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The Bodyguard (but make it Wayhaught)

Chapter Text

Waverly glanced up from her phone to look out the window, the mirrored skyscrapers crawling past as the car eased its way through midtown traffic. She sighed and returned to scrolling through her Instagram, deleting the standard batch of DMs from her haters who felt the need to tell her that their pets had more personality, better looks, blah blah blah. She rolled her eyes as she deleted a particularly nasty message and then blocked the sender.

 

“Miss Earp, I’ve been meaning to speak to you about the new applicants.”

 

Waverly’s bodyguard, Doc Holliday, interrupted her scrolling as he spoke from the car’s front seat.

 

She sighed. “Doc are you sure you really want to be retiring on me? You’re not even that old! Plus how am I supposed to trust somebody new when you’re the only security I’ve had for the past five years?”

 

Her voice turned whiny towards the end, but Waverly couldn’t help it. Doc had been Waverly’s bodyguard since she was 18 years old, and he’d been hired after an attempted robbery at her New York City apartment had left Waverly shaken and her management team insistent that she get on-call security immediately. Doc had been by her side for every press junket, public appearance, photo shoot, and all of her required travel since then, and Waverly was going to miss the old man when he finally found a replacement for himself.

 

“Miss Earp, I promise you we’ve got some good contenders in this batch. I’m going to meet with them tomorrow and see if we’ve got any winners. You and me both know I’m getting too old for this line of work, and I want to make sure you’re in good hands before I hit the beach and ditch this town for good.” Doc turned around to give Waverly a wink, letting her know he wasn’t that eager to get rid of her.

 

“Ugh, fine if you’re sure,” Waverly sighed. “I don’t want to stand between you and the sandy shores, old man,” she finished with a wink of her own.

 

Her driver, Xavier, chuckled at their banter, glancing at Doc as he maneuvered his way through the crowded New York streets.

 

“Make sure you pick somebody I’m gonna like, Doc. God knows I’ll have to spend enough time with your replacement,” Xavier said.

 

“Hey, what about me?” Waverly jumped in. “Shouldn’t I get a say in who’s going to be in charge of my personal safety?”

 

Doc shook his head. “No ma’am, I’ll be making the decision based on who’s the most qualified, not who you think will be easy to boss around, or even worse give the slip when you think you don’t need security around.” He glanced pointedly over his shoulder at her before turning back in his seat.

 

“That was one time!” Waverly exclaimed. “And you know it was Champ’s idea, not mine,” she grumbled.

 

Waverly thought back to the incident in question, Champ begging her to give Doc the slip at a nightclub so they could have some “quality alone time” without the old man around. Waverly rolled her eyes at the memory, Champ’s idea of quality alone time being a quicky in his shabby apartment that was around the corner from the club. Doc had been furious when he’d found out what they’d done, showing up at Champ’s after 30 minutes of them being gone and practically pounding down the door. Waverly had felt as guilty as if she’d disappointed her own father, not that he was around anymore.

 

“Regardless,” Doc continued, “I’ll be choosing the applicant who I think will do their best to keep you safe. You can count on that, Miss Earp.”

 

Xavier pulled the car over to the curb and put it in park, making his way around the front to open Waverly’s door for her as paparazzi cameras flashed on the sidewalk outside of the studio.

 

Doc turned to look at her from the front seat before opening his own door.

 

“You ready, kid?”

 

Waverly smiled at their routine. Doc asked her the same question every time they were about to get out for one of her appearances.

 

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she responded, as always.

 

Doc nodded and exited the car before Waverly, his head on a swivel as he kept his eyes on the crowd, always moving a step ahead as Waverly followed on his heels.

 

Waverly would miss this, their routine, how safe she felt with Doc by her side. It had taken her a long time to trust him and for the two of them to figure out how best to work together, but she now didn’t think twice about putting her life in his hands every day. She hoped his replacement would do the job half as well…

 

***

 

Nicole adjusted her tie, glancing down at her crisp white button down to make sure it was still spotless. She shifted her weight nervously as the elevator rose, quickly arriving at the 46th floor of Mercedes & Associates, the large publishing firm known for representing some of the biggest celebrities on the east coast.

 

The elevator doors opened with a quiet bing, a pristine marble-floored lobby revealing itself as they did. Nicole’s eyes were immediately drawn to the receptionist’s desk, a reclaimed wood creation that looked like it cost a small fortune. Trendy, she thought, stepping out of the elevator and making her way to the receptionist with her business smile in place.

 

The receptionist, probably in her early twenties if Nicole had to guess, glanced up at her approach, a friendly smile gracing her features immediately.

 

“Hello there, welcome to Mercedes & Associates. How can I help you today?” the young woman asked.

 

“Hi, I’m here for an interview. I’m supposed to be meeting a Mr. Doc Holliday,” Nicole replied, watching as the young woman typed something into the laptop in front of her.

 

“Ah yes, I see that he’ll be meeting you in the Diamond Room,” the receptionist replied.

 

Nicole snickered but covered it with a cough when the receptionist narrowed her eyes at her.

 

“It’s right this way,” the woman said as she stood from her desk. “I’ll take you back.”

 

She gestured for Nicole to follow her and pushed through double glass doors that led to a long, carpeted hallway. They passed a few offices, frazzled interns rushing past with their arms full of manilla folders, and a few people talking animatedly into their Apple earbuds, giving Nicole and the receptionist tight smiles as they went about their work.

 

Busy place, Nicole thought, glancing into offices and occupied conference rooms as they walked, each with a different gem plastered on a nameplate outside. I’m sensing a definite theme, she thought as they passed the “Opal Room” next, followed by “Pearl Place” and “Emerald Alley”.

 

“Here we are,” the receptionist said, finally stopping in front of a small conference room with windows taking up one entire wall. Nicole stepped inside and noted the view, mainly the summer sunshine reflecting off neighboring high-rise windows.

 

“I’ll let Mr. Holliday know you’re here, make yourself comfortable,” the woman said.

Nicole thanked her before the receptionist pulled the door closed behind her. She chose a rolling chair with her back to the windows so she wouldn’t be distracted while speaking with Mr. Holliday.

 

Only a few minutes passed before there was a quiet knock at the door, followed by a man who was nothing like the giant roid-head Nicole had been expecting. He was probably in his mid to late-40s, average size and build, with a bushy brown mustache taking up much of his face. The man looked like he had walked straight out of a western movie.

 

She stood from the table to shake his outstretched hand, smiling immediately at the easy smile that spread across the man’s face.

 

“Hello, you must be Miss Haught,” he said, his grip surprisingly firm when shook her hand. “Am I pronouncing that right?”

 

Nicole smiled as she sat back down, both of them getting settled before Doc interlaced his fingers on the table in front of him.

 

“Yes sir, it’s pronounced ‘hot’ like the summer,” she replied, sitting up as straight as she could in her chair as intelligent dark eyes looked her over.

 

“You can forget all that ‘sir’ stuff, although I appreciate the gesture. Just call me Doc,” he said.

 

“Doc,” Nicole replied with a nod. “Thank you for meeting with me today, I really appreciate you giving me an opportunity given my limited experience in the field.”

 

Doc snickered and Nicole tensed up nervously.

 

“Limited experience, huh?” Doc pulled a folded piece of paper from his inner jacket pocket and flattened it on the table, glancing over it as he spoke. “I’d say you have zero experience, Miss Haught, or am I reading this wrong?” He pointed to the resume in front of him as he spoke.

 

Nicole swallowed before responding. “Yes sir, I mean Doc. It’s true that I’ve never worked in private security before. I just left the Army a few months ago, and I served as military police for all of my eight years of active duty.”

 

Doc nodded as he listened. “And what made you decide to make the transition into private security?” he asked.

 

“Honestly, my career in the Army doesn’t translate well to a lot of civilian jobs that are out there, but I know what my skills are, and I know that I could be a great fit for this type of career. It was my sole duty as an MP to protect the men and women who served alongside me, and I believe I can utilize that training to protect a civilian just as well,” Nicole finished confidently.

 

Doc eyed her for a moment, seeming to think over what Nicole had said.

 

“I’m curious, why leave the military? Seems to me that most people who make it as long as you did typically stay in for life.”

 

Doc looked genuinely curious, so Nicole opted for the truth.

 

“We lost a lot of good people,” Nicole said quietly, meeting his gaze as she spoke. “I deployed three times, and that kind of thing starts to take a toll. I just…I needed to get back to normal life, or at least try to figure out what normal might be for me. Does that make any sense?”

 

Doc ran a hand through his mustache thoughtfully, nodding his understanding of what Nicole had shared with him.

 

“I respect your honesty, Miss Haught, and I sincerely mean it when I say I can’t imagine what you went through, but I thank you for your service. I pray that you’re able to find the normalcy you’re looking for.”

 

Nicole didn’t know what to say to that, so she simply nodded her thanks.

 

“As for the job, I think you’d be a fine fit for it,” Doc continued, surprising Nicole enough to make her lose her military bearing, a smile instantly stretching her face.

