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You Made Me Love You

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Nicole sat up a little straighter in her saddle as she rode Trigger into town, rolling down the sleeves of her white cotton shirt to hide her thin wrists and the scars over her arms. The horse snorted, rib cage expanding under her as he sighed.

“So talkative today,” Nicole muttered to her steed, voice purposefully low. Her hand tightened on the reins as she passed the Sheriff’s office, the other hand resting on her trouser covered thigh. Brown eyes flicked over to the window where the wanted posters hung, holding her breath for a moment every time just like always. Her eyes scanned them quickly before looking away, letting out a small sigh of relief.

She looked over at the Saloon and saw one of the girls, Eliza, standing out front, waving a fan and leaning against the rail holding up the roof. Her breasts were pushed dangerously high in her dress, corset tight around her waist. When she saw Nicole, recognition lit in her eyes as she smiled and waved, breasts bouncing with the slight movement. Nicole couldn’t help but smile and tip her wide brimmed hat at her.

Nicole’s Pa would have smacked her upside the head for getting distracted by a pretty girl. Again.

Her Pa always told her that happiness wouldn’t find her, she would have to find it herself. ‘A pretty girl ain’t gonna just show up on your doorstep, son,’ he would tell her, tobacco juice leaking from the corner of his lips as he chewed. ‘But you also gonna work until you die so get used to the idea a’ dyin’ alone. Not many out there friendly to your...tendencies.’

Nicole just shrugged it off as another piece of useless advice her father gave her. She continued to flirt with the daughters of the other ranchers, picking wildflowers and delivering them to their windows. She and Daisy May lost their virginity to each other in the spring, when the wildflowers bloomed brightest and the grass was tall enough to hide their slick bodies as their fumbling, inexperienced hands discovered each other.

Her Pa taught her everything she needed to know about ranching. She could rope calves, break wild horses, build any fence or barn. She was set.

If only she was a boy.

Her father knew from the time she was young that Nicole wasn’t a typical girl. She preferred pants to dresses and would rather run around in the dirt than play with the dolls her Ma had made her. As a father who always yearned for a son, he had no problem treating her as such. But the rest of the world wasn’t as understanding, it seemed.

Nicole tried to be okay with it, but her overconfidence tended to get her in trouble.

Trigger’s sigh brought Nicole out of her thoughts and she steered him towards the General Store. She swung herself off of his back and tied his reins to the post before patting him on the neck. Her Colt Revolver laid heavy on her side as she adjusted her gun, fingers curled in the worn leather of her belt.

Her boots echoed against the wood porch of the store as she stepped up, eyes looking down the street one more time before she entered the store.

Old Man Franklin behind the counter didn’t even acknowledge her. His wrinkled hands shook as he put envelopes into their proper slots behind the counter, joints thick and gnarled with age. Nicole squinted as she slowly strode up to the counter, waiting for him to notice.

The General Store doubled as their Post Office. One of the disadvantages of a small town like Purgatory.

Franklin muttered quietly to himself as he sorted the mail, until Nicole lost her patience and finally cleared her throat. Still, nothing. She sighed and adjusted her suspenders before rapping on the wood of the counter. He didn’t even notice, still muttering to himself as his shaking hands holding the envelope missed the correct cubby hole.

“Sir,” Nicole said, hoping to get his attention. He continued muttering to himself. Nicole raised her voice a little and tried again. “Sir! Old Man-...Mr. Franklin!”

The man jumped like a tiny cricket and turned around, large owl-like eyes blinking at her from behind thick spectacles.

“Oh, hello-” he squinted at her for a moment as he walked up to the counter between them. “Ma’am?”

Nicole just clenched her jaw and forced a small smile. “Can I see your catalog please?” she asked, voice loud so he could hear. “I want to order some house plans!”

He hummed as he reached beneath the counter for the catalog. “House what?”

“Plans!”

Franklin slid the thick, worn catalogue across the counter towards Nicole, and she smiled her thanks. He was still staring, scrutinizing her as she opened the book. She felt a piece of her red hair fall from where it was tucked into her hat.

“So, ma’am then?” Franklin asked, as Nicole flipped to the section she knew she needed and didn’t even bother looking up at him.

“My money’s just as same either way, ain’t it?” she drawled.

Franklin sputtered just as the front door of the General Store slammed open and they both turned to see a large man stomp his way in. Henderson. Nicole had heard about him from the girls at the Saloon. He had a permanent scowl on his face and a patchy beard marring his features. He was chewing tobacco loudly, some of the juice leaking out and soaking into his beard and stained shirt.

The girls hated him. They said he was dirty and rough, and always drew straws as to who had to deal with him.

Nicole turned back to the catalogue, flipping past the houses with two stories or far too many ornate bibs and bobs for her liking. She just needed a simple home. Nothing fancy. Anything would be better than the shack she currently had that was basically falling apart. Even for one person it felt cramped.

She finally landed on a simple home with a porch on the front and a porch on the side, a sitting room, separate bathroom and bedroom, along with a kitchen. It was perfect in its simplicity. Looking at the plan numbers, she looked back up at Franklin.

“Can I get an order form please?” she asked, still making her voice as low as possible without sounding comical.

Henderson sidled up next to her at the counter. Nicole’s nose wrinkled in disgust as his large, lumbering presence and the smell of sour body odor and tobacco certainly invaded her space. With a grunt, he pulled the catalogue from under Nicole’s hand. She shot him a look, but he didn’t even seem to notice she was there as he aggressively opened the catalogue.

“I need an order form, old man,” he said, more tobacco juice leaking from his mouth. He pulled a crumpled up newspaper clipping from his pants and put it on the counter as he snatched the order form Franklin was handing to Nicole. Franklin didn’t miss a beat as he reached for another and passed it to her.

Nicole picked up a pencil and filled it out with the information of the house plan she wanted, along with some of the basic supplies, and pulled a rolled up bundle of cash from her side bag, darting a watchful eye to the man next to her. He seemed distracted himself, messily copying an address from the newspaper clipping onto an envelope.

They both passed Franklin their papers at the same time, Henderson just grunting and turning on his heel. “See ya later, Ol’ Man.”

Nicole scoffed and set her roll of money on top of her form. Franklin continued to mutter to himself and looked over all the forms. Nicole pulled the catalogue back over just to give herself something to do until Franklin told her she was set. He made a small noise of surprise and Nicole looked back up at him.

“Problem?” she asked.

Franklin frowned up at Nicole and adjusted his spectacles. “I jus’ don’t know what you’d be needin’ this for.”

Nicole frowned. She was used to these kinds of asinine questions. Purgatory was a small town where everyone knew everyone’s business. Except for Nicole’s since she made a point to not talk to anyone.

“I jus’ need it. E’eryone does,” Nicole shrugged.

“Don’ seem right,” Franklin said with a shake of his head.

Nicole shook her head, just as confused as ever. “I need somewhere to put my stuff,” she said with a wide gesture of her hands.

Franklin recoiled, muttering to himself. “Disgustin’.”

“Is my money good?” Nicole sighed, hooking her thumbs into the front of her belt. “‘Cause if it is, I’m leavin’.”

Franklin continued grumbling and waved her off as he hobbled and turned back towards the mail slots. Nicole tucked the loose strand of hair back up into her hat as she walked out of the store and into the sun.

Trigger snorted and nudged Nicole’s torso with his giant head as she untied his reins. She looked over at the Saloon where Eliza still posed. Throwing Nicole a wink, she tilted her head to the side for Nicole to come in. Setting a charming tilt to her lips, Nicole lead Trigger over to the Saloon, standing at the bottom of the steps to look at Eliza.

“You coming in, cowboy?” Eliza asked, eyes practically dancing with the possibilities.

“Not today,” Nicole said, her lips stretched into a wide smile as Eliza gave her an exaggerated pout.

“Not even for a little bit?” she said, as she straightened Nicole’s already straight collar.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Nicole said. Trigger pulled impatiently at his reins and Nicole sighed in embarrassment.

Eliza put her hand on her hip, trying to subtly lift the hem of her long skirt. “I’ll keep you to that.”

Nicole snorted and got onto Trigger, adjusting herself on the saddle. “You’re trying a little too hard there,” Nicole teased with a wink.

Eliza rolled her eyes and shooed Nicole away with her fan. “Get outta here. Until tomorrow.”

“Alright, alright,” Nicole said, tipping her hat at Eliza. “We’ll see.”

She nudged Trigger in the ribs and he started moving, hooves kicking up the loose dirt under his feet.

“See you tomorrow!” Eliza said to Nicole’s retreating back. She threw one last smile and wave over her shoulder, face instantly hardening as she turned back around. The people that milled along the streets gave her curious looked. Most didn’t bother to hide their whispering and pointing.

Purgatory was a small, quiet town. But one that harbored its fair share of secrets. Everyone had one, everyone had something they were hiding. While they would talk amongst themselves about it, they’d never tell someone else. Never snitch.

Nicole was just fine with that. The less people talked around about her, the less likely they found out about her past.

***

The sun was at its highest in the sky when there came the distant sound of a wagon rolling down the road in the distance. Nicole looked up from the fence she was building, leaning against the newly sunken post with the mallet hanging at her side. Her muscles burned and she could feel the sweat dripping down her face and threatening her eyes. She quickly wiped her face with the back of her sleeve, her hat getting pushed askew as she squinted into the distance.

The mail wagon hardly came out in these parts, so Nicole figured it might be her house plans and supplies. She let her mallet fall to the ground and started the walk towards the road.

Her property was offset from the road just enough that she didn’t have to worry about people riding past it all the time, but she could still monitor it from anywhere on her property. It wasn’t much, just a small one room house with a bed, fireplace and stove. She had a back house and a barn and just enough acreage for a few cows and chickens, which was all she needed to make do. But she was ready to expand, and a nicer more spacious house was the beginning.

The wagon stopped just as she made it to the edge of the road. The driver looked down at his ledger, his smooth face scrunching up as he ran his finger down the list. He scratched at the patchy stubble on his chin and looked back up at Nicole.

“Haught?”

“‘At’s me,” Nicole confirmed as he thrust the ledger at her.

“Sign ‘ere,” he said as he jumped off of the covered wagon. “I ‘ave to say, I’m glad’a be rid o’ this one. Wouldn’t stop complainin’.”

Nicole signed next to her name and handed him the ledger with a frown. “Complainin’?”

“Yeah. Yer in for a handful,” he said before banging on the carriage door. “Come on ‘en.”

Nicole could do nothing but stare, confused as to how her house plans could be a handful in any way. Maybe he’d just been in the heat too long and was acting looney. Her confusion only deepened when the carriage door swung open and a girl stepped out.

A pretty girl.

A beautiful girl.

Dressed in a simple blue calico dress with honey brown hair done in a braid only to be twisted and pinned to the back of her head, Nicole couldn’t help but stare. She was petite with sun kissed skin, and nervous hazel eyes looked up at her as she stood in front of the carriage. Nervous eyes that betrayed the purposeful hard look she was trying to give off. Nicole noticed her jaw was tight, lips pressed into a hard line as she looked Nicole over.

She managed to pull her attention away from the woman and look back at the driver. “What’s this?” she asked.

“Well that ain’t no way to talk ‘bout a lady,” he said, voice cracking just a little. “I mean, she’s a bit on the skinny side but I’m sure you can fatten’ ‘er up a little.”

The woman scoffed and Nicole blushed. “No, I mean...I didn’t have-...why is she ‘ere?”

The driver sucked on his teeth and shrugged. “Yer the one that ordered her.”

Nicole’s first reaction was a guffaw of a laugh. Loud and grating and harsh in a way that made the driver cringe, but the woman’s face softened just the slightest. Nicole wasn’t sure why the smallest twitch of this girl’s face was wholly distracting but she found herself forgetting what what she was saying for a moment until she heard the driver suck his teeth again.

Her eyes flickered back to him and Nicole shook her head. “I ordered house plans. Plans. Not a housewife.”

The driver pointed at the description of the order next to her name in the ledger. “Says right ‘ere. Wife.”

Nicole snatched the ledger from him and looked at the flowy writing scratched next to her name. She couldn’t read very well, but she could read ‘wife’ plain as day. She cursed and rubbed the back of her neck as the driver snatched his precious ledger back. How did Old Man Franklin manage to mess this up? She took the hat off of her head and looked down at it, as if it would help her get some clarity in the situation.

“So, I’ll just get a’goin’,” the driver said. “I’ll leave ya’ll to your newly married bliss.”

He winked at Nicole and her cheeks flushed even deeper. “N-no! We’re not. She’s not my w-wife,” Nicole stuttered. The woman stifled a giggle behind her hand and Nicole didn’t think could blush anymore, but she proved herself wrong. She took a deep breath.

“I didn’t order a wife,” she defended weakly.

The driver smiled, clearly amused. “Now, listen’, I ain’t judgin’ you. Jus’ get ‘er to yer home.”

“I’m not-” A frustrated sigh blew some of Nicole’s hair away from her face. “I don’ want ‘er. Take ‘er back from where she came from.” The woman let out a high, haughty laugh and Nicole blushed. “No offense, ma’am.”

The driver interrupted, motioning for Waverly to go with Nicole with big sweeping moves of his arms. “I can’t I’m ‘sposed to deliver a girl. I deliver a girl. No exceptions.”

“What am I suppose’ to do with ‘er?”

“I don’ know-- you ordered ‘er,” the driver said, already moving back to the seat of his carriage.

“I’m standing right here!” The woman said with a small, defiant stamp of her foot, arms folded tightly in front of her. “And no one...ordered me.”

Nicole remembered herself and took her hat off, bending a little towards Waverly. “You’re right, ma’am, so sorry.”

The woman’s eyes softened when they landed on Nicole, corners of her lips turning up in the barest hint of a smile. Nicole found the air around them blistering with heat suddenly. Her collar felt too tight on her neck despite the fact that it was already unbuttoned by the top two buttons.

“Waverly,” the woman blurted suddenly. Nicole just stared at her for a moment as she waved her hand and started over. “You can call me Waverly.”

Waverly

Such a nice name. It sounded like something she’d heard in one of those poems her Ma used to read her every night.

She smiled. “Miss Waverly it is then,” she drawled. Waverly blushed and the heat felt even more sweltering. She pulled on her open shirt collar and watched as Waverly’s eyes followed the movement.

For a moment, Nicole found herself distracted before the useless delivery boy spoke again. “It’s customary to tip, ya know.”

Nicole’s face hardened as she looked back at him, sitting back in his carriage. She dug into her pocket and pulled out a nickel. She went to hand it to him but pulled it back as he was about to grab it. He cussed under his breath.

“Tell me where the house plans and supplies you delivered earlier went,” Nicole demanded with a raised eyebrow. The boy leveled her with an angry look before muttering.

“It went to Harry Henderson.”

“Thank you.” Nicole slapped the nickel into his dirty hand with a sneer. She watched as he snapped the reins of his horses and pulled away. Watching his carriage get smaller and cursing his name was better than dealing with what was standing behind her. A woman, Waverly, who thinks she’s her wife. Apparently.

Nicole licked her lips and brushed her hat off on her pant leg. Now what?

Waverly cleared her throat and Nicole turned back around to look at her. She just noticed the carpet bag at Waverly’s feet, probably where all her possessions had been stored for the ride.

“So, I take it you aren’t the one who wrote for me?” Waverly said with a tip of her head.

“‘Fraid not, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, blushing as she saw the amusement in Waverly’s eyes. “I mean, ‘fraid not as in-...not that I-...I just-...there was a mistake.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that way,” Waverly sighed. “You still haven’t told me your name.”

“Oh, Nicole,” she said, putting her hat to her chest and holding her hand out for Waverly. The bright smile that graced Waverly’s face blinded Nicole as she took her hand. Her hand was so small and soft and Nicole found herself embarrassed by how rough her hands probably felt to her. She started to pull away but Waverly squeezed her hand, holding onto it for just a second longer.

“Nice to meet you, Nicole,” Waverly said. She dropped Nicole’s hand and it felt limply back at her side.

Nicole looked back towards her property and crushed the felt brim under her hands. The day was already half gone and she definitely hadn’t made the progress on her fence she’d been hoping for. That plus the unexpected guest was really throwing off her day.

Thought she figured ‘guest’ was a strong word.

“Henderson ain’t that far away,” Nicole said, putting her hat back on her head. “I’ll go get my horse and we’ll head over there. Don’ wanna keep you from your husband any longer ‘an I already ‘ave.”

Waverly sighed. “Yes, well, I suppose I have no choice in the matter.”

Nicole frowned. “You do, Miss Waverly, if you don’ wanna go to Henderson jus’ say the word-”

“No, I must,” Waverly said quickly, some of the color leaving her face. “I need-...the money is needed. Far worse will happen if I don’t go to him.”

Nicole tipped her hat at Waverly and grunted lightly. “I’ll be on my way to get Trigger ‘en. Be righ’ back.”

She jogged towards the barn, not wanting to keep Waverly waiting too long. Though admittedly, she wouldn’t mind spending a little more time with her…

Nicole shook her head and cleared her throat. No, that was dumb. The last person Nicole needed to be making moon eyes over was the wife of Harry Henderson. The wife of anyone, really. She had resigned herself to a life of loneliness long ago. It was better off this way after all. Fewer people to get hurt.

She got Trigger from the barn, putting his saddle on him quickly before riding him back to where Waverly leaned against the fence.

“Sorry fer keepin’ ya waitin’, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, dismounting. She held out her hand for Waverly, who pushed off the fence and smiled at her. Nicole couldn’t help but smile back, but she chose to ignore the sudden flutter of butterflies in her stomach.

“It didn’t feel like long,” Waverly said, as she picked up her bag from at her feet.

Nicole reached for the bag and set it on the saddle in front of her before reaching for Waverly’s hand. She easily lifted Waverly onto the saddle in front of her. She sat side saddle, her bag in her lap, and Nicole silently hated her predicament.

“It ain’t quite proper to be sittin’ this way with another man’s wife,” she muttered to herself as she gingerly reached around Waverly and took the reins. Waverly didn’t seem bothered, choosing to lean more into Nicole’s front, much to her dismay.

“I don’t mind,” Waverly said cheerfully. Nicole adjusted herself on the saddle and tried not to think about how Waverly smelled like fresh cut flowers and perfume.

“Alright, then,” she muttered as she nudged Trigger into walking.

They rode in relative silence for a while. Nicole was too focused on keeping her body straight in the saddle and not touching Waverly to form words. But it was proving a difficult task with Waverly in front of her and her arms bracketing her body to reach the reins.

“Thank you for giving me a ride,” Waverly said, turning her head to look at Nicole. Their faces were far too close.

“Ain’t no problem, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said with a polite tip of her head. “It’d be too far fer you to walk.”

“Just Waverly,” she said as she adjusted her bag on her lap. “You can just call me Waverly.”

“Miss Waverly does just fine,” Nicole replied. Familiarity can only lead to sticky situations. Nicole quickly veered the conversation in a different direction. “I’m sorry for the little detour on yer way to yer husband.”

“Well to be frank, I don’t mind the detour,” Waverly sighed dramatically. “Can’t say I’m necessarily excited about the match.”

Nicole shifted. It was rude not to ask Waverly to continue, but it would also be rude to mingle in the affairs of others. Her curiosity won out instead.

“Why would that be? Didn’ you write to ‘im?” Nicole asked as she ascended a hill, the Henderson ranch just becoming visible on the horizon. Wouldn’t be much longer now.

Waverly sighed and played with the worn clasp of her carpet bag. “Not exactly. Daddy died and turns out he owed a lot of money to some bad men. It was either whoring or being sold off to the highest bidder. This seemed like the lesser of two evils.”

Nicole’s hands unconsciously tightened on the reins. It was against her principles to make a woman do something she didn’t want to do. Part of the reason she ended up in this god forsaken town to begin with.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole started seriously. “Jus’ say the word-”

“Oh no,” Waverly said, grip visibly tightening on her bag as she shook her head. “I’m going through with it. I have to. I need the money, otherwise who knows what-” She paused and looked back at Nicole. “I’m sure it won’t be all that bad.”

As if on cue, Trigger stopped in front of Henderson’s fence. He had a nice cabin a little further back on the property, pigs and chickens roaming aimlessly around the front of the property. Nicole got off her horse and helped Waverly down, one hand on her waist and the other taking her hand in her own. Again, Nicole couldn’t help but think how soft her hands were. A thought that made her pull away just as Waverly’s feet hit the ground.

Waverly smiled at her in thanks, smoothing out her skirt as Nicole began the walk to Henderson’s front door. She was about halfway up the walkway, Waverly close behind, when there came a loud crack followed by a metallic ping. An overturned bucket besides the pathway suddenly flipped over, the dent of a bullet plain as day on its surface. Nicole’s hand automatically went to the gun on her hip, other hand reaching behind her and making sure Waverly was covered.

“Who dat on mah land?” a voice yelled from the house. The front door banged open, Henderson standing there with his gun pointed at them.

Nicole rolled her eyes. “I’m here with your wife, sir,” she said, forcing back the bile in her throat at calling him ‘sir’.

Henderson spit a wad of tobacco out of his mouth and it hit the dirt just a few feet away from them, the juice splashing and a drop landing on Nicole’s boot. She clenched her fists at the side and forced a small smile.

“My wife? What’r you doin’ with my wife?” he growled.

“There was a mistake with the deliveries,” Nicole said. “Can she come up to the porch now ‘er are you gonna try shootin’ again?”

Henderson just grunted and lowered his shotgun. Nicole stepped aside to reveal Waverly standing behind her, jaw set again like it had been when she first arrived at Nicole’s. The urge to reach out and comfort her was almost overbearing but Nicole followed her up to the porch instead. She watched Henderson carefully, as his eyes roamed over Waverly’s body and yellow stained teeth made up his smile.

“Now, did they drop off my house plans ‘ere?” Nicole asked, eyes still on Waverly as Henderson leered at her.

“I told ‘em to take ‘em back,” he said, completely uninterested in what Nicole had to say. “There prob’ly in town.”

Her annoyance bristled up her spine when Henderson leaned close to Waverly and she instinctively leaned back. His big meaty hand came up and stroked some hair behind her ear, his nails jagged and nearly black with all the dirt caked under them.

Nicole should just turn around and leave. She really should have. Nothing good would come from sticking around and none of this was her business. In any way. Even if Waverly was pretty with soft hands and a kind smile, throwing herself into a situation she didn’t want to be in. Nicole picked at the skin on her thumb with her pointer finger as he watched him grip the back of Waverly’s neck possessively and start to steer her into the house. Hazel eyes glanced back at her once more, big and scared.

“Stop!” Nicole blurted before she could stop herself. Henderson looked at her, smile turning to a scowl. Nicole licked her lips, straightened herself to her full height and stepped up to the man. “That’s no way to treat a lady.”

“She ain’t no lady, she’s my wife,” he said, more tobacco juice leaking from the corner of his mouth.

Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved.

She repeated the mantra that her Pa always told her.

Keep your head down. Don’t get involved in other folks’ business. Work hard and keep to yourself.

Nicole had ignored the advice before and it almost got her killed. She willed her legs to walk away. To turn around and go back to her own ranch. Her own business. But scared hazel eyes locked with her own again and she couldn’t do it.

“Mr. Henderson,” she started, thumbs hooked into the front of her belt buckle. She jerked her head to the side. “Can I talk with you away from the lady folk for a minute?”

Henderson looked amused. “Ain’t you a lady folk?”

“I ‘ave my own money, my own land and make my own decisions, that makes me folks you oughta give a listen to,” Nicole said, as her hand subtly moved back towards her gun. It was a risky move, but she just needed him to know she was serious. Years of being pushed around for her presumed gender had given her various ways to deal with it. Most of the time she was just met with confusion and people were too worried about being improper to ask, but other times it had become dangerous. To say the least.

He grunted and looked back at Waverly briefly before giving her a patronizing pat on her cheek and walking towards Nicole. He spit again, narrowly missing her boot. Nicole didn’t even flinch.

“I ‘ave a proposition for you, sir,” she started, voice deeper. “I’ll take the girl off yer hands. How much you pay for ‘er?”

Henderson frowned. “Wha’ makes you think I’d be willin’ to sell ‘er to ya?”

Nicole tightened her jaw, eyes darting over his shoulder to find Waverly looking at the two of them with never ending questions in her eyes. “I mean...she’s a bit skinny, ain’t she?” Nicole tried. “‘m sure you could find yerself a wife more fit to bear children.”

He grunted and looked back at Waverly, looking her up and down before looking back at Nicole. “I wan’ twice what I paid. For the inconvenience,” he said with a smug grin.

“How much would that be?”

“Hundred bucks.”

Nicole tried not to blanch. That was all the money she had saved up since she got to Purgatory almost a year ago now. In one poor decision over a pretty girl, she was going to lose all of it.

“Fine,” she said, hesitating for only a moment before she reached into her boot and pulled out the wad she always kept there. Better on her person at all times so at least she knew where it was. She held it up between them, pulling it back just a little when he reached for it. She purposefully put her hand out between them for him to shake. “An’ you won’t be botherin’ me or her about this after. Clear?”

“Yes,” he said, as he took her hand. They shook, eyes never leaving each other and squeezing the other’s hand for all it was worth. Nicole was sure she had at least one broken bone in her hand now, but she noticed a small wince in his face as he pulled away so at least she gave what she got. He snatched the money from her, undid the roll and quickly counted the bills.

Nicole stepped around him and stood at the bottom of the porch steps, smiling up at Waverly. She tipped her hat and smiled softly as she spoke. “Miss Waverly, if I could accompany you back to the horse.”

Waverly frowned in confusion, looking between Nicole and Henderson behind her who was so busy counting the bills again to even look bothered. “But I...my debt-”

“Has been paid. In double,” Nicole added as an afterthought. “Now can we please get outta ‘ere so that he don’t decide to pick up his shotgun again?”

Waverly licked her lips and looked back at Henderson before walking stiffly off the porch and past Nicole. As she passed, her body brushed lightly against Nicole’s front, and her stomach flipped. Nicole swallowed thickly and pushed the brim of her hat up a little as she followed Waverly back to Trigger.

Stopping at the horse, Waverly spun back around with a determined look on her face. “Let me get this straight,” she said as she took a step closer to Nicole. Hazel eyes bored intensely into her own and was helpless but to remain standing there. “You paid Mr. Henderson twice what he paid for me... so that I didn’t have to stay with him?”

Nicole blushed. “Yes, ma’am.”

Waverly frowned. “And you did this without even asking me if it’s what I wanted?”

Nicole shifted uncomfortably and she rubbed the back of her neck. “I um...well I jus’ thought-...he was-...” Nicole sighed and her hands dropped to her sides. “Yes.”

Waverly’s look hardened for a moment and Nicole’s gut twisted. Suddenly she was surprised by a soft pair of lips on the corner of her mouth. There and then gone again in an instant. She blinked and looked down at Waverly, the only hint that the kiss had actually happened was the pink tint across her cheeks. If she had a mirror, she was sure her cheeks would be as red as if she’d been working outside without a hat all day, rivaling only her hair. Nicole was sure she could look at Waverly for hours on end. The way her nose curved and her jaw was sharp and led to the elegant lines of her neck.

She was taken out of her daze when Waverly poked Nicole hard in the middle of her chest. “Next time ask me,” she said. Her face softened again and Nicole was captivated. “But thank you.”

She watched in awe as Waverly climbed up onto Trigger herself, forgoing the side saddle and just sitting properly on him. She reached out for her carpet back and Nicole hesitated a moment before handing it to her. She looked at Waverly as she adjusted the bag behind her, Nicole’s hand on his reins as she wondered how long it would take to lead Trigger back into town instead of sharing the saddle.

“What are you waiting for?” Waverly asked, cocking her head to the side with her bag successfully secured to the back.

“Um, I’ll jus’ walk ‘em back,” Nicole said as she took his reins to lead him. Waverly tugged the reins back and turned Trigger so that Nicole was at his side again.

“Don’t be ridiculous, we’ve ridden on the same horse before we can do it again,” Waverly said airily, as a cheeky smile crawled onto her face. “You are my husband now, afterall.”

Nicole sputtered and shook her head, quickly regaining her senses. “I ain’t, Ma’am.”

She pulled herself onto the horse in front of Waverly, adjusting herself on the saddle and sitting up straight so that her body wasn’t touching Waverly’s. But even despite her best efforts, she could feel how Waverly was pressed against her from her lower back to between her shoulder blades. The spot on the corner of her mouth where Waverly had kissed her was still tingling.

“You paid for me. I’m yours now. That’s how it works,” Waverly said as she casually looped her arms around Nicole’s waist just as Trigger started trotting down the path.

“Miss Waverly, I’m drivin’ you into town and you’ll be on yer own from there. Clear?” she said as she turned at the fork in the road that would take them into town.

Waverly’s grip tightened on Nicole’s waist. “Wait--why?”

“I ain’t interested in a wife and it seems like you weren’t truly int’rested in bein’ one if you’re just doin’ it for the money,” Nicole reasoned. “I did it so you didn’ ‘ave to be tied to a dirty pig yer entire life. Now you can go home.”

Waverly’s hands left her waist to cover Nicole’s on the reins. She moved Nicole’s hand to the left so that the reins steered Trigger around on the road..

“I don’t want to go home,” she insisted. “I’ll go back with you.”

Nicole scoffed and turned Trigger back into the right direction. “No, ‘m takin’ you back.”

“Nicole, there is no way on God’s green earth that I ain’t gonna pay back my debt, which is to you now. I’m staying.”

She jerked Trigger’s reins back the other way and the horse snorted in agitation.

“Consider it a gift,” Nicole said. “Now you can go home ‘n not worry ‘bout it-”

“I can’t-...go home,” Waverly admitted softly, her hands still over Nicole’s. “I don’t-...there’s nothing there.”

Nicole swallowed thickly, clenching her jaw and trying to think of another possible solution.

Waverly’s voice came small and broken. “Please.”

Nicole would have given her anything in that moment. This tiny, beautiful, and perfectly charming little stranger.

“You have the week to find somewhere to go,” Nicole said. She clicked her tongue and Trigger started back to her ranch. “After a week, you go.”

Waverly’s arms were back around her waist but in a hug this time. “Thank you thank you thank you,” she said into the back of Nicole’s shirt. Dainty hands gripped her shoulders as Waverly lifted herself in the saddle just to place a kiss on Nicole’s cheek. “Thank you,” she repeated, her breath blowing sweetly across Nicole’s cheek.

Her whole body felt like it was on fire.

“Yer gonna have to stop doin’ that, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said softly, ducking her head to hopefully hide her blush.

Waverly just hummed and settled back into the saddle. “Thank you for letting me stay with you.”

“Jus’ fer the week,” Nicole reminded. “Until you can fin’ somewhere t’ go.”

“We’ll see,” Waverly sing songed. “Can’t just leave my husband all on their lonesome, can I?”

“No. We know.” Nicole chuckled and shook her head. “An’ I ain’t your husband.”

“We’ll see,” Waverly repeated, just loud enough for Nicole to hear.

***

By the time they got back to Nicole’s property, the sun had started to sink below the horizon. It settled behind Nicole’s cabin, casting an orange halo around it as they rode Trigger up the main path.

The smile had been permanently on Waverly’s face since they had started their ride back from that horrible man’s house. Waverly was nothing but grateful to the odd and quiet person on the saddle in front of her. Admittedly Waverly had been quite...pleased when she stepped out of the carriage to see her there.

Tall, strong jawed and big brown eyes that Waverly never wanted to look away from. When she thought this was the person who answered the ad in the paper boasting a young, viable wife for only fifty dollars, Waverly was thrilled. The whole carriage ride from the Del Rey Ranch to Purgatory she had been riddled with anxiety that she would end up with a cruel husband. But there was no way this person with kind eyes and gentle hands could be anything but.

So imagine her disappointment when it was a mistake and her husband was a cruel looking man with teeth the shade of dead leaves.

But now, riding on the back of her gracious protector’s horse, Waverly couldn’t help but be reminded of the tales her Mama used to tell her about the knights of the round table. The valiant knights who protected the weak and bought them from their unfriendly looking husbands.

Not that Waverly was weak. Not in the slightest, and she would remind anyone that tried to argue.

She sat up a little straighter in the saddle and felt the cold metal of the small pistol she had taken from Bobo pressed against her sternum between her breasts, nestled away in case of an emergency.

Still, she wasn’t in a position to refuse the acts of this kind stranger.

Waverly did wonder what kind of cruel game fate was playing by bringing her back to Purgatory, a town she had left so long ago she barely remembered it. It felt more like a dream, one where she was running with her sisters through tall grass with the Homestead looming behind them. She wondered if that was still there.

As they got closer to the barn, Trigger began to trot again so Waverly held on to Nicole even tighter. She pressed her cheek between her shoulder blades, feeling the worn cotton of her shirt against her skin. The sharp musk of sweat was unmistakable but there was something under it that made Waverly sigh. Sweet. Like vanilla.

Waverly had only had the pleasure of trying it once when her Daddy had brought home some sweets he’d gotten from a Yankee traveling through town. But she remembered the sweet taste of it on her tongue and how it flooded her mouth.

“Alright, boy,” Nicole muttered to the horse as they got to the barn. Her voice rumbled throughout her torso and Waverly sighed. Nicole cleared her throat and shifted in the seat. “Um, Miss Waverly, I’ma need you to let go if I’ma get off this horse.”

“Oh, right,” Waverly said, regretfully dropping her arms from around Nicole’s waist. “Sorry.”

“No worries, ma’am,” Nicole said as she got off the horse and held her hand out for Waverly. She slid her hand over Nicole’s feeling how the callouses rubbed against her palm. Waverly suppressed a shiver and cursed to herself.

Now wasn’t the time to let herself get carried away with girlish fantasies. But she couldn’t help it. Nicole was so pretty and handsome and she wanted to knock her hat off her head while she ran her hands through those red strands. To feel her hands against more of her skin. And despite how Nicole was being so standoffish and respectful, she’d seen her face when Waverly first stepped off the carriage. Waverly could tell when someone fancied her.

So she would indulge herself and Nicole by letting her help her down from the horse even though Waverly could do it perfectly fine on her own. But Nicole’s hand on her waist and holding her other hand was too tempting to pass up.

“Waverly, please, Nicole,” Waverly said as her feet touched the ground. She kept her hold of Nicole’s hand, keeping her close as she looked up at her.

“Miss Waverly will do jus’ fine,” Nicole repeated with the small tilt to her lips that Waverly wanted to kiss away.

Waverly huffed and pretended to be put out despite how when she said Miss Waverly, the words tripped down her spine and settled low in her belly.

“I’ll meet you back at the house,” Nicole continued as she took Trigger’s reins in her hands. “I gotta get Trigger all settled in for the night.”

Nicole nodded at Waverly and headed back into the barn, leaving her out with the summer heat still settling heavy on her shoulders despite the sun’s rapid descent into the horizon. She looked like she couldn’t get away from Waverly fast enough and it just made Waverly want to follow her. Instead she turned back around and headed towards the modest cabin just a few yards away.

She could smell the freshly overturned dirt and the cows and it squeezed Waverly’s heart like a familiar feeling she hadn’t felt in years. Like a hug from a long forgotten friend. It felt like...home. It was a terrifying feeling, really. This wasn’t her home, she knew nothing of it. Still it felt...familiar in a way she hadn’t felt in ages. Certainly not on Bobo’s Ranch where she’d been holed up for years now.

When she got to the cabin, she gently pushed open the door and blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dark. It was small and modest, one room with a stove in the middle and a stone fireplace to the side. There was a simple table opposite the fire and in the far end, a small bed, tub, and mirror.

She looked around, noting the trunk at the end of the bed and the few books stacked on top of it. She set her bag down on top of the trunk and picked up one of the books, opening the first page to see a faded pencil inscription.

”My love for you won’t fade until the ink disappears from these pages. Your Love, S.P.”

The door to the cabin opened and Waverly blushed, quickly setting the book back down like she had never seen it. Nicole wouldn’t have seen Waverly looking anyways because she was hiding her face behind her hat.

“Are you decent, Miss Waverly?” she asked, her voice muffled by the hat.

“I am,” Waverly said with a smile. Nicole dropped her hat from her face and smiled back.

“Alright, well I’m jus’ gonna grab a blanket and be out in the barn-“

“What? Why?” Waverly asked.

Nicole looked at her like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s one room.”

“So, there’s plenty of room in the bed-“ she blushed and looked away. “Or I could take the floor. Or the chair-“

“I’ll be sleeping in the barn,” Nicole repeated.

“Then at least let me sleep in the barn,” Waverly insisted. “You take your bed.”

Nicole chuckled and waved away Waverly’s idea like it was the silliest thing in the world. “I wake up early to work in the barn. I’ll just be wakin’ you up earlier than you have to. It makes more sense fer me to sleep in there.”

“You can wake me up so I can help,” Waverly says hopefully. “I want to help out while I’m here. Help pay off my debt.”

“I work alone, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, picking up a spare blanket from the end of the bed.

Waverly felt the nostalgic squeeze at her heart again and she sighed. “I...that’s silly when someone wants to help you. But I can’t say I’m not used to it, my sister is the same.”

“Your sister seems like a mighty reasonable woman,” Nicole said with a nod.

Waverly couldn’t help but laugh, hand on her stomach as she doubled over. “You would never be saying that if you knew her.” Waverly shook her head. “Well, let me help anyways. Than you’ll get done with the chores sooner and there will be more time for...other things.”

“Other things?” Nicole tilted her head like a confused puppy, grown eyes soft. “Like what other things?”

“Other things like,” Waverly trailed off in thought for a moment, eyes drifting to the low ceiling before she continued. “Like reading or just...talking.”

Nicole actually laughed. An honest to goodness laugh at the idea of doing something other than work.

“That jus’ won’t do, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said. “‘M afraid it would jus’ throw off my whole day an’ I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“Nicole, you’re being stubborn,” Waverly pointed out good naturedly.

“My Pa used to call me a mule,” Nicole said with a wink. “So ‘m well aware. I’ll see you tomorrow, Miss Waverly. After chores I’ll go into town to get the house plans and supply back if you wanna go in to catch a train home.”

“I’ll go along with you for the company,” Waverly said with a small frown.

Nicole sighed in exasperation. “Night, Miss Waverly.”

“Goodnight, Nicole,” Waverly said.

Nicole looked at her one last time like there was something unsaid on the tip of her tongue. But instead she just tipped her hat at Waverly and started out the door. “Sweet dreams.”

Chapter Text

Nicole got a decent night’s sleep. At least the best she could, with the hay poking her and Trigger snoring. But there was no way she was going to share a cabin with Waverly. She wasn’t about to do that to herself or the other woman.

Waverly still needed to get herself home to find a real husband, and Nicole knew too well that being associated with the likes of herself never did anyone favors. Plus, Nicole was already too attached to her company. If it wasn’t going to last, there was no point in getting used to it.

Nicole got up and checked the fence of her ranch, letting the cows out to graze. Finishing the new section she was building would have to wait for tomorrow if she was going to make it into town to get her house plans. After feeding Trigger, she headed back towards the house by way of the chicken coop, peering over the side and frowning in confusion when she saw seed scattered on the ground already.

The chickens were pecking happily away, little clucks and scratching sounds of pleasure as they dug through the dirt for their food. Nicole ducked her head to get a look in the coop and saw that the eggs were already taken out too.

She pushed herself up, hands on her knees, and rubbed the back of her neck as she walked the few yards to the cabin. She knocked, ear pressed against the wood to hear Waverly.

“I’m decent!” Waverly called. Nicole opened the door and was hit in the face with the smell of cooking. Waverly was standing at the stove with an amused smile. “You don’t need to knock, you know, it’s your own home.”

Nicole took her hat off and held it to her chest. Waverly was wearing a long blue skirt and a simple cream colored shirt with the sleeves pushed up past her elbows. Her hair was in a long braid and she looked even more amused as Nicole just stood there.

“I jus’ don’t want to intrude, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said as she walked closer to Waverly, leaning back against the counter and nodding towards where Waverly was piling eggs onto a plate. “W’as this?”

“Breakfast,” Waverly said simply, handing Nicole a plate with a wink. “Ain’t you ever heard of it cowboy?”

Nicole smiled. “Guess I’m jus’ not used to it bein’ made for me.” She looked back out towards the chicken coop and back towards Waverly. “Did you feed the chickens?”

Waverly smiled proudly and pulled a seat out at the table for Nicole, motioning for her to sit down. “I did.”

“You don’t have to-”

“I wanted to-”

“My schedule-”

“Will be perfectly fine with one less chore,” Waverly said pointedly. “Now eat so we can go into town.”

Nicole sputtered. She was not used to having someone telling her what to do. Not since she’d moved to Purgatory, or even before that. But she didn’t argue, not after Waverly looked at her with raised eyebrows. She looked down at her plate: pancakes and eggs. Her stomach growled in anticipation.

“You don’t have much in the way of food,” Waverly said, as she cut into her own pancake. “If you don’t mind, I can pick up some more supplies when we go into town.”

“This looks amazing,” Nicole said with a small grateful smile. “Thank you, Miss Waverly. And I suppose we can get a few more things. I usually just...have a biscuit or somethin’. I’m not much of a cook.”

“Well luckily for you, I’m...competent,” Waverly said. “Bobo mostly used me for cooking so I managed to get some skills under my belt.”

Nicole wanted to ask who Bobo was and what else he used her for, but the far-away look in Waverly’s eye told her not to pry. She dug into her food, using the fork to practically shovel it into her mouth. Nicole had always eaten quickly, her time in the army had taught her that. But she forgot that wasn’t polite. Not until she noticed Waverly staring at her with amusement.

She stopped with her fork halfway to her mouth and blushed. She cleared her throat and sat up straight instead of hunching over her plate. “Sorry, ma’am.”

“Nicole, if you ever ‘ma’am’ me again, I’m going to string you up by your thumbs to the nearest tree,” Waverly said with a smile. “And don’t apologize. I’m just glad you’re enjoying the food.”

Waverly’s smile almost made Nicole choke on a mouthful of food, so she tried to eat just a little slower. For her own safety.

***

Waverly’s stomach turned with nerves as they approached Purgatory’s main street. It had been an easy ten years since she’d been here. Since she was forced away from the town. Her hold on Nicole’s waist tightened and she felt the other woman shift uncomfortably. She cleared her throat and Waverly just pressed her cheek between her shoulder blades.

Nicole stopped the horse just on the outskirts of town and jumped off. “I’m jus’ gonna lead ‘im from here,” Nicole said, as she pushed her sleeves down her arms. “You can stay on.”

Waverly was starting to wonder if Nicole even liked her very much.

Sure there were the little smiles and blushes that Waverly hadn’t been able to get out of her mind the night before, but Nicole didn’t want to seem associated with her in any way. Not to mention how she seemed determined to move Waverly along on her way home. As far as Waverly was concerned, Purgatory was her home. With or without Nicole.

Preferably...with.

Wynonna would tell her it was dumb to get so in her head about someone she barely knew, but technically they were engaged to be married. So Waverly would let herself get as dumb as she wanted about Nicole.

As they passed the Sheriff’s office, Waverly looked towards it. She wondered if Nedley was still the Sheriff. He’d taken over after Daddy left, after all. Her heart tugged as she remembered Chrissy, her childhood best friend. She wondered if she was still here.

“Alrigh’, I have to borrow a cart,” Nicole said, as she tied Trigger to the rail outside of the General Store. She held her hand out to help Waverly down and she took it, getting off of the horse and holding on to her hand just a second more than she needed to. Nicole handed her a few dollars. “Get whatever you might be needin’ from the store. I’ll be back ‘round in a few.”

Waverly looked down at the bills in her hand and folded them, tucking them into her bodice. Nicole’s eyes followed the movement as the bills disappeared into her shirt but quickly looked back up at Waverly.

“I’ll wait for you,” Waverly shrugged.

Nicole shook her head. “Jus’ get what you want from there. I won’t be but a few,” Nicole said, already walking back towards the Saloon. “I won’t be long now,” she called over her shoulder.

Waverly looked back at the General Store with a sigh, heading inside to browse. The store was on the smaller side, not long and stuffed to the brim like the one she had visited a few times in the city. This one was about half the size, the counter in the far left corner along with the post office stuffed behind it. Every wall had shelves, different goods and wares on display. She smiled at the old man behind the counter, who squinted at her from behind thick glasses.

“Hello?” he said, voice light. “Who might you be?”

“Waverly,” she said, striding up to the counter and offering him her hand. “Nice to meet you. And you are?”

“Call me Franklin,” he said taking her hand. His skin was thin like paper, veins and bones apparent under it. “You new here then?”

“Um, sort of,” Waverly smiled, as she took her hand back.

Two men walked into the store and Waverly took that as her opportunity to duck back into scanning the shelves. She picked up a can of beans, ears perking up as the men’s conversation caught her ear.

“Didja see that queer ginger walkin’ into the Saloon?” one gruffed under his breath.

The other one chuckled. “Course I seen her, how could I miss ‘er?”

“Someone swore they saw ‘em pissing wit’ a cock behind the Saloon.”

“No way.”

“Yeah, and I’ll put money on it it’s true,” the other man said as they went to the rack next to Waverly’s.

“What kinda freak did god let roam this Earth?”

Waverly’s cheeks burned, stomach sick that they would be talking about Nicole like that. She didn’t know her very well, but she certainly knew she deserved better than for some idiots to be spouting off and calling her a freak. Waverly spun around so fast that they startled and stumbled back a little. Hazel eyes flashed with fury as she took a step closer to them.

“What business is it of yours what’s between someone else’s legs?” Waverly hissed. The two men looked embarrassed for a moment but looked back at her anyways.

“Why are you listenin’ to our conversation?”

Waverly looked back over at the shopkeeper who was sorting mail, his back to the whole situation. If she knew any better, she’d say he was deaf by how he didn’t seem to even notice anything was happening in his store. Eyes back on the men, she tilted her chin high.

“You were havin’ a public conversation. Hard not to hear two donkeys braying at each other,” Waverly snarled.

“Why you little-”

“Do we have a problem here, gentlemen?” Nicole’s voice came from behind them. They turned around and watched as Nicole slowly walked in between them and Waverly, fingers hooked into the front of her belt, previously rolled down sleeves now rolled up, forearms flexing. For the first time Waverly sawan intricate mapping of scars on Nicole’s arms that she hadn’t noticed before. Weaving amongst each other and mostly healed into stark white lines. Waverly’s mouth felt dry all of a sudden and she swallowed thickly, looking back up at the scene instead. Nicole was so close to her front that she was half tempted to lean closer and get a strong whiff of hay and something sweet on her clothes.

“Yeah, yer little whore here-”

“That ain’t no way to talk to a lady,” Nicole interrupted. She put her hands on her hips, drawing attention to the two guns she had holstered there. The men didn’t seem impressed, hands moving much less subtly to their own guns.

In a click of metal, quick as a flash, both men froze, eyes wide. Waverly blinked and when her eyes opened, Nicole had one gun out and pressed against one man’s crotch while the other was pointed right between the second man’s eyes. Nicole had the same calm look on her face, while their hands still hovered uselessly over their guns.

“Now,” Nicole said with a forced smile. “Apologize.”

The men didn’t say anything, just stared at Nicole in shock. She pushed the gun’s barrel deeper into the one man’s crotch so hard that he lifted up on his tiptoes.

“I said, apologize,” Nicole said. Her voice was low and dripping in danger. A warning no one would want to be on the other end of.

Waverly felt heat rush through her and she dropped her hand to the corner of the shelves to keep herself upright.

“We’re sorry, ma’am,” the man with the gun in his crotch said. His voice trembled, eyes wide and not leaving Nicole’s face. She stared back at them for a moment, the tension of the room thick. Nicole sucked her teeth and licked her lips before releasing the hammers of her guns and sliding them back into her holster.

“Git then,” she said. The men wasted no time, scurrying from the general store and out of sight. Waverly let out a sigh, watching as Nicole took her hat off and raked her fingers through red locks, jaw tensing as she looked over at Waverly. “I can’t leave you anywhere, can I?”

Waverly blinked. “They were being rude.”

“People are rude all the time, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, placing her hat back on her head.

“But they were talking about y-...they were-,” Waverly sighed, arms crossed in front of her, which was a little difficult with the can of beans still in her hand. “They weren’t very nice men.”

Nicole gave her a look she couldn’t decipher. “I know they were talkin’ about me. Doesn’t mean you had to jump in there.”

Waverly frowned. “I couldn’t just let them say those things.”

“Why not?” Nicole shrugged. “Who woulda died?”

Waverly looked back at the store clerk as if he could jump in to her defence, but he stood completely oblivious as he continued sorting. She blushed and rolled her eyes.

“I’m not going to feel bad for defending you,” she said firmly. “I refuse.”

“I don’t need no one defendin’ me,” Nicole scoffed, voice still even. “Especially when it leads to me havin’ to draw my gun on two men who could very well come back for revenge. I don’t need to be on anyone’s shit list. You hear me?”

Waverly blushed, a twinge of anger in her stomach. “I was just trying to help.”

“Well I don’ need it,” Nicole finished. “I ‘ave the cart. Get what you need while I talk to the old man about my house plans.”

Nicole turned and walked towards the counter, leaving Waverly with her cheeks burning. How dare Nicole be mad at her for helping. She cleared her throat and tried to stand a little taller and appear unaffected, even as shame and curiosity lingered in the back of her mind.

***

Waverly sat on the porch of the Saloon, watching as Nicole loaded up the cart with some wood beams and planks, a few buckets of nails, and some other things Waverly didn’t quite recognize. She had to admit, there was a certain level of entertainment to watching Nicole work like this. She had offered to help, but Nicole looked scandalized.

Watching Nicole put all the items in the cart certainly helped calm Waverly’s anger at her for defending her.

Her white button up shirt with her dark vest over it fit her in a flattering way, material loose and free around her torso. Her pants hugged her just right around the ass, her gun belt hang low on her hips. Waverly watched Nicole’s arm muscles ripple as she picked up one of the nail buckets. There was some sweat gathering at the side of her head and Waverly watched as it rolled down her neck.

She sighed as Nicole took her hat off and wiped her arm across her forehead. Some of her red hair was a deep red, almost black from sweat, as it stuck to the side of her face. Waverly imagined brushing her fingers along Nicole’s temple and pushing the hair from her eyes. How her sweaty skin might feel against her fingers. Against her own skin.

Waverly shivered and blinked, cursing to herself as she shook herself from her daze. Was she really this lonely? Or this…desperate? Sure the dating options at Bobo’s were...non-existent. But Waverly hadn’t expected to be lusting after the first beautiful person who showed her kindness. There was just something about Nicole, something behind those layers that Waverly wanted to peel back. Metaphorically and literally.

She crossed her legs at the knee as Nicole put her hat back on her head and turned to look at Waverly. Sitting up a little straighter, Waverly smiled as Nicole walked over to her, wiping her hands off on her pants.

“You mind havin’ dinner in the Saloon tonight?” Nicole asked. “I kinda promised the girls we’d ‘ave dinner there to make up for borrowing their cart. Odd exchange but…”

Nicole looked down, voice trailing off before she looked back up at Waverly from under the brim of her hat. As if Waverly could say no to those eyes.

“Of course,” she smiled as she stood up. Absently, she wondered how familiar with the saloon girls Nicole really was, but decided not to voice it.

“Alright then, Nicole said, holding open the swinging door of the Saloon for Waverly. She eyes the “Holster Your Weapons” sign as she walked in and noted the bullet hole in the middle.

It felt like she was hit with a wall of sound as soon as she stepped inside. She could smell the stale beer, and the air was thick with perfume trying to cover the smell of the dirty bodies of the men piled into the saloon after a day of work. She took a deep breath and looked around at the men at tables, drinking large pints of beer and hanging off each other. In the corner was a poker table with a serious looking group around it, and there were stairs leading up into a separate part, probably where the rooms were. There were also women, beautiful women, standing around and talking to the men. They all had their breasts pressed up to their necks with corsets, beautiful skirts, and boots. Some had silk looking wraps and ornate hair decorations.

“This way, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said from beside her, leaning a little closer to Waverly so that she could hear her over the noise. Waverly leaned a little into her, stumbling a little when Nicole started towards the bar.

Waverly gathered her skirt in her hand and followed closely behind Nicole, eyes steady on the back of her head as they started through the rough crowd. A man knocked into her and she squeaked, automatically grabbing for the back of Nicole’s shirt to steady herself. Nicole paused and maneuvered Waverly in front of her protectively. Waverly felt her stand a little taller under the attention, particularly noting how Nicole’s hand hovered over the small of her back until they reached the bar.

She leaned against it, elbows on the worn wood, while Nicole pressed herself against it next to her. A blonde woman working the bar immediately found them and she wandered over to them, eyes on Nicole the whole time. She leaned forward on her elbows, face close to Nicole’s.

“Hey there, Red,” she said with a smile. “See you decided to come by after all.”

“You didn’t give me much choice, didja?” Nicole smirked.

Waverly looked between the two of them and found herself scooting a little closer to Nicole as she folded her hands together. Who was this woman? And how did she get so...pretty? Waverly looked down at the way her breasts spilled over the top of her corset and looked back up just to see the woman looking at her with an amused smile and raised eyebrow.

“Who is this?” she asked, smile getting wider as she brushed her fingers over the top of Nicole’s hand. “You didn’t tell me you had a friend.”

Nicole cleared her throat and stood up, pulling her hand away from the woman’s. Nicole gestured to them as she introduced the two women. “Eliza, this is Waverly. Waverly, Eliza.”

Waverly held out her hand and forced her own polite smile. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you,” Eliza said, looking Waverly up and down as she did so. “I see Nic here has settled down.”

Nicole coughed, her blush matching Waverly’s. “Eliza, she’s just a friend-”

“Yeah, you have lots of friends here too, handsome,” Eliza winked at Nicole and Waverly felt an unwanted, and frankly unwarranted, flame of jealousy rise up in her.

“It ain’t like that,” Nicole said, waving off any unwanted assumptions. “She’s jus’ stayin’ with me until she can get back ‘ome.”

Eliza scoffed skeptically but looked back at Waverly anyway. “And where’s home?”

“Um...I’m not sure yet,” Waverly admitted.

“Where’d you come from?”

“Nowhere I can go back to.”

Waverly, oddly enough, had always considered Purgatory her home. But now she was finally back after years to see it changed so drastically, and wasn’t sure the Purgatory she remembered was still here.

Eliza frowned. “Why are you here?”

“Do you always interrogate the customers, Eliza?” Nicole interrupted, pulling money out of her pocket and sliding it towards her on the counter. “Two beers please. And whatever’s for dinner.”

“Can’t keep her to yourself forever, Red,” Eliza teased, as she went to the other part of the bar to pour the beer.

Nicole let out an audible sigh and Waverly wondered how many questions she could ask before Nicole stopped answering them.

“Friends of yours then?” Waverly asked innocently.

Nicole looked at her. “You could say that.”

“Oh, I could say a lot of things,” Waverly quipped, just as another girl waved at Nicole from the other side of the bar. Nicole tipped her hat at them as another woman came up behind Nicole. She slipped her arm over Nicole’s shoulders, and Waverly couldn’t help but gape.

Soft tan skin contrasted against her dark red dress with black lace accents. She watched as the woman leaned forward and placed a kiss on Nicole’s cheek, red lipstick marking her pale cheek. Though the lipstick soon became less apparent as Nicole’s cheeks went red.

“Rosie,” Nicole mumbled, embarrassed. Waverly watched as Nicole smiled wider than she’d seen her smile, two dimples popping that made her feel a little weak in the knees. Waverly felt...something else. Jealousy? It was the first time Waverly had seen that smile from Nicole and now she wanted to know how to make it come back. “This is Miss Waverly. Waverly, Rosita.”

Dark piercing eyes drew a gasp from Waverly when they turned on her. “Miss Waverly,” Rosita said with a sparkling smile. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Waverly smiled through her own emotions.

“Eliza taking care of you two?” She asked.

“Very well, thank you,” Eliza said, as she slid two steins in front of them, giving Waverly a little wink as she did. She felt Rosita’s eyes still on her and looked straight into her scrutinizing look. She had so many questions, her curiosity seizing her brain completely as she tried to file through them. But before anything could come out, Rosita was untangling herself from Nicole.

“Well you two let me know if you need anything else. Alright?” She said. “Want a room for tonight?”

“Um, no,” Nicole said quickly. “We’ll be goin’ back to the farm tonight.”

“Let me know if you change your mind,” Rosita said, squeezing Nicole’s shoulder one last time before letting her hand fall back to her side. Both girls went back to their jobs and Waverly took a long sip of her beer, eyes on Nicole, who wiped the lipstick mark off her cheek with her sleeve.

“So, good friends?” Waverly said.

Nicole just smirked. “Friends. Everyone needs friends sometimes.”

“Mm bet you do,” Waverly muttered as Eliza slid a plate of fried fish with roasted potatoes in front of them.

“So if yer so high and mighty, Miss Waverly, how’d you end up in a newspaper lookin’ for a husband?” Nicole said as she stabbed a potato and popped it into her mouth, smug grin still on her face.

Waverly smiled stiffly and delicately cut into her fish. “That’s a long story.”

“I got nothin’ but time for you righ’ now, Miss Waverly.”

Waverly looked up at Nicole to see her leaning her elbow on the bar, body turned towards her and happily chewing on a potato that was far too big for her mouth. Her heart thudded against her ribs at the sight. She frowned at Nicole suspiciously, watching as her grin just got wider. Maybe the beer was loosening her up, Waverly mused. She had chugged half the stein before they even got their food. Either way, Waverly was more than okay with Nicole’s hard exterior to soften just that bit.

“I told you, my family owed Bobo money,” Waverly said. “Now they don’t.”

Nicole waved her knife at Waverly. “Seems like there’s more of a story there is all.”

Her gut seized and Waverly wanted nothing more than to spill everything to Nicole. But she had to be delicate about these matters. She reached for her own pint and tipped the glass back, draining half the glass in one long gulp. She heard Nicole whistle lowly as she set the glass back down, and looked at her with an arched eyebrow. Nicole at least looked impressed, gesturing at Waverly with her own stein before taking another gulp.

“My daddy wasn’t a good man,” Waverly admitted softly, wiping some beer from the corner of her mouth. “He was the Sheriff but he got too greedy. He was making all kinds of deals with a local gang and when he didn’t deliver on a wagon of cash that was supposed to be coming into town...well...they came for blood instead. I wasn’t very old, I barely remember our old Homestead.”

Waverly trailed off, hot tears threatening to press against the back of her eyes as she thought about that night. The screaming, the tears, the smell of gunpowder in the air followed by eerie silence.

“Then they took me,” Waverly whispered. “They took me. Wynonna-...my sister, she managed to get away. And Willa,” bile rose in Waverly’s throat as she bitterly spit out her name. “The whole thing was Willa’s fault. Willa and my daddy. He may have been crooked but she...she sold out our family.” She took a deep breath and shook her head. “Anyways, Bobo just waited until I was old enough to sell off for what he was owed.”

The touch of Nicole’s hand covering her own on the bar brought Waverly from her thoughts, and she let out a harsh breath. She looked into kind, albeit slightly glassy, brown eyes and felt comfort in Nicole’s smile. It was a light touch, but she could almost feel the hard callouses on Nicole’s palm brushing against her knuckles and she shivered.

“Well, yer fine fer now, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said. Her voice was soft, soothing. “You don’ ‘ave to worry about them no more. ‘Kay?”

Nicole squeezed her hand briefly, and looked away as she went back to her food. It took everything in Waverly’s body not to reach out and take Nicole’s hand again. The comfort it had given Waverly in those few seconds made Waverly’s heart squeeze.

“What about you?” Waverly asked, just trying to keep Nicole talking.

She shrugged and spoke through the potato through her mouth. “I ‘ad a hard time back home. Now I’m ‘ere.”

“Where’s home?”

“Further South,” Nicole said. “Far from ‘ere.”

“What made you come here?”

“Friend tol’ me about it,” Nicole said, finishing off her beer. “I promise I ain’t that interestin’.”

“You seem pretty interesting to me,” Waverly said. Nicole just grunted and Waverly could practically see the mask slide over her face.

“Well, guess yer not always right then, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said with a wink. Waverly just blushed and went back to her food. She had seen just a glimpse behind the mask, and she would keep trying until she saw the whole thing.

***

Waverly tried to insist that Nicole sleep in the cabin with her again, but Nicole wasn’t having it. She had let herself get a little loose with the beer and talked a little too much. She could tell that Waverly was already getting too comfortable. Even after a couple of days. Too comfortable to move on, and Nicole was determined to have her move on. And it would be easier for her to do that if they weren’t acquainted. In any way.

Didn’t mean that Nicole didn’t notice the line of her neck, or her jaw. And yeah, maybe she had a dream where she swept Waverly up in her arms and kissed her senseless, only to wake up with Trigger snorting horse spit into her face.

Just more reason for Waverly to leave.

Nicole didn’t need the distraction. Already it had taken her two days more than it was supposed to to build her new fence. Not to mention the house plan mix up. The imaginary timeline she had set up for herself was completely off.

Though it was nice to have breakfast made for her every morning. Not that that was any reason to keep Waverly around. But it was nice.

Today, belly full from the eggs and thick-cut bacon Waverly had prepared that morning, Nicole was putting together the foundation and frame of the house. The plans were on the ground nearby, a small rock on each corner to keep the papers in place as she hammered. The heat beat down on the back of her neck. She could hear the soft crunching of earth as Waverly approached her from behind, but stayed focused on the nail driving into the wood under her hammer.

She rolled a nail between her lips that she was holding there, just as she heard the footsteps stop behind her.

Nicole’s shirt was soaked through, sticking all to her back and making it uncomfortable. She could feel the sweat on the back of her neck and in the ends of her hair, threatening to drip into her eyes.

She wiped her brow with the back of her arm, the feeling of Waverly’s eyes boring into the back of her head.

“Can I ‘elp you, Miss Waverly?” she asked as she turned around.

Waverly had the prettiest blush on her cheeks, metal cup held between her hands. Her eyes looked focused on the nail between her lips, but hazel eyes flickered up to meet brown again.

“Thought you might want some water,” she said with a small smile that made Nicole’s heart flutter for some unknown reason. “Don’t choke on your nail.”

She straightened up from where she was hunched over the wood beam, back popping. She smiled gratefully as she took it, their fingers brushing ever so slightly. “Thank you.”

