Wyatt Earp wasn’t much of a father. A hero, yes. A dedicated friend and a loyal brother, obviously. The most revered Deputy U.S Marshall of the West chased down bandits, won shoot outs, and charmed ladies with ease. But he was a terrible father.
The day his son, Josiah, was born, Wyatt was chasing down the McLaury brothers 275 miles away. The first time he actually held his son was two months later, and he was drunker than a four-peckered goat. He never had time to tell the boy a bedtime story, nor teach him how to fish or play ball.
The gang of outlaws that killed Wyatt Earp didn’t take much from his thirteen year old son.
When the boy grew up, he was bold but directionless, as so many fatherless young men are. He joined the army and got married. His son, Edwin, was born while he was storming the beaches in Normandy. When he came home, he was no longer a directionless young man, but a crippled veteran. The doctors wrote “shell shock” on his discharge papers, but Josiah Earp swore he was being haunted by ghosts. The first time he held his son, he felt nothing, and his young wife cried.
Edwin Earp grew up in fear of his father. Josiah took morphine to dull the pain in his leg, and then took some more to dull the screams in his head. When the doctors stopped prescribing it, he started buying it on the street. When he ran out of money to buy it, he began stealing. He beat his wife and son for standing too close, breathing too loud. Edwin Earp grew up angry, and he grew up quick. When his father was found hanging from the support beam in the basement, the boy felt nothing but relief.
When Edwin was grown, he chose to become a lawman, like the legend that was his grandfather. As someone who had grown up powerless, he revered the feeling a gun and a badge gave him. His arrest record was ambitious, and he earned his fellow officers’ respect. If he seemed a bit too eager to beat the shit out of a drug addict every now and then, they didn’t say anything. He was always the first to run towards danger, and he met violence with an almost natural ferociousness. Edwin was obsessive about his work, and rarely did anything but the job.
He married his high school sweetheart when he was 22, and they had a son, Ward, within the year. By the time he was 25, Edwin had become the youngest Sheriff in all of Arizona. The man’s relentless work ethic and his vicious mean-streak became well-known.
Ward Earp grew up seeing his father in brief, irregular stints. When Edwin was home, he drank, and when he drank, he had a temper. Ward learned to make himself scarce when his father was home, lest he become the target of the man’s anger. Edwin’s wife, Patsy, did her best to raise her son in spite of Edwin’s regular absence, but found the boy’s inner anger hard to control. Ward began getting into fights at school, and getting in trouble with the law.
On one occasion, when Ward was 14, the town grocer escorted him home after catching the boy stealing tobacco from the store. When Ward’s front door opened to reveal his father rather than his mother, his heart almost stopped. It was that day that Edwin Earp taught his son one thing he would never forget.
Fighting back makes it worse.
After Ward was beaten within an inch of his life, he curled up on the ground and found he couldn’t stop the tears. His father towered above him, snorting in disdain.
“Dear God, don’t start with that. My father did ten times worse to me just for looking at him funny.”
His son merely whimpered.
“Sometimes I can’t believe you're my son,” Edwin spat, stalking away. In that moment, Ward wished more than anything that he wasn’t.
The day Edwin Earp died in a firefight, the whole county mourned. That night, a 17 year-old Ward Earp slept more soundly than he ever had.
On his 18th birthday, Ward left his hometown and began a life as a gambler. For years, he traveled from town to town, picking up games in bars and picking up women with the fact that yes, he was, in fact, Wyatt Earp’s great-grandson.
It was in a Canadian town called Purgatory that he got such a girl pregnant. Her name was Michelle, and her father threatened to shoot his balls off if he didn’t do right by her. Ward promptly married her, and the young couple settled on a small farm on the outskirts of town. They named their first born Willa. A year after she was born, they had another daughter, Wynonna. 3 years after that, their youngest, Waverly, was born.
Deep down, Ward was relieved none of his children were boys. He didn’t think he’d be able to handle a smaller version of himself. It would make him feel too much like Edwin Earp.
Ward had no model for what a good father looked like, but he did his best to provide for his family. He worked hard on the farm, and taught his children how to work the land. For some years, things went well enough.
Michelle, however, was a restless woman. She had never intended to settle down so quickly, and felt trapped by her children and her role as a housewife. She began going out late at night to meet men from the saloons in town. Ward found out, and the two began arguing incessantly. One night, Michelle snuck out of bed, left her husband a note, and kissed her sleeping children goodbye. She left Purgatory and never returned.
Ward was devastated. He had been left alone with three young children and a struggling farm. The house wasn’t paid off, and the children were inconsolable without their mother. Ward took to drinking heavily to dull his pain. He began gambiling again to try and handle their debts. His daughters saw less and less of him, and when they did see him, he was angry. He saw his wife in his daughters, and he saw his father in himself. This only served to make him angrier.