 

“Seriously?” she asked, not wanting to get her hopes up too high in case Doc was messing with her.

 

“Of course,” he said, leaning back in his chair with a grin. “Hell, you’ve got a lot more technical training than I ever had, and you seem like a sharp young woman who can handle herself. I’d be willing to give you a trial run and see if this’ll be a good fit for you and my client. Would you be able to start tomorrow?”

 

“Absolutely, you just tell me when and where and I’ll be ready to go,” Nicole said eagerly.

 

“Cool your jets, hotshot, it probably won’t be as exciting as what you’re used to,” Doc said with a laugh. “There’s a hell of a lot of waiting around, sitting outside of rooms, waiting in the car, and watching the most boring fashion shoots and interviews you could imagine.”

 

Nicole grinned, not believing her luck at having Doc take a chance on her, a total rookie when it came to private security.

 

“I’m great at being bored and waiting around for things to happen, the military’s famous for that,” she replied. “May I ask who the client is?”

 

Doc pulled another folded piece of paper from his coat pocket, unfolding it and sliding it across the table to Nicole.

 

“This is a standard nondisclosure agreement,” he said. “You’ll need to sign this before we go any further. And just know that anything you see or hear while working with our client is strictly confidential and not to be shared with anyone, especially the press. If you’re ever questioned, you say nothing or “no comment”. You’re going to be photographed all the time, you’ll get used to it and learn to ignore the cameras. You got all that?”

 

Nicole looked up from the paperwork in front of her and nodded. Doc handed her a pen, and she signed her name on the line at the bottom of the last page before sliding it back to him.

 

Holy shit, I’m really doing this, she thought. Her stomach was suddenly full of butterflies, knowing her life was about to change forever.

 

Doc glanced over the signed paperwork and then stood from the table, Nicole mirroring his stance as he stuck out his hand for another shake.

 

“Welcome to the team, Miss Haught. We’ll see how you do tomorrow. Waverly has a photoshoot in Central Park, and it’s bound to be a circus. I’ll have our driver, Xavier, pick you up at 8:00am. You can wear the exact thing you’re wearing now, but lose the tie. And bring some dark sunglasses, it helps with the paparazzi. Clear?”

 

Nicole nodded her understanding. “I’m sorry, but who’s Waverly?”

 

“Oh yes, Waverly Earp, that’s our client,” Doc replied.

 

Nicole looked blankly at him, and Doc’s eyes crinkled in amusement.

 

“You’ve never heard of Waverly Earp?” he asked, his tone disbelieving.

 

“Can’t say that I have,” she answered. “Is she really famous or something?”

 

Doc snickered and turned to open the conference room door.

 

“This is going to be fantastic,” Doc said with a chuckle. “I’ll introduce you two tomorrow when we pick her up. Oh, and don’t mind the attitude, she’ll grow on you after a while.”

 

“Um, ok,” Nicole replied, not knowing what else to say. “I’ll see you tomorrow at 8AM sharp.”

 

“Yes, you will,” Doc answered with a wave, and he exited the room leaving Nicole alone.

 

She turned towards the windows and clenched her fists in excitement. Nicole had no idea who Waverly Earp was, but she had herself a new job and she couldn’t wait to get started. She was going to crush this.

Chapter Text

Waverly checked her watch and cursed as she searched her closet for the strappy brown sandals she was looking for. She wanted to wear flats today since she knew she’d be getting a lot of steps in at the park, and she didn’t want to kill herself sloughing around in towering heels all day.

 

She finally located them with a squeal of happiness and slid them on, threading the leather into the small buckle at the side as her phone rang.

 

“Dammit,” she said, before hitting the button to accept the call. “Hi Doc, I’m on my way down right now!”

 

She heard his quiet chuckle through the phone. “Yes, ma’am, we’ll be here when you’re ready.”

 

She clicked off the call and grabbed her purse and sunglasses from the entry table, giving herself a once over in the full-length mirror by the door. Her long brown hair was down in cascading waves that fell past her shoulders, and the navy blue sundress she’d chosen should be perfect for the photographs they’d be taking later that day.

 

“Good enough,” she muttered to herself, slipping her sunglasses on as she entered the elevator that opened directly into her penthouse apartment. She pressed the button for the ground floor and scrolled through her texts as the elevator descended. Without looking up, Waverly stepped out of the elevator when she heard the bing and felt herself hit something solid, stepping back and finally raising her eyes to realize she had collided with a woman.

 

A tall woman, Waverly thought. She glanced up to meet the woman’s eyes and realized she must be 5’10” to make Waverly feel that short.

 

“Are you ok?” the woman asked, looking concerned for Waverly’s physical state although Waverly was the one who had just run into her.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention,” Waverly said, waving the phone in her hand as her defense. “You ok?”

 

The woman’s light brown eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled. “I think I’ll make it, thank you,” she said, as if the idea of someone as small as Waverly injuring her was hilarious.

 

Stupid tall people, Waverly thought.

 

Waverly’s eyes widened when she saw Doc standing behind the woman she had run into, watching their interaction with an amused smile on his face. She was surprised he hadn’t stepped in, given how mindful he was of strangers ever touching her.

 

“Miss Earp, I see you’ve met your new bodyguard,” he said.

 

Waverly glanced around the building’s lobby, seeing only her doorman standing a few feet away at his usual post by the revolving door.

 

The tall woman Waverly had run into cleared her throat, earning a chuckle from Doc and bringing Waverly’s attention back to her. Waverly looked her over, realizing now that the redhead was dressed almost identically to Doc. Dark flats, navy blue suit, crisp white shirt with no tie, her collar unbuttoned to reveal a thin strip of skin at her neck.

 

You’ve got to be kidding me, Waverly thought.

 

“You hired a woman to be my new bodyguard?” Waverly directed the question to Doc. She saw the woman’s jaw tense from the corner of her eye but was too annoyed to feel guilty about it.

 

“No ma’am, I hired Miss Haught on a trial run to see if she’d be a good fit as your new bodyguard,” Doc replied smoothly. “She’s extremely qualified given her background, and I think she’ll be a great fit for you.”

 

Waverly regarded him with a doubtful expression. “How qualified?” she asked, again directing the question to Doc.

 

“I’m standing right here,” the woman- Miss Haught apparently- interrupted, “and I can speak for myself if you don’t mind.” She glanced at Doc who only nodded at her to go ahead.

 

Waverly crossed her arms over her chest, finally meeting the woman’s eyes and waiting to see what she had to say.

 

The woman took a breath, seeming to get her frustration in check before a forced half smile graced her features and she addressed Waverly in a quiet but firm tone.

 

“My name is Nicole Haught, and I served as a military police officer in the Army for eight years. I just got out a few months ago, and Doc here has agreed to give me a shot at being your new security detail. I can assure you I am highly trained and very good at my job. I know it must be hard for you to trust someone new when you two have been together for so long, but I hope that you’ll at least give me a chance.”

 

The woman- Nicole, Waverly corrected herself – reached out a hand, and Waverly shook hers briefly before letting go, noting the firm grip and long fingers that wrapped around her smaller hand.

 

Waverly sighed and checked her watch. “Waverly Earp. It’s nice to meet you, Nicole. We need to get going now or we’ll be late.”

 

Waverly stepped around Nicole and headed towards the door, resigned for the moment to the fact that Nicole would be joining them.

 

“We’ll talk about this later, Doc Holliday,” she said over her shoulder, not waiting for her new security duo to follow.

 

***

 

Nicole sat in the back seat of the black town car next to Waverly Earp, diva extraordinaire who apparently was a sexist asshole.

 

Yippee, Nicole thought.

 

She kept her eyes trained out the window, glancing at everyone on the crowded sidewalk as the car sped past. She highly doubted people would choose to rush a celebrity while in a moving vehicle, but she assumed somewhere as public as Central Park would be an entirely different story.

 

She heard Waverly’s nails tapping rhythmically against her phone’s screen and fought the urge to roll her eyes. Apparently, these young celebrities were exactly how Nicole had imagined, although she had no idea the client she would be hired to protect would be so high profile by Hollywood standards.

 

Nicole had spent the previous evening doing some research, quickly realizing that Waverly Earp was one of the most sought-after young actors in her field. She had grossed millions on her last blockbuster film, some heteronormative romantic comedy nonsense that Nicole would never waste money to see in theaters, and of course she was now slated to make another almost identical movie the following summer.

 

What Nicole had found most intriguing though, was the news article from five years earlier about the attempted break-in at Waverly’s former residence. An armed man had tried to break her apartment door down while Waverly was inside, and the police had arrived just in time to prevent him from gaining access and doing god knows what once he got inside. Nicole had shuddered at the thought of an eighteen-year-old girl alone and completely defenseless, facing a situation like that and living to tell the tale. Waverly had been very lucky, that much Nicole was certain of.

