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Tough To Be Tender

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The box was weathered, dark brown and scarred, and Waverly was not pleased to see it in the middle of her office.

 

It sat on a table, seemingly harmless, but the paperwork in Waverly’s hand and the expression on Wynonna’s face said otherwise.

 

“Explain it again,” Waverly said, circling the object.

 

“Jim from the Curling Club brought it in. Said he found it at a yard sale.” Wynonna leaned back against a desk, arms crossed as if trying to buy herself some distance.

 

“So why is it here, Wynonna?”

 

“Because this is what we do?”

 

“You said Jim brought it in because it killed his pet snake and may have caused his wife to have a stroke?”

 

Waverly took a step back and reviewed the paper she was holding. It was an eBay advertisement, printed out and crinkled from use.

 

“Maybe? He said he bought the box, read the note, thought it was bullshit, and then all the lightbulbs in his house exploded and yeah, his snake died…”

 

“Wynonna, this is a dybbuk box.”

 

You’re a dybbuk box.”

 

“Wynonna!”

 

“Okay, okay,” Wynonna chanced a step closer to the box and then decided against it.

 

“Not okay! They’re extremely volatile! Did you open it?”

 

“No!”

 

“Good. We do not open the box. Ever,” Waverly shook her head and set the paper down on a nearby table.

 

Life beyond the Earp Curse was only slightly less dangerous than before. While Wyatt’s demons no longer darkened Wynonna’s doorway, Purgatory was still a hotbed of supernatural activity, which led to the establishment of a very special investigation unit within Purgatory’s police department. The fact that Waverly was married to the Sheriff may have earned the Earp sisters a permanent office and a small budget for supplies and they were rarely out of work. Purgatory’s citizens constantly needed aid with hauntings and cursed objects and pest control.

 

“Should we salt it?” Wynonna asked, already opening the cabinet in the corner.

 

“Yeah. Kosher salt. All of it.”

 

A box was tossed in Waverly’s direction and she caught it, flipping the small spout before turning again to Wynonna. Her sister held an identical box at crotch level.

 

“Don’t cross the streams, Babygirl,” she said before thrusting her hips, launching salt towards the box. Waverly shook her head, but followed Wynonna’s lead, ignoring her lingering headache that refused to go away.

 

They worked in silence for a moment, showering the box in salt before both deemed it was enough.

 

“To the vault?” Wynonna was already pulling rope from the cabinet.

 

“That the hangman’s stuff?”

 

“Mmhmm.”

 

“We are not robbing another museum for more. That was ridiculous.” Waverly folded her arms and watched Wynonna carefully loop rope around the box. The entire process took only a few minutes and then together, they poured wax on the bindings and Waverly carved the proper symbol to seal whatever spirit rested within.

 

The “vault” was an old bank safe that Nicole had allowed them to leave in an abandoned supply closet across from their office. It was half-filled with cursed objects and extra lawn furniture and now, once they had made space on a shelf, a sealed, salted, dybbuk box. When the single lightbulb in the vault exploded a second later, they both glanced up, shook their heads, and locked the door. The building was old. The lightbulb needed replacing. Probably.

 

Waverly decided not to think about it until the next time they needed the vault.

 

“You okay, Waves? You look all…” Wynonna scrunched up her face and motioned to it. Waverly frowned.

 

“All…deranged?”

 

“No, like, upset? Put out? Annoyed?”

 

“What? No. No. Just…”

 

“Oh God, this is some gay attachment thing about Nicole, isn’t it?”

 

Waverly blushed.

 

“She’s been away a lot! Or she doesn’t come to bed because she’s working!”

 

“You see her everyday!”

 

“But...I really like her,” Waverly shrugged and Wynonna’s eyes widened.

 

“She’s your wife!”

 

Right?!?”

 

It had been a year since the wedding, but Waverly was still very much astounded by the idea that she was Nicole Haught’s wife. That they lived together and worked close together and that that they were a family according to the law and whatever old spirits were at work in the Ghost River Triangle.