The oldest, Willa, learned to appeal to his anger. As the eldest, she was often left to look after the other two in his absence. She took every opportunity to get her siblings in trouble in an attempt to gain some sort of positive attention from her father. Ward was often too distracted to see through the ploy.
Wynonna grew to hate her father, and rebelled against his authority almost compulsively. He grounded her, he screamed at her, he fought with her, but none of it could make the girl listen. She would avoid the house for days on end, drinking and sleeping with strangers. The only reason she ever returned was Waverly.
Waverly, as the youngest, was often the most vulnerable growing up. She learned how to constantly read people’s moods in an effort to appease them. She knew what set her father off, and she knew what made Willa leave her alone. She knew how to calm Wynonna down, and she knew how to keep her family from killing each other. She was known for her kindness and bright attitude, and the townspeople grew to adore the youngest Earp.
As the girls came of age, Willa began taking over the business aspects of the farm. Wynonna began dancing at a seedy club on the far end of town, much to their father’s fury, and Waverly began working at Shorty’s, the town’s most popular bar.
It was there that the youngest Earp’s life changed forever.
“I didn’t know Shorty’s had wet t-shirt competitions,” an amused voice called to her from the front door. Waverly Earp, covered in beer and shame, let out an embarrassed sigh as she attempted to towel the alcohol off her. Stupid freaking tap .
Looking up, she took in the tall figure that leaned in the doorway, Stetson in hand and a badge on her chest. The redhead offered a sympathetic smile.
“You okay?” she chuckled. Waverly bashfully tossed her alcohol-soaked towel, moving to find a clean one.
“Yeah,” she sighed, barely hiding her annoyance. She tried to appear more pleasant as the deputy approached. It wasn’t the stranger’s fault the tap was broken.
“I’m uh, just a bit jumpy. I had a-” she paused, remembering her father and sister’s fist fight the night prior. “A crazy night,” she finished, smiling apologetically at the stranger. The redhead smiled easily in return.
“Sorry I wasn’t here to see it,” she quipped, placing her Stetson lightly on the bar. “I’ve been, uh, I’ve been meaning to introduce myself,” she began, holding out a hand. “I’m Nicole, Nicole Haught.”
Something confident and appraising flashed behind Nicole’s gaze as they made eye contact. Nicole’s grip was firm yet gentle. Waverly found herself letting out a nervous “Hi”, noting the woman’s sharp jawline and expressive eyes. Before she could manage her own introduction, Nicole did it for her.
“And you are Waverly Earp ,” she offered, drawing out the syllables of her name like she was admiring them. Waverly smiled modestly, surprised the woman already knew who she was.
“Quite a popular girl around here,” the redhead observed.
“Oh, you know, it's all in the ‘smile and wave’”, Waverly bubbled, offering a demonstration. Charming people with sweetness was almost the barmaid’s job description.
“Yeah,” Nicole cooly agreed.
Waverly couldn’t help her nervous smile as she met the other woman’s eyes. The deputy’s gaze flustered her, somehow without feeling threatening. It was a long moment before Nicole spoke.
“Can I get a cappuccino to go?” she asked brightly.
“Oh, I’m, I’m really sorry, um...we’re not actually open yet, so...” Waverly trailed off awkwardly. Shorty would kill her if she made a sale before the register was set up. Nicole looked around in surprise, as if finally noticing no one else was there.
“Oh, right. Okay, my bad,” she chuckled, holding her hands up in acquiesce. Waverly grinned back, glad she hadn’t upset the would-be customer. She was used to entitled patrons.
The deputy suddenly lowered her voice.
“It's just when I, uh, when I see something I like, I don’t wanna wait,” she said softly.
The barmaid returned her intense gaze in confusion, wondering if she had imagined the intonation of the woman’s words.
“And your door was open, so.” The tension broke as Nicole shrugged and gestured towards the entrance.
“Right,” Waverly murmured, exhaling shakily. She’d had to fire a shotgun to keep her father and sister from killing each other the night prior. It was eight in the morning, she was covered in beer, and she was not prepared for an attractive cop to maybe-kinda be hitting on her.
“God, I’m sopping wet,” Waverly grumbled. She internally cringed at her choice of words, but Nicole simply chuckled good-naturedly.
“You know, I keep telling Shorty he needs to fix the darn taps..” she trailed off, realizing her new alcohol-soaked towel was useless. There was no saving the shirt, she’d have to change into one of her extras.