 

Whatever sympathy Nicole may have been harboring for the woman had pretty much evaporated thirty seconds after they met, given Waverly’s instant disdain of even the idea of Nicole being her new bodyguard. It was honestly infuriating, being doubted when Waverly knew nothing about her, and Nicole was still fuming.

 

She clenched her fist on her lap and took a steadying breath as the car slowed, Xavier pulling over into a bike lane and flipping the hazard lights on before stepping quickly out of the car and making his way to the other side.

 

“You all good back there?”

 

Nicole turned at Doc’s voice and realized he was addressing her, not Waverly, his eyes on her white knuckles on her lap.

 

Nicole released her grip and relaxed, nodding as she removed her seat belt and sat forward in her seat. She felt Waverly’s eyes on her but didn’t turn to meet her gaze.

 

“Ok, you go ahead Haught. Waverly and I will be right behind you,” Doc said.

 

Nicole recognized that Doc must want a minute alone with the woman, so she gratefully got out of the car and shut the door firmly behind her, walking around the back of the car and joining Xavier on the sidewalk. She glanced around and kept an eye on the people walking by, no one the wiser as to who was in the car for the time being.

 

“You’ll do great,” Xavier said quietly, giving her a toothy smile. “Waverly doesn’t trust people very easily, but she’s great once you get to know her.”

 

Nicole looked at him doubtfully but thanked him anyway. At some sign Nicole must have missed, Xavier suddenly stepped forward to open Waverly’s door, her feet instantly landing on the pavement as she climbed out of the car.

 

“Thanks, Xavier,” she said, slinging her purse over her shoulder but keeping a firm grip on the phone in her hand.

 

Doc exited the car at the same time, his eyes immediately moving to survey the surrounding people. Given that it was summer and Waverly was wearing large, dark sunglasses, Nicole wondered how long it would take for people to recognize the well-known actress. She supposed she was about to find out.

 

Waverly took off at a leisurely pace towards the path leading into the park, and Doc fell into step about ten feet behind her, Nicole by his side.

 

“So, Champ Hardy is meeting Waverly near the Bethesda Fountain on the south side of the park,” Doc said, speaking quietly to Nicole as they walked. “He’s pretty recognizable, so once he arrives all hell will probably break loose. Waverly’s publicist has arranged for some paparazzi to be here to photograph the two of them together, given that they’re starring in Waverly’s next project together, so they’re trying to create some free publicity. The photographers have been told not to approach the couple, but there are always a few who try anyway, so be ready for that.”

 

Nicole nodded, taking everything in as Doc spoke but keeping her eyes on the people around them. So far, nobody had noticed Waverly’s presence as she walked along the path, tapping on her phone the entire time.

 

“Are they a real couple or is this some fake romance thing to get people excited about the film?” Nicole said under her breath, hoping she was speaking low enough for Waverly not to overhear.

 

Doc sighed and responded just as quietly. “Unfortunately, Champ is Waverly’s real boyfriend. They met on a photoshoot for some clothing line, and they’ve been dating ever since. He’s obnoxious, but I suppose if Waverly’s happy it’s not my place to judge. Keep an eye on him though,” Doc warned, his voice suddenly turning serious. “He’s a bad influence and has convinced Waverly to try to ditch me on more than one occasion, although they only succeeded once.”

 

Nicole raised her eyebrows at that but said nothing. She couldn’t imagine why Waverly would risk something so dangerous given what had happened to her, but she assumed the boyfriend must be to blame for such reckless behavior. She’d be sure to heed Doc’s advice and keep a close watch on the guy. Champ, what a joke, Nicole thought.

 

As they approached the fountain, Waverly sat on a bench near the water and checked her phone again. Nicole and Doc kept their distance, standing close enough to keep an eye on Waverly but not close enough to draw attention to her. Nicole realized there would be a fine line of how close to be to her client to both keep her safe but also not draw the attention of a crowd, and she hoped Doc would demonstrate how best to go about it over the next few days.

 

Nicole spotted a young white male quickly approaching Waverly from the other side of the fountain. He was moving with sure steps and had his eyes trained on her back, a cell phone gripped tightly in one hand. Nicole tensed and took a step towards Waverly but stopped when she felt a hand on her forearm.

 

“That’s him, Champ Hardy,” Doc explained, and Nicole relaxed back into her position.

 

The man, if you could call him that, looked to be about twenty-four and had light brown hair that had clearly been styled. He was wearing the tightest pants Nicole had ever seen and a button down patterned t-shirt, a pair of mirrored sunglasses tucked into the pocket on the front.

 

He sat down on the bench next to Waverly before she was even aware of his presence, clearly startling her as she swatted his arm playfully.

 

Doc and Nicole were just close enough to make out their voices as they spoke.

 

“Hey baby,” Champ said, grabbing Waverly’s chin and turning her face towards him so he could kiss her sloppily. Waverly tolerated the kiss for about five seconds before pulling back, glancing around and wiping a finger at the corner of her mouth. She looked embarrassed, and Nicole thought she was right to be.

 

“Watch the makeup, babe,” Waverly said. “We’re here for photos, remember? I can’t have you making me look like I don’t know how to apply lipstick properly.”

 

Champ rolled his eyes before putting his sunglasses on his face and leaning back, spreading his legs wide open as he took up more than half the small bench.

 

“You look fine,” he said, glancing at the overly large, shiny watch at his wrist. “Are you ready to go? I’ve got a meeting downtown in an hour.”

 

I think Chump is more like it, Nicole thought. She glanced at Doc to gauge his reaction to the scene before them, but his face was resolutely blank. Probably not the first time he’s seen this play out.

 

“Gee, thanks,” Waverly said quietly, but stood up and gathered her things. “The photogs are supposed to be over by the lake, so let’s head that way so they can get their shots and then we’ll be done.”

 

Nicole noticed that Waverly’s tag was sticking up noticeably out of the back collar of her dress. She was sure the starlet would be horrified to see it show up in magazine photos.

 

Shit, what is the protocol here? she thought quickly, noting that Waverly and Champ were moving away from their position to round the fountain. Nicole glanced towards Doc, but he was already a few feet away, keeping distance between him and the couple.

 

Fuck it.

 

“Miss Earp!” Nicole called out as quietly as she could. She lengthened her stride to close the distance between them faster.

 

Waverly had turned around upon hearing her name, her eyebrows clearly raised over her sunglasses at Nicole’s approach.

 

“What are you doing?” Waverly practically hissed at her.

 

“You’ve got a…here it’s just…” Nicole didn’t bother trying to explain. She reached behind Waverly’s neck until she felt the offending tag, quickly tucking it in with her thumb before stepping back. “Good as new, sorry,” she said with a shrug, turning to walk back towards Doc before drawing attention to their group.

 

Nicole said nothing as she fell into step beside Doc, Waverly still looking her way as Champ asked her “Who the hell is that?”

 

“Nobody,” Waverly said, turning to continue walking past the fountain. “New security that Doc is trying out.”

 

Nicole watched Waverly run her hand behind her neck to touch the place where the tag had been, glancing towards her and Doc again as she did so.

 

Champ grunted in response as he slipped his hand into Waverly’s and gripped it tightly. “Can’t believe he’d get you a chick for a bodyguard,” he said.

 

Waverly said nothing, not that Nicole was surprised.

 

The group continued to move, Nicole spotting the photographers about a hundred yards ahead of them closer to the large lake.

 

“What was that about?” Doc finally asked, not looking Nicole’s way as he addressed her.

 

Nicole felt herself flush at the question. “Sorry, I just figured she’d be upset if she saw her tag sticking out in a photo. It was such an easy fix so I just…” she shrugged, knowing Doc wasn’t looking at her but hoping he got her meaning.

 

A small smile played across Doc’s lips before he spoke. “I’m sure she appreciated it,” he said.

 

Nicole didn’t reply, noting that the photographers had finally taken notice of the couple. The clicking of cameras could be heard from where they stood, and Nicole watched with interest as Champ and Waverly just chatted idly as they walked hand in hand, seemingly ignoring the activity around them. Champ dropped Waverly’s hand and slid an arm around her waist instead, pulling her into his body as they walked. His hand sat dangerously low on her hip, and Nicole fought a smirk as she watched Waverly smoothly reach behind her to grab his hand again and remove it from her body.

 

A few more cameras clicked, and Waverly and Champ made a loop around the lake, the photo opportunity clearly at an end. The photographers’ presence had caught the attention of several onlookers, some of whom were now venturing closer to the couple’s position.

 

Champ seemed to notice them first, letting go of Waverly’s hand and taking a few steps away as people began to approach them.

 

“I’ll see you later, baby, I’ve gotta run!” he practically jogged away from the scene, heading towards the park’s west exit and waving half-heartedly as some fans yelled his name after him.

 

“Champ, what-“ Waverly threw up her hands and turned towards Doc and Nicole, heading back the way they had come and towards where Xavier was waiting with the car.

 

One of the braver photographers jogged their way, likely trying to approach Waverly for a comment of some sort. Nicole watched Doc intercept him, holding up his hands and indicating that he needed to give Waverly space. Doc turned back to Nicole after the paparazzo gave up and headed back the way he’d come.