She spit the nail into her palm and took a long sip, letting the cool water soothe her parched throat. As she lowered the cup, she saw Waverly’s eyes on her neck. She watched as they quickly flickered back up to her face with an amused smile. At least she knew she wasn’t the only one preoccupied by this situation.

“I actually had one favor to ask,” Waverly admitted, fingers twisting into the fabric of her skirt. “I was wondering if I could borrow Trigger for the rest of the day.”

Nicole frowned and rubbed the back of her neck. “I s’pose. Where ‘re you takin’ him?”

“I got a job,” Waverly said simply.

“A job?”

Waverly just nodded. “At the Saloon.”

Nicole choked on her water. “The Saloon?”

“The Saloon.”

“Workin’ there?” Nicole asked, imagining Waverly in a corset that pressed her breasts over the top and a skirt hitched up high on her leg while flirting with some dirty man who was leering at her. “W-why?”

“It’s the only place that can hire a woman, isn’t it?” Waverly said with a head tilt. “The more money I make faster, the quicker I can pay you off.”

“I told you, you didn’ need to pay me back.”

“I want to.”

Nicole licked her lips. “Listen, Miss Waverly, I don’ care really what you do. But I jus’ wanna make sure you ain’t doin’ nothin’ that you don’ wanna do. I didn’ pay for you to get out of what was basically slavery just to voluntarily jump into another.”

Waverly smiled. “While that’s very sweet, I promise you this is fine.”

Nicole just grunted. “What kinda...work you gonna be doin’ there?”

“Downstairs work,” Waverly said with a sly smile. “I won’t be whoring if that’s what you’re asking. Nicole sputtered and cleared her throat.

“Yeah, well...I trust Rosita and Eliza’ll keep a good eye on you like they try on me,” Nicole sniffed.

“I know exactly the kind of eye they keep on you, can’t say that’s something I’m looking for at that moment,” Waverly quipped. Her eyes lingered on where Nicole’s shirt was unbuttoned as she mumbled. “At least, not from them.”

Nicole coughed, the heat of the day suddenly feeling that much hotter. She waved Waverly off. “Yeah, you can take Trigger. He’s a little stubborn but-”

“I’ve dealt with much more stubborn creatures,” Waverly said with a wink, as she turned and started walking back to the barn. “I’ll be back just after sunset.”

Nicole mumbled nonsense to herself and looked back at the meager beginnings of the house foundation she had started. She picked up another nail and slid it between her lips as she placed her next nail on the wood. She picked up the hammer and held the nail at the base as she pounded the top of it into the wood.

She could hear Trigger’s hooves against the dirt and looked up. Waverly was astride the horse, reins in her hands and smile on her face.

“Bye Nicole!” Waverly called as she trotted past her. Nicole waved back, fighting past the smile trying to work its way onto her lips and looking back down at the wood. She went to hit the nail with the hammer just as her eye caught the tin cup with water in it besides her. An image of Waverly smiling at her flashed into her mind again and the hammer slipped, hitting her thumb instead.

“Ah fuck!” she hissed, dropping the hammer and shaking out her hand. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back up at the sun for a moment. Maybe it was a good thing Waverly was working at the Saloon. The sooner she would be out of Nicole’s hair, the fewer distractions she would have.

***

”Achoo!”

Waverly’s ears perked up when she heard the sound, followed by a small sniffle. She stood up straight from where she’d been making the bed as Nicole walked in. Well, dragged in more.

It looked like her limbs were ten times heavier the way she was carrying them. Her face was a little paler than usual, dark circles under her eyes. Nicole slid her hat from red hair and Waverly immediately strode towards her.

“You’re sick,” she stated, automatically placing the back of her hand on Nicole’s forehead and only feeling briefly before Nicole swatted her hand away. “You have a fever.”

“I ain’t got no fever,” Nicole said. She swiped at Waverly’s hand again weakly. Waverly just wanted to pinch Nicole’s cheeks, she looked so pathetic.

“Probably from sleeping out in that barn and the summer rain we’ve been getting,” Waverly said, taking Nicole’s arm and steering her towards the bed. Nicole let her for a moment until Waverly tried to guide her down onto it. Nicole pulled her arm away and shook her head.

“‘M fine, Miss Waverly,” Nicole sniffled. “Too hot to be sick.”

“Tell that to your body,” Waverly said with a hint of amusement. She reached up to feel Nicole’s neck with the back of her hand and hissed. “You’re burning up, Nicole. Come on. Get into bed.”

“I will not, there’s too much to do,” Nicole complained weakly.

Nicole was stubborn, but Waverly was determined. An even match if she had anything to say about it. Waverly was already pulling Nicole’s shirt from where it was tucked into her pants and Nicole’s weak pushes at Waverly’s hands were doing nothing to dissuade her.

“Come on,” Waverly said sweetly, as Nicole made a pathetic attempt at tucking her shirt back in. Waverly covered her hands with her own, forcing Nicole to look at her as she made her eyes as big and pleading as possible. “Please?”

Waverly watched as all the resolve in her eyes crumbled and she dropped her hands with a sigh. Without even thinking, Waverly continued to undress her, quickly undoing the buttons on her shirt. It wasn’t until her tight cotton undershirt came into view, neck dipping dangerously close to revealing cleavage, that Waverly realized she was taking her clothes off. This definitely wasn’t the way she had imagined this. Not that she had imagined it…

Maybe once. Or twice.

Waverly blushed, her mind going to impossibly dirty places. Nicole’s voice brought her from a moment in her mind where she was straddling Nicole and pulling the front of her shirt open.

“I don’ like bein’ sick,” Nicole mumbled, as Waverly cleared her throat and quickly pushed her shirt over her shoulders and onto the floor. She pulled the leather suspenders down Nicole’s arms and quickly undid the button of her pants with an even deeper blush. “Miss Waverly, this is not proper,” Nicole weakly protested, as she pushed Waverly’s hands away and finished with her pants, pushing them down her legs until she was just in her undershirt and long underpants that came down to her knees.

“I’m just trying to help,” Waverly said, voice a few octaves higher as she pulled the blanket and sheet back on the bed. She gripped Nicole’s forearms and gently guided her into the bed. “Now get some sleep.”

“There’s too much to do,” Nicole mumbled, even as her face turned into the pillow and her eyelids drooped with sleep.

“You’re no use to anyone like this,” Waverly said as she pulled the covers up to Nicole’s chin. She promptly kicked them off and Waverly sighed, pulling them just over her feet. “Just in case you want them.”

Nicole groaned again. “This pillow smells good,” she mumbled as she pulled it to her chest, face so completely buried in it that Waverly wondered if she might smother herself.

“Just sleep,” Waverly repeated. “I’ll bring you some soup. Okay?”

Nicole mumbled something incoherent before she went still, breathing evening out. Waverly couldn’t help but smile at how Nicole’s mouth hung open. She was sure a fly would walk in if she kept it up. With Nicole incapacitated, Waverly pressed her hand to Nicole’s forehead again. Definitely a fever. She could feel how clammy her skin was. Her fingers brushed against a strand of copper hair and she blushed. Nicole’s hair looked so soft, so inviting. And Waverly had been thinking of running her fingers through it. Particularly when she was sweaty after working on the house, hammering away.

It was like Waverly’s fingers moved on their own accord. She watched, part horrified and part fascinated, as her fingers raked through red waves. She tugged the silky strands between her fingers, nails just barely scraping against her scalp.

Nicole’s brow furrowed ever so slightly in her sleep and Waverly quickly retracted her hand with a gasp, waiting to see if she had woken her up. But Nicole’s brow relaxed again and Waverly let out a small sigh of relief. Her hand itched to move back through that hair, but instead she took advantage of Nicole being asleep and pulled the blanket over her and up to her shoulders.

“Sleep,” Waverly whispered, brushing her hand over Nicole’s shoulder briefly. She smiled as she thought of all the things she’d need to get from town to make soup. Maybe just a couple of vegetables to make a convincing one, she’d just used the last of the carrots. Nicole could survive on her own for a few hours anyways. Plus, the further away she was, the less likely that she would do something embarrassing again. Something that was getting increasingly harder around Nicole, it seemed.

Chapter Text

The second day of Nicole being sick in bed was also Waverly’s second day of working at the Saloon. She was tempted to strap Nicole to the bed to make sure that she stayed there while she was gone instead of getting up to work like Waverly knew she would try to do. Then the image of Nicole strapped in a bed made her corset feel tighter and Waverly quickly abandoned the imagery.

Waverly hoped a soothing cup of tea would be enough to keep Nicole down while she was gone.

Dressing for her job was a little more difficult than she had imagined. She only had a couple of dresses and skirts, simple cotton and nothing fancy, but all the other girls had brightly colored ensembles made of soft silks and velvet. Every outfit was designed to really get the customers’ attention. It was like an unspoken uniform. And sure, maybe it was because most of them also worked upstairs, but Waverly couldn’t help but feel a little self conscious pattering about in her old cotton dresses with her baby face, while surrounded by beautiful, high-class looking women.

She tightened up her corset as much as she could, breasts pushed high, but it still didn’t have the same effect.

When Waverly got to the Saloon, she smiled politely at Rosita and Eliza who were both mingling about with the midday crowd. She pulled the sleeves of her shirt down her arms so that her shoulders were exposed. Better than nothing, Waverly figured.

Waverly went to her place behind the bar and Rosita walked over, hand on her hip as she leaned one elbow on the bar.

“I’m going to ask you something, but know I don’t mean it to be offensive,” Rosita started with a kind smile.

Waverly smiled back nervously. “That’s a terrifying way to start a conversation.”

Rosita snorted and shook her head. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have started out that way. How about: Do you want a dress?”

Waverly faltered. “What?”

“I’m not saying what you’re wearing isn’t lovely,” Rosita quickly said, straightening up. “You’re cute. Clearly.” Waverly blushed and looked down at the wood of the bar. “But I have a dress that never quite fit me right, and lookin’ at you I’d say it’d fit you like a glove. More on par with what everyone else wears. What do you say?”

Waverly smiled gratefully and pulled her sleeve back up her shoulder. “I would be eternally grateful,” she breathed.

Rosita winked at her and tilted her head towards the stairs. “Okay, let’s go.”

Waverly scrambled around the bar and followed Rosita up the stairs. The upstairs was basically a railed catwalk with rooms looking down into the main part of the Saloon. There was some distinct grunting coming from one of the rooms and Waverly blushed, hurrying after Rosita as she led her down a short hallway off of the main row to a more private room towards the rear of the floor.

Rosita pulled a key on a chain out from around her neck and unlocked the door. Waverly followed her in, trying not to seem too nosy as she looked around the room. It was a modest size, but not too small. A plush looking bed pressed up against the wall in the middle of the room, and a vanity stood opposite of it. There was a closet with an ornate changing screen next to it, but Rosita passed it and went to a trunk at the end of her bed.

“Make yourself at home, sweetie,” Rosita said, gesturing towards the bed as she opened the trunk. Waverly tentatively sat on the edge of the bed as she watched Rosita sift through her trunk a little.

“Your room is nice,” Waverly said. The silence felt too heavy when she had so many questions, and she couldn’t sit in it any longer for fear she’d blurt something stupid out. Like whether Rosita might know if Nicole had scars over the rest of her body like the ones on her arms.

“Thanks,” Rosita’s head popped up from behind the open trunk and she looked around. “Not bad if I do say so myself.” She looked back down in the trunk. “Aha!”

She pulled out a dress wrapped in tissue paper and closed the trunk, setting the package on top. Rosita stood up and unwrapped it, then shook it out. It was an almost steel blue, silky looking dress with black lace and accents. Instead of sleeves there were thick straps and the neck dipped low in the front. Waverly couldn’t help but reach out and run her fingers along the fabric.

“You like?” Rosita asked.

Waverly pulled her hand back like she’d been burned. “I could never,” she said with a shake of her head. “It’s too nice.”

Rosita frowned a little and thrust it towards Waverly. “Why not? It doesn’t fit me. Some guy that was way too hung up on me but bad with eyeballing sizes bought it for me before he went back to his wife in Louisiana,” Rosita winked. “I’ll just be glad it’s getting some use.”

Waverly tucked some hair behind her ear. “I couldn’t.”

“Just try it on,” Rosita said, dropping the dress in Waverly’s lap. “Please?”

Rosita gestured towards the changing screen, and Waverly smiled. “Alright, I guess it couldn’t hurt to try it on.”

“Thank you,” Rosita said. Waverly took the dress with her behind the screen, and Rosita took her place sitting on the bed. She settled the dress over the back of a nearby chair. The screen was tall enough that Waverly couldn’t see Rosita behind it, but she could hear the smile in her voice when she asked, “How’s Nicole been treating you?”

Waverly was thankful that Rosita couldn’t see her blush as she took her dress off. “She’s very...polite.”

Rosita laughed and Waverly stepped into the dress. “El diablo rojo my ass,” Waverly heard her mutter. “She’s definitely not as hard as she wants everyone to think.”

The curiosity crept up Waverly’s spine and burrowed into her brain. It tugged at her stomach and was making it impossible to not ask anymore. She licked her lips and a question slipped out.

“So Nicole is a good…customer then?” Waverly asked breezily, “Come here often?” Casually. She was just making conversation after all. She slipped her arms through the shoulder straps of the dress and reached behind herself, tightening the corset of the dress as best she could as she stepped out from behind the divider.

Rosita’s smug smile and raised eyebrow made Waverly’s stomach hurt. “She’s a great customer. Never causes problems. Always polite.” She gestured for Waverly to come closer. “Here let me do up the back for you.”

Waverly went and stood in front of Rosita so she could tighten the strings. Skilled fingers pulled the corset together and Waverly looked down at the dress. Rosita gripped her hips and turned her around.

“Wow,” Rosita said, blinking up at her.

“Does it look okay?” Waverly asked, smoothing her hand along her stomach.

Rosita beamed. “It looks like it was made for you.”

“Thanks,” Waverly mumbled modestly, smile turning up the corners of her lips as she looked back down at herself.

Rosita stood up from the bed and suddenly she was standing very close. She smelled a little like roses and a spice that Waverly couldn’t identify. Rosita’s hands were on her shoulders and she squeezed.

“You look beautiful. Now,” she turned Waverly back towards the door, “Let’s go make some tips.”

***

She was surrounded by wildflowers. Nicole was convinced. She felt like she was lying in a bed of wildflowers, her body relaxed and the sun baking her skin.

No. That was a fever.

She remembered the burning in her head and the aches in her body and groaned, waking up just a little. She was in her bed, not a field like she had thought. But it was soft and still smelled more lovely than she had ever imagined. Turning her face into the pillow, Nicole took a deep breath and let her lungs fill with the scent of wildflowers.

Waverly, Nicole’s fever addled mind allowed her to think. The pillow smelled so good because Waverly used it. And Waverly was so pretty and smelled so good and maybe...technically was her wife. Although, Nicole hadn’t signed anything so she probably wasn’t. But technically...maybe.

The corner of her mouth still burned from where Waverly had kissed her.

Why did she have to be so pretty? And kind and considerate and-

Honestly, it wasn’t fair. Especially when Waverly looked up at her with those eyes.

Nicole groaned and turned her head until her face was completely in the pillow. Maybe if she smothered herself it would be better. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about continuously shoving Waverly away. Whatever little savior complex Waverly had for Nicole right now would end soon anyways, then she wouldn’t have to worry about it. That, and Nicole just knew she was going to leave soon, no reason to get attached.

Nicole woke up just as Waverly came through the door. Her eyes felt itchy and she could only open them a little bit before she shut them with a groan.

“Fuck,” she muttered to herself, stretching her limbs a little. “What time is it?”

She opened her eyes again and Waverly was bent over her, brown hair falling in waves to one side of her neck as her fingers skillfully undid the braid. Nicole’s heavy eyes wandered over to watch as Waverly’s fingers brushed through the strands. Her eyes naturally wandered down Waverly’s arm, noticing much more of it was visible than usual. She could even see her collarbone and the tops of her breasts over her dress. A new dress. Nicole felt her fever come back.

“You ‘ave a new dress,” Nicole said dumbly.

“I do,” Waverly said, as she blushed prettily.

“It’s pretty,” Nicole couldn’t help but say.

“It’s time for you to get up and get in the bath,” Waverly said softly, ignoring Nicole’s statement. She reached down and put her hand on Nicole’s forehead again. “Your fever has gone down some.”

Nicole groaned and just pulled the covers up to her nose. “I don’t wanna.”

“You’re going to,” Waverly said, amusement in her voice. She tugged on the sheet and it slipped from Nicole’s fingers, much to her annoyance. “I’ll fill it up and then you just have to get in.”

“I can’t, yer here,” Nicole said as she curled onto her side to try and get comfortable again.

Waverly stood back up and started towards the door. “I’m drawing the water to warm up. You have some time to get over the fact that you’re taking a bath before I wrestle you into it.”

Nicole let herself briefly imagine Waverly wrestling her into a bathtub.

Luckily Waverly was out the door before Nicole could feel embarrassed. She tried to push herself to sit up, body aching. A bath would feel nice, but she looked over at the tub in the corner, no barrier around it, and groaned. She definitely didn’t want to be naked around Waverly.

She dragged herself out of the bed and pulled an extra sheet from the trunk at the end of the bed. Gathering some nails and a hammer, she dragged a chair towards the tub. Her muscles protested as she stood up on the chair and began to hammer the sheet to the ceiling so that it hung in front of the tub.

“What are you doing?” Waverly asked, slightly horrified as she walked back in with a bucket.

Nicole sneezed and the chair shifted under her feet. She wobbled precariously for a moment before looking back at Waverly.

“You wanted me to take a bath,” she said.

Waverly blinked at her. “Yeah. What are you doing?”

“Fer privacy,” Nicole said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. She finally put the last nail in and carefully got down off of the chair. But the look on Waverly’s face made her want to get back on it.

“You could have hurt yourself,” Waverly chastised lightly.

“But I didn’t, ‘m fine,” Nicole said as she dragged the chair back into place. She heard Waverly scoff as she put the water in the tub. Nicole reached for the bucket. “Let me get the rest.”

Waverly slapped her hand away and Nicole pulled it to her chest in shock. “I told you I was drawing you a bath. Don’t be stubborn.”

“I ain’t stubborn,” Nicole mumbled.

“As a mule,” Waverly said, starting back towards the door. Nicole sat back down on the bed and sighed, letting herself try to relax. Even going as far to lie back in the bed. Which was clearly the wrong choice because then she fell back asleep, waking up only when Waverly shook her shoulder.

Even with the curtain up, Nicole felt awkward getting undressed with Waverly in the room. She slid down into the lukewarm water, knees scrunched up to her chest in the tiny tub as she took the soap and flannel square and started to wash herself. She could hear her moving around the tiny house, stripping the sheets and putting new ones on, making something on the stove. Nicole washed as quickly as she could, scrunching her body up and ducking her head under the water as well, to wash her hair.

Waverly had even set aside a towel and a pair of her long johns nearby for Nicole to change into. And as much as she hated the idea of Waverly touching her long johns, she was thankful because she definitely didn’t remember to get them herself. Feeling a little better after her bath, she dried off and slipped into the underwear. Waverly was already wearing her long sleeve, white linen night dress, tied delicately in the front with ribbon.

Nicole cleared her throat, the long johns suddenly feeling far too tight and revealing. “I’ll go to the barn, now,” she said, grabbing her duster to wear while she slept.

“You’ll do no such thing,” Waverly said, clearly offended. “You’re sleeping in here.”

Nicole glanced at the floor. It sure seemed better than trekking out the barn and sleeping in the hay. She didn’t know if her runny nose could take it. “Fine. I’ll take the floor.”

“No, you’re sick,” Waverly said as she set a candle on the nightstand next to the bed. The soft glow of the candle cast an orange glow about the room, Waverly’s skin practically shining in it. “You’re sleeping in the bed.”

With a small laugh that turned into a pathetic cough, Nicole shook her head. “Miss Waverly, I will not be sleepin’ in the bed when there’s a lady that needs it. I’ll sleep in the chair.”

Waverly folded her arms over her chest, the action pushing her breasts up so that Nicole could see cleavage at the dip of her nightgown. “Nicole. You will be sleeping in this bed. It’ll be fine, I’ll be in it too if you must know.”

Nicole nearly choked. “That jus’ ain’t proper.”

“I don’t give a damn about what’s proper,” Waverly said sternly. “I can certainly keep my hands to myself. So are you afraid you won’t be able to?”

Waverly raised a challenging eyebrow and Nicole set her jaw, cheeks growing hot. “I don’ know what yer suggestin’, but I will have no problem keepin’ my hands to myself, thank you very much.”

“Great, then I don’t see a problem,” Waverly smiled. She pulled back the covers of the bed and looked back at Nicole. “Do you want the wall or the edge?”

Nicole stood there staring at Waverly for a moment, her whole body urging her just get in the bed. She was sick and exhausted and damn did she want to lie down again despite the fact that she had been sleeping all day. Her eyes were itchy and throat hurt and-

“If I’dda known you were gonna insist on this, I would’a got a bundling board,” Nicole muttered as she slowly dragged herself towards the bed. “I’ll take the wall.”

She could see that Waverly was holding back a smile. “A bundling board? The bed is small enough, one of us would have been shoved off the side with that thing between us.”

Nicole just muttered to herself as she slipped into the bed, pressing herself face first against the wall as tightly as she could. The wood of the cabin walls was scratchy but it would have to do. She felt the thin mattress dip as Waverly crawled into the bed beside her. Waverly blew out the candle and Nicole held with her body stiff, unable to relax with Waverly besides her. It wasn’t as if she was tempted to touch Waverly in any way, she would never touch a woman without her wanting to be touched first. But she knew their skin brushing together would be inevitable, and certainly wouldn’t help the silly fancying in her head that she had for Waverly.

She could feel Waverly shift and her body just barely brush against her own and held her breath. After a few moments, Nicole could tell she’d drifted off to sleep from the way her breathing evened out and body felt heavier behind Nicole.

Willing her body to relax, Nicole tried not to think about how she could smell Waverly’s perfume. If it was even perfume. The soft scent of wildflowers that she had been smelling on the sheets all day. A smell she wanted to bury her face in and breathe deeply. Instead she pressed her face harder to the wall, the sickness in her bones finally sending her off to sleep.

***

Nicole woke up with Waverly clinging to her, limbs completely circled around Nicole from behind. She shot out of bed as quickly as her sick body would allow, climbing over Waverly’s body and out of the bed. Waverly awoke with a startle, all sleepy eyed and adorable.

Nicole hated it.

She hated how Waverly’s body against her own had made her feel safe. How it felt so right and good. She hated how it felt right to be held again, and hated it even more that it felt right because it was Waverly.

Waverly was special, Nicole could tell from the moment she laid eyes on her. Tough, smart, not to mention beautiful. If Nicole really let herself think beyond fancying her, she might admire her. But the idea of fancying her was enough already.

Three years ago, Nicole had ridden away from the woman she thought she would spend the rest of her life with. The life she was living had gotten too dangerous, and she wasn’t about to drag someone else into that.

There had been a bitter sort of relief Nicole felt when she left that letter for Shae and rode Trigger further away than anyone would dare track her. A relief that let Nicole know she wasn’t as keen on staying with Shae as she had originally thought. But she could disguise her leaving as the noble thing to do, and she let herself think that even though Nicole knew a part of her was being a coward.

Now, with Waverly, the last thing she wanted to do was to put her or anyone else in a dangerous situation. Danger followed Nicole like a starving cougar in the desert, and there was no way she would turn it on someone else for any circumstances. She had done this to herself, after all. If that meant isolating herself for the rest of her life, so be it.

***

Waverly woke up the next morning reaching for the empty spot in the bed next to her. The sheets were still warm when she balled them in her fist, eyes slowly blinking open. Sitting up, she saw Nicole’s shirt still hanging over the chair, so she hadn’t gone far. She was probably in the outhouse.

It was early, not as early as she had planned to get up but early enough. Waverly had the grand idea of helping Nicole with the house. The very simple bare framing of the first two walls stood not far from the original cabin, and Nicole hadn’t stopped complaining about being sick and not being able to work on it. Waverly wanted to help. Feeding chickens and making meals only went so far. Nicole had paid for her to get away from that horrible man and she didn’t feel like she was contributing enough.

There was also something in the back of her mind that said if she made herself useful, Nicole would be less keen on getting rid of her.

She got up and slipped out of her nightgown, pulling a simple cream and rose colored dress over her head. If she was fast she could get out there before Nicole was back in the cabin, and maybe she wouldn’t notice.

After tying up her boots, she headed out the front door of the cabin, stopping in surprise when she saw Nicole sitting on the steps of the porch, gazing out towards the horizon where the sun was rising. She had her pants on but was barefoot, a thick woven blanket around her shoulders.

“Nicole?” she said with a frown.

Nicole didn’t even look at her, just said a gentle, “Ssh.”

Waverly followed Nicole’s gaze and saw a herd of wild horses grazing in the distance. “Wow,” she breathed, slowly sitting down next to Nicole on the porch.

“I haven’t seen ‘em this close to town in a long time,” Nicole whispered.

Their arms bumped together and Waverly shivered, the cool morning air sending a chill through her. Nicole noticed and immediately took the blanket off her own shoulders and slid it over Waverly’s.

“Now you’ll be cold,” Waverly said softly. She unwrapped herself and slid closer to Nicole, the sides of their bodies touching, tucking the blanket around Nicole’s far shoulder so they were both huddled together under it. “There.” Waverly could practically see the protest about to spill from Nicole’s mouth. “Don’t,” Waverly warned playfully, “just accept it.”

Nicole huffed but took the other side of the blanket so that it stayed around them.

“Wonder what brought ‘em out ‘ere,” Nicole said, as the horses continued grazing.

Most of the horses were brown, a couple of black ones in the middle of the herd. But there was one that caught Waverly’s eye, a white and black spotted horse. Even with the distance, she could see how its coat shone in the sun, a splash of speckles across the hindquarters.

“See that black and white one?” Waverly whispered, using it as an excuse to lean closer to Nicole even though their bodies were already completely touching. Nicole hummed in acknowledgement. “Those are my favorite kind of horses. My Momma had a horse like that and I always wanted one.”

As she stared at the horses, she could feel Nicole’s gaze drift to her. “Beautiful,” Nicole breathed. Waverly’s entire body warmed and she looked down at her lap, blush on her cheek as she looked shyly back up at Nicole.

Kind brown eyes looked back at her, the gentlest smile on her face before quickly looking away. Waverly felt the push and pull coming from Nicole and hated it. It made her want to lean in more, just take Nicole’s face between her hands and kiss some sense into her. But as soon as she did that, Nicole would take off running.

“Why’re you up so early?” Nicole asked.

Waverly pulled her lip between her teeth. “I um...no reason.”

“No reason?”

Waverly sighed. “I wanted to...help. With the house.”

“Why?” Nicole asked.

“I want to help you. With our-...the house,” Waverly quickly corrected her mistake but the silence that followed told her that Nicole had heard anyway. “I just want to do more to help.”

“You do more’an enough, darlin’,” Nicole said softly, voice breaking a little bit from disuse. “Trust me.”

Waverly blushed at the term of endearment, body warming as she unconsciously leaned more into Nicole’s side.

“I can always do more,” Waverly argued lightly.

“Yer company is jus’ fine,” Nicole emphasized.

“But-”

“Ssh, jus’ enjoy this,” Nicole said, leaning into Waverly. A thrill went through her entire body at the gesture, and she stayed silent as they watched the sun rise behind the herd of wild horses.

***

The next night that they shared the same bed, Nicole woke up with Waverly’s head tucked under her chin and her arm over her waist. Waverly’s arms were still locked tightly around Nicole’s torso, their legs tangled together and entire bodies touching.

Nicole stiffened and tried to untangle herself from Waverly, but she just held on tighter. Not wanting to wake her up, Nicole eventually gave up and tried to relax. The scent of wildflowers was overpowering, almost intoxicating, and Nicole found herself nuzzling the top of Waverly’s head.

Most of her sickness was gone, so her sense of smell was almost completely back.

Waverly sighed in her sleep and pressed her face even more into Nicole’s neck. She could feel her nose brushing against her throat and swallowed thickly as a pleasant shiver ran up her spine. Really, she should push Waverly off of her. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, Nicole cleared her throat and tried to shake her a little.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole whispered close to her ear.

Waverly shivered and held her tighter. Nicole felt hot, the thinness of her own long johns along with Waverly’s night dress doing nothing to hide how the curves of their bodies seemed to fit perfectly together.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole tried again, hand on her waist as she tried to shake her a little more insistently.

Waverly groaned, body shifting against Nicole’s. “‘M tired,” she whispered, breath tickling along the sensitive skin of Nicole’s neck.

“This ain’t proper, Miss Waverly,” Nicole tried, shaking her again. “Please.”

Waverly sighed and took her time untangling herself from Nicole who let out a breath of relief when Waverly rolled onto her back. “You’re really on this proper thing,” Waverly said, voice rough from sleep.

Nicole quickly got out of the bed by awkwardly climbing over Waverly, and moved to where her clothes for the day were folded on a nearby chair.

“It ain’t proper for two unmarried people to sleep in the same bed to begin with,” Nicole said for what felt like the millionth time. “I ain’t gonna’ be the one ruinin’ yer chances at a husband.”

“I have a husband,” Waverly said, eyebrow raised as she turned on her side and propped her head up on her elbow. “One that clearly doesn’t want me.”

“We ain’t signed nothin’,” Nicole said, turning around to put her shirt on so that Waverly didn’t see how her neck and face flushed completely. Waverly wasn’t backing down, clearly. So Nicole might as well have some fun with it. “I ain’t yer husband. Besides-” Nicole turned and smirked at Waverly, eyes ever so briefly flitting to how her nightshirt struggled to hold in Waverly’s bosom. “-I don’ think you can handle me anyways.”

Shock passed over Waverly’s face, and then settled on smugness again. “I think you’d be surprised with what I could handle.”

Nicole chuckled and tucked her shirt into her pants, doing them up before slipping her suspenders over her shoulders. “I think you’d be surprised how much of me there is to handle, Miss Waverly.”

Waverly’s brow furrowed. “If Rosita can handle it, so can I.”

“Now now, Miss Waverly, what is that I hear? Are you jealous?” Nicole teased as she picked up her bandana and tied it around her neck. “That ain’t no way for a lady to act.”

She watched in amusement as Waverly huffed, rolling her eyes and sitting up from the bed. “I may be a lot of things, but jealous isn’t one of them.”

Nicole just nodded, eyebrows raised in a way to show Waverly she didn’t believe her.

“Whatever you say, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said with a wink. Waverly’s cheeks instantly tinted. “Now’at I’m feelin’ better, I’m gonna tend to the chores.”

As Nicole left the cabin, she heard Waverly let out a strangled groan behind her.

***

The afternoon at the Saloon had been fairly quiet. In the sense that there were no drunken fights by noon. For a small town, there sure was a lot of turmoil.

Waverly could still see hints of the Revenants gang around. The trademark scars on people’s faces, one slash across the eye, to show that they had wronged the gang. Bobo and his men had threatened her with it plenty of times, but she always knew Bobo wouldn’t let her be harmed in that way. He had an odd attachment to her that Waverly wouldn’t question-- not if it kept her unharmed.

She was cleaning glasses when a man she hadn’t seen before walked into the Saloon. Sparkling blue eyes peered from beneath the brim of his cap, most of his expression covered by a thick mustache above his lip. Everyone in the Saloon seemed to turn and look at him at the same time as his eyes scanned the establishment. With a small twitch of his mustache and a tip of his hat to Eliza who was nearest the door, the man made his way to the bar. Waverly’s eyes couldn’t stay off of him; they kept flickering up to watch him as he approached.

She watched as he pulled something from the inside pocket of his jacket, eyes sharp to make sure it wasn’t a weapon. She could feel the small revolver hidden between her breasts, a reminder that she had at least some protection. But instead, he pulled out a piece of paper, and Waverly’s shoulders relaxed. He showed the paper to Eliza and she shook her head, hand on her hip. Waverly noticed her fingers nervously tapping on the fabric of her dress and watched as the man began towards the bar.

Waverly made eye contact with Eliza who shook her head slowly, eyes serious.

The man got to the bar and leaned his elbows on the bar, presence demanding attention, and Waverly finally looked up.

“Can I help you?” she asked with her signature smile. The one that always either put customers at ease or distracted them enough to at least get their order in.

Blue eyes narrowed on her, a hint of recognition flitting across his face that made Waverly’s smile falter.

“Well hello, ma’am,” he said, voice a low drawl as he tipped his hat at her. “I will just be taking a whiskey, if you do not mind.”

“Of course,” Waverly said. She turned around and got a shot glass, setting it on the bar and pouring him a tall shot. He slid two quarters across the counter to her as he pulled the glass in front of him. He didn’t hide how his eyes scanned Waverly, finally landing on her face as he squinted at her.

“What might your name be, ma’am?” the man said, glass halfway to his mouth. “I do believe you look familiar.”

Waverly felt the blood drain from her face and she shook her head. “I can’t say why I would. I’m new in town. You can call me Waverly.”

The man nodded slowly. “Waverly. You got a last name to go with that?”

“Ear-” she stopped herself from automatically answering and quickly pivoted. “Earlson. Waverly...Earlson.”

She smiled widely to hide her slip, and he looked away as he took his shot. Sliding the glass back across the counter to her, he looked at her again. “Well then, Miss...Earlson. Mind if I ask you a question? Girl like you workin’ a bar after all might be familiar with some’a the faces around here.”

Waverly swallowed thickly. “Might I get your name first? If we’re getting acquainted and all,” she said with a bat of her eyelashes.

The man’s mustache twitched again. “John Henry Holliday, at your service, Miss Earlson,” he said as he slid another couple of quarters across to her. “But most people call me Doc.”

The name sent a shiver down Waverly’s spine but she busied herself with pouring him another shot. Doc Holliday had always been associated with the Earps. That is, right before they were forbidden to even say his name in the house. Waverly didn’t know what had happened between him and her Daddy, but she knew it wasn’t good.

He finally slid the paper across the table towards her and her heart stopped when she looked at it.

“Now, Miss Earlson, I was wonderin’ if you have happened to see this man around town,” Doc said, studying her face for a reaction. “He is a red headed man with quite the temper. If he is here he should not be hard to miss.”

She hid her emotion, stomach churning as she looked at the wanted poster.

Reward $3000
Wanted: Dead Or Alive
The Red Devil
Nicholas Rayleigh
Wanted for crimes against the country and against the United States Army. Armed and dangerous. Approach with caution.

In the middle of the poster was a picture that was clearly Nicole from the waist up, just with her hair cut short to her head, barely peeking out from under her forage hat. It looked like a military picture, a uniform jacket fitting her perfectly with the high collar around her neck.

“Handsome,” Waverly whispered, as she fingered the edge of the worn paper, crusty with dirt and deep folds that stretched across Nicole’s face. She looked back up at the man calling himself Holliday. “Can I keep this?” she asked a little wistfully before she caught herself. She cast a harder edge to her voice. “In case he comes by is all. My memory for faces isn’t so great.”

Blue eyes searched her face for a moment, followed by a curt nod. He put a finger to the edge of his hat and gave her a barely distinguishable nod. “Indeed, Miss. I will be staying at the hotel down the street if you see anything suspicious.”

“Of course,” Waverly said, as she tried not to keep glancing down at the picture of Nicole. She smiled. “Thank you for coming by. I’ll let you know if I see anything.”

Doc nodded once again in thanks as he slowly started out of the Saloon, looking around carefully at every person in there. Waverly breathed a sigh of relief when he finally left, the swinging doors of the Saloon still moving in his wake.

She looked back down at the picture, noting how Nicole seemed a bit younger in it. Not much, just without some of the weariness behind her eyes. Still untouched by the world. She folded the poster up and slipped it into the bodice of her dress, the paper stiff against her skin.

Eliza came up to the bar, perspiration running down her neck. “Did you tell him anything?”

“No, of course not,” Waverly huffed, voice low as she looked around to make sure no one was listening. “I would never.”

“Good,” Eliza said, considering her carefully. She flicked her wrist so that her fan unfurled with a snap and she could cool herself down. “I have to tell Rosita.”

Waverly leaned forward on the bar, getting close to Eliza so she could whisper. “What is this about? What did Nicole do?”

“Nosy little thing, ain’tcha,” Eliza shook her head. “The less you know, the better.”

“I’m already living with her, Eliza, I can’t imagine how I could be any more involved with her when it comes down to it,” Waverly argued. “At least in the eyes of the law.”

“If you don’t know anything, you can’t get hanged for being a liar when you tell them you were clueless about Nicole,” Eliza said. Her jaw was tight, lips in a straight line. “It ain’t my place to tell anyways.”

“Not even a hint?” Waverly asked. Eliza just gave her a look.

“Ain’t my place,” she repeated before walking back to her usual spot in the front of the Saloon.

Waverly put her hand over the dress where the paper still pressed against her skin and sighed. Just another secret. Something else to keep her guessing. She went back to cleaning the glasses with a sour feeling in her stomach.

***

The whole ride back to the ranch, Waverly just kept thinking about the poster of Nicole, chafing against her in her bodice. The one that said she was a murderer, and just as good dead as alive for anyone willing to try to catch her. It made her sick to think that anyone would think that of Nicole. Her Nicole. Waverly licked her lips and shook her head.

No, not her Nicole. Nicole didn’t want to be hers. Sometimes it felt like Nicole was so close to just...opening up to her. Admitting something--anything. But she would always clam up and Waverly was left in the same place as before.

When Waverly got back that night, Trigger seemed a little nervous the closer they got to the ranch. He threw his head back and snorted, and Waverly had to pat his neck to make him calm down.

As she got closer, she saw why. In the corral behind the barn was a horse, pacing the edges. It was the same one she’d seen the other day, beautifully speckled with black and white, strong muscles apparent under its coat.

Nicole was in the middle of the corral, the setting sun behind her silhouetting her against the sky. As Waverly got closer, she got off of Trigger who naturally headed back towards the barn, but Waverly kept towards the corral instead of following him like she usually did. Nicole wore gloves, a rope in her hands loose around the horse.

Waverly leaned against the wood of the fence and watched as Nicole spoke to it in low tones. It snorted in response, still pacing the edge of the fence.

“What are you doing?” Waverly asked.

Nicole noticed her for the first time and smiled, dimples popping and making Waverly swoon.

“I’m breakin’ a horse,” Nicole replied, as if it were obvious. She dropped the rope and the horse stopped on the opposite side of the corral.

“But why?” Waverly asked, hope lighting up her chest just in the slightest.

Nicole shrugged. “We need a second horse,” she said. “Can’ ‘ave you takin’ Trigger all the time. I got places to go too, ya know.”

Waverly hummed, smile growing. “You’re breaking the black and white horse.”

Nicole blushed and nodded. “Yes.” Waverly smiled even wider, eyes practically radiating affection and Nicole blushed deeper. “What?”

“Nothing,” Waverly said quickly. Nicole leaned against the fence next to Waverly with her shoulder. “Just--you’re sweet.”

Nicole scoffed, tipping her hat back on her head. “I’m jus’ practical.”

Waverly shook her head, folding her arms over the top of the fence and her chin resting on them. “You are.”

“Whatever. Don’ matter,” Nicole mumbled as she looked back at the horse who was sniffing the ground. She pulled her gloves off and stuffed them in her back pockets. “Guess you better start thinkin’ of a name though.”

Waverly just watched her, the wanted poster in her bodice cutting into her skin. She was struck by how enchanted she was by the quiet rancher with soft brown eyes and rough hands. An enigma with a riddled past that Waverly was afraid to ask her about. Afraid of shattering the illusion. But there was...no way. Nicole who was breaking her a wild horse. The horse she had always wanted.

Her chest swelled with emotion and Waverly stepped up on the bottom rail of the fence, leaning over just enough to kiss the corner of Nicole’s mouth. Before Nicole could say anything, Waverly was hopping off of the fence and heading back towards the house.

“I’ll make dinner,” she called over her shoulder, pleased to see Nicole looking flustered and staring after her. “Don’t track dirt into the house!”

Chapter Text

Nicole couldn’t say it had gotten any easier for her to wake up with Waverly clinging to her. Maybe less...annoying?

After almost a week of sleeping in the same bed, Nicole had finally stopped fighting it. She would start the night pressed up against the wall and Waverly would settle in with her back against Nicole’s-- as if they would stay that way. But no matter the time of night Nicole woke up, whether it just be naturally, or from a nightmare, Waverly would have her arms wrapped around Nicole’s body.

Ever since she had enlisted all those years ago, Nicole had problems sleeping. But somehow, with Waverly’s body against hers, she found herself waking up in the night less. Probably just still weak from being sick, Nicole thought, after yet another uninterrupted night of sleep.

The sun came up on Saturday and Nicole was feeling much better. There was still a small tickle in the back of her throat but it wasn’t much. Predictably, Waverly was pressed against Nicole’s back, arms wrapped up and over her shoulders with her head snuggled into the back of Nicole’s neck. She could feel Waverly’s breath tickling on her skin, but kept her eyes closed.

For someone so small, Waverly sure was strong. She held Nicole so tightly she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to get out of it, even if she wanted to.

Instead she just relaxed and tried to go back to sleep. She felt Waverly moving behind her, foot rubbing against the back of Nicole’s calf. Waverly’s nose brushed against Nicole’s skin and she felt a stirring deep in her belly.

Waverly sighed, and her grip tightened for a moment before loosening a little.

Nicole couldn’t help the small cough that tickled the back of her throat, chest hurting a moment from the strain.

Waverly sat up behind her and leaned over to look at Nicole. Nicole could feel the press of Waverly’s breasts against her back and her stomach tightened. She shifted a little, hoping Waverly would back away, but instead she just leaned more over Nicole’s shoulder, strands of brown hair falling into and tickling the open part of Nicole’s long johns.

“‘Re you okay?” Waverly asked, voice still thick with sleep.

With a small nod, Nicole just coughed once more to clear her lungs. “‘M fine, thanks.”

“You don’t sound fine,” Waverly said softly.

Nicole turned her head a little to see Waverly just looking back at her, their faces close. “‘M fine,” Nicole repeated.

“I’ll get you some tea,” Waverly said, sitting up. Nicole groaned, not thinking as her hand reached back for Waverly as she slipped out of the bed. With her body heat gone, a small chill hit her back and she pulled the sheets up to her shoulders.

“I don’ need no tea,” Nicole said, turning in the bed so she could watch as Waverly warmed some water over the stove. Once the kettle was set, she walked back over to the bed and sat on the edge. Nicole crinkled her eyebrows as Waverly put her hand on her forehead.

“You don’t feel like you have a fever,” she mused. Her hand moved from Nicole’s forehead to cup the side of her neck, and her pulse jumped. She swallowed thickly and remained frozen under Waverly’s touch. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I tol’ you I’m fine,” Nicole said, voice soft. “I promise.”

Waverly hummed, unconvinced. “Okay, well just have this tea. Then you’ll feel better.”

She got up off the bed again and Nicole was suddenly able to breathe freely, as her eyes tracked Waverly’s movements around the room. Nicole shifted in the bed, enjoying the scent of wildflowers that had been following her around lately.

Waverly came back a moment later with a tin cup of tea, carefully handing it to Nicole as she sat up in the bed.

“Thank ya,” Nicole said, holding the cup between her hands. Waverly sat on the bed next to Nicole, still staring at her even though Nicole was keeping her eyes trained on the tea. She could see the remnants of the leaves swirling in the bottom and making nonsensical patterns.

Once when she was still enlisted, Nicole had just been sitting there along the trail drinking her tea when an old woman came over and offered to read the tea leaves. She wore flowing scarves that made a beautiful contrast against her dark skin. Nicole figured that she was being hustled for a few coins, but let her read them anyways

The woman had sat there hunched over Nicole’s tea cup, muttering to herself as her shawl fell from bony shoulders. Nicole just watched as the old woman laughed and set the cup back down with the handle facing Nicole. She leaned over it again, pointing at what just looked like clumps of wet tea to Nicole.

“A horse. You’re going to take a long journey,” the grizzled woman said. “There’s a ring next to an E...marriage is in your future.” Nicole snorted, and the old lady’s eyes snapped up to her as she leaned in closer. “You’re hiding something. And if you keep hiding it, you will not find happiness until you die.”

Nicole had given her the coins anyway.

“What can I do to get you to stay in bed again today?” Waverly asked, head tilted.

Nicole couldn’t help the smirk that quirked her lips, eyebrow going into her hairline as she looked up at Waverly from over her cup. Based on the blush on Waverly’s cheeks, Nicole was sure that Waverly caught the innuendo too.

“I’m jus’ fine,” Nicole repeated. She took a sip of the hot tea, swirling it in her mouth for a moment before letting it soothe her throat. There was peppermint in the tea, it seemed, if the way her lungs opened up and mouth tingled could be any indication. “It’s good. Thank you.”

Waverly beamed. “Peppermint. I got it from the General Store last time I was in town. Figured it’d help you breathe a little. Peppermint is one of my favorites. Well, vanilla sticks are actually my favorite, but those are hard to come by around here.”

“I don’ believe I’ve ever had them,” Nicole said, as she drank more of her tea. “I’ll ‘ave to try ‘em.”

“You’ve never had them?”

Nicole shook her head and Waverly smiled, soft and so sweet it made Nicole’s teeth ache. “That’s funny because you...always smell like vanilla. My favorite.”

Her cheeks felt like they were on fire as she smiled, dimples on full display as she watched Waverly blush too. Nicole’s heart tugged at the sight, suddenly feeling exposed in just her long johns. She cleared her throat and took another sip of her tea.

“I promise not to overwork myself, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, drumming her fingers on the side of the cup. They looked at each other, eyes quietly searching the others. Their knees brushed, and for some reason it felt far more intimate than when Waverly had been wrapped around her. Nicole’s eyes got distracted when Waverly’s long fingers came up to push some hair behind her ear.

“I’m holding you to that,” Waverly finally said with a coy wink that just made Nicole grin wider.

“I know better than to be dissapointin’ a lady,” Nicole quipped.

Waverly faltered before standing up from the bed. “I have to get going for work. Don’t make dinner, I’ll bring home some food from the kitchens.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole said softly, as Waverly slipped behind the sheet still hanging up in front of the bathtub. All she could see was Waverly from the calf down, but the sun shone through a window behind her and cast her silhouette up on the sheet. Nicole didn’t think much of it, looking over just as Waverly’s nightgown pooled at her ankles. Her eyes were drawn up her legs to lean thighs behind the sheet, rounding out to the swell of her hips and waist before the outline of her breasts could be seen.

Nicole blushed deeply, coughing in surprise as she looked away.

“Are you okay?” Waverly called from behind the sheet.

Nicole looked back to find Waverly peering around the edge of the sheet, bare shoulders apparent. She coughed harder, tears forming in her eyes.

‘M fine,” she sputtered, getting her coughing under control long enough to take a sip of her tea. “Promise.”

Waverly hummed in disbelief as she ducked back behind the curtain. Nicole set her cup on the nightstand and fell face first into her pillow in embarrassment.

***

By the time Waverly had dressed and gotten ready, Nicole was missing. Waverly went outside and heard the sound of hooves pounding into dirt. She rounded the house towards the back of the property where the corral was, only to see Nicole standing in the middle of it with a horse blanket in her hand.

The black and white horse was pacing along the outside, rope around its nose and head down, with the end dragging along the ground.

Waverly couldn’t help but think how this was the exact opposite of taking it easy. But the image of Nicole with her white button up shirt only half tucked into her pants and sleeves rolled up messily to her elbows was worth it. Nicole hadn’t noticed her yet, her eyes fixed on the horse who continued to trot slowly around the edge of the corral.

The horse stopped and Nicole carefully approached, holding up the blanket so that the horse could see it. Waverly leaned against the opposite side of the corral, watching in amusement as Nicole held the blanket out in front of the horse’s face. She slowly touched the blanket to its neck, rubbing it along its flank. The horse’s tail flicked, one hoof stomping into the dirt. Nicole pressed her hand to its neck carefully, long fingers rubbing a small pattern into its coat as she tried to set the blanket on its back.

Once the blanket was in place, she watched a smile bloom on Nicole’s face, her hand stroking the neck more confidently. Suddenly the horse threw its head back and kicked out behind it. Nicole stumbled backwards, landing on her ass with a hard ‘thud’ as the horse practically pranced away. Almost gloating.

Waverly slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter, but Nicole had already heard her, turning around and spotting her on the fence. Nicole stood up, hands slapping at the dirt on the back of her pants as she walked sheepishly over to Waverly.

“I swear that horse is jus’ tryin’a embarrass me now,” Nicole mumbled as she rested her forearms on the rail of the corral. “It was goin’ good until you came along.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault,” Waverly said through her giggles.

“Yes, Miss Waverly, I do believe it is,” Nicole said, as she pushed her hat a little further up her head.

Waverly bit back her smile and just nodded seriously. “Well, then I better get out of here so you two can focus.”

“Didja come up with a name yet?” Nicole asked.

“Not yet,” Waverly said, eyes following the speckled horse as it happily munched on a weed it found in the corral. “Can’t rush these things.”

Nicole hummed and Waverly just looked at the smudge of dirt on her cheek. How she longed to reach out and wipe it off, but she crossed her arms over her chest instead. She could feel the press of the folded up wanted poster against her skin. Cold and sharp, an alleged murderer. And she looked up at Nicole, eyes soft and kind and generous. Waverly couldn’t wrap her mind around the contrast. They battled each other in her head, chest nearly caving in from the pressure.

There were so many things that Waverly needed to know, but instead she allowed herself to reach up and brush the dirt from Nicole’s cheek. Waverly felt Nicole’s head lean into her hand, and it was like the poster against her ribs didn’t even exist anymore.

***

When Waverly was six years old, before she was taken from Purgatory, she had a friend: Chrissy Nedley.

They were inseparable from the first time they met.

Her Daddy had taken her, Wynonna, and Willa over to the Nedley house when Mrs. Nedley died. Waverly hadn’t wanted to go, death terrified her, but her Daddy said it was time for her to get over that. The world was a bad place, he told her, and you’d be faced with death more times than life, and the only people who made it were the ones who could laugh in the face of it.

Dressed in black, they all took the wagon over to the Nedley’s where there was already a line coming out the front of the house. Everyone in town had come by to pay their respects to the corpse of Sarah Nedley. Beloved wife and mother.

Waverly fidgeted. When it came down to it, she didn’t think she’d be able to laugh in Sarah Nedley’s face. Maybe laughing in the face of death wasn’t the way to go. First off, she was far too short to really get in her face and second...it seemed rude. Laughing in the face of a corpse? No one else seemed to be doing it. She wondered if this was just another lie her Daddy had told her.

Waverly could feel the nerves jumping in her stomach, the smell of funeral flowers thick in the air. The sickly sweet miasma combined with the starched collar around her neck felt suffocating. She held tightly to Wynonna’s hand as they stood in the line, nervous moisture gathering between their hands. Wynonna put her arm around Waverly’s shoulders as they walked into the house. Her eyes couldn’t leave the wooden coffin in the middle of the room, flowers surrounding the edge of the coffin and spilling onto the floor.

The soft scent of rot lingered under the sickly sweet smell of the flowers, the heat hanging in the air certainly not making it any better. The smell was overwhelming and made Waverly dizzy. She tugged fretfully at her collar.

“Nonna, I don’t feel good,” Waverly whispered, fidgeting at her side.

“What is it, baby girl?” Wynonna asked softly, pulling Waverly closer.

“I wanna go home,” Waverly whined, turning her face into Wynonna’s arm.

“Get off of her, Waverly,” Willa hissed, yanking Waverly away from Wynonna. “You look like a big baby.”

“Leave’r alone,” Wynonna hissed, pushing Willa by the shoulder.

“Girls, stop!” Ward said, low and dangerous as he pulled a flask from his coat. He took a long sip and the sour smell of the whiskey just made Waverly’s stomach churn more. “Show some respect.”

“Yessir,” Waverly said, taking Wynonna’s hand again and looking at her feet. Wynonna tugged Waverly back, letting Ward and Willa walk ahead of them in the line. Wynonna put her hands on Waverly’s shoulders, kneeling so she was eye to eye with her sister.

“Baby girl, why don’t you go wait on the back porch?” Wynonna said as she brushed some wispy strands of brown hair from Waverly’s face. Her lips twitched in the rare smile she reserved only for her little sister, and she squeezed her shoulders. “We’ll meet you out there. Okay?”

“But Daddy-”

“Won’t even notice,” Wynonna said. The truth broke Waverly’s heart, but she nodded and twisted the cotton of her skirt in her hand again.

“Okay.”

“I’ll come getcha after we view Mrs. Nedley. Okay?” Wynonna said. Waverly nodded and Wynonna planted a kiss on her forehead before standing up and patting Waverly’s ass to get her walking towards the back of the house. “Now hurry up.”

Waverly nodded again and scurried around the house before her Daddy could see. She took a deep breath when she was out of sight of the line, the air a little fresher. Sitting on the back porch was another little girl her age that she hadn’t met before, knees curled up to her chest and head burrowed into them. She was dressed in all black, hair in messy curls around her shoulders.

“Hello,” Waverly said as she walked up to her. “Are you okay?”

The little girl looked up, eyes red with tears and nose bright and raw. She shook her head as she sniffled.

“Mind if I sit with you?” Waverly asked. The girl nodded, and Waverly sat on the wood of the porch next to her. She picked shyly at the rough boards. “My Mamma used to say to never leave anyone alone if they’re crying.”

“My Mommy used to sit with me when I cried,” the little girl rasped. “Now who’s gonna sit with me?”

“I will,” Waverly said, the simple innocence of a child making it seem like the easiest and most obvious thing in the world. “Is that...your Mommy in there?”

The girl nodded, eyes focused in the distance. “Yeah. My Daddy don’t properly know how to curl my hair.”

“It looks beautiful.” Waverly offered a crooked smile. “My name’s Waverly by the way. Waverly Earp.”

“My name’s Chrissy,” the other girl said, turning more towards her. “I think your Daddy is my Daddy’s boss. Is your Daddy Sheriff Earp?”

Waverly just nodded.

“Daddy says he drinks like the devil’s chasin’ him.”

“Sometimes I think the devil is chasin’ him,” Waverly mumbled. “That’s why my Momma left. Least that’s what Wynonna says.”

“Who’s Wynonna?”

“My sister.”

“So you don’t have a Momma no more either?” Chrissy asked shyly.

Waverly shook her head and hugged her knees to her chest. “No.”

“We can have a club,” Chrissy said. She reached for Waverly’s hand and pulled it into her lap. “You an’ me. And we can be best friends.”

Waverly smiled, delighted to be a part of something and to have a new friend. “Okay.”

“Good,” Chrissy said, leaning a little into Waverly. “An’ we won’t let anyone say anythin’ about the other one for not having a Mommy. That’s what best friends do.”

“I never had a best friend, before,” Waverly admitted.

“Don’t worry, I’ll teach you everythin’ you need to know,” Chrissy said. She looped their arms together, and they spent the afternoon talking about all the nothing that children usually talk about.

A couple of years later when Waverly was pulled from her home, she thought she’d never see her best friend again. The days of them sitting in the middle of whatever field, head bent together as they giggled and weaved flowers into each other’s hair, were gone.

So imagine Waverly’s surprise when Chrissy Nedley walked into the Saloon, a fully grown woman. Waverly just stared at her as Chrissy looked around the Saloon. Even though she had been in town for a while, no one from her past had crossed her path. Until now.

After everything that had happened with her family, she didn’t know who in Purgatory she could trust. Someone had basically signed her family’s death warrant, so in her opinion, anyone could be suspect. The only one she’d been hoping to run into was Chrissy. And there she was. Same old Chrissy.

Only now her hair was in perfect curls around her face, deep blue dress with lace and a hat that matched, small and tilted in the fashionable style on her head. When her eyes landed on Waverly’s, they both froze. Waverly’s mouth ran dry as she doubted her trust and tried to come up with a million ways to lie her way out of this one. Should she just pretend that she had no idea who Waverly Earp was? There was no way that Chrissy would believe her. As soon as she saw the recognition in her eyes, Waverly knew it was over.

Chrissy slowly made her way to the bar, still staring at Waverly in disbelief. Waverly moved around the bar to the front just as Chrissy stood a foot away and they both froze.

“Waverly?” Chrissy whispered, smile slowly starting to curve her lips. “Waverly Earp?”

Waverly quickly looked around to see if anyone caught her last name but no one seemed to know the difference.

“Chrissy,” Waverly chuckled, overcome with emotions as the two women reached for each other. Chrissy immediately pulled Waverly into a hug and Waverly squeezed her friend tightly.

“I can’t believe it’s you,” Chrissy squeaked in Waverly’s ear. “How long has it been? Where have you been?”

Waverly’s eyes darted nervously around the Saloon again before she walked back, hands pulling Chrissy back with her and a little more out of the public eye.

“I just got here. Not long ago,” Waverly said, finally focusing back on her friend. “How are you? How’ve you been?”

Chrissy gave Waverly a look that quickly dissolved into distress. “We thought you were dead, Waverly,” Chrissy whispered. “We thought you were all dead after they found your Daddy-”

A lump in Waverly’s throat formed at the reminder of her Daddy hogtied and hanging from a tree, throat slit open and blood still gushing out. She could still remember how it pooled in the dirt under him, congealed and almost black.

She shook the thought from her mind and gave Chrissy a watery smile. “Willa she...she’s dead. Wynonna I-...don’t know what happened to her. I think she got away,” Waverly kept trying to swallow the lump in her throat. “And I...here I am.”

Chrissy had tears in her eyes when she pulled Waverly towards her into another hug. “Oh, Waves, I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too, Chrissy,” Waverly sighed. “So much.”

Chrissy gasped and suddenly pulled back, holding Waverly at arms length. “Where are you staying? You’re staying with me and Daddy now. He’s going to be so happy-”

“Wait, Chrissy,” Waverly interrupted. “You can’t tell your dad, please.”

“Why not? He’ll be so thrilled you’re not dead.”

“He can’t-...no one can know who I am,” Waverly whispered. “I’m sorry, they just can’t. I have people looking for me still, we didn’t necessarily leave Purgatory on good terms.”

“Then why are you here?” Chrissy asked. “Why come back if you can’t even say your name?”

“I was sold here. By Bobo to become a-...a wife,” Waverly said. “I’m was actually hoping that Wynonna was still around-”

Chrissy gasped, scandalized hand on her chest. “Are you married? And I wasn’t at the wedding?”

Waverly rolled her eyes as they easily fell into the routine of old friends again. “I didn’t actually end up getting married. It’s...a long story.”

“Then where are you staying?” Chrissy asked conspiritaly. “With a lover?”

Waverly blushed. “No!...Unfortunately,” Waverly said the last bit under her breath but Chrissy’s giggle told her she caught it. “I’m staying with a-...with Nicole.”

Chrissy’s eyes got wider. “Red headed fella?”

“Yes.”

“Waverly-- then you have to come stay with me,” Chrissy shook her head.

“Why? She’s harmless.” Waverly was suddenly aware of the poster against her ribs again. She put her hand to her dress over it.

Chrissy shook her head. “I heard she’s jus’ plain mean. Never met a man she didn’t threaten.”

“Nicole isn’t like that. Trust me,” Waverly scoffed, hands finding her hips. “Jus’ stupid rumors.”

“Well I did hear that...she’s killed men before,” Chrissy said again. “I hear she’s dangerous.”

“She is none of those things, Chrissy, I promise you,” Waverly said, reaching for Chrissy’s hand and squeezing it. “I trust her.”

Chrissy narrowed her eyes at her. “Only if you’re sure.”

“I’m more than sure.” Waverly assured her, as she bit back a stupid love sick smile. Chrissy noticed and wiggled her eyebrows, sliding onto a barstool.

“Then I guess you have to tell me all about her.”

***

“Now, horse, this ain’t really the way we work,” Nicole said, as she adjusted the ropes in her hand. One was tied around the horse’s nose and the other was tied in the stirrup of the saddle she’d managed to get on it.

She’d been working with the horse all day and had just gotten to the desensitizing, moving the stirrups on its side until every little movement didn’t make the horse run in fear. The horse was clever enough to figure out that if it charged Nicole, she’d tumble to the ground. It never actually stomped on her or even got close, but nonetheless, she’d fall to the dirt.

Now she was filthy, her shirt long abandoned and leaving her in only her pants and undershirt, suspenders still over her shoulders.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Waverly riding up to the ranch on Trigger and stood a little straighter. She looked the horse dead in the eye and tried to reason with it.

“Listen, I jus’ gotta let ‘er see I’m capable,” Nicole said, readjusting the rope in her hand. The horse snorted and pulled a little on the rope. “Yer doin’ better anyways. No need to get into dramatics, ya hear?”

The horse snorted again and Nicole pushed the sleeves of her undershirt up as high as they’d go before moving the stirrup. The horse moved its head back and started trotting along the edge of the corral more calmly than before. Nicole smiled, still moving the stirrup against its side.

“Good girl,” she cooed to the horse as she moved the stirrup. The horse came to a stop just as Waverly approached the fence and Nicole beamed at her. “This girl’ll be ready to ride in no time.”

Waverly’s smile rivaled the setting sun. “Already?”

Nicole nodded and let the rope around the horse’s nose drop so that she could tip her hat. “I don’ mean to brag but-”

The horse reared back and kicked it’s back legs out violently with a loud whinny, eyes wild. It took off at full speed around the corral and Nicole was caught off guard, jerking forward and falling to her knees in the dirt. Her hat flew off her head and revealed her red ears burning with embarrassment. At least the heat distracted her from the stinging in her knees.

She heard Waverly’s stifled laughter as she quickly jumped back up to her feet with a huff. “I tol’ you, no embarrassin’ me!”

Waverly’s laughter just got louder as Nicole stood up, picking her fallen hat off the ground and dropped the second rope tied to the stirrups as she wiped her knees off. Looking back at Waverly, she smiled crookedly and shrugged.

“I swear it was goin’ good until you showed up,” Nicole said as she ran a hand through her sweat soaked locks and replaced the hat on her head.

“Was it?” Waverly asked, head tipped in disbelief as her eyes roamed over Nicole’s muddy clothes. “Because it looks like that horse has been getting the better of you all day.”

Nicole looked down at herself and brushed some of the dirt from her clothes uselessly. “Jus’ a little dirt’s all.”

“Looks like more than just a little bit of dirt, cowboy,” Waverly said. She held up a cloth bag. “Rosita sent me home with some of the buffet from today. Meats and cheese.” Nicole’s stomach rumbled at the idea. “Pickles.”

