“So when did you two first say ‘I love you?’” Robin asks one night. He and Waverly are sitting in the Homestead kitchen after dinner while Nicole and Jeremy more-or-less playfully squabble on the porch about whether a life-hack technique Jeremy discovered on YouTube would work to tune up Wynonna’s truck than the “old fashioned” way Nicole swears by.
Waverly smiles. “Well….”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
That evening, after Nicole had left for the first of three night shifts, Waverly sat once again at the table in the kitchen and allowed herself to really, truly feel the melancholy she’d been suppressing all day. Wynonna had interrupted her first attempt to sit and stew, but now that she was all alone in the house, there was nothing to stop her from really feeling it.
It didn’t help that it had taken Nicole almost a Herculean effort to pull herself away from Waverly and out of the Homestead.
Waverly had always thought devotion like that was something that only existed in cheesy chick flicks, and yet here was a real, live, fully-competent sheriff’s deputy barely able to get herself into her car to go to a job she genuinely adored.
“I-I-I like you.”
That wasn’t what her heart had wanted her to say. What was on the tip of her tongue.
What had left her heart as I love you but came out her mouth as that strangled, awkward I-I-I like you.
And Waverly was furious at herself.
She’d already said it to Wynonna.
Why the hell couldn’t she say it to Nicole’s face?
To Nicole, who was already beaming like Waverly had just given her the most precious jewel on the planet. Nicole, whose breath stuttered unevenly in her chest just because Waverly had said yes.
Like it was a priceless gift she had given her, and not some performative thing called sex, which was all it had ever been for Waverly before.
She had said yes. To Nicole.
Nicole, who she loved.
And yet somehow what had come out of her mouth was I like you.
“Hey, Baby Girl,” Wynonna said, sauntering back into the kitchen and sounding a bit more like herself than she had when Waverly had sent her outside to sit on the porch, hours earlier now. “Haught Potato leave? Didja get you some good – ?”
“Wynonna!” But then she sighed what she knew was a ridiculous, love-struck sigh. “Okay, yeah, we…it…it was…good?”
Wynonna’s eyebrows shot up, and her eyes flickered like she was already imagining doing things to Nicole that would surely get her arrested. “Good?”
Waverly bit her lower lip; Wynonna thought she’d meant just good, but that wasn’t what she had meant at all. “I-I just….” She shrugged. “I didn’t know…I – God, Wynonna, this is embarrassing.” Wynonna wordlessly grabbed a bottle of whiskey from the counter and passed it to her. She gulped down a mouthful. “It was great. It was amazing. I don’t have words for how good it was.”
But Wynonna’s eyes were soft and gentle as she smiled at Waverly. “I didn’t know I could like it that much, you know?”
That look flickered again in her eyes, but now Waverly was pretty sure it was Champ that Wynonna was thinking of murdering. “So why do you look like someone stole your new puppy?” She frowned, confused, as she watched Waverly gulp down another mouthful of whiskey. “What the hell, Waves?”
“I said something stupid.”
Wynonna snorted. “You?”
“I told her I liked her.”
“Well, don’t you?”
“No! I mean yes, of course yes, but…. She said…she said something…something amazing, Wynonna, and all I could say back was I like you. I speak four languages fluently, and I already told you that I love her, and all I could get out of my mouth was I like you.”
“Again I say: don’t you?”
“Of course I do!”
“Wynonna, I love her. But that’s…not what I said. I said ‘I like you.’ She should know I – ”
Wynonna sighed. “Okay, first of all, Baby Girl, I’m pretty sure she knows. I think she knows you better than you think she does. And…she doesn’t strike me as the one night stand type, but even if she used to be, there’s no way in hell she’d treat you like one.”
Waverly smiled in acknowledgement but didn’t say anything. She wanted to keep that memory, the memory of as long as you want me, I will be by your side, private, close to her heart – something to hold onto, to treasure when life went to shit. Because she was an Earp (she was an Earp, damn it, wasn’t she?), so life going to shit at some point was pretty much a given.
And she wanted to have that memory to play in her mind’s eye to remind herself that no matter what else went wrong in her life, her life had Nicole Haught in it and that would make everything else bearable.
Because Nicole, unlike anyone else in Waverly’s entire life, had promised to stay – and Waverly believed her.
“And second…Waves, she’s like a walking chivalry instruction manual. If you’re not ready to tell her something, the last thing she would want would be for you to say it anyway just because you think she wants to hear it. She wants you to be you. Okay?”
“Okay, but how do I show her I’m all…?” Waverly trailed off, her eyes lighting up and a slow smile splitting her face. “Can I borrow your truck tomorrow?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Getting the bedframe and, surprisingly, the mattress up the stairs wasn’t so bad. It was the headboard that nearly killed her when it started sliding back down the stairs and nearly took her out on the way, but she managed in the end. She had already put the frame together and was just finishing up the headboard when Wynonna came in.