 

“You follow behind, I’ll stay in front of her. Don’t let anybody get too close unless she says it’s ok. Got me?” Doc spoke quickly to Nicole, eyeing the small crowd that was now trailing them as they walked.

 

“Got it.”

 

Nicole circled around behind Waverly, a bit closer to her than she had been previously. People were now shouting Waverly’s name, and the woman had a smile plastered from ear to ear and was waving at them as she kept walking.

 

Strong poker face, Nicole thought.

 

“Waverly, can I get a selfie with you please?!” a young girl of about thirteen approached, and Waverly stopped on the path to let her get closer.

 

“Sure yeah,” she said, gesturing for the girl to go ahead and take a photo. The young girl leaned in, smiling hugely as her phone’s camera clicked.

 

Nicole stood close, keeping her eyes on the surrounding crowd and the girl’s hands as she stood next to Waverly.

 

“You’re my favorite actress ever”, the girl said. “Thank you so so much!”

 

“You’re welcome, and thank you for saying that.” Waverly waved at the girl and kept walking.

 

People were taking pictures with their phones as they walked, and Nicole wished she could shield Waverly from the prying eyes all around her.

 

There was a group of young men, maybe college aged, who had taken notice of the crowd and were now approaching Waverly from an adjacent path. They looked like part of a football team, and Nicole instantly picked up her pace to bring herself closer to Waverly’s side.

 

Waverly seemed to notice them at the same time, and Nicole saw her body tense, her grip tightening on her purse strap as they walked quickly. Doc was just ahead of them, Xavier’s car in their sights now, but the group of men was approaching from a path to their left.

 

Nicole clenched her jaw as she heard the catcalls start.

 

“Can we get out of here please?” Waverly said under her breath, but not so low that Nicole didn’t hear her.

 

“I’ve got you, just keep moving.” Nicole was close enough now that her hand occasionally brushed the fabric of Waverly’s dress, and she stayed put as their paths crossed that of the rowdy young men to their left.

 

“Oh c’mon baby, just smile for us won’t you?” one of them shouted, holding up his phone and laughing as Waverly just lowered her head and kept her eyes on the ground.

 

“Keep your head down, you’re doing great. I’m right here,” Nicole said quietly, loud enough for only Waverly to hear. “Twenty more feet, Xavier is right there waiting for you.”

 

Xavier had the door open as soon as they exited the park, Dolls standing next to the open car door and surveying the small crowd that had followed them.

 

Nicole placed a hand on Waverly’s back as she ushered her into the car, Waverly collapsing into the seat and Xavier closing the door immediately. Waverly was instantly shielded from the crowd by the car’s tinted windows.

 

Nicole let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, nodding to Doc as she walked around the back of the car and he went around the front, both of them sliding into their seats quickly as Xavier pulled away from the curb.

 

She chanced a look at Waverly, her grip still white on the strap of her purse as it sat in her lap. She was breathing a bit heavily, her gaze trained out the window as the buildings sped past.

 

Doc turned around from his seat in the front. “You ok, Miss Earp? It got a little crowded there at the end, but you did well. You too, Haught,” he said, turning to address Nicole. “Well done getting her out of there quickly.”

 

Nicole nodded silently. Waverly was looking at her then, her gaze unreadable behind the dark sunglasses she still wore. Nicole looked at her own reflection in the glasses for a few seconds, wondering what the woman was thinking. She finally gave up and settled for looking out the window, her fingers drumming on her thigh as they went.

 

What an insane way to live, she thought, reflecting on the scene she had just witnessed. A woman and her boyfriend walking through the park, and all of a sudden a small mob scene breaks out just to snap a few pictures and yell some choice words at them, all because they’re in some movies or TV shows that people like. Nicole couldn’t fathom a life like that, but she expected she was about to get a behind-the-scenes look if she was able to keep this job.

 

***

 

It took 14 blocks for Waverly to finally release the death grip she’d had on her bag. She counted them in turn as the cross streets whizzed by, or crawled by depending what part of town they were currently in. She let herself relax back into the leather seat of the car, releasing the tension she’d subconsciously been holding in her back and shoulders.

 

With a sigh she pulled out her phone and scrolled through a few media pages, seeing some photos of her and Champ had already made it onto some of the magazine’s Instagram pages with a snippet of what the following day’s headline would be. She locked her phone again and slid it back into her purse.

 

All for the good of the movie, she thought. I hope the studio is happy.

 

She was sure they would be. The photos of her and Champ holding hands and gazing happily at each other were exactly what fans would want to see, and it would drum up the perfect publicity for the romantic comedy she and her boyfriend were shooting later that summer.

 

If only pictures told the whole story, she thought bitterly.

 

The truth was, she and Champ had been on the rocks for a while now, the latest scandal about him cheating on her with some younger, blonde musician not helping matters much. The studio had insisted on some positive publicity from the two of them due to Champ’s alleged infidelity, and that’s exactly what they’d just delivered.

 

Waverly wasn’t an idiot, and it wasn’t lost on her that Champ had only laughed at the latest gossip rags calling him a cheater, never bothering to deny the rumors to Waverly’s face. He was a classic player, and although things had been good between them once, Waverly wasn’t so sure she was happy in their relationship anymore. She wanted…more. And she wasn’t sure Champ had any more to offer her. She sighed, knowing she would be stuck with him for the remainder of the summer, not to mention the press junkets leading up to the movie’s premiere.

 

Great.

 

Her sigh drew the attention of the woman next to her, and Waverly glanced at the look of concern on Nicole’s face.

 

Speaking of being stuck with people, Waverly thought, turning her gaze back out her own window with a frown.

 

Nicole Haught was perplexing. What was up with that thing in the park earlier, fixing her tag like that? Did the woman actually give a shit about how Waverly would look in photos? Was she just being nice? Waverly had to admit, she had felt safe with Nicole when those guys were approaching them. It hadn’t even occurred to her in the moment that she wished Doc had been the one by her side. Strange.

 

Nicole had done her job well, and she’d made Waverly feel protected even when she was on the edge of a panic attack. You’re doing great, I’m right here, Nicole had said, and she had been.

 

Waverly glanced over at Nicole again, seeing nothing but dark red hair pulled back into a neat bun at the back of her neck as Nicole looked out the window, her long fingers drumming quietly on her thigh in a repetitive pattern. Waverly stared at her fingers and counted the taps against Nicole’s thigh until she felt the car come to a stop.

 

“Home again, Miss Earp,” Xavier said cheerfully, meeting her eyes in the rearview mirror as he put the car in park in front of her building. He went to unhook his seatbelt to get out, but Nicole’s voice stopped him.

 

“I’ve got it,” she said quietly, getting out and holding her own door open so Waverly could slide out on the side facing the sidewalk instead of the busy street.

 

Waverly scooted over and slid out of the car, squeezing past Nicole as she made her way towards the shiny revolving door. Her doorman, Hector, was at his usual post, a smile spreading across his face as he spotted her approaching.

 

Waverly turned back as Nicole was getting back in the car.

 

“Thank you. For today,” she said, not knowing what else to say but feeling like she owed the redhead something.

 

“That’s my job,” Nicole said simply, giving her a brief nod before pulling the car door closed and disappearing behind the tinted windows.

 

Waverly made her way into the building, thanking Hector as he spun the door for her to walk through. She got in the elevator and slid her security key over the reader before pressing the button for the penthouse.

 

I suppose that very well might be her job after all, Waverly thought, stepping out into her brightly lit apartment as the elevator chimed. Better get used to the idea.

Chapter Text

Doc went over the next day’s schedule with Nicole as Xavier drove the five blocks to her apartment. She had been surprised to find that she and Waverly lived so close to each other, but those five short blocks definitely made a difference when it came to both price and neighborhood atmosphere.

 

Waverly’s building was all gleaming gold and shiny metal architecture, while Nicole’s was a five-floor walk-up with barely enough room for her and her cat, Calamity Jane. Nicole wondered idly if she would ever see the inside of the star’s apartment, but quickly shook her head with a laugh as she pushed open the creaky door to her own place. Of course you won’t idiot, you’re the help not her friend.

 

Calamity Jane was immediately circling her ankles and rubbing against her pant legs, purring loudly as she did so.

 

“All right, all right, give me two seconds, would you?” Nicole scolded, knowing her cat must be hungry after the long day out. She put some food in CJ’s bowl and placed it on the floor for her, making her way through the apartment to the bedroom.

 

The apartment was small, about 700 square feet, but it was the perfect size for Nicole. There was her bedroom, only big enough to fit a queen-sized bed much to her dismay, and the adjacent bathroom that had been tastefully redone with white subway tile on all four walls. Outside of that, there was the tiny kitchen with newish appliances and the small living area, Nicole’s well-worn brown leather sofa taking up most of it. She had a small table that seated two tucked against the kitchen wall, and that was about it as far as furniture went.