Nicole wrinkled her nose. “I don’t much fancy pickles.”

“More for me then,” Waverly said, holding her bag to her chest and Nicole leaned onto the fence with her arms, purposefully leaning a little closer to Waverly. She smelled of flowers like she always did, mixed with the subtle smell of alcohol underneath. There was something about it that just made Nicole want to keep leaning forward. “You best not be coming into the house with all that dirt.”

Nicole scoffed, pretending to be offended. “You spen’ yer day bein’ dragged through the dirt fera lady, and all she says is to not track it in a’house.”

Waverly gave her a look, small under the sternness. “If you want to sleep in dirt, go right ahead. But I won’t be.”

“Miss Waverly, did you jus’ call me dirty?” Nicole teased.

“Well I’m pretty sure you’re more dirt than Nicole right now,” Waverly said, lightly tapping the end of Nicole’s nose. Nicole blushed and ducked her head bashfully, Waverly’s fingers rubbed at a spot of dirt on Nicole’s cheekbone. It felt like embers were flying from their skin and Nicole’s stomach tightened.

It was only a moment that Nicole wasn’t paying attention and Waverly was leaning forward, pressing her lips to the corner of Nicole’s mouth.

Nicole’s entire body flushed, and she took a step away from the fence as soon as Waverly pulled back.

“You can’ keep doin’ that, Miss Waverly,” Nicole mumbled, smile fighting its way onto her face in spite of herself.

“I think I can,” Waverly sing-songed as she slowly backed away from the fence and towards the house.

“You sure can’t!” Nicole called back.

“We’ll see,” Waverly said, finally turning around and walking into the house. Nicole turned back to the horse to see it looking at her. Her cheeks still burned and she shook her head.

“Don’ ya start with me, now,” she mumbled to the beast. The horse just snorted.

***

“So how’s your outlaw been?” Chrissy asked, leaning against the bar. Waverly blushed and ducked her head to hide it, but Chrissy just grinned wider. “So...good?”

“She’s breaking me a horse,” Waverly said with an unmistakable grin. Chrissy squealed and reached across the bar to hold Waverly’s hands.

“She fancies ya,” Chrissy said with a wink.

Chrissy had been coming to the Saloon for all of Waverly’s shifts. Luckily Rosita didn’t seem to mind that Waverly was chatting with her between helping the customers. Waverly knew better. Purgatory was known for a lot of things, and drinking was one of them.

“Sometimes I think she does and then other times,” she trailed off as she wiped the counter down. Waverly thought of the wanted poster that she looked at every time she got dressed. Nicole in an army uniform, crisp and neat. Supposedly a murderer. She leaned forward on the bar to talk quietly. “Have you-...what have you heard about her? What rumors?”

Chrissy looked delighted by the opportunity to gossip, leaning forward on her elbows. “Well, when she first got inna town, she didn’ talk to no one. We all thought she might be mute. Until we saw her talkin’ up the Saloon girls. Rosita ‘specially. Pretty sure Nicole was living in that Saloon at one point.”

Waverly’s stomach turned uncomfortably as she looked over to where Rosita was talking closely with a man who was practically drooling on her. She looked back at Chrissy. “What else?”

“I heard Daddy talkin’ to a bounty hunter ‘bout a man with the devil’s mark. A red headed man. O’ course as far as we know, Nicole is a woman, but that red hair is a little too coincidental. When’s the last time you seen a ginger ‘round here?”

Waverly hummed, tilting her head at the old wives tale that could decide Nicole’s fate. “What did the bounty hunter think this ginger had done?”

“Apparently they killed American soldiers while they were in the army. For sport,” Chrissy looked scandalized as she shook her head. “Can you ‘magine?”

“Well, that’s definitely not Nicole,” Waverly said. “No way.”

“What is Nicole’s last name?”

Waverly faltered and she realized...she didn’t know. Her last name was a mystery. She shook her head and Chrissy frowned.

“Well there has to be somethin’ in her cabin to tell you who she is,” Chrissy said. “Letters, paperwork, anything?”

Waverly thought to the trunk that sat unopened at the end of the bed. She’d never thought to look in it. It sat more like a piece of furniture with a blanket draped over it and books stacked on top.

“Maybe,” Waverly said, chewing her lip in thought. “There might be something.”

“I gotta go, Daddy is expectin’ me,” Chrissy sighed as she got off the stool. “But I’ll be back tomorrow. An’ maybe you’ll have more information on your cowboy.” Chrissy winked at Waverly and she rolled her eyes good naturedly.

“See you tomorrow, Chrissy,” Waverly said. Her friend walked out and her eyes wandered to the clock above the bar, counting down the minutes until she could get a peek in that trunk.

***

Waverly had planned to go straight to the cabin as soon as she got back from the Saloon. More time to shift through Nicole’s trunk...if she decided to do it. But as she got closer, she saw Nicole in the corral sitting astride the speckled horse. After walking Trigger back to his stable, she approached the corral just in time to see the horse buck Nicole off, and for her to tumble to the ground.

Her heart stopped and she froze until Nicole stood up and dusted herself off. She breathed a sigh of relief and remained silent as she watched Nicole stride back up to the horse. She noticed it didn’t have a saddle on, not even a blanket, just the reins hanging loosely against its bare back.

“Alright, horse,” she heard Nicole say, as she took hold of the reins again. “You don’ wanna take the saddle, we gonna do it the hard way first. Ya hear?”

The horse stamped its hoof in protest.

Nicole grabbed onto the horse’s mane and lifted herself onto its back. At least she had the foresight to put on some chaps first, a little more protection between her and the ground. The horse threw her head back in protest and snorted, but didn’t buck Nicole again.

Waverly watched, completely entranced as Nicole clucked her tongue and nudged its side with her heel. The horse turned in a circle and Nicole muttered muted praise as she stroked its neck. She repeated the movement on the opposite side before she nudged the horse to walk forward. The horse threw its head back and Nicole kicked its ribs a little harder. The horse reared up on its hind legs and whinnied like it’d been shot. Nicole held on for dear life, the muscles in her forearms flexing and drawing Waverly’s attention to how she was gripping the horse’s mane and trying to get it under control. The horse took off like a shot across the corral and Nicole flattened herself to its back as best she could. The horse reared again, but Nicole managed to keep control.

The horse immediately went back into a donkey kick and Nicole’s hips rolled forward with the movement, still gripping the mane expertly. Her brows were furrowed in concentration, a bead of sweat dripping down her temple. Her shirt was already practically soaked through, clinging to her body in a way that left little to the imagination as the horse continued to try and buck her.

Waverly couldn’t stop watching Nicole’s hips roll with every bit of the horse’s movement, strong thighs keeping her up on the horse. She just...couldn’t bring herself to look away. Something about how Nicole’s strong forearms flexed as she easily moved with every jerk of the large beast under her made Waverly’s stomach throb with need.

She licked her lips, amazed by how dry they suddenly were.

Finally, after one particularly vigorous buck, the horse settled, nostrils flaring from exertion. Nicole waited for a moment before patting its neck.

“Good girl,” Waverly could hear her say. Her stomach clenched again. Nicole turned the horse and noticed Waverly against the fence. Her lips widened into a smile, dimples on full display, and Waverly felt herself swoon even more.

Nicole tipped her hat in her direction. “Howdy, Miss Waverly.”

“Howdy, cowboy,” Waverly managed, as Nicole slipped off the horse.

“Yer girl is lookin’ pretty damn good,” Nicole said, gesturing towards the horse as if Waverly might not know who she was talking about. “Almos’ ready.”

“Good,” Waverly sighed, taking a moment to look Nicole over. “You’re not hurt?”

“No, ma’am,” Nicole said with a dutiful head bow.

“Okay, I’ll get started on dinner then,” Waverly said, entire body feeling like it was overheating. She remembered the trunk and stopped, turning back towards Nicole. “I um...I was looking for a place to put some of my old dresses. Do you mind if I put them in that trunk at the end of the bed.”

“No,” Nicole blurted, eyes wide. “I um...it’s...full. We’ll get you ‘nother one, alright? You can put yer stuff anywhere else. Take somma my stuff from the drawers. Jus’ --don’ bother wit’ the trunk.”

Waverly nodded slowly, curiosity further peaked. “Okay,” she smiled. “Don’t be out here too long.”

“Whatever you say, Miss Waverly,” Nicole called as she started back towards the horse. Waverly watched her retreating figure for a moment before scrambling into the cabin. Her eyes immediately went to the trunk at the end of the bed.

She was torn.

Waverly didn’t want to go against Nicole’s trust, but she had to know. It was torture not knowing anything about her. Groaning to herself, Waverly went over to the trunk, sat cross legged in front of it and moved the books off of it. She pulled away the blanket and looked at the unlocked latch, just calling her name.

A quick peek wouldn’t hurt...Nicole would never have to know.

Quickly, she undid the latch, the metallic click sounding loud in the empty room. The lid creaked from disuse as she opened it and peered inside. At first glance, it was fairly ordinary. A few books stacked in one corner, some letters and papers in another, and clothing wrapped in brown paper. Waverly reached for the papers first, what turned out to be a stack of letters all tied together neatly.

The writing was a pretty, loopy lettering that she recognized from the books on top of the trunk. She scanned to the end of one of the letters and read ”All my love, Shae P”.

A picture fell out of the stack and Waverly froze. The edges were worn, Nicole’s serious face peering back at her. She was in her uniform, hair cut short like the wanted poster, and on her lap was a beautiful woman also looking stoically at the camera.

Waverly felt a wave of jealousy and quickly put the picture and letters back in their place.

The paper wrapped clothes kept catching her eye and she lifted the bundle into her lap, carefully peeling back an edge until she gasped to herself. Behind the paper was the same type uniform Nicole was wearing in the wanted poster. There was no denying it was her anymore. But this uniform was singed and worn through in a few places; it had definitely seen hard times.

The sound of the barn door closing in the distance had Waverly quickly putting everything back in the trunk. She closed it and put the blanket and books on top, hoping it looked inconspicuous as she went into the kitchen just as Nicole came into the cabin.

Waverly saw how dirty her clothes really were.

“Nicole, you cannot come into this house with your clothes like that,” Waverly chastised, shooing Nicole away. “Go clean up. I’ll have dinner ready by the time you’re back.”

Nicole scoffed. “I’ll be jus’ fine like this-”

“No, you won’t,” Waverly walked up to her, spun her around and pushed her gently towards the door. “Clean up.”

“Wha’? You want me walkin’ ‘round outside naked as a jaybird?” Nicole asked with a huff. Waverly couldn’t help but smirk. Nicole smiled back. “Yeah, you’d like tha’ wouldn’t you, Miss Waverly?”

Waverly blushed, caught. “Just go clean up!”

“Alrigh’ alrigh’,” Nicole said as she walked away. Waverly closed the door, and sighed.

***

Waverly couldn’t stop thinking about the uniform in the trunk, but mostly she just thought about Shae. She must be the beautiful woman seated perfectly on Nicole’s knee in the photograph, just like she belonged there. Maybe she did.

She sat on the bed with her back propped against the headboard, Nicole lying beside her. The candle on the bedside table flickered and cast a glow over the page in front of her.

Waverly still refused to believe that Nicole had done what they said. That she was a murderer.

What really bothered her was Shae. So tall and pretty and...sophisticated looking. Nicole muttered and turned over to face Waverly, brow furrowed as she blinked up at her.

“Sorry, is the light bothering you?” Waverly asked softly, reaching to put out the candle.

Nicole quickly shook her head and covered Waverly’s hand with her own to stop her. Chills ran up Waverly’s spine at the touch. “No no. I’s fine,” Nicole said. “Jus’ can’t sleep. Wha’re you readin’?”

Frankenstein,” Waverly said, trying not to focus on how Nicole’s hand was still covering hers. She swallowed thickly. “Want me to read you some? Maybe that’ll help you sleep.”

“Wha’s it ‘bout?” Nicole said, voice thick with sleep and rough. The sound trickled warm in Waverly’s ear, and she wanted to curl up into it.

“It’s about a man who creates a monster. It sounds scary but it’s not. Not really,” Waverly explained. “Want me to start from the beginning?”

“No, jus’ start wherever you ‘re, darlin’,” Nicole said, squeezing Waverly’s hand and letting it fall to the bed between them. Waverly licked her lips and read softly.

“Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet, when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures.”

There was a soft snoring from Nicole, and Waverly smiled. For someone who acted so tough, Nicole looked so soft in her sleep. Gentle and small. Waverly gently brushed red locks back from Nicole’s face and leaned down to kiss her forehead softly.

Nicole mumbled a little in her sleep but didn’t wake up, so Waverly smiled to herself, marveling at how soft Nicole’s skin was under her lips. She closed the book and blew out the candle before sinking down into the bed, tucking herself under Nicole’s chin. Nicole instantly opened up her arms for Waverly to fill and they fell into a gentle sleep.

***

Nicole knocked on the door of the cabin, then quickly put her hands behind her back.

Waverly answered the door and crossed her arms over her chest. “You know you don’t need to knock on the door of your own cabin, right Nicole?”

She smirked. “I jus’ don’ wanna walk in on anything improper, Miss Waverly.” Waverly opened her mouth to say something else, but Nicole slid her hat off her head and held it to her chest. “I was jus’ comin’ to tell ya that you can properly meet yer new horse if ya like.”

Waverly beamed, hands clasped in front of her with happiness as she quickly slipped on her boots. In a flash, she was pulling on Nicole’s hand and tugging her back towards the corral. Nicole let Waverly hold her hand until they made it to the corral, then she pulled her hand away and opened the gate for her.

The horse stood at the opposite end of the corral and Nicole went into her side bag, bringing out a few sugar cubes. She took Waverly’s hand and dropped the cubes into it, fingers brushing over the back of her knuckles.

“‘Ere. She likes these.”

“What a coincidence, so do I,” Waverly said as she popped one into her mouth. Nicole let herself be distracted by how Waverly’s cheeks hollowed as she sucked on the cube for a moment before turning back to the horse.

Nicole walked up to the horse and took her reigns, other hand stroking its nose. She had brushed her out before calling for Waverly, so her coat was soft.

“Now remember. No embarrassin’ me,” Nicole whispered before she started leading the horse towards Waverly. She smiled at the other woman as they got closer. “‘Ave you thought of a name yet?”

“Butter,” Waverly said simply as she held her palm out, a sugar cube resting delicately in the middle. The horse dipped its head, lips moving over Waverly’s palm for the treat.

“Butter?” Nicole repeated.

“Mhm,” Waverly nodded and she reached out and carefully petted the horse’s nose.

“Butter?” Nicole tried again.

“Do you have a problem with the name Butter?” Waverly asked with a grin.

Nicole looked at the horse that had been dragging her through the mud for the last few days, giving her more hell than almost any other horse she’d ever dealt with. She shrugged. “Jus’...never pegged ‘er for a...Butter I ‘spose. Maybe more like...Hell Raiser.”

Waverly laughed and fed Butter another sugar cube. “She wasn’t that bad.”

“Well she weren’t that good neither,” Nicole said, as she tipped her hat back a little. Waverly stared at her a moment, eyes soft and Nicole blushed under the look. “What?”

“You broke me a horse,” Waverly smiled.

Nicole shrugged. “Yeah?”

“It’s very sweet of you.”

“It’s practical-”

“You say practical, I say sweet.”

“I jus’ trained the beast outta’er for ya,” Nicole said, playfully patting Butter’s side.

Butter snorted and moved to the side, bumping into Nicole and just pushing her a little more towards Waverly.

Nicole cursed to herself as Waverly caught her by the open ends of her vest, eyebrow quirked as she looked up at Nicole. Their eyes locked and Nicole felt powerless but to just stand there staring. Her hands hung dumbly at her sides as Waverly’s seemed to tighten in her vest. Waverly’s smile fell slowly as she looked up at Nicole, lips slightly parted and pupils blown. Nicole swallowed thickly, the collar of her shirt suddenly feeling tight as she watched Waverly’s tongue just barely peek out and wet her lips.

There were still tiny granules of sugar on Waverly’s lips from the cube, clinging on and tempting Nicole to lean down and taste. Though she was sure her lips were sweet enough even without them. Nicole meant to reach up and gently pull Waverly’s hand from her chest, but instead she reached up and cupped Waverly’s chin. Her thumb moved and brushed away a tiny dusting of sugar below a full lip, feeling Waverly’s breath on her hand.

Waverly’s grip got tighter on Nicole’s vest, and pulled her down. Their lips just barely touched, rough sugar brushing against Nicole’s lips and pulling her back into reality.

She pulled away, hands coming up and covering Waverly’s. “Miss Waverly,” Nicole said a little breathlessly. “We can’t. It ain’t proper.”

Waverly blinked up at her, face lighting up in embarrassment before her brows furrowed and she chuckled humorlessly.

“You’re really on this whole being proper thing, aren’t you?” Waverly said, still tightly gripping Nicole’s vest. “What about this isn’t proper?”

Nicole licked her lips and shook her head. “I-...I ain’t yer... We ain’t courtin’-”

“But we could be,” Waverly argued. “Why couldn’t we be?”

“I can’t,” Nicole said, hands squeezing Waverly’s and slowly pulling them from her vest. “I jus’...can’t.”

Nicole’s stomach twisted and her heart fluttered, begging her to lean down and close the gap between herself and Waverly. To taste the sugar on her lips and gather her in her arms, kiss her senseless until they were both gasping for air. But at the front of her mind...she could never forget being chased from the border with what felt like the entire American army on her back. Guns and sabers raised all trying to get their pound of flesh from her. She could practically feel the fire of their torches singing her hair still, and shook her head. It was too much. Too dangerous. She had chosen this life and it was the life she was stuck with.

Once she hadn’t listened to her Pa about keeping her head down, working hard and keeping to herself. And now look where she was. On the run. Nicole could never ignore his advice again.

“We can’t,” Nicole repeated, voice tinged with sadness.

Waverly scoffed and pulled her hands away from Nicole’s. “Does this have to do with Shae?”

Nicole’s blood ran cold at the name and she shook her head. All the memories of her came flooding back, the pain, the betrayal...the shame. “How do you know ‘bout Shae?”

Waverly crossed her arms tightly in front of her chest, tongue poking behind her cheek in thought.

Nicole frowned as the realization slowly dawned on her. “Did you...did you go into my trunk?”

She looked away for a moment, jaw tight. “I just...peeked-”

“Why?” Nicole asked, taking a step back from Waverly. “The one thing I asked.”

“Well do you blame me?” Waverly asked as she threw her arms out to her sides. “I’m living with you and I know nothing about you! You won’t tell me anything-”

“I tol’ you not to go in that trunk!” Nicole argued. “I tol’ you not to, tha’ should be enough. I let you stay ‘ere, no questions asked. An’ you couldn’t do the same fer me!”

Waverly growled in frustration. “I just want to know what’s going on in your head, Nicole! But I can see now you’re just jerking me around, playing me like the girls at the Saloon.”

The barb lodged in Nicole’s chest and she shook her head. “Serious? You thin’ I’m...what? Some kinda player?”

Waverly tilted her chin up in defiance. “Yes.”

Nicole laughed sadly and shook her head. “Fine. You wanna think that, go right ahead. I ain’t gonna stop you. If ya think that little of me.” She tipped her hat at Waverly with a sad smile. “I’ll be off fer the evenin’ then, Miss Waverly.”

Waverly’s arms fell limply at her sides, face falling along with them. “Wait, Nicole-”

She shook her head in response and started towards the barn. “I’ll be seein’ ya later.”

“Nicole!” Waverly called to her retreating back. But Nicole just kept her head high as she went to get Trigger from the barn. Her heart felt like it was cracked open and bleeding into her chest. Waverly didn’t trust her which was just fine. It would make her leave sooner, anyway. But she didn’t want to share a bed with her, not after this. And if she stayed on the property Waverly would go looking for her. So she got on Trigger and headed into town instead, tears stinging her eyes.

Chapter Text

Waverly couldn’t sleep that night.

The guilt and anger stewed together in her stomach and made her nauseous.

She should have never opened that trunk. She should have never opened that trunk and she should have never felt so...betrayed when Nicole didn’t want to kiss her.

No. Nicole wanted to kiss her. She saw it in her eyes, in the way her head bent to meet Waverly just before she decided against it. But why? Why was Nicole holding on so hard to this other woman? Where was she? What was their story?

Every time Waverly closed her eyes she would either see Nicole happily in the arms of Shae, or being marched in front of a firing squad.

Neither lent themselves to sleep at all.

She dragged herself into the Saloon that morning, heading straight to the coffee to get a kick in the ass before she had to deal with hungover customers looking for some hair of the dog. Waverly poured herself a lukewarm cup of coffee and turned back towards the counter. Just as she was taking a sip, she saw Nicole walking down the stairs, casually doing up the belt of her pants with her shirt mostly undone and hat crooked on her head.

The nausea that had been brewing in Waverly’s stomach all night seemed to boil over. She set her coffee cup down on the counter, sure she would be sick.

But she couldn’t tear her eyes away, even when brown eyes flickered up to lock with her own. Nicole froze, belt half through a loop and eyes wide. Waverly just scoffed and rolled her eyes, taking her coffee cup and yanking it off the counter so violently that some of the liquid spilled over her hand as she stomped into one of the back rooms.

Waverly stopped in the middle of the room, halting when she realized she didn’t have a purpose for going into the room, except to get away from Nicole. She put the half cup of coffee into the wash barrel and paced the floor, fists clenched at her sides.

“She has some nerve,” Waverly mumbled to herself.

There was a soft knock on the door and Nicole’s muffled voice followed. “Miss Waverly? You in there?”

Waverly pivoted on her heels and stared the door down. “Don’t you dare come in that door, Nicole!”

“I jus’ wanna explain-”

“Ha! I think you’ve explained quite enough,” Waverly huffed. “Your general unmade nature says all it needs to.”

She could hear Nicole sigh through the door. “Please? Jus’ let me explain.”

“No,” Waverly said, arms crossed over her chest even though Nicole couldn’t see.

“Yer not the only one mad, ya know!” Nicole yelled. “You invaded my privacy!”

Waverly scoffed loudly for Nicole’s benefit, despite the blush on her face. There was some scuffling from the outside of the door and hushed arguing before the door opened and Nicole stumbled in. Nicole’s shirt was still undone, leather suspenders and undershirt apparent under it. It was no vest, but Waverly was still tempted to pull her with them.

Rosita walked in after Nicole, a stern look on her face and a visible hickey on her neck that made Waverly narrow her eyes at Nicole. Rosita sighed. “You two work your shit out. But not in front of my customers.”

“Rosie,” Nicole started, turning towards the other woman. Rosita gave Nicole a warning look that made her freeze and she shut the door, calling from the other side. “Work it out!”

Nicole turned back towards Waverly, who just raised her eyebrows at her. In her slightly ruffled state, Nicole was adorable, and Waverly hated it. Especially when she was mad at her.

“If you’re trying to prove that you’re not a player, you’re doing a piss poor job at it,” Waverly said.

“I ain’t tryin’a prove nothin’ to ya,” Nicole said. “‘Specially not when you went through my stuff.”

Waverly’s face tinted in embarrassment. “It was...I just-...” Waverly chewed on the inside of her cheek. “Well you don’t tell me anything!”

“You don’ tell me nothin’ either!” Nicole said, hands thrown up at her sides. “I don’ know nothin’ about you, Miss Waverly. An’ that’s just fine by me, if you would afford me the same courtesy.”

“But I want-” Waverly faltered and rolled her eyes. “I want to know more...about you.”

“Like what?”

“Like...how many of these girls are you-...have you-...are you intimate with?” Waverly managed.

Nicole smirked and Waverly wanted to smack it off. “Miss Waverly, I do believe that is betwixt me an’ whatever other willin’ participant I get tangled up in,” Nicole said firmly. She pulled her hat off her head and held it between her hands.

“For someone always talking about being proper, you certainly have a funny idea of it,” Waverly huffed, her worst fears confirmed.

“Sometimes a person needs some companionship, so sue me,” Nicole growled. “I came to this town a heartbroken young buck, an’ I will not apologize fer how I got through it.”

Waverly took a moment to look at Nicole, features softening. Nicole was looking anywhere but at Waverly, cheeks pink like she had said too much. She probably had.

“What happened to Shae?” Waverly asked softly.

She saw Nicole visibly swallow, and she shook her head. “We jus’ weren’t right. I left ‘er. Came ‘ere instead to get away from the people tryin’a hurt me. An’ e’ryone aroun’ me.”

Waverly could practically see the wall building in front of Nicole and she took a step closer, hands , yearning to reach out and touch her. She let her fingers fidget with her skirt instead.

“Who was after you?”

“Don’ matter,” Nicole said, putting her hat back on her head.

“It does-”

“It don’t,” Nicole said firmly. Waverly’s mouth snapped shut at Nicole’s stern look, but she surged on anyways.

“I want to help,” Waverly said. “I want to know more about you, like I said.”

“You know enough,” Nicole said, shoulders relaxing a little.

“I don’t even know your last name.”

Nicole’s jaw tightened. “Haught.”

Waverly nodded slowly. “Okay then, Miss Haught,” she stuck out her hand towards Nicole and smiled. “I’m Waverly Earp.”

“Earp?” Nicole asked, as she took her hand. Waverly felt the tingles running up her arms from the touch, and tightened her grip

“Yep,” Waverly said with a stiff smile. “I know a thing or two about enemies, you know.”

Nicole chuckled and finally let their hands drop. “I can’ imagine anyone woul’ peg you fer an enemy, Miss Earp. Though you do tend to snoop.”

“Waverly is fine, please,” Waverly said.

“Fine, Miss Waverly it stays then,” Nicole said as she stuffed her hands in the pockets of her pants. The silence settled between them as Waverly’s anger waned, but still she had so many questions.

“Who is after you?” she asked again. “Does this have to do with the uniform in that trunk?”

Nicole’s jaw tightened. “A lil’ maybe.”

“A little...or a lot?” Waverly tried again. “I know you’re wanted. For murder.”

“You don’ know nothin’,” Nicole said, as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “That’s just a load’a bullshit. Ain’t no bit of truth to it. No one got what they didn’ deserve.”

“Like what?”

“The less you know the better,” Nicole practically growled. Waverly blushed, set her jaw and started to undo the corset of her dress. Nicole’s eyes got wide and she reached out to stop her. “Miss Waverly, wha’ do you think yer doin’-”

Waverly reached into her dress and pulled out the wanted poster, unfolding it and holding it up so Nicole could see. “I know more than you think.”

Nicole looked at the poster silently, then shook her head. “An’ that’s all you need to know-”

“I’m here for revenge,” Waverly blurted. Nicole blinked at her and Waverly continued. “I mean-...I didn’t choose to come back to Purgatory. But fate brought me back here and I’m...hoping to find my sister. The one that’s still alive. That and bring down whoever sold out my family the day they chased us out of Purgatory and murdered my Daddy and sister.”

Nicole just blinked at her again, shock written all over her face.

Waverly shrugged, throat tight from tears. “So you see, it’s a bit complicated for me too.”

“Miss Waverly, I am sorry that ‘appened to you.”

“It’s in the past,” Waverly said, swallowing thickly. “But I just need you to know I understand. You can trust me, Nicole. I really...I really care about you.”

Nicole ducked her head, lips in a tight line. “My life if far too complicated fer such affairs.”

“I’m not just some affair, it’s me. Your wife,” Waverly tried.

“We ain’t married. I didn’ sign nothin’, it ain’t been-...it ain’t been consummated,” Nicole finished her sentence off softly like she was embarrassed.

“That’s not necessarily for lack of trying,” Waverly couldn’t help but tease, just to watch Nicole’s cheeks go more red than her hair. “I haven’t been exactly subtle in my fondness of you. Which is why seeing you with Rosita…” Waverly flushed at her admission, wishing she could push the words back into her mouth. Her jealous streak wasn’t something she was proud of.

Nicole sat on a nearby barrel, setting her hat down next to her. She rubbed the back of her neck and looked back up at Waverly, resting her elbows on her knees. “Miss Waverly, I can assure you ‘at Rosie an’ I’re jus’ friends. Not tha’ it is anyone’s business but our own.”

Waverly felt relief flow through her, but couldn’t forget the fresh mark on Rosita’s neck-- or how Eliza would always touch Nicole with a familiarity that could only come from one thing. She sucked on her teeth and looked at the wall. “I guess we have different definitions of friends, then.”

“Wha’ do you want from me?” Nicole asked, exasperated. “Yer the one who went nosin’ in my shit, why am I apologizin’ an’ explainin’ myself?”

“You’re right. I’m sorry,” Waverly said, running a hand through her hair. “I’m sorry I went through your stuff. I just...can you at least understand that when I’m living with someone who people are calling a murderer, I want to know the truth.”

“I tol’ you, the less you know, the better,” Nicole repeated, steadfastly evasive. Waverly wanted to shake some sense into her. Instead she folded up the wanted poster and replaced it in her corset. Nicole’s eyes followed the movement but didn’t say anything.

“Just tell me, did you kill people?” Waverly asked, for what felt like the millionth time.

Nicole’s jaw tensed. “Yes.”

“Did they deserve it?”

“Yes.”

Waverly stared at her for a moment and Nicole stared back. Waverly cautiously reached for Nicole’s hand, surprised when she let her lace their fingers together. Her stomach jolted at the contact and she brushed her fingers along the inside of Nicole’s wrist. Waverly believed everything Nicole said. She couldn’t imagine the woman she had gotten to know over the past few weeks to be anything but gentle and just. She broke her a horse for god’s sake. Waverly’s fingers brushed a little higher up her arm, pushing her sleeve up, to reveal the wicked looking scars, slashing across alabaster skin in raised lines. Nicole flinched at the touch but didn’t pull away.

“Is that how you got these?” Waverly asked, voice soft.

Nicole gently pulled her hand back, pushing her sleeve back down her arm. “I do believe that’s enough questions, Miss Waverly.”

Waverly wanted to reach out and take her hand again, but she took a step back, attempting to do up her corset instead.

“‘Ere. Let me help,” Nicole said. She stood up from her seat and moved behind Waverly. She could feel the heat of Nicole’s body on her back and swallowed thickly. Nicole gently brushed Waverly’s hair over her shoulder, long fingers just barely caressing the sensitive skin on the back of her neck and shoulder, and Waverly shivered. If Nicole noticed she didn’t say anything, fingers moving to the strings on the back of her corset. She pulled them tight, tying a knot at the base of Waverly’s spine. Nicole’s voice came deep and strained. “‘At alright?”

“Perfect,” Waverly said, turning around. Nicole was still standing close, looking down at Waverly. Brown eyes searched her face and Waverly tentatively balled the open part of Nicole’s shirt in her fists. Feeling a little bold, Waverly shrugged one shoulder and looked up at Nicole through her lashes with a small smile. “You never did say why you won’t kiss me.”

Nicole chuckled, shaking her head and covering Waverly’s hands with her own. “We live toge’her, Miss Waverly.”

“More reason to at least try it,” Waverly tried, stomach tingling in anticipation as she took a step closer to Nicole.

Nicole’s eyes darted down to Waverly’s lips and she licked them in anticipation, tipping her chin up just the slightest. Nicole smirked and Waverly got distracted by her dimples for a moment as Nicole bent closer. Waverly could practically taste her lips. Nicole leaned down and Waverly’s eyes fluttered shut, lips puckered and ready when she felt Nicole’s breath tickling her ear.

“Now ‘at wouldn’t be proper, would it, Miss Waverly,” Nicole whispered. Waverly could feel her lips just barely brushing the shell of her ear and a whine got stuck in Waverly’s throat. Nicole pulled Waverly’s hands from her shirt and they dropped uselessly back at her sides as her eyes opened again. Nicole already had her back turned and was setting her hat back on her head as she looked at Waverly over her shoulder with that infuriating and stupidly attractive smirk.

Nicole started towards the door, and Waverly just gaped at her.

“Nicole Haught!” Waverly managed, hands closing into fists at her sides. “You can’t-...do that.”

“Oh, I think I jus’ did, darlin’,” Nicole said, pressing her back against the door so that it opened.

Waverly crossed her arms over her chest and suppressed a pout. “Will you at least be home tonight?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole said with a sarcastic tip of her hat.

“Do not ‘ma’am’ me, Miss Haught,” Waverly said, following her out the door.

Waverly did a quick look around the Saloon like she usually did. But no one she recognized was there except for Chrissy at the end of the bar. She looked up and saw Waverly, eyes darting to Nicole as Waverly watched her put everything together. A slow smile spread across Chrissy’s face, and Waverly blushed.

Waverly took Nicole’s hand and tugged, making her turn around back towards Waverly. “Are you going straight home?”

Nicole shrugged. “I don’ know. Why?”

“There are people looking for you. Where do you think I got this poster?” Waverly sighed, eyes still looking around the room. “Please? Go home?”

“Miss Waverly, ain’t a soul in Purgatory gonna be ratting me out to no one. This town’s so full o’ liars and thieves they wouldn’t dare risk it,” Nicole said.

Waverly sighed. “I would just feel better if you were safe at home.”

“Lucky fer you, I’m behin’ on the house anyways,” Nicole said. “I’ll get myself home.”

“Thank you,” Waverly said, relieved.

Nicole leaned her elbows on the bar and smiled like she knew it would get her anything she wanted. Waverly moved behind the bar with a raised eyebrow. “Can I at least get some breakfas’ first, darlin’?”

Waverly fought back her smile. “You can’t call me ‘darlin’’ if you’re not going to let me kiss you.”

“Fine, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, tapping down her smile.

Waverly rolled her eyes and went into the kitchen to get a plate of food for Nicole. When she came back, Chrissy was sitting next to Nicole, staring at her with a dopey grin. Nicole was paying Chrissy a bit more attention than Waverly felt strictly necessary. She set the plate down in front of Nicole a little harder than necessary to get their attention.

“There. Now eat and get back home before someone sees you,” Waverly said.

“Now now, no need to be cross, I was jus’ talkin’ to yer friend here.” Nicole picked up her fork with a lazy smile. “See, I don’ even ‘ave to be married to ya to ‘ave you boss me around.”

Waverly blushed and Chrissy giggled. Nicole looked too damn pleased with herself.

“Don’t encourage her,” Waverly said to Chrissy, wagging a finger at Nicole.

Chrissy giggled again when Nicole winked at her, so Waverly busied herself with cleaning the tables.

***

Nicole stepped back and looked at the house she was building.

Well, the beginnings of it.

It was just the frame at the moment but certainly a helluva lot closer to being finished than she had been. Maybe breaking the horse had taken a little longer than she thought it would, and wasn’t completely necessary, but the look on Waverly’s face had been worth it.

Even if it was followed by the discovery that Waverly had gone through her stuff.

Clearly they both had their secrets.

Still, Nicole couldn’t forget how it felt to have Waverly’s hands grasping at her front, lips close and breath mingling. She was sure Waverly tasted as sweet as she acted (most of the time), and was almost dying to find out if she was right. But it was impossible. Waverly was already in enough danger with her last name, she definitely didn’t need to be tied to the likes of Nicole.

It was bad enough that someone had already come looking for Nicole.

She had done a cursory search around town on her way home for more of those cursed wanted posters, but none had seemed to make their way anywhere else. Small favors.

Hoping to smooth over some of the tension between them, Nicole had stopped in the General Store after she left the saloon, and picked up some of the vanilla sugar sticks Waverly said she’d liked. She left them in the bag and set it on her pillow where she would see. Her Pa would tell her she was spoiling Waverly. He had always warned her against spoiling women, and she could only imagine what he would say if he heard that Nicole had broken her a horse and was bringing her sweets.

He had been right about...a lot of things. If she had kept her head down and minded her own business, she wouldn’t have had to get as far away from the border as she could get.

Nicole heard hooves coming down the path towards her ranch and looked up to see Waverly riding Butter, dust kicking up from under the horse’s hooves as it walked.

The warm feeling Nicole got as Waverly approached couldn’t be ignored, but she certainly was going to try.

“Evenin’, Miss Waverly,” Nicole called, as she picked up her hammer and put a couple of final nails in the frame of the house.

“Evening,” Waverly said as she slipped off the back of the horse. Butter followed dutifully along behind her as she got closer to the structure. Nicole took her time hammering the last nail, waiting to see if Waverly would move on to the barn or keep watching her like she was. “You’re making a lot of progress.”

There was that tentative awkwardness in Waverly’s voice that happened when someone didn’t know if they should be tense or not. They hadn’t necessarily left on the best terms, but Nicole was willing to forget about it as long as Waverly stayed safe and stopped nosing around in her business.

Nicole stood up and brushed her hands off on her pants. She looked back just as Butter nudged Waverly’s back affectionately. Of course the horse took to her so quickly. Seemed like everyone took that quickly to Waverly.

“Would you like a tour?” Nicole asked. She took her gloves off and stuffed them into her back pocket.

“I would love it,” Waverly said as she bounced excitedly up to Nicole. Nicole stood in front of the makeshift stairs that led up to the soon to be porch. It was just the beginnings of stairs at the moment, wood planks sticking up from the dirt.

Nicole held out her hand, palm up, and Waverly put her hand in hers. It felt so delicate and soft in Nicole’s large rough one. She held her hand gently, like she might break if Nicole held any tighter. And maybe it would. She was sure if she let herself hold Waverly’s hand the way she really wanted to, something would break. And there was certainly no time for that.

“Well, Miss Waverly, righ’ now yer walkin’ up our front steps,” Nicole said. She noticed her slip of tongue and blushed but hoped Waverly didn’t notice. “‘Ere is where the porch’ll be.”

Our porch,” Waverly smiled. The slip did not go unnoticed.

Nicole just hummed and moved on as she watched Waverly carefully step over the frame. Their hands were still clasped, Nicole offering support so she wouldn’t fall over any of the wood or loose dirt. She gestured to the empty space that was only marked out by a few pieces of wood in the correct shape. “So this’ll be the sittin’ room, fireplace in between this room’n the kitchen. Then back here we have the first bedroom.”

Waverly’s grip tightened in her hand. “How many bedrooms are there?”

“Two,” Nicole shrugged. So maybe she decided to add an extra bedroom? It was just- “Practical.”

Nicole led her back out of the framing and she finally dropped Waverly’s hand, immediately stuffing her own into the pocket of her pants.

“Whadya think?” Nicole asked, as she looked at the structure proudly. Building a house was a far cry from the barn she had built with her Pa years back, but the basics were there.

“It’s already beautiful,” Waverly said. Nicole beamed, looking back at Waverly.

“You jus’ wait until it’s done,” Nicole said before quickly correcting herself. “If yer um...still ‘round then.”

“Do you want dinner?” Waverly asked, taking a step closer to Nicole. She looped a finger between Nicole’s shirt and suspenders, pulling lightly on the leather over Nicole’s shoulder. The action sent a rush of heat to her belly that only roared louder when Waverly looked up at her through her lashes. “After all,” Waverly continued, voice low. “You’ve been working really hard. You must be starving.”

Nicole’s mouth was dry, but she managed to just smile cooly at Waverly. “I see what yer tryin’a do, darlin’,” Nicole said lowly, eyes purposefully flickering to Waverly’s lips and back up to her eyes. “And it ain’t gonna work.”

Waverly’s bottom lip poked out in a pout as she took her hand from her suspenders. “You’re a cruel woman, Nicole Haught.”

“Well that’s certainly what that paper you keep in yer dress says,” Nicole winked. “I’ll be in in jus’ a bit.”

Waverly ran a hand through her hair, and Nicole hated how attractive it was. She watched as Waverly took Butter to the stable before starting to clean up her work site, eyes lingering on how the setting sun made Waverly’s skin glow.

***

“Will you read to me again?” Nicole asked that night.

Waverly was still frustrated with her, in multiple ways, but couldn’t deny the sleepily mumbled request. She was glad that Nicole had at least relented about sleeping in the same bed together. Sometimes she would even let Waverly curl into her before they fell asleep.

She knew she had been wrong in going through Nicole’s stuff. It was a new low she hit, that she hadn’t been proud of. While she couldn’t justify it, she could explain it by saying she was so desperate to figure out what Nicole was running from. But it certainly didn’t get Nicole any closer to letting Waverly kiss her, that was for sure. That burned Waverly, especially with the smug way Nicole had come down from the second floor of the Saloon.

“Sure,” Waverly said, opening up the book she had been reading to Nicole every night now for the past couple of days. Nicole almost always fell asleep while Waverly was still reading, soft snoring coming from between her lips.

Nicole settled in the bed, facing Waverly, a hand on the mattress between them. Waverly sat against the headboard, book open on her lap as she began to read. After a few minutes, she felt Nciole’s hand bump up against her thigh. It was a simple and accidental touch, but it made Waverly feel like her skin was on fire. Her reading faltered for a moment but she kept going. No reason to make Nicole feel awkward about it, she was probably half asleep and it’s not like Waverly didn’t enjoy it.

Then she felt Nicole’s pinky brush purposefully up and down Waverly’s nightgown covered thigh. She looked at the hand and up at Nicole’s face. Eyes dark and dangerous stared back at her, in a way that made Waverly melt.

“Keep reading?” Nicole asked sweetly. “I like ‘earin’ yer voice.”

Waverly swallowed thickly and nodded, forcing her eyes to go back to the book. She could feel her fingers trembling as she turned the page, Nicole’s hand flattening on her thigh and running over the top of it.

Waverly kept reading, voice a little shaky. “There is love in me the likes of which you've never seen.” Nicole’s hand completed its journey over Waverly’s left thigh and was continuing to the second, touch leaving a burning path in its wake. Waverly couldn’t help how her knees fell open a little as Nicole’s hand caressed Waverly’s opposite hip and Nicole sat up in the bed. The side of Waverly’s body pressed up against Nicole’s front and she could practically feel Nicole’s skin burning against her own through the thin material of their sleep clothes. Waverly’s eyes looked back up at her, ready to drop the book and kiss Nicole the way her lips were begging to be kissed.

When their eyes met, Nicole smiled playfully and shook her head. “Keep readin’.”

Waverly let out a rattling sigh and looked back at the book. “There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape.

Nicole leaned forward, her head dipping and lips landing on Waverly’s shoulder. Her touch were like molten fire against Waverly’s skin. She could almost hear her skin burning and popping as Nicole pressed hot open mouthed kisses along the top of Waverly’s shoulder and up the column of her neck.

Waverly’s blood pounded with arousal and she could feel how slick she was between her thighs already. Her hands itched to reach out for Nicole but they felt frozen on the book. Nicole’s lips brushed along the shell of Waverly’s ear and she whispered hotly into it, “Keep readin’, darlin’.”

Waverly almost melted at her words, a whine building up in her throat. She swallowed it down and started again. “If I am not satisfied in the one, I will indulge the-...the other.”

She dropped the book on her lap as Nicole’s teeth scraped against the sensitive skin behind her ear and she turned, hands grabbing fistfuls of Nicole’s hair and pulling her mouth to hers when-

Waverly jolted awake, sweat prickling along her hairline and chest heaving. She blinked into the darkness for a minute, the gentle flicker of the dying candle on her nightstand just barely illuminating the room. She sat up, looking over at Nicole who was sound asleep, curled away from Waverly. Her hair was sticking up in her sleep and there was no hint of her ever trying to kiss Waverly.

It had all been a dream.

“S-shit,” Waverly breathed out, running a hand through her locks. She closed her eyes and tried to settle the rapid beating of her heart, arousal pounding between her legs. She shifted in the bed uncomfortably and kicked the covers off her overheated body.

Great.

The last thing she needed was to be having these dreams lying in bed next to the subject of them. Waverly leaned over and blew out the candle, plunging the room into darkness. She turned so that she was facing Nicole’s back, scooting a little forward so that she could get a lungful of her musky scent.

Waverly clenched her eyes shut and willed herself to sleep.

***

Waverly was more than a little distracted the next day at work.

Unsurprisingly, she woke up cuddled into Nicole, the persistent throb between her legs still there. Usually Nicole was up before her, but she’d beat her this time and got up and dressed, deciding to go to work early instead of looking at the object of her affection who wouldn’t give her the time of day. Or worse-- would tease her.

The crisp summer air made Waverly shiver, some of her libido dying down with the morning chill. By the time she got to town, the dream was pushed into the back of her mind. She put Butter in the livery at the end of the street so she wouldn’t have to stand in the sun all day and made her way to the Saloon.

As she was pushing the doors open, a familiar voice called out behind her.

“Miss Earlson, do you have a moment?”

Waverly saw Doc leaning against the rail of the Saloon, cigarette smoking between his lips as blue eyes looked back at her. She swallowed thickly but tried to keep her face neutral.

“Mr. Holliday,” Waverly said, forcing a polite smile onto her face. “How may I help you?”

“Oh, nothin’ much,” he said taking a long luxurious drag of his cigarette. “Jus’ wonderin’ how a girl that bears such a great resemblance to a Waverly Earp happened to come to Purgatory with such a similar name.

Waverly’s stomach felt sick but she kept her smile on her face. “I’m sorry, I can’t say I know what you’re talking about.” She looked back towards the Saloon. “Now if you’ll excuse me-”

“Now now, Miss Earp,” Doc said as he stepped in front of her to block her way into the Saloon. “I jus’ wanna talk particulars.”

“I assure you I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Waverly tried, a slight waver in her voice. “Now if you excuse me-”

She tried to push past him and go into the Saloon, when Doc grabbed her upper arm a little painfully.

“Ow!” she hissed as he pulled her uncomfortably close. She could smell his aftershave and the tobacco on his lips; it just turned her stomach more.

“Listen here, little girl,” Doc said lowly. “I gave you a chance to tell me the truth, but I do not appreciate bein’ lied to. I thought you might have gotten smarter over the years but I see you are just the same bratty little girl you have always been.”

Anger inflated Waverly’s chest and she tried to yank her arm back from him, but his grip just got tighter. There was no way she would make it out without a bruise.

“Leave me alone,” Waverly hissed. “Before I start thinking it was you who betrayed my Daddy.”

Doc chuckled, head tilting. “Oh, do not you try and turn this back on me, Waverly. Not when I am certain that you are aligned with a fugitive of the law.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Waverly said. Doc gripped her arm tighter and her face screwed up in pain. “Let me go.”

“When you tell me what I wanna know,” Doc said dangerously low.

“I do believe the lady tol’ you to let ‘er go.” Nicole’s voice came from behind Waverly. She felt her stomach drop. Of course Nicole would walk right up to the man who was looking for her.

Doc’s eyes moved to Nicole over Waverly’s shoulder and she watched as recognition dawned in his eyes.

“Rayleigh,” he said, straightening up but not releasing his grip on her arm.

“That ain’t me,” Nicole said, hand hovering over the gun at her side.

Doc’s eyes flickered to the movement and he smiled. “Now now, do not do anything you will regret, Rayleigh.”

“I could say the same to you,” Nicole said. “Now unhand Miss Waverly.”

Doc stared down Nicole for a moment before releasing Waverly’s arm. He took a long drag of his cigarette, flicking the long bit of burned down ashes to the side. Waverly breathed a sigh of relief instantly cradling her poor arm to her chest. She felt Nicole step closer behind her, a concerned hand hovering over the small of her back.

“Now if you’ll excuse us,” Nicole said, stepping a little in front of Waverly. “I believe we have other business to attend to.”

“Now now, Mr. Rayleigh, I do believe your business is with me,” Doc said, flicking his cigarette to the side. “There is a price on your head, and I intend on gettin’ it.”

Nicole chuckled and sidled up close to Doc, boots toe to toe. “I don’t know who you think you are, but I am not who you think I am,” Nicole said firmly. “My name is Haught. I don’ know this Rayleigh you speak of. So if you please.”

Waverly felt Nicole gently nudging her into the Saloon. She reached back and took Nicole’s hand, trying to pull her in with her. She heard Doc speaking after them.

“Hey, sir, come back here-”

Nicole followed Waverly into the Saloon, Rosita looking up at them from the bar. Her hands darted to their joined hands then back to the door behind them as it swung open. Doc came charging in, gun drawn and pointed at the back of Nicole’s head.

“Nicholas Rayleigh, I demand that you come with me,” Doc growled.

Waverly felt the panic flare in her chest and she went to reach for Nicole’s gun on her belt, but the other woman grabbed her wrist to stop her. Brown eyes caught hazel, and just the most subtle shake of Nicole’s head told Waverly to back off.

As soon as the click of his hammer pulling back echoed through the Saloon, Rosita was on the catwalk pointing a shotgun down at him.

“John Henry Holliday!” she called. “You know damn well there ain’t no guns allowed in this establishment.”

Doc looked up in shock, eyes wide. “Rosita. I thought-”

“Put the gun down, John Henry,” she interrupted.

“I thought you were dead,” Doc said, slowly lowering his weapon just the slightest. “How-?”

“Ever thought that maybe I wanted you to think I was dead?” Rosita said, emotion choking at her throat just a little. “Now gun. Down.”

Waverly watched Doc reluctantly put his gun back in his holster, eyes darting from Nicole to Rosita.

“Thank you,” Rosita said, gun still on him. “Now I think we should talk, John Henry.”

“I think that would be a marvelous idea,” he mumbled. His attention focused back on Nicole and he said over her shoulder. “Do not you try to be foolish and do somethin’ like run. Or else you will find I have no problem using the ones you love to your disadvantage.”

Waverly frowned at Doc as he walked away, only tearing her eyes away once he was upstairs and out of sight. She breathed a sigh of relief and looked Nicole over. “Are you okay?” she ran her hands up her arms, checking for any injuries, and held Nicole’s face in her hands.

“‘M jus’ fine, Miss Waverly,” Nicole assured her softly. She turned her head and kissed Waverly’s palm lightly before pulling her hands down from her face. Waverly shivered at the sensation, then remembered she was upset with Nicole.

“I told you not to come into town,” Waverly hissed. “You should have left me to deal with him-”

“He was hurtin’ you,” Nicole said, eyes on the bruise forming on Waverly’s arm. “I couldn’t let ‘im hurt you.”

Waverly melted a little and flattened her hand on Nicole’s chest. “Stupid stupid cowboy,” Waverly whispered, fingers playing with the buttons of Nicole’s shirt. “Sweet stupid cowboy.”

Nicole just shrugged. “I think you should leave town, Miss Waverly.”

Waverly shook her head. “Where are we going to go?”

“Not…’we’,” Nicole said, rubbing the back of her neck. “You.”

Waverly scoffed. “I’m not going anywhere without you.” She looked back up at the room where Rosita and Doc had disappeared. “How do Doc and Rosita know each other?”

“Old war friends, you could say,” Nicole adjusted her suspenders and moved on quickly. Another story, it seemed, that Waverly would have to get somewhere else. “An’ I need you to go, Miss Waverly. Now’at he knows I’m ‘ere. He ain’t gonna stop lookin’ fer me. And he’ll use you to get to me.”

“If I leave, where are you going?” Waverly asked.

Nicole smiled wryly. “I stay and face my fate.”

Waverly’s grip on Nicole’s suspenders tightened. “No. We’re both going home. He won’t know where to find us.”

“Miss Waverly-”

“No. That’s final,” Waverly said, voice wavering from fearful tears. “I won’t accept anything else.”

Nicole’s eyes searched Waverly’s face for a moment before she nodded once. “Alright, darlin’.”

***

They rode their horses back to the house as quickly as possible, dust flying up behind them. The sound of the cows mooing in the distance was the only thing that broke the silence, as they quickly watered and stabled their mounts.

Waverly hated that Nicole had come into town earlier. That she had been caught. She couldn’t help but feel responsible, guilt weighing heavy on her shoulders. When they got back, they both retreated to the cabin. Nicole pulled a bottle of whiskey from the shelf and set it on the table, sitting down and pouring herself and Waverly a glass.

Nicole had a far off look in her eyes that Waverly didn’t want to interrupt. Something told her Nicole wouldn’t take kindly to it. So she sat across from her and drank with Nicole until she finally spoke up.

“I did a lot’a things in the army I ain’t proud of,” Nicole said, voice low and smoky from the alcohol. “I joined ‘cause I wanted to be more’an a rancher. More’an my Pa. He always tol’ me to keep to myself, and I couldn’t listen. So I joined. It was foolish.”

“That’s not foolish,” Waverly said softly. “I get that...wanting more.”

Nicole chuckled darkly. “If’at was where they whole trouble stopped, I’d be fine. But I couldn’t keep to my own business. I made things my business that weren’t my business and that’s ‘ow I ended up ‘ere.”

“What did you do?” Waverly asked, reaching out and putting her hand on top of Nicole’s. “Why is this happening?”

Nicole looked up at Waverly and she swore she saw some truth there. Ready to spill out onto the table between them. But a nearby gunshot startled them.

“Nicholas Rayleigh, or whoever you are pretendin’ to be right now!” came Doc’s voice. “Are you gonna come out here and duel me like a man? Or are you gonna hide like a coward and die like a coward?”

Waverly stood up from her chair. “How did he find us?”

Nicole finished off her whiskey and stood up from the table, walking over to her trunk.

“Nicole, what do you think you’re doing?” Waverly asked as she watched Nicole change out her shirt for a fresh one, buttoning it up only halfway. She looked at Waverly as she tucked in her shirt and pulled her suspenders up over her shoulders.

“Now if this goes south, I don’ ‘ave any kin to send my body to,” Nicole said all too casually.

Waverly gaped at her as she dipped her hands in a water basin and quickly washed her face, drying it with a nearby cloth.

“Excuse me?” Waverly frowned. “If you-...what are you doing?”

There was another gunshot and Doc called from outside. “Nicholas Rayleigh, I know you are in there! So come out with yer hands up and no one will have to get hurt. ‘Cept course maybe you.”

“I’m doin’ what I ‘ave to do,” Nicole said as she pulled a clean vest from a drawer and shrugged it over her shoulder. “I been runnin’ long enough. Now my time’as run out, an’ I must face the consequences.

Waverly sputtered, guilt and panic gripping at her chest. She reached for Nicole, grabbing fistfuls of her shirt and pulling her close. “You can’t go out there,” Waverly said, brow furrowed. “He’ll kill you.”

“Yeah. Prob’ly,” Nicole smiled wryly, and Waverly wanted to slap her.

“Don’t go out there,” Waverly demanded, hot tears rimming her eyes and making it harder to see. “You hear me? Do not go out there.”

Nicole’s hands that had remained so respectfully at her side for so long, came up and held Waverly’s waist. She melted into the simple touch, front completely molding to Nicole’s.

“Miss Waverly, I’m sorry, but I do ‘ave to go out there,” Nicole said softly. “Doc Holliday ain’t gonna be leaving either of us alone until he ‘as his pound’a flesh. An’ I’m gonna give it to ‘im.”

Waverly shook her head, throat tight from emotion. “No, Nicole, please,” Waverly couldn’t seem to form any other words, her own pain making her stupid. “Stay in here. With me. We’ll figure it out.”

Nicole gently took Waverly’s face between her hands and her breath caught in her throat. Their faces were close and Waverly looked up into Nicole’s eyes. Light was streaming through the window and lighting up the edges of her hair a bright coppery red, eyes shining specks of gold back at her. Looking up at Nicole, Waverly swore she could see every missed moment between them in those eyes.

Nicole’s hands were so gentle, calluses brushing against Waverly’s cheeks and making her shiver. Waverly pulled Nicole as close as she could by the front of her shirt, and she bent and pressed their foreheads together. It felt like the whole world dropped out from under them in that moment and they were suspended, just the two of them.

“Don’ you worry now, Miss Waverly, e’rething is gonna be just fine. Ya hear?” Nicole whispered, thumbs brushing over Waverly’s cheekbones. Waverly wanted nothing more than to get as close as possible to her.

“It’ll be fine if you stay in here,” Waverly tried again, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“You know I can’t do that,” Nicole smiled, dimples popping. “Listen, it’s a fifty-fifty chance I get’em first. Either way, you’ll be safe. Jus’ don’t let ‘em take my body, alright?”

Waverly felt like she was going to be sick. If she was a little taller and a little braver, she might tip her chin up and finally kiss Nicole right here.

“You can’t,” Waverly sniffled lamely.

“It’s been a pleasure gettin’ to know ya, Miss Waverly,” Nicole whispered. “I’ll be seein’ you around.”

Nicole kissed the corner of Waverly’s lips so softly that she barely even noticed. Nicole kissed the opposite corner, then the tip of Waverly’s nose and finally, her lips lingered on her forehead. Waverly stood there in shock, every inch of her face still tingling from Nicole’s touch. Her hands slid from Nicole’s shirt and she blinked, brain trying to catch up with everything else she was feeling.

She looked over just as the door closed, Nicole having already left the cabin.

“Nicole!” Waverly called uselessly after her. She quickly wiped the tears from her eyes and growled in anger. Stomping over to the bed, she pulled the shotgun out from under it and charged outside. Doc was standing out in the field and Nicole was standing across from him a few yards away.

Both were staring at each other, hands hovering over their holstered weapons. Nicole yelled out at Doc. “What’re yer terms?”

“Ten paces then shoot. Deal?” Doc yelled back.

“Deal,” Nicole said.

“You bunch of ridiculous cowboys,” Waverly mumbled to herself as she cocked the shotgun and ran until she was standing in front of Nicole. She stopped and turned her gun on Doc.

“Miss Waverly, get out,” Nicole said lowly.

“What the hell is this, Rayleigh?” Doc all but growled. “Move your woman.”

“I am no one’s woman!” Waverly shouted. “You two are acting like idiots! Solve this like adults!”

“Listen, girl, I don’t know what yer playin’ at, but you better be gettin’ outta here if you don’t wanna get hurt.” Doc said, mustache twitching.

Doc and Nicole stayed staring at each other, hands hovering over their weapons.

“Go back to the cabin, darlin’, don’ be stupid,” Nicole said from over her shoulder. “We’re jus’ fine without you gettin’ in the middle.”

“I’m not moving until the two of you call off this ridiculous show. Just stand next to each other and measure your dicks instead,” Waverly hissed.

“Alright, I have had quite enough,” Doc sighed. Faster than Waverly could even register, his gun was out and smoke was coming from the barrel. The ringing of the bullet through the air made her hair stand on end, ringing in her ears and making the rest of the world sound like it was underwater. The only sound that Waverly heard was Nicole’s grunt of pain, and the heavy ‘thud’ as she fell to the ground.

Chapter Text

Waverly couldn’t help but focus on the blood pooling below Nicole’s arm. She kneeled in the dirt next to her, one hand on Nicole’s cheek as she tried to get her to respond. Her face was pale, blood soaking into the ground beneath her and brown eyes dazed, blinking blankly up at the sky.

“Nicole. Nicole!” Waverly said. She could hear the crunching of boots in the dirt behind her but still only looked at Nicole. “Talk to me.”

“‘M...fine,” Nicole managed, some life coming back into her eyes for a moment. “M fine.”

“You’re not,” Waverly said, trying to hold back her own tears. “You need help.”

“I can-...fix it myself.” Nicole tried to sit up but Waverly hushed her gently, pressing on her shoulders to keep her down.

“Stay down, please.”

She heard the click of the hammer by her ear and looked up just as Doc stepped over them, his figure blocking the sun and gun pointed at Nicole. “Alright, Rayleigh, you will be comin’ with me now.”

Waverly stood up quickly, anger flooding her veins with fire as she stood in front of Doc, her body knocking his gun away from Nicole. She pulled her hand back and slapped him hard across the face. His head jerked to the side with the impact, stubbled cheek already reddening.

“You’ve done enough,” Waverly said, poking him hard in the chest. “You played dirty and shot her before it was time. You should be strung up in the nearest tree-”

“I do believe it will be Rayleigh that finds himself at the business end of a hangman’s knot, dear little Earp,” Doc said, tipping back his hat. “Now if you jus’ let me take ‘im into town-” Waverly held up her shotgun, poking it into the middle of his chest to his surprise. He blinked at her and held up his hands at his sides. “Now now, no reason to make a rash decision-”

“Get off my property,” Waverly hissed. “You get the fuck off my property before I blow a hole in your chest. Do you understand?”

“Do not be stupid,” Doc said, even as some fear crept into his eyes.

Waverly managed to grin at him, lips pulling back into a snarl as she cocked her gun. “Get. Out.”

Doc began to back up slowly, his eyes darting back to Nicole every few seconds. “I will be back, Ms. Earp.”

“And I’ll be just as pissed!” Waverly said, shooting the shotgun into the sky.

Doc at least had enough dignity left in him not to startle, instead turning around and heading off of the ranch property back to his horse. As soon as he was gone, Waverly let the shotgun drop to the ground and she turned back to Nicole, kneeling on the ground again. She looked more pale, the blood on her arm thick and dark red.

Nicole tried to sit up and Waverly put her hands on her shoulders again, halting her movement. “I tol’ you, ‘m fine, darlin’,” Nicole said, voice thick and strained with pain. “I’ll just change mah shirt.”

“You stubborn ass,” Waverly said as worried tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. “Come on, let’s get you inside then I’ll get a doctor.”

“I don’ need no doctor,” Nicole said. She grimaced as she stood up slowly, Waverly hovering near her until she was on her feet. What little color that was left in Nicole’s face drained and Waverly quickly tucked herself under Nicole’s good arm, arm around her waist, and helped her into the cabin. Waverly started towards the bed but Nicole shook her head.

“No, table. I don’ wanna lay down,” Nicole gritted out.

“Fine,” Waverly said, begrudgingly helping her over to the table. The bottle of whiskey was still there. Nicole picked up the bottle, pulled the cap out with her teeth and spit it to the side before taking a long swig. Waverly pulled another chair over next to Nicole’s injured arm. Setting the bottle down, Nicole started to undo the buttons of her shirt, hissing as she pulled the shirt down to expose her injured arm, revealing her soaked and blood stained undershirt.

Waverly looked at the wound as closely as she could through the tattered sleeve of the undershirt. The bullet had gone through her arm, not directly in the middle but just off to the side. Waverly tried to pull the sleeve away from Nicole’s arm as best she could, but the tacky blood adhered the fabric to the skin. Waverly shook her head.

“You’re gonna have to take this off, cowboy,” Waverly quipped.

Nicole shook her head and just grabbed the shirt at her shoulder and ripped, the seams giving way so she could pull the sleeve down her arm. Waverly blinked and helped Nicole pull the sleeve all the way off her arm.

“Or...that,” she said.

Waverly got up to get a spare rag. She tore it into a long strip and tied off the wound. Nicole grimaced but just took another long swig of the whiskey before setting it back down heavily on the table. The liquid sloshed inside, almost threatening to come out of the top.