 

“You two are so ridiculous, I…”

 

“Mama!”

 

Familiar footsteps sounded outside and both Waverly and Wynonna grinned. Because Alice was coming and Alice was joy and light and happiness wrapped in a tiny bundle. The little girl burst into the room followed by her father. Doc watched his daughter indulgently, a look seeming permanently etched on his features since Alice’s return. She’d breathed new life into all of them, she’d filled the world with colour and noise and laughter. Alice was their everything.

 

“Mama, here!” Alice tossed a paint-stained paper to Wynonna before crossing the room to wrap her little arms around Waverly’s hips.

 

“Auntie Waves?”

 

“Yes, my sweetheart?” Waverly looked down at her niece, smiling into blues eyes and rosy cheeks and a juice-stained face.

 

“Braids?”

 

“Oh, of course!” Waverly twirled Alice’s dark hair and the little girl laughed.

 

“Hey, goober, what’s going on here?” Wynonna showed the painting to her daughter and Alice leaned back and shrugged.

 

“It’s you and daddy and the big wolf from Christmas and also Auntie Nicole’s car and a sun,” Alice said, as if the series of colourful blotches were obviously everything she had just described.

 

“Wolf from Christmas? I did not think you would recall it,” Doc said, exchanging a nervous glance with Wynonna.

 

Alice shrugged again.

 

“I wish we coulda kept him…” Alice sighed and Waverly and Wynonna stifled a laugh. Because the big wolf had been a werewolf and it had very nearly eaten Nicole’s leg and part of the barn.

 

Waverly was about to respond when a knock sounded on the door. The small group in the office turned, expecting to see Jeremy or Nicole or a deputy, but instead, two strangers appeared, a man and a woman. Waverly couldn’t quite place them, but there was something about the man’s red hair and the shape of the woman’s eyes and….oh

 

“Excuse me,” the man said, brown eyes darting from Wynonna to Doc to Waverly, “do you know where we could find Nicole Haught?”

 

Waverly swallowed hard because there was no mistaking the man’s height and the woman’s chin.

 

“Hi,” Waverly said, temporarily detaching herself from Alice so she could reach out with one hand in greeting, “I’m Waverly.”

 

The name apparently didn’t ring a bell.

 

“That’s nice, dear, do you know Nicole?” The woman eyed Waverly with curiosity and something else that Waverly didn’t feel was entirely positive.

 

“Ha!” Wynonna laughed. Waverly shot her an angry glance.

 

“I’m her wife,” Waverly said.

 

“And I’m her Alice,” Alice added, leaning against the desk next to Doc.

 

“Oh! Her wife! Viva Las Vegas, and all that?” The man wiggled his eyebrows and Waverly’s heart plummeted.

 

“No, I mean, yes I’m her wife, but…um…not that wife…”

 

“Wait, she did say something,” the woman said, turning to the man.

 

“Oh, right? Before she moved? Or was it after?”

 

“I don’t know, Mark, I think I was on the cruise?”

 

“The Danube? Remember that magnificent café, what was it called…”

 

“I’ve written it down somewhere, I can…”

 

“Umm…” Wavelry interrupted the conversation, feeling a mix of confusion and hope. Because these were Nicole’s parents. The love of her life’s parents. The people who had created Nicole Rayleigh Haught. Except they also seemed totally absorbed in a discussion about Hungarian coffee shops, which was so not how she’d expected to meet the Haughts.

 

“Waverly,” the woman turned, offering her hand, “I’m Karen. This is Mark. We’re Nicole’s parents.”

 

“Hi!”

 

“Oh damn,” Wynonna’s voice was filled with barely concealed laughter.

 

“Oh ham,” Alice echoed and Doc snorted.

 

For the second time in as many moments, Waverly was about to form a response when there was an interruption and a voice at the door.

 

“Waves, can you…”

 

Nicole walked in, head bowed over a report, and when she looked up and saw the crowd, her face lost all colour. The facial journey was something to behold: surprise, confusion, anger, and finally resignation. Waverly watched as her wife’s shoulder’s slumped, as her mouth formed a firm, straight line. As her eyes lost their shine.