 

Nicole moved through her bedroom, not realizing how exhausted she was until she finally removed her suit jacket and hung it on a hanger behind the door. Wearing suits in the summer was going to suck given the east coast humidity, but she supposed that’s what dry cleaning was for. Her neighbor, Mr. Hahn, owned her go-to dry cleaners just around the corner, and he was the only one Nicole trusted with her suits. The man was a genius when it came to starching shirts.

 

Nicole removed her sweaty one and hung it on the back of the closet door along with her jacket, the rest of her clothes soon following as she walked to the bathroom and turned on the shower. Nicole eyed her multitude of scars in the mirror, not being able to help it although she had spent many months trying to avoid looking at them. It had become part of her morning ritual, running her fingers over the pale red and white lines spreading across her collarbone, upper chest and ribs on her right side. Memories of a day she’d never be able to forget, even without the scars as reminders.

 

Clearing her head of her memories, Nicole thought over what she and Doc had discussed about the following day’s schedule as she washed the day’s sweat from her body. Waverly had a photo shoot followed by an interview with someone from People magazine. The photo shoot was in an uptown loft, and the interview would be at a coffee shop a few blocks away.

 

Xavier would pick Nicole up at 10:00, so she had a bit of time to sleep in for once.

 

Fat chance, she thought, knowing full well that she’d be up at her usual 5:00 AM no matter what time she had to go to work.

 

Some military habits died hard, and some didn’t die at all. Like her insistence on keeping up with her morning workouts, something that had been drilled into her since Basic Combat Training many years ago. Nicole was ecstatic when she found out her building had its own gym on the ground floor, and that had been one of the deciding factors when she had picked her apartment. That, and its proximity to the subway station, which was practically prime real estate in the city.

 

Nicole finished her shower and climbed into bed with damp hair, setting her phone’s alarm for 5:00. She’d work out, have some breakfast, and still have plenty of time to get ready before Xavier showed up. Nicole was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, dreaming of walks in the park and hipsters with tight pants.

 

***

 

Xavier had picked Nicole up first today, explaining when he arrived that Doc had a change of plans and was now meeting them at the photoshoot instead of riding with them. Nicole slid into the front seat and stared out at the bustling city before them, cars inching along in traffic and horns blaring sporadically as they crawled through a busy intersection.

 

“So, Haught, where are you from?” Xavier asked. “I’d bet money you’re not from around here.”

 

“What makes you say that?” Nicole asked.

 

“Two things. First, your accent.”

 

Nicole raised her eyebrows, surprised Xavier had picked up on the accent that she considered pretty much gone at this point.

 

“It’s faint, but it’s there,” he said with a wink. “Somewhere in the south?”

 

Nicole laughed and nodded in amusement. “Just outside of Atlanta,” she said.

 

“I knew it!” Xavier slapped his palm on the steering wheel proudly. “You can take the girl out of Georgia…”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Nicole laughed. “What’s the second thing?”

 

“Oh, the fact that you actually pay attention to the city, really look at everything. People who live here barely look up from their phones. Nobody’s paying attention to the buildings, the sidewalks, the people. You do, though. Saw it from day one.”

 

“Hm,” Nicole grunted noncommittally. “I’ll keep that in mind if I’m ever trying to blend in, make sure to just stare at my phone and walk right through people.”

 

Xavier laughed. “You’ll fit right in,” he said, pulling over to the curb in front of Waverly’s building.

 

He glanced at the clock, noting that Waverly should be down in a minute or two so they could make the photoshoot. He tapped his fingers idly on the steering wheel as they waited.

 

“Are you from here?” Nicole asked.

 

“Yeah, born and raised in the Bronx,” he said. “My whole family still lives within three blocks of each other. It’s like a family reunion every time I try to walk to the corner store.”

 

Nicole laughed at that, and she saw movement out of the corner of her eye as Hector pushed the revolving door and Waverly stepped out of the building.

 

Nicole got out and opened the car’s back door for Waverly. She noted with surprise that Waverly was dressed more casually than she’d ever seen her, wearing ripped jeans, a white v-neck shirt, and black sneakers. Her hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail, and she went without her overly large sunglasses today, the overcast weather making them unnecessary. She wasn’t wearing any makeup as far as Nicole could tell, and the natural look made her appear much younger than her twenty-three years.

 

Startlingly green eyes met Nicole’s briefly before Waverly placed a hand on the car door and slid into the back seat without a word. Nicole shook her head and closed the door softly behind Waverly, getting back into the passenger seat and buckling herself in.

 

“Good morning, Miss Earp,” Xavier said, glancing at Waverly in the rearview mirror. “All set?”

 

“Morning,” Waverly answered. “Let’s do it.”

 

They drove in relative silence, the occasional tapping of Waverly’s nails on her phone the only thing Nicole could hear when there was a break in the honking outside.

 

Not much of a talker, this one, she thought. Or too busy in internet land…

 

Nicole wondered if celebrities ever got tired of seeing their own faces all over social media and their TVs. She felt certain it would give her some sort of unhealthy complex to be put in that position every day.

 

Waverly cleared her throat and spoke up from the back seat.

 

“No Doc today?” she asked.

 

Nicole assumed Waverly wasn’t speaking to her, so she let Xavier answer.

 

“He’s meeting us at the shoot, Miss Earp. He had a meeting this morning to discuss some things with Mercedes.” Xavier must have realized Nicole wasn’t following the conversation because he addressed her next.

 

“Mercedes is Waverly’s publicist,” he explained, and Nicole nodded her thanks to him, filing that information away so she wouldn’t forget the name.  

 

Waverly didn’t comment, and a few minutes later Xavier double parked in front of a nondescript building on the upper east side. He put the hazard lights on and rolled down Nicole’s window, waving hello to Doc who was leaning against the outside of the brick building.

 

Doc pushed off the building and made his way over to the car, opening Waverly’s door before Nicole had a chance to get out.

 

“Morning, Miss Earp. Haught,” Doc said, nodding at both women as they exited the vehicle and stepped between parked cars to get to the sidewalk.

 

“Hello, Doc,” Waverly said, a genuine smile stretching her face briefly before disappearing again just as quickly.  

 

Nicole entered the building first, glancing around the lobby while she held the door open for Waverly to enter with Doc on her heels. It looked like a pretty average apartment building from what Nicole could tell. They got into the elevator and Doc pushed the button for the 6th floor.

 

“I believe it’s your favorite photographer today, Miss Earp,” Doc said. “Mercedes said you’d be happy about this one.”

 

“Oh really, it’s Alexander?” Waverly asked, enthusiasm suddenly brightening her mood. “Thank god, this’ll be great then.”

 

Nicole wondered what the difference was between one photographer and the next, but she assumed there must be a reason behind Waverly’s preference. Maybe she finds him attractive or something, Nicole thought.

 

The group exited the elevator on the sixth floor and Doc led the way to a seemingly typical apartment marked 6E, knocking twice before turning the handle and opening the door inward.

 

Not quite so typical then, Nicole thought, taking in the enormous space.

 

The place was huge, and it was bustling with people but devoid of any permanent furniture. Nicole’s eyes traveled immediately upward to take in the 15-foot-tall ceilings, wondering how places like this actually existed in Manhattan. The loft had exposed brick on its interior walls, and the windows looked to be original, taking up most of the eastern side of the room. The light streaming in was soft but lit the space well, not that the room needed any assistance thanks to all of the photography equipment and lights set up on tripods all over the space.

 

There were people adjusting equipment everywhere, some dragging large wooden crates to the center of the room while others immediately began draping those crates in soft fabric. A few people were unrolling a wide white screen of some sort behind the crates, and Nicole realized that would be the backdrop for the photos.  

 

A man with a camera hanging around his neck was snapping pictures as the crew worked, checking the screen after each click.

 

“Could you move that front crate about five inches to the right, Sara?” he asked, a young woman in black-rimmed glasses immediately doing his bidding. He snapped another photo as she adjusted the fabric over the newly positioned crate.

 

“Yeah, that’s better,” he said, checking the camera’s screen.

 

The man turned to face them then, and Nicole’s eyes widened in surprise at how young he looked. He can’t be more than nineteen, Nicole thought, taking in the man’s arms which were completely covered in colorful tattoos, down to the backs of his hands and even some of his fingers.

 

She quickly realized her assumption about Waverly being attracted to the photographer was completely off base, as Nicole was certain this young man was very, very gay. She noted his neon pink nail polish and held back a grin as his face lit up when he spotted Waverly.

 

“Oh my god, come here gorgeous!” He held his arms out wide, and Waverly surprised Nicole by walking straight into his arms and returning his hug tightly before stepping back and holding onto his shoulders.

 

“You’re looking great, Alex!” Waverly said, a real smile on her face for the first time that Nicole had seen. “How’s that boyfriend of yours? Did he put a ring on it yet?” Waverly held up Alex’s left hand and looked at his bare fingers in disapproval.

 

“What did I tell him when I saw you guys at my birthday party?” Waverly asked teasingly.