“I can probably handle this,” Waverly sighed. “But I rather you let me get a doctor.”

“No doctor,” Nicole visibly suppressed a shudder and Waverly made a note to ask her about it later. “Jus’ rub some dirt on it and we’ll move on. Or get Rosie.”

“Nicole Haught, please tell me you don’t actually think rubbing dirt on it is a viable solution,” Waverly mumbled, as she went to heat up some water to clean the wound.

Nicole chuckled. “Jus’ ‘cause I talk like this don’ mean I’m stupid, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said as she took another big gulp of whiskey. “I’m dumb. Not stupid.”

“You’re neither,” Waverly corrected as she turned on the stove to heat up the water. “And I’m not getting Rosita. She’s probably the one who told Doc where we live.”

“It weren’t Rosita,” Nicole said firmly. “She wouldn’t do tha’. She ain’t-...well she probably ain’t too happy for Doc to be back neither.”

There was more to the story than Nicole was telling her. Waverly could tell. But she waited until the water was warm and poured it into a basin, carrying it over to the table with some more clean rags, her kit and some bandages. She could smell the alcohol coming off of Nicole and she had definitely drunk at least a third of the bottle on her own.

“Why wouldn’t she be happy? Did you know Doc before?” Waverly asked, as she dipped a rag in the water. She put the rag to the wound and Nicole hissed in pain, but didn’t move.

“Let’s jus’ say ‘er and Doc don’ really ‘ave the best history,” Nicole muttered, taking another swig. “I didn’ know Doc but I knew of ‘im.” Her eyes darted over to Waverly. “Defamed friend of one Wyatt Earp. Honored Deputy turned bounty hunter. I know ‘im quite well.”

Waverly continued to wipe at the wound, brow furrowed in concentration. She was brought back to her time in Purgatory. The hushed fights between her Daddy and Doc that she and Wynonna would try and listen to from the upstairs. Willa would always grab their ears and rat them out, leaving Wynonna to getting a lashing or two. Waverly swallowed thickly and shook her head.

“Did he hurt Rosita?” Waverly asked softly.

Nicole licked her lips, bottle already mostly raised to her lips as she looked off into the distance. Her eyes were glazed over, probably a mix of the pain and the alcohol. “Depends who you ask,” Nicole said with a sad smile. “Depends if they consider tyin’ someone up an’ force ‘em to make booze and medicines fer ya and...who knows what else...depends if you consider that indecent.”

Waverly’s stomach dropped at the confession, hand pausing in cleaning Nicole’s wound. She watched Nicole look at the now half empty bottle, lifting it to her lips again despite the way she was swaying in her seat. Waverly reached out and put her hand over the top of the bottle, Nicole’s lips getting the back of her hand instead.

“Maybe you should slow down there, Daddy,” Waverly muttered mostly to herself.

Nicole frowned and lowered the bottle. “Wha’?”

Waverly blushed. “My Daddy used to drink a lot. Caused some problems.”

“‘M sorry, darlin’,” Nicole slurred as she dropped the bottle back on the table.

“Not your thing to apologize for,” Waverly assured her. “So...how did you and Rosita meet?”

Nicole sighed. “I was sent to collect some medicines from ‘em. Our camp needed a lot more medicine ‘an we ‘ad and o’ course he charged us an arm an’ a leg...either way I was sent to get it. An’ I met Rosie. I helped ‘er find a way outta there.”

“Did you two come here together?” Waverly asked.

“No. She came ‘ere first and tol’ me...she tol’ me that this was the kinda town tha’ people came to when they wanna hide,” Nicole said.

Waverly dipped the rag back in the basin, the blood flowing out of it in tendrils and painting the water pink. Her mind was split between dressing Nicole’s wound and taking in all this new information. She had so many questions that she didn’t know what to ask first.

“And that’s why they’re looking for you?”

“Nah, that was jus’ the start’a it, darlin’,” Nicole said, eyes going glassy again.

Waverly wrung out the rag and continued to wipe the blood off of Nicole’s slowly weeping wound. She looked in her kit and pulled out a strip of willow bark. She placed it over the wound and then wrapped a fresh strip of cloth over it to keep it in place.

“Wha’s that?” Nicole asked.

“To help the healing,” Waverly said. “Willow bark. This medicine woman taught me once. Her name was Mattie, she was passing through.”

“When you’ere with Bobo?” Nicole asked, eyes on where Waverly was tying up her bandage.

“When I was with Bobo,” Waverly confirmed. Mattie had been nice, even offering to help Waverly escape. But she had been young, too scared to defy Bobo after what she’d seen him do to the others that betrayed him. Waverly stood up to take the bowl with dirty water outside, when she felt Nicole’s hand land warm on her hip. She took a sharp intake of breath and looked down to see Nicole’s glassy eyes staring up at her.

“Did’e hurt you?” Nicole asked, hand tightening on Waverly’s hip. “I’ll kill ‘em if’e-”

“I believe that’s what got you in this problem to begin with, cowboy,” Waverly said. She cupped Nicole’s cheek affectionately, skin burning under her touch. She frowned and touched the side of her neck to the same effect. “Do you feel okay? You’re hot.”

Nicole smirked. “That is my las’ name, darlin’.”

Waverly gave Nicole a playful frown and resisted the urge to lean down and kiss Nicole. Her eyelids were heavy and she just looked so cute. But Nicole was fairly drunk and Waverly wasn’t sure if her heart could take being rejected again. Not when she just had to go through the scare of Nicole getting shot, something she wasn’t going to think about at the moment.

“I meant physically-” Nicole smirked wider and Waverly tapped her lips with her finger, leaving it there. “I mean...your skin feels hot. Like you have a fever.”

“Don’t sound like somethin’ that ain’t common after gettin’ shot,” Nicole said. Her lips ghosted over Waverly’s finger and she hummed.

“Let’s get you in bed,” Waverly said, as she carded her fingers through Nicole’s hair.

“Can’t,” Nicole said with a shake of her head. “Gotta stay up in case Doc comes back.”

Nicole stood up, swaying a little where she stood, her body still close to Waverly’s. She slid her arms around Nicole’s waist and just put her head on her chest, taking a deep breath. Nicole’s wound wasn’t too serious. At least, not as serious as it could have been. She was still at risk of infection but it had been a warning shot. Just a reminder that just as this shot was purposefully a warning shot, the next one could be deadly.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, head falling so that her cheek was nestled against the crown of Waverly’s head as her arm went around her, injured one bent between their bodies. “This ain’t proper.”

“Shut up, cowboy, just let me hold you,” Waverly said. Her words were muffled by the cotton of Nicole’s shirt as she breathed her in. The aroma of vanilla and the soap she’d been putting in the laundry filled her nose and mouth as she took a shuddering breath and felt a rush of heat to her eyes.

Nicole squeezed her a little tighter and Waverly felt the tears start to fall. “You okay?”

Waverly nodded and let out a sharp laugh. “I’m sorry. You’re the one who’s hurt...I just-”

“I’s alright,” Nicole said into her hair. “Why don’ you go to bed early while I wait up.”

“We’ll both wait up,” Waverly said, quickly brushing some stray tears from her cheeks.

“Miss Waverly-”

“Come on,” Waverly quickly cut her off and took a step back. “Get yourself comfortable and I’ll put my nightgown on.”

Nicole mumbled and took a step back, smirking as she began to undo her belt. “Yes, ma’am,” she slurred.

Waverly blushed and hesitated a moment before grabbing her nightgown and ducking behind the bathing curtain. She changed and set her dress over the back of a chair, she didn’t feel like putting it away properly at the moment.

Nicole had moved a chair over near one of the front windows and she was reloading her pistols, fingers moving a little less delicately in her inebriated state. Waverly pulled another chair over, picking up her shotgun from the table and sitting next to Nicole.

“I tol’ you you could go’a bed,” Nicole said as she closed the chamber of her gun with a snap of her wrist. Waverly huffed as she got settled in her chair.

“As if I could stay up knowing you were up. You’re working one arm down right now anyways,” Waverly said, nodding towards Nicole’s injured arm. “Maybe you could...tell me more about yourself. Why did you join the army?”

“I weren’t given a real choice,” Nicole scoffed. “It was join or end up at the hangman’s tree.”

Waverly’s heart clenched at the thought. “But why?”

Nicole sighed and slid down in her chair, knees spread wide as she stared diligently out the window. “‘At’s what happens when you break the law. Even if the law is a bunch of hogwash to begin with.”

“Which law did you break this time?”

Nicole frowned, eyes becoming a little less focused as she thought. “My Pa wasn’ a rich man, but he made business with rich men. An’ goin’ to these...these plantations and watchin’ how they treated...other humans how they treated the children and women-” Nicole shook her head. “It weren’t what God intended. I don’ care what anyone says.”

“The slaves,” Waverly breathed in realization.

“Yep,” Nicole said, rolling her head back for a moment. “I became friends with some’a ‘em and...well they tol’ me about a plan to sneak some out. Get ‘em to more free land out West. An’ I ‘elped. I used my Pa’s wagon to smuggle them outta their...situations. Turns out folks didn’ like that.”

“So you pretended to be a man and joined the army?” Waverly asked.

“Not...exacl’y,” Nicole rubbed the back of her neck. “They jus’ assumed I was a man an’ I didn’ correct ‘em when they said either I’d hang or volunteer to join the war down at the border. I was dumb. Lookin’ fer adventure.”

“That’s not all that dumb,” Waverly said softly.

“Yeah, well, it got me with Doc Holliday on mah ass so...it’s lookin’ kinda dumb right now,” Nicole chuckled back.

“And somewhere in there...you met Shae?” Waverly asked, hoping to capitalize on the fact that Nicole was feeling loose lipped at the moment.

Nicole shook her head and looked over at Waverly. “Now now, Miss Waverly, I do believe that’s enough questions fer the night. ‘M surprised you ain’t know e’erythin’ you need to know from goin’ through that trunk.”

Waverly blushed and pushed some hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry, Nicole. I really am. I shouldn’t have-”

“I know,” Nicole assured her with a small smile. “No need to apologize further.”

Fidgeting with her nightgown, Waverly mumbled. “I feel like I should apologize more.”

“How ‘bout you apologize more by goin’ to bed while I stay up?” Nicole said, chancing a glance at the bandage over her arm where blood was slowly staining the surface. “I’ll wake you up if anythin’ int’restin’ happens.”

“Nicole-” Waverly almost protested, but Nicole gave her a look that made her jaw snap shut. Her brows were furrowed, eyes sharp and commanding and...why did it make her stomach burn and mouth dry? “Okay, fine,” Waverly said haughtily as she stood up and put the safety back on her shotgun. “But don’t complain to me when you’re lonely.”

“I won’,” Nicole said with a smile, her eyes softening again.

Waverly just shot her another look as she went to the bed and lay between the sheets. Her mind was still running a million miles a minute with not only the events of the day but the drama of it all. She couldn’t let herself think about Nicole getting shot, because then her throat closed up with panic, and the idea of losing someone else she lov-...cared about was too much. She buried her face in the pillow and let out a deep sigh, wishing Nicole was in bed next to her. After a few minutes of restlessness, Waverly finally managed to drift off to sleep.

***

The next morning, Waverly woke up with a start. She immediately felt the other side of the small bed but it was cold. Sitting up, she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes as she looked around the small cabin.

“Nicole?” Waverly called out to the empty room.

Her heart leapt into her throat and no amount of swallowing was making it go away. Nicole’s boots were missing by the front door, hat off the hook. Maybe she had just stupidly gone to do some chores with her injured arm.

Not wanting to wonder any longer, Waverly got out of the bed and quickly got dressed for work. The first thing she noticed when she stepped outside was the door of the barn open a foot or so. Hopefully Nicole was still in there. Taking a big bite of the apple she had grabbed from the kitchen, Waverly poked her head into the barn. Empty. Her churning stomach wasn’t pleased with the apple, so she gave the rest to Butter and gave a carrot to Trigger.

Or tried to anyways. She stopped in front of Nicole’s horse who was pacing back and forth in his stall and spoke softly to him.

“What’s wrong, boy?” Waverly asked, offering the carrot flat on her palm. The horse snorted, barely even sniffing the carrot before nudging her with his big head instead. “Where’s your mom?”

There was no sign of her outside of the barn save for the open door. The dread in her chest refused to leave as she looked around the barn. She saw a half moved pile of hay in the corner, sitting on the ground a few feet from the stack. The dirt in the area looked disturbed like there had been some kind of scuffle.

Waverly had to get to town as soon as possible.

With anxious hands, she managed to saddle up Butter in record time and nudged her in the ribs to get her into a gallop. The relentless morning air rushed past her face, stinging her skin but thankfully keeping the concerned tears from falling down her cheeks.

She was going to kill Nicole if she was hurt again. Or worse. Dead already.

Waverly couldn’t let herself think those thoughts. Not if she didn’t want to ride through her tears.

The first thing she noticed when she rode into town was the new wanted posters on the sides of all the buildings, with Nicole’s face on them. New and freshly printed. Waverly cursed to herself and got off Butter to pull them down.

“That son of a bitch,” she muttered under her breath as she ripped one off the side of the livery. Butter followed her dutifully as she went to the General Store, pulling another two off the building.

“Whatcha doin’ girl?”

The familiar and grating voice made Waverly turn, only to see the two men that had been harassing her in the General Store when she first came to town. She threw them a sarcastic smile.

“None of your business,” Waverly said, as she stalked over to Butter and put the wanted posters in her saddle bag. One of the men shoved her out of the way before she could close the bag and pulled out the stack of posters she had already collected.

They both grinned, teeth like old crooked fences, and Waverly could smell the sweat and tobacco coming off of them like they had bathed in it. She reached for the posters but they pulled them away.

“I asked ya,” the shorter one said as he took a dangerous step towards Waverly. “Whatcha doin’? ‘Cause it looks like you been collectin’ pi’tures of yer freak.”

Waverly clenched her fists at her sides. The glint of amusement in their eyes gave the men away almost immediately. “Where is she?” she growled.

“Prob’ly dead by now,” the taller man said with a wicked grin. “Buzzards probably already ‘ad their way wit’ ‘em.”

Waverly grabbed the fliers from the shorter one’s hands again and he scowled, taking another big step towards her until their were practically chest to chest.

“You wanna join ‘er, girl?” he said as he sucked on his teeth, eyes roaming her up and down. “I bet I coul’ find a good use fer ya before I feed you to the buzzards. If that freak ain’t tainted yer cunt yet.”

Waverly’s blood boiled and she opened her mouth to retort when someone cleared their throat. There right beside them was one of the men Waverly had been trying to avoid. The two men took a step back, meek looks on their faces.

“Sheriff Nedley,” the tall one said with a tip of his filthy hat. “Mornin’, sir.”

“Boys,” the Sheriff gruffed. He looked at Waverly, “Problem here?”

“No, sir-”

“I was talkin’ to the missus,” Nedley said, shooting them down with a hard glare before looking back at Waverly. “If I heard correctly. Yer lookin’ for Haught. Correct?”

“Yessir,” Waverly said, stuffing the posters back in her bag. “Do you know where she is?”

Nedley nodded, looking over her carefully. “I do. You best come with me.” He acknowledged the men again, face hard. “An’ you two better find somethin’ else to do that don’ involve bothering young ladies.”

The tall man scoffed and the shorter one hit him with his hat, pushing him down the street and away from the Sheriff as they retreated. Waverly watched them go before looking back at Nedley. He was still looking at her warily and she wondered if he remembered her. She wondered if she should bother lying to him at all.

“You said you know where Nicole is,” she said instead, small smile on her face as she made her eyes bigger to complete the “innocent look”. One she had used often in the face of Bobo’s men.

Nedley gruffed and adjusted her belt. “I do. Follow me, Miss…” he trailed off, holding out his hand.

Waverly sucked in a nervous breath. “Waverly Earp, sir.”

Nedley nodded as she took his hand. “I had a feelin’. Yer the spittin’ image of your Ma.”

Waverly blushed. She was never told much about her Mama. Everyone always focused on her father, he was the far more notorious of the two. “Really?”

“Yep,” Nedley said a little sadly before motioning for her to follow him. “Come on, I got yer girl here.” Waverly breathed a sigh of relief and followed behind him to just the next building over that was the Sheriff’s office.

“How long has she been here?” Waverly asked.

“Not long. ‘Bout since this mornin’,” Nedley said. “Holliday brought ‘er in an’ tol’ me to hold ‘er fer’um.”

They walked into the small office, Nedley’s desk on one side with a door behind it leading to another room, and a gun cabinet on the opposite wall. He took a ring of keys out of his drawer and walked into the smaller room.

It was darker and felt more humid for some reason. There were four small cells, two on each side, and only one small barred window for each of them. Waverly’s eyes automatically went to the far left cell where a familiar body was lying on the cot. She rushed over to the bars, hands around them like she could pry them apart and set Nicole free.

“Nicole,” Waverly breathed a sigh of relief.

Nicole turned her head, eyes blinking as she woke. Her hurt arm was still cradled against her front, more blood seeping from the bandage, and she had a still-bloody gash over her right eye. Waverly’s heart ached. “Miss Waverly?”

Waverly and Nicole burst into relaxed smiles when their eyes met. Nicole stood up from the cot and rushed to the bars, her hands covering Waverly’s. The rough callouses of her hands brushed over the top of Waverly’s, the hands she had imagined touching her so many more places.

Nedley cleared her throat. “Waverly, I’m gonna need to talk to ya when yer done here,” he looked between the two of them, “An’ no funny business. No passin’ nothin’.”

“Yessir,” Nicole croaked. Nedley gave them both a curt nod and went to sit at his desk. Waverly pressed herself as close to the bars as she could, almost as if she were trying to push herself through them. Nicole smiled as gently as a summer breeze. Like she wasn’t in a cage. And Waverly’s heart fluttered up to her throat at that dimpled smile. “Pleasure seein’ you here, Miss Waverly.”

Waverly choked out a small sob and a smile, a tear falling down her cheek. “Sweet talking even from a jail cell.”

“‘S only proper when a pretty lady come’a vist,” Nicole drawled. She pulled her red bandana from her pocket and gently brushed away Waverly’s tear. “Now now, no cryin’.”

Pressing her forehead against the cold bars, Waverly wished she could reach up and kiss Nicole right on the lips. She swore she had the courage right now, not like the other times she just kissed her cheek.

“How am I not supposed to cry? You’re in jail,” Waverly sniffled.

Nicole chuckled and gently bopped her nose with the bandana. “Here, take this.”

“What happened?” Waverly asked, eyes flickering up to the cut on her forehead as she took the bandana. She balled it in her fist and shook her head. “Why are you in here?”

“Well, funny story,” Nicole said. “I was goin’ to bale the hay fer the horses an’ uh...that sonavabitch-- excuse my language, Miss Waverly, but’e was hidin’ in the barn. Gave me a good crack on’a head and put me on ‘is horse.”

“Oh Nicole,” Waverly sighed. She reached into the bars, fingers lightly brushing over the deep cut above her eye. Nicole just barely flinched, still smiling. “I’m sorry.”

“Ain’t yer fault,” Nicole said with a shake of her head.

“When can you leave?” Waverly asked, pushing some red strands behind her ear. She took in her features like she hadn’t seen Nicole for years, every line of her face slowly being mapped out in her mind.

Nicole tilted ever so slightly into Waverly’s touch. “I can’t, darlin’.”

“Why?” Waverly frowned.

“I-...Doc plans on turnin’ me in,” Nicole said. “He jus’ left me in ‘ere while he settled up his affairs. Then...who knows.”

Waverly felt her smile slowly fall. “Who knows...what, Nicole?”

“He could be takin’ me back down to the border or he could...well, it’s dead or alive,” Nicole finished with a whisper.

Waverly felt sick, her hands tightening on the bars of the cell. “That’s not happening,” Waverly said firmly. “I refuse to let that happen. Do you hear me?”

Nicole’s smile looked sad. “I know, Miss Waverly.”

“Waverly,” Nedley said from the doorway. “Time’s up.”

Nedley had poked his head back in, still looking between them and how close they were before mumbling to himself and settling back in his chair out of sight. Waverly shook her head and looked back at Nicole.

“I don’t want to go,” Waverly whispered.

Nicole took Waverly’s hand in hers, pulled it through the bars and raised it to her lips. Getting it close but not kissing it, Nicole said with a smile, her breath tickling over Waverly’s skin. “I’m afraid we don’ have no choice, Miss Waverly.” She kissed the back of Waverly’s hand softly and she felt herself swoon. “I’ll be seein’ ya around.”

“I’ll be back,” Waverly said. “Soon. I promise. Today. When Nedley lets me.”

Nicole just smiled wider and let go of Waverly’s hand. “You know where to find me.”

“How can you be so calm right now?” Waverly sighed. “I’m having a conniption.”

“Ain’t much I can do from in here,” Nicole said, pressing her face between the bars so that they were even closer. “I knew this would catch up wit’ me someday. Just do me one favor.”

“Anything.”

“Don’t go messin’ with Doc. Ya hear?”

“But-”

“Miss Earp, please.”

“Fine.”

“Alright,” Nedley said, now standing in the doorway, “Let’s go.”

Waverly quickly kissed the corner of Nicole’s lips and pulled away, noting the blush on her cheeks apparent even in the low lighting. With one final squeeze of Nicole’s hand, Waverly managed to pull herself away from the bars. One last look back is all she afforded herself, and it was more than enough to make the tears lodged in her throat sting and choke her. The image of Nicole standing with her injured arm cradled to her chest and face pressed between the bars was more than enough to break her heart.

Nedley directed her into the chair across from his desk and went to hand her a handkerchief, but she waved him off with Nicole’s bandana.

“Thanks anyway,” Waverly said, as the door closed to the cell area, blocking Nicole from view. She sniffled and used Nicole’s bandana to dab at the corners of her eyes.

“So...Waverly,” Nedley said, leaning forward on his elbows and folding his hands together on his desk. “You’re-...we all thought you were dead. After we found your Pa…”

Waverly chuckled darkly. “Yeah, it was easier if everyone just thought I was dead,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Sorry, I would have talked to you sooner I just...was settling in.”

It wasn’t a complete lie. Mostly Waverly didn’t know who to trust anymore and people from her past were a big red flag no matter what. After all, Nedley had a lot to gain from her Daddy being murdered. He became the Sheriff.

“I’m assuming Chrissy knows you’re back?” he said, mustache twitching.

“Yes.”

“Alrigh’, then,” Nedley said, with an awkward nod. “Just...be careful, Waverly. You’ve always been a smart kid, I assume nothing has changed, just...take care’a yerself.”

“I will,” Waverly said pointedly. “I haven’t gotten myself into anything dangerous, I assure you.”

Nedley sighed. “Jus’ bein’ back in Purgatory is dangerous enough.”

Waverly considered going back to work, but Eliza had (not unkindly) told her that her tear stained cheeks and red eyes wouldn’t do much for sales. So instead she found herself wandering over to the hotel where she knew Doc was staying.

Nicole had said not to go after Doc...but she hadn’t said anything about just...accidentally running into him. Plus, Waverly was her own woman. As far as she saw it, there was no reason for her to be taking orders from someone who refused to even kiss her. Nicole would give her her bandana and probably the shirt off her back if she asked, but she wouldn’t kiss her.

Waverly decided the back of the hotel would be the best point of entry. Fewer eyes on her as she came in.

The hotel was at the end of the one long main street that made up Purgatory. It was two stories, looming over most of the street, and had big fancy French doors in the front, with expensive looking glass. Someone had definitely sunk a lot of money into it.

The back was less fancy looking, just a typical back of a building with some overhanging balconies attached to the rooms . Waverly pushed the back door and it opened up to a dark hallway. She could hear the kitchen on one side, and from the other side she heard voices that she would have passed by without thinking if she hadn’t heard Doc’s familiar drawl.

“I tol’ you I would have the money by the end of the week,” he snarled as Waverly stopped in her tracks. “I have three more days.”

“He wants it now,” came another voice she vaguely recognized but couldn’t put her finger on.

“Well he’s gonna have to wait-”

“No one keeps Bobo waiting, I think you know that, Holliday,” the other voice said, a hint of amusement in his voice. Waverly flattened herself against the wall beside the door. There was some more rumbling she couldn’t decipher, so she gently and quietly pushed the door open just the slightest bit.

“I cannot get you the money until I return the charge-”

“He wants it by midnight tonight. So you better make it work.”

“I do not even know if he has the information-”

The soft sound of something being thrown on a table stopped Doc mid-sentence. Curiosity got the better of Waverly and she moved her head so she could peer through the crack in the door. She saw Doc sitting with his back to her, one of Bobo’s men across from him and what looked like a photo on the table between them. Waverly strained her eyes to make out what was on the picture, when Bobo’s lackey looked up and saw her.

“Hey, ain’t that-”

Doc didn’t even turn, but the bullet pinged off the wood door frame right next to Waverly’s face, and she fell back with a small scream before leaping up to her feet and running out the back door again.

She was just about to round the corner when she ran right into Doc, throwing her off balance. Pushing past her surprise, she pulled the small pistol she always kept in her corset out and pointed it at him. It wasn’t much in the way of intimidation, but it would definitely cause him some discomfort.

“You,” she growled. “You sold my Daddy out to Bobo and now you’re doing the same to Nicole.”

Doc just stared at her with cold eyes, one hand on his pistol. “You listen here, little girl, I am sick and tired of you pointin’ guns at me. You got away with it once because I owe your Daddy for a lot, but now I got no reason for lettin’ you live once my debt is more than paid. So keep comin’ at me with weaponry and see what happens.”

“I will not be intimidated by you,” Waverly said, undeterred. “You killed my Daddy.”

“I had nothin’ do to with his death, you hear me?” Doc said with his face in Waverly’s, her gun pushing into his chest. “An’ you best shut your mouth about affairs in which you have no business.”

“Daddy would be ashamed if he could see you now,” Waverly said, voice shaking and betraying her as her heart practically vibrated from her chest.

Doc laughed, low and cold. “Are you saying he would not be ashamed of you? A harlot of a woman chasing around another woman that does not want anything to do with you?” Doc asked, voice calculating and purposeful in a way that made Waverly’s grip on the gun loosen a little. “You are pulling your skirt up for that criminal and you do not have any idea of what she’s capable of. What she has done.”

“Then tell me,” Waverly said airily to hide her embarrassment. “Tell me what the warrant is for.”

Doc smiled, slow and oily like a snake. “I guess you could say...it has to do with a woman.”

Waverly didn’t even notice her hand with the gun had fallen back at her side, all she felt was the world tilting under her and her heart leaping into her throat.

A woman.

Of course it did.

Nicole with her cocky smile and overconfident swagger. Nicole who made a habit of visiting Saloon girls and staying all night but refused to kiss Waverly. She would hold her hand and kiss her cheek but that was it. And god Nicole really had been stringing her along, hadn’t she?

“Well now I see you are preoccupied, considering the implications” Doc said as he lit a cigarette, “I will just leave you be.”

Waverly shoved the gun back into her corset between her breasts and marched down the street back towards the jail. Doc was the furthest thing away from her mind at the moment. All she was seeing was red hot jealousy.

Why was everyone else better than her? More suited for Nicole? Nicole would rather pay for a warm body in bed next to her, than choose Waverly, who was so willing to be with her?

When she walked into the Sheriff’s station, Nedley startled, his feet propped up on the desk and hat tipped over his eyes. “Wha-?”

“I need to see Nicole,” Waverly said, hands clenched at her sides. “Please.”

Nedley sighed and got up, taking the keys out of his drawer and unlocking the door to the cells again. Waverly pushed her way through as soon as the lock clicked, eyes hardly having time to adjust to the dark lighting as she stepped in front of Nicole’s cell.

She looked as startled as Nedley, having been pacing back and forth in the cell, but smiled brightly when she saw Waverly. It made her skin burn and anger flare even higher.

“Miss Waverly-”

“Don’t you ‘Miss Waverly’ me,” Waverly interrupted with a huff. Nicole frowned. “Your warrant. Does it have to do with a woman?”

Nicole took her time wandering up to the bars of the cell, tilting her head to the side as she rubbed the back of her neck nervously. “Well…”

“Well what?” Waverly asked.

“It ‘as to do with a few of um, actually,” Nicole admitted.

Waverly barked out a sarcastic laugh. “Seriously! I should have fucking known,” Waverly threw her hands up in frustration, scoffing as she ran an angry hand through her hair. She was bitter and angry and god she felt betrayed. “You’re ridiculous, do you know that?”

“Miss Waverly-”

“You pretend to be proper when really you’re nothing but. It’s just an excuse to stay as far away from me as you can,” Waverly said, voice shaking in her anger.

“Miss Waverly-” Nicole tried again. But Waverly wouldn’t let her.

“No, fuck you, Nicole,” Waverly said, turning on her heels and walking right out of the jail. She was over Nicole. Officially.

Waverly let the door close behind her and stomped off to the Saloon, going straight for the bar. She reached over the counter and grabbed a bottle and a glass, pouring herself two fingers of whiskey before shooting it back. The amber liquid burned her throat, stomach warming and her anger only getting stronger. She smacked her lips and poured herself another glass.

Rosita wandered over to her from behind the bar, small frown on her face. “Whoa there,” she said as Waverly threw back another shot. “Slow down, cowgirl. What happened?”

“Nicole,” Waverly coughed out, practically slamming her glass back down on the bar. Rosita poured her another much more conservative glass. “Goddamn Nicole and-...it’s always about a woman with her. A woman who isn’t me and-” Waverly took her other shot. “Fuck.”

Waverly dropped her forehead down onto the bar, empty glass in her hand as she groaned.

Rosita sighed and poured her another glass. “What’s going on with Haught now?”

“She was arrested-”

What?

“Yes, Doc has her in the jail for her warrant. Which apparently has to do with a woman. Surprise surprise,” Waverly finished off sarcastically, waving her glass in the air so that some of the liquid sloshed down the side and onto her hand. “It always has to do with a woman.”

Rosita looked at Waverly with a small frown. “A woman?”

“A woman. A woman that isn’t and will never be me,” Waverly finished sadly. “She’ll kiss and fuck and who knows what else with any woman that isn’t me.”

Rosita licked her lips and got a clean glass, pouring some alcohol for herself. “I need to talk to you about that. About Nicole.”

“I don’t wanna hear it,” Waverly muttered, chin down on the table as she wallowed in her own self pity. “I get it. Nicole doesn’t want me. I’ve spent weeks…distracted by a woman who doesn’t even want me when I should have been focusing on what I need to be focused on.”

“And what is that?”

“Revenge,” Waverly breathed, lips loose from the alcohol. “I’m going to take down whoever sold my Daddy out to Bobo all those years ago. I should have been looking for them instead of pining after Nicole.” Waverly scoffed and looked sadly down at her drink. “I mean, I can’t blame her. Why would I think she wanted me anyways?”

“If you really think that she doesn’t want you, you’re not looking hard enough,” Rosita said, topping up Waverly’s glass. “And you need to know something. Before you spiral off into jealousy hell.”

“I’m not...jealous,” Waverly lied.

“Sure,” Rosita smiled. But it faded just as quickly as it was there.

“It’s true.”

“Instead of listening to your lies, I’m going to tell you a story instead, okay?” Rosita said. Waverly nodded and smiled weakly.

“Fine.”

“What did Nicole tell you? Did she tell you about her time in the army?” Rosita asked.

“She told me she pretended to be a man to join the army. After she was caught smuggling slaves off of plantations,” Waverly said, imagining Nicole in her spiffy uniform. “And she told me how she met you.”

Rosita nodded. “Nicole is…too good. It’s her biggest flaw. Instead of just leavin’ well enough alone...she gets involved in things she shouldn’t. When she was in the army she saw…” Rosita finished her shot and poured herself another as Waverly sat up in her seat, listening carefully. “War is a horrible thing,” Rosita continued. “It brings out the best and the worst in people. And these men, this army was...raiding the Mexican towns. And the men...had their way with the women there.”

“That’s awful,” Waverly breathed.

Swallowing thickly, Rosita continued. “The men had...brought some back to the camp with them and were passing them around like...pieces of meat. They had one young girl in a tent...she was probably barely even old enough to bleed. And Nicole...she killed all the men. All of them that were hurting her.”

Waverly felt the sickness stew in her belly, and wished that she hadn’t drunk so much alcohol. “So she...helped them.”

Rosita nodded. “She was helping an innocent girl. But that’s not what her superiors saw. They saw her killing their soldiers over a bunch of…savages as they called us.”

That’s what her warrant is about?” Waverly breathed.

“That’s what it’s about,” Rosita finished sadly, voice thick with emotion. “So yeah, her warrant has to do with a few women. But not the way you might think.”

Waverly stared down into her glass of alcohol, the liquid reflecting the light and her reflection barely visible in it. Her face was distorted and rippling with the liquid. “Well...shit balls.”

“Shit balls indeed,” Rosita mumbled.

“So I just yelled at Nicole in a jail cell because she killed a bunch of rapists?” Waverly asked.

“Yep.”

“Are you sure she isn’t...a huge womanizer or something too?” Waverly added, almost hopefully.

“Being good with the ladies and a womanizer are two very different things,” Rosita smiled. “And I bet you can guess which one she is.”

Waverly felt relief and guilt all at the same time. Relief that she was wrong about Nicole and...guilt that she was wrong about Nicole. With the alcohol clouding her mind, all she could do was moan.

“I really messed up,” Waverly lamented as she let her head fall onto the table again. “Again. Nicole’s never gonna want anything to do with me now.”

“Nah, Nicole’s probably in her cell feeling awful and wishing she could come talk to you. Buy you a drink,” Rosita said, tapping the half empty bottle.

Waverly smiled sheepishly. “Thank you, Rosita. You’re too nice to me.”

Rosita shrugged and winked at Waverly. “No such thing.”

Eliza came through the Saloon doors in a huff and rushed up to the bar where Waverly and Rosita were. Her breasts were heaving, breath coming fast. She tried to talk but her throat was dry, so she took Waverly’s drink and downed it before slamming the glass down on the table.

“We have a problem,” Eliza finally gasped.

Waverly sat up straight. “What’s that?”

“Nicole. Doc took her just out of town to-” her eyes darted to Rosita and back at Waverly. “-to the hanging tree.”

Waverly’s heart stopped right in her chest and her stomach plummeted. “They’re gonna-”

Eliza nodded. “Yep.”

“Shit,” Waverly breathed, jumping off of the bar stool and feeling a little unsteady on her feet.

“Fuck me,” Rosita said, heading towards the stairs.

“Where are you going?!” Waverly called. “Now is not the time to freshen up!”

“I have to get something! I’ll meet you there!” Rosita called, as she ducked into her room.

“Let’s go,” Eliza said, grabbing Waverly’s hand and dragging her out of the Saloon. “Get your horse, I’ll lead you to the tree. Half the town’s already there to watch.”

Luckily Butter was hitched only a few doors down and Waverly jumped onto her, turning her reins towards the path out of town. Eliza motioned for Waverly to follow her and they tore down the street, galloping towards where Nicole was about to be nothing more than another collected bounty.

***

Nicole hadn’t had a lot of luck in her life.

She had started out pretty alright. Her Pa was okay with her not exactly fitting into the role she was expected to as a girl, she had a good ranch and a good horse. But somewhere there in the middle, somewhere between getting caught smuggling slaves of their owner’s property and being forced to run far away or be hanged for war crimes, her luck had run out.

It was hard, but she recovered and she felt okay about her life. At first Waverly showing up on her doorstep had felt like a huge burden, but she realized it had been good fortune to have Waverly Earp in her life, even if she was destined to leave in the end.

Nicole felt priveleged to be the cause of those little smiles or the way her eyes crinkled when she laughed.

Yeah, Waverly might had been moving on soon, but Nicole was glad to have her in her life while she did.

She just never figured her luck would run out with Doc fucking Holliday.

But here she was, sitting on a horse that wasn’t hers with a rope around her neck.

The rope was thick, the loose fibers sticking into her neck and feeling itchy. She looked out at the crowd that had formed in front of her. All the townsfolk who had given her sideways glances and made snide remarks...now they all waited to watch her die.

The sun was setting behind them, a purple glow practically radiating from the mountains and reflecting on the dry earth around them. Dry-- save for the large mangled tree she was tied to with a rope.

Many a time she had seen men hanging from it. Sometimes they’d leave them up for days until the buzzards had picked their bones clean. She hoped they wouldn’t leave her up, not for Waverly’s sake. Though Waverly seemed to hate her now, so maybe she’d enjoy that.

Nicole’s heart ached at the thought of Waverly. Of the last conversation they had. If she could call it that. Waverly had been so angry, so upset.

When she had first heard the door of the jail open, she thought..hoped it was Waverly. She even sat up in her cot hopefully, only to be disappointed when Doc came through the door instead with a new rage in his eyes. Nedley opened the jail cell for him and Nicole stared down Doc, raising herself to her full height.

Doc stared back at her, pulling some handcuffs off his belt. “Alright now, let us go.”

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere with you,” Nicole spat.

“You do not have much of a choice,” Doc said reaching for her arm. She batted him away but he hit her in her injured arm, and she crumpled to the ground with a scream. He rolled her on her belly and hogtied her, with hands and legs tugged behind her back.

“Fuck you,” she growled, pain shooting through her injured arm as he managed to lift her up on his shoulder, the bone sticking into her stomach.

“Hate to disappoint, but I ain’t interested in such things,” Doc said as he carried her out of the jail. He dropped her into a cart and she yelled in pain, curling onto her side as he pulled himself onto the horse pulling the cart.

Nicole caught her breath, still reeling from the pain in her arm. The cart bumped roughly along the road and she yelled up at Doc. “Where’re you takin’ me?”

“It does not matter. You ain’t gonna be there for long,” Doc said. Nicole lifted herself up as best she could with her hands and legs tied and saw that they were rolling out of the town. She tried to pull at the bonds holding her but the ropes just dug harder into her skin. For a moment she considered throwing herself out of the wagon, but Doc would undoubtedly see her anyway.

She was trying to figure out how to get her hands out of the ropes when the cart stopped. She looked up and her blood ran cold. Nicole could recognize those limbs anywhere. The hanging tree.

There were still leftover pieces of rope tied around the branches from where previous prisoners had their corpses cut down. Little reminders of how many people had perished there. Doc pulled her roughly from the cart and she fell into the dirt. It got into her lungs and made her cough, chest and arm aching as she struggled to stand with her feet tied together.

“Stop movin’,” Doc muttered, as he managed to pull her by her wrist bonds closer to the tree. A crowd had already started to form, probably following them from town as soon as they saw the wagon going towards the tree. Nicole coughed again and spit in Doc’s direction. He just scoffed and gave her a swift kick to the ribs, knocking the air from her lungs.

She gasped for air, corners of her eyes burning with tears.

Waverly.

She’d never get to tell Waverly she was sorry. That she wished she could have married her and kissed her. By the time her breath recovered, she was being hoisted up by her arms into the sitting position. Doc pulled out a large hunting knife and cut her foot bonds.

“Do not do anything stupid,” Doc said as he pulled her to her feet and shoved her towards a horse. He pulled out a gun and held it to her head. “Get on.”

She shot him a look over her shoulder and grabbed the horn of the saddle, pulling herself onto the horse. She would have taken off right then if Doc still didn’t have the gun trained on her. He led the horse over to a noose he had hanging in the tree, got up on a chair that was besides the tree for these purposes and looped the noose around her neck.

The crowd had gotten a little bigger, rope already tight on her neck. She swallowed thickly, feeling her muscles push and contract under the rope. The horse moved under her, its body shuddering with a breath as it stomped it’s foot.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Doc began addressing the crowd with a flourish. “You have before you, one Nicole Haught, also known by the previous alias of Nicholas Rayleigh. She is being tried for treason, murder and deception. Today, she will be hung by the neck until dead from this here tree, then her body will taken back to Texas and laid to rest.”

There was an excited murmur amongst the crowd and Nicole searched it desperately for a familiar face. Nedley stood at the front of the crowd, hands flexing and relaxing on the leather of his belt.

In the distance, Nicole could see some dirt kicking up in the direction of town and her heart stuttered hopefully.

“So now, Nicole Haught,” Doc continued, “do you have any final words for the crowd?”

Nicole licked her lips, swallowing nervously as she watched the speck in the distance grow bigger, a familiar black and white speckled horse.

“I um…” Nicole started, horse shifting under her. “I wanna say...sorry. Fer any pain I have caused.”

Waverly was racing up to the crowd on Butter, Eliza close behind her. Even with the rope around her neck and death inevitably upon her, Nicole still had to smile.

“An’ I wanna say sorry, to Miss Waverly Earp, fer being a stubborn mule,” Nicole said, as Waverly rode Butter right up next to Nicole’s horse, who snorted nervously. Doc had his hand on his gun, but didn’t move to stop Waverly when she grabbed Nicole’s pant leg and waist, the only thing she could touch.

“Don’t you apologize to me for anything,” Waverly said, tears swimming in her eyes. Nicole offered her a crooked smile and wished she could reach out and hold her, to wipe the tears from her cheeks. “Nicole, you get off this horse right now. Doc! Let her off right this second! Nedley! Please!”

“It’s alrigh’, darlin’,” Nicole whispered, trying to calm her down. “I’m fine. I’m a little tied up at the moment, ya see, but I’m fine.”

Butter snorted, hooves beating into the dirt nervously. Nicole’s horse’s tail twitched and he threw his head back with a snort. Nicole was hyper aware of every move the horse made, since if it decided to take off, she was as good as dead. She looked between the two horses.

“Um, darlin’, the horses,” Nicole started before Doc chimed in.

“Miss Earp, I do believe that is enough,” Doc said, voice tired.

“You can give me another second,” Waverly snarled at him. “You son of a bitch.”

The crowd gasped.

Nicole chuckled and shook her head. “That ain’t proper, Miss Waverly.”

Their horses shifted again.

“I don’t give a shit what’s proper and what’s not,” Waverly said, turning back to Nicole. She reached for her leg, her stomach, her shirt, any bit of Nicole she could reach like she was looking for something to hold on to so she wouldn’t drown. Nicole sat powerless with her hands tied behind her back. She could only lean into her a little bit.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole whispered seriously. “Listen to me, darlin’. I wanna say I’m sorry I-...I’m sorry I never made an honest woman outta you. You understand?”

She couldn’t bring herself to say it. Not here when she was about to be a corpse at the end of a rope. But Nicole wanted…needed Waverly to know what she meant to her.

“Nicole,” Waverly sobbed. “Don’t leave me. There has to be something...something we can do.”

“There ain’t nothin’ we can do. I need to tell ya somethin’ I...I need you to know that...that in my heart, I only ‘ave room fer you. An’ it was broken an’ a mess an’ I’m sorry ‘bout that but...but it all belonged to you...Miss Waverly,” Nicole said desperately, throat aching with unshed tears. “Do you understand?”

Waverly nodded, hands tightening on her pant leg. “I’m sorry.”

“Nothin’ to be sorry fer, darlin’,” Nicole managed a small smile, her vision growing blurry. “I gotta go now.”

“No, no!” Waverly shouted desperately, turning and looking at Nedley who just looked solemn. “Do something!”

“I can’t, it’s the law,” Nedley said, with a shake of his head.

Waverly looked back at Nicole and something flashed behind her eyes. Nicole felt Waverly’s hand curl in the collar of her shirt and Waverly slowly moved closer to Nicole, eyes darting down to her lips.

“Darlin’,” Nicole tried, lips dry as their faces slowly drifted closer together. The horse under her snorted again, beating the ground a little more anxiously as Waverly moved closer to Nicole, and Butter shifted under her weight. Their faces were so close, just a few inches apart, and suddenly the world went still. Nicole could smell Waverly’s perfume and the hint of whiskey coming off of her, sharp and comforting. She could hear Waverly’s last small intake of breath as she prepared to kiss her, the rumble of the crowd sounding distant now and not just a few feet away. Nicole was going to kiss Waverly Earp and if that was how she was going to die, well, then it wasn’t all that bad. She would be swinging from that rope with a smile on her face because she got to kiss the most beautiful in the world before she went.

Nicole could feel their lips brushing when Butter neighed loudly, bringing the world back crashing around them, and the horse under Nicole reared up on its hind legs.

Waverly’s hand slipped from Nicole’s collar and the horse under her shot off, running through the crowd and nearly trampling at least three people in the meantime.

Nicole felt everything in slow motion. The way the horse slipped from under her, how she slowly fell through the air and the noose around her neck tightened. Her body jerked violently when the length of the rope reached its end, and suddenly Nicole couldn’t breathe. It felt like all the air was sucked from her lungs, noose tight around her neck and feet kicking for purchase on anything as her vision turned red.

“Nicole!”

“Wait!”

Nicole’s wildly rolling eyes locked on Rosita getting off of a horse, a wad of something in her hand. Garbled choking noises escaped her.

“I have the bounty!” Rosita rushed up to Doc with a proud smile on her face and shoved the money at him. “All three thousand and then some. You can let her go now.”

Doc looked through it and shook his head. “It’s too late.”

Waverly slipped off of Butter faster than lightening and looped her arms around Nicole’s legs to hold her up as best she could. Nicole took a gulping breath, lungs on fire as she strained for air.

Doc drew his gun and held it at Waverly. “Miss Earp! You are interferin’ with the law. Step away.”

Nedley stepped between Doc and Waverly, hands up trying to placate him. Doc’s mustache twitched.

“Mr. Holliday, you have your money, can’t you just let Miss Haught go?” Nedley tried. He motioned to Rosita, Eliza and Waverly. “A lotta people are upset-”

“She is supposed to hang for her crimes and goddammit I will make her hang,” Doc growled, almost feral with spit flying from his mouth as he spoke. “What do I care about the emotions of women when justice is bein’ served.”

“You don’t give a shit about justice!” Waverly shouted from where she was struggling to hold Nicole up so she could breathe. “You only want the money for Bobo anyways.”

There was a murmuring amongst the crowd and Doc looked around a little nervously. The sun had nearly set at this point, casting harsh shadows over the ground and Doc’s face.

“I am here as an officer of the law,” he tried.

“But you aren’t,” Nedley pointed out. “Not no more. And this is my town, so I will say...let Miss Haught go.”

“Old man-”

“Let her go!” Waverly shouted over him. Doc’s mustache twitched as he looked over the ever anxious crowd. Finally he stuffed the wad of cash in his pocket and put the gun back in his holster. Nicole breathed a small sigh of relief, at least the best she could with the noose still tight around her neck.

Doc pushed past Nedley and stepped up to Waverly and Nicole. He looked between the two of them with the same angry snarl on his face. “Do not be mistaken, I will be back,” he said. “I have been beat this time, but I have not lost.”

He got on his horse and took off back towards the town. Nicole’s breathing was still shallow from the noose around her neck, Waverly holding her up helped, but definitely didn’t solve the problem. Her vision was swimming and she couldn’t get a deep breath of air like her burning lungs demanded.

“Miss Waverly,” she gasped. “Help.”

“Oh! Right!”

Nedley pulled out his gun and shot the rope where it was tied to the branch. It broke free and Nicole tumbled to the ground on top of Waverly. Nicole gasped for air, hands still stuck behind her back and her vision getting spotty.

“Nicole, here,” Waverly said as she batted Nicole’s hands away from the rope and loosened it herself. She quickly untied the knot from Nicole’s hands and the blood came rushing back all at once, warm and tingly in her veins. Nicole took a deep gasping breath, coughing a little and watching as blood landed in the dirt as she tried to breathe. Waverly sat on the ground and pulled Nicole’s head into her lap, peppering her face in small kisses and whispering things Nicole couldn’t hear above her own heavy breathing.

She could feel and taste Waverly’s salty tears on her cheeks, both of Waverly’s hands cradling her face and keeping her close. Waverly reached for her, holding the back of her head and keeping her close.

Her heart fluttered with relief and a thousand emotions she couldn’t process yet.

“Oh Nicole,” Waverly whispered, pressing their foreheads together. “I’m so sorry-”

“Ssh,” Nicole managed with her raw throat. “Le’s jus’ go home, darlin’.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Waverly couldn’t bear to be far from Nicole for too long, so when they both got on Butter, she made sure Nicole was tucked tightly into her front. Nicole’s protests at being on the front of the horse were weak at best. Probably because she had nearly died.

Rosita offered to let them stay in a room at the Saloon, but Waverly wanted to get as far from the town as she could tonight. Every time she passed someone she just saw another face from the crowd that did nothing while an innocent woman was hung. Though she supposed she couldn’t blame them, as far as they knew, Nicole had murdered all manner of men. She had always been the odd one out in town anyways, it must not have been much of a stretch for them to assume that she was a criminal on the lam.

Waverly rested her chin on the back of Nicole’s shoulder, lips brushing over the dirty cotton of her shirt, arms firmly wrapped around Nicole’s middle.

“Feels weird not holdin’ the reins,” Nicole complained, her voice hoarse and rough from the rope.

“Ssh,” Waverly said, nuzzling the side of Nicole’s neck where an angry purple bruise had already formed, the edges of it red and irritated from the rope. “No more talking for you. Rest your voice.”

Nicole just mumbled to herself but stayed quiet for the rest of the ride.

Waverly had to actively not think about the past few hours to keep her tears at bay. The emotional back and forth had been taxing at best. Just seeing Nicole up on that horse ready to die…

Waverly shivered and pressed even closer to Nicole’s back. Doc was still out there. Probably somewhere in town. There was a fear in the back of Waverly’s mind that he would be there when they got to the ranch, but he seemed like the kind of man that needed at least a day to regain his ego and lick his wounds.

She thought back to what Nicole had said, in the moments before she thought she was going to die. It wasn’t a love confession, but it felt close. After all, she told her she had her heart. That had to mean something more than just the terrified ramblings of a person about to face their fate. Then the almost kiss. The kiss that would have been, if Waverly hadn’t thoughtlessly put two nervous horses next to each other. Her distress had made her reckless.

Still, Waverly couldn’t stop thinking about it. Everything felt different now. Like they had finally crossed a line they had been standing on the edge of since Waverly showed up at the ranch.

But with Nicole slumped in the saddle, beaten and exhausted, now was not the time to discuss such things.

They finally made it back to the ranch and rode Butter straight to the barn. Nicole slipped off the horse first and Waverly watched in concern as her legs buckled a little before she straightened back up. Waverly got off and Nicole began trying to take the saddle off of Butter before Waverly shooed her away.

“I’ll do it,” she said, as she unbuckled the leather. Nicole grumbled.

“I ain’t useless.”

“You’ve just been through a lot,” Waverly said as she slung the saddle over the side of the stall. Butter snorted in thanks and went straight for her hay. Nicole patted Trigger’s nose, his ears twitching as she murmured something to him. Waverly checked to make sure they had water and looped her arm through Nicole’s. “Come on, let’s get you inside.”

Nicole complied, letting Waverly pull her towards the house. They worked in silence, Waverly automatically going to draw her a bath, and Nicole going for the half empty bottle of whiskey on the table.

Usually Waverly would scold her for drinking on an empty stomach, but instead she grabbed one of the leftover biscuits she had covered up in the kitchen and set it in front of her with butter and some preserves, between fillings of the tub.

Nicole moaned in delight as she took the first bite, not even bothering with the butter as she ate the biscuit in a matter of seconds. She grimaced a little every time she swallowed, but seemed too hungry to care. Waverly wordlessly grabbed her another one and set it on her plate, kissing the side of her head without a second thought. By the time NIcole was half done with the second one, the tub was filled and Waverly had begun undoing the bandages on her arm.

Thankfully the wound didn’t seem infected, just angry from being jostled and moved before it was ready. Waverly lightly gripped Nicole’s chin and turned her face to look at the cut above her eye. Her eyes caught Nicole’s, deep-set and tired looking. Nicole’s eyes searched her face and Waverly smiled sweetly.

“Does this hurt?” she asked, brushing her fingers near the cut.

Nicole hummed. “Nah.”

Waverly squinted in disbelief as she got a better look at it. Above her eye and below the cut was a little swollen, the gash rimmed with dried blood and the eye itself frighteningly bloodshot. “I don’t believe you.”

“I promise, Miss Waverly,” Nicole whispered. “Ain’t nothin’.”

“Well be careful with your arm in the bath, don’t submerge it, and clean your eye, please,” Waverly said. She let her fingers curl over the back of Nicole’s ear, pushing some of her hair behind it.

“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole said with a tired smile.

Waverly’s fingers continued to the hinge of Nicole’s jaw and traced the strong line to her chin. She couldn’t stop touching her, like if she did she might disappear. Some part of Waverly needed to be assured that Nicole was actually in front of her, and it wasn’t some sort of hopeful fantasy.

“Alright,” Waverly finally said, letting her hand fall to her lap. “I’ll be-...over here.”

Waverly placed a soft kiss on Nicole’s forehead and headed towards the bed. Nicole got up and began disrobing behind the sheet, while Waverly hurried to do the same. Presenting her breasts to Nicole in this state might not be the best idea. So she got undressed and quickly slipped into the bed, trying to distract herself from thinking about Nicole, just a few feet away. She wanted to rush to her side and help her with everything, but Nicole would probably die from the impropriety of it all if Waverly saw her naked in the tub.

It felt like forever, but Nicole finally made it out of the tub, into some sleepwear and took another swig from the bottle of whiskey before starting towards the bed. Waverly went to get up but Nicole waved her off and just crawled over her instead, collapsing onto her side of the bed with a groan.

Waverly instantly turned towards her after blowing out the nightstand candle and plunging them into darkness. They lay facing each other for a moment, eyes open and adjusting to the dark until they could see each other.

”It always belonged to you”

Nicole’s dying words echoed in Waverly’s mind and she inched her hand between them on the bed, lacing her fingers with Nicole’s.

“Hey,” Waverly whispered, nerves already running through her veins and telling her to just go to sleep. But she wouldn’t be able to go to sleep with her mind racing like this. Nicole hummed, thumb brushing along the side of Waverly’s hand. She licked her lips and continued. “What you said...earlier...when you almost-...did you mean all of that?”

Nicole searched Waverly’s face with her eyes before pulling Waverly’s hand up and to her lips. She kissed each knuckle softly, never breaking eye contact, and Waverly felt like sparks were flowing through her veins with each touch of Nicole’s lips. Her mouth settled on the back of Waverly’s hand, and she scooted a little closer to Nicole until their entwined hands were basically the only thing between them.

“I meant e’ery word,” Nicole said, voice hoarse. “E’ery single one.”

Waverly nodded and kissed the back of Nicole’s hand gently. “What does that mean now? For us?”

Nicole looked pained. “Miss Waverly, I just-...there’s a lot you don’ know about me.”

“I would feel the same even if I did,” Waverly said. “And you said you...meant it-“

Nicole frowned like she was figuring something out in her head. “I jus’-...it was a very dramatic situation. Maybe it’s jus’...I thought I was dyin’-“

“Okay,” Waverly said, hoping Nicole couldn’t hear the wavering in her voice or how her heart was breaking in her chest from the sudden pivot.

Nicole’s eyes fluttered shut and she closed her eyes briefly. “Let’s sleep, darlin’, it’s too late for these conversations.”

Waverly’s heart felt disappointed. “Can I hold you?”

Nicole just nodded and Waverly pulled Nicole’s hand over her waist and tangled their legs together so that Nicole’s head nestled under Waverly’s chin. She pressed a soft kiss to the crown of Nicole’s hair as she settled her arms around her.

“Night,” Nicole whispered, already half asleep.

“Goodnight,” Waverly breathed. She swallowed thickly and tried not to overthink the conversation for fear she’d lose her mind. She had thought they were making progress but now felt more confused than before.

Instead she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

***

Nicole dreamed of wild horses galloping through the plains. She dreamed that she stood in the middle of them as they ran past her, the rhythm of their hooves shaking the ground and echoing her heartbeat. She could smell the dust, and the sweat of their coats, and it filled her lungs with a much needed breath. She dreamed she was riding with them, surrounded on all sides by nothing but open land, the landscape blooming beautifully around her as it rose into mountains and flowed into rivers.

Nicole dreamed that the horses were falling around her. Gunshots echoed around the plains from unknown sources, taking them down one by one. She tumbled down with them, dirt choking her throat.

She dreamed that she was in front of the hanging tree again, but this time there was a revolver in her hand and it wasn’t her in the tree anymore. Shae was standing there with a noose around her neck and beside her, Waverly. Both looking scared, both barely staying astride, with the nervous horses under them the only thing that kept them safe.

Nicole looked back down at the revolver in her hand. One bullet was all it had, and the sound of that one bullet would scare the horses. The two women would hang in front of her eyes. One bullet to cut one rope while the other horse spooked and hung the other one. Her legs felt like lead, keeping her in place as Waverly and Shae looked at her desperately.

“You put us here, now you have to get us out,” Shae said.

“Nicole, we’re here because of you,” Waverly pleaded. “Please.”

She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t save both of them but she couldn’t bear to only save one. Her palms were sweaty and it was hard to get a grip on the revolver. Who to choose, who to save? It was her fault they were in the tree anyways, her fault that they were about to die.

She couldn’t save both of them.

Instead, Nicole put the barrel of the gun to her temple and screamed.

***

Waverly was slightly surprised when she woke up before Nicole. Usually Nicole was up with the sun no matter what, but obviously, nearly dying had taken a lot out of her. When Waverly woke up, Nicole’s head was still tucked under her chin, breath steady against her neck. She let herself bask in it for a few moments before carefully untangling herself from Nicole and getting dressed.

There were things to be done and Nicole was best left sleeping for as long as she could.

So Waverly did the usual chores, most weren’t a problem. She was fine with feeding the pigs and cows and chickens, milking was something she was used to...she did great. Except for baling the hay.

But she still made it work, getting the horses their hay and even brushing them out a little and picking their hooves.

When she got back inside, Nicole was still sleeping so she let her be and started making a broth. Her neck looked worse than the night before. Her entire throat was deep purple with prickles of blood dotting the skin. It broke Waverly’s heart just looking at it and she knew that it would be hard for Nicole to swallow anything that wasn’t liquid for a few days at least.

Waverly let herself take a breath as she stirred the broth slowly, bits of vegetables and meat trimmings floating in it. She kept thinking about Nicole under that tree and couldn’t help but shiver. The hopelessness that Waverly felt settle in her stomach hadn’t completely gone away. That sinking feeling that everything was about to crash down around her.

She heard Nicole groan from the bed and looked up to see her blinking at the ceiling. Waverly put some of the broth in a tin cup and took it over to her, sitting on the bed beside her as she sat up.

“Hey, baby,” Waverly said, blushing a little at the slip but moving quickly past before Nicole noticed. “I have some broth for your throat, thought it might help.”

“‘Anks,” Nicole whispered, eyebrows furrowing. She looked around the cabin as she took the cup. “Wha’ time is it?”

“Time for you to eat and go back to bed,” Waverly said, taking this moment to look at the wound on Nicole’s arm. It looked like it was healing alright so she went to get her kit to bandage it back up. She sat back down on the bed where Nicole was sitting with her legs crossed, shirt pooled around her waist as she drank from the cup. She wordlessly held her arm out for Waverly, who settled next to her, leg tucked underneath.

Waverly set Nicole’s hand in her lap so that she could reach the wound better, blushing when her hand landed on her bare ankle. Nicole didn’t even seem phased, more focused on staring down into the cup of broth instead.

“What’s wrong?” Waverly asked, as she started to wrap Nicole’s arm.

“I need to do chores,” Nicole said, her hand shifting to curl around Waverly’s knee as she pressed some more bark over the wound.

“I already did them,” Waverly said. She tried to ignore the warmth spreading through her veins at Nicole’s touch, and focused on her arm instead. Nicole frowned and Waverly nodded. “All of them.”

“‘anks,” Nicole mumbled as she finished off her broth and licked her lips. Waverly’s eyes followed the movements before flickering back down to where she was tying off the new bandage.

“No problem,” Waverly said. Nicole’s eyes were already drooping again and Waverly carded her fingers through red locks. “Go back to sleep.”

Nicole shook her head. “Too much to do.”

“No, there’s not,” Waverly whispered, taking the cup from Nicole’s grasp and gently pushing back on her shoulder that wasn’t injured. Nicole resisted for a moment and Waverly sat up on her knees to get a better position. Nicole looked back up at her with a playful pout. Waverly gave her a look and put a little more pressure on her shoulder. “Come on, rest.”

Nicole shook her head stubbornly, resisting as Waverly put her weight into her hand, leaning a little more over her as she pushed on her shoulder. Nicole smirked before flopping abruptly back to the bed, Waverly falling on top of her with a surprised squeak. A pained chuckle left Nicole’s lips and Waverly moved to sit up but Nicole’s arms around her waist stopped her.

Instead she looked down at the redhead, their faces close and matching blushes on their cheeks. Nicole’s eyes shone as they searched Waverly’s face, darting down to her lips as she licked her own. Waverly blushed deeper and adjusted herself on top of Nicole.

“This can’t be comfortable,” she whispered. Her heart felt like a wild bird fluttering in her chest and begging to be set free, thumping wildly against her ribs and into her throat.

“‘S jus’ fine, darlin’,” Nicole whispered, smiling so wide her dimples popped. Waverly felt like she might fall in them.

She felt Nicole’s fingers scraping softly up her spine, and shivered. She tentatively traced the edge of Nicole’s gash above her eye and over her dark eyebrows. She couldn’t keep up this staring, not with their bodies pressed together and stoking the fire deep in her belly. It made her want to lean down and kiss Nicole but she didn’t know where they stood. Not when Nicole had clearly avoided the conversation the night before.

“Will you stay with me?” Nicole asked, voice small. “While I fall asleep again?”

“Of course,” Waverly said. She rested her head on Nicole’s shoulder and got comfortable. Waverly was eye level with the bruises around Nicole’s neck, angry and dark. “Do they hurt?”

“Only when I think ‘bout ‘em,” Nicole said. “Or swallow. Or move my throat. Or-”

“Okay, stop talking then,” Waverly chuckled, gently nuzzling her nose against the bruised skin. She ached to kiss it but let her eyes close instead. And together they managed to slip back to sleep.

***

Nicole blinked. She was sitting on the horse again. She could feel the scratch of the rope on her neck and the way it just barely pinched her skin to be uncomfortable, just tight enough to make it hard to swallow. Waverly was standing in front of her with her shotgun in her hand. She raised it to the sky and shot. The horse bolted from under her and her body was falling towards the ground. The rope stretched to its full length, and she felt her neck crack-

And awoke with a jolt, hand clawing at her neck as she took a quick gasp of air that hurt her swollen throat.

