to put her hand to her chest because even the thought of that pains her.

 

“I’ve been having these nightmares,” Waverly says slowly as she makes to sit up and Nicole’s hands move to help her gently.

 

She leans against their headboard, breathing in the scent of Nicole and her together in their bed, their bed, not Nicole and Shae’s or Waverly’s alone. Theirs .

 

“What kind of nightmares?” Nicole asks as her hands rub soothing circles on the backs of Waverly’s hands.

 

“The bad kinds?” Waverly answers a little guiltily. “The really bad kinds.”

 

“What are they about, baby?” Nicole questions gently.

 

“I don’t want to….” Waverly starts before the image of Nicole’s ghost in this bed takes her breath away, because she can’t say it. Won’t say it. “Bad stuff, Nicole. The worst.”

 

“How long have they been going on for?” Nicole’s voice comes softly as she moves closer to Waverly, her bare leg against Waverly’s beneath the sheets.

 

“Months,” Waverly says, sounding even guiltier now. “Since….”

 

“Since Mikshun?” Nicole asks a little disbelievingly. “Wave, that was months ago. Why didn’t you say anything?”

 

“I didn’t want to give it any more thought once I woke,” Waverly replies. “They’re so bad, Nicole. So, so horrible. And I always remember them perfectly, and….”

 

“It’s ok, baby,” Nicole says soothingly as she opens her arms and pulls Waverly to her gently. “It’s ok, you’re awake now. I promise you’re awake.”

 

She just about melts into Nicole’s embrace, her heartbeat finding Nicole’s own against Nicole’s chest and she uses it to calm herself.

 

“Is that….” Nicole starts to ask. “Did you dream Shae and I were still married? Is that why you….”

 

“Yes,” Waverly answers quietly as the guilt nips at her wrists. “And I knew you were married, but I wanted you so badly, and we cheated , Nicole. I made you cheat, and it makes me a horrible person, because I wouldn’t have changed a thing, because I always want you, no matter the cost. Everything and everyone is just collateral damage, and I don’t give a damn as long as it means I have you.”

 

“Is this what they do?” Nicole queries, her voice a little broken as she realises how much Waverly must have suffered to get to this point. “Is this how they make you feel? They torture you, even after you’re awake?”

 

“Some of them aren’t as bad,” Waverly says, but Nicole can tell she’s not telling the full truth because she tenses beneath Waverly. “I mean, they don’t happen every night. Sometimes I have a week or so in between….”

 

“Do you want to tell me about them? Nicole offers as she pulls away so she can look at Waverly properly. “Do you think that would help?”

 

“Maybe soon,” Waverly breathes. “It still feels like….it still feels like I’m dreaming, I think I just need to not think about them for a while?”

 

Nicole nods gently before she pulls Waverly close again, tucking Waverly’s head under her chin as her arms close around Waverly’s shoulders and she shields them both from everything outside of the two of them. Waverly closes her eyes as she breathes steadily, letting Nicole’s soul, her Nicole, bleed back into her skin, calming her.

 

“How many have you had, do you think?” Nicole questions gently after a minute or so.  

 

“I don’t know,” Waverly says uncertainly. “Ten, maybe twelve.”

 

“Waverly,” Nicole presses a little firmly, and Waverly knows that Nicole can tell she’s trying to lessen the blow of the extent of this.

 

“Fifteen,” Waverly answers in a voice barely above a whisper, because she knows exactly how many there have been. “I’ve had fifteen, so far.”

 

“And they’re always this bad,” Nicole asks carefully.

 

“More or less,” Waverly answers, nodding her head slowly.

 

“Oh, baby. I wish you’d told me,” Nicole says as she breaks a little. “I could have done something, I could have….”

 

“You can’t protect me in my own head, Nicole,” Waverly returns as she smiles softly and reaches for Nicole’s hand. “That’s why I didn’t say anything, I didn’t want to worry you, and I didn’t want you to feel guilty.”

 

“Would anything help?” Nicole asks her imploringly, her face lined with heavy worry. “Anything at all?”

 

“Being near you helps,” Waverly says as she sighs in relief. “Being next to you when I do wake up, it’s a comfort. And sometimes a distraction.”

 

“Distractions help?” Nicole asks, hope lining her hands as they move up and down Waverly’s forearms.