 

Alex smacked Waverly’s hand before taking his own jewelry-free fingers out of her grasp.

 

“I’m way too young and fabulous to be married,” Alex said with a wink. “Plus, you know Benny is too terrified I’ll say no to ever ask me. I’ll propose to him eventually, maybe when we’re thirty.”

 

Waverly smacked his arm and shook her head with a laugh. “You’re impossible. I want a wedding and little tattooed babies, stat. I mean it, Alex.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, you first. I don’t see any diamonds on those fingers of yours either, honey,” Alex said with a raised brow.

 

Waverly’s smile faltered a little at that, and Nicole wondered what the look meant.

 

“Oh you know Champ, always too worried about the next big role rather than thinking about what’s next for us,” Waverly said with a shrug. “But forget all that, let’s take some gorgeous photos my little prodigy,” she said, her smile returning.

 

Alex waved a hand dismissively at her. “Just because I’m the youngest photographer to ever shoot for Vogue doesn’t mean I’m a prodigy.”

 

He seemed to think over his words for a minute before continuing with a grin.

 

“Actually, it really fucking does, doesn’t it?” Alex said with a laugh as Waverly rolled her eyes.

 

Nicole smiled at the banter between the two. I see why she likes this kid.

 

While Waverly went to sit in the hair and makeup chair in the far corner of the room, Alex noticed Doc and Nicole still standing close to the entrance of the loft. He waved them in with a smile and Nicole followed Doc’s lead as they made their way towards the photographer.

 

“Doc, it’s great to see you again,” Alex said, reaching out a tattooed hand to shake Doc’s.

 

“Always a pleasure, Mr. Hart,” Doc said.

 

Alex turned his attention to Nicole, who quirked an eyebrow at the young man’s open appraisal of her.

 

“And who do we have here?” Alex asked, reaching out a hand that Nicole shook with a small smile before letting go.

 

“Nicole Haught,” she said.

 

“Miss Haught is a new member of Waverly’s security detail. I’m hoping she’ll be taking my place so I can retire in a few weeks,” Doc explained.

 

Alex nodded but didn’t seem to be listening.

 

“Your last name is Hot?” he asked with a grin. “Honey, that is the best thing I’ve heard in weeks. I can’t wait to tell Ben about this. Is that your natural hair color? It’s amazing. Also what nicknames do people call you? I bet there must be some good ones…hot sauce? Hot pants?” He spoke so quickly Nicole had trouble keeping up with his train of thought.

 

She had no idea what to say to his questions, so Nicole looked to Doc for help.

 

The older man laughed and shook his head. “I wouldn’t advise messing with her, Mr. Hart. Nicole here can certainly handle herself, and you if need be,” he said, pointing at Alex’s chest in mock seriousness.

 

“Oh, I’d let her handle me, all right,” Alex said, flinching when Doc smacked the back of his shaved head with his palm. “Kidding, kidding!” he said holding his palms out in a gesture of peace.

 

“I’m just saying, Miss Haught here certainly lives up to her name, that’s all. Can’t a guy give a beautiful woman a compliment?” Alex asked.

 

“Not when that guy is extremely gay and soon to be engaged.” Waverly’s teasing voice from over her shoulder caught Nicole’s attention.

 

Nicole turned around and did everything in her power to keep her eyes trained on Waverly’s face and not let them wander lower.

 

Waverly was now in full studio makeup, and her hair had been let down and curled into soft waves that fell around her face and past her shoulders. She was wearing a robe that tied at the waist, and Nicole focused on not letting her eyes fall to the strip of skin on display at Waverly’s throat.

 

Jesus, get a grip, Haught. You’ve seen beautiful women before.  

 

Alex looked at Nicole curiously before ushering Waverly towards the mini stage his team had constructed for the shoot.

 

“Enjoy the shoot, Miss Haught. You’ll have to let me know what you think of the photos afterwards,” he said with a grin.

 

“Um, sure,” Nicole said, not knowing why a professional photographer would care about her opinion on the photos.

 

She heard Doc chuckle beside her as he turned to walk towards the wall of windows where they’d be out of the way.

 

“A real character, that kid,” Doc said as they made themselves comfortable and each grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler the staff had provided. “Waverly’s right to call him a prodigy, he’s been asked to shoot for some of the biggest publications out there, and he dropped out of college after only a year. The kid’s talented, I’ll give him that.”

 

“Why is he Waverly’s favorite?” Nicole asked. “Other than his obvious charm and personality,” she continued with a roll of her eyes.

 

“He makes the shoots fun, and he makes Waverly feel comfortable. I know she acts tough, but Miss Earp actually harbors quite a bit of self-doubt, and I think Mr. Hart is able to help her get past that and make her feel her best, which of course makes the photos turn out incredible as well. You’ll see what I mean,” Doc said, nodding towards Alex as he wrestled with a small remote in his hand.

 

The room quieted down as Waverly sat comfortably on one of the fabric-draped crates. Nicole was surprised she was still wearing the robe she’d had on a few minutes before, assuming Waverly would have changed into a fancy outfit now that they were about to start.

 

Maybe it’s an ad for the robe company? Nicole wondered, watching Alex continue to struggle with the remote.

 

“Ha!” he exclaimed, pushing a button that dimmed the surrounding lights in the room. Waverly was now illuminated by the lights the crew had set up on tripods around her, the literal brightest thing in the room while the rest of the space was lost in shadows.

 

“Given this is a more…sensitive shoot, I’m going to step just outside. Keep an eye on things, but Waverly is in good hands here so you can relax,” Doc said, squeezing Nicole’s shoulder as he walked past her towards the door.

 

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Nicole had literally no idea what the man was talking about.

 

Her eyes went back to Alex, who was now oddly scrolling through his cell phone.

 

“What are we in the mood for today, my muse?” Alex asked Waverly.

 

She laughed and rolled her eyes, looking thoughtful for a minute before answering.

 

“How about H.E.R.’s new album,” Waverly said, earning a small cheer from Alex.

 

“Oh my god yes, girl you could not have picked better mood music for this shoot!”

 

He typed something into his phone and tapped the screen, and Nicole understood that his phone must be connected to Bluetooth speakers in the loft. Soft R&B music began to play, something Nicole had never heard but immediately liked. It sounded kind of…sultry, which made Nicole more confused than ever.

 

Alex tucked his phone into his back pocket and raised the camera around his neck to take a few shots of Waverly simply sitting in the same position, not trying to pose or do anything special. He checked the screen and asked an assistant to adjust the lighting on Waverly’s right side, which was done in a matter of seconds.

 

Nicole noticed Waverly fidgeting with the ends of the tie keeping the robe closed, suddenly looking a little nervous if Nicole was reading her correctly.

 

“Ok gorgeous, you ready?” Alex asked.

 

Waverly took a deep breath and nodded. She stood up and loosened the tie around her waist.

 

Nicole held her breath and squeezed the life out of the water bottle in her hand as she watched Waverly slip the robe off her shoulders and hand it to Alex’s assistant. She was wearing a matching black lace bra and panty set, and nothing else. Nicole swallowed hard and felt her mouth go dry.

 

Waverly Earp was hands down the most beautiful woman Nicole had ever seen.

 

And she was looking suddenly shy and exposed as she revealed her body to the room full of people around her.

 

Alex turned up the music and brought Waverly’s attention back to him.

 

“You look stunning, Waverly,” he said, taking another test shot and checking the camera’s screen again to make sure the lighting was perfect. “Now let’s sell the shit out of some underwear, shall we?”

 

Waverly laughed at that, and Nicole saw the tension melt out of her body.

 

This is why he’s her favorite.

 

Nicole understood now, and she felt that she had learned a lot about her new client in the few hours they’d been on the set. Waverly was stunning, and she was clearly oblivious to that fact.

 

Nicole mostly listened as Alex gave Waverly instructions, keeping her eyes on the scenery outside the large windows and trying to give Waverly some semblance of privacy given how many sets of eyes were currently on her. Nicole seriously doubted that Waverly would want her eyes to be among the ones watching when she was at her most vulnerable.

 

“Sara, hand her one of those round pillows. Try the red one,” Alex said.

 

Nicole snuck a glance back in Waverly’s direction, curious what the eccentric young artist was up to with the new props.

 

Waverly was seated now, her legs crossed at the knee. She took the pillow from Sara and cradled it in her lap, crossing her arms over it as she held it to her body in a natural pose.

 

“That’s fantastic, don’t move,” Alex instructed. He snapped some photos as Waverly looked into the camera.

 

“Turn your body a little to your left,” he said, and Nicole watched as Waverly angled her body slightly away from Alex and more in her direction.

 

“Perfect, now raise your chin slightly and look at that gorgeous redhead you brought with you.”

 

Nicole’s gaze snapped to the side of Alex’s head, her mouth hanging open at what he’d just said. Alex ignored her, snapping pictures as fast as he could before pausing to change lenses quickly.