She felt Waverly’s hand on the small of her back and instinctively leaned towards her. She was sitting up in bed next to Nicole, book in her lap. Nicole blinked at her and lay back down on the bed with her head near Waverly’s hip.

Waverly brushed her fingers through Nicole’s hair in the same way she had the night before when she awoke from a nightmare. Nicole let herself focus on the scratch of blunt nails against her skull and let out a breath. That was at least three times now that Waverly witnessed her waking up from a nightmare. She had tried to play it off but could see the concern in Waverly’s eyes every time.

Nicole took a deep breath, her hand resting near Waverly’s hip but not daring to touch her. Even if her muscles itched to put her arm around her waist and bury her face into the cotton of her nightgown and breathe her in.

Her throat was still sore, but it didn’t hurt to swallow as much as it had. It was getting easier and easier to breathe and her arm felt well enough to start moving it more. It had only been a couple of days but Nicole was getting antsy not working. Most of the time she spent sleeping it was to avoid Waverly, who was looking at her with those sad eyes and hopeful smiles.

Waverly thought Nicole didn’t see it, but she saw how she looked at her. She knew Waverly wanted to kiss her. And goddammit she wanted to kiss Waverly too. But not like this. Not when Nicole was helpless and having constant nightmares. Not when she couldn’t protect her. If Nicole was gonna kiss her, she would do it when it was proper.

Nicole let herself sling her arm over Waverly’s hips and pressed her face into Waverly’s nightgown like she wanted to. Waverly’s fingers through her hair and against her temples was comforting and the final dregs of her nightmare seemed to evaporate like smoke. The dread still settled in her stomach, making her feel sick.

“How long have you had nightmares for?” Waverly whispered.

“Long enough,” Nicole said into Waverly’s hip. Just the closeness made her breathe easier. Her mind couldn’t help but imagine curling her hand around Waverly’s hip, pushing it up her side and tangling in her hair and-

Nicole groaned.

“Do you want some tea or something?” Waverly asked.

Nicole shook her head. “I’m jus’ fine like this.”

“Okay.”

“Can you read to me?” Nicole asked. She didn’t even register the words, she just let Waverly’s voice wash over her and chase away the bad dreams as she fell back asleep.

***

The next day, Waverly reluctantly went back to the Saloon. Not because she didn’t want to work, she’d found that she missed being behind the bar and slinging drinks for the patrons. Not to mention Rosita and Eliza. But she was convinced that the moment she left, Nicole would be kidnapped again. Or worse, start working even with her injuries.

But Nicole was talking a little better now and had convinced Waverly with a well timed smile and her voice low like honey that she was fine and it was time for Waverly to get out of the cabin.

It was probably for the best anyway, Waverly felt like a ball of sexual tension. There had been several moments over the past few days where Waverly thought Nicole might kiss her. But it never amounted to anything. Nicole would look at her lips or move in close, but then retreat at the last second leaving Waverly in a huff. Sleeping next to Nicole certainly didn’t help, especially not since she had been more cuddly lately. Nicole would reach for her at night and pull their bodies close as they drifted to sleep and while Waverly basked in the intimacy of it, it was getting harder to wake up with Nicole’s leg between hers and her breath on her neck, but to no relief.

There were times that Waverly considered just leaning down and kissing Nicole, but none of the times seemed right. The last time they had almost kissed, Nicole was about to die. The high drama of it all had heightened...everything. Every nerve and emotion was so raw and vulnerable and just...dramatic. It felt a little weird to just...kiss Nicole when nothing special was happening. It didn’t feel as magical when there wasn’t danger involved.

Vaguely, Waverly wondered if the drama and danger had brought them together and now the reality of mundane lives would push them back apart.

Besides the cuddling and lingering looks, Nicole seemed to be extra polite with her. She was always ‘Miss Waverly’, no more ‘darlin’ and she seemed to only touch her when necessary-- if they weren’t sleeping. Waverly missed the little touches and the way Nicole’s eyes would sparkle when she called her ‘darlin’.

Waverly wondered if she should stage her own kidnapping to get Nicole to kiss her.

When she walked into the Saloon, Eliza and Rosita instantly pulled her behind the bar and handed her a glass of whiskey.

“How’s Nicole?” Rosita asked, passing a beer to a waiting customer without a thought.

“Physically? She’s fine,” Waverly said, watching as the two women breathed out matching sighs of relief. She pushed the whiskey away from her and shook her head. “Emotionally...I don’t know.”

“What do you mean?” Eliza asked, taking Waverly’s whiskey.

Waverly blushed and leaned back against the counter. “I think she might be...over me. And maybe she’s upset because she blames me for...you know, almost dying. I suppose it was kinda my fault. Plus I feel like she’s...pulling away from me.”

They hummed, nodding as they passed the glass of whiskey between them. Eliza shrugged a shoulder. “She does that.”

“What?” Waverly was a little afraid to know how she knew that.

Rosita waved her hand in the air. “Nicole is always trying to sacrifice her own happiness for some unknown reason. It’s her biggest flaw.”

Waverly wanted to defend Nicole but she found herself agreeing. “I just thought we were...on the verge of something. And the things she said to me before she was about to hang…” Waverly stared into the distance. “I’m just worried she didn’t mean any of them. That it was just the heat of the moment.”

With a chuckle, Rosita finished off the whiskey. “Nicole is not a ‘heat of the moment’ kinda person. Not anymore anyways.” Waverly blinked at her, waiting for Rosita to continue, but she just shook the empty whiskey glass. Rosita looked up at Waverly who raised her eyebrow as the bartender blinked. “What?”

“Seems like there’s a story there,” Waverly said, putting a hand on her hip, tapping her fingers on the counter.

Rosita and Eliza looked at each other briefly before they looked back at Waverly. “Everyone makes some rash decisions when they’re young.”

“Let me guess, Nicole’s had to do with a girl?” Waverly asked, shoulders slumping when Eliza and Rosita looked at each other tellingly. Waverly groaned. “Can’t she make a rash decision with me too?”

Eliza pulled Waverly into her arms, face pressed to her ample bosom as she held her close. “I know it’s hard, but Nicole will come around. And when she does, it’ll be worth it.”

“Mm, thanks,” Waverly said.

“She’s a very generous lover-”

“Oh...kay. We’re done,” Waverly said, standing back up and away from Eliza’s breasts. She sighed and Rosita passed her another drink, which she gladly took this time.

“She’ll come around,” Rosita assured her. “I’ve seen how she looks at you. You’ve got nothing to worry about. Unless you don’t keep away from Doc, who’s still lurking around town.”

Waverly practically growled at the name as she poured the drink back into her throat. “Speaking of that asshole, I’m still not any closer to finding out who sold out my family.”

Rosita gave her a hopeful smile and squeezed Waverly’s arm. “You’ve only just started, Waves. Now sling some drinks and talk to the locals. They always know something.”

***

Nicole pulled the wooden stool over next to the cow, metal bucket between her feet. She rolled her sleeves up to her elbows and sighed, wincing when her injured arm twinged a little in pain.

“You stop this now,” she said to her arm as she tried to stretch it out in front of her. She could only extend it about halfway before she pulled it back to her chest. The cow munched happily on her feed, and Nicole reached for one of her udders with her good hand. She pulled it and the sound of milk hitting the side of the bucket rang metallic through the barn. It was much harder with one hand but it wasn’t the worst.

She just had to do something that made her feel useful. Like she wasn’t just a waste of space around the house.

Especially now that Waverly was gone all day, it was getting tiresome to just mope around her property. Since moping seemed to be the only thing that Nicole could do while Waverly was away. Plus, there was no way she wanted to burden Waverly with all the responsibility. Nicole had not only almost gotten herself killed, but she was making things harder for Waverly. The bare bones of the new house loomed over her property like a reminder of all the work she wasn’t doing. Time was passing and it was inching closer to winter and Nicole was way too behind on the progress.

Nicole had been fine on her own before. If she got hurt, she still figured it out and did everything for herself. But now suddenly she was soft. Barely doing her work, only using one hand to milk a cow. Waverly had made her soft. Had made her half the worker she used to be.

She could feel the stress just from thinking about it. Refocusing back on the teat in her hand, Nicole continued to milk. A few minutes in and she took a look into the bucket only to see a fraction of the amount of milk that she usually had at this point.

Nicole groaned in frustration and threw her injured arm out to grab another udder, only to yell out in pain. She pulled her arm back closer to her chest and curled over her knees in pain.

“Fuck.”

“Are you okay?” Waverly’s voice felt grating and patronizing in a way that just made the frustration in Nicole’s chest mount.

“‘M fine,” Nicole mumbled, not bothering to turn around.

“Here, I can finish-”

“I’m fine I just-...I’m fine,” Nicole snapped, running a frustrated hand through her hair.

“Let me just finish this, you go start dinner,” Waverly tried as she came up behind Nicole. She felt Waverly’s fingers running through her hair and she leaned into it. Nicole even let herself lean back against Waverly’s legs and look up at her. Waverly looked back down at her and held Nicole’s cheeks in her hands.

“I ‘ate this,” Nicole admitted. “I can’ just keep sittin’ ‘round.”

“I know,” Waverly said, her fingers running lightly over Nicole’s lips. “You can help by doing easier things. Like cooking.”

Nicole looked up and got caught in hazel eyes, rimmed with dark green and staring back at her with so much swimming behind him. Nicole wanted to dive in but she knew she’d drown. She was no use to Waverly as she was anyway, not in a romantic sense. She had to stop entertaining the foolish fantasy that they could be anything more. It wasn’t fair to Waverly and would only lead to heartbreak on both ends.

Waverly leaned down and pressed her lips softly to Nicole’s chin, just on the edge of her lips. Nicole froze and blinked back up at Waverly when she pulled away.

Nicole took Waverly’s hand from her face and squeezed it lightly. “You ‘ave to stop doin’ that, Miss Waverly,” Nicole mumbled.

Instead of staying to watch Waverly’s face fall, Nicole stood up and started back to the cabin to cook dinner.

***

When they went to bed that night, Waverly faced the room and Nicole faced the wall, their backs barely brushing. Nicole’s body was stiff in a purposeful attempt not to touch Waverly. She felt bad about their conversation earlier, but Nicole also felt like she had been caught off guard.

Her heart tugged, telling her to apologize and hold Waverly the way her arms were begging to. But her stubborn lips wouldn’t budge and she curled into herself instead.

***

Nicole really wished people would stop just riding up on her land. Maybe someday she could go back to an existence of people always passing by but never coming up to her ranch. But today was not that day.

A woman on an ink black horse came trotting up the path to Nicole’s ranch as she stood in the field with the cows. She was checking to see if any of the girls were pregnant in case they’d have to make preparations. Only one cow seemed to be with a calf, which would have to do for now. She was getting ready to examine her further when the foreign sound of hooves distracted her.

Nicole squinted against the sun, tipping her hat back on her head like it would give her a better view. She didn’t feel particularly threatened with her guns at her hips and Waverly in town, so she just waited as the woman rode up to her. She was wearing a dark buckskin jacket with fringe along the arms and detailed beading along the arms and front, hat perched on her head and a dark shirt tucked into her matching pants.

She barely slowed her horse before slipping off of it, spurs clinking against the ground as she landed just a yard away from Nicole. Long, brown hair waved on either side of her face, a harsh contrast to her pale skin and bright blue eyes. Something about her felt familiar, but Nicole couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

The woman squinted at Nicole, doing a double take before striding the rest of the way up to Nicole with her hand on the revolver at her side. She looked around and behind Nicole who just blinked at her.

“Are you alright?” the woman asked, pulling her long barreled revolver from its holster. She gasped and tugged down the collar of Nicole’s shirt to look at the bruise on her neck. “Holy shit.” It was fading, but still angry and noticeable. “What the fuck did he do to you? I swear, if he’s hurt a hair on Waverly’s head-“

“Ma’am-“

Wynonna straightened up. “I’m here to help you. Where is he?”

Nicole scratched the side of her neck and tilted her head as she asked slowly. ”Help me wit’...what?”

“I’m here to rescue you,” the woman said, chest puffing up a little. “Now where’s the pervert who’s keeping you and my baby sister here? I knew he bought Waverly but I can’t believe he’s forcing her into this fucked up sister wives situation. Are there more of you? Chained up somewhere?” She looked Nicole over again. “Are you the one he pretends is a smooth faced boy? What a fucking sicko.”

Nicole looked down at her clothes a little self consciously before shaking her head. This woman seemed right off her rocker. Maybe she had that yellow fever everyone was talking about. But-- she mentioned Waverly so she could be vaguely trusted at least. “Um, ma’am-”

“Now where’s Waverly? Is she okay or is she beat up like you? No offense,” the woman quickly added. “Come on. Let’s get all his valuables and get out of here.”

Wynonna took off like a shot for the cabin and Nicole sighed, quickly chasing after her. “Ma’am-”

By the time she got into the cabin, Wynonna was already going through all the cabinets and pulling out the cans in there. “Alright. We can’t really use this stuff but we can grab a coupla things. Where’s the jewelry? Money?”

Nicole sighed as she followed her around the cabin. “Ma’am-”

“Come on, just start piling things on this,” Wynonna pulled the sheet from the bed and laid it in the middle of the floor, tossing some cans on it and going for the chimney. She shoved her arm into it and felt blindly around. “Where’s Waverly so we can go?”

“Ma’am-”

“Wynonna!”

Nicole turned and breathed a sigh of relief to see Waverly standing in the doorway looking just as shocked as she felt.

“Oh thank goodness, Miss Waverly-”

“Baby girl!” Wynonna turned after pulling a bundle of cash from the chimney that Nicole had been saving there. It wasn’t much, just a little bit in case someone happened. She stuffed it in her back pocket as she stared awkwardly at Waverly. “Waves,” Wynonna continued, mouth slightly agape. “You’ve grown out your-” Wynonna made a cupping motion in front of her own breasts before smiling nervously. “-your hair!”

Waverly let out a surprised chuckle. “It’s been-”

“-years,” Wynonna finished before rushing over to Waverly and gathering her in her arms. The two sisters hugged each other and Nicole let them have their moment as she started to pick things up from the pile in the middle of the room and put them back. She gathered the cans first, taking them back to the cabinet and went back for some of the silver Wynonna had found hidden in the kitchen, something Nicole salvaged from an overturned carriage one day and had been keeping around since.

“Hey! Stop that,” Wynonna said. The sister moment must have been over because Wynonna walked over to Nicole in the kitchen and took the silver plate from her hands. “We can sell this for some cash.”

“Wynonna, we’re not going anywhere,” Waverly started.

Wynonna gasped. “Baby girl, you’ve been brainwashed too.”

“No, I haven’t,” Waverly tried, Nicole tried to pick up the plate again but Waverly pointed at her. “Nicole, no, Wynonna’s going to put that back.”

“I don’ mind-”

“What is wrong with you two?” Wynonna said, taking both of their arms and gathering them all together in the middle of the cabin. “Don’t you get it? I’m rescuing you. Snap out of it.” For whatever reason, Wynonna put her hand on one side of Waverly’s face and the other side of Nicole’s and pushed their faces together so they were cheek and cheek. She smiled maniacally. “It’s taken me years, but I finally found you, Waves. Now let’s get out of this pervert’s house.”

“‘M not a pervert, thank ya kindly,” Nicole said, as she pushed Wynonna’s hand away from her face and stood up straight. “Now if you’ll excuse me, a crazy person went through my house an’ I gotta clean it up.”

Wynonna frowned. “What?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Waverly said, hands on Wynonna’s shoulders. “This is Nicole’s house.”

Wynonna blinked, eyebrows knit together. “It’s her place?” She pointed at Nicole as she picked up some doilies she had in her trunk, something Shae had made her forever ago and she’d hadn’t had the heart to throw away.

“Yes,” Waverly said.

“But you were sold off to some dipshit looking for a mail order bride,” Wynonna said slowly, eyes narrowing at Nicole. “Are you the perv who bought my sister?”

“No!” Waverly supplied before blushing and rolling her eyes. “I mean...kind of. But she’s not a pervert.”

Wynonna’s hand was back on her gun. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

Waverly put her hand over Wynonna’s on her gun. “Nonna, please. Come on, I’m safe and you found me. We don’t need to cause trouble when there isn’t any.”

Wynonna grunted and let her hand fall from her gun, face softening as she looked at Waverly again. She grinned widely and pulled Waverly into another hug. “Get the alcohol, I have the feeling we have a lot to talk about.”

Nicole just went and started putting things back again. When she looked up, Wynonna was eating the last of the biscuits that were on the kitchen counter. She sat at the table, one dirty boot up on it and Nicole sighed.

“Stop putting stuff away,” Waverly said softly as she took some things from Nicole’s hands. “I’ll do it.”

She almost protested but Waverly fixed her with a look. “Fine. I’ll...go finish was I was doin’. Outside.”

Waverly mouthed a ‘thank you’ and Nicole tipped her hat at her, slipping out the front door to give the sisters some time.

Chapter Text

When the door to the cabin banged closed behind Nicole, Waverly felt her mouth dry and nerves come to the surface. She hadn’t really thought about it while Wynonna was tearing apart her home and trying to find some fictional man keeping them captive, but her sister was here. Her sister-- whom she hadn’t seen since she was dragged off her own land at six years old.

She stayed staring at the door for the moment, the vague sound of Wynonna moving behind her grounding her.

Wynonna was...here. In her kitchen.

“So, Waves, you gonna keep ignoring me all night?”

She turned around and Wynonna had already poured two glasses of whiskey, her own half gone. Wynonna kicked out the second chair across from her as a clear invitation to sit down. Waverly sat at the table and cradled the drink in her hands as she looked at Wynonna.

It was like staring at a ghost.

Wynonna looked exactly like she had when she was twelve. Long glossy hair that Waverly had always been jealous of, and piercing blue eyes that made her that much more effortlessly beautiful. She had matured, and Waverly saw scars that she knew hadn’t been there before, but she was the same Wynonna.

“Sorry it’s just...this doesn’t feel real,” Waverly said with a shake of her head. “I’ve been...I didn’t know if you were-”

“Alive? Yeah,” Wynonna said with a sad smile, looking a little pained. “I hid when they came. I ran.”

Flashes of that night flew through Waverly’s mind. Of her Daddy pushing her and her sisters into a closet when they heard the hooves of horsemen rushing the Homestead. It sounded like distant thunder. Like a heartbeat rising into your throat. It rose until Waverly swore the whole house was shaking with the force of it.

Wynonna looked at Waverly with wide eyes, Willa in the corner of the closet with tears steadily streaming down her face. Waverly’s bottom lip quivered and heavy sobs left her throat as Wynonna put her hands on either side of Waverly’s face.

“Baby girl, stay here, okay? You’ll be safe,” Wynonna whispered. The sound of a shot ringing through the air made them both jump and Waverly felt fat tears rolling down her face. Waverly just nodded and shoved her thumb into her mouth, a habit that had seemed broken until this moment.

Wynonna nodded and kissed Waverly hard on the forehead before leaping back out of the closet and slamming the door behind her.

And that was the last that she had seen Wynonna. She wasn’t there when her Daddy, Waverly and Willa were dragged out. Willa and Daddy hadn’t lived too long after that. There had been no sign of Wynonna since, and Waverly had always suspected the worst.

Now she was sitting here in front of her. Over ten years later and Waverly could still feel all the fear and confusion like it was just yesterday. The resentment that had settled in her chest over the years started coming to the surface again, and she swallowed it down.

“How did you find me?”

Why didn’t you come sooner?

Wynonna licked her lips and threw the rest of the whiskey down her throat. “I um...well I ran. For the hills. And I did what I had to to survive. Sometimes those things...got me in trouble.” She shrugged it off and the grip Waverly had on her cup tightened. Wynonna’s eyes remained glued to the cup in front of her like it held all the answers. “I actually saw you. Not long ago. At Bobo’s camp.”

Waverly frowned, deciding that she was going to need more whiskey to get through this conversation. Taking the shot, she poured another as she grimaced through the burn.

“Guess the drinking gene skipped one Earp, huh?” Wynonna deflected.

“When did you see me?” Waverly said, ignoring her sister’s comment. “Why didn’t you do anything?”

Wynonna’s brief smile faded. “It was a handful’a years ago now. I was arrested for something stupid. I don’t even remember. Maybe petty theft. Anyways I was in the tumbleweed wagon behind some piss-wad of a sheriff, an’ they went through Bobo’s camp. You didn’t notice me... but I saw you from afar. You were getting water from a well. I tried to break out of the wagon, Waves, I tried...but before I could pick the lock we were gone, and I vowed to go back and get you as soon as I could.”

“But you didn’t,” Waverly couldn’t help but say a little bitterly. “I was still there.”

“By the time I got back there, you were gone. I heard you were sold off to some idiot here and...here I am,” Wynonna finished sadly. She licked her lips again and leaned closer to Waverly, hands reaching across the table. “I came back to save you.”

“I don’t need saving,” Waverly said. “Not anymore. I saved myself. I got out from under Bobo’s thumb-”

“By selling yourself to an asshole,” Wynonna snorted.

“I had no other choice,” Waverly said, back straightening. “It was that and get the money for Bobo or he would-...marry me himself. And I couldn’t-...he killed Daddy. He killed Willa. I thought he mighta killed you.”

“Sorry to disappoint, but I’m still here,” Wynonna mumbled. “Not dead. But not from lack of trying.”

Just like that, Waverly felt the resentment that had been swimming on the surface dissipate and she pulled her chair closer to Wynonna’s so that she could take her hand in her lap. “I’m glad you’re here, Wynonna,” she said, squeezing her hand. “You have to understand I’m just...a little surprised.”

Wynonna finally looked back up at her. “Wanna talk surprised? What about finally finding your baby sister and she’s married to some weird lady rancher back in your old hometown?”

Waverly chuckled. “We’re not...married.”

Wynonna raised an eyebrow. “But she...bought you?”

“No. Well...yes. Kind of. I was supposed to be married to this awful man, and accidently ended up here instead. So she paid him for me and now I live here,” Waverly explained.

“But you’re...not married,” Wynonna frowned. Waverly shook her head and Wynonna’s frown got deeper. “But she...bought you.”

“She’s the perfect gentleman,” Waverly sighed.

“Why is she all beat up? Did you do that?” Wynonna said.

Waverly kicked her lightly under the table. “No! That’s a...long story.”

Wynonna smiled and poured them both another shot of whiskey. “Well as I see it, we ain’t got nothin’ but time.”

***

Nicole made sure to keep an eye out as she rode Trigger back into town.

The last person she needed to run into was Doc. She wasn’t sure what kind of awkward stalemate they were at, or what he would do if he saw her. To be honest, she didn’t want to find out any time soon.

She adjusted the bandana she’d tied around her neck to hide most of the bruising, still painfully visible. Tipping her hat at Eliza who was lounging in her usual spot outside of the Saloon, she slid off Trigger and hitched him to the post.

“Well look what the cat dragged in,” Eliza joked, as Nicole smiled at her.

“Good evenin’,” Nicole said, voice still scratchy. “Thought I’d pop by for a spell.”

“I’m surprised Earp doesn’t have you on a tight leash after all that,” Eliza said, looping her arm through Nicole’s as she walked up the steps to the Saloon door.

“Well...she don’ necessarily know ‘m off the land,” Nicole confessed as they walked over to the bar.

Eliza gasped and dropped Nicole’s arm. “You sneak. Waverly is going to kill you-”

“She’s with her sister,” Nicole said with a shrug. “I’ll be back before she even knows ‘m gone.”

Rosita scoffed as she came down the stairs of the Saloon. “Haught, what are you doing away from your girl? Does she know you’re here?”

Nicole couldn’t help but growl a little as she sat on the stool. “She ain’t mah girl,” Nicole insisted as Eliza slipped behind the bar and got her a drink. Rosita raised an eyebrow at Nicole, fingers trailing across the top of the bar as she walked closer to her.

“I think all that talk of her havin’ your heart says otherwise,” Rosita said.

Nicole reached out for Rosita’s hand and tugged her roughly towards her, their bodies flush and faces close even with Nicole sitting down. A satisfying gasp escaped Rosita as their bodies came together, Rosita’s hips nestled between Nicole’s thighs and lighting the fire in her stomach that was telling her to prove them wrong. Prove everyone wrong. Prove to herself that she didn’t need Waverly.

Growing up not needing anyone but yourself got a helluva lot harder when you found someone you couldn’t live without.

Her hand settled on the small of Rosita’s back and she gave her a slow smile, eyes purposefully flickering down to her lips. Rosita’s eyebrows just got higher in her hairline. “What are you doing?”

“Jus’ showin’ ya that I can do whatever I want still,” Nicole said lowly. “So why don’t I prove to you how ain’t nobody my girl?”

Rosita hummed and tapped the edge of Nicole’s hat. “Yeah, but something’s telling me this isn’t what you want at all, cowboy.”

Nicole felt her bravado fade and her shoulders slumped, hand falling away from Rosita as her guilt started to seep in. Rosita pushed the front of her hat down to cover her eyes and Nicole just grumbled.

“You’re whipped,” Rosita teased. “Anyone with sight can see that you don’t want anyone but Waves.”

Rosita pulled away from Nicole and went behind the bar. Nicole quickly took a long draught of her drink. “I ain’t whipped.”

“You are.”

Nicole dropped her hat on the bar and ran a frustrated hand through her hair. “She made me soft.”

“You’ve always been soft,” Eliza said, before walking over to help a different customer.

“She’s right,” Rosita whispered conspiratorially as she filled up Nicole’s glass again. “I’m just sayin’, it’s time to get your head out of your ass. You already broke Waverly’s heart, now you gotta fix it.”

Nicole swallowed thickly, feeling sick at the idea of hurting Waverly. She knew she had, she could see it in the looks Waverly gave her after Nicole tried to backtrack on everything she had said the night at the hanging tree.

“It’s better this way,” Nicole said. “She’s better off movin’ on and findin’ someone else.”

Rosita rested her elbows on the bar and looked hard at Nicole. “She doesn’t want anyone else, idiot, she wants you. Despite all your brooding behavior and trying to push her away, she still only wants you. Don’t you see that?”

“She can’ ‘ave a good life wit’ me,” Nicole insisted, as she leaned forward a little. “She’s only been ‘ere a month’r so and look at e’erythin’ that’s happened.”

“Don’t you think she has the right to say what would make her life a good one? Not some self sacrificing rancher with a death wish?” Rosita asked seriously. “Can’t you see that she doesn’t care about all this bullshit and just wants you?”

Nicole’s whole face burned as she looked down at her drink, her reflection staring back up at her in the amber liquid. “I ain’t good enough.”

Rosita practically guffawed. “You’re a goddamn idiot, Nicole Haught, if you think Waverly cares about whatever false value you’ve put on yourself. That this idiot town has put on you. Is she or is she not one of the smartest people you’ve ever met?”

“Yeah,” Nicole admitted begrudgingly.

“And you think she’d be dumb enough to align herself with someone not worth her time?” Rosita asked with a raised eyebrow.

Nicole scratched the back of her neck, forgetting the bruise for a moment and wincing when she irritated it. “I get it.”

“Do you?”

“Yes,” Nicole said taking her second shot.

“Then kiss her already.”

“I can’t jus’...up and kiss a girl like her,” Nicole countered. “It ain’t proper-”

“I will bet your horse that Waverly doesn’t care,” Rosita said with a smile. “And I know you’d take that bet too.”

Nicole sighed and shook her head, running her hand over her face. “Life was a lot less complicated when I was on mah own.”

“Yes, but also way less interesting,” Rosita said.

“I also meant to say...thank you for helpin’ when-...that night. I woulda died withoutcha,” Nicole said. “I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”

“Don’t bother,” Rosita shrugged. “It was emergency cash and that’s what I used it for. An emergency. If you really wanna repay me...you’ll talk to Waverly.”

“Alrigh’ alrigh, I get it,” Nicole sighed. “You wan’ me with Waverly.”

“Yeah. It would make the two’a you a helluva lot less annoying,” Rosita winked before pouring Nicole another shot.

***

When Nicole got back to the cabin, a little tipsy and a lot more embarrassed by the whole situation, the gentle glow of candlelight was apparent in the windows. So she took Trigger to the barn and lay down one of the clean horse blankets over some hay for herself.

A few hours later, she was awoken by the sound of the barn door opening, and her hand went to the revolver still at her hip. She had the hammer cocked and the gun pointed directly at Wynonna when she turned the corner to where Nicole was lying in the stall.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the familiar face, her wrist loosened a little bit, thoughshe kept the gun pointed in Wynonna’s direction.

Wynonna just raised an eyebrow and put her hand on her hip, the other holding a lantern. “Really, Haught? You bring my sister into your love den and then threaten me?”

“It ain’t a love den,” Nicole said. She opened her hand and let her revolver hang on one finger against her palm in a show of putting it away. “Though I ain’t entirely sure what that is.”

Nicole put her gun back in her holster and Wynonna hummed as she sat across from Nicole in the stall. Blue eyes squinted at her and Nicole sat up with her legs crossed in front of her.

“So,” Wynonna started. “My sister lives with you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole said, voice scratchy from being woken up.

“Gross, none of this ‘ma’am’ shit.”

“Miss Earp, then.”

“Wynonna.”

“Miss Wynonna-“

“God, just stick with Miss Earp, then,” Wynonna grumbled. “What happened to you? It’s like someone stuck an etiquette book up your ass.”

Nicole chuckled. “‘M jus’ tryin’ to be proper.”

“So I heard,” Wynonna said, giving Nicole a hard look over. Nicole wouldn’t let her see her squirm, instead she just stared right back at Wynonna. She looked dangerous and somehow that made her even more beautiful. Wynonna ran her tongue over the front of her teeth. “So you’re livin’ with my baby sister, but won’t marry her. How do you think that looks for her?”

“I told her many a time that she has no obligation to stay ‘ere,” Nicole said. “She’s stayin’ ‘ere because she refused to leave.”

“So you tried to kick her out?”

“No. I jus’ tol’ her she didn’t ‘ave to stay,” Nicole clarified.

“Yet you share a bed with her,” Wynonna squinted in suspicion. “I’m just saying, you’re not looking great in this situation, Haught.”

Nicole shrugged, irritation stiffening her shoulders. “‘Ave you talked to Waverly about this? These ain’t our manners to be discussin’.”

“I did,” Wynonna nodded once. “She seems to think you’ve hung the moon and stars just for her. Even if painfully clear y’all are stuck in some kinda sexless standoff.”

“Ain’t proper to be discussin’ such things,” Nicole bristled.

Wynonna just rolled her eyes and kicked her feet out in front of her. “Well, you’re currently in my bed. So get out because I’m not one to cuddle.”

“What?” Nicole frowned.

“Waverly told me to send you in to go to bed and kicked me out here,” Wynonna said a little bitterly. “So go. Before she thinks I’m interrogating you.”

“Ain’t you though?” Nicole asked, with a smile.

Wynonna just gave her a look and pointedly blew out the lantern. “Goodnight, Haught.”

Nicole pushed herself up with her one good arm, hay sticking into her palm until she brushed it off on her pants. She stretched a little as she shuffled out of the barn and back into the cabin just as Waverly was slipping between the sheets.

Waverly smiled, weary and nervous, lips just barely turning up at the corners as they looked at each other.

“Hey,” Waverly said, pulling the sheet up to her nose. “So...Wynonna is here.”

“She is,” Nicole said, taking her hat off and hanging it on a hook near the door.

“You smell like booze,” Waverly said. “Did you go into town?”

“Only fer a lil’ bit,” Nicole mumbled, before stepping behind the curtain to get into her night clothes.

“Did you...see Rosita?” Waverly asked. Nicole knew what she was really asking and felt her chest tighten with irritability.

“Well, she works there, don’ she?” Nicole said as she pulled her long johns on and exited from behind the curtain. She could see Waverly looking over her nervously like she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. As much as Nicole wanted to leave Waverly hanging to prove a point, to make her realize she was better off without Nicole...she couldn’t. Big hazel eyes stared back at her as she climbed over her and slid into the bed. “I only ‘ad a coupla drinks. Nothin’ else.”

She could feel Waverly relax beside her as she turned towards the wall as had become her custom the last few days. Waverly shifted behind her and Nicole could feel her sidling closer.

“Nicole-”

“It’s late, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said into her pillow.

“I don’t…care, Nicole,” Waverly said, fingers twisting into the fabric of her shirt. “I just want to...talk.”

Nicole squeezed her eyes shut, remembering everything Rosita and Eliza had said. She should try...she knew Waverly wanted her and hell, Nicole wanted her too. There was still that nagging voice in the back of her head that told her Waverly was better off without her. That she still had a chance at a good life with a good man and Nicole would be taking that away from her.

Slowly, Nicole turned around and took her time adjusting her head on the pillow before finally looking at Waverly. “Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, unable to ignore how their faces were close and Waverly smelled like fresh cut flowers. “I-...it’s very late. And I promise to talk about this but my bones are weary.”

Waverly pouted a little. “Because you were drinking.”

“Because it is the middle’a the night,” Nicole clarified with a smile.

Waverly relented with a sigh, eyes flickering down to Nicole’s lips. “You promise.”

“I think yer sister bein’ here ‘as gotten you in the talkin’ mood,” Nicole teased. Her hands begged to touch Waverly, just to bring her a little closer and feel the press of her body. After all, how long had it been since she let herself touch her? Even longer than she let herself hold her. And if she was going to...try…

Nicole put her hand on the small of Waverly’s back and pulled her close, arm slung over her hip as she put her chin on the crown of Waverly’s head. Waverly sat stiff for a moment before cuddling into Nicole, one hand tangling in the front of her shirt while the other rubbed the back of Nicole’s neck.

Waverly sighed, nose nudging the hollow of Nicole’s throat as they settled into each other.

“Don’t think one night of cuddling will make me forget about this, Nicole Haught,” Waverly whispered, her words dancing across Nicole’s skin and making her shiver.

“I know, darlin’,” Nicole said. She had missed the way that felt on her tongue when she was talking to Waverly. The pet name seemed to affect Waverly too as she melded herself to Nicole. “Night.”

“Night,” Waverly said. Nicole was sure she got the best night’s sleep she’d had in weeks.

***

The sound of crashing and hushed cursing woke Waverly up the next morning. She startled awake, blinking in the direction of the kitchen where she’d heard it and saw Wynonna muttering and picking up cups from the floor.

Waverly sat up, running her hand through her hair to tame some of the tangles. “Wynonna...what are you doing?”

Wynonna looked up at her like she was caught, a half eaten biscuit hanging out of her mouth. “I was um...trying to make coffee.”

“Why?” Waverly rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Why are you up so early?”

“Those horses are stinky, baby girl,” Wynonna said as she put some of the fallen cups back in the cupboard. “Still not as bad as some of the people whose beds I’ve woken up in though. Let me tell ya-”

“Where’s Nicole?” Waverly interrupted, hand unconsciously smoothing over the cold spot in the bed.

Wynonna scoffed. “Rude. I don’t know. I saw her around here somewhere. I ain’t her keeper.”

Waverly swung her legs out of the bed and gathered her clothing to get changed.

“I hate to tell ya, Waves, but your husband is real weird,” Wynonna said, slumping into one of the kitchen chairs. She gestured towards a plate in front of her, only the remnants of food smeared over the top. “She only left breakfast for me. Weird. Right?”

Waverly stuck her head out from behind the curtain to look at the plate. There was an empty can of corn sitting in front of the plate, a couple of wild flowers stuck in it like a vase. Her heart melted like butter left in the sun too long. Waverly breathed, “She made me...breakfast?”

Wynonna shrugged, looking suddenly shifty. “I mean...I guess it coulda been for you.”

Waverly got dressed faster and started for the outside.

“Wait...Waves! What about breakfast!” Wynonna called, as she walked out of the cabin. “I’m still hungry!”

Waverly looked around the property from the front of the cabin, hand shielding her eyes so she could see. She found Nicole at the frame of the new house, placing boards along the sides and nailing them up. Waverly did her best to keep herself from skipping or looking too giddy as she got to her.

When she got closer, she noticed that Nicole was wearing the shirt that Waverly had ripped sleeve off of, to tend to her wound. She had torn off the other sleeve and tucked the shirt into her pants, suspenders stark against the light colored material.

Something about being able to see Nicole’s shoulders and biceps bulging as she moved made Waverly walk a little faster. Nicole’s eyes flickered to look at her briefly before returning back to the board she was nailing up. Waverly couldn’t help the smile that stretched across her face the closer she got.

Nicole’s brow was furrowed in concentration, a spare nail bobbing between her lips as she worked. Waverly could watch her like this all day.

“Mornin’, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, still hammering. Her words were muffled with the nail between her lips, but it still hit Waverly right between the legs.

“You made me breakfast,” Waverly stated with a smile.

Nicole didn’t miss a beat. “I did.”

“There were flowers.”

“There were,” Nicole said. She finally finished hammering, straightening up as the hint of a smile curled at her lips. She hooked the edge of her hammer in her pocket and put her hands on her hips. “Didja like ‘em?”

“I did,” Waverly smiled, arms swinging at her sides. “I didn’t get to eat breakfast, Wynonna got there before me.”

Nicole chuckled. “I thought that might ‘appen when I saw ‘er come outta that barn.”

They just stared at each other for a moment, all soft smiles and hopeful eyes. Waverly’s heart fluttered uncontrollably as Nicole licked her lips and looked down at her boots before looking back up at Waverly almost shyly. If Waverly could be any more enamored with the redhead, she would be.

Suddenly she forgot how she wanted to talk to Nicole about where they were. If they would ever be more, and finally dive into what they’d been inching towards for months. Nicole like this...sweet and shy...Waverly would fall for it every time.

“Well...thank you anyways,” Waverly said, remembering her words. “It was really sweet.”

“Yeah, well, ya’know,” Nicole said, adjusting the hat on her head a little. “I jus’ wanted to do somethin’ nice fer ya.”

They found themselves staring again and Nicole cleared her throat, straightening up a little and running her hands over the front of her pants.

“Actually, Miss Waverly,” Nicole began, voice breaking a little. “I was wonderin’ if you would...accompany me on a ride later. I been wantin’a show you somethin’.”

Waverly’s heart practically tripped over herself as she nodded. Her hands gestured in front of her as she rambled. “Y-yes. That would be...amazing. Great, I mean.”

Nicole blinked in what appeared to be disbelief for a moment before the widest smile took over her face, dimples popping. “Great. I jus’...need to finish up some things ‘ere an’ clean up an’...yeah. When you get back from the Saloon?”

“Perfect,” Waverly breathed. Doubt flickered in her mind for a moment and she frowned. “This is a-..is this a...courting situation?”

Nicole blushed deeply. “I mean...I was hopin’...if you want anyways…”

“I do!” Waverly said quickly, her blush matching Nicole’s. “Want...anyways. Yes.”

“Great,” Nicole said again, shoving her hands in the back pockets of her pants.

“Well I better...get to work,” Waverly said with an awkward wave before she turned on her heels and headed to the barn. She felt a squeal of glee building up in her chest but managed to keep it in check until she got to the barn.

***

When Waverly told Rosita and Eliza that Nicole was trying to court her, Eliza rolled her eyes and exclaimed, “Fucking finally.”

Rosita looked just as smug, and laughed at the look on Waverly’s face when she offered to give her some hands-on lessons to what Nicole liked. But Waverly was too excited for the friendly ribbing to bother her.

Her shift flew by quickly, every customer getting an even bigger smile than usual. Nothing could bring her down. She even went into the General Store to get some sweets for Nicole before hopping on Butter and heading back to the ranch.

The house was looking a little more together, half of the side paneling finally up, and Nicole was nowhere to be seen. Waverly set Butter up in the stable and went into the cabin where Wynonna was sitting at the kitchen table. Still.

This time she was taking her gun apart and cleaning it.

“Have you even left that chair?” Waverly asked Wynonna, before going to get a fresh dress.

“Yes,” Wynonna said incredulously. “I went to get more booze. Duh. And Haught was giving me a hard time about taking care of Peacemaker here so.” She gestured to all the parts on the table. “Now I remembered why I never do this. It’s a fucking bitch.”

“Where is Nicole?” Waverly asked. She started to freshen up, washed her face in the basin.

“She’s around here somewhere,” Wynonna said with a dismissive hand wave. “What’re you getting all gussied up for?”

“Nicole is taking me out riding,” Waverly said a little breathlessly as she went back to change her dress.

Wynonna snorted. “Oo, romantic.”

“Shut your mouth, it’s sweet,” Waverly said as she silently marvelled at the fact that she and Wynonna had somehow fallen back into their sisterly routine even after all this time.

“Sure sure, I’ll just sit here while you get all romantic with a cowboy,” Wynonna muttered. “Hey, while you’re here, can we talk about that bruise around Haught’s neck?”

Waverly felt sick just remembering that night and she sighed as she pulled up her fresh dress. “Doc Holliday happened.”

Wynonna blinked. “I’m sorry. John Henry Holliday? That Doc Holliday? Daddy’s best friend?”

“That’s the one,” Waverly said with a vengeful squint. “He was trying to collect a bounty on her. Had her strung up in the hanging tree.”

“So he almost succeeded is what I’m hearing,” Wynonna muttered.

“Yes. And he’s still lurking around town like a smooth talking mustached snake,” Waverly said. “He better hope I don’t see him around town. I don’t even know if he’s waiting to get Nicole again!”

Wynonna sucked on her teeth and leaned further back in her chair. “Where’s he staying?”

Waverly would have been more interested in why Wynonna wanted to know all this but she heard the sound of hooves approach the cabin and her heart rate picked up. “Um...the hotel I think,” Waverly said, distracted as she looked out the window and saw Nicole walking Trigger up towards the cabin. “I’m going out with Nicole. Don’t be here when we get back.”

Wynonna’s eyes practically bulged and she wiggled her eyebrows. “Wow, Waves, you’re really jumping in with two feet here, aren’t ya?”

“No, not like that,” Waverly said with a blush. “Just...it’ll...might be late. I don’t want to drag you out of the bed.”

“Sure, Waves,” Wynonna said, giving her a little salute as Waverly walked out the door. She stopped on the porch, the door closing behind her, as she looked at Nicole walking Trigger up to the cabin. He looked freshly brushed, mane tangle free and silky. Nicole looked slightly more put together too. A fresh crisp shirt, buttoned at her wrists, not yet rolled to her elbows like she usually did. It was unbuttoned low on her chest, just the peek of cleavage threatening to make itself known. Her suspenders looked newer, the leather less worn, and even her boots looked clean.

“Hello, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, using one finger to tip of the front of her hat with a smile. Waverly practically swooned right off the porch. “Yer ride is ‘ere.”

Waverly’s mind immediately went to how she’d rather ride Nicole than Trigger in this moment but she cleared her throat instead. “I can see that.”

She walked up to Nicole, standing so close she could smell the fresh soap on her and see how some of the hairs at the base of her neck were still damp. The sun had just begun its descent and was reflecting off of Nicole’s eyelashes. Waverly’s heart refused to settle down, and she had to clasp her hands in front of her to stop herself from reaching out and touching any part of Nicole she could reach.

Nicole held out her hand to Waverly. “Can I help you onto Trigger?”

“Please,” Waverly said, sliding her palm over Nicole’s open one and feeling the bumps of her callouses against her skin.

Nicole helped Waverly up, her hands briefly touching her waist as she got into the saddle. After she was comfortable, Nicole got herself into the saddle behind Waverly, arms naturally moving around Waverly to take the reins.

“Alrigh’, the ride ain’t that far,” Nicole said, her lips close to Waverly’s ear and breath just barely caressing her skin. Nicole clicked, kicking Trigger into a gallop as they rode towards the back of the property, past the new house and the cows in the field. Waverly leaned back into Nicole a little and felt her arms tighten around her.

She was wrapped up in Nicole’s warmth and scent, and if this was all the ride ended up being, Waverly wouldn’t complain. The fields began to get more untamed, grass getting longer and wilder. As they got further, Nicole slowed Trigger to a walk.

“This is nice,” Waverly whispered, as she leaned further back so that her back was completely against Nicole’s front. Her head tilted back to rest in the crook of Nicole’s shoulder and she smiled up at her.

“We haven’t even gotta where we goin’, darlin’,” Nicole drawled.

Waverly gripped one of Nicole’s arms tightly to her chest. “Still. This is nice.”

“It is nice,” Nicole admitted. “Alrigh’, we’re ‘ere.”

Just then, they came over the top of a hill that gave way into a deep valley, tall mountains framing half of it and trees sprouting up intermittently. The sun was lowering between two mountains and casting a long ray of light down into the valley. Waverly’s breath hitched at the sight, and she pulled Nicole’s arm tighter.

Nicole hooked the reins over the saddle horn and fully wrapped her arms around Waverly’s body, hugging her close as her head bent closer to her ear.

“I chose this land fer this view,” Nicole said softly. “When I was ridin’ and lookin’ fer property to start the ranch on I saw this’n knew I had to live ‘ere. I was convinced no one’d ever be willin’ to ride with me again but...I knew if they did, I’d wanna show’em this. So...here we are.”

Waverly’s heart grew in her chest. “You haven’t shown this to anyone before?”

“Nope, never known anyone I wanted to yet,” Nicole said. “Until you, anyways.”

Waverly about melted off of the saddle, her skin prickling with electricity as she cupped the back of Nicole’s neck and threaded her fingers through her hair. They stayed like that, watching the sunset between the mountains as it painted the sky a deep orange and purple until finally going dark.

Even after the sun was hidden, they stayed like that, holding each other for a moment until Trigger snorted and broke the silence.

“Should we go back’n sit by the fire fer a spell?” Nicole whispered against Waverly’s cheek.

Waverly was tempted to turn her head and kiss Nicole right then and there, but before she could, Nicole turned Trigger and started back towards the ranch. Waverly reluctantly dropped her hand from behind Nicole’s neck and held her arm again.

“So, Miss Waverly, I know tonight it...didn’ last too long. And I jus’ want you to know that it has occurred to me ‘at I don’ really know much about you. An’ ‘at’s my fault,” Nicole said softly. “I’d like to take the time t’get to know you a little better.”

“Does that mean I get to ask you questions too?” Waverly asked.

“If you must,” Nicole chuckled.

Waverly wondered what kind of questions Nicole might ask. Maybe she wouldn’t like her after she knew her better. Licking her lips, she just focused on Nicole’s strong body behind hers, and how she wanted to turn in the saddle and kiss her. To straddle her lap and get as close to each other as humanly possible, all curves sliding together as they kissed. Hands roaming and Waverly untucking Nicole’s shirt from her pants.

“Miss Waverly.”

Nicole’s voice brought her from her daydream, tips of her ears reddening. “Hm?”

“We’re ‘ere.”

Waverly suddenly noticed they were back at the barn, and she pulled away from Nicole so that she could get off the saddle. Nicole’s hands rested lightly on Waverly’s waist as she helped her off of the saddle.

Nicole cleared her throat awkwardly and offered Waverly her arm. She walked Waverly to the cabin, stopping just short of the front door. Waverly frowned and turned around, confused as to why Nicole wasn’t moving.

“I’ma say goodnight here, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, taking her hat off and holding it in front of her.

Waverly frowned. “But...you live here.”

“I know, but it ain’t proper fer me to go in wit’ you after a courtin’,” Nicole said very seriously. A smile twitched on her lips. “An’ I’m jus’ gonna put Trigger away and ‘en I’ll be back in.”

Waverly chuckled. “So you’re coming back anyways?”

“Yes’m,” Nicole winked.

Waverly watched as she turned back around towards the barn and walked away. Her heart felt lighter than it had in weeks as she turned around and went back into the cabin, getting the fire started for Nicole’s return.

***

The next day, before Nicole attended to her chores, she wrote Waverly a note in thick, labored script that read, ”Fire pit tonite”.

She couldn’t read all that well so writing was about the same; she couldn’t wax on poetic like maybe some others could have. And admittedly like she wanted. But it would have to do.

When she was done with her chores, she set up the fire pit with just enough time to wash up before Waverly got home. Their courting the night before had gone above and beyond her expectations. She had expected just a little bit of resistance from Waverly after Nicole had essentially told her it wasn’t going to happen. But they sat by the fire the night before and just talked about everything and nothing. Nicole learned that Waverly spoke Spanish, French, Shoshoni, and Navajo which just furthered her belief that she didn’t deserve Waverly. She could barely speak English.

But for some reason, Waverly always looked at her with those big, trusting eyes and Nicole just wanted to hold her.

Soft.

She thought to herself as she put on a clean shirt and tucked it into her pants. She used a piece of flannel to get as much water out of her hair as she could, running a quick hand through it to tame it and keep it down. She heard the barn door open and saw Waverly walking Butter in. The sun had just set so it was perfect timing.

Nicole took a few blankets outside and set them on the logs she had set up around the fire for seating, even making some tea for them to sip on while they were out there. She started the fire just as Waverly made it up to the cabin.

“Hey cowboy,” Waverly said.

Nicole couldn’t help but look over her body. The dress she wore for the Saloon really did look amazing on her. The way it hugged her curves and how it pressed up her breasts. Nicole cleared her throat and looked away.

“Hello, Miss Waverly,” she said, as she straightened up. “I um...would you still join me by the fire.”

“I’ve been looking forward to it all day,” Waverly admitted. She bounced up to Nicole and kissed her on the cheek, a warmth spreading through Nicole’s body at the touch. “I’m just gonna go change.”

“Okay,” Nicole said, a little mooney eyed as she watched Waverly go into the cabin. She took the time to spread out the blankets a little more and put another log onto the fire. Nicole was poking at the fire to get some of the logs to catch when she felt arms encircle her from behind. Chuckling, she put her hands over Waverly’s that were entwined on her stomach. “Darlin’.”

“I like it when you call me that,” Waverly said, words muffled by her shirt. Nicole turned in her arms and wrapped her arms around Waverly’s waist as she smiled down at her.

“It suits you,” Nicole said, watching as the light from the fire flickered over Waverly’s face. It would be so easy to lean down and kiss her right now. To finally taste the lips she’d been dreaming about. She felt Waverly stand on her tiptoes, faces getting closer, and Nicole cleared her throat and dropped her arms from around her.

It wasn’t time yet. It wouldn’t be proper. After all, they’d only been courting for a couple of days.

“I um,” Nicole cleared her throat again nervously. “Here is the fire. Thought we could sit ‘ere fer a spell.”

“It’s lovely,” Waverly weaved her fingers through Nicole’s. She draped a blanket over Nicole’s shoulders before placing a blanket on the ground and pulling Nicole down to sit, slotting herself between Nicole’s legs with a happy sigh. Nicole blushed when Waverly leaned back against her, using the blanket to pull her in close and snuggle them together.

“Perfect,” Waverly smiled as she handed Nicole her cup of tea and took her own between her hands.

“Um,” Nicole straightened her legs out and Waverly casually put her hand on her knee, fingers tracing a pattern over the fabric. Her stomach started to turn, mouth going dry as she tried not to focus on Waverly’s hand. “H-how was yer day?”

“Good,” Waverly sighed and leaned back even more to look up at Nicole, her head resting on her sternum. “Has Wynonna bothered you at all today?”

“I ‘aven’t seen ‘er,” Nicole shrugged. Just then she saw Wynonna turn down the path towards the ranch. “Speak’a the devil.”

They watched as she jumped off her horse near the cabin and walked inside.

“I’m going to tell her she has to find somewhere else to stay, don’t worry,” Waverly sighed. “She can’t sleep in our barn forever.”

Our

The word both terrified and thrilled Nicole.

Our barn,” Nicole teased. She dropped her head into the crook of Waverly’s neck and breathed her in, smiling when Waverly giggled and pulled her arm across her chest. “Since when is it our barn?”

“Well, Nicole Haught, I expect to be a kept woman,” Waverly said. Nicole pulled her face away from Waverly’s neck so that their faces were close. Waverly’s cheeks were tinted, maybe from the fire but Nicole bet it was a blush. Her eyes reflected the sparks coming from the fire, a hint of rouge still on her cheeks, and Nicole just wanted to kiss her senseless. She had half the mind to.

She could feel an invisible force pulling them together, faces even closer, when Wynonna’s voice rang out.

“Hey, Haught Shit, we’re going to town,” Wynonna said, as she came up behind Nicole and pushed her hat so the brim covered her eyes. Nicole grumbled at the interruption, pushing the brim of her hat back up and fixing her with a look.

“Wynonna, no,” Waverly said, turning in Nicole’s arms to better face Wynonna.

“Waverly, yes,” Wynonna said. She saw Waverly’s cup and reached for it, sniffing it before drinking it down. She finished with a satisfied smack of her lips and let the cup fall to the ground. “Now let’s go.”

Something about Wynonna’s tone of voice brokered no argument. Nicole moved to get up but Waverly gripped her arm tighter and pulled her back down. She squeezed back lightly. “I gotta go.”

“No, you don’t,” Waverly muttered. Waverly gripped her bicep and pulled her arm tighter around her chest. “I like you better here.”

Trying to ignore the feel of Waverly’s breast pressed up against her arm, Nicole looked back up at Wynonna. “What’re we goin’ to town for?”

“I gotta see a man about a horse,” Wynonna chuckled. Seeing Nicole and Waverly not react, Wynonna rolled her eyes as her smile dropped. “I know Doc Holliday. And I convinced him to sit down and talk, to get this whole...bounty thing out of the way.”

“No way,” Waverly said. “We’re not just going right to him like that. He’ll kill Nicole.”

“No. He won’t,” Wynonna insisted. “I already talked to him and we agreed no talking. I had Rosie shut down the back room of the Saloon for our little chat and he knows better than to pull anything under Rosie’s roof.”

Nicole shrugged and looked back at Waverly. “Maybe it’ll get’im off our backs.”

“It will,” Wynonna said. “I think you might...have some information he’s looking for, Haught.”

Nicole squinted. “‘Bout what?”

“About Kate. Big Nose Kate,” Wynonna said.

“I might know somethin’,” Nicole muttered as she remembered back to a time she’d rather forget. It was a time that seemed to be coming up more and more. Before she was sentenced to a stint in the army and was just helping people escape hellish circumstances. She didn’t like giving out information on the slaves she’d helped. They were free now, most of them, and as far as she was concerned their business was just their own. But she had a feeling Doc’s interest was less on the bounty side of things and more the romantic. Plus, if Doc left them alone, Waverly would be safer. She frowned back at Wynonna. “How’d you know I’d know ‘bout Kate?”

Wynonna shrugged, evading Waverly’s eyes as she scratched the side of her neck. “I may have done some digging around town about you, Haught. I talked to Rosita and she told me what got you into trouble. How you ended up here.”

“Bout the smuggling?” Nicole asked.

Wynonna nodded. “She said she was with you on a coupla trips. Figured you might know some people.”

Nicole swallowed thickly. “I do.”

“Well, then let’s go,” Wynonna said, as she kicked her boot. “He’s waiting.”

Waverly looked back at Nicole and she smiled her most charming smile. “Come on, darlin’, it’ll be fine. Anything to make sure he leaves us alone an’ yer safe.”

Waverly’s face dissolved into a soft smile. “You’d do that for me?”

Nicole felt taller somehow with Waverly looking at her like that. Like she could take on the world. “I’d do a lot’a things to ya, Miss Waverly.”

To me?” Waverly purred, her smile that was one so innocent dissolving into a smirk.

Nicole blushed at her slip. “F-for you. A lot...for you.” She sighed and squeezed Waverly one last time before standing up. “Let’s go.”

***

Waverly was not pleased with how the night was turning out. She was supposed to be having a romantic night by the fire with Nicole and instead she was in the Saloon with her sister and Doc Holliday hoping that Nicole wasn’t about to get murdered.

She sat at the poker table, arms folded as she looked between Doc on one side and Nicole and Wynonna on the other. They had taken everyone’s guns at the door, but Waverly was still cautious.

The only thing on the table was a full bottle of whiskey and four glasses.

Doc stared steely eyed at Nicole, and she stared right back, arms folded on the table as she leaned forward. The bruise on her neck was still visible, but mostly hidden by the bandana she had tied around it. Anger burned deep in Waverly’s belly just from the idea that she was sitting at the table with the very man who did this to Nicole.

“Alright, listen,” Wynonna said, as she poured whiskey in everyone’s glass. “All good negotiations start with a drink. So. Let’s drink.” She held up her glass. “To polite conversations, and not getting murdered.”

Everyone else begrudgingly clinked their glasses together before taking the shot.

“Good. Now,” Wynonna gestured towards Doc before pouring more drinks. “Doc. Tell Nicole why you were hunting her down.”

His mustache twitched and he gripped his glass tighter. “I’m lookin’ for someone.”

“An’ that’s why you hunted me like a dog?” Nicole asked, with a raised eyebrow.

“No. I needed the money that came from your bounty to pay to one Bobo Del Rey in exchange for information,” Doc said. “That, and I thought that you had killed Rosita.”

“So-- revenge,” Nicole tried.

“No, revenge was just the cherry on top of the pie,” Doc growled, as he took his shot.

“What kinda info was so impor’ant that you were about’a kill me fer it?”

Doc leaned back in his chair, face softening a little. “I was in love with a woman called Kate. We woulda been married if it were not for the fact that it was illegal. All because of our differences in skin. She was the house slave of a man down in Louisiana and when he caught on about our romance...he sold her off. But would never tell me where.”

“So you jus’ wanted to know where Kate was?” Nicole squinted.

“Bobo had his hand in the slave tradin’ practice, I know this as fact,” Doc said. “An’ the only information I knew was that she passed through his camp. But he wouldn’t tell me nothin’ until I paid him the money.”

“All of this was worth an innocent life?” Waverly couldn’t help but interject.

Doc’s eyes turned on her for the first time. “In my defense, I thought she was guilty.”

Waverly gritted her teeth, but felt Nicole’s hand cover hers over the table. She looked at Nicole in shock for a moment, but she was still staring down Doc. The touch comforted Waverly a little bit and she relaxed back into her seat. Doc’s eyes flickered from their hands back up to Nicole.

“Gimme one good reason I shouldn’t kill you right here at this table,” Nicole practically growled, leaning across the table a bit. “You almost killed me-”

“And yet here you sit,” Doc sighed like he was bored. “All because you have built yourself a band of loyal criminals that will protect you.”

“They’re called friends,” Nicole hissed. “If there weren’t ladies present-”

Doc laughed. “That ain’t ever stopped you before, Rayleigh.”

Nicole stood up so quickly that her chair scraped the floor with a squeak. Wynonna took Nicole’s arm and pulled her back down into her chair.

“Okay, we get it, you both are very tough,” Wynonna rolled her eyes. “Can we get down to business now?”

Nicole and Doc stared at each other for a moment longer, the tension thick in the air and crackling like wildfire.

“What’s the deal then?” Nicole mumbled. “I tell you what I know about Kate and you leave me alone?”

“Somethin’ like that,” Doc said. “Course that will not stop the other people hopin’ to collect the bounty on your head.”

“I need ya to shake on it,” Nicole said, holding her hand out across the table. Doc looked at it once before taking it. “Deal.”

“Deal,” Doc repeated, lips twitching again. “So what do you know about Kate?”

Nicole took her shot, lips curling a little bit at the taste. “Kate was sold to a man named Humphrey. Down ‘round the edge of Louisiana. He was a mean man, but we took care’a that and smuggled ‘er out. Gott ‘er into Alta California. When I talked to ‘er she said somethin’ about family.”

“But she was safe?” Doc asked, some vulnerability finally showing.

“She was safe,” Nicole confirmed.

Doc nodded once, swallowing thickly and pushing his glass towards Wynonna. “Well. I guess I know where I am headed next.”

“Wait, wait, we need some information from you too,” Waverly said. All eyes turned to her and she felt her body tense for a moment, doubt creeping in. She shifted a little before looking back at Doc. “What happened to my Daddy?”

Doc squinted. “Were you not there?”

“No I mean...who sold him out. To Bobo,” Waverly asked. She figured if anyone knew, it would be him.

Doc stared back at Waverly, face blank as he tapped his fingers on the top of the table. “Now I am afraid that is not my information to tell. I was sworn to secrecy.”

“Like promises mean anythin’ to you. Yer nothin’ but a snake,” Nicole growled. “Nothin’ more’an a dirty-”

This time it was Waverly who put her hand on Nicole to calm her. Her hand found her knee and she squeezed, feeling Nicole relax a little.

“But you know?” Waverly said. “You know what happened?”

“Not really, no,” Doc said with a shake of his head. “I know that...what happened to your Daddy was not supposed to happen. But that is all.”

“What does that even mean?” Waverly said, more frustrated than before.

“My time here is up, Waverly. I have no information left for you,” Doc said, as he stood up. He tipped his hat at Wynonna. “Good seein’ you again, Wynonna.” He turned to Waverly and gave a curt nod. “Waverly.”

“You can’t just leave like that!” Waverly insisted. “You can’t just tell me that and go!”

“I can,” Doc said without looking back. “And I will.”

He just gave Nicole a look before walking out of the room. Wynonna rolled her eyes and set his glass at the edge of the table. “He can be really dramatic.”

“How do you know him again?” Waverly asked. “Besides drinking with Daddy?”

“I’ve seen him...around,” Wynonna said with a dismissive wave. Her face lit up and she pulled a pack of cards that were on the table towards her. She shuffled them together and moved to the other side of the table across from Nicole. “Come on, Haught. We’re going to play a little game.”

“What kinda game?” Nicole asked, clearly still wound up from their encounter with Doc.

“Poker,” Wynonna smiled as she dealt the cards. “Strip poker. It’ll help you clear your head.”

Nicole threw back her shot and Wynonna immediately poured her another. “Fine.”

“Um, Nicole,” Waverly said, taking her free hand that wasn’t holding the shot glass. “I don’t know if that’s the best idea.”

“Why not?” Nicole asked with a frown, already taking the next shot. The glass was barely empty before more alcohol found its way into it.

“Earps have always been good at cards. Or...at least acting like they’re good at cards,,” Waverly said, noticing that Wynonna was looking far too innocent for her own good.

Nicole hummed and took another shot. “‘M good at poker too, darlin’,” Nicole said, giving Waverly a wink. Her eyes already looked glassy, the alcohol clearly getting to her.

“Yes...but-”

“Come on, baby girl, if you’re going to be marrying this person, I need to get to know them,” Wynonna said with a smirk. Waverly blushed.

“I didn’ sign nothin’,” Nicole reminded the room. “Least not yet.”

Waverly blushed even deeper.