 

“Why are you here?” She asked, crossing her arms.

 

“Sweetheart! You got married!”

 

“I got married a year ago,” Nicole glanced at Waverly and then back.

 

“So we’re here for your anniversary!” Mark squeezed his daughter’s shoulder. Nicole frowned.

 

“Darling, you’re being very rude, introduce us!” The woman shook her head towards Nicole, rolling her eyes and Waverly took a step towards Nicole, feeling like her wife needed some support. Nicole sighed heavily.

 

“Mom, Dad, this is my wife, Waverly. Waverly, my parents, Karen and Mark,” Nicole said. Waverly eagerly shook the two hands extended towards her.

 

“I’ve heard so much about you!” She heard herself say, wondering why she was so eager to please these two strangers who had caused her wife’s sad eyes.

 

“This is Wynonna,” Nicole pointed over her shoulder, “Waverly’s sister. And Alice, our niece, and Alice’s dad, Do…John Henry Holliday.”

 

“As in Doc Holliday?” Nicole’s dad asked and Doc stepped forward in greeting.

 

“Now, Mr. Haught, that would be quite preposterous,” he said.

 

“Yeah, hipoposterus,” Alice nodded. Karen took a small step back when Alice approached. Waverly felt like she needed a notepad to keep track of these numerous interactions.

 

Lovely to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Haught,” Wynonna’s grin was wide and wicked and Waverly already knew that her sister would heckle Nicole about this until the end of time.

 

“What an alarmingly good looking group of people!” Karen clapped her hands once and then turned back to Nicole.

 

Waverly rested one hand on the small of Nicole’s back.

 

“Nicole is an amazing sheriff, she’s done so much for Purgatory in so little time!”

 

“I’ll never get used to you in…that,” Mark pointed to Nicole’s shirt and Waverly felt her wife tense.

 

“Never mind that now, Mark, I…”

 

“Yo! We doing craft night or what?” Jeremy walked in oblivious and quickly lowered his Transformers mug at the sight of so many people.

 

Namaste,” Karen pressed her hands together in greeting and bowed. Nicole face turned as red as her hair.

 

Mom!” She said.

 

“What? I’m familiar with India, Nicole, you know I’ve traveled there extensively!”

 

“Yep, always right on time to miss my birthday.”

 

“Well we didn’t want to miss Lohri!”

Jeremy looked at Waverly in complete confusion, his eyes begging her for a rescue or a hint or an exit.

 

“Jeremy, these are Nicole’s parents,” she said, “Mr. and Mrs. Haught, this is Jeremy, our colleague.”

 

“Colleague?” Mark asked, shaking Jeremy’s hand with enough strength to make Jeremy mumble “ow!” under his breath, “You don’t look like Big Brother.”

 

“Big what now?”

 

“Okay!” Waverly clapped her hands together, desperately wishing she could grab control of the situation. Wynonna’s grin and Alice’s curiosity and Nicole’s misery was all a bit dizzying.

 

“Mark, Karen, where are you staying?” Waverly kept one hand on Nicole’s back. Her wife’s dour expression had not changed.

 

“We thought we’d just camp out with you,” Mark shrugged and Karen looked at Waverly with Nicole’s eyes so it was difficult to protest.

 

“This is really not a good ti…”

 

“Always so serious, Nicole!” Karen silenced her daughter, “We want to meet your family!”

 

Waverly wasn’t quite sure that was true, but she was going to do her best to make peace between the Haughts and their daughter.

 

“We still have Wynonna’s bed?” Waverly began. Nicole flashed her an annoyed glance.

 

“Whatever. I was just coming in to say that I’ll be home late,” Nicole stepped away from Waverly’s side.

 

“And it is about time for Alice and I to depart, as well, “ Doc cut the tension and Waverly was grateful for it. For her part, Alice was busy hiding behind Wynonna in an uncharacteristic display of shyness.