“Sorry do you mind, just uh..” she mimed covering her eyes with her hands. Nicole’s eyes widened in realization.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, motioning for Waverly to go ahead as she spun around on the bar stool. Waverly laughed nervously, suddenly feeling very vulnerable despite the deputy’s turned back.
She turned around, glancing behind her to make sure Nicole wasn’t looking. The deputy remained patiently staring at the door. Hands slightly shaking, the barmaid quickly pulled her shirt up and over head, perhaps too quickly. The buttons on the front of her shirt painfully tangled in her hair, effectively trapping her arms to the top of her head. Struggling for a moment, Waverly cursed under her breath.
“Um, uh, Officer,” she nervously called. Nicole turned her head slightly, indicating she was listening, but not fully turning around.
“I’m stuck, so...” Waverly admitted awkwardly, praying to whatever god that was listening to let her escape with some dignity intact.
“Oh, geez,” Nicole sprung up off the bar stool, rounding the corner.
“Let me help you, I got you,” she chuckled, quickly untangling Waverly’s hair from the shirt. Waverly laughed nervously as Nicole pulled the shirt up off her arms.
“Good job you’re not some guy, right? Or this would be really, really awkward…” she trailed off as she met Nicole’s eyes. The redhead gave her a suggestive smile, but took a small, respectful step away.
Waverly quickly took back the offered shirt, covering her front, and regarded the redhead with newfound curiosity. The deputy was clearly interested, and now here Waverly was, practically topless, and Nicole hadn’t so much as glanced below her chin. The barmaid felt...strangely safe.
The redhead raised an eyebrow at her silence.
“Um, I, I owe you one,” Waverly said in slight embarrassment.
“Alright, well, how about you buy me that cup of coffee?” Nicole suggested without missing a beat. “How about tonight?” Her head cocked to the side with subtle invitation.
“Oh, I can’t” Waverly quickly covered, panicking at the realization that the attractive redhead was definitely asking her on a date.
“No?” Nicole grinned softly, seeing Waverly scramble.
“No. I mean I’d love to-like, like to,” she corrected quickly. “Uh, but I have plans,” she finished lamely. Nicole nodded along, her smile indicating she didn’t believe Waverly in the slightest.
“Yeah. I’m a planner,” she emphasized, unable to stop herself from rambling. “I like to know what I’m doing at least two or three days in advance, and...”
Nicole pressed her lips together in a not-so-subtle sign of annoyance. Waverly sensed the woman disliked being bullshitted and would have rather just been rejected outright. The barmaid couldn’t help it, however. She’d spent years protecting herself by not allowing others to get upset.
It wasn’t that Nicole wasn’t attractive or friendly. It was that Waverly Earp wasn’t gay. And she’d been dating the same ex-bull rider since high school. And she had an alcoholic father she had to look after. And she was also really, really scared of changing any of that. Waverly shook her head, deciding to just tell the truth.
“I’m in a relationship,” she said quickly. “With a boy. Man.”
“A boy-man,” Nicole repeated with mock thoughtfulness, her expression infinitely amused. The dimple of her impish grin gave Waverly shivers. Or maybe it was just her lack of shirt.
“Yep,” Nicole sang, stepping away. “I’ve been there.” She gave a humorless chuckle, turning back to Waverly on the other side of the bar. “It's the worst,” she whispered conspiratorially. Waverly hoped her face gave nothing away.
“Okay, well,” Nicole shrugged, picking up her hat. “Some other time,” she offered brightly, letting Waverly off the hook. She placed a folded card on the bar and strode towards the door. Waverly smiled incredulously, pleasantly surprised that the other woman still wanted to see her despite the rejection.
“I mean it,” the deputy emphasized, placing the Stetson on her head with the most sexy nonchalance Waverly had ever seen. The redhead gave her one last grin before striding out in all her unphased glory.
Waverly chewed the inside of her cheek, picking up the business card.
“Officer Haught,” she read, both flustered and amused. “Of course,” she mumbled under her breath.
The universe had a sense of humor, and today she was the butt of the joke. She only wished it didn’t involve smelling like beer the rest of the day.
With a spare shirt and Officer Haught’s business card in her back pocket, Waverly finished the rest of her shift thinking of ways to deal with her father when she got home, and entertained the occasional memory of a confident redhead.
At 6pm, she clocked out and wearily made her way to her Jeep. It was the second double she’d pulled that week, attempting to make enough money to cover the repairs for the kitchen window. Wynonna had told Ward to eat a dick, and Waverly had spent the rest of the night cleaning up glass shards and wood splinters.
Her phone buzzed as she unlocked the car. It was Wynonna.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Waves,” Wynonna sounded out of breath. “You gotta get over here, right now.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“It’s daddy,” Wynonna growled. “He’s about to burn down the homestead.”