 

“That’s amazing, Waverly, don’t move,” he said.

 

Nicole’s eyes drifted back to Waverly, and she found the woman staring right at her. Their eyes locked, and Nicole held her breath. The tension in the room was so palpable she could feel the tiny hairs on the back of her neck standing on end.

 

Waverly broke eye contact first, and Nicole let out the breath she’d been holding. Waverly’s head was now angled down, her chin tucked slightly, a shy smile curving her lips, and Nicole swore she saw a faint blush spread over her tan cheeks.

 

Of course she’s embarrassed, you were just ogling her in front of twenty strangers, Nicole chastised herself. This is so not good.

 

“Holy shit, that’s so good!” Alex cheered, looking at the camera screen. “That’s the shot, Waverly, we’re good babe. Sara, can you give Waverly her robe back?”

 

Nicole watched Waverly stand and accept the robe from Sara, immediately slipping her arms inside and pulling it over her shoulders.

 

“Let me see,” Waverly said, stepping down from the small stage and making her way over to Alex as she tied the robe closed.

 

Nicole watched her face closely, seeing Waverly’s eyes go wide before a slow smile spread across her face.

 

“That looks amazing, you are a genius,” Waverly said, leaning in to kiss Alex on the cheek.

 

“That’s all you, honey. You looked stunning, seriously. Victoria’s Secret better pay you in free bras for life after you sell the shit out of this lingerie for them,” he said with a laugh.

 

“I wish,” Waverly joked back. “But they did send me quite a bit of product after the last shoot I did for them. If you’re extra good this year maybe I’ll send you and Benny something you might look good in for Christmas,” she said with a wink.

 

“Don’t threaten me with a good time, sister,” Alex said, smacking Waverly on the ass as she walked past him and back towards the changing area. Waverly caught Nicole’s eye for a split second but stayed quiet as she walked past her.

 

Nicole shook her head and sighed in relief, thankful the shoot was now over. She needed some fresh air, and the sooner the better.

 

“Don’t think I forgot about you, hot stuff,“ Alex said, making his way over to Nicole. “Take a look.”

 

Nicole was surprised at the offer but took the camera Alex held out to her. She looked at the photo he had pulled up on the screen, the one he had just taken to end the shoot.

 

Waverly was seated and leaning her elbows on the pillow in her lap, one hand draped over her other wrist casually as she looked away from the camera. Her eyes were looking down, her chin tucked slightly into her chest and a small smile turning her mouth up at the corners. She looked relaxed and like she had a secret she was trying to hide from the viewer.

 

She looks sexy as hell.

 

Nicole swallowed and handed the camera back to Alex before she was able to make a complete fool of herself.

 

“She looks beautiful, you did a great job,” Nicole said politely.

 

Alex smiled knowingly at her, and Nicole felt the heat creep up the back of her neck.

 

“I think you two would make a striking couple,” he said casually, as if he had just mentioned the weather outside being overly warm.

 

Nicole couldn’t tell if the kid was being serious or messing with her. She decided on the latter and kept her response neutral.

 

“I’m not really in the habit of dating clients. Or straight women,” Nicole said quietly.  

 

Alex smirked and looked like he was about to say something more before changing his mind. “Whatever you say, Red. It’s not my place anyway.”

 

“What’s not your place?”

 

Nicole jumped at the sound of Waverly’s voice behind her. God, can someone get this woman a bell?

 

“Oh nothing, I was just giving Miss Haught here some free advice, that’s all,” Alex said smoothly. “And thanking her for helping us get the money shot, of course,” he winked at Nicole, who immediately felt herself blush.

 

She checked her watch to cover her reaction and avoid Waverly’s eyes.

 

“Right, we need to get going. Your interview is in twenty minutes and we’re walking there,” Nicole said, turning to head towards the door of the loft.

 

“It was great meeting you, Nicole Haught! I hope to see you again soon,” Alex called after her, and Nicole waved over her shoulder before stepping outside.

 

Doc was leaning against the opposite wall, playing Scrabble on his phone and chewing a piece of gum loudly. He raised his eyes when Nicole stepped out, a smirk instantly making its way onto his face when he saw her approaching.

 

“Yeah, laugh it up, old man,” Nicole said. “You could have warned me.”

 

“And what would have been the fun in that? Plus, I’m teaching you to expect the unexpected,” Doc replied, tucking his phone into his jacket pocket as Waverly exited the loft.

 

“Bite me,” Nicole whispered, leading the way to the elevator before Waverly could ask what they were talking about. She pressed the button for the ground floor a bit harder than necessary, feeling Waverly’s eyes on her as they waited for the elevator to arrive.

Chapter Text

Waverly walked beside Doc, Nicole trailing a bit behind them as they took a left at the next corner and turned downtown.

 

“How was the shoot, Miss Earp?” Doc asked.

 

“It was…interesting,” Waverly decided, landing on the word that made the most sense in her head at the moment. “Alex worked his magic as usual, so the ads will turn out great.”

 

And what the hell was that with Nicole?

 

Waverly thought back to the way their eyes had held after Alex had told her to look at the redhead, and it was all Waverly could do to suppress the shudder she felt at the memory. The way Nicole had looked at her…it gave Waverly chills just thinking about it.

 

Doc’s voice snapped Waverly out of her thoughts.

 

“Nicole will sit inside the café with you, and I’ll keep an eye outside, make sure no crowds start to form if somebody sends out a Twitter that you’re at the café,” he was explaining.

 

Waverly laughed. “A tweet, Doc. It’s called a tweet.”

 

“Tweet, twit, whatever,” he grumbled. “You get my drift. Once too many people realize you’re there, your time’s up, ok?”

 

“Ok,” Waverly nodded, glancing back to make sure Nicole was still behind them. She was a few feet back but still there as always, her eyes scanning over the people they passed.

 

They reached the coffee shop and Nicole went in first, holding the door for Waverly but not drawing attention to her in any way. Waverly ordered herself an iced green tea and went to wait for her drink at the end of the counter. Nicole surprised her by stepping up to the cashier and ordering herself a cappuccino.

 

I guess she’s trying to blend in, Waverly thought. I wonder if she even really likes cappuccinos…

 

Waverly’s order was called, and she took the drink gratefully, scanning the café before a young woman waved her down. She was seated in the back at a small round table, a laptop open in front of her and a pencil tucked behind one ear.

 

Waverly wove her way through the tables and sat across from the woman, placing her drink on the table between them and smiling politely.

 

“Hi, you must be Jackie,” Waverly said, reaching across the table to shake the woman’s hand.

 

“I am, thank you so much for meeting me, Miss Earp,” she said excitedly.

 

“It’s Waverly, please. And it’s my pleasure. I love the magazine, so it’s an honor to be featured in this month’s issue,” Waverly said.

 

Jackie smiled and adjusted the pencil behind her ear. “I’ll be honest, you’re my first big feature story, so I’m super excited about this. I promise not to write anything negative, of course,” Jackie said seriously.

 

Waverly saw a flash of red out of the corner of her eye and spotted Nicole taking a seat at an empty table a few down from their own. She was facing the door, giving her a clear view of the street and Doc through the café windows, as well as Waverly and Jackie. Nicole’s eyes flitted over to their table and Waverly turned quickly to focus on the woman in front of her.

 

“Just write honestly, and I’m sure it’ll be great,” Waverly said sincerely. “We’ve got about twenty minutes, so where would you like to start?”

 

Waverly glanced in Nicole’s direction again as she listened to Jackie rattle off her first question. Nicole’s steady gaze was on her as she sipped her coffee, and Waverly didn’t know how to explain the resulting feeling she got in her stomach.

 

You are not crushing on your new security detail, Waverly Earp. You. Are. Not. Doing. It.

 

She turned her attention back to Jackie and sipped her tea as she contemplated how to answer her question. It was going to be a long afternoon.

 

***

 

The next couple of weeks passed in much the same fashion, although every day was a new adventure. Nicole was quickly realizing there was no end to the variety of appearances and events Waverly was expected to attend. They had even done a random photo op at the city’s aquarium due to Waverly’s apparent love of marine wildlife. Nicole learned from Doc that Waverly donated money to the aquarium’s research fund every year, and that the otters were a particular favorite of hers.

 

Go figure, Nicole thought.

 

The world of a celebrity was an ever surprising one, and Nicole had so far enjoyed never knowing what the next day might bring.

 

On this day in particular, Waverly was doing a podcast interview with a local radio talent, and Nicole was seated in a lounge outside of the recording booth as she waited for the interview to wrap up.

 

A woman approached and sat on the couch next to Nicole, causing her to look up from the article she’d been reading on her phone. She raised an eyebrow when the woman didn’t immediately say anything.

 

“Sorry, hi,” the woman said, holding out a hand. “Samantha Thomas. I work in production here.”

 

Nicole shook the woman’s hand and studied her, wondering why someone in production would approach her. She was blonde, about twenty-five, and had striking blue eyes partially hidden behind black-framed glasses.