 

“Marvelous, Waverly you’ll drive?” Karen ignored her daughter’s cold shoulder and barely blinked when Nicole left the room without another word.

 

“Sure, of course! It’s the red jeep in the parking lot.”

 

“We’ll just grab our bags and meet you there,” Mark said, guiding his wife out the door.

 

There silence in their wake. Instead of the usual jocularity, the small party left in the office stared at the open door and tried to adjust to the delicate interplay of character and personality that had just occurred.

 

“Was that super awkward for anyone else? Because it was super awkward for me,” Jeremy finally spoke up, but it was Alice’s little voice that stopped Waverly’s reply to Jeremy.

 

“Who was that?” She asked, pressing into Wynonna’s side.

 

“Those were Auntie Nicole’s parents,” Wynonna answered.

 

“Nuh uh.” Alice took Wynonna’s hand and then reached forward towards Doc. He rested one hand on top of her head.

 

“What do you mean, Al?” Wynonna exchanged a worried glance with Waverly.

 

“Parents come to birthdays. Except when there’s bad guys and then Gus makes the party.”

 

Parents come to birthdays.

 

It was the logic of a child. A child who knew she was loved. A child who had never spent a birthday alone or abandoned. A child who apparently understood more than every adult in the room. Because Alice was right. Parents come to birthdays. And Nicole’s birthday had come and gone, over and over again, but the two people who had just entered their lives were strangers.

 

Waverly swallowed hard and nodded. Because her birthdays had been spent alone and abandoned too. Her headache made itself known once again, throbbing behind her eyes.

 

“You’re right, sweetheart,” Waverly said, “you always are.”

 

~*~

 

Mama had left and Ward had died and then Julian had died too.

 

Waverly felt at war with herself. She loved Nicole more than she could put into words. It was a love she had never expected – a love that she wasn’t sure existed before Nicole had walked into her life. But she also knew what it was to long for parents, to want acknowledgment and support and understanding. So while she knew Mark and Karen Haught brought her wife sadness, a part of her hoped that she could change that. Maybe she could reunite the Haught family? Because family was good. Family was safe. And Nicole deserved to have her parents. Nicole deserved it. And Waverly wanted Nicole to have everything she deserved.

 

The drive to the Homestead had been mostly pleasant. Karen liked to talk and Waverly let her, nodding along as Nicole’s mother oo’d and ahh’d at the scenery. She asked Waverly about the town and Mark interrupted occasionally with his own comments about real estate, but neither gave any indication that they had somehow produced the miracle that was Nicole.

 

Karen was chatty and curious and seemed to know something about everything. Mark was confident and comfortable and Waverly had the sense that he wasn’t really listening when his wife spoke.

 

And, yes, Nicole was curious and knowledgeable and confident. But she also made Waverly feel important. Heard. Nicole was warm and her parents…Waverly wasn’t quite sure what to make of them yet. But she could make this work. She just knew it.

 

“Oh my gosh I love it!” Karen clapped her hands at the sight of the Homestead and Waverly grinned. Because she loved the Homestead too.

 

“You own this? Mortgage?” Mark was nearly sticking his head out the window.

 

“It’s ours, well, it belongs to me and my sister and technically Nicole too,” Waverly turned off the ignition and hopped from the car. The clear air eased her headache somewhat. She always felt better on her land.

 

“Nicole too? Good girl,” Mark nodded to himself and then shook his head, “she was always into minimalist everything – obsessed with IKEA – glad to see you’ve expanded her horizons.”

 

“Well, Nicole and I decorated together when she moved in,” Waverly said wanting to defend her wife.

 

“IKEA is the biggest scam in the world. Can you get over that set up? Bunch of ants vying for garbage furniture and cheap meatballs,” Mark said.

 

Waverly nodded along, hoping desperately that Mark wouldn’t notice their IKEA chair and their IKEA coffee table and their IKEA bookshelves.