“See, all fun and games,” Wynonna tried to reason. “We’ll just do a coupla rounds. Just enough to get Haught here to loosen up a little...wash the dirty taste of John Henry Holliday out of our mouths.”

“Exactly,” Nicole smiled at Waverly, and she knew she’d let her get away with anything. Waverly sighed and folded her arms across her chest as she leaned back against her chair.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Nicole,” Waverly said. “I tried to tell you.”

“I’ll be jus’ fine, darlin,” Nicole said.

“Famous last words,” Waverly mumbled, as she watched another shot go down Nicole’s throat.

Wynonna dealt the first hand and Waverly leaned over to look at Nicole’s. She sighed. Nicole was already in trouble. When they laid their cards down on the table, Waverly wasn’t even surprised to see Nicole had lost.

“Well well well, Haught, not as good as you seem to think you are, huh?” Wynonna said, as she took another shot.

“‘At was jus’ the warm up,” Nicole slurred. She reached down to take her boot off, undoing the laces with clumsy fingers.

Wynonna frowned. “What are you doing?”

“Takin’ my boot off. You said strip poker.”

“No no. That’s not how Earps play strip poker. We don’t do pussy things like take a sock off at a time. We go for the throat,” Wynonna smirked wider. “So take your shirt off.”

“Wynonna,” Waverly warned.

“House rules,” Wynonna said.

“Fine,” Nicole said, as she undid the buttons. “I’ll...take my shirt off.”

Waverly had seen Nicole in her undershirt plenty of times. This really shouldn’t be any different. Still, she blushed when Nicole unbuttoned her shirt and shrugged it off to reveal her undershirt, hugging her body tightly. Waverly could see how her nipples pebbled under her shirt, and quickly looked away.

“Next round?” Wynonna asked.

“Next round, Earp.”

That was how it went on until Nicole was slowly unbuckling her belt, looking at Wynonna with determined eyes.

“I told ya, Earp, I don’ back down,” Nicole slurred. Waverly had lost count of how many drinks she’d had but her boots and socks had been thrown across the room, suspenders discarded on the table from the several games she had lost.

“Nicole, you don’t have to,” Waverly hissed, reaching for her hands. Nicole batted them away.

“Nope,” she said, taking a step away from Waverly. Wynonna looked like the cat that had eaten the canary. “I lost. Now I ‘ave to face the consequences.”

“Nicole-” Waverly squeaked as she opened her pants and pushed them down her legs, struggling a little with her chaps still on.

Wynonna cackled, head thrown back as she took another drink. “You’re going to marry a wild one,” she said, with a wiggle of her eyebrows. “Not a bad body though.”

“You will not look at her body,” Waverly said as Nicole’s pants landed on the table. She looked over and saw Nicole smiling proudly, hands on her hips as she stood there in just her undershirt, long underpants and chaps. Her body swayed a little from the alcohol and Waverly felt her body heat up.

“Next game, Earp,” she said, adding an extra pop onto the ‘p’.

“No more games!” Waverly said, handing the pants back to Nicole who just let them fall to the ground. “I’m getting you both some water.”

Waverly rushed out of the room and grabbed the pitcher of water that they kept in the back room of the Saloon. She was only gone a minute, but when she’d come back it was like chaos had broken out.

Nicole was passed out on the table, face down and bare-assed...though somehow back in her leather chaps...Waverly’s entire body flushed and she forced herself to look at Wynonna.

“What the hell Wynonna?” Waverly asked, voice high.

“You’re welcome,” Wynonna slurred, with a drunken smile. “We played another game.”

“And she lost that fast?”

“She said she was gonna lose anyways,” Wynonna shrugged. She frowned at Nicole, snoring on the table. “God that looks comfortable.”

“No. We’re getting you both home,” Waverly said, setting the pitcher of water down on a nearby table and moving to cover Nicole’s ass with her pants. “You’re helping me get her on her horse.”

“I don’t wanna,” Wynonna pouted.

“You did this, you’re helping,” Waverly said, eyes wandering back to Nicole’s ass, exposed proudly on the dark wood of the poker table as she snored away. The sisters struggled to drag her soggy form upright, Waverly eventually just shoving a bar towel into the back of the chaps to cover up that admittedly great ass. Nicole was mostly awake by the time they were pulling her off of the table by the arms.

Nicole mumbled, letting Waverly put her arm over her shoulders as they shuffled outside towards their horses. She leaned close to Waverly, her forehead pressing against her temple.

“Yer so pretty,” Nicole said softly. Waverly felt herself blush again and she smiled at her. Nicole smiled back and nuzzled her cheek. “I’m real fond’a you, Miss Waverly.”

“I’m fond of you too,” Waverly whispered back as they stood next to Trigger. Nicole leaned a little more towards Waverly.

“I wish I wasn’t drunk,” Nicole said with a small pout.

“Why’s that?” Waverly asked.

“So I could kiss you,” Nicole whispered like a secret, smile pulling at the corners of her lips. Waverly felt her entire body flush, lips begging to lean forward and kiss Nicole. But she was drunk and Waverly wanted Nicole to remember it when they finally kissed. To cherish it the way Waverly knew she would.

“Will you kiss me when you’re not drunk?” Waverly asked hopefully.

Nicole nodded. “Darlin’ I’ve wanted to kiss you from the first moment I saw you.”

“Why haven’t you?” Waverly said.

Nicole hummed, eyes drooping closed. “I wanted it to be right. To be proper. To be perfect.”

Waverly stroked the side of Nicole’s face, her fingertips drifting to trace the high curve of Nicole’s cheekbone. She lingered on the scar below her eye before she kissed it gently.

“Let’s get you home,” Waverly said, heart feeling lighter.

***

Waverly hummed as she worked behind the bar the next morning. She hadn’t been able to wipe the smile from her face since the night before. Sure it had ended in Wynonna getting Nicole drunk beyond belief and pantless on the table, but Nicole wanted to kiss her. She’d finally admitted she’d wanted to kiss her. That was worth the whole night.

Even if Doc’s information on her Daddy only seemed to get them further away from the truth.

“What are you so happy about?” Rosita teased when she came from upstairs. “Good night?”

“The best,” Waverly sighed. “I think Nicole and I are finally getting somewhere. She’d courting me now.”

“Oh, wow,” Rosita said, eyebrows going up into her hairline. “Well, that’s great for you, Waves. I’m glad she’s finally doing something smart. You two deserve to be happy.”

“Tonight I’m hoping to make her dinner and maybe...she’ll finally let me kiss her,” Waverly felt mooney eyed at the thought.

Eliza came through the front doors and went straight for the bar, eyes on Rosita. “You should see the carriage that just pulled up outside,” she said. “It looks like money.”

Rosita frowned. “Who is it?”

Eliza shrugged just as the Saloon doors opened again and a tall, darker skinned woman walked in, wearing a gorgeous light purple dress that looked like silk. She practically dripped money as she looked around the Saloon, her eyes landing on Rosita. Something about her looked familiar and Waverly squinted in thought.

“Oh,” Rosita said, quickly moving from behind the bar. “Waverly, can you take inventory please?”

“Who...is that?” Waverly said mostly to herself as she looked at the woman.

“It’s no one,” Rosita said with a dismissive wave. The woman spotted Rosita and smiled, starting over to her. “Waves, just do inventory please?”

Waverly started into the back, eyes still lingering on the woman as she went up to Rosita and embraced her. She stopped dead in her tracks.

Suddenly it clicked. Waverly felt her blood run cold and dread settle deep in her stomach. She knew exactly who the woman was. The image Waverly had seen in Nicole’s trunk, the picture of the woman sitting on her lap. Somehow she was even more beautiful in person than in the photo, sitting proudly on Nicole’s knee with her hands on her waist. It was Nicole’s lost lover. It was Shae.

Chapter Text

Waverly stood there in disbelief, legs unwilling to move from the spot as she watched Shae interact with Rosita. Her mind was going a million miles a minute, trying to figure out if this was real or some elaborate nightmare. But she could still smell the stale beer and the reek of unwashed customers coming from the mines and farms, so she knew this was in no way her imagination running wild.

“Close up your mouth before a fly flies in,” Eliza said in a hushed tone, tapping Waverly’s hip.

She shut her mouth quickly and looked over at Eliza, who raised an eyebrow in question.

“Is that who I think it is?” Waverly asked.

Eliza looked over her shoulder to take a good look at Shae. “I-...who do you think that is?”

“Shae. Nicole’s ex,” Waverly said.

“Nicole’s ex?” Eliza looked over at Shae quickly before looking back at Waverly, ears almost visibly perked in interest. “She’s pretty.”

“Great.” Waverly felt bile flood her mouth and she put a steadying hand on the table, reaching for a glass of beer that Eliza had just poured and downing half of it.

“Hey, that was for the table over there,” Eliza complained. Waverly reached for another glass and began to pour a fresh beer. Her eyes never left Shae as she slowly walked past her and Rosita towards the table Eliza had indicated. She deliberately passed close by the women, straining to hear any bit of their conversation.

“Is she...alive?” Shae asked, tentatively.

“Yes,” Rosita said in a hushed tone, side-eying Waverly as she took her time delivering the beer. “She’s...here. In town.”

Shae put a hand over her mouth, but not before a strangled sob escaped her. “I thought she was dead. I came just to see her grave.”

Waverly put the beer on the table before moving to another one that was even closer to Shae and Rosita, pretending to clean it. Probably not subtly, considering the way Rosita was eyeing her. Rosita gestured at Waverly to leave and Waverly shook her head with a squint. Shae saw Rosita looking over her shoulder and her eyes followed, turning to catch eyes with Waverly.

She blushed, caught and hand hovering over the table and reaching for nothing. Shae looked her over quickly, using a hanky to dab at the corners of her eyes.

“I’m sorry, we’re trying to have a conversation here,” Shae said, not unkindly. But it still made Waverly bristle, body tightening with anger.

“S-sorry?” Waverly said, feeling caught and trying to figure out if she should play dumb or just talk to her.

Shae sniffled and crumpled the hanky in a silk-gloved hand. “Don’t you have...customers waiting?” she asked. Waverly looked over at the bar that was empty and everyone else sitting and enjoying their drinks.

“Uh-”

Shae’s eyes darted down to Waverly’s breasts spilling out of the top of her dress (so maybe she had tied her corset a little tighter this morning just to see Nicole run into a chair) and she cleared her throat with a small blush.

“I mean like...upstairs?” Shae said, gesturing up the staircase where a few men were hanging over the balcony railing, practically drooling like dogs and waiting for one of the girls to be done with her current client. Waverly scoffed, face turning hard as she looked back at Shae.

“Excuse me?” Waverly said, putting her hands on her hips. “I do not work upstairs-” Waverly paused and looked at Rosita, her voice lowering. “-no offense-” Rosita waved her off. “And how dare you.”

“I’m sorry,” Shae apologized, looking a little taken aback by her outburst. “There’s nothing wrong with it... I just-”

“Well then,” Waverly huffed. “If you’ll just...let me do my job.”

They stared at each other for a moment and Rosita rubbed her forehead with her hand, grimacing. Waverly blushed and looked around for something to do, finally just grabbing a mostly finished beer from a man’s hand and stomping back to the bar. He blinked at his empty hand, clearly drunk already, and just shrugged. Waverly practically threw the glass into the pile of dirty glasses and spun to grip the edge of the bar.

Rosita and Shae went back to talking, and Waverly tried her best not to keep looking over. But it was hard with Shae right there. A woman she had never known but certainly envied in how close she had gotten to Nicole. And now she was back, right when Nicole was talking about kissing her.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Eliza said, bumping her hip with Waverly’s as she stood next to her at the bar wiping down a glass. “I’ve never seen Nicole with anyone the way she is with you.”

Waverly frowned. “Wait...who else has she been with since you’ve known her?” The jealousy over these faceless girls was already blooming hot in Waverly’s chest.

“Um..Rosita, I guess. Me,” Eliza squinted then shrugged. Waverly sighed, not comforted. “Shae must have been years ago, I’m sure she’s over her by now.”

“What if she’s not?” Waverly said, fears swimming to the surface and the sickness in her stomach only getting worse. She could practically feel Nicole slipping through her fingers, when she was so close to finally having her.

Waverly poked her tongue into her cheek in thought and watched Shae and Rosita in deep conversation again. Maybe she could just...march over there and ask Shae what she was doing in town. She was Nicole’s...something...after all. They shared a bed together every night. Waverly had just seen her ass-up on a table for Christ’s sake!

“Alright,” Waverly clapped her hands together, bucking up some courage and walking back around the bar. If she wanted to get anything done, she was just going to have to do it. She would have kissed Nicole a long time ago if she had just taken it into her own hands. She marched right up to Shae, head tipped back an embarrassing amount to look up at her, was she taller than Nicole?, and tapped her shoulder. “Hey.”

Shae stopped mid-sentence and looked down at Waverly. “Yes?”

Waverly’s mouth went dry, and she forgot what she’d meant to say. “I’m Waverly. Waverly Earp. Nicole’s...person...someone.”

“You’re together?” Shae asked, face unreadable.

Waverly blushed. “Not...exactly. No...it’s complicated,” she finished lamely.

Shae smiled fondly. “That sounds like Nicole alright,” she said, opening up her small clutch and putting her handkerchief back inside. It snapped shut with a metal clasp that looked like money. “Can you tell her that I’m staying at the hotel? And that I’d really like to see her?”

“S-sure,” Waverly said, voice falling a little bit. Shae’s smile got wider, making her even more beautiful, face lighting up as she said a quick goodbye to Rosita and headed back out the door.

Waverly stood in place, almost in shock, and looked over at Rosita who was giving her a sympathetic look.

“You look sick,” Rosita said flatly.

“I feel sick,” Waverly said, hand on her stomach. It felt like a rug had been pulled out from under her, head light and palms hot. She looked up at Rosita and sighed. “Life has really shit timing, doesn’t it?”

“It really does, Waves,” Rosita said. “But don’t be discouraged. Nicole hasn’t talked about her in ages.”

“She still has her picture,” Waverly pointed out.

Rosita shrugged. “Those suckers are expensive. “Don’t read too much into it.”

But it was too late, Waverly was already imagining every horrible situation in her head.

***

The feeling of sickness in Waverly’s stomach didn’t go away for her whole shift. Shae had long gone, taken her fancy carriage to wherever rich people went in Purgatory. Still, her expensive perfume hung in the air and made Waverly just feel sicker.

“It’s been three years,” Rosita told Waverly as she sadly poured a beer for a customer. Waverly sighed and gave the leering man a half hearted smile before turning to Rosita.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say,” was all Waverly could muster before going to help another customer.

She thought about Nicole’s arms around her and how safe and right it felt. But maybe those arms weren’t meant for her, maybe she had just been a placeholder for someone else. Someone much more...mature and fancy apparently.

Nicole’s whispered words and little touches came back to mind, and the way she looked at her. Brown eyes so warm and inviting that Waverly was sure she could drown in them. Reflecting so much joy and affection back at her. Cautious hands that had cradled her like she was the most precious thing in the world.

The knot in Waverly’s stomach loosened a little. Nicole was hers. She saw it in the way she looked at her and maybe Nicole was afraid to say it right now, but they were inching towards...something. And Waverly knew she wouldn’t be forgotten so quickly.

She sat Butter with a renewed confidence as she rode back to the cabin that evening. She would tell Nicole what happened, there was no way Waverly would ever keep something like that from her, but she wasn’t worried about the results anymore. Nicole was hers. Fate hadn’t landed her on Nicole’s doorstep for nothing.

After brushing Butter out and making sure she was fed, Waverly slowly made her way into the house to find Nicole putting some flowers in the tin can on the table, dinner laid out on two plates.

Nicole straightened up and smiled brightly, dimples popping as she gestured proudly to the food on the table. “I made ya supper.”

Her pants and shirt were dirty, a little dusty from working outside, and Waverly imagined her rushing in from her chores to make sure the dinner was set up in time. There was even a little smudge of dirt on her nose that made Waverly’s heart flutter.

“I see that,” Waverly smiled, all thoughts of Shae gone from her mind. She walked up to Nicole and slipped her arms around her neck, fingers finding the wispy hairs at the base of her neck and body aching to lean up and close the gap between their lips. But Nicole’s tentative hands on her hips would have to do for now. “Is this another date?”

Nicole blushed. “If you don’ mind, anyways.”

“I definitely don’t,” Waverly said. She frowned for a moment and brushed some red hair from Nicole’s face. “How’s your head after last night? How are you not dying?”

“Well, you jus’ weren’t lucky ‘nough to see the mess my stomach made behind the barn earlier,” Nicole mumbled, ears tinting even brighter.

“Poor thing,” Waverly said, with a pout.

“It was mah own fault,” Nicole said. “An’ I’m sorry ‘bout the...state I was in.”

Waverly giggled, her own blush creeping up her neck. Even if Nicole ass-up at the table had been a hassle at the time, Waverly wasn’t about to forget the view. “I didn’t mind all that much.” Nicole groaned. “Even if you did let Wynonna trick you.”

“Mm, how about we jus’ forget about last night and eat some supper, darlin’,” Nicole said, starting to untangle herself from Waverly, but the grip around her neck just tightened. Nicole chuckled, head ducking a little closer to Waverly. “Now, Miss Waverly.”

“What?” she said innocently, hand cupping the back of Nicole’s head and encouraging her to bring their faces closer.

Nicole licked her lips, eyes darting down to Waverly’s before she whispered. “It would be quite improper to kiss you before dinner.”

Waverly smirked and pressed her body even closer. “I’ve never been much to care about what was proper.” Nicole’s grip tightened on her hips, face just a hairsbreadth closer, and Waverly felt her confidence surge. “Plus just think of it as a continuation of last night. Then you can kiss me again after dinner.”

“Miss Waverly, I think we both know that once I start kissin’ you I won’ be able to stop,” Nicole breathed. Waverly almost passed out right there, heat surging through her body as she stood on her tiptoes to bring her face even closer to Nicole’s. She felt their faces drifting closer, the hint of Nicole’s breath on her lips.

Suddenly Shae popped into the forefront of her mind. With the memories of when she snooped through Nicole’s trunk and broke her trust, she couldn’t avoid telling Nicole about Shae any longer. She didn’t want to spring it on her after they kissed. Something about it felt...wrong. Like she was withholding information from Nicole to get what she wanted. Plus, she just wanted to be completely sure that Nicole chose...her.

“Nicole,” Waverly whispered, reluctantly breaking the spell that was bringing their faces closer and closer. Nicole hummed, eyes still on Waverly’s lips before flickering up to her eyes. “I um...saw Shae in town today.”

Nicole’s whole body tensed, eyes going wide and confused as she pulled a little away from Waverly. She felt her heart drop a little but kept her arms around Nicole’s neck.

“You saw-...’re you sure?” Nicole asked with a frown.

Waverly nodded, fingers playing nervously with the back of Nicole’s collar. “She was looking for you,” she said. “She wanted me to tell you that she’s...staying at the hotel and wants to talk to you.”

Nicole stood a little taller, Waverly falling back from her tiptoes onto flat feel once more. “The hotel in town?”

“Yeah. She thought you were dead,” Waverly said.

Nicole, still looking confused, dropped her hands from Waverly’s hips and just stood there for a moment, staring at nothing across the cabin. “I guess...I should go,” Nicole said, moving away from Waverly to her trunk to get some clean clothes.

Waverly stood there for a moment, brow furrowed as she tried to understand what had just happened. Nicole began unbuttoning her dirty shirt and washing up at the basin, something she usually chose to do when Waverly was paying attention to something else, but she didn’t seem to mind at the moment. She had a far off look in her eyes that Waverly couldn’t quite explain.

“I-...what about dinner?” Waverly said pathetically, pointing at the table.

Nicole blinked out of her daze for a moment and looked over at Waverly. Realization hit her and she went over to Waverly, taking both her hands in her own. “‘M sorry, darlin’, I ‘ave to go see what all this is ‘bout. But ‘m sure Wynonna won’ mind takin’ mah place.”

With a brief kiss to the back of Waverly’s hand, Nicole went back to the basin and began scrubbing her face. Waverly stood staring, still completely in shock. Nicole was leaving to go see Shae. Right after she almost kissed her. A kiss that Waverly had been waiting for for months. And now-

She watched as Nicole shrugged on a nice blue striped shirt that she had never seen before. The linen looked new and soft, with clean dark brown pants that were missing the usual holes and work stains her other pairs had. She even slipped on a vest Waverly hadn’t seen before, after putting on her suspenders.

“Um,” was all Waverly could say as she watched Nicole dig into her trunk and bring out some kind of perfume or aftershave and pat it onto her neck.

Nicole went to the door, taking her hat off the hook and brushing some dirt off of it.

Waverly sprang into action, going up to her and taking her hand.

“Should I wait up?” she tried with a small forced smile. “You know so you...don’t have to worry about waking me up or-?”

Nicole frowned like it was the most ridiculous question in the world. “No, it’s fine, Miss Waverly,” she said as she put her hat on her head. “Don’ wait up fer me.”

With a tip of her hat, Nicole closed the door with Waverly still staring at it, wondering what kind of luck she had. The same sick feeling from before began to creep into her veins and she managed to make it over to the table, collapsing in a chair. She rested her head in her hands, elbows on the table, feeling the frustrated tears mounting, throat closing off.

This was it. Nicole was going to get back together with Shae. Waverly could feel it deep down. That gnawing insecurity that had been present from the moment she realized her Daddy hated her and truly wouldn’t have cared if she disappeared. The insecurity that she wasn’t good enough. And never would be.

She let out a shuddering breath and felt the tears begin to leak from her eyes. She sniffled, quickly wiping them away even though no one was there to see them. Maybe that made it worse in the long run. She folded her arms and let her head hide in them as she cried.

***

Nicole had never seen a ghost in her life, but she figured those who had would say it felt something like standing in front of the woman you’d left behind three years ago with nothing more than a letter.

When Shae opened her hotel door, the first thing Nicole was struck with was how she was more beautiful than she remembered. Suddenly she felt like a fool, standing there in her rancher clothes, holding her hat nervously between her hands. Though, she had always felt like a bit of a fool with Shae.

She was so smart, so sophisticated, straight from France and gracing the wild country with her presence. Somehow Nicole had caught her eye and they started their whirlwind affair. They loved each other, that much was true, and if Nicole could have, she would have married her right then and there.

But fate had other ideas and Nicole left with only a note on Shae’s pillow before she ran for Purgatory. Ran for safety.

Now with Shae standing in front of her, Nicole felt everything flooding back. Every touch, every kiss. Every passionate moment they had shared.

She swallowed thickly, watching Shae’s face bloom into a giant, relieved smile.

“Hi, Shae,” Nicole said softly, smile slowly turning up her lips. “It’s been a while.”

“It has,” Shae said, stepping aside and gesturing for Nicole to join her in her room. With a polite nod, Nicole stepped in and Shae closed the door behind them.

***

Waverly tried to sleep that night, but woke up every few minutes thinking she heard Nicole come into the cabin. But every time it was either a ghost or the wind, but never Nicole. It was just short of a miracle the following morning, that she managed to gett herself dressed and to work in a presentable way.

She’d checked in the barn while she was getting Butter to see if Nicole had decided to sleep in there instead, but the only person in there was a snoring Wynonna cuddling with a half empty bottle of whiskey.

Eliza and Rosita eyed Waverly warily as she came in that day, being extra nice, and Eliza even poured her a cup of coffee, handing it to her with a sympathetic smile.

“So,” Rosita finally said when there was a lull in customers. “How did Haught take it?”

“I’m going to guess extremely well since I haven’t seen her since she left last night,” Waverly said with a stiff, tight lipped smile. Eliza and Rosita gave each other a quick glance.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Rosita said with a dismissive wave. “It’s been years. They have a lot to talk about.”

Eliza nodded in agreement. “I mean, Shae thought Nicole was dead. That’s a lot to come back from.”

“How hard can it be? She’s thought she was dead, and now she knows she’s alive. End of discussion!” Waverly said, throwing her hands up in the air. “Five minutes tops.”

Rosita sighed and rubbed Waverly’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t worry, seriously,” she tried. “The way Nicole looks at you is like someone that just found a gold nugget in their pan.”

Waverly managed a chuckle and looked back down at her hands wrapped around the coffee cup. She wanted to stay positive about the whole thing, but it was so hard. She couldn’t help but think about the picture of Shae and Nicole in her trunk, the saved letters and books with her inscription inside them.

“Yeah, until a bigger nugget comes along,” Waverly sighed, with a sad shake of her head. Her heart was slowly breaking but she couldn’t focus on that at the moment.

“Well speak of the devil,” Eliza said a little under her breath, as the Saloon doors opened and an unmistakable head of red hair walked in. Waverly’s heart ached at the sight of her, clothes a little disheveled and a fatigued drag to her gait. As she approached the bar, she unbuttoned the top couple of buttons of her shirt and slid into a seat. She gave Waverly a tired smile that normally would have made her melt, but instead she bristled.

“Mornin’, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, as she took her hat off and set it on the chair beside her. “Mind if I get some coffee and breakfast?”

Waverly looked up at her warm eyes, face hard as she pointedly looked behind her. “Just for one?”

Nicole frowned. “I mean, I usually only eat fer one but I ‘spose if you’d like to join me-”

“For one it is,” Waverly said, turning on her heel and walking into the kitchen to angrily throw some biscuits and gravy onto a plate for Nicole. Usually she would take time to fish out a few more chunks of sausage in the gravy for Nicole, but not today. Today she would just take what was given to her. If she cared, Waverly was sure Shae could figure out a way to get her more sausage.

She practically stomped back into the main part of the saloon and threw Nicole’s plate in front of her. Nicole blinked at it in shock for a moment before looking back up at Waverly.

“Um, thanks,” she said, picking up a fork but still looking at Waverly a little cautiously. “How was yer-”

“Where’s Shae?” Waverly interrupted, boiling over like a tea kettle left on the fire for too long. She put her hands on her hips and just watched Nicole stare back at her.

“Shae? She’s back at ‘er hotel,” Nicole said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Did you two have a nice night?” Waverly asked, voice breaking a little bit, so she looked away to compose herself. Waverly was not going to let Nicole see her cry. Again.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole said. “If you don’ mind, ‘m very tired an’ my brain ain’t quite catchin’ on ‘ere.”

“I bet you’re tired,” Waverly muttered as she angrily poured Nicole a cup of coffee. She leaned across the bar a bit, a sickly sweet smell reaching her lungs as she inhaled. “And by the way, you still smell like her perfume.”

With Nicole’s even more confused look, Waverly stomped into the back room again. She didn’t want to see Nicole’s dumb cute face, because every time she did, she just thought about Shae. Shae kissing her, hugging her...loving her in a way that Waverly hadn’t been allowed.

Yeah, Waverly could go at least a few more hours without being reminded of that fact. So she busied herself in the back room until Rosita came and told her that Nicole had left.

***

Despite not sleeping the night before, Nicole hit a sort of second wind when she rode back to the cabin from the Saloon.

Waverly was continuing to give her the cold shoulder but she was too concerned with other matters to truly think about it. Particularly Shae and her presence in the town. Their conversations had taken Nicole back to a place she thought she had been out of. It had been so easy to forget when she was getting lost in her work, in building up the farm. Then when Waverly came into the picture well...it was even easier to forget everything from her past that had been plaguing her.

When she got back to the barn, she took Trigger’s saddle off and was brushing him when she heard Wynonna walking up behind her.

“Hey Haught,” she said.

Nicole didn’t even bother turning around, continuing to curry Trigger’s flank. “Yes, Miss Earp?”

Wynonna walked up beside Nicole, one hand on Trigger’s back as she got close to her. “Are you gonna keep jerking around my baby sister or what?”

“I don’ know what yer talkin’-”

“Like shit you don’t,” Wynonna practically growled. “Rosita told me some interesting things last night when I was at the Saloon.”

Nicole straightened her back and turned towards Wynonna. “Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Like how your ex is back in town and you spent all night re-acquainting yourself with her while Waverly sat in your cabin by herself-”

“Our cabin,” Nicole corrected without thinking, a blush creeping up her neck. “An’ you jus’ show up after how many years to deal with yer sister’s affairs? Does she know ‘at yer ‘ere on ‘er behalf? ‘Cause I don’ think she’d ‘preciate it much.”

Wynonna squinted at her, poking a finger hard into her chest. “She’s my little sister.”

“She’s a grown woman.”

“And you’re a lying cheating sonuvabitch,” Wynonna hissed out, shoving Nicole’s shoulder back. Her injured arm protested a little but she didn’t let it show, her jaw tight.

“These affairs do not concern you, Wynonna,” Nicole said, letting the brush drop to the ground and squaring herself up to Wynonna. She stood up to her full height and looked down at the other woman. “An’ you’d be best to remember that or get off my land. Ya hear?”

Nicole stared down into hard blue eyes one last time before stepping past her, making sure their shoulders connected as she stalked out of the barn.

***

Waverly hated how her heart betrayed her when Nicole came into the cabin with a shy smile. The way that it tripped over itself in her chest and made her want to kiss her. Still. Even after she knew Nicole had spent the night with Shae.

She felt like they were in limbo and didn’t know which way they would tip, just on the edge of the cliff.

Nicole’s cheeks were red and she held her hat in her hands. “Miss Waverly, I know yer a bit cross wit’ me righ’ now, but I wanna show you somethin’,” she said softly, eyes sparkling.

Waverly couldn’t help but catch onto her excitement, smile tugging at the corners of her lips. “Cross isn’t...the right word,” she mumbled. “But sure. What is it?”

Nicole held the door open for her and gestured for Waverly to follow. “Come on, it’s jus’ over ‘ere.”

She took Waverly’s hand and led her out past the still incomplete structure of the house she was building and into the woods that lined the North edge of Nicole’s property. The woods were thin, easy enough to see through and navigate until they got to a river that ran through the middle of it. The river was wide but calm, shallow enough to wade through, but you’d still get soaked.

As soon as they stood on the edge of the river, Nicole dropped Waverly’s hand, pushed her suspenders down her shoulders and pulled her shirt off. Waverly blushed as she began to undo her belt.

“What are you doing?” Waverly asked, even as her eyes hungrily devoured the sight of Nicole in just her underclothes.

“We’re goin’ in the river,” Nicole said matter of factly as she set her hat on the pile of her clothes and began to pull off her boots. “You ain’t gonna wanna go in there with yer dress on.”

Waverly blushed and raised a challenging eyebrow at Nicole. “Are you just trying to get me to take my clothes off, Nicole?”

Nicole blushed and paused halfway through pulling her boot off. She blinked and shook her head. “Uh, no, Miss Waverly, ‘m jus’ sayin’-”

Waverly laughed and leaned over to kiss Nicole’s cheek without thinking. “You dog.”

“I-”

Waverly cut Nicole off by undoing the laces at the back of her dress and letting it fall down her shoulders, leaving her only in her thin cotton camisole and pantaloons. She quickly pulled off her shoes and Nicole still stood there, blinking in shock.

“Come on, cowboy, what were you going to show me?” Waverly teased, thoughts of Shae far from her mind for the first time in days.

Nicole smiled, dimples of full display as she chucked her boot off to the side and took Waverly’s hand again. “Come on.”

She led her into the river, the cold water sending a shiver up Waverly’s spine as it rushed past her, thin underclothes doing nothing to protect her from the cold. As they waded through the deepest part of the river, the water came up to Waverly’s chest. It only took a few moments for Waverly’s body to acclimate to the cold; her mind was mostly focused on how Nicole’s clothes had gone basically see-through in the water, clinging to her every curve and leaving nothing to the imagination. And all Waverly could see was her back right now.

They made it to the other side of the river where foliage from the trees hung over, creating a sort of hideaway at the edge of the river. Nicole held her finger in front of her lips, signalling for Waverly to be quiet as they slowly waded towards the area. She stopped where a branch hung particularly low, leaves grazing the surface of the water, and Waverly stood next to her.

“What are we-”

“Ssh,” Nicole said softly before lifting the branch.

A dozen brown and yellow fluffy ducklings floated in a bundle, heads tucked between their bodies and cuddled up to their mom.

Waverly gasped, hands immediately gripping Nicole’s arm to keep herself from reaching out and scooping one into her hands. “They’re so cute,” she whispered, leaning a little closer.

“I been watchin’ the eggs fer a coupla weeks now,” Nicole whispered back as the mama duck raised it’s head. “I been waitin’ fer them to hatch.”

“Can we take them back to the ranch?” Waverly asked, still gripping Nicole’s arm.

Nicole chuckled. “We can try.”

The mama duck quacked and the babies began to lift their fluffy little heads. The mama duck spread her wings, neck elongated and quacked again. Waverly frowned. “I think she’s mad.”

Like a flash, the duck launched itself at Waverly, flapping its wings in her face. She squeaked in surprise, fear spiking in her chest as she reacted on instinct and threw her arms up to cover her face. She went to step back but she caught her foot on a river rock and tumbled backwards into the water instead.

The cold enveloped her entire body and she was in shock for a moment before she pushed herself back out of the water with a gasp for air. She sputtered, moving the hair from her face, only to see Nicole practically doubled over in laughter. The duck stared at her for a moment before swimming back under the branch to her babies.

Waverly’s cheeks heated and she frowned at Nicole. “It’s not funny!” she said with a pout. Nicole wheezed, trying to talk but just doubling over in laughs again. Waverly crossed her arms over her chest, jaw tight with her hair plastered to the sides of her face. “Nicole!”

Nicole couldn’t seem to stop laughing, so Waverly splashed water on her instead. Her laughter turned to a shocked gasp as the water soaked her. Red hair plastered over her eyes, she stood in shock.

“Miss Waverly!” she said, as she brushed the hair from her face. “That ain’t prop-”

Waverly splashed her again, Nicole’s hand shielding her face a poor defense against the assault. She looked at Nicole standing there, completely soaked to the bone, and couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Now we match,” Waverly said. Nicole smiled mischievously, a sparkle in her eyes that warned Waverly. She held up a warning finger. “Nicole Rayleigh Haught. Don’t you-”

Nicole skimmed her arm across the surface of the water sending a big wave to slap Waverly in the face. She could hear Nicole cackling over her gasps.

“I can’t believe you!” Waverly yelled, despite the smile on her face.

“You started it, darlin’,” Nicole wheezed. Waverly raised her eyebrow at Nicole and she looked concerned for the first time. “Now, Miss Waverly-”

Waverly launched herself at Nicole, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and pulling her under the water. The two of them went under ,and when Nicole realized what was happening, she straightened up. Waverly clung tightly around Nicole’s neck to stay close. Waverly squealed as Nicole dipped her down again into the water, and locked her legs around Nicole’s waist to keep her head above the water.

They both dissolved into a fit of giggles, Nicole’s hands still trying to splash water up at Waverly. She returned the favor, scooping water up directly into Nicole’s face. She shook her head to get rid of some of the water but Waverly kept splashing her.

Both still laughing, Nicole blindly grabbed for Waverly’s hands. Finally, the splashing stopped and Waverly realized how close she was to Nicole. Her legs were still wrapped around her waist, their thin undergarments doing nothing to seperate them. Nicole’s hands gripped Waverly’s wrists and their faces sobered at their closeness.

Waverly felt a flush of heat as Nicole’s hands dropped her wrists and found her hips instead. As the water settled around them, Waverly’s eyes darted down to Nicole’s soaked undershirt, sticking to her like a second skin, so see-through that Waverly could see her nipples, tight and pink, straining against the wet fabric. She swallowed thickly, eyes flicking back up to Nicole’s. She watched her tongue dart out and wet her lips unnecessarily, their breathing a little ragged between them.

The silence between them was thick with tension, Nicole’s thumbs rubbing infuriatingly teasing circles on her hips. Waverly tangled her fingers in the hair at the back of Nicole’s head and pressed her body even closer, feeling every single inch of her body touching Nicole in some way.

Then it snapped.

The tension became too much, crackling around them like the air before a thunderstorm and they surged together. Their lips crashed together with the force of a tornado, all the built up energy between them finally meeting.

Waverly sighed against Nicole’s lips, fingers tightening in her hair to the point it must be painful, but she didn’t want to pull away, didn’t want to waste any space where they could be touching. Nicole’s mouth was unyielding under hers, arms wrapping fully around Waverly. One hand cupped the back of Waverly’s neck, the other finding purchase on her lower back as their lips clumsily found a rhythm.

It was messy and desperate and sloppy, and exactly what Waverly’s body had been craving for months. Their teeth clashed and lips were nipped as the months of longing finally got some relief.

From the first touch of their lips, Waverly’s blood was pounding with arousal and when Nicole’s tongue slipped between her lips she groaned. Nicole pressed Waverly’s back against a nearby boulder, and began to kiss down her jaw. Waverly wanted to protest when Nicole’s lips let her own but she felt her teeth scrape against her pulse point and her head tipped back to give her more access.

Her fingers raked through red locks, hips tilting up into Nicole as her lips traveled down across her collarbone. She bit down on the pronounced bone before soothing her tongue over the bite and sucking. Waverly could barely think with the heat crawling over her skin and between her thighs.

She pulled Nicole’s face back up to her own and felt Nicole’s hands grip her thighs, squeezing the flesh there as they kissed. The cold water from the river did little to cool her overheated body, sure she would combust at any moment with the way that Nicole was kissing her.

Waverly wanted to rip all of her clothes off and tell Nicole to take her right there. To tell her that she was hers, and hers only, and would do anything for her. But back at the forefront of her mind was Shae, probably in her fancy hotel room thinking about Nicole.

Waverly slowed their kisses, eyes squeezed shut and not wanting it to end.

When she pulled her lips away from Nicole’s, the redhead leaned back in and Waverly had to put a finger over her lips to stop her. Dazed brown eyes blinked open, pupils dilated and lips swollen. Nicole kissed the tip of Waverly’s finger, their faces still close.

“Miss Waverly-”

“Shae,” Waverly said simply, the name off her lips enough to break her heart. “What about Shae?”

Nicole’s face fell, brow furrowing in confusion as her hands traveled to safer territory on Waverly’s hips.

“What?” Nicole blinked, still dazed with her eyes fluttering down to Waverly’s hips.

“Shae,” Waverly repeated painfully. “What are...you and her?”

Realization dawned on Nicole’s face, her whole body slumping as her grip loosened. “Oh,” she said simply, cheeks reddening.

Waverly’s heart broke all over again and she chuckled without humor. “That’s what I thought.”

She unwrapped her legs from around Nicole, sliding fully back into the water and wading back towards the shore where their clothes were. Nicole stood there dumbly for a moment before she shouted.

“But Miss Waverly!” she tried. “We haven’t-...it’s not-!”

“It’s fine, Nicole,” Waverly said, not bothering to turn back as she quickly slipped her dress back over her wet form. She could feel the tears building up behind her eyes, throat strained as she swallowed thickly. “I let it get too far I-...it’s fine, Nicole.”

Without turning back around, Waverly walked back to the cabin alone.

***

Waverly was wringing her hair out with a towel when Wynonna practically stormed into the cabin. She had a bag over her shoulder and a smirk on her face as she looked over Waverly’s soaked form.

“Hey, baby girl,” she said, dropping the bag on the floor with a thud. “We’re almost ready. What the fuck did you do?”

“Almost ready for...what?” Waverly asked with a frown. “Nicole and I-” She could still feel Nicole’s lips pressed against her own, the arousal coursing through her veins. She cleared her throat and forced a smile. “-we were...looking at baby ducks.”

Wynonna frowned but waved it off with her hand. “Okay, whatever. Well. We’re leaving.”

Wynonna turned and Waverly grabbed her arm to stop her. “Hey, you’re not going anywhere. And neither am I.”

“Why? Isn’t Haught being a total cow pie to you? I just finished a job, I got the money to get out of Purgatory,” Wynonna said. “You and me.”

Waverly licked her lips and ran her fingers through her wet hair. Her heart was a jumbled mess of emotions at the bottom of her ribs, but she didn’t want to fall apart yet. She wasn’t even sure if she should be upset or overjoyed.

Nicole had kissed her.

Their bodies had been pressed together, barely anything between them, and Nicole’s lips— god her lips. The now hidden bruise on her collarbone throbbed with the reminder. But the question of Shae still hung in the air, and Nicole hadn’t done anything to ease that worry.

“Where would we even go?” Waverly sighed.

Wynonna shrugged. “Wherever we want. The big city! Think of it, baby girl,” she said, eyes lighting up with excitement. “We could get jobs there, and then we can go wherever we wanted! It doesn’t matter.”

Waverly ran a hand through her hair. It didn’t seem like the worst option at the moment. She didn’t want to stay here with a broken heart. Plus if she left first, Nicole wouldn’t get a chance to leave her. She would beat her to the punch.

“I don’t know, Wynonna,” Waverly sighed.

“Well, think about it,” Wynonna said. “We can leave after this week. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Waverly muttered. Wynonna kissed the side of her head, and she smiled weakly. Just as Wynonna was picking up her bag and leaving the cabin, Nicole came in, eyes only for Waverly. Wynonna scoffed at her, pushing past her and looking between the two of them still soaking wet.

“What the fuck is wrong with you two?” Wynonna muttered before she left. The door shut behind Nicole, and Waverly felt a little sick just looking at her. Her shirt was hanging open, undershirt still soaked, and red hair still clinging to the sides of her face.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, mouth opening and closing like a fish.

Waverly sighed and tried to rub some of the disappointment from her eyes. “Nicole,” she whispered, finally looking back up at her.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole repeated, taking a step closer to Waverly. “You ‘ave to understand, I-”

“Wynonna said we could leave,” Waverly interrupted, not wanting to hear whatever sorry excuse Nicole had for her. She didn’t want to hear Nicole tell her she loved Shae and could never love Waverly. To know it was one thing, but to hear it would destroy her.

“What?” Nicole frowned.

“Wynonna has money and...it’s enough that we can leave,” Waverly said again, voice even. “I’d make sure you get paid what you paid for me and we could call it even. I just-” Waverly put her hands on her hips and she looked up at the ceiling, swallowing thickly before looking back at Nicole. “I’m going to go unless...there’s a reason I should stay?”

Her voice had a hopeful lilt to it that she didn’t want, the silent plea for Nicole to ask her to stay. To tell her she was the one and Shae would be leaving soon. Nicole’s eyes searched her face and she shook her head slowly.

“Miss Waverly,” she trailed off. Waverly marveled at how Nicole couldn’t even call her by her first name despite their fling in the river. “I don’t...understand.”

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t go with Wynonna?” Waverly repeated. “Is there a reason I should stay?”

Nicole’s face dropped and she looked down at the hat clutched between her hands by the brim. The silence got heavier with each second, weighing them down and suffocating them.

“I guess...I guess there ain’t,” Nicole finally said, brown eyes looking up at Waverly.

Waverly nodded, ignoring how her heart stopped beating in her chest and started trying to crawl out. “Alright then.” She squared her jaw, determined not to cry as she looked back up at Nicole. “Now if you’ll please excuse me, I want to take a bath.”

“I...okay,” Nicole whispered, turning around like a kicked puppy and walking out the door.

Waverly’s body wracked with a sob and she waited for a moment before going out to the barn where Wynonna was. She looked up at Waverly from where she was packing a bag and Waverly nodded once. “Alright then. Let’s go.”

***

It had been easy to step back into the role Nicole had with Shae. It was easy to offer her arm and walk her about town like she had back before everything went to shit. Before Nicole left, she knew they weren’t in love. Shea had asked her to go to France with her, to escape the rough West and live with her. A kept woman.

She knew that Shae couldn’t wait to dress her in fancy suits and take her to all these uppity parties she talked about. Just the thought made Nicole pull the collar of her shirt away from her neck in discomfort.

Shae had never asked her to be anything but herself, but Nicole still felt miniscule standing next to her. She couldn’t compete with her silk dresses and lace parasols. It was lucky that she had time to clean her boots before coming to see her. But that fact was, that life wasn’t her style.

Waverly was easy to be around too, but in a different way. Loving Waverly had come so naturally that it felt like a mistake. Like something would go wrong at any moment.

Her stomach ached at the thought of Waverly leaving. She didn’t want her to, but it was best for her. Waverly wouldn’t have even asked Nicole if she should stay if she hadn’t wanted to leave anyway. Nicole was doing her a favor.

Shae’s grip tightened a little on her arm, and she brought her attention back to the woman beside her. Nicole smiled, hoping she hadn’t missed too much of what Shae was saying before her mind wandered. They had finally made it back to the front of Shae’s hotel, some people not hiding how they stared at them. Nicole didn’t blame them. She was the town pariah walking around with an obviously rich Black woman. Neither of them blended in.

“Are you okay?” Shae asked, fingers brushing lightly over the back of Nicole’s hands.

“‘M fine,” she shrugged, smiling over at her. “Jus’...thinkin’.”

“About Waverly?” Shae said, with a knowing smile.

Nicole blushed, doing her best to keep her smile at bay. “Nah.”

“You’ve never been a good liar, Nicole Haught,” Shae said, as they took a seat on the bench at the hotel back porch.

Nicole wiped her hands on the front of her pants, nervously playing with a loose thread. “Yeah, well...guess I never got much practice in.”

“You were always too honest for your own good,” Shae said, voice light like a song. “Except for when you left that letter.”

Somehow in the past few days, they still hadn’t talked about the letter. Not really. They had danced around it, referencing it only as a hiccup in what was supposed to be their story.

“Why did you come ‘ere?” Nicole finally asked with a small frown. “Why come all’is way? Did you want...me’a go back wit’ you?”

Shae smiled sadly. “Closure. I thought you were dead...I asked everyone I could think of about you. If they knew where you went. But you’re like a ghost, Nicole Haught. Just disappeared.”

“Yeah well, I didn’ wan’ anyone’a find me,” Nicole said.

“Not even me?” Shae asked.

Nicole pulled at the string again, the silence falling heavily over them before she looked back up. She smiled so her dimples popped and looked back up at Shae from under the brim of her hat. “Well you know I ain’t got no problem with pretty ladies findin’ me.”

Shae tilted her head with a small exasperated smile despite the blush on her cheeks. “I also know you divert to flirting when you don’t want to answer a question.”

Nicole chuckled and shook her head. “I didn’ wan’ you to find me. Yer right. But it was because I didn’ wan’ ya to get hurt. They were after me, an’ I knew they’d come for you too.”

“I could have gone with you,” Shae said. “I could have taken you to France where no one would have found you. You knew that. That’s why I figure you didn’t want me around anymore.”

Nicole rubbed the back of her neck. “I was young and stupid,” she said. “An’ I’m sorry. I was too much of a coward to admit it.”

“There are a lot of words I would use to describe you, and coward is not one of them,” Shae whispered like it was a secret. She winked at Nicole and shrugged. “It’s fine, really. I wasn’t expecting that when I came here. I’m just thrilled that you’re even alive.”

“Yeah well, lotta people ‘ave tried to remedy that since,” Nicole said. “Ain’t had that much luck, obviously.”

“Then maybe you should stop trying to get killed,” Shae said. “For Waverly.”

Nicole blushed and looked away, “I’m not sure why you’d say that.”

“I know you love her,” Shae finally said.

Nicole blushed even harder, a reply that was only sputtering leaving her lips as she tried to form a response. “I ain’t-...it ain’t...love.”

Shae hummed. “You don’t half ass anything. Let alone when it comes to women.”

“Well, I don’ know about that,” Nicole mumbled, eyes back on her hands.

“Nicole. Look at me, please,” Shae said. Nicole forced herself to look up at Shae, a stray piece of red hair falling into her line of vision before Shae pushed it away. She cupped Nicole’s face in her hands and smiled. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I do,” Nicole admitted softly. “I do love ‘er. I think. But I ain’t been proper with ‘er. I ain’t good enough fer ‘er. I came to Purgatory to...be alone. To escape. I knew there were people after me, I couldn’ bring anyone else in’o it. I thought I’d be alone forever.”

“I promise you, she doesn’t care,” Shae chuckled, patting Nicole’s cheek lovingly before dropping her hands.

“I really fucked this one up, Shae,” Nicole said. “I been so hot ‘n cold with ‘er that I doubt she even wants anything’a do with me anymore.”

Shae shrugged. “If she feels about you the way I think she does, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“What makes ya think that then?” Nicole said.

“I’ve seen how she talks about you. How she protects you,” Shae said. “That isn’t anything but love.”

“Well...I guess we’ll see,” Nicole said.

Shae smiled and put her hand over Nicole’s. “Now I better go so I can pack and catch my boat back home tomorrow. Will you write this time?”

“I will,” Nicole smiled. “I promise.”

“Good. I’ll hold you to that,” Shae said with a wink. She leaned forward and kissed Nicole softly. Nicole smiled against her lips as Shae pulled away. “I will always love you, Nicole. Just let me know if you ever need anything. Okay?”

“A’right,” Nicole whispered as Shae stood up. “I’ll write.”

“Good luck,” Shae said with a wink before heading back into the hotel. Nicole looked back at her hands before standing up and heading towards where Trigger was hitched.

***

Nicole kicked Trigger into a full speed gallop to get back to the ranch. She didn’t know when Waverly was leaving, but she wanted to tell her right away how she felt. She wanted to scoop her into her arms and kiss her senseless.

But the closer she got to the barn, the more she knew something was wrong. She could sense it.

Even then, her heart still dropped when she got back to the cabin and all evidence of Waverly was wiped clean. Waverly had gone.

Chapter Text

Nicole ricocheted aimlessly about the cabin for a few minutes, an unsatisfying activity when you could get from one wall to the other in about five strides. But she paced, heart racing and mind struggling to catch up with the situation.

Waverly….was gone.

The small trunk she had kept under the bed was gone, the stray dress usually left drying over a chair, completely erased. Even the bed was made neatly with one pillow in front of the other instead of two pillows next to each other like they usually did.

It was as if she’d never been there.

Nicole’s stomach felt sick, her blood running cold and making her shiver.

She didn’t want to believe it. She didn’t want to admit that Waverly was gone, and she had managed to chase her out.

Nicole went out to the barn, hoping to see Butter standing there with her big head sticking out of the stall in greeting, like she always did. Trigger followed along behind her, and he stuck his head over the door of Butter’s stall like he was looking for her, snorting in discontent before turning back to Nicole.

“I know, boy,” she said, patting his neck. He pushed his face into her chest and she set one hand on his long nose, the other under his jaw. “I know.”

He whinnied and turned back towards the barn door. Nicole gaze flicked wildly around the barn, as if hoping to find a solution within, then she swung herself into Trigger’s saddle and he started towards the road without being prompted.

***

When she got to the Saloon, she hitched Trigger up to the post, a little disappointed not to see Butter posted up outside. She went into the Saloon, automatically searching for Waverly but instead landing on Rosita, who was marching up to her with a determined look on her face.

“Have you seen-”

The slap across the face was sharp and unexpected. Her head whipped to the side, cheek on fire until she slowly turned to face Rosita, who had her arms crossed angrily over her chest.

“I ain’t sayin’ I didn’ deserve that. But what exactly was ‘at for?” Nicole said, rubbing her cheek.

“You told Waverly to leave, you dumbass,” Rosita seethed.

“I didn’ tell ‘er to leave,” Nicole clarified. “She asked me if she had anythin’ to stay fer and she wouldn’a asked me that if she weren’t already itchin’ to move on.”

“You’re a donkey’s behind,” Rosita said. “She wanted you to tell her to stay!”

“Then why didn’ she jus’ ask me that?” Nicole said, somewhat exasperated.

Rosita shook her head. “You are the single thickest person I’ve ever met. You just went and sabotaged the best thing that ever happened to you. I hope you know that.”

With that, Rosita turned on her heels and went back behind the bar. Nicole’s stomach dropped as she watched Rosita retreat. Waverly was gone and it was her fault. But Waverly should have told her. She should have-

Nicole’s mouth suddenly felt dry and she took a beer off a tray that Eliza was carrying and tipped it back. The liquid slopped down the corners of her mouth and onto her shirt, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.

***

Waverly stared into the measly flames of the fire, watching as the tips flickered lazily up to the sky, and she wished that she had asked Nicole how to build a better fire. The thought of Nicole simultaneously angered and saddened her. She pulled her blanket tighter around her shoulders and missed Nicole for another moment before letting the anger take over.

They had to camp out for the night before making it to the big city. Butter whinnied from nearby, and Waverly absently wondered if she missed Trigger the same way her heart ached for Nicole.

She jumped a little when Wynonna unceremoniously dropped another pile of sticks onto the fire.

Waverly rolled her eyes and reached for another stick as the fire smoked and struggled to stay lit under the barrage of fuel. She poked it to encourage it to grow again.

“I don’t know how you’ve survived this long on your own,” Waverly sighed.

Wynonna shrugged and shoved her hands into the pockets of her buckskin jacket. “Me neither, to be honest.” Wynonna looked at her for a moment and lightly kicked the bottom of Waverly’s shoe. “Hey. What’s up? You look like someone shit in your biscuits.”

Waverly threw her a look and scooted over a little on the log she was sitting on, so that Wynonna could sit next to her. “Nothing.” Wynonna just stared at her for a moment and Waverly sighed. “Just...Nicole.”

“Aw, baby girl,” Wynonna put her arm around Waverly’s shoulders and pulled her close. She rested her head on Wynonna’s shoulder. “Listen, Haught pants don’t know what she’s missing. Okay? She’s just as thick as a mule, and you’re better off without her.”

“She’s not thick,” was all Waverly could say, eyes still trained on the glowing fire.

Wynonna hummed. “Anyone would have to be thick to pass up on you, baby girl.”

Waverly looked up at Wynonna, her sister giving her a soft smile with her eyebrows in her hairline. She couldn’t help but smile back, leaning a little more into Wynonna. She put her cheek on Waverly’s head and they both just looked into the flames for a moment.

The initial feeling of awkwardness from having her big sister back in her life was gone, and they’d managed to shift into the natural pattern of sisterly behavior. If Waverly didn’t let herself think about it, it was like they had never been apart.

“It’s okay, we’ll find you another hot rancher to marry for their money,” Wynonna said, with another squeeze of her arm. “Do you have a preference? Man? Woman? Cow?”

Waverly snorted and shook her head. “There’s no...preference. Well, except for the cows,” she blushed and scratched the side of her neck. “They have have to be…” Waverly thought of Nicole smiling at her, slow and easy, sun setting behind her and eyes sparkling with the final shreds of daylight. Hat slightly crooked on her head after running long fingers through her hair. A dreamy look came over her face. “...kind...soft...handsome...sweet-“

Wynonna gagged. “I don’t need to know that much, baby girl.” She pulled a bottle of liquor out of...somewhere and took a long swig before handing it over to Waverly. “Here. Nothing like some questionable liquor to get you over a break up.”

Tipping the bottle back against her lips, Waverly took two large gulps, eyes watering as she endured the burning. She coughed and handed it back to Wynonna, the warmth of the whiskey already spreading through her veins.

“There we go,” Wynonna said, as she rubbed Waverly’s back.

Waverly shook her head. “But you know...I should actually be thanking you.”

“Well obviously,” Wynonna smiled before it faded. “I mean...for what?”

“For helping me get my head out of my ass. For getting me out of there so I wasn’t distracted by Nicole anymore,” Waverly said. “I had always planned on getting away from Bobo and paying off whatever debt I owed to him, and then going back and getting the truth about what happened when Daddy died.”

Wynonna shifted a little, looking down into the flames. “Why do you need to know? He died. We didn’t. Now we’re here.”

“It’s more than that. I want revenge,” Waverly said, voice getting hard. “I sold myself off, I sold off my body as a mail order bride just for the chance to get away from him. That’s how bad it was.”

“Worse than Daddy beating you every night? Being drunk and angry all the time?” Wynonna asked, voice sharp with bitterness.

Waverly shrugged. “I still wasn’t free, Wynonna.”

They both looked at the flames for a moment before Wynonna asked. “What do you remember? Of that night?”

“I remember...you putting me in the closet. I remember the screaming, and Bobo taking me and Willa out of the closet. I remember you were already gone and-...Daddy trying to run and getting shot in the back. Willa going after him and getting caught in the crossfire,” Waverly remembered softly.

“What did Bobo do to you?” Wynonna asked. “While you were with him.”

Waverly shook her head, not wanting to bring up the memories again. If she went digging, some things about Nicole were bound to pop up too.

“It wasn’t always too bad,” Waverly said, looking down at her shoes. “There just came to be a...a point when I was too disgusted with myself to handle it anymore.”

Wynonna’s face hardened, fist clenching. “I’ll kill ‘em.”

“Wynonna-”

“For putting his fucking hands on you-”

“Wynonna! It’s fine!” Waverly took her sister’s hand and pulled it onto her own lap. “It’s okay, I promise. Whatever horrible thing you’re thinking it-...that wasn’t it.”

Wynonnna looked at their joined hands, then back up at Waverly. “You promise?”

“Yes,” Waverly assured her.

Wynonna nodded and looked back at the fire, eyes unreadable. She stood up and stretched her arms over her head. “Alright. Imma go set up the tent.”

Waverly wasn’t sure she trusted Wynonna to set it up but she let her anyway, allowing herself a few more minutes to wallow in her self-pity.

***

Nicole had started getting used to how the room spun. She peered at the half empty liquor bottle in front of her through blurry eyes and groaned. She really thought she had drunk more than that.

Licking her lips, she clumsily reached for the bottle again, but a hand came out of nowhere and swiped it off the table. With a growl, she looked up and saw Rosita staring back at her, unamused.

“It’s time for you to sober up,” Rosita said, setting a glass of water on the table.

Nicole scoffed as she sat back in her chair, legs falling open and arm slung along the back of another chair as she looked up at her. “‘M jus’ fine, darlin’,” she said, trying to bring some of her bravado back.

She purposefully looked Rosita up and down before smirking, eyes dropping drunkenly. All Rosita had to do was raise an eyebrow at her and Nicole felt properly chastised.

“You’re embarrassing yourself,” Rosita said.

Nicole flapped a dismissive hand at Rosita and grunted, looking back at her empty glass, mouth feeling dry. She looked up at Rosita with big eyes, pushing the glass towards her with the tips of her fingers.

“Jus’ one more?”

Rosita rolled her eyes and gave her a half a shot. “That’s all you get for the rest of the night.”

“Fine,” Nicole said, taking the drink and holding it close to her chest like a precious thing. The thing that was supposed to distract her from remembering that Waverly was gone, but was just making the pain worse. She was convinced that all she needed was this little bit more to numb the pain.

She stared down into the amber liquid and heard the chair across from her slide out. Rosita sat down, purposefully sliding the liquor bottle as far away from Nicole as possible. She looked up at her, and Rosita smiled sympathetically.

“You have to go after her.”

Nicole sighed and looked back down at the glass. “She don’ wan’ me no more. Wha’s the point?” she said as she took another sip from the glass.

“The point is, you have to let her know how you really feel,” Rosita said.

The tears pressing behind Nicole’s eyes burned and she willed them to go away. The Saloon was far too crowded for her to break down now. She didn’t want to look soft in front of the whole town. Especially not over a woman.

She cleared her throat and drank the rest of her liquor instead.

“Nah,” Nicole said, voice thick. “She don’ want a dumb rancher like me anyway. She ‘an get a man in the city that’ll take care’a ‘er the way she deserves.”

“Nicole Haught, you’re a dumbass... but you’re not dumb,” Rosita said. “We’ve been through this a thousand times. She doesn’t want anyone else; she wants you. And yeah, you fucked up, but that’s why you have to fix it instead of sitting here and drowning your sorrows in liquor. She’s probably halfway to the city right now, and you have to go talk to her.”

Nicole was quickly losing her battle to keep the tears at bay, feeling them creeping into the corners of her eyes and rolling down her cheeks. She allowed herself a sniffle and shook her head. “I jus’...” she blinked, vision blurry from unshed tears as she looked back up at Rosita. Her insides felt like mush, emotion making it hard to form a proper sentence. “She’s jus’ so pretty an’ I like ‘er so much.”

Rosita clucked her tongue sympathetically and moved her seat next to Nicole, pulling her head against her chest as the tears fell. She sniffled pathetically, her hands balled into fists in an attempt to get control of what she was thinking. The tears fell hot from her eyes, and she was drunk enough to bury her face into Rosita’s dress to hide her face. Rosita cradled the back of her head as Nicole’s shoulders shuddered with sobs.

“I know, you stubborn thing,” she whispered. “We’re going to take you upstairs and let you sleep this off and then tomorrow you’re going to go after her. Okay?”

Nicole nodded, sniffling again as she slumped in her chair. Rosita patted her back and pulled away, taking her hand so that she could lead her upstairs to her room. She collapsed into the bed with a groan, the room spinning, and she barely registered Rosita putting a bucket on the side of the bed for her to throw up in before she drifted off to sleep.

***

The town was one of the biggest Waverly had ever seen. A couple of times, Bobo had taken her into the city with him when he needed her to be a translator for him, but other than that she had been kept at his camp. So when she and Wynonna got to the town and a streetcar rolled past them on a track, she was more than a little awestruck.

“Wow,” she said, under her breath. The sound of Butter’s hooves on the pavement startled her for a moment, and she looked over at Wynonna who was staring down every person that they passed. There were fancy looking men and women in fine suits and dresses, strolling along the main street.

Even from the outskirts Waverly could tell the city was sprawling, blocks upon blocks of buildings, storefronts with goods displayed in the windows, and even more carts of goods being driven up and down the streets.

“Don’t get too enamored, baby girl,” Wynonna muttered, their horses walking side by side. “It’s nothing but a bunch of freaks in the city.”

Waverly adjusted herself in the saddle. She thought she saw a flash of red hair and her heart jumped, but she did a double take and it was gone. Did she really miss Nicole so much that she was hallucinating now? She shook her head, disappointment settling into her stomach as Wynonna led them to a Saloon. From the outside, it looked twice the size of the one in Purgatory. Jaunty piano music and the sound of a bustling crowd poured out the window as they dismounted.

“Alright, here,” Wynonna tossed a leather bag of money to Waverly. “Get us a room and then you can wander around or...whatever you want. I have something to do.”

She turned to walk the opposite direction and Waverly scoffed. “Wynonna! Where are you going?”

Wynonna turned around, walking backwards as she talked. “I told you I have shit to do! I’ll be back tonight.”

Waverly rolled her eyes, frustrated, but went into the Saloon to get a room anyway. She was tired and wanted to get a little cleaned up after the ride.