 

“Distractions help,” Waverly nods in affirmation as her body warms where Nicole touches her. “Distractions help a lot.”

 

And they do, because there isn’t anything Nicole can do to help. And it’s not her being stubborn or a martyr, it’s that there’s nothing that Waverly has been able to identify that affects the nightmares in any way.

 

There’s nothing she can do in preparation to make them less severe, she can only close her eyes and clench her fists and wait.

 

And that is so much easier to do with Nicole asleep by her side.

 

Because with Nicole next to her, she feels stronger, she draws on reserves she didn’t know she had that she knows Nicole has helped her unlock.

 

Nicole makes her steadier and braver and Nicole makes this bearable. She makes this ok.

 

Waverly’s brought out of her head by the soft press of lips against her shoulder that move across her back before Nicole’s hands turn her by the hips gently.

 

“What are you doing?” Waverly asks with a grin as she bends to accommodate the movement of Nicole laying her down on her back.

 

“Distracting you,” Nicole replies with a smirk as she leaves a kiss on the bend of Waverly’s collarbone. “Helping you to remember that this is real. That I’m real. That this is always what’s waiting for you when you wake.”

 

“Oh, baby,” Waverly says gently as she pulls Nicole up so she can press a kiss to her cheek. “This isn’t something I could ever forget.”

 

“Oh,” Nicole smiles, ducking her head with a blush, because she already knows that, and to an extent that is what this is, a reminder, but it’s much much more, too.

 

Nicole breathes as she plays with Waverly a little, her hands warm on Waverly’s sides as she moves in between her legs. “Do you want me to stop? Because if you don’t need this….”

 

“I always need this,” Waverly returns, because she does, because beneath Nicole’s hands, she is insatiable. “But I want this, too.”

 

“Good,” Nicole says as she kisses the rise of Waverly’s breast, her tongue chasing Waverly’s pulse beneath her skin. “Because I want this, too. I need this, too.”

 

“You do?” Waverly asks as Nicole shuffles up to her, before she speaks again.

 

“I hate it when I can’t protect you, Wave,” Nicole says, and Waverly can taste the regret and frustration in her voice that she can’t. “I hate it. It kills me. So if I can’t protect you, then you can be damn sure that I’ll do every single thing in this big wide world to make you feel better when you wake.”

 

It makes Waverly’s breath catch, hearing how much Nicole will do for her, and she knows this, of course she does, because Nicole’s risked her life more times than Waverly can count to save Waverly’s own, but it still makes her heart stop at every demonstration of this, because never in her whole life did she think she’d have someone feel like this for her.

 

Who would be willing to throw themselves in front of danger for her, again, and again, and again, like Nicole has.

 

“I love you,” Waverly says as her hands thread into Nicole’s hair and she pulls Nicole to her for a kiss that leaves them both panting.

 

“I love you, too, baby,” Nicole answers, smiling wickedly.

 

She leans in and her tongue moves against Waverly’s and Waverly forgets what day of the week it is, let alone what she was supposed to be thinking about.

 

Her body relaxes, just a fraction, but Nicole feels it and she sighs and kisses Waverly harder, longer, softer , because it’s working .

 

“God, Nicole,” Waverly moans next, because Nicole moves and she suddenly becomes very aware of where Nicole is, and how little they’re both wearing, and how turned on she can feel herself growing already.

 

Waverly thinks Nicole must be able to feel it, too, and then she knows she can, because Nicole’s thigh presses against her and she slides against it.

 

“Wynonna’s downstairs,” Waverly manages as Nicole’s lips find her nipple and suck.

 

“I don’t care,” Nicole says, and it turns Waverly on more, knowing how much Nicole wants her, because normally, she’s the one monitoring the Wynonna alarm, but not this morning.

 

This morning she only cares about Waverly and making her forget, and Waverly couldn’t love her more for that if she tried.

 

“She can tease us all she wants later, but I don’t care,” Nicole breathes as she moves to Waverly’s other breast and her hand moves to palm the one she’s just left.

 

And she should argue, even just a little bit for show, but honestly, she doesn’t have the strength of opposition nor the will. Because Nicole draws sensitive flesh against her teeth lightly and Waverly loses the ability to reason properly.

 

Because Nicole has this magic power, she’s learned, to reduce and draw in every single one of Waverly’s senses and hold them within the sphere that covers their own bodies, and nothing else.