 

“Speaking of meatballs,” Waverly ushered her in-laws up the front porch and into the house, “we do vegan meatballs that are to die for – is that okay for dinner?”

 

The idea of food had her a little queasy, but she could hardly serve Nicole’s parents toast for their first meal in Purgatory.

 

Karen turned so suddenly at the word “vegan” that Waverly startled.

 

“You’re vegan?” Karen asked.

 

“Yes?” Waverly said.

 

Karen grappled Waverly into a hug.

 

“How did Nicole get so lucky?” Karen tightened her hold.

 

“I ask the same question every damn day.” Wynonna appeared in the open doorway, smirking at the sight before her.

 

“Wynonna, right? Do you live here too?” Mark tore himself away from inspecting the ceiling beams to turn to Wynonna.

 

“In the barn,” Wynonna pointed over her shoulder with a thumb, “and then Doc has his own place at the other end of the property. So we’re just an Earp compound these days.”

 

“Love it. Brilliant use of space.”

 

“You a real estate guy, Marky Mark?”

 

If Waverly’s goal was to bring peace and harmony to the Haught family, Wynonna seemed more eager to do some detective work. Waverly had a feeling that her sister was gathering ammunition to use against Nicole in the strange dance between love and annoyance that existed between her sister and her wife.

 

“You could say that. We’re mostly in the flipping business these days – just finished a job in Seattle.”

 

“You flip, I decorate,” Karen said.

 

Both Wynonna and Waverly nodded.

 

Karen lifted a blue pillow from the couch and eyed it with distaste.

 

“Nicole, I presume?”

 

“Yeah, she really likes blue,” Waverly said.

 

“Well, we tried the gender free thing before it was a thing…is that how you’re raising your daughter?” Karen tossed the pillow on the couch and proceeded to cross the room, never making eye contact with Wynonna.

 

Waverly felt like the house was under inspection. She couldn’t tell if it was passing or not.

 

“Uhh…we just kinda let Al do her thing? I guess?” Wynonna shrugged.

 

“Alice was raised by our aunt for the first few years of her life, so we just want her to be happy and comfy and whoever she wants to be,” Waverly explained.

 

“I dig,” Mark said, “This ours?”

 

He pointed to the unmade bed that used to be Wynonna’s room.

 

“Oh, yes! I’m sorry, I’ll get some sheets. We really aren’t set up for guests at the moment.” Waverly said.

 

Wynonna followed her sister up the stairs towards the pantry leaving Mark and Karen on their own.

 

“Hey, kid sister?” Wynonna watched Waverly pull a clean set of sheets from a closet.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“What exactly are you doing here?”

 

“What?” Waverly paused, turning to her sister.

 

“Makin’ peace with the in-laws? Smile and wave for Mama and Papa Haught Stuff?”

 

“Wynonna…”

 

“Just be careful,” Wynonna crossed her arms.

 

“And you be nice,” Wavery said. She didn’t feel like poking at Wynonna’s comment. She didn’t feel like investigating her need to bridge the gap between Nicole and Nicole’s absent parents.

 

“I’m always nice!”

 

“No, I mean to Nicole. You know it’s stressful right now.”

 

Wynonna shrugged.

 

“I make no promises.”

 

Wynonna…”

 

“Okay, go charm them and make them vegan meatballs. I’ll be down in a second,” Wynonna said, pointing towards the washroom.

 

Waverly felt like she’d lost that argument.

 

~*~

 

Mark and Karen stood in the newest addition to the Homestead in silence. There was no furniture in the room, but it had been painted a soft, homey yellow. Waverly watched them for a moment, fighting her own desire to blurt out that the room was new and they were just getting to decorating and that they hadn’t quite decided what to do with it yet.

 

Because Nicole needed boundaries. She was someone who appreciated boundaries. And Waverly wanted to respect her wife.

 

“We’ve been expanding the place,” Wavery said, arms full of sheets.

 

Karen turned around, her expression unreadable. Waverly found it startling that this woman with Nicole’s eyes could hide her emotions because Nicole couldn’t hide anything.