With her bag tight in her hand, she walked into the Saloon, trying to get a good look at the people around her without being obvious. While she was sure they weren’t all ‘freaks’ like Wynonna had said, saloons weren’t known to harbor the finest of folks. There was a bald man behind the counter who looked at her through small gold spectacles, a white shirt under a red silk scarf with ornate embroidery.

She smiled her most charming smile at him as she got up to the bar. “Hello, I’d like to enquire about a room.”

“For one?” he asked, voice scratchy.

“Two. I’m with my sis-...ter of mercy. We’re on our way to a new Spanish mission,” Waverly said, unsure of how much information she should actually give away to a stranger.

The man looked at her for a moment before grunting. He reached down and took a key out from under the counter before sliding it over to her. “That’s two dollars a day. Don’t include breakfast. That’s fifty cents a day. Won’t be no...business going on upstairs. You understand?”

Waverly gasped, offended as she reached out and took the key. “We are servants of the Lord, sir,” she said, as she started up the stairs to the room. She turned to look back at him to see if he was watching her, but breathed a sigh of relief to see he had moved on to someone else.

When she got up to the room, she locked it and took a quick inventory of her surroundings. She managed to put some of her clothes in the drawers provided, and tried to make the time pass faster. She cleaned up from the road and even tried to take a nap. But she had gotten to the point that there was nothing left for her to do.

She couldn’t help but feel useless pacing around, locked up in the room while she should be figuring out more about where Bobo was. Ever since the fire had been re-ignited under her, she didn’t want to just sit around. Plus, the more time she had to think, the more often Nicole would sneak into the forefront of her mind. Someone she definitely didn’t want to think about.

Remembering when Eliza told her locals knew all the ins-and-outs of the town, Waverly made sure her dress looked nice and headed down into the Saloon. She looked around as she descended the stairs, taking in the scene.

In every bar, there was a man who knew of Bobo Del Rey. It was just a fact.

In one corner sat a group of men playing poker, all with serious faces and darting eyes. The other tables were dotted with men just sitting and drinking, or shoveling whatever meal this was into themselves, some slumped over and some involved in what looked like intense conversations. Saloon girls wandered around, flirting with men and sitting on their laps.

Waverly spotted a man at the bar who looked worse for the wear, tall and lanky with scars across his face. She noticed a scar on his eye and Waverly would bet her horse that it meant he was one of Bobo’s men. They all had the same scar. She surreptitiously tugged at her corset, pressing up her breasts a little more, and sauntered down to him.

A man like that would have her answers.

She took her time walking up to him, adding a little sway to her step. Leaning on the bar with her elbow, she looked him up and down, standing close enough so that he would notice. He looked over at her mid-sip, an oily smirk crawling over his face.

“Well hello there, little thing,” he said, as he set his glass down. He smiled and Waverly saw that his teeth were filed into points. She suppressed a shiver and smiled back at him, playing with the ends of her hair. “You lost?”

“No, just thought I’d come by and see what was going on in this saloon,” she said, batting her eyelashes up at him. “I’m just so thirsty.”

“I can help with that,” he said, signalling the bartender for another drink and sliding it in front of her.

“Why, thank you,” Waverly simpered, “What’s your name, cowboy?”

“Folks call me Red,” he said gruffly, smiling.

Waverly smiled as she took the small glass of whiskey in her hands, looking at him over the rim as she took a sip. His eyes seemed to be having a hard time choosing between Waverly’s breasts and her eyes, and she wanted to crawl out of her skin.

“Well now, that’s my favorite color. So what are you doing in town, Red?” she asked innocently, voice purposefully higher, drawing out her words. “You look like a big important man.”

His chest puffed up and it looked like he was trying to flex. “Well, my work ain’t nothin’ a woman can understand much of but...let’s just say I’m a supplier of sorts.”

Waverly bristled, but her smile just got wider and she put her hand on his arm, squeezing his bicep. “A supplier? Sounds like hard work.”

“Oh, it is,” he said with an exaggerated sigh. “I work fer a very important man. Ever heard of Bobo Del Rey?”

He grinned like Waverly was supposed to be impressed so she pretended to swoon, hand on her chest as she gasped. “Not the Bobo Del Rey.”

Waverly marveled at how easy it was to manipulate men when you had breasts, and tapped the side of her glass with her fingers.

“Sure is,” he said with a smug smile. “I help him get goods in and out of town.”

“Do you mean like smuggling? In this town? It seems so busy. I can’t imagine what it takes to get things out of here,” she said. “That seems so naughty.”

“That’s what most people would think. That’s why it’s genius,” he said with a wiggle of his eyes. “We just load things on and off the train he controls every night. Easy as pie and right under everyone’s noses.”

“Wow,” Waverly said, dropping her hand from his arm and throwing back the rest of her whiskey. She had the information she needed and wanted to get away from him as soon as possible. “Well, I must go then.”

He frowned and grabbed her arm. “Wait! We were just startin’ to have some fun.”

He jerked her forward so that her body was against his, grin wide and breath reeking of whiskey and something else dark and rank. Waverly tried to pull her arm away but he gripped her tighter. She panicked for a moment before she came up with the perfect solution.

“I would love to have some fun tonight, stud, but I’m afraid my curse just came,” she said, grimacing and putting her hand on her stomach to emphasize the fact that she was bleeding and in pain. He practically shoved her away with a frown of disgust and she rolled her eyes, turning around and heading towards the door.

She loosened her corset as she walked, adjusting her breasts again and making sure that her gun was securely between them. The train station was across the city and Waverly followed the paved roads with the gas lit street lamps.

Her heels clicked against the hard material. It was odd not to have dust kicking up under her skirt with each step, tickling her nose. Although the city smelled different, it didn’t necessarily smell better. There was still the underlying reek of horse shit and liquor soaking the streets, but above that there was a subtle smell of gas and fumes. Smokestacks rose up not too far from the city, and Waverly wondered if that was where the smell came from. Even in the fading daylight she could see the black smoke rising into the air.

Waverly heard the train before she saw it. The station sat at the edge of town, a good sized wooden building, and through the windows, Waverly could see nice couches for waiting passengers.

No one was taking the train this late at night, but still there was a wagon behind the caboose, men who looked like nothing more than shadows in the dim light loading boxes into the back. Waverly quickly ducked into a nearby alley, hiding herself in shadow as she watched. The unmistakable shape of a man in a large fur coat walked from the other side of the train, supervising the work.

Waverly’s blood ran cold just at the sight of him.

Suddenly there was a hard grip on her arm and she was jerked back. Her hands balled into fists and she swung wildly, ready to fight, when someone grabbed her wrists and slapped a palm over her mouth.

“Waves, it’s me,” Wynonna hissed.

Waverly frowned and blinked, Wynonna’s face swimming into view in the inky darkness. She pushed away Wynonna’s hand from her face. “Wynonna?”

“Yes! What the hell are you doing here?” she hissed.

Waverly pulled away from Wynonna roughly. “I figured out how to get to Bobo!”

“Well, you’re done,” Wynonna said. “Go back to the room.”

“No,” Waverly said, crossing her arms over her chest. “This is just as much my fight as it is yours, you know.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Wynonna said, grabbing her arm again and dragging her out of the alley way and back towards the hotel. “Come on.”

“No! Waverly said, ripping her arm from Wynonna’s grip again. “I’m doing this.”

“No way.”

Waverly rolled her eyes, anger bubbling up. “You can’t just hide me away like this!”

“I can, you’re my baby sister-”

“I’m not a baby anymore, Wynonna, I grew out of that stage when you were off doing god knows what, and I was with Bobo,” Waverly said. “You can’t just shove me into a closet anymore, Wynonna.”

Wynonna paused, both of them remembering the night their father died. Waverly cowering in the closet while Wynonna ran. She growled in frustration and stuffed her hands in the pocket of her jacket. “I can’t-...if anything goes sideways, you get out of there. Do you hear me?”

Waverly put defiant hands on her hips, but sighed. “Fine.”

“Thank you,” Wynonna looked back to where the men were still loading things. She jerked her head to the side for Waverly to follow and turned around to head back down the street. Waverly caught up with her and walked along beside her, unable to tamp down her excited smile.

“Alright, so what are we gonna do?” Waverly asked.

Wynonna rolled her neck. “So. I’m going to pretend to be a buyer. Go to the station, ask to see the big man, all that jazz. He’ll be alone because his crew will be unloading and he’s a dumbass. Once he’s by himself-” Wynonna made a violent gesture across her throat with her finger. “-he’s gone.”

“We can’t kill him,” Waverly said. “We need to know exactly what happened that night.”

“Our family died, that’s what happened!” Wynonna said, exasperated, throwing her arms in the air. “Can’t we just kill the asshole and move on?”

“No, I can’t,” Waverly said. “We’re getting answers.”

Wynonna put her arm around Waverly’s shoulders and squeezed. “Yeah. We’ll see, baby girl.”

***

Nicole could see the city rising in the distance, still a hard day’s ride away, but attainable at least. The buildings rose up towards the sky, some bigger than any buildings Nicole had ever seen. Three stories of monstrosities with a factory looming behind it, spewing black smoke into the air and staining the sky.

She scoffed at it and pulled her bandana up over her face.

Her stomach fluttered with excitement and nerves, and she adjusted herself on the saddle.

She missed Waverly with every bone in her body. Nicole thought she was soft before, but really all she could think about was Waverly. How devastated she looked when Nicole told her she shouldn’t stay. She should have gathered her up in her arms and kissed her senseless right there. Instead she just let Waverly leave, and now she had to follow her into the big city--pleading for a second chance.

She had only been through cities a couple of time, mostly with Shae. She’d liked the shopping, and the entertainment, and the luxuries a city brought. Things Nicole wasn’t necessarily interested in, but didn’t mind being there with Shae.

Still, her heart belonged in the country.

Preferably with Waverly if she could fix her fuck-up. And Nicole was determined to fix it.

***

Waverly watched Wynonna tuck her hair up behind her cap and spread some dirt along her face where a five o’clock shadow would be. She snorted, raising her eyes at her sister as she pulled on her boots.

“That looks nothing like whiskers.”

“Trust me. From far away and at night, no one will know the difference,” Wynonna said, popping the collar of her jacket and adjusting her hat. Wynonna lowered her voice almost comically. “Alright. Let’s go.”

Waverly picked up her shotgun and tucked it under her skirt out of sight, easily concealing it within the voluminous folds of her skirts.

They traveled along the darker roads to an alley just a block or so from the supply train, behind a barber shop. Wynonna turned to Waverly and nodded towards the other side of the street.

“Wait over there until I give the signal,” Wynonna said, voice still low.

Waverly frowned. “What’s the signal?”

Wynonna flicked the back of her ear with her finger. “That’s the signal, Angel Pants.”

Waverly smiled. “You got it Colonel Donut.”

She’d just tucked herself behind some crates that were stacked in the alley, just as Red, whom Waverly had talked to at the saloon the day before, approached Wynonna. Waverly shivered involuntarily at the sight of him.

Wynonna nodded at him and he nodded back. Waverly couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the man looked nervous, looking over her shoulder and keeping his distance, until Wynonna showed him some cash. He looked back to where the train was loading and leaned close to Wynonna, snatching the cash. He then ambled off towards the train, and Wynonna looked back towards where Waverly was hidden, thumb up.

After a few moments, Waverly watched as a Bobo Del Rey, in his big fur coat turned the corner, a man behind him with a large shotgun cradled in his arms.

“Shit balls,” Waverly whispered to herself. They hadn’t planned for two.

Waverly pulled her own shotgun out from under her skirt, making sure it was cocked and ready to go. She watched Wynonna rest her hand subtly on the butt of her gun, and she waited until she saw Wynonna flick the back of her ear. With one deep breath, she walked quickly in the shadows along the edge of the alley, shotgun raised and aimed Bobo.

When she was about a yard away, the man with Bobo startled and quickly turned towards her. Just as he was leveling his sights at Waverly, Wynonna pulled her gun and shot him in the head. At the same time, Waverly shot Bobo in the kneecap and watched him fall to the ground with a grunt of pain.

Waverly picked up the thug’s gun, and Wynonna shoved Bobo all the way onto his back.

“Put your hands where I can see them,” Wynonna hissed firmly.

Bobo bared his teeth in a growl, hands up near his face as he looked up at Wynonna.

Waverly stood next to her, and Bobo’s face changed to a pained smile when he recognized her.

“Well, lookie here, the littlest Earp,” he said.

Waverly felt her heart clench looking down into his eyes again, the fear she had forgotten about bubbling up in her chest again. Wynonna cocked her gun and held it to Bobo’s forehead so hard that it indented his skin. His eyes shot back to Wynonna, smile fading.

“And my least favorite Earp.”

“Oh, I’m so offended,” Wynonna said, with a sarcastic roll of her eyes. Her finger tightened barely perceptibly on the trigger, but Waverly put her hand on Wynonna’s arm to stop her.

“No,” Waverly breathed. Wynonna turned to look at her.

“What?”

“You promised,” Waverly said. “We have to find out what happened the night our Daddy died.”

Bobo smiled again. “Ah, the littlest Earp, always so curious.”

“Waves, it does no good,” Wynonna hissed. “We got to get rid of him while we can.”

Bobo chuckled, eyes back on Wynonna. “So you never told her.”

Wynonna and Bobo looked at each other for a moment and Waverly looked between them. “What?” Wynonna licked her lips and looked back up at Waverly. She gave Wynonna a searching look and asked again. “What?”

“It’s nothing baby girl,” Wynonna mumbled. “Let’s just get rid of him.”

“You plan on this being the secret you take to your grave, Earp?” Bobo asked.

Waverly’d had enough. She needed answers and Wynonna clearly knew more than she was letting on. Waverly kept her gun on Bobo but turned so that she was in the way of Wynonna’s shot. Wynonna scoffed. “What-?”

“Tell me what you know,” Waverly said firmly. “Tell me what you’re hiding or I’ll never forgive you either.”

Wynonna shifted nervously, looking between Bobo and Waverly.

“Wynonna-”

“I was tired of Daddy hurting you!” Wynonna blurted, tears already rimming her eyes. “I...I was tired of watching him hit you. I was tired of him hurting our family!”

Waverly’s blood ran cold, dread filling her stomach and making her feel sick. “Wynonna. What did you do?”

“I did it for you. For us,” Wynonna said.

Bobo’s hand crept down towards his injured knee, only to shoot back up again when Wynonna slapped the barrel of her gun against his temple. She glared at him warningly.

“Okay, okay,” Bobo growled.

“Wynonna! What did you do?” Waverly said, tears blurring her eyes as she forced Wynonna back away from Bobo with a brusque shove.

Wynonna sighed. “I just...wanted to scare him a bit. Maybe get him...taken away. I didn’t mean for anyone to get killed!”

“Are you the one who did this?” she said, voice thick with tears.

“All I did was take...take some money,” Wynonna said, getting desperate.

Bobo hummed. “The money that got your dear old Daddy killed. Let me think that it was him. Clever for a little girl. Maybe...too clever. And beautiful Willa gone too.”

“You-...you’re the one that got them killed,” Waverly chuckled without humor. “I always thought it was Willa who sold us out.”

Wynonna pleaded. “Baby girl, please. He was hurting our family-”

“And you ripped it apart!” Waverly shouted, hot tears streaming down her cheeks. “You destroyed our family. It wasn’t perfect, and yeah, Daddy sucked, but it was ours and we were safe-”

“You weren’t safe! Daddy would hit you! It got harder and harder and it was only a matter of time before you got hurt. Really hurt,” Wynonna argued. “I was protecting you.”

“Two people are dead, Wynonna!” Waverly said. “Our sister and our Daddy died because of you. We were separated for years. I was stuck living with this asshole!” She gestured towards Bobo with her gun. “You have no idea what I went through. For more than ten years. I sold my body to get away from him! You forced me to sell myself!”

Wynonna looked away for a moment, shrugging and looking like she was trying to find something away. “I thought...I thought I was going to make it better.”

“Yeah, well you didn’t,” Waverly said. “What were you going to do? Kill him and keep lying to me for the rest of our lives?”

“I...no! I-...would tell you...eventually,” Wynonna finished lamely. She let out a frustrated sigh and stepped around Waverly so she could point her gun at Bobo’s forehead again. “Let’s just do this bastard in, and deal with this later, Waves-”

“No! Wait,” Bobo said, putting a finger over the barrel of Wynonna’s gun. “If you let me go. I can make sure Waverly’s debt is no more.”

“I won’t have any more debt to you if you’re dead, asshole,” Waverly said, with a roll of her eyes.

Bobo’s grin slid like oil across his face. “Sure. But what about the bounty on one Nicholas Rayleigh?”

Waverly and Wynonna looked at each other for a moment. Waverly quickly wiped some tears away from her eyes. “What do you know of that?”

“I know you’ve found yourself sweet on him. And I know people who could help us with that little bounty that people keep wanting him killed for. Make it go bye-bye,” Bobo said, eyes on Waverly.

Waverly hesitated. “How do I know you’re not just going to go back on your promise?”

Bobo chuckled. “Now, little Earp, all these years you’ve known me...have you ever known me to go back on a promise?”

Waverly thought for a moment, and for as horrible as Bobo was, he did keep his promises. At least when he thought it wasn’t fair, and that he wasn’t being taken advantage of. Even a dishonorable man had some honor, she supposed.

“So Nico-...Nicholas wouldn’t have the bounty anymore?” Waverly clarified.

“Waverly, no,” Wynonna said, pushing her shoulder a little. “He’s a fucking liar and a killer-”

“Yeah well as far as I can tell, you’re the same as him,” Waverly said coldly, watching as Wynonna’s face dropped. “Both of you are nothing but liars.”

She looked back at Bobo and lowered her gun. “Fine. We let you live and you take care of the bounty on Nicholas.”

Waverly pushed Wynonna’s gun away and Bobo dragged himself painfully to his feet. “It’ll be done within the week,” he said, taking Waverly’s hand and kissing the knuckles. She grimaced and pulled her hand away, wiping it on her dress.

“Get out before I change my mind,” she said and he quickly turned his heel and hobbled away.

“Waverly, you shouldn’t have done that-”

“And you shouldn’t have lied to me!” Waverly said, stepping close to Wynonna and pushing her back. “You’re a liar and I can’t believe I let you trick me like this. You used me!”

“Waverly, come on,” Wynonna tried. “It’s not the same-”

“Leave me alone,” Waverly said, as she started walking back to their hotel. “I wish you had never come back for me!”

She didn’t bother looking back to see Wynonna’s face as she turned the corner.

***

Nicole had bought a bouquet of flowers down the street, and washed her face in the river before coming to the Saloon. She saw Butter and Diablo tied up outside and knew it was where Waverly was staying.

Her stomach turned with excited nerves as she stepped into the Saloon, looking around for a hint of the familiar face she was missing. No one even bothered looking up at her as she walked up to the bar with a smile on her face.

“‘Ello, sir,” she said with a tip of her hat. “‘M lookin’ fer a young woman ‘at’s stayin’ here. Bought yay tall, brown ‘air.”

Nicole held the hand up at around her chest and the bartender looked at her, unamused. “Do I look like I keep track’a everybody ‘at comes in and outta here?”

“Well, no sir, but I know you’d recognize ‘er. She’s the most beautiful woman in town, prob’ly.”

The bartender grunted, unimpressed. “I ain’t got no one staying here but some nuns at the moment.”

Nicole frowned. “Nuns?”

“Try the hotel next door,” he said before pointedly finding himself interested in taking orders from the other customers instead. Nicole turned around, confused, and started to walk back towards the front door. She was sure they had to be here.

Just as she was about to push through the door and leave, it swung open, nearly hitting her in the face. She blocked it with her hand just in time, looking down to see Waverly barging through the door.

“Miss Waverly!” she gasped with a smile, nerves lighting anew. “Miss Waverly, I knew you were ‘ere-” She stopped mid-sentence when Waverly just blinked up at her, tear tracks apparent on her cheeks. She frowned and instinctively reached for her. “Darlin’, what’s-”

Waverly batted her hand away and frowned so angrily up at her that Nicole took a step back.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked.

Nicole’s mouth opened and closed like a fish, heart plummeting to the bottom of her stomach and making her feel ill. “I um-...well I came....lookin’ fer you-”

Waverly scoffed and rolled her eyes. Nicole noticed the shotgun in her hand for the first time, and frowned. “Why? Hoping I’d come crawling back to you? I have a little more dignity than that, Nicole.”

She shook her head and took another step forward. “No, I came to apologize-”

“Apologize for what? For being a liar?” Waverly said, voice full of tears as she crossed her arms. “Well it’s too little too late for that.”

Nicole shook her head, hope slowly ebbing away. “But-...I jus’ wanna talk to you-”

“You don’t get that privilege anymore,” Waverly said, poking her finger in the middle of her chest. “I have other more important things to worry about and you are not one of them.”

Waverly pushed past Nicole, starting to walk towards the Saloon stairs. Nicole reached for Waverly’s arm to stop her and she spun back around towards her, pulling her arm violently from her grip.

“I said, leave me alone!” she yelled.

It caught the attention of a burly man at a nearby table who stood up and frowned at Nicole. “This fella botherin’ you, ma’am?”

“Yes, they are,” Waverly said simply before turning back around and going back towards the stairs. Nicole’s heart shattered in that moment and she was sure she was about to be sick. She stared after Waverly, flowers still pathetically clutched in her hand as she watched her walk away. But she didn’t even get to watch her walk up the stairs because the big burly man grabbed her arm, turned her back towards the door, grabbed the back of her pants and lifted her as he threw her out. She flew through the air spectacularly, falling hard on the ground and rolling with the force of his throw.

The drunken laughter of the other patrons mocked her as she lay on the ground in pain, shoulder sore from where she hit the ground. But at least the physical pain distracted her from how her heart felt like it was nothing more than a gaping wound in the middle of her chest.

Chapter Text

Nicole let herself lie on the ground for a moment, the pain in her shoulder a dull burn that radiated down to her fingers. At least she hadn’t landed on the bad arm, still taking it’s time to heal.

One of the flowers had made its way to her mouth, and as she sat up, she spit it out, staring balefully at smashed petals all over the front of her shirt. The sight did nothing to soothe her aching heart. She brushed them away and looked back at the Saloon, the laughter and loud conversation still mocking her, even if it wasn’t directed at her. Throwing the pathetic bunch of flowers to the ground, Nicole pushed herself up with her hands on her knees and brushed off the dirt.

“The fuck are you doin’ here?” Wynonna’s voice came, accompanied by the clicking of a gun’s hammer.

Nicole rolled her eyes and turned to face Wynonna, not even bothering putting her hands up. “I jus’ came’a see Miss Waverly-”

“Yeah? That seemed to work out for you,” Wynonna said, eyes narrowed.

“I ain’t interested in being kicked while I’m down, so if you coul’ excuse me,” Nicole tipped her hat sarcastically before turning away, but Wynonna quickly stepped in front of her to block her way.

“You stay away from Waverly-”

“What the hell do you think I’m doin’?” Nicole hissed, the sadness making it harder to control her emotions. She wanted to lash out and cry and scream, but she tugged on the sleeves of her shirt instead, straining to regain any semblance of her dignity. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”

The hammer of the gun clicked back into place, as Nicole turned her back to Wynonna and started unhitching Trigger.

“Wait!” Wynonna shouted. Nicole pulled herself onto the horse and he snorted, nosing towards Wynonna. “Where the fuck are you going?”

“Back to mah camp outside’a town,” Nicole said, tipping her hat at Wynonna. “See ya ‘round.”

She clicked her tongue and kicked Trigger into a trot, steering him out of town. Her shoulders fell a little further with each moment, her throat choked with tears. She coughed and rubbed at her eyes, willing the sadness back inside. But by the time she got back to the camp, the tears were streaming down her face.

Sliding off of Trigger, she managed to make a small fire. Setting out her blanket roll, she sat down and crossed her legs in front of her. The fire flickered pathetically and normally, Nicole would try and stoke the flames, but in this moment she felt too paralyzed with grief to even worry about it.

She wasn’t sure what she was expecting when she went to go see Waverly, but she didn’t expect Waverly to yell in her face about being a liar. She figured she was right though. Nicole was a liar. She hadn’t been straight with her about her past or about Shae. She pulled her hat off and let it fall besides her, reaching into the saddle bag beside her for a flask she had hidden in there.

She took a long swig, liquid soothing her throat from the choking tears as her vision got blurry.

Maybe she should just go home and forget this ever happened. Waverly didn’t want her after all, so what was the use of staying put? Or perhaps she could just...try one more time. She couldn’t give up on Waverly. Not that easily.

***

“Waverly. Let me in,” Wynonna said softly from behind the door. Waverly huffed from where she lay on the bed staring angrily up at the ceiling.

“No!” she shouted.

“My whiskey is in there! I don’t want to pay for this overpriced bullshit downstairs,” Wynonna said.

“Too bad!” Waverly said. “I don’t want to see you.”

There was silence on the other side of the door and for a moment Waverly thought that Wynonna had left. But there was another soft knock and Wynonna’s voice came muffled through the wood.

“I saw you kicked Haught out,” Wynonna said. She snorted a little. “You should have seen the air she got getting thrown out, it was pretty impressive.”

Waverly felt a wave of guilt but shut her eyes and tried to push the thoughts away instead. “Yeah well. I’m tired of you both. I wish you both would just leave me alone. For once.

“Fine,” Wynonna said a little sadly. Waverly could practically see Wynonna’s sad blue eyes. There was a pause before she could hear heavy boots walking away and down the hall.

Waverly’s stomach ached, and she could feel the hot tears pressing behind her eyes. The reality of being alone had finally settled over her. The sounds of the bar floated up from below, and Waverly could hear a muted grunting in the room next to her. She wrinkled her nose as her overactive imagination took over and she could imagine just what was happening in the adjacent room. But she let her mind linger too long and it turned from a man hunched over a woman who was overselling her pleasure, into Nicole hovering over her. Strong arms wrapped around Waverly’s waist, and she imagined threading her fingers into silky red strands and tugging Nicole’s lips to her own. With her anger still bubbling in her chest, she imagined Nicole naked and covered in a thin layer of sweat, making her pale skin glisten as she fucked her, biceps and forearms flexing. Waverly imagined digging her heels into Nicole’s back and drawing her closer as she left angry red marks along her back. Her hand found its way to the bruise still on her collarbone, left from Nicole’s mouth. She pushed down on it, hissing and shivering from the sting before she blushed.

Waverly cleared her throat, forcing herself out of her daydream despite the incessant pounding between her legs. She turned on her side and buried her face in her pillow.

The fact that she still wanted Nicole just served to make her angrier.

Waverly didn’t want to want Nicole. She didn’t want to miss her smile and laugh and the way that she would tip her hat at her. She missed her arms around her and smelling the sweet scent of vanilla under whatever chore she had just finished doing. Sometimes it was hay or sometimes it was the cows which...might not have been as pleasant, but was still comforting.

Waverly didn’t want to want any of that. She hated that she wanted it. That she wanted Nicole. Waverly hated that she loved Nicole. It had taken Waverly wishing Nicole out of her life that made her realize that she loved Nicole. But now that she realized it, all she wanted to do was hold Nicole in her arms and bury her face in her neck. And to kiss her and fuck some sense into her.

She pulled a pillow over her head with a groan, trying to drown out the noises of the saloon. There was a soft knock and Waverly let out a frustrated scream.

“Leave me alone, Wynonna!”

There was silence before a small click, the quiet creak of a door swinging open. Waverly huffed and threw her pillow blindly in that direction.

“I swear to god. You did not pick this lock-”

She sat up, ready to give Wynonna a piece of her mind before a sack was shoved over her head and the world went black.

***

Nicole knew better than to get too drunk when she was sitting in a camp by herself. There had been more than enough incidents of lonely travelers being held up and killed on the highway. But that didn’t stop her from drinking just enough to numb some of the pain from Waverly’s rejection.

Her head had just began to nod from fatigue, when a sharp pain in her jaw knocked her to the side and she went rolling off her bedroll into the dirt. Blinded by pain, she moved to get up but someone was straddling her hips so she couldn’t reach her gun at her side.

The distinctive ‘click’ of a gun being cocked had Nicole blinking up at the barrel, eyes focusing on the person behind it.

She frowned, “Wynonna.”

“Where the fuck is Waverly?” Wynonna growled.

“I don’ know,” Nicole said. “I though’ she was back’at the saloon.”

“You’re a fucking liar,” Wynonna sneered, finger tightening on the trigger. Nicole reacted on instinct and grabbed a stick that was half in the fire, swinging it and hitting Wynonna in the head. She yelled and rolled off of Nicole who took the advantage and straddled her, holding Wynonna in place. She pinned both of her arms over her head with a firm grip around the wrists, pulling out her gun and holding it under Wynonna’s jaw.

“I don’ know a damn thing yer talkin’ about. So either shut up and calm down’r tell me what’s happening,” Nicole said lowly.

Wynonna scoffed, eyebrows moving to her hairline. “Hate to break it to you, Haught, but you’re not really my type.”

She bucked her hips and maneuvered her leg out from under Nicole, hooked it around her hip and flipped them over. The breath was knocked from Nicole’s lungs when her back hit the ground, her gun skittering across the dirt and out of reach. Before Wynonna could get a good hold on her, Nicole punched her in the eye.

Wynonna returned in kind, getting Nicole in the nose as she tried to stand up from the ground. As soon as she hit the dirt, she sprang back to her feet despite her blurry vision and the coppery taste of blood in her mouth. She held her fist in front of her face and reached for her other gun, pulling back the hammer and pointing it up at Wynonna, just as she did the same.

They stood staring at each other for a moment, guns cocked and loaded, chests heaving as they recovered. Nicole raised her eyebrow at Wynonna, tongue darting out to taste the blood on her lip. She winced at the pain as a lock of hair fell in front of her face. She flicked her head back to get it out of her face and raised a challenging eyebrow at Wynonna.

“You wanna explain what’s goin’ on ‘ere?” Nicole breathed.

“Why don’t I just shoot you instead?” Wynonna said.

“‘Cause apparently you think I know somethin’ an’ if ‘m dead, you get nothin’,” Nicole said. “Now tell me what’s goin’ on.”

“Forgive me if I’m not as inclined to talk with a gun in my face,” Wynonna said.

“Well the feelin’s mutual,” Nicole said, spitting a mouthful of blood into the dust.

They both stared at each other for another moment before their shoulders relaxed and they slowly returned their guns to their holsters. Nicole pulled her bandana from her pocket and wiped away some of the blood pouring from her lip and mouth. Wynonna’s eye was already starting to swell, and Nicole felt bad for a moment before she remembered that Wynonna had attacked her first.

“Where’s Waverly?” Wynonna asked again.

Nicole felt some fear take over her chest and she shook her head slowly. “Wynonna, I don’ know where she is. Wha’ happened? Is she in trouble?”

“I don’t know. I got back to our room and-” Wynonna swallowed thickly and shook her head. “I need to find her.”

“Why would you think I knew?”

Wynonna let out a low chuckle. “You just seem to have a lot of interest in me and my sister lately. Following us all the way to town to...what? Kidnap my baby sister and take her back to your shitty little ranch-”

“Our ranch ain’t shitty,” Nicole interrupted. “An’ I was in’erested in Waverly far before you came rollin’ in’a town. You know damn well I ain’t had nothin’ to do with this so’a sooner you tell me e’erythin’ ‘at happened, the sooner we can get’er.”

“Why should I believe you?” Wynonna asked.

“‘Cause you know I love ‘er.” Nicole hated how her voice cracked and throat bobbed. The adrenaline from the fight was still pumping through her veins, but the fear of Waverly being missing had started creeping in. Wynonna stared at her for a moment before her face softened.

“Fine,” Wynonna relented, crossing her arms over her chest. “I was at our room and Waverly wouldn’t let me in so...I went to get a drink and when I went back an hour later the door was open and she was gone.”

“Was anythin’ else taken?”

“No. It barely looked like a struggle,” Wynonna said.

“How do ya know she didn’ jus’ leave ‘erself?”

“Because all her...clothes were there. She must have been taken when she was dressed for bed,” Wynonna said, as she started to pace.

Nicole thought about Waverly in nothing more than her night clothes, in who knew what kind of trouble. “Waverly...she’ll be cold,” she said a little under her breath before quickly pulling herself out of it. “Why was she mad at ya? What’d y'all do earlier?” Nicole asked, still trying to keep her cool.

“We just-” Wynonna threw her arms in the air. “Nothing! Just...talked to...Bobo.”

“What?” Nicole gasped, horrified.

“And shot him a little and he told Waverly I was the one that got Daddy killed,” Wynonna finished off quickly.

“What the fuck Wynonna?” Nicole said, going over to where her gun had been thrown into the dirt and picking it up. She wiped off her gun with the bandana and put it back in the holster. “We gotta fin’ her.”

“Yeah, no shit, Haught,” Wynonna said. “But where? I have no idea where he would be right now. His train is out of town and we’ll need a goddamn bloodhound to-” Wynonna’s eyes lit up and she hit Nicole in the arm. “I have an idea.”

She ran over to where Diablo was standing and pulled herself on. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going, Wynonna?”

“To go see your best friend, Doc Holliday,” Wynonna said as Nicole went over to Trigger.

“How-?...Is’e even in town?” Nicole asked.

“Yep.”

“And you know this why?” Nicole’s suspicion crept along her spine and Wynonna sighed.

“Because he told me before he skipped town in Purgatory that he was picking up another job before going California,” Wynonna said, kicking her horse into a gallop.

Nicole cursed under her breath and followed.

***

“I swear on all things holy if you don’t take this bag off my head-”

The hood was snatched off the top of Waverly’s head and she pulled at the binds around her wrists and feet. She was tied to a chair, hands behind her back and legs tied to the chair. She looked around but it was difficult to make anything out with the low light. From the one lone window, it looked like the sun was about to rise and cast a low eerie light around the room. There were some candles and lanterns set up around, just enough to cast shadows. She was in what looked like a warehouse, stacks upon stacks of crates lining the sides. It smelled sour and dirty and it made her stomach turn as her eyes focused on her captors.

Red, the guy from the Saloon the day before, stood there with his arms crossed. Somehow he looked both embarrassed and mad at the same time. There were a few other goons around him, who parted as another figure emerged from the shadows. She noticed his fur coat before anything as he limped forward, a thick bandage around his knee where she’d shot him.

The fear had begun to build in her stomach but she kept her face hard, frowning at him.

“What do you want, shit-ticket?” she hissed.

Bobo’s men chuckled and he shot them a look, eyes practically glowing with anger. They cowered like dogs with their tails tucked between their legs, shrinking from the ring of dim light that was surrounding them. Bobo turned to Waverly, suddenly in her face, and she managed not to flinch.

“I thought we were squared away. What’s this about?” Waverly said, hands still pulling at their binds behind her back.

“No no, your friend Rayleigh is squared away. And your debt. But this isn’t about money, this is about pride,” Bobo said, face getting close to Waverly’s. She just stared him down, looking into cold, dark eyes, but refusing to show the fear that was making her palms sweat. “This is about reputation. Dignity.”

Waverly narrowed her eyes at him. “What do you know about either of those?”

Bobo growled, lip twitching. “Little girl, you think you’re so clever. That you can just shoot me and get away with it.” He grabbed her face between her thumb and forefinger, squishing her cheeks. “I. Will not. Be made a fool of.”

Waverly jerked her face away, and he drew his hand back like he’d been burned, their faces still close. “I’d say it’s too late for that.”

“You’ve never known when to stop talking,” Bobo said, tilting his head. “It was always one of your...more annoying qualities.”

“So you’re just going to kill me then?” Waverly asked. “You should have done it years ago. Now you’ll have Wynonna and Nicole after you.”

Bobo smirked. “You really think after what you said to the both of them they’ll be coming after you? After you told them to leave?”

Waverly’s blood ran cold and her eyes faltered for a moment. That was all it took for Bobo to smirk, teeth yellow and breath foul. She made her eyes cold again.

“I have people everywhere. You think you would have learned this by now,” Bobo said. “For example. A certain Doc Holliday has been feeding me the whereabouts of that sister of yours for years. Made sure she stayed away.”

Waverly shouldn’t have been surprised by how deep Doc’s betrayal went. “I see that worked out, didn’t it?”

“I don’t even know why you wanted to leave,” Bobo said. “I always treated you well. Never touched you. Never let my men touch you. Even though they asked. No. I treated my Waverly well. My angel.”

She suppressed a shiver, hoping her voice didn’t shake the way it wanted to. “You kept me trapped there.”

Bobo’s smile fell and he ran a finger lightly over her cheek. She leaned away from him but he seemed unphased. “I was so sad to see you go, angel. But I like this new gay Waverly. Even if she’s a little judgy.”

“Just kill me already if you’re going to do it,” Waverly said, the shake finally coming through in her voice. “I’d rather die than sit here and listen to your lips flap for another ten minutes.”

His goons laughed again, and Bobo’s lip curled in a smile. “Oh, I’m not going to kill you, little Earp. I’m going to take you back to the base, and then maybe I’ll let my men finally do what they’ve been begging to do to you.”

There was more laughter and Waverly’s face finally fell. Bobo smirked like he had her, and straightened up.

He sniffed and adjusted his coat. “Alright, boys, get the little bitch loaded up. I’ll escort her personally back to the base.”

Waverly tried not to scream when two men grabbed her from each side and lifted her up and away.

***

“I don’ like this idea,” Nicole said under her breath, fingers drumming on the butt of her gun. She looked around nervously as they walked to the back of the Saloon where the private poker games were held.

“Yeah, well do you have a better one?” Wynonna hissed, continuing down the hall. “We’re getting Waverly any damn way we can.”

“I jus’ think there’re better ways to find ‘er than to owe a debt to a madman,” Nicole said as Wynonna knocked on the locked door at the end of the hall. There was a small barred window in the middle about eye height, shut from the other side. “We could fin’ Waverly ourselves. I ain’t bad at trackin’.”

“‘Ain’t bad’,” Wynonna mocked Nicole’s accent and made quotes with her fingers, “ain’t good enough, Red. We’re calling in the professionals.”

The piece of wood blocking the peephole slid open, and a pair of eyes looked out at Wynonna. “Whatdya want?”

“I need to talk to Holliday about a toothache,” Wynonna said quickly. “Tell him it’s important.”

The eyes looked at her for another moment before the door slid closed again. A few moments later, the door opened just the slightest and Doc stepped out, blue eyes flickering from Wynonna to Nicole as he lit a cigarette. Nicole stood as tall as possible, shoulders straight as she stared him down.

“I would ask to what I owe the pleasure, but I have a feelin’ this is gonna be anythin’ but pleasurable,” Doc drawled.

Nicole scoffed, and Wynonna crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“Alright, we don’t have time to be cute. We need your help, Doc,” Wynonna said. “Waverly is-...Bobo took her. We need to know where.”

Doc took a deep inhale, cigarette bobbing loosely between his lips as he spoke. “Let me get this straight. You want me to find Miss Earp for...what exactly?”

“To prove you’re more’an a useless rantallion,” NIcole said through gritted teeth.

Doc’s eyes narrowed and Wynonna cleared her throat, stepping between the two of them and putting her hands on their chests. “Haught, down boy,” Wynonna said, before looking over at Doc. “But she’s not wrong. I know you’re a rough tough cowboy or whatever, but-” Wynonna swallowed thickly. “-can’t you just for once do something just because it’s the right thing to do? My baby sister is missing. Some fucked up, fur coat wearing motherfucker has taken her, and we need to get her back.”

Doc stared at Wynonna for a moment, the end of his cigarette burning and turning to ashes, delicately holding their shape until Doc’s throat bobbed, lips twitching and sending the ashes to the floor.

“Fine,” he said gruffly. “Show me to her quarters.”

Nicole made sure to walk just slightly behind Doc as they took him to the room Waverly was snatched from. She kept her hand on her gun, still not trusting him. Never fully trusting. Her neck still ached from the rope tight around her neck, and she knew Waverly would be upset if she found out Nicole was in cahoots with him. If you could even call this that. She didn’t fully trust him, but Wynonna did. And Nicole trusted Wynonna to only want the best for Waverly, so here they were. She didn’t trust Wynonna with her life but she trusted her with Waverly’s. Desperation made for strange bedfellows, indeed.

Nicole stood respectfully outside of the door as Doc and Wynonna went in. She could see Waverly’s dress from the day set haphazardly over a nearby chair, her travel bag open and a book on the nightstand. Doc kneeled down and examined some marks on the floor, running his finger through a scuff and sniffing the residue left on the tip.

Wynonna looked back at her and gestured for her to come in. “What are you doing? Lurking out there like a freak.”

Nicole straightened out her shirt. “Ain’t proper to go inna a ladies room when she ain’t present.”

Wynonna rolled her eyes with a loud scoff. “I think it’s okay in this instance!”

“I know where they have taken her,” Doc said as he stood up. “Old warehouse just outside’a town. Used to be for storin’ coal before the eyesore of a factory got put in. Bobo uses it to store ‘is shipments between travels.”

“You know an awful lot ‘bout Bobo’s operations,” Nicole said, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe. “An’ why are you still in town? I thought you were goin’ after Kate.”

“Turns out it’s hard to find timely passage to California,” Doc said, mustache twitching.

Nicole squinted at him. “Why should we trust you? How do we know you ain’t leadin’ us into a trap?”

“The bounty on yer head is gone, you ain’t no use to me anymore,” Doc said as he walked out of the room. Nicole frowned and looked at Wynonna who shrugged.

“Waverly’s condition to let Bobo live was to get rid of the bounty on your head, Red,” Wynonna said, clapping her on the shoulder before following Doc out. “Doc, I take it you’ll be leaving us here?”

Doc turned and looked at Wynonna and back at Nicole briefly. He took his hat off, gaze settling on Wynonna again. “I ain’t done your family right since your Daddy died. And not much before that either. The least I can do is help you get Waverly back. Then I will be leaving on a clear conscious. Besides, the way I see it, I don’t owe Bobo nothin’.”

Nicole scoffed. “It’d take a helluva lot more’an that to cleanse yer soul.”

Wynonna nudged Nicole in the ribs with her elbow and looked back at Doc. “Thanks, Doc. It’s good enough. Now let’s go get our girl.”

Nicole stayed staring blankly into the room for a moment. Waverly had asked for her bounty to be erased. She was a free woman. Waverly still cared about her enough to make sure she could live free. As she closed the door behind her, her chest fluttered with hope that maybe Waverly wasn’t completely done with her. She followed Doc and Wynonna down and out of the Saloon, adrenaline starting to pump as she swung herself onto Trigger.

They let Doc lead the way, snapping their horses into action and racing down the town streets. The few people still straggling about in the early morning, leisurely walking or stumbling down the street, jumped out of the way of their horses as their hooves pounded into the paved streets. They made good time out of town and galloped towards the warehouse, early morning wind whipping Nicole’s face and making her eyes water.

When they got closer, she pulled her gun from its holster, ready for whatever came at them.

Aside from the hint of light in one of the high windows of the warehouse, it looked relatively undisturbed. In the quiet morning wind, Nicole could just barely hear the sound of horses idling somewhere, probably behind the warehouse and out of sight.

She could see why they chose this location. It was isolated and out in the open, easy to defend, and the train track ran behind it by a mile or so before the land gave way to forest, easy for hiding and clandestine deliveries.

They slowed as they got closer to the warehouse, horses blowing hard and stomping the ground a little impatiently from being at a sudden standstill.

“Are you sure they’re in there?” Wynonna asked, as she pulled her gun from its holster.

As if in answer, a bullet rang out, whizzing past Nicole’s head with a high whistle.

“Down!” Nicole shouted, sliding off of Trigger just as more bullets rang out. They all dropped to their bellies, hoping some of the taller grass would hide them as they drew their weapons.

“Those motherfuckers,” Wynonna said, aiming her gun and shooting in the direction of the warehouse.

“I guess that answers your question,” Doc said, calmly shooting off two rounds. The bullets kept whizzing past them. Doc’s hat was hit and it flew off his head. He cursed loudly.

Nicole tried to formulate a plan in her head; there were at least eight people shooting at them if her eyes were serving her correctly. She pushed her hat up a little on her head and squinted, pistol aimed and at the ready. She wished she knew the inside layout, so she could guess where Waverly might be. If she was in there, it could mean their bullets were putting her in danger.

The onslaught stopped for a moment and in the sudden stillness Nicole could hear some yelling. There was one distinct yell that made Nicole’s heart stop.

“Get the hell off of me!” Waverly’s voice rang across the field, and Nicole popped her head up. A bullet whizzed past her ear and she ducked her head again.

“Miss Waverly,” she breathed, body anxious and ready to fight. She pushed herself up from the ground but Wynonna quickly pulled her back down.

“Don’t be a fucking idiot. I know it’s weird me saying this but...we can’t just go in guns blazing,” Wynonna said.

Doc reached into his coat and brought out a bundle of dynamite. “I have something that might help.”

Nicole frowned at him. “Are you serious? You were jus’ carryin’ that shit around?”

Distracted by Doc, Nicole and Wynonna almost missed the moment when a dark horse shot off from behind the building. The rider wore a distinct fur coat, and Nicole could see a small figure dressed in white tied behind his saddle like a shot deer. Bobo, flanked by two other men on horses, began galloping away and towards the train tracks and the cover of the woods.

“That sonuvabitch,” Nicole said, popping up from the ground despite the new round of bullets that had started up as soon as Bobo’s men saw her break cover. Trigger had spooked in the barrage and stood a few yards away. Nicole didn’t have time to go to him, so she grabbed the dynamite from Doc, tucking it under an arm, and started running towards the warehouse with her gun raised.

She whistled loudly for Trigger and she could hear him whinny in response, followed by the sound of pounding hooves hitting the field. If any bullets hit her, she couldn’t even feel them. She was so fueled by rage and determination at this point that she wasn’t sure a bullet to the head could bring her down. She shot towards the warehouse, grinning in satisfaction as she heard a grunt when one of her bullets found home.

Trigger ran up beside her, giant body heaving. She gripped the saddle horn with one hand, jumping and swinging herself onto the saddle just as she took another shot into the warehouse window and watched a body tumble to the ground.

Taking the dynamite out from under her arm, she threw it into the window, taking aim and shooting just as it cleared the sill.

She heard an “oh shit-” as the dynamite exploded, ducked her head and gripped onto Trigger, quickly steering him away from where fire bloomed from the open window of the warehouse, flames bursting from the top of the roof and reaching towards the rising sun.

“Fuck yeah, Haught!” Wynonna yelled, the sound of hooves joining behind her. She looked back and saw Wynonna and Doc following her on their horses. She smiled, tipping her hat at her briefly before turning back and focusing on Bobo’s horse and his men, growing smaller in the distance.

“A’ight, boy, let’s do this. Hiyah!” she said to Trigger, gripping the reins tightly and kicking him firmly in the ribs to get him going even faster. She kept her body pressed to the horse, wind whizzing past her ears and stinging her narrowed eyes, focusing on Bobo ahead. Her legs were tense, body hovering over the saddle as she rode Trigger towards Waverly’s kidnappers.

They were gaining on them, only a few yards behind when Bobo’s goons started shooting at them. Nicole aimed her pistol and shot, missing one of the men. But Doc shot and his bullet found its mark, making them drop their gun to the ground with a yell.

The sound of a train whistle broke Nicole’s focus for a moment as they approached the tracks. She looked over and saw the train barrelling full speed down the tracks, wheels turning and engine blasting smoke from its stack. She cursed and looked back to where Bobo’s sweating mount was just barely ahead. Waverly’s eyes, wide and scared, stared back at her as she bounced on the back of the horse. Waverly was doing something with her hands, pulling at the binds and trying to loosen them.

“We’re not going to make it!” Wynonna yelled, Diablo coming up alongside Trigger. “We’re not going to make it past the tracks before the train comes!”

Nicole pulled her eyes away from Waverly and saw an empty flat bed on the train a few cars back from the engine. If they stopped, Bobo would get away with Waverly. If they kept going, they might get obliterated under the train’s moving wheels.

“I gotta try,” Nicole said to Wynonna, tipping her hat at her. “Cover me.”

Wynonna frowned at her. “Are you fucking crazy, Haught?”

Wynonna shot at the other goon and he fell to the ground just as Bobo crossed the railroad tracks. Just a second later, the train roared down on them, blocking Nicole’s view of Waverly.

Wynonna pulled Diablo to a quick stop and Doc did the same as the train blasted past them. Nicole just clung to Trigger tighter, gripping the reins and focusing on where she could see Waverly each time there was a gap between the train cars, steering her horse parallel to the train.

She could smell the burning coal of the train, the grease on its wheels, and feel the wind coming off of it as it flew down the tracks. She saw the empty flat bed of the train approaching out of the corner of her eye, and she gritted her teeth.

“A’ight, Trigger, let’s do this,” she said, digging her heels into his ribs one more time to get another quick burst of speed, yanking back hard on the reins. He jumped just as the flat bed car moved in front of them and it was like everything started moving in slow motion. Nicole could feel the wind whistling past her ears, breath caught in her throat, and it felt like she and Trigger were suspended in the air for a moment.

Her eyes caught Waverly’s, hands now worked from her binds, as she stared wide eyed at her. When Trigger’s hooves met the ground on the other side of the train, it was like the world was moving at speed again. She let out the breath she was holding, smirking when Bobo looked back at her in surprise.

He went to pull his gun but she shot his hand, grimly satisfied at his high pitched screaming as blood sprayed. Trigger pulled up alongside his horse and Nicole grabbed Bobo by the collar, punching him square in the nose twice before pushing him off his horse.

Bobo fell to the ground with a grunt, and Nicole reached for Waverly, who was already meeting her halfway. Nicole looped an arm around her waist and pulled Waverly off of the horse and into her lap, before pulling on Trigger’s reins for him to slow.

Waverly sat sideways in her lap, arms looped around Nicole’s neck as she clung to her.

Nicole wrapped her arms tightly around Waverly’s waist, holding her close as Waverly’s face remained buried in her neck. They sat like that for a second, both breathing heavily. Nicole cupped the back of Waverly’s head and held her close, nuzzling her temple and breathing her in.

Waverly let out a shuddery breath against her neck and pulled back to look up at Nicole. Bot of their eyes were brimming with unshed tears of relief, happy smiles nervously flitting across their faces. Waverly’s fingers plucked nervously at Nicole’s shirt, twisting the fabric between her fingers and rubbing it, as their eyes met almost shyly.

Nicole smiled, her arm tightening around Waverly’s waist. “Miss Waverly,” she breathed, relieved to have her in front of her again. “‘Re you a’ight?”

Waverly nodded dreamily, smile blooming over her face so wide that her eyes crinkled into half moons. Relief flooded through Nicole’s veins at the sight and she pressed her forehead to Waverly’s.

“I’m okay,” she whispered, eyes fluttering shut as her fingers found the short hairs at the base of Nicole’s skull. “You came back.”

“I came back fer you,” Nicole said, running her nose up the bridge of Waverly’s, lips itching to kiss her but not knowing where their boundaries were. “I’ll always come back fer you.”

Waverly let out a watery chuckle, sniffling before shaking her head. She opened her mouth to say something, but instead pulled Nicole down to kiss her hard on the mouth.

Nicole’s heart took flight in her chest, pulling Waverly’s body as close to hers as possible while still astride the horse. She kissed her back deeply, their lips finding a familiar rhythm they had just begun to perfect.

Kissing Waverly felt like thunder rolling through Nicole’s veins, her heart pounding heavy like a horse’s hooves on dirt. Her head felt light and she was sure she could take on the world in that moment with Waverly in her arms.

Chapter Text

Waverly’s heart was still beating wildly, the adrenaline pumping through her veins. But now it was less from being bounced around on the back of Bobo’s horse and definitely in response to the way Nicole’s lips were pressed hotly against hers. Usually she would be more embarrassed about being in nothing but her nightclothes, but at that moment she had no qualms about taking all her clothes off right then and there to be closer to Nicole.

She sighed and slipped her tongue between Nicole’s lips, one second away from straddling Nicole’s hips right on that horse when-

“Hey! This ain’t a peep show!”

Waverly managed to pull her lips away from Nicole’s, and glared over her shoulder to where Wynonna was riding up on Diablo. Doc trotted up behind her, eyes pointedly anywhere else but on her.

Wynonna gave Waverly one last look before she slid off her horse and walked over to where Bobo lay, spreadeagle on the ground and passed out. She nudged his side with her boot and he barely groaned, blood pouring out of his nose and over his face.

“What do you say? Should we let him drown here in his own blood?” she asked.

“Might be too good for him,” Waverly muttered. She looked back at Nicole who was still gazing at her, lips swollen and starry-eyed. For the first time she noticed that Nicole’s lip had a small cut and she ran her thumb over it, the slight pink stain of blood still present under her nose. Waverly frowned and looked over at Wynonna, who turned just in time for Waverly to notice her black eye blooming.

“What the hell happened to you two?” Waverly asked with a frown. She nodded towards Doc. “And what the hell is he doing here?”

“Miss Earp, give Miss Waverly yer jacket,” Nicole said, reaching towards Wynonna.

Wynonna scoffed but shrugged off her buckskin jacket and handed it to Nicole who draped it carefully over Waverly’s shoulders. She smiled up at her gratefully as the adrenaline wore off and she started to come back to her senses.

Her sister had lied to her and gotten her family killed and Nicole, despite all her sweetness and coming back for her, had still told Waverly to leave. She hadn’t been forthcoming about Shae and-

Waverly sighed and pulled the jacket tight around her. “Nicole, take me back into town please,” she muttered as she turned around in the saddle. “And on the way, you’re going to tell me why you and Wynonna are all beat up.”

“Baby girl,” Wynonna sighed. “Come on-“

“I’ll see you later, Wynonna,” Waverly said briskly, not bothering to look over at her sister. It was just going to be the same sad eyes if she did. The ones that broke her heart and angered her at the same time. “I just...I’ll see you later. Make sure Bobo never bothers us again.”

“Okay,” Wynonna said softly.

Nicole slid her arm around Waverly’s waist and she let out a sigh, resisting the urge to lean back into her.

“I’m still mad at you too,” Waverly said over her shoulder to Nicole, as Trigger started his leisurely walk back to the town.

“Oh,” Nicole stiffened behind her, moving her arm from around Waverly’s waist. She quickly caught Nicole’s arm and put it back, letting herself lean back just a little.

“This is okay,” she clarified, fingers stroking Nicole’s arm absently. “Just...I’m still mad at you.”

“A’ight, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said lowly.

Waverly could feel the words rumbling in her chest and it sent a warmth through her entire body. She pushed it away. There was no way Waverly was going to let herself get too comfortable with Nicole before they talked about everything. Really talked about everything. Waverly wanted nothing more than to talk it out now, but she wanted to be looking at Nicole’s face when they had that conversation, so on horseback wasn’t the ideal situation.

“You know, I didn’t need to be saved,” Waverly said, a little stubbornly. “I coulda saved myself. I was already out of those binds.”

“I know, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said. Waverly could feel her head nod behind her. “I ‘ave no doubt you woulda been jus’ fine on yer own.”

“Thank you,” Waverly said, with a firm nod. “I just needed you to acknowledge that.”

“I do,” Nicole said. “‘M jus’ glad we coulda helped ya a little. Why did Bobo take you?”

Waverly let out a shuddery breath. “I...shot him. Before he told me that Wynonna was the reason my Daddy and Willa were killed.”

“Oh,” was all Nicole was able to say. “‘re you okay?”

“Not really,” Waverly said, with a low chuckle. Nicole’s arm tightened around her waist and she chose to find some comfort in it. Nicole had come back for her after all. Just a couple of days later. Not like Wynonna who took more than ten years to come find her. “I just...I lived my whole life thinking one thing and then-...Wynonna said nothing. She just...let me chase this lie.”

“Sometimes people lie ‘cause they’re tryna protect the people they love,” Nicole said softly.

Waverly’s hands tightened on Nicole’s arm. “Yeah, and sometimes that makes it hurt worse in the end.”

Nicole was silent for a moment and the only sound was Trigger’s hooves in the dirt, and the little sighs he made as he went. Waverly fluttered her eyes shut and just focused on the feeling of Nicole’s arm around her waist. Exhaustion felt like it was hitting her over the head and she let herself relax, body completely resting against Nicole’s front. She could hear and feel her chuckle, and Waverly smiled despite herself.

“Tired, darlin’?” Nicole asked softly, planting a soft kiss on the side of Waverly’s head.

Waverly just nodded her head, turning resting her forehead in the crook of Nicole’s neck. She smelled like sweat and vanilla and dirt, and even if it had only been a couple of days, Waverly had missed her. Far more than she would admit at the moment. Not when she still had plenty she wanted to talk to Nicole about.

So Waverly let herself enjoy her time bundled up in Nicole as they finally made it back into town. With Nicole’s arm around her waist protectively and her face bundled into her neck, Waverly felt herself almost lulled to sleep by it all. She let her eyes close, tugging Wynonna’s jacket around her tighter as she listened to the measured sound of Trigger’s hooves on the paved roads.

“We’re here, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said softly, lips brushing against Waverly’s forehead. Waverly mumbled a little bit but pressed a soft kiss to Nicole’s lips as she sat up, still completely thrilled that she could do that without Nicole having a conniption. Finally.

She liked how Nicole blushed and got a dopey smile when she kissed her enough that she did it again.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole mumbled against her lips. “We’re in fron’a the saloon.”

“I don’t care,” Waverly whispered, kissing her again.

“It ain’t proper,” Nicole protested lightely, even as she leaned down to kiss Waverly again.

Waverly cupped Nicole’s cheek to hold her in place for a moment before lightly tapping Nicole’s cheek and pulling away. “I’m still mad at you, remember.”

“Yes’m,” Nicole mumbled, tipping her hat as Waverly finally pulled away from her.

Nicole got off Trigger quickly and offered her hand to Waverly to help her off. Waverly took the rancher’s hand, indulgently running the palm of her hand over Nicole’s just to feel more of her before she let herself be helped down. Her arms naturally landed around Nicole’s neck and she pushed up the brim of her hat to get a better look at her.

“Let’s getcha inside, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, even as her arms closed around Waverly’s waist.

“You’ll come with me?” Waverly asked, fluttering her eyelashes up at Nicole.

“I’ll escort you to yer room,” Nicole said, eyes immediately narrowing at a man who was eyeing Waverly as he walked out of the Saloon. Nicole pulled Wynonna’s jacket even tighter around Waverly and put a protective arm over her shoulders. “Come on now, ain’t’ proper you standin’ out’ere in yer night-things like this.”

Waverly remembered her bed clothes and blushed, burrowing more into Nicole’s side as she led her into the Saloon. They quickly made their way up the stairs and to the room Waverly had rented. When she stepped inside, Nicole stayed standing in the doorway, taking her hat off and holding it nervously between her hands.

“What are you doing?” Waverly asked, turning back and taking Nicole’s hand in her own, trying to tug her into the room. Nicole remained still and shook her head.

“Ain’t proper fer me to be in’ere with you, Miss Waverly.”

She frowned, still holding Nicole’s hand. “We’ve...shared a bed together for months. I think you can come into my rented room.”

Nicole shook her head. “Wouldna look good fer you if I went in’ere,” she said softly. “People’ll think’m payin’ you.”

Waverly raised an eyebrow. “Are you worried about it looking bad for me? Or for you?”

“You, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said. “I ain’t much concerned ‘bout how people thinka me.”

“And neither do I,” Waverly said pointedly, tugging on Nicole’s hand again and being thrilled when she finally gave way. The door closed behind her and Waverly plucked the hat from her hands, tossing it onto a nearby chair.

She started to pull off her night shirt before she was completely behind the changing screen and heard Nicole clear her throat nervously. She could just see over the screen as she changed and she watched Nicole awkwardly sit on the edge of a chair, back stiff.

“Can you relax, please?” Waverly said, giving her a pointed look. “You look like you’ve never seen a woman before in your life. And we both know you’ve seen plenty.”

Nicole blushed and rubbed the back of her neck. “I jus-...well you did say yer still mad at me. Guess I’m waitin’ to be yelled at.”

“I’m not going to yell at you,” Waverly said, pulling on a thin nightgown and stepping out from behind the screen. “I just want to talk.”

Nicole nodded and watched as Waverly walked over to her. She stood in front of Nicole, knees knocking together as she brushed some red hair behind her ear. Waverly sat down on a chair across from Nicole, leaning back and crossing her leg over her knee so that her nightgown hiked up and revealed her calves. Just to watch Nicole’s eyes dart down before widening and returning to her face.

“I didn’t need you to save me,” Waverly repeated.

“I understand, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said. “I just wanna be whatever you need.”

“I just need you to be honest with me,” Waverly said with a tilt of her head. “One hundred percent honest. About everything.”

Nicole leaned forward, elbows on her knees as she looked up at Waverly with earnest eyes. “Tell me what you wanna know.”

Waverly played with the edge of her nightgown and sighed. “Shae.”

With a solemn nod, Nicole took a sigh. “I was young. We both were. I ‘ad just joined the army and we were movin’ through Louisiana when I met ‘er. We fell in love, fast. I tol’ ‘er I wasn’t actually who she thought I was, and she loved me anyway. But she wanted more from me ‘an I could give’r. She wanted me to go back’a France with ‘er and be this...buttoned up ‘usband I couldn’t be. I realized I didn’ love’er like I thought I did. But I was too much of a coward to say anythin’. So when ev’rythin’ happened with...with Rosita and the army wantin’ me dead...I used it as my chance to run. Left ‘er with a note that said they wanted me dead an’ I was leavin’ to protect ‘er.”

Nicole had her hands clasped between her knees and she looked down at them.

“I ain’ proud’a what I done,” Nicole said softly.

Waverly nodded, “And what exactly happened? That chased you away and put the bounty on your head?”

“I killed some men,” Nicole said, looking up at Waverly briefly before looking back at her hands. “They’d taken some girls from nearby villages down ‘ere in Texas an’...well they were rapin’ ‘em. Hurtin’ ‘em. First time I saw ‘em tryna take a girl outta ‘er home I stopped ‘em. They tol’ our sergeant that I was stealin’ so I’d get the heat for it. They said I was tryna steal from the village and they whipped my arms as punishment.” Nicole tugged down her sleeve self consciously even though her arms were already completely covered. “An’ then...later, I walked in on a tent where they’ad a girl once. Couldn’a been older an’ thirteen. An’ I...killed ‘em. Then I got Rosita free an’ she helped take the girls back to their homes.”