Waverly jumped, then winced, then shrugged a little self-consciously when Wynonna’s grin morphed into an affectionate, and very unsubtle, leer.
Because while the headboard had been plain, unadorned wood, Waverly – with the help of Pinterest – was nearly finished transforming it into a lovely purple padded thing that almost looked like the back of a day bed.
“She’s gonna love it,” Wynonna said with a smirk, watching as Waverly used a staple gun to attach more of the fabric to the back of the headboard.
“It’s not for her,” Waverly protested. “It’s for me.”
Wynonna held up a hand, half-joking horror in her eyes. “Nope. No details. Don’t want details.”
“Wynonna.” She waited a minute for Wynonna’s defenses to drop, then said slyly, “Headboard’s for me. The bed? That’s for Nicole. The other one was way too short for her. And too narrow for both of us.”
Wynonna’s face contorted again. “How many times have I told you I don’t want to think about you doing anything NSFW?” But then her face softened as she came over to hold the headboard in place as Waverly attached it to the bed frame. “Hey. Just…are you happy? I mean…is she making you happy?”
“God, yes. I am happy,” Waverly said quietly, almost surprised at how true that was. “Really happy.”
Wynonna leaned over and kissed the top of Waverly’s head. “I’m glad, Baby Girl. You deserve it.” A pause. “And…Nicole’s great. For what it’s worth, I think you picked a good one.”
Wynonna rolled her eyes and gestured to the bed. “Just…keep it down, okay? There’s only so much I need to know about my sister’s sex life.”
Waverly laughed. “Got it, got it.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She didn’t see Nicole for two days after that, but after her last night shift, she came by for a late lunch in an attempt to stay up the rest of the day and re-set her sleep schedule.
This time, Waverly heard the knock, but she hadn’t needed it – she’d been listening for the crunch of tires on the dirt road leading to the Homestead and almost had the door open before Nicole had a chance to rap on the wood.
Waverly pulled her inside with a beaming smile that Nicole matched instantaneously. “I missed you,” she said, immediately wrapping her arms around Nicole, who was still wearing her uniform.
Nicole’s voice was enormously pleased as she joked, “Waves, it’s only been three days.” But then her eyes softened. “But, yeah, it felt like three years. I missed you too. FaceTime’s not the same.”
“I made you lunch.” Before Nicole could open her mouth to protest that it wasn’t necessary, she added, “But I have a surprise for you upstairs first.” Nicole’s eyebrows shot up and a slow, devilish grin started. “Not that kind of surprise,” Waverly said, playfully slapping her upper arm. “Well…not…exactly that kind of surprise.”
That was enough to thoroughly pique Nicole’s curiosity, and she followed without protest when Waverly took her hand and drew her up the stairs.
She wasn’t quite sure what she expected Nicole’s reaction to be, but awestruck wonder absolutely wasn’t it.
She stepped aside as they entered her room, biting her lip a little nervously as Nicole just stared at the bed, then at her, then the bed again before croaking, “W-waves?”
Waverly pushed down the mix of relief and joy enough to tease gently, “Come on, sweetie. You’re five foot nine. A twin bed was asking a little much, don’t you think?”
But Nicole was still completely unable to form a coherent sentence. “You…this is…?”
“Breathe, baby,” Waverly whispered, secretly elated that Nicole seemed to realize exactly what she’d been trying to communicate.
Because if she couldn’t say “I love you,” she damn sure could show it. She could show she was all in by making sure she had a bed that Nicole could actually fit in.
“This…” Nicole cleared her throat, and suddenly, seeing how overwhelmed she was, Waverly realized that as life-changing as falling for Nicole had been for her…maybe – just maybe – meeting Waverly might have been something close to it for Nicole as well. “You….”
Nicole took an absentminded step forward, so Waverly took her hand again and pulled her over to the bed, sitting next to her when Nicole’s knees suddenly gave out from under her and she collapsed onto the side of the bed, shaking fingers tracing the stitching on the bedspread.
And then Nicole looked at her with wonder in her eyes and Waverly knew it was one of those memories she would keep safe in her heart forever – because Nicole knew, she understood, what Waverly had been trying to tell her. “Waverly, you…you bought a new bed…because…because I didn’t fit in your old one?”
It wasn’t “I love you,” by any stretch of the imagination, but that was what Waverly meant when she wrapped an arm around Nicole, pressed a kiss to her cheek, and said gently, “Of course I did.”
Just before Nicole kissed her back, she traced a line down her jaw with one shaking finger and whispered, “Oh, I like you, Waverly Earp.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“So, wait,” Robin says. “Where was the ‘I love you’?”
But Waverly just smiles and says, “I just told you.”