 

“Lovely,” Karen said through gritted teeth.

 

“You two must be hungry?”

 

“Famished. I would die for some kombucha!” Karen brushed past Mark on her way to the kitchen.

 

“Oh, umm…I think we have some juice?”

 

Mark and Karen seemed to be everywhere. They had made themselves at home, their luggage placed in Wynonna’s old room. Mark touched the walls and the furniture and commented on the placement of a shelving unit, which he immediately started to shift.

 

Karen was straightening photographs on the wall on her way to the kitchen, commenting on the pictures or the frames or making suggestions for a better colour palate. She paused at one photo – taken at Waverly and Nicole’s wedding – and her words seemed to leave her.

 

“It was a beautiful day, we really lucked out with the weather,” Waverly said, choosing not to mention the slight issue with a banshee that made off with their cake.

 

“I always thought she’d wear my gown,” Karen’s voice was soft and she startled as the words left her mouth, as if she’d never meant to utter them at all.

 

Nicole in dress blues was something Waverly had barely survived that day. The picture was formal – Waverly in her dress and Nicole in uniform – but their grins beneath the white canopy were blinding. And the picture Waverly kept in their bedroom, the one where Nicole had lost the tie and jacket, where her sleeves were rolled up and her shirt buttoned down, as Waverly giggled beside her, both lost in each other while Wynonna gave a toast – that was her favourite of all.

 

But she wondered how Karen and Mark felt about all of this glimpse into their daughter’s life. A new wife. A home. A family.

 

“It was a really small wedding,” Waverly found herself saying, “we weren’t sure if…”

 

“We were out of town,” Mark supplied and Karen took the momentary interruption as a chance to correct her expression. The hint of sadness disappeared only to be replaced with indifference.

 

“In Greece? Was that it?”

 

“Did someone say Greece?” Wynonna appeared again her timing uncharacteristically impeccable. Waverly didn’t feel entirely steady in the situation and having Wynonna around was comforting, as it always was.

 

Waverly excused herself and dipped into the kitchen, exhaling as she did.

 

~*~

 

“So where is our daughter?”

 

Mark sat back at the table, clearly pleased with his meal. He raised one eyebrow, an expression Nicole made occasionally, and Waverly found herself smiling at the mention of Nicole. She could see Wynonna’s smirk already.

 

“She’s testifying in the big city this week. It’s a high profile case and the lawyers have her held up day and night,” Waverly said, unable to conceal her pride.

 

“Can you believe it Mark? Remember when she went joyriding in your car and had to do community service for six weeks?” Karen shook her head.

 

“Wait…what?” Wynonna who had been half-paying attention all night was suddenly riveted.

 

“Karen sent her to Church Camp. Nicole wasn’t a fan.”

 

“This is the best day of my life,” Wynonna whispered.

 

The image of a young Nicole speeding down the highway was alluring and Waverly bit her lip, trying not lose track of the conversation.

 

“We just never imaged she’d choose to be…what she is,” Karen shrugged.

 

“Certainly didn’t get any of that from us,” Mark said, “Besides, Wynonna, you don’t seem like the type to hang around cops?”

 

“Trust me, I’m as surprised as you are.”

 

“But Nicole is a great cop, she really wants to help people and take care of the community and she does! She works so hard and she’s so good and…”

 

“Waves, I’m gonna puke,” Wynonna stood, grabbing her plate as she did.

 

Mark folded his arms across his chest.

 

“It’s not what we imagined,” he said and Karen nodded in silent agreement.

 

Waverly wasn’t sure how to respond. And she wasn’t sure why she had to defend Nicole to Nicole’s own parents. Shouldn’t they know how wonderful Nicole was? Shouldn’t they be the people who understood that the most?

 

“Whisky?” Wynonna slid back into her chair, waving a bottle in one hand.

 

“No, thanks,” Waverly said, but Karen and Mark eagerly accepted a glass.

 

“Are you two cops?” Mark asked.

 

“Ha! No…I mean, not anymore, or…” Wynonna tilted her head and Waverly decided to cut in.