Nicole’s expression darkened ominously at the memory, and Waverly scooted forward in her chair so that she could take her hands in her own. She ran her thumb over Nicole’s knuckles, the right ones bruised and slightly bloody still from punching Bobo in the face. They were a little swollen, and Waverly looked back up at Nicole.

“You did what needed to be done,” Waverly said.

“‘M sorry I lied, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, squeezing Waverly’s hand. “An’ I promise not to lie to you again.”

Waverly remembered the last conversation she had with Nicole and her stomach twisted like Nicole had just told her to leave again. She licked her lips and pulled her hands away from Niocle’s.

“You told me to go,” Waverly whispered, unable to keep the edging of hurt out of her voice. “Why did you-...why?”

Nicole ran a hand through her hair and it stuck up at an odd angle. She scooted to the edge of her chair so that her knees bumped against Waverly’s again.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole flexed her hands. “I am a lotta things, but I ain’t never claimed to be smart. When I tol’ you to go I...I thought you wanted to go I thought-...you’d be better off without me.”

“Why would you think that?” Waverly asked with a shake of her head.

“I ain’t nothin’ but trouble fer ya if you haven’ noticed,” Nicole said.

“Maybe it’s me that’s been trouble for you,” Waverly said with a tilt of her head.

The corner of Nicole’s mouth tipped up in a smirk and she said lowly. “I think you know you ain’t been nothin’ but trouble fer me, darlin’. Jus’ maybe not in the same way ‘m meanin’.”

Waverly shot her a look, but couldn’t help the small smile that twitched on her lips. “Don’t try to distract me, cowboy.”

“I would never.”

Waverly raised her eyebrow at Nicole before letting out a long sigh. “You told me to leave.”

“I thought it was what you wanted. What you needed,” Nicole said, voice pleading. “You pushed me away after we kissed and I thought...maybe you didn’ wanna kiss me no more, anyways. An’ then when I came lookin’ fer you and you told me to leave...It hurt.”

Some of Waverly’s resolve fell when she saw Nicole’s eyes, big and sad looking at her. “I wasn’t necessarily fair to you either,” Waverly said, taking Nicole’s hands again. “I’m sorry for pushing you away. I was just...so upset about Wynonna and I thought you were being fickle with me, and Shae-”

Waverly’s eyes flickered to Nicole who looked even more sad.

“What about Shae?”

“She’s just so pretty,” Waverly admitted. “And tall and rich and beautiful. I guess I was...intimidated.”

Nicole squeezed her hand and laced their fingers together. “Ain’t no reason to be intimidated, Miss Waverly.” Waverly looked back up at Nicole just as she lifted Waverly’s hand to her lips. “‘M sorry fer lyin’ and ‘m sorry for telling you to go. If you gimme another chance I promise, I will make all ‘is up to you.”

Waverly sighed and held Nicole’s face between her hands. “You know I’ll give you another chance, silly,” she smiled, thumbs brushing over the high part of Nicole’s cheekbones. “You know I’m not letting you go so easy.”

The smile that pulled on Nicole’s lips made Waverly’s heart swell and all the resentment in her chest simply floated away. She leaned forward and kissed Nicole, a joined exhale that curled to the sky like smoke. They pulled away, foreheads close together as they just let the stillness settle over them. They were okay. Things would be okay.

And Waverly was exhausted.

“Come to bed with me,” Waverly stated, leaving no room for argument. Nicole blushed so hard that Waverly could feel the heat radiating off of her face. Waverly rolled her eyes. “Settle down, Nicole, I just meant for a nap. I’m so exhausted and I imagine you are too.”

“You ain’t wrong,” Nicole said, suppressing a yawn.

Waverly stood up, taking Nicole’s hand and tugging her towards the bed. “Come on. Get comfortable.”

Waverly washed her face in the basin while Nicole awkwardly pulled down her suspenders and unbuttoned her shirt. Nicole pushed her pants down her legs, leaving her in only in her long johns. Waverly handed her a fresh piece of flannel and Nicole went to wash at the basin before she slipped into bed. It was hard not to stare as she splashed her face with the water, droplets falling down her jaw and neck.

She wondered if they were forgiving each other too easily for all their indiscretions. Maybe they should be giving each other a much harder time, but Waverly just wanted to feel safe in Nicole’s arms again.

Nicole got into bed beside Waverly who instantly gripped the front of her long johns and snuggled up against her chest. Nicole chuckled and draped her arm over Waverly’s hips as they got comfortable. Waverly arranged herself on the pillow so that her nose was almost touching Nicole’s, and they just blinked at each other for a moment.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole finally whispered. “Does this mean I can court you again?”

Warmth bloomed in Waverly’s chest and she nodded. “I’d like that.”

Nicole smiled widely. “Great. How ‘bout I take you out tonight?”

“That sounds lovely,” Waverly said, excitement stirring in her belly. She pressed her forehead to Nicole’s and slotted her leg between hers as she got as close as possible.

“Miss Waverly, I thought we were tryin’ to sleep,” Nicole mumbled, eyes darting down to Waverly’s lips. “An’ yer makin’ it mighty hard not to kiss you.”

Waverly bit her lip and stared at Nicole’s lips. “You can if you want. Kiss me.”

Nicole groaned and pulled Waverly closer, rolling a little so that she had her completely in her arms. “I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“‘Cause if I kiss you, I ain’t stoppin’,” Nicole whispered.

Waverly felt the heat settle low in her belly, and sighed. “You’ve used that line on me before, you know.”

“It ain’t a line. It’s true e’rytime I’ve said it,” Nicole smiled, nuzzling her nose against Waverly’s. “Now sleep.”

Waverly huffed and pecked Nicole’s lips quickly before burying her face into Nicole’s neck. Less temptation if she wasn’t staring directly at her face. Though once she was comfortable, the familiar scent of Nicole wafting over her and the feeling of being completely in her arms, sleep lay heavy on Waverly’s body and she drifted to sleep.

***

Dearest Miss Waverly,

I took Butter and Trigger to the local stable and had them taken care of. I will pick you up at half past five. Sleep well.

Yours,
Nicole

It took Nicole longer than she would have liked to write the note, searching her brain to make sure she spelled everything correctly. She wished she could be flowery and romantic like those book Waverly read to her, but her limited writing skills could only get her so far. So a short letter would have to do. She set it on the pillow next to Waverly after she got dressed and, sparing one last glance back at her sleeping form, headed out of the Saloon.

Nicole heard Wynonna before she saw her, the recognizable scoff turned Nicole’s head as soon as she stepped into the main part of the Saloon. Wynonna sat there, one boot up on the table and a glass of whiskey in her hand.

“Haught,” Wynonna greeted, words slurring and glass tipped dangerously to the side, some of the liquid threatening to escape. “Did you leave her some money on the bedside table?”

Nicole bristled and looped her thumbs in her suspenders. “Don’t be crass,” she chastised, nodding to the whiskey in her hand. “Why don’ you watch yerself before you say somethin’ you regret.”

“Don’t be tellin’ me what to do,” Wynonna sneered. “It’s not like it’s a secret that you have a taste for a working woman.” Nicole blushed and Wynonna caught it immediately. “Yeah, I talked to your pals Rosita and Eliza. Nice girls. Musta run you a pretty penny-”

“Shut yer mouth,” Nicole said. “At least I didn’ let Doc Holliday park his horse in my stable.”

“You have no proof.”

“It’s pretty damn obvious.”

“Yeah, well you’re the one who-”

“The one who what? Apologized to Waverly? Who came back fer ‘er even when she tol’ me to leave?” Nicole asked, losing some of her patience. “Yer the one who lied to ‘er and left ‘er with that lunatic.”

“I didn’t have a choice!” Wynonna said, slamming her glass on the table and staring hard at Nicole. “I didn’t have a fucking choice. So why don’t you stop flapping your lips about things you have no clue about?”

“An’ I’ll say the same to you,” Nicole said. “Whatever’s goin’ on between me an’ yer sister ain’t any business of yours.”

“She’s my sister,” Wynonna said lowly. “I’ll make it my business if I want it to be.”

“Then why don’ you apologize to Waverly an’ get ‘er to talk to you before you go on makin’ decisions for’er,” Nicole said, watching as Wynonna’s face fell. She felt bad but maintained a neutral expression as she tipped her hat at Wynonna sarcastically and turned on her heel to leave the Saloon.

Nicole wasn’t going to let Wynonna mess with whatever was slowly blooming between her and Waverly. That business was between Waverly and her sister.

She took the horses to the stable like she promised Waverly, making sure they were watered and given a good brushing. She went to the local tailor and picked up a new dress shirt, a red silk vest, black pants and a new hat to tie it all together. She wanted to make tonight worth something for Waverly. Plus she’d decided that taking her to the local theater show would be a nice change of pace from the usual food by the fire of her previous courting attempts.

Nicole wanted to prove to Waverly that she could provide for her. That she could be everything that Waverly needed and wanted, if she only gave her the chance.

***

Waverly woke up slowly with a smile on her face. She sighed and snuggled down into her pillow a moment longer before she stretched, the cool, untouched parts of the sheets feeling amazing on her skin. Turning, she expected to feel Nicole in the bed beside her but her face landed on a piece of paper instead.

She frowned and picked it up, rolling back onto her back and holding it up to read it. Nicole’s scrawl was messily charming and Waverly sighed as she read it. Nicole really was the sweetest and always tried to take care of her, even when she wasn’t sure where they stood. She’d still never be over Nicole breaking a wild horse for her.

Yours, Nicole

Waverly had to keep herself from squealing. Yours.

Hers.

Waverly had never had something that was just hers before. When she was at home with her Daddy and sisters, Willa made sure to ruin everything that was hers. She would take her toys and throw them into the woods or onto frozen lakes. Willa had even tried to steal Wynonna’s attention when she could. It made sense, Wynonna was closer in age to Willa, but that didn’t keep Waverly from being jealous.

When she was at Bobo’s, nothing was sacred. At first, Bobo made sure Waverly had whatever toys she desired, but as she got older and saw what he was really doing, she looked at it all with more and more distaste.

There was a knock on the door that took Waverly from her girlish daydreams. She set the letter on the nightstand, picking up the small pistol that she usually kept in her corset, and edged quietly towards the door.

“Who’s there?” Waverly called, pistol up in front of her.

“It’s me, Waves,” Wynonna mumbled through the door. “Can I come in now?”

Waverly sighed, hand with the gun falling at her side. She couldn’t necessarily keep Wynonna out forever. Even if she wanted to. “Fine.”

She unlocked the door and swung it open to see Wynonna standing there, the smell of whiskey coming off of her in waves. But her eyes seemed surprisingly clear as she blinked at Waverly, lifting a bottle of whiskey as if an offering.

“Hey, baby girl,” she said with a small smile, eyes falling back to the ground as if chastised. “I um...can we talk?”

Waverly sighed and opened the door for her, stepping aside and letting Wynonna walk in. She immediately pulled off her boots and shoved the bottle of whiskey at Waverly before dragging herself to the bed and flopping onto it. Rolling her eyes, Waverly unscrewed the cap of the whiskey and took a long sip, the sharp liquid running over her tongue and warmth sliding down her throat into her empty stomach.

She went over to the bed and sat cross legged beside Wynonna, who was still staring up at the ceiling. She turned her head, neck rolling as she looked up at Waverly with big eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Wynonna said softly.

Waverly looked down at her hands and handed Wynonna the whiskey bottle. She pushed herself up to rest on her elbow so that she could take a swig of the whiskey bottle.

“It isn’t all that easy you know,” Waverly said softly. “I thought...I thought this was all Willa’s fault.”

Wynonna sat up, whiskey bottle between her legs as she talked. “Did you? Because if you thought it was all Willa’s fault, you wouldn’t have been looking so hard for answers.”

Waverly reached for the bottle and took another swig before shoving at back at Wynonna. “I just wanted the confirmation it was her. Either way, someone needed payback,” she added darkly.

“Well, you got the confirmation it wasn’t so. Congrats,” Wynonna mumbled, gripping the neck of the bottle tighter. “I just...want you to understand why I did it-”

“Then tell me,” Waverly said, her patience on the edge.

Wynonna licked her lips. “Daddy hurt us. He hurt you. He wasn’t a good man-”

“It doesn’t mean he deserved to die.”

“I didn’t want him to die, I just wanted Bobo to...scare him a little. Maybe set him straight,” Wynonna said, running a hand through her hair. “I just...it went wrong.” Her voice broke and Waverly’s stomach dropped. “It went so so wrong. I killed Daddy and Willa and you-...you were stuck with that monster.”

Waverly looked down at her lap, breathless for a moment at the memory, sharp and fresh. “You were young, Wynonna. You were young and stupid, I forgive you for that, just...why didn’t you tell me? You should have told me.”

“I didn’t want to lose you after I’d finally found you,” Wynonna admitted so softly she could barely hear her. “I wanted to be your...your big sister that saved you, not your big sister that ruined your life.”

Waverly looked up at Wynonna. She was staring blankly at the wall ahead of her, tears silently falling down her cheeks and landing on her pants, darkening the material. For a moment, Waverly saw the scared little girl who shoved her in a closet and told her not to come out under any circumstances. The little girl who always defended her and put herself in the middle of her and their Daddy when he was in a mood.

She sighed as something within her finally released, and Wynonna looked at her. Waverly nodded, and forgiveness fell over them like a warm blanket. Wynonna sniffled and tipped over so her head was in Waverly’s lap. She ran her fingers through thick dark locks, her other hand taking the whiskey bottle and setting it on the nightstand.

“You didn’t ruin my life,” Waverly whispered. “They say everything happens for a reason. Right?”

Wynonna snorted. “What reason would this be?”

Waverly shrugged, eyes spotting the letter Nicole had left behind. “Maybe...all of this was so that I’d find Nicole.”

“You really think Haught is worth all that?” Wynonna asked.

“I think...she might definitely be,” Waverly said, with a small smile. “I think I-...I love her.”

Silence settled between them for a moment before Wynonna spoke up.

“I guess I should...start being nicer to her, Wynonna mumbled. “I saw her leaving earlier. Mighta suggested she slept around a lot.”

“She’s a good person,” Waverly chastised lightly, a small smile starting on her face as she thought about Nicole kissing her and her arms around her. “She might be...experienced. But she’s one of the best people I’ve ever met.”

Wynonna said something under her breath, but Waverly chose to ignore it.

“Be nice to her,” Waverly said, pushing some of Wynonna’s hair behind her ear. “You have to be nice to her.”

“Fine,” Wynonna mumbed. “I’ll try.”

“Just...don’t leave me again,” Waverly whispered, voice gentle and pleading. “Not without telling me at least.”

Wynonna sat up and pressed her forehead to Waverly’s, shaking her head. Tears sparkled on the tips of her lashes, making her somehow more beautiful as she looked at Waverly deliberately.

“You’re my favorite person in the whole wide world, baby girl,” Wynonna said. “And I’m not going anywhere.”

Waverly smiled when Wynonna kissed her forehead, a warmth spreading through her bones that felt a lot like safety. Like home.

***

Wynonna took a nap and Waverly got dressed while she snored on the bed. She put on her nicest dress and a spritz of perfume she had hidden at the bottom of her trunk. Glancing at the clock, she finished lacing up her corset in just as there came a gentle knock at her door.

Wynonna grumbled from the bed and Waverly hushed her, pulling the blanket up over her so that Nicole might not see her.

Waverly went over to the door, patting the braids at the side of her head that met in the back over her long hair, to make sure everything was in place before opening the door. When she did, she nearly threw herself at Nicole.

Nicole had the nerve to stand there in crisp new black pants, her guns polished and slung low at her hips. Her white was shirt tucked in, a red vest over it that highlighted the shape of her waist and made her even more handsome. Waverly bit her lip as she trailed her gaze up to find a sharp new black gambler’s hat on Nicole’s head.

“Hello, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, taking the hat off and nodding at her, smile stuck on her face. Her eyes darted down Waverly’s form, and she felt herself blush. “You look beautiful, darlin’.”

Waverly blushed even deeper and tilted her head with a shy smile. “I-...you look very handsome.”

Nicole tipped her hat back onto her head and held out her arm for Waverly. “Ready’a go?”

“I am,” Waverly smiled. “Just one thing.” Waverly lifted herself up on her toes and kissed Nicole’s cheek, admiring the resultant blush that spread up her collar. She moved to plant another kiss on Nicole’s lips just as Wynonna snored from the bed. Nicole frowned and poked her head into the room to see what had made the noise. The Wynonna shaped lump in the bed grumped and turned over.

“Wynonna snores like a bear,” Nicole observed.

“Yeah, she always has,” Waverly said, looping her arm through Nicole’s and leading her out of the door. As soon as the door was closed behind them, Waverly tugged Nicole’s arm closer and looked up at her eagerly. “Where are we going?”

“Well, I though’ you might like a night at the theater,” Nicole said, walking her down the stairs and to the street. “I heard’s what people like to do when they’re courtin’ in the city.”

“I’ve never been to the theater,” Waverly said, with a bit of awe in her voice.

“I ‘ave once or twice.”

“Well it makes sense that you’re much more cultured than I,” Waverly joked.

“I didn’ quite enjoy it at the time,” Nicole leaned down closer to Waverly’s ear like she was telling her a secret. “But that was prob’ly jus’ ‘cause you weren’t there.”

Waverly could feel warm breath against her ear and shivered, looking up into Nicole’s knowing smirk.

Waverly chuckled and rested her other hand on Nicole’s forearm as they walked, batting her eyelashes up at her. She planned on laying it on extra thick for Nicole tonight. There was no way she was going to let Nicole end the night without fully knowing Waverly’s intentions. Tonight and always, Waverly was so ready to give herself completely, to move on to the next chapter of their story since all the hard times seemed to be behind them now. Too often Nicole had told her something wasn’t ‘proper’ and as much as Waverly loved how noble and respectful Nicole was, it was time for that to end.

As they walked to the theater, Waverly brushed her fingers up and down Nicole’s arm and pressed against her as they talked. Waverly was dying to kiss her but knew that if she did, Nicole would probably combust right there from embarrassment. Plus, she didn’t want to draw any unwanted eyes to them. In the city it felt like eyes were always around watching, and it made Waverly miss the privacy of their little ranch.

When they got to the theater, Waverly listened as Nicole seemed to purposefully lower her voice and buy their tickets. She watched as Nicole smiled politely, never breaking eye contact as if daring them to say something.

It always fascinated Waverly how a wall slipped up over Nicole’s face when she was interacting with someone new, someone she didn’t trust. Her features hardened, and her spine straightened, and Waverly could almost see her knelt in a dirty army tent, pulling a silent knife across the someone’s throat. Almost see blood spray across her face in the dim light of the tent as a body dropped with a thud in front of her. Something about it made Waverly shiver in not a completely unpleasant way. It just made Waverly grateful that she got to see behind that mask to the warm person inside.

The theater had ornate molding along the sides and two levels of seats. The floors were covered in a red carpet and ramped downward to the stage. Thick curtains draped across the front, and Waverly sat up in her seat in excitement. Nicole settled her hat on her lap just as the lights dimmed down.

Waverly grasped Nicole’s leg, making her jump about a foot in the air. Nicole went to move her hand and Waverly just grasped tighter, nails digging into her thigh. Instead of prying off Waverly’s hand, Nicole decided to rest her hand over Waverly’s instead.

The play was called The Guardian and it was great, but Waverly couldn’t keep her mind off of how she just wanted to hold Nicole and kiss her some more. When the play ended, they stood up and Waverly took Nicole’s arm as soon as she could.

“Where to now?” Waverly asked.

Nicole chuckled. “I though’ we could take the long way ‘round the town to take you back to yer room.”

“Great. I can kick Wynonna out-”

“An’ I will be goin’ back to my camp,” Nicole said, putting her hand over Waverly’s. They exited the theater and began walking along the paved road, gas lamps lighting their way.

Or we finally consummate our marriage-”

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole interrupted quickly, clearing her throat as another couple passed them going the other direction. “I wanna-...I jus’ wanna talk’a you about my...intentions.”

“Intentions?” Waverly asked, nerves fluttering through the ends of her finger tips and making her pluck at the sleeve of Nicole’s shirt.

“Yeah, I jus’...want you’a know that I’m in this,” Nicole said, stopping when they got under a streetlamp. Nicole turned to look at her, taking both of her hands in her own. “I wan’ you to know that I will make any life fer you that you want. If you wanna stay ‘ere, I’ll sell the ranch and we can get somethin’ in the town and I’ll find a job. I just wanna make you happy.”

Waverly blinked at Nicole for a moment before shaking her head. “I don’t want you to sell the ranch. I definitely don’t want to live in the city. Why would you think that?”

“I don’ know, you...ran ‘ere. I jus’ assumed,” Nicole said, squeezing Waverly’s hands.

“Nicole,” Waverly said, softly, fingers brushing along Nicole’s wrists. “I just want to be with you. I want to wake up every morning with you. On our ranch.”

Nicole stared at her a moment before a slow easy smile spread over her face. “I would like nothin’ more.”

“Good, then we’re on the same page,” Waverly said, slowly snaking her arms around Nicole’s neck. She moved to bring her lips to Nicole’s, but Nicole chuckled and moved Waverly’s hands from around her neck.

“Not ‘ere, darlin’,” she said, lacing their fingers together. “Lemme get you back to yer room.”

Waverly pouted but let Nicole get away with just kissing the back of her hand before leading her back down the street to the Saloon. She walked her in and up the stairs. After she opened the door, Waverly tried to tug Nicole in with her but she stopped at the threshold.

“What’s wrong?” Waverly asked, stepping close to Nicole, their fronts barely touching.

“This is where it’s proper to leave a lady after courtin’,” Nicole said, charming smile making her dimples pop and eyes shine. “I’ll take my leave of you ‘ere, darlin’.”

“What if I want you to come in?” Waverly tried, looking up at Nicole through her lashes and pulling her bottom lip between her teeth.

“I would regretfully ‘ave to decline,” Nicole whispered, giving in and pecking Waverly’s lips lightly. Waverly chased them with her own but Nicole pulled back just in time. “Wynonna’s in’a room anyways.”

She tilted her chin over to the bed to where the Wynonna lump snored on. Waverly cursed her under her breath and turned back to Nicole.

“We could get another room.”

“Miss Waverly, I must go,” Nicole said, hands resting on Waverly’s hips and bringing her closer. “We should take things gentle.”

Waverly groaned and kissed Nicole again. “Fine. For now.”

“For now,” Nicole agreed, kissing Waverly again. They sighed against each other’s lips and Waverly tried to deepen the kiss when Nicole pulled away. “Night, Miss Waverly,” she whispered, kissing her one last time before stepping back. Waverly let her arms fall to her sides as she looked at Nicole. She knew her cheeks were flushed and she wanted nothing more than to pull Nicole in the room and ravage her. But instead she just watched her walk away.

“Tomorrow, Nicole,” Waverly said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow it is,” Nicole said, with a tip of her hat. Waverly watched Nicole walk away, her entire body pounding with desire.

***

Nicole smiled all the way back to her camp. She let Trigger dictate the pace and just thought about her night with Waverly. Waverly who wanted to be with her. Nicole’s heart fluttered at the revelation. Waverly was going to be hers and hers alone. They would raise the ranch together and-

Nicole shook her head. She was letting herself get ahead. It was a matter if Waverly actually wanted her after a few months of courting. Then they’d see where they stand.

She made up her bedroll as soon as she got to camp, thick enough to be comfortable, and made sure the fire was going for the night. She had her tent set up, but preferred to sleep outside if she could. It felt less stuffy, less restricting.

In the distance she heard a rhythmic sound, and she paused.

Nicole squinted into the darkness as she realized what the sound was. A horse approaching. Her hand hovered over her gun just in case the visitor was less than friendly.. The ring of light that her fire cast finally reached the approaching horse and she relaxed to see Butter, Waverly on her back, riding towards the camp. Nicole relaxed, dropping her hand from her gun and smiling.

“Miss Waverly,” she frowned, as Waverly slid off her horse and began walking over to her. She was in her nightgown, shawl over her shoulders as she approached Nicole. “Is e’rythin’ alright? What’re you doin’-”

Before she could get her sentence out, Waverly practically leapt at her, one hand gripping the back of her head and the other wrapping around her neck. Her lips were on Nicole’s in an instant, hard and needy as Nicole’s hands found Waverly’s waist. She stumbled back as she gained her bearings, kissing Waverly back just as hard as she was being kissed.

Waverly’s other went to her shirt, finishing undoing the buttons and already trying to push it over Nicole’s shoulders.

Nicole chuckled, gripping Waverly’s wrists and halting her movements for a moment. “Miss Waverly,” she said, gasping for breath. She chuckled and gently sat them both down on her bedroll. “What about-...what about waiting? Courting?”

Waverly shook her head, licking her lips that were red and parted, looking entirely too inviting for the level of self control Nicole was trying to have right now.

“We’ve been through so much, and I’ve waited long enough.”

Nicole dropped Waverly’s wrists and they immediately found their way into her shirt, smoothing along the plane of her stomach and exposing her breasts. Waverly’s eyes darted down quickly, cheeks tinting as she crawled into Nicole’s lap with her knees on either side.

She shrugged off her shawl and returned her hands to Nicole’s chest.

“I want you, cowboy,” Waverly whispered, deliberately brushing their lips together as Nicole ran her hands up her sides. “I don’t want to wait any longer.”

Nicole swallowed thickly, chin tilting up to chase Waverly’s lips with her own. Waverly smirked, pulling back so her lips danced just out of reach as she ran her finger over Nicole’s bottom lip.

“‘Re you sure?” Nicole asked again, hands flexing on Waverly’s hips and itching to touch the strong thigh that she could see as Waverly’s nightgown inched higher.

Waverly didn’t answer, instead she leaned back on her heels and grabbed the edges of her nightgown. Brown eyes locked with hazel as Waverly pulled the nightgown up over her head, leaving her completely naked on top of Nicole. Nicole’s jaw dropped as her eyes wandered down Waverly’s exposed collarbone to her breasts, nipples tight in the night air. The fire flickered over her skin, casting shadows in the lines of her stomach muscles and her hipbones that led to the dark curls between her thighs.

Nicole’s hands slid up Waverly’s thighs, gripping them tightly as they both surged forward, lips colliding again. Waverly’s tongue brushed along the seam of her lips and Nicole met it with her own. Her hands cupped behind the back of Waverly’s thighs and up to her ass, squeezing the firm flesh.

Waverly’s hips pressed against Nicole’s stomach and she could feel the heat radiating from between her thighs. Fine hands pushed Nicole’s shirt and vest over her shoulders but they got caught on her bent elbows. Nicole wanted to feel every inch of Waverly’s skin— her hands and lips. To ravage her and love her and taste every inch of her.

She kissed across Waverly’s jaw, tasting the hint of rosewater on her skin. Nicole pulled her earlobe between her teeth as her hands found their way to Waverly’s breasts. She cupped them in her palms, groaning at the feeling of them. Waverly’s nipples pebbled in her palms, and she rubbed her thumb over them.

Waverly shivered under her hands, cupping Nicole’s chin and tilting it towards herself to kiss her again.

Their kisses were desperate, all tongue, as Waverly pushed Nicole’s shirt the rest of the way down. Nicole nipped at Waverly’s bottom lip as she tore off her shirt, throwing it away from them.

Nicole’s hands went to Waverly’s back, pressing between her shoulder blades so that their torsos were tight together, skin to skin. The feeling of their breasts pressing together made Nicole sigh, the arousal between her thighs pounding and making her hands more sure in their exploration.

Waverly’s tongue brushed along the roof of her mouth and her hips pressed tight against Nicole. Even through the thick material of her pants, Nicole could feel the heat pouring from between Waverly’s thighs and groaned.

She wanted to take things slow, to make love to her like she deserved. But it felt like every small moment of sexual tension that had been building up through the months was finally pouring out between them, crackling through the air like electricity during a storm. Nicole’s hands desperately slid over every inch of Waverly’s skin that she had been dreaming about. Itching to feel. Nicole sat up on her knees, Waverly’s ankles locking behind her back as they kissed, and flipped them on the bedroll so that Nicole hovered above Waverly.

Waverly’s legs tightened around her and Nicole ground down into her. Waverly gasped, fingers tightening in Nicole’s hair as her hand caught the back of Waverly’s knee and lifted it even higher. She stared down into hazel eyes as she began to press down into Waverly, determined just to make her gasp and claw at her back. She wasn’t disappointed.

“Nicole,” Waverly whispered, one hand snaking between them and trying to push Nicole’s pants down her legs but her hands got caught on the gun belt still around her hips. She only got her pants so far, leaving them hanging low on Nicole’s hips. “I need you.”

“I’m right here, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, hand moving to cup Waverly between her thighs. Waverly sighed at the new sensation, and ground herself into Nicole’s hand. Her fingers slipped through slickness, pleasure hitting her right between the legs. Nicole ducked her head and kissed along the column of Waverly’s neck as her fingers pressed through silky heat.

The air around them felt thick, hot with arousal and anticipation as Waverly lay prone under her. Nicole scraped her teeth over Waverly’s pulse point as her fingers circled her clit.

“God, yes,” Waverly breathed, chin tilting up to the night sky as her hips moved with Nicole’s fingers. She bit lightly at Waverly’s neck, sucking the skin just enough to leave a red mark. Nothing crazy, but just enough that Waverly would have no problem remembering what had happened that night.

Nicole pulled back to look at Waverly when her fingers moved from her clit to her entrance. Waverly panted, legs flexing against Nicole’s waist. She could get drunk with the power of it all, but Nicole didn’t want to wait any longer.

She slowly pushed two fingers into Waverly, watched her eyebrows furrow and jaw come unhinged as she felt her. Nicole groaned at the tight, velvety feeling, leaning down and kissing Waverly again as she began to thrust, her hips moving to aid the movement.

Nicole pressed her forehead to Waverly’s, fingers curling inside of her at a measured pace. Waverly tangled her hands in Nicole’s hair, lips seeking out Nicole’s again as she moaned. Nicole let her thumb circle Waverly’s clit, feeling her tighten around her fingers as she brought her closer.

The sharp bite of Waverly’s nails clawing at her back just spurred Nicole on more, her thrusts getting harder and their kisses a mess of tongue and teeth.

“F-fuck, Nicole,” Waverly cried when she came, clamping down around Nicole’s fingers. Still, Nicole kept pushing into her, sweat rolling down their bodies. Their skin was slick and Waverly fluttered against Nicole again, the tell tale signs of a second orgasm. Waverly let out a high pitched whine as she came again, wetness flooding Nicole’s palm as she kissed her down from her high.

Nicole slowed their kisses, Waverly’s body relaxing and thighs releasing the tight hold they had on her hips. She couldn’t keep the smug smirk off her face when Waverly grunted as her fingers slipped out of her. Hazel eyes fluttered open again, Waverly’s smile slow and honey.

‘“Wow,” Waverly managed bonelessly.

Nicole planted soft kisses all on her face, kissing her nose and chin and eyebrows all the way up to her hairline, darkened with sweat.

“Wow,” Nicole agreed, pride filling up her chest as she ran her hand over Waverly’s firm thigh that still bracketed her hip. “Yer so beautiful.”

Waverly blushed and it was one of the sweetest things Nicole had ever seen. Even with Waverly naked under her. The girly blush turned deadly as a smile crawled over Waverly’s face.

Without warning, Waverly flipped them and just barely kept them on the bed roll. “Now, cowboy, I do believe it’s my turn for a ride.”

Chapter Text

Nicole woke up slowly the next morning, the rising sun warming up the outside of the tent and casting a dim light inside of it. She sighed and stretched her limbs wide, the delicious soreness just reminding her of last night’s activities. Her limbs felt heavy with satisfaction, and she could feel the little love bites Waverly had left along her collarbone and chest just starting to smart.

She smirked, eyes still closed as she licked her lips just to get the hint of Waverly’s taste still lingering.

Her body thrummed with residual energy from the night before, remembering Waverly’s skin under her hands and her lips, tasting every inch of her. The slow steady build of arousal had already started between her thighs and she became painfully aware that Waverly wasn’t beside her. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands before slowly opening them. The tent was small and there was definitely nowhere to hide.

They had pulled Nicole’s bed roll into it last night in an attempt to gain some privacy just in case someone happened to ride by. But they were close to the river and far enough from the road that Nicole didn’t see that happening.

For a moment Nicole felt dread starting in her belly. Did Waverly regret everything and take off? Leaving Nicole behind, naked in the tent, while she took off with Wynonna to...lord knew where?

Nicole heard some rustling outside of the tent and almost called for Waverly when the flap opened and Waverly stepped inside with a flourish. The dread was forgotten and Nicole’s eyes went wide as she took Waverly in.

She had Nicole’s white shirt on, a little wrinkled, but buttoned up midchest and the hem resting high on her thighs. She even had Nicole’s gun belt slung low on her hips, looking too heavy for her frame. Waverly was looking at Nicole from under the brim of her hat, a knowing smirk on her face as she used her finger to tip it towards Nicole.

“‘Owdy, darlin’,” Waverly drawled. She hooked her thumbs in the belt and swaggered over to Nicole. She was short enough that she barely cleared the highest part of the tent, the hat catching on the top and scooting back on her head a little bit. Waverly let the facade fall for a moment, pulling the brim back down.

Nicole raised an amused eyebrow even as her eyes tried to drink in everything in front of her. Particularly to where the shirt was just barely covering the tuft of curls between Waverly’s thighs.

“Ya know, it ain’t proper’a be out there only wearin’ this,” Nicole said.

Waverly wiggled her eyebrows at Nicole. “I’ll show ya what’s proper, ma’am.”

“You makin’ fun’a my accent?” Nicole teased, sitting up and reaching for Waverly.

“I would neva’,” Waverly said, voice still warm and drawn out like honey. She danced just out of Nicole’s reach, hands resting on the butt of Nicole’s guns. “‘M jus’ sayin’, little lady, yer too beautiful to be ‘round these parts by yerself.”

Nicole chuckled. “I’m the little lady?” Nicole said, managing to slip a hand around the back of Waverly’s thigh and bring her closer. Waverly let herself be pulled forward and Nicole kissed her groin over the shirt.

Waverly threaded her fingers through Nicole’s hair, tugging and tilting her face up so that she could lean down and kiss her. Nicole let out a long sigh, both hands gripping the back of Waverly’s thighs and bringing her close. Nicole hummed against her lips and tried to pull Waverly down into her lap, but her hand on Nicole’s shoulder kept her standing.

Nicole growled in frustration, hands squeezing Waverly’s ass as she kissed her stomach. “Miss Waverly-”

“Yes, cowboy?” Waverly said lowly, her put-on accent gone as she held Nicole’s chin between her thumb and pointer finger, brushing their lips together softly. “You fucked me with your guns on last night,” she said, kissing her slowly so that their tongues molded together. Nicole’s entire body thrummed with arousal, thick and hot in her veins. Waverly whispered against her lips. “I want to return the favor.”

Waverly undid the buttons on her shirt as she sank down into Nicole’s lap, opening the front so that her smooth, tan skin was on display. Nicole leaned forward and kissed between her breasts, nose nuzzling the side of one before nipping at the skin. Waverly hummed and finished pulling the shirt off her shoulders, leaving her only in the gun belt.

“Miss Waverly, that’s ‘cause last night I was too much in a hurry to take ‘em off,” Nicole said, pulling back to appreciate the glorious sight in front of her before reaching down and pulling the belt through its buckle to take it off. “But today we ‘ave the luxury of takin’ our time. An’ I certainly plan on takin’ my time.”

Nicole set the belt aside, leaving Waverly bare and straddling her.

Waverly took Nicole’s head in her hands and gently guided it over to her nipple, which she gladly took between her lips.

“You wanna do that?” Waverly gasped, back arching as she pressed her breast more into Nicole’s mouth.

“Darlin’, I’d do a lot of things to you,” Nicole said, as she leaned back to the ground and guided Waverly’s hips so that she was straddling her face. “ A lotta improper things.”

***

Waverly never wanted to leave the tent. She could stay there naked with Nicole forever, hands and mouths exploring each other. Nicole’s calloused hands moving over Waverly’s skin made her wet almost instantly and she couldn’t get enough.

But as they lay entwined in each other, their bodies slick with sweat and the air thick with the smell of sex, it became increasingly clear that they were starving.

Nicole covered Waverly with her jacket and they went to the nearby river to cool down and wash, which just led to Waverly being pressed up against a rock as Nicole pleasured her. Not that she was complaining.

Waverly never wanted to stop touching Nicole because she was worried that when she did, this would all be a dream and she’d be stuck back in Bobo’s camp waiting to be rescued.

It felt like everything had been a dream. Nicole jumped a train to rescue her and took her to a play that she barely remembered any of because she was so distracted by just being next to Nicole. Her mind had been filled with thoughts of kissing her and touching her and now that she’d had it all, she didn’t want to be without it ever again.

Nicole carried her back from the river and Waverly couldn’t keep her lips off of her. Her entire chest was ravaged, small bites and bruises dotting the pale skin. Waverly just wanted to keep marking her and let everyone know she was hers. No one else’s. Just the thought of someone touching Nicole like that made Waverly grip her tighter.

“Miss Waverly, we mus’ get dressed,” Nicole said when they got to the camp, tipping her chin down and kissing Waverly softly.

Waverly grumbled from Nicole’s arms but let herself be put down. She would have to somehow get Nicole out of the habit of calling her ‘Miss’ anything. Though admittedly the name was sweet and it did...something to her when Nicole was over her and saying it. She shivered at the thought before looking back at Nicole, who regretfully was pulling on her pants.

With a wistful sigh, Waverly slipped her nightgown back on and shrugged on Nicole’s coat to cover her until they got back to the Saloon where her clothes were.

Riding apart from Nicole felt akin to torture when they had just spent all night and the day skin to skin. Waverly hummed softly as they rode, anything to distract her from being too far apart from her.

“You know,” Waverly said with a small smile, “you gave my sister a shiner.”

Nicole blushed, scrunching up her face in embarrassment as they finally got into town. “To be fair, she ‘it me first.”

“I believe you,” Waverly said with a smirk. “But you beat up my sister. She’s going to be pissed when she sees you again. Especially when she sees the state I left you in.”

Waverly’s eyes focused on the deep bruise visible just above Nicole’s collar, already having memorized the map she had left on Nicole’s chest.

“Let’er be mad,” Nicole winked at Waverly. “I got you, now. Nothin’ can bring me down.”

Waverly laughed as they finally got to the Saloon. They got off their horses and Waverly immediately gravitated back towards Nicole, wrapping her arms around her and snuggling into her chest.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole chuckled, kissing the top of her head before gently prying her off of her. “We’re in public.”

“I don’t care,” Waverly pouted. But she looked up and saw Nicole’s eyes darting nervously around at the people passing, and realization hit her. It wasn’t just about propriety, not always anyways. Nicole was good and noble and protective, but she was also diligent. She’d faced things Waverly hadn’t even thought of, living her truth every day, and it had made her extra aware of the world around her.

Waverly, for the most part, had been living in a bubble. A horrible, sterile bubble where she’d had to do things she never wanted to think about again, but in a way she’d been sheltered from the outside world. Nicole knew what people did and said to those who were different. She watched Nicole’s eyes soften when she didn’t see a threat, as she looked back down at her.

“Ain’t proper,” Nicole teased with a small smile, kissing the tip of her nose tenderly.

Waverly melted at the gesture after her realization and took Nicole’s arm to go into the Saloon. Nicole pulled out a seat for her at an isolated table in the corner but Waverly squeezed her arm. “I’m going to go see Wynonna,” she said softly. “I’ll meet you back down here. Okay?”

“Alright, darlin’,” Nicole said. “I’ll get us food.”

Waverly gave her arm one last squeeze and headed back up to the room. She knocked and heard a grunt of acknowledgement from the other side. Waverly tried the door and sighed when it wasn’t locked.

Wynonna lay half on the bed, her top half bent over the side, staring at a map as she kicked her legs in the air. Waverly’s stomach dropped at the sight.

“Where are you off to now?” she asked quietly. She should have known it would only be a matter of time before Wynonna took off again. There had been a part of her that hoped Wynonna might stay around now that they were finally together again, but clearly that wasn’t the case.

“I don’t know,” Wynonna mumbled, barely looking up at Waverly. “You and Haught off makin’ babies all night?”

“Don’t try to deflect,” Waverly said, even though she had to push down her smile from remembering the night before. She poked her tongue into the side of her cheek and went over to her trunk to get a dress. “Are you leaving? Again?”

“Did you make up with Haught?” Wynonna said, pointedly looking at Waverly. She could see Wynonna’s eyes taking in the bruise on her neck before looking back in her eyes.

“Well...yes-”

“Then what else am I supposed to do?” Wynonna said with a dismissive shrug. “You have Red.”

Waverly crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t think it’s quite fair that you’re making me choose between my sister and my...person.”

Wynonna scoffed and went back to her map. “You don’t need me anymore, baby girl.”

Rolling her eyes, Waverly stomped back behind the changing screen to get dressed. “You’re being really fucking selfish, Wynonna.”

“What?” Wynonna asked, offended. “How am I being selfish?”

“You can’t just up and leave again!” Waverly said. “What are you even going to do? Get in more trouble?”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Wynonna said, pointedly going back to her map. “How am I being selfish?”

“By leaving,” Waverly said, voice cracking. “Instead of staying with me. With us. I just...I missed you. I don’t want to lose you again.”

Wynonna let out a long groan, head falling down between her shoulders towards the floor in defeat. Waverly came out from behind the changing screen just as Wynonna looked back up at her.

“What am I gonna do if I stay?” Wynonna said. “Just watch you and Haught make puppy dog eyes at each other?”

Waverly gave her a look. “Are you telling me that you’re jealous? Jealous that I have Nicole?”

“I’m not-...no,” Wynonna said with a wrinkle of her nose. “I just don’t have the tendency to stay where I’m no longer needed.”

Waverly finished putting on her dress and stepped out from behind the changing screen. “What makes you think you’re not needed?”

“You have Nicole. And as much as I would love if you chose someone who hadn’t slept with an entire saloon full of girls, and didn’t have a huge bounty on their head...I can’t really tell you who to fall in...love with,” Wynonna grumbled. Her eyes flickered back up to Waverly. “You do love her, right?”

Waverly smiled softly. “Yeah.”

“Well, there you go,” Wynonna said, sniffing as she looked away.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t need you,” Waverly said. “You’re my sister. I’ve been without you for...a long time. And I don’t-” She bit her lip and sat next to Wynonna on the bed. “I don’t want to lose you again.”

“Baby girl,” Wynonna said softly. “I love you. But sharing a very small, very drafty cabin with you two in your newly married bliss isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. And I doubt it is for either of you.”

“You wouldn’t stay in the cabin-”

“And I’m not living in a barn and I’m not going to build a house anywhere-”

“Nicole is building the new house,” Waverly interrupted. “She might be okay with you staying. Especially if you help her finish building it.”

Wynonna looked dubious, but sat up in the bed anyway. She held her hands palm up with a wry smile. “Do these hands look like they do manual labor?”

“Those hands look like they need to find some honest work to do before they find themselves in jail— or worse,” Waverly said.

Wynonna sucked on her teeth and looked away with a shrug. “I guess I could be...convinced.”

Waverly felt a smile bloom on her face and she jumped up and down in excitement. She balled her hands into fists and held them in front of her face to try and keep in her excitement. “Really?”

“Yes,” Wynonna said dismissively. “Just don’t be gross in the same room as me.”

“Deal,” Waverly said, bouncing over to Wynonna and throwing her arms around her neck. She kissed her cheek and Wynonna grumbled in displeasure, even if Waverly saw her lips quirk in a brief smile. “I’m just not ready to lose you again.”

Wynonna’s arms wrapped around Waverly, and she squeezed her even tighter. “You won’t lose me, Waves. I promise.”

“I’m holding you to that,” Waverly said before finally releasing Wynonna. “Now Nicole and I are getting breakfast downstairs. Put your stupid map away and join us.”

Wynonna balled up the map haphazardly and shoved it off to the side. “You two aren’t gonna be like...feeding each other or some shit? Right? I don’t think my stomach can handle it.”

“We can control ourselves, Wynonna,” Waverly said, as they started down to where Nicole was sitting. Waverly watched her looking all around the Saloon, face unreadable as she took in her surroundings. Nicole’s eyes finally caught Waverly’s as she walked down the stairs and a smile cracked her hard facade, brown eyes lighting up and making Waverly feel warm all over. She smiled back, waving shyly at Nicole who only smiled wider.

“Ugh, what happened to controlling yourselves,” Wynonna said, moving past Waverly down the stairs and towards Nicole’s table.

Moment broken, Waverly rolled her eyes and followed Wynonna the rest of the way down. As soon as Wynonna sat down, she pulled the plate that was in front of Nicole in front of herself.

“Thanks, Haught,” she said, digging into the plate of beans, eggs and sausage.

Waverly sat down and pushed Wynonna’s shoulder. “Nonna!”

“It’s fine, darlin’,” Nicole said, putting her hand over Waverly’s and squeezing. “I’ll get another.”

Before she could even get up, one of the girls working the downstairs of the Saloon appeared with a fresh plate. She winked down at Nicole and squeezed her shoulder before going back to do her rounds. Waverly raised an eyebrow at Nicole, jealousy making her a little hot under the collar.

“Who is that?” Waverly asked nonchalantly.

Nicole shook her head. “No one I know, Miss Waverly, rest assured,” she winked at Waverly and picked up her fork. Waverly’s heart fluttered, all traces of jealousy gone.

“You two are insufferable,” Wynonna said through a mouth of eggs.

“I’m okay with that,” Waverly said with a wide grin before digging into her breakfast.

***

Later they made their way back to the ranch, taking their time to get back since Wynonna had Bobo’s men’s horses tied up and following behind them. Usually Waverly would have frowned on taking a man’s horse for their own gain, but to be fair, if anyone deserved their horses to be stolen, it was Bobo.

Nicole and Waverly rode side by side up front, little bits of conversation flowing naturally between them but mostly just riding in silence. Save for stealing little glances and smiles at each other as they went. Waverly would rather they were on the same horse, Nicole’s arms around her, but knew Nicole would protest it.

Wynonna rode behind them, singing loud songs very badly as they went. Waverly was surprised she was sober with the way she was carrying on.

Since they left early enough, they made it back to the ranch just after nightfall, bodies tired and horses worn. The barn wasn’t big enough for their three horses along with the other three they had brought back, so Nicole fed and watered them in the corral as Wynonna got settled out in the barn.

Waverly went inside, only lighting the candle next to the bed. She was tired from the journey and, while part of her felt like she could fall asleep, her body also ached for Nicole. To feel her in the comfort of their own bed and not on a bed roll in the middle of a field somewhere.

She stripped her dress off, leaving her in only her corset and underskirt. When Nicole came in the cabin, Waverly was attempting to undo the laces. But Nicole’s eyes darted over her form, and suddenly all she could focus on was how Nicole’s tongue darted out to wet her lips.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole greeted, taking her hat off and hanging it near the door.

“You know you don’t have to call me that anymore,” Waverly said, as Nicole pulled her suspenders off her shoulders and walked up to Waverly. She was helpless but to just stand there as Nicole smoothed her hands over her hips and pressed her body to her own. Waverly smiled up at Nicole as she briefly touched the collar of her shirt. “Waverly would do.”

“Ain’t proper to call a lady by ‘er first name if you ain’t familiar,” Nicole said, voice low as she let her hands roam to the front of Waverly’s corset, pulling at the laces. The restriction on Waverly’s torso loosened, but it was just as hard to breathe with the way Nicole was looking down at her.

“I think we’re pretty familiar, don’t you?” Waverly smiled, slowly unbuttoning Nicole’s shirt, pleased to see she wasn’t wearing an undershirt.

Nicole chuckled. “I mean, if we ain’t married.”

“So you’re okay lying with me out of wedlock, but not calling me by my first name?” Waverly asked, tilting her head with the teasing smile still in place.

“Maybe I jus’ like callin’ you that, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said lowly, as the corset came loose enough that Waverly’s torso was mostly exposed through the laces. Nicole ducked her head, lips brushing teasingly over Waverly’s.

“Then it’s a good thing I like it when you call me that,” Waverly said, pushing Nicole’s shirt off of her shoulders and letting it whisper to the floor. Waverly ran her hands over the front of Nicole’s chest, palming her breasts before reaching down to undo her pants. She let her tongue peek out and taste the seam of Nicole’s lips as she pushed her hand into her pants and cupped her over her underwear.

Nicole groaned, pressing forward to seal her lips against Waverly’s. She sighed into the kiss, feeling Nicole’s heat in her palm and making her own body react. She let Nicole push her back onto the bed, lying down slowly with their lips still moving together.

Waverly’s heart felt like it was beating out of her chest, hands gripping Nicole’s strong shoulders to keep her close. Nicole went to pull away and Waverly groaned in protest. But Nicole’s fingers hooked into the waistband of Waverly’s skirt and pulled it down her legs, satisfying her for the moment. The sheets of the bed were cool on her skin, something to soothe her overheated body as she watched Nicole stand up and push her pants down, leaving her in just the underwear that landed above her knees.

“Off,” Waverly whispered, pulling at the waistband of the underwear.

Nicole smirked and pulled Waverly’s hand away as she approached the bed.

Waverly lay back on the bed, her thin corset open with the strings hanging loosely along her stomach. It was open just enough to cover her nipples, the lace of the corset tickling her sensitive skin. She was sure she looked as turned on as she felt, entire body flushed and lips swollen.

“Miss Waverly,” Nicole said as she crawled onto the bed, straddling Waverly’s calves. Her voice was thick and sweet like honey straight from the hive and Waverly just wanted to taste the words coming from her lips. “I’ll tell you to the day you won’t ‘ave me anymore. Yer the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Waverly shivered at the combination of Nicole’s words and how calloused hands ran from her knees to her thighs. Nicole’s hands settled over her hips, thumbs brushing through damp curls and teasing her swollen sex. She lay down so that she was slotted between Waverly’s knees. She could feel the pressure of Nicole’s hips where Waverly needed her most, Nicole’s underwear the only barrier.

“Nicky,” she moaned, hands tangling in Nicole’s hair and drawing their lips together again. Their tongues slipped together, and Nicole took Waverly’s hands and pinned them over her head on the pillow. A rush of arousal hit Waverly between her thighs at the act of dominance, and she mewled against Nicole’s lips, tipping her hips up towards Nicole as best she could with how Nicole’s hands were practically pinning her to the bed.

Nicole was so sweet and gentle most of the time that when a little more of her rougher, baser side came out, Waverly discovered that she loved it. That was why she found herself pushing back against Nicole’s hands briefly, just to feel her pin them back down. She squirmed under Nicole, hooking her leg around Nicole’s thigh and tugging her down.

“Let me take care’a you, Miss Waverly,” Nicole whispered against her lips, a hand sliding hot between them before she entered her without preamble. Waverly’s back arched off of the bed as she gasped in pleasure, hands itching to grab at Nicole and run her nails down her back. Nicole swallowed Waverly’s moan when she felt calloused fingers press into her front wall and make her entire body thrum. Her thumb came up to press against Waverly’s clit and Waverly’s leg tightened around Nicole’s hips, the only part of her she could grip.

“Fuck, Nicole,” Waverly gasped, hands balling into fists. “I-fuck.”

Nicole kissed along Waverly’s jaw, nipping at the skin as she went, her fingers doubling their pace. Waverly’s hips tried to chase Nicole’s hand, but Nicole’s tongue and teeth on her ear distracted her. She felt the fire smoldering in her stomach, ready for the flames to burst and consume her, so Waverly turned her head and their lips met messily as she came.

All Waverly felt was Nicole’s tongue and warmth spreading through her stomach, and sheer pleasure as she shuddered against Nicole. She wasn’t sure if she was silent or screaming but her mouth felt dry, heavy breaths escaping between her lips. Nicole gently kissed her, pecking her lips softly as they both caught their breath. Nicole’s hand loosened on her wrists and Waverly fell bonelessly back to the bed.

Waverly hummed, arms barely working enough to wrap her arms around Nicole’s neck. She couldn’t even bring herself to be annoyed at Nicole’s cocky smile, red hair falling into her face as she looked down at Waverly.

“You know how’a take care’a yer woman, cowboy,” Waverly muttered with an exaggerated accent, kissing her slow and deep.

“Always at yer service, Miss Waverly,” Nicole whispered, as they kissed again.

***

Nicole pulled the bandana from her back pocket and wiped the sweat from her forehead before it could drip into her eyes. She set her hammer down next to her, balancing on the beam of the roof of the house as she looked down to where Wynonna was nailing up a final bit of siding. She could already feel the burn staring on her shoulders, and groaned. Waverly would definitely kill her for getting burned. There were only so many times Waverly would rub milk on her reddened shoulders without getting rid of her favorite shirt when she wasn’t looking.

She looked down at the light buckskin shirt she had gotten when they went to trade Bobo’s horses with the Shoshone tribe. Waverly, at first, had been thrilled to get to speak in their native tongue again. She had learned some of it in her time at Bobo’s camp, but the thrill was quickly gone when one of the women in the tribe had taken a liking to Nicole. She sat next to Nicole and kept touching her leg and bringing her food which Waverly did not appreciate. The last thing she had brought her was the buckskin shirt that had no sleeves and felt like heaven in the heat.

Needless to say, Waverly was not into the shirt because of this history. But Nicole loved it.

Every time Nicole would come in with some redness starting on her skin, Waverly would tut and roll her eyes.

Nicole stuffed the bandana back in her pocket and looked at their progress. The house was mostly done. Wynonna just needed to finish the side of the house and Nicole had to do the roof, and then they could move on to the interior. Nicole had managed to get her hands on a catalogue of furniture and was letting Waverly pore over it so she wouldn’t have to.

“Hey Haught,” Wynonna called from below. “Come down, I have water.”

Nicole climbed down the ladder and waited for Wynonna to be done with the ladle before taking her turn.

Things with Wynonna had been better. At first she had been fairly cold with Nicole, but after a particularly successful night of drinking together, Nicole had managed to earn some of Wynonna’s affections. At least enough that she stopped glaring at her any time she went to the Saloon, or even looked at Waverly.

“So, Red, when are you going to make my sister an honest woman?” Wynonna asked casually. Nicole choked on the water, coughing so badly that Wynonna had to pat her back. “Jesus, don’t act so shocked, or I’m going to get the wrong idea.”

Nicole shook her head and wiped her mouth with her arm. “No, I wanna-...we’re practically married, ain’t we?”

Wynonna crossed her arms. “If something happens to you, Waverly will get nothing.”

Nicole, truthfully, hadn’t really thought about it. Surprisingly. She figured that she and Waverly were living under the same roof, building a house...they were married. What more would they need in life? Nicole didn’t feel like she needed to sign a piece of paper to make anything legal. She rubbed the back of her neck and looked off towards the river.

“Listen I jus’...ain’t thought about it lately,” Nicole said softly. “I’ll work it out.”

Wynonna raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Soon. You’ll work it out...soon.”

“Soon,” Nicole agreed.

“I’m not going to let my sister live in sin,” Wynonna said, while she crossed herself piously.

Nicole snorted and Wynonna turned sharply to look at her. With a shrug, Nicole smiled. “Soon.”

“She’s gonna be wanting a baby soon too,” Wynonna added on with a raised eyebrow. “How are you gonna pull that one off?”

Nicole frowned. A baby? They’d never talked about babies. Nicole wasn’t even sure if she wanted one.

Waverly called them from the cabin and Nicole gave her another look. “Soon!” she promised, distracted, before they headed in for lunch.

***

Waverly stood in front of the finished house, looking up at it with wide eyes. It looked at least three times as wide as the cabin, with a pitched roof and a window for the attic. The porch jutted out in front with a railing around it and Waverly could already see herself and Nicole sitting on that porch come next summer.

Nicole had let her pick out the furniture, but then wouldn’t let her into the house until she deemed it finished.

She felt Nicole’s arms encircle her waist from behind and leaned back into her, turning her head to kiss Nicole’s jaw.

“Ready to see our new ‘ome, darlin’?” Nicole whispered.

“Very,” Waverly whispered, stroking Nicole’s arm.

“Great,” Nicole said, squeezing her lightly before kissing her cheek. She pulled away before scooping Waverly up in her arms bridal style.

She squeaked in surprise, arms going around Nicole’s neck as she leaned comfortably into her chest.

“Always the gentleman,” Waverly laughed.

“Well, I gotta carry you over’a threshold,” Nicole said as she walked Waverly up the porch steps. She bent to twist the doorknob and push open the door with Waverly still in her arms.

“I thought that was after you got married,” Waverly teased.

“We ain’t known to be doin’ things in the right order, darlin’,” Nicole reminded her as she dramatically took a large step over the threshold of the house.

“I guess not,” Waverly said, eyes too distracted taking in the house to remind Nicole again that they should just get married already.

Nicole slowly lowered Waverly to the ground as she looked around. The house started with a hallway, another door directly across from the front one for the summer when they needed a good breeze. To the left was the living room, stone fireplace against the wall, and a couch and a couple of chairs gathered near it. Waverly felt warm remembering several evenings of watching Nicole’s back flex as she unloaded that very stone from the wagon. Waverly walked down the long hall and opened the door beside the living room to reveal their bedroom. Waverly moved in awe, looking at the other bedroom across the hall and the kitchen beside that. All far bigger than the tiny cabin she’d just walked out of.

“This is amazing,” Waverly said, turning to face Nicole who had a proud smile on her face. “This is our home.”

“Indeed it is, darlin’,” Nicole wrapped her arms around Waverly’s waist, widening her stance so she could be more face to face with her. “Welcome home.”

Waverly felt something slide into place in that moment. Something in her chest that had been floating, waiting to feel comfortable. Maybe it was Nicole talking about their home that did it. Maybe it was her smile.

“Our home,” Waverly repeated, hands tugging on Nicole’s collar so she could kiss her properly.

***

“Baby girl, you should see Haught right now. She’s arm deep in that fucking cow,” Wynonna said, as she came into the house for more towels. “If I were you I’d be jealous.”

“Very funny, Wynonna,” Waverly sighed as she made a stew, tasting it before adding more salt. “Calf coming along okay?”

“Seems to be, according to Haught,” Wynonna said as she gathered some rags. “It’s pretty disgusting.” Wynonna wrinkled her nose. “You’re gonna be getting that smell off Haught for a week. At least.”

Just then, Nicole came in with a large smile, hair sticking up at odd angles and something stuck in in it that Waverly didn’t want to think about.

“Calf’s ‘ere,” Nicole breathed. “An’ she’s beautiful.”

Waverly nearly dropped the salt shaker in excitement. “Can I go see her?”

“Course,” Nicole said, smile widening. “I’ll be out there.”

Nicole turned on her heel and walked out. Wynonna raised an eyebrow at Waverly.

“You got a weird one there,” she said, gesturing towards the door.

“She’s not weird,” Waverly defended, a wave of affection rolling over her. “But she is mine.”

Wynonna gagged and rolled her eyes, picking up the basket of rags and turning towards the door.

“Get over it, Wynonna!”

Wynonna just flipped her off as the door closed behind her.

***

“‘Ello, darlin’,” Nicole said, setting her hat on the hook and shrugging off her thick jacket, hanging it on the coat stand. She rubbed her hands together to get some more warmth in them, letting the fire roaring in the hearth do its magic.

Waverly hummed and looked up from whatever project she was knitting only briefly. “Hey, baby,” she smiled with a wink. “I made you some dinner.”

“Yer the best,” Nicole said, wandering over to where Waverly was sitting. She leaned down and kissed Waverly softly with a smile, when her eyes caught the project Waverly was working on in her lap. The knitting needles were paused over some light pink looking thing.

She paused, frowning down at the project that looked like...booties.

Confusion and fear battled in Nicole’s mind as she watched Waverly continue knitting. No one she knew was having a baby. And that definitely looked like baby booties.

Nicole cleared her throat and went into the kitchen, scooping some stew into a bowl as her mind went through all the possibilities. There was no way Waverly was pregnant, of course. It was impossible. But maybe...was she hinting at something? That she wanted a baby?

Was Nicole going to have to find a way to get Waverly a baby? They had just started settling into their own! They weren’t even married yet! Even if Nicole had a ring tucked into her drawer waiting for the perfect time.

She carried her food back into the living room where Waverly sat, still knitting.

“I ain’t ready for a baby,” Nicole blurted.

Waverly frowned and looked up at her. “What?”

“I’m sorry I jus’...ain’t ready fer a baby,” Nicole said, sitting down in the chair across from Waverly.

Waverly blinked and tilted her head. “Baby...what are you talking about?”

“I’m ready to get married, but that’s ‘bout it,” Nicole kept going, nervous lips unable to stop. “I know I shoulda asked you a long time ago but I jus’ liked what we ‘ad. But I’ll make an honest woman outta ya once spring comes.”

Waverly’s mouth opened and closed, struggling to find words. She looked...confused, but also some form of elated that made Nicole’s stomach warm.

“First things first, why do you think I want a baby?” Waverly breathed.

Shoveling a big bite of the stew into her mouth, Nicole shrugged and pointed towards the thing in Waverly’s lap. “Ain’t those baby shoes?”

Waverly giggled, picking them up to show Nicole. It was two long bootie looking things, bigger than any baby feet Nicole has ever seen, connected by a string.

“It’s for the calf,” Waverly explained. “For her ears so she doesn’t get frostbite.”

Nicole felt relief and embarrassment at the same time. “Oh.” She leaned over her bowl, busily eating in an attempt to hide her blush.

“Is there a reason you assumed I wanted a baby because of this?”

“I jus’...I don’ know. Wynonna mentioned you’d be wantin’ one,” Nicole mumbled.

Waverly rolled her eyes. “Since when do you listen to Wynonna?”

“She is yer sister,” Nicole said. “I thought there might be some truth to it.”

“If I want a baby, I’d be telling you. Not my sister,” Waverly smiled. “But back to the important thing...you wanna marry me up?”

Nicole smiled back as she took the last bite of stew. “I do, Miss Waverly.”

Waverly’s smile turned teasing. “Does that mean you wouldn’t call me ‘Miss Waverly’ anymore?”

“Only when you wanted me to,” Nicole said, setting her bowl aside to deal with later. Waverly’s eyes purposefully looked her over and she held out her hand to Nicole.

“I want you to call me that right now,” she said, voice low.

Nicole stood up from her chair and easily picked Waverly up so that her legs wrapped around her waist, the two of them smiling happily at each other. “Whatever you want, Miss Waverly,” Nicole said, walking her towards their bedroom. “Whatever you want.”