 

It makes everything that much more concentrated, and it makes everything that much more real and surreal at the same time, and sometimes, it’s all she can do to open her body and moan and hold on.

 

Nicole feels like she has fire beneath her skin as she drags her hand down the inside of Waverly’s thigh, and sometimes she teases, but not now. Now, she knows how much Waverly needs her, and she needs this, so Nicole opens, too, and gives .

 

She moves against Waverly, replacing her thigh with adept, long fingers, tasting how ready Waverly is already, and neither of them can suppress the moan that walks from her lungs when Nicole feels just how wet she is.

 

Waverly gasps, she gasps hard when Nicole moves against her, gently, but with purpose, from the first touch.

 

Nicole’s movements are meaningful and towards her goal, but they’re slow, too, unhurried, and it feels like someone’s hit the half-speed button, but Waverly isn’t interested in hurrying her, no, because they have time, and it they both know that this isn’t something to be rushed.

 

There are times when that’s exactly what they both need, to come hard and fast, but this is not that.

 

This is about patience and depth, and Waverly’s core aches in anticipation of what’s to come.

 

Nicole’s fingers spread wide, opening Waverly before she leans in and kisses her, sliding in at the same time, and there’s no way Wynonna wouldn’t have heard that moan if Nicole hadn’t caught it with her own tongue.

 

But she’s there, like she’s always there, and Waverly’s body eases as Nicole’s fingers curl and start to bring her home.

 

She’s not sure how long it takes, it could be minutes later, hours or days even, but she comes with her mouth against Nicole’s, and her hand clutching the nape of Nicole’s neck, and her fingers deep inside.

 

It’s different to the releases in any of her nightmares, because she can still feel them like a ghost imprint against her skin.

 

This is real, it’s in deep tones of blue and grey and bright white light instead of muted colour, seen through a blurred lens, and it breaks Waverly apart.

 

It’s relief, in the truest sense, physically and emotionally and mentally and spiritually, too, and Waverly sobs when she peaks.

 

She cries for sisters she’s watched kill each other in front of her eyes, and a dead future without Nicole that she never, ever wants to entertain, and old worn love bound by duty that beats her to the finish line, and a thousand other futures that she never wants to speak of again, but it’s ok.

 

It’s ok, because Nicole is there.

 

Here. Nicole is here .

 

She’s warm and real and steadying and Waverly’s, she’s Waverly’s and no one else’s, not Shae’s or the earth’s, she’s Waverly’s.

 

Only Waverly’s.

 

Nicole’s fingers curl and they pulse and she brings Waverly through her orgasm with her mouth hard against Waverly’s, and her back like a shield against the demons of the world.

 

She eases Waverly down from her high, slowly and patiently, just like she’d built her up, until finally, the last shudder leaves her and Nicole catches the last gasp from her lips.

 

“It’s ok, baby,” Nicole breathes softly as Waverly’s heart hammers against her own where their chests meet flush. “It’s ok, I’m here. You’re home .”



-



“I know it’s easier to say, but don’t be afraid,” Nicole offers as she folds Waverly into her arms once Nicole’s own release echoes in Waverly’s hands. “Try and go back to sleep, baby. I’ll keep watch, ok?”

 

And she doesn’t want to to begin with, she’s scared, but then she takes in the essence of Nicole, of love and warmth and light , and she tries.

 

The breath she takes as she closes her eyes is easier than the ones she took before she’d woken somehow.

 

They’re easier. Less oppressive. Kinder to her soul.

 

Waverly closes her eyes and falls into another place, but she doesn’t have shackles on her wrists anymore, tying her to fear. Or guilt.  

 

She dreams free .



-



She doesn’t know if it’s pure coincidence -- she thinks not, although it’s impossible to actually know -- but the nightmares start to lessen night after night.

 

They weaken, the poison drawn from their fangs and the strength from their grip. They change.  

 

Waverly will wake in her dreams to a world with some horrible, unthinkable future, but the dark vision doesn’t stay anymore. It changes into something softer, something gentler, by the end, and she doesn’t wake feeling suffocated.

 

She wakes with an easier heart and Nicole’s arms wrapped tightly around her waist, and that, she thinks, has made all the difference.



-

 

End.

 

-