 

“We’re investigators. Detectives…sort of.”

 

“What do you investigate?”

 

“Ummm…stuff? Things?” Wynonna poured herself a second glass.

 

“We deal in a lot of antiquities,” Waverly said.

 

“Oh! How marvellous! We must go antiquing while we’re here!” Karen said.

 

“That would be great!” Waverly smiled, relieved to find some common ground.

 

“And your parents?” Marks’ question hung in the air between the Earp sisters.

 

“Daddy died. Mama is…where is she now?” Wynonna asked.

 

“She’s on the rodeo circuit, but she comes home for holidays,” Waverly said, “and my dad is umm…he died.”

 

“Oh, different dads?” Karen said, “I supposed your colouring is different, but the cheekbones…”

 

“And what did your fathers do?”

 

Waverly and Wynonna exchanged a second glance.

 

“Sheriff,” Wynonna said, “and professional alcoholic.”

 

“My dad was…uh…in the church? Big…big in the church.”

 

“That’s lovely! You’re so lovely!” Karen reached out for Waverly’s hand and squeezed.

 

“Before I forget, does anyone have a grinder?” Mark unceremoniously dropped a baggy of weed on the table that he’d pulled from his jacket pocket. Waverly released Karen’s hand in surprise.

 

“Oh, boy, ummm…”

 

“I do, but…uh…Waves?” Wynonna paused, her knee hitting Waverly’s under the table.

 

“It’s just…Nicole is Sherriff and…”

 

“It’s legal! Don’t tell me Nicole is off the stuff. What a square,” Mark turned his focus to Wynonna.

 

“No, but definitely not inside and…”

 

“Yeah, we’re not really huge on it these days. With Alice around and stuff,” Wynonna said.

 

“But when Alice is sleeping…” Mark’s smile revealed that he thought he had an ally in Wynonna. And it was true that the Earp household occasionally liked to partake in a little late-night pot. But there were unspoken rules. Never in the house. Never on nights when Alice was staying Wynonna. And never when Nicole said no.

 

“Well, if Al is at my place, I want to be sharp all night, you know? In case she needs me?”

 

Waverly’s heart warmed hearing her sister speak so nonchalantly about parenting. She knew that Wynonna often doubted herself, but Wynonna had proven to be a good mom. A great mom. It made Waverly proud.

 

“Oh, we never believed in bedtime,” Karen said, drawing Waverly’s thoughts from her sister.

 

“What do you mean?” Waverly asked.

 

“Nicole just put herself to bed when she was tired. Half the time we found her outside on the porch! Remember that, Mark?”

 

“But what about bedtime stories and cuddles and checking in the middle of the night?” Waverly loved that time with Alice. It was something she hadn’t had as a child and she cherished spoiling her niece with extra books and blankets and bubbles.

 

“No, no. We were very firm. Nighttime was our time.”

 

“Work-life balance,” Mark said with a wink.

 

As the small group cleaned up from dinner, as Mark and Wynonna chatted about a distant Greek island and Karen sat back still nursing a whisky, Waverly thoughts about Nicole’s nightmares and how often she woke in the night to her wife screaming. She thought about Nicole as a child alone in the dark with her dreams.

 

She thought about Nicole alone and shivered despite the warm spring evening.

 

~*~

A cry in the dark tore Waverly from her deep sleep. It was a wordless call, an untethered scream, but it was so familiar to Waverly that she turned, not yet fully awake, and reached out.

 

“Baby, Nicole, you’re okay,” she mumbled, eyes blinking heavily as she forced herself to wake up.

 

Nicole lay in the bed, still dressed in her uniform, but she twitched and turned sharply and Waverly recognized the movements. In the nightmare, Nicole was trying to run. In reality, Nicole thrashed a little on the bed and Waverly rested her palm against Nicole’s stomach, exposed where her shirt had come loose from Nicole’s pants.

 

“Nicole,” Waverly hummed again, lightly dragging her hand against a soft, warm tummy.

 

Nicole awoke suddenly, pushing herself up on her elbows. She looked around the room once, breathed in, and then lowered herself again.

 

“Sorry,” she said. She apologized every time.

 

“No sorries,” Waverly answered, unable to contain the grin spreading across her face. Nicole made her chest feel warm and the bed feel right. She was nearly giddy to have her wife with her, delighted by Nicole’s very presence. And even though Nicole was sleepy and a little bit confused, Waverly heart felt too big in that moment.

 

“You’re home,” Waverly said, pressing her face into Nicole’s neck. She inhaled and smiled and sighed when she felt Nicole’s warm palm land on her bare arm.

 

“The lawyers wouldn’t stop talking,” Nicole yawned, “I thought about staying over at the station, but I missed you, plus I have to leave so early tomorrow.”

 

“I missed you too, baby,” Waverly kissed her wife’s cheek and her forehead and then reached up to start unbuttoning her shirt.

 

“This looks very uncomfortable, Sheriff Haught.”

 

“It is,” Nicole did nothing to help Waverly. She lay back, eyes half closed, and let Waverly unbutton the shirt. It was always a little surprising when Waverly found a lacy Victoria’s Secret number under the practical uniform top. But even in the darkness of the room, she recognized the pretty, fuchsia bra and licked her lips.

 

“You want pyjamas?”

 

“I dunno.” A sleepy Nicole was cute and just a little bit helpless. Waverly loved it.

 

“Do you wanna be naked?” Waverly had already sat up and was busy pulling Nicole’s pants down her legs.

 

Nicole shrugged, but raised herself on her elbows just enough to wiggle out of her shirt. Waverly helped with the bra and in seconds, Nicole was lying back in her underwear. She rolled over to face Waverly, pressing their foreheads together and casually slinging one arm around Waverly’s body.

 

“Sorry I left you alone with my parents,” Nicole said, frowning.

 

“It was fine, babe, honestly they were fine,” Waverly rubbed her nose against Nicole’s.

 

“Be honest…”

 

“Your dad and Wynonna went outside to smoke up, but otherwise…”

 

“Of course they did,” Nicole sighed and shook her head, “did they say why they’re here?”

 

The question struck Waverly as odd. She reached for Nicole’s face and wiggled back on the pillow so she could look at her wife.

 

“They’re here to see you!”

 

“Did they say that?” Nicole turned her head to kiss Waverly’s palm.

 

“Well, no, but why else would they be here, silly?”

 

Nicole flipped onto her back.

 

“My dad might want to buy the Homestead right out from under us. Or maybe my mom’s latest guru told her to come here? I guarantee it’s not to see me,” Nicole sounded so resigned that it made Waverly’s heart hurt.

 

“Okay, but this could be good? They can get to know Purgatory and me and see how amazing you are?” Waverly kissed Nicole’s shoulder.

 

“You want them to like you,” Nicole teased.

 

“Well, yeah!”

 

“Don’t worry. They’ll like you. And Wynonna. It’s me they don’t like.”

 

Nicole rolled over again before Waverly had a chance to respond. Her wife snuggled and pressed against Waverly’s side and slipped one leg between Waverly’s thighs.

 

Waverly wanted to say that of course Nicole’s parents liked her. Of course they did. Except Waverly knew better than most that parents were complicated. She knew that the people who should protect and love you could be cruel and distant. It was just hard to imagine that someone like Nicole had come from that place of hurt. Because Nicole was love and light and whatever darkness dwelled inside came from Bulshar’s fire. At least that’s what Waverly always believed.

 

But Nicole had squished her face into Waverly’s throat and there was a heavy hand settling itself underneath Waverly’s tank top and Nicole was sleeping and cuddling and didn’t need Waverly to wake her for reassurances. Instead Waverly settled against Nicole, resting her cheek against the auburn hair that smelled like vanilla, and let herself fall asleep too.

 

Because if anyone could change Mark and Karen’s mind it was Waverly. She was sure of it.