 

“Nicole Haught,” she said. “I work for Miss Earp.” She gestured over her shoulder to the booth where Waverly was still chatting with the host.

 

“Ah, right,” the woman said. “She’s great, huh?”

 

“She is,” Nicole replied, not knowing where Samantha was going with this line of questioning.

 

Samantha didn’t speak again right away, leaving Nicole more perplexed than ever as to why she had approached her.

 

Nicole finally spoke to break the awkward silence. “I’m sorry, should I not be sitting here or…?”

 

“Oh no, no!” Samantha answered quickly. “Sorry I’m obviously not good at this. I was just wondering if you’d want to maybe grab a drink sometime?”

 

Nicole’s eyebrows shot to her hairline. She couldn’t remember the last time a stranger had approached her and asked her on a date.

 

She rubbed the back of her neck, trying to think of what to say without hurting the woman’s feelings. The truth was, Samantha was very attractive, and if Nicole had been in a different place in her life, she would’ve jumped at the chance to take her out.

 

Nicole’s luck being what it was, Waverly chose that very moment to walk out of the recording booth, saying her goodbyes and thanking the host for having her. Waverly stopped to survey the silent scene before her, Nicole and Samantha both standing up awkwardly from the couch at her approach.

 

Nicole turned her back to Waverly so she could finally give Samantha an answer. She spoke as quietly as she could, knowing this conversation was not one she should be having while on duty.

 

“Listen, I really appreciate the guts it took for you to come ask me that, but I’m sorry to say I’m going to have to politely decline for the time being,” Nicole said.

 

Samantha seemed disappointed, but she didn’t let it show for longer than a moment. “That’s ok, totally your decision,” she said with a shrug. “Maybe another time?”

 

Nicole thought over her answer before responding. “Maybe another time,” she agreed.

 

Samantha smiled immediately, revealing perfectly straight, white teeth and a dimple in her left cheek. “Great! Here’s my card, give me a call if you change your mind.” She handed Nicole a business card and then turned to walk away, waving a farewell to Waverly over Nicole’s shoulder.

 

Oh crap, Waverly.

 

Nicole tucked the business card into her pant pocket and slowly turned to face her client.

 

Waverly was looking at her with interest, a slight smile on her lips and an eyebrow raised at her in question.

 

Nicole chose to ignore the look and instead asked, “Are you ready to go?”

 

Waverly studied her for a moment longer, causing Nicole to fidget uncomfortably under that piercing green gaze.

 

“Yeah, let’s go home,” Waverly finally said, apparently choosing to let Nicole off the hook.

 

Nicole released a breath and gestured for Waverly to lead the way down the hall. They entered the elevator and Nicole pressed the button to return them to the ground floor. She met Waverly’s eyes in the mirrored doors, and they held each other’s gaze until the elevator pinged and the doors slid open.

 

Penny for your thoughts? Nicole wondered. I might be about to get fired…

 

***

 

When they reached Waverly’s building, Doc surprised her by asking if he could join her upstairs for a few minutes. Waverly answered in the affirmative, and she and Doc entered the elevator to the penthouse.

 

Nicole Haught got asked on a date while simply sitting on a couch outside of a recording booth.

 

Waverly shook her head and smiled to herself. Of course, Waverly had been asked out on hundreds of dates by both men and women of all ages, mainly fans who had innocent crushes on her thanks to her films. However, what Waverly had never experienced was being asked out on a real date by a regular person, not some low-level celebrity who was trying to make a name for themselves by being in Waverly’s circle. Even Champ hadn’t really asked Waverly out when they first started dating, not properly. He had essentially told her he would be making an appearance at a trendy bar the night they met if she wanted to stop by, and the rest was history.

 

Such a romantic, she thought, rolling her eyes at herself. Waverly knew she had set pretty low standards for herself in recent years, and she wondered when she had allowed that to happen.

 

Doc interrupted her train of thought as they exited the elevator, making their way into her apartment.

 

“I wanted to talk about Haught,” he said. “I think she’s done great these past few weeks, and I’m ready to turn the reins over to her.”

 

Waverly placed her purse on the entry table and kept moving towards the kitchen, Doc following behind.

 

She had known this conversation was coming, but she hadn’t expected it so soon. It was only early June, and Waverly thought she’d have Doc with her through the summer season at least. She felt tears well up in spite of herself, and she pulled two bottles of water from the fridge to stall for a few moments.

 

Waverly could tell that Doc didn’t miss the sadness in her eyes as he took the bottle from her with a small smile.

 

“It’s time, Miss Earp,” he said quietly. “Nicole is more than capable, and I know she’ll do everything in her power to keep you safe, just as I’ve done for the past five years.”

 

“I’m not ready for you to leave,” Waverly whispered, the tears filling her eyes in earnest before one slipped down her cheek. She wiped at it with the back of her hand as Doc spoke again.

 

“You’re not the same scared little girl you were when we met, Miss Earp. You’re a grown woman now, one who’s strong and bright and ready to take on the world. You need someone who can do that with you, someone who can devote their time to you and make sure you have the support you need to succeed. I wish I could be that person for you, but at this stage of my life I just don’t have it in me,” Doc said.

 

Waverly nodded her understanding as she wiped her eyes. “I know, Doc. And I don’t want to keep you up at all hours chasing me around the city from one event to the next. I want you to relax, take a break, travel, be happy, do whatever it is you want to do next.” She paused and sniffled before meeting Doc’s kind gaze. “I can never thank you enough for what you’ve done for me. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the guts to get back out there after what happened.”

 

“I don’t believe that for a second, Miss Earp. But I sure am glad I got to be by your side when you did get back out there. It’s been the greatest pleasure of my life, keeping you safe, and I hope you’ll allow Nicole the opportunity to earn the trust that you have given me,” he said.

 

Waverly huffed out a breath but nodded in agreement. “I’ll try, Doc, that’s all I can do.”

 

“That’s good enough for me,” he said. “I’ll speak to Nicole tomorrow and tell her she’s in charge starting next week. Don’t push her buttons or try any crazy stunts with her, you hear me?” Doc said, his voice suddenly stern.

 

Waverly rolled her eyes as she stepped in to give Doc a tight hug. “No promises,” she whispered in his ear, stepping back and giving him a watery smile.

 

He squeezed the tops of her arms and turned to make his way back to the elevator.

 

“You know I’m only a phone call away if you ever need anything,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of your life brings.”

 

“You and me both,” Waverly said. “Take care of yourself.” She gave him a small wave as the elevator doors closed.

 

The following silence made Waverly feel as alone as she’d felt in years. She held onto the edge of the counter and forced herself not to cry.

 

Time to grow up, Earp. The next chapter awaits.

Chapter Text

Nicole’s goodbye with Doc had been short but more emotional than she had expected, at least for her. Doc had informed her that she would be officially taking over as Waverly’s solo security detail starting the following week, and he would be taking some time for himself to escape the city for a while. He told her to call him if anything major came up, but to otherwise lean on Xavier for assistance and work on building trust and communication with Waverly.

 

To that end, he gave Nicole Waverly’s cell phone number, as well as the direct line for Waverly’s publicist, Mercedes Jones.

 

“Mercedes will be in touch a lot. She’s the master of Waverly’s schedule, and she’ll tell you where she needs to be and when. She’s great at her job, and you can trust her to be discreet about anything that comes up, that’s what Waverly pays her for,” Doc explained.

 

Nicole nodded her understanding. “Mercedes is in charge of our lives, and I make sure Waverly is where she’s supposed to be. Got it,” she said with a smile.

 

“And you make sure she’s safe at all times, that’s priority number one,” Doc said, holding up a finger. “I know Miss Earp, and she’ll try to block you out or push you away, but you keep her safe no matter what happens or how she treats you. Do you understand me?” Doc’s tone was serious, and Nicole felt the weight of the responsibility she was being entrusted with settle on her shoulders.

 

“Yes, sir,” she said. “I won’t let you down.”

 

Doc shook his head. “Forget about me, Haught. Don’t let her down.”

 

Nicole nodded and held out a hand to say farewell to her new friend and mentor, one she was losing much sooner than she expected.

 

“I’ve got her back, Doc. I promise.”

 

Nicole had no doubt she would keep her word, she just hoped Waverly wouldn’t make her life miserable in the process.

 

***

 

Waverly was annoyed by how quickly Nicole and Xavier had become friends. Doc had left her team a few weeks before, and Nicole and Xavier had slipped into a seamless routine of their own as if the man had never been there. It upset Waverly the way Nicole had seemingly replaced her long-time protector and friend so easily, and she could admit that she’d taken a lot of her anger out on Nicole over the past few weeks.

 

She mostly gave Nicole the silent treatment, only speaking to her when strictly necessary, but so far Nicole had responded with nothing but stoic professionalism. She was so professional it drove Waverly up the wall. She wished just once she could see a crack in Nicole’s façade, but so far no luck no matter how rude or annoying Waverly was to her. Waverly knew she was being childish, but she couldn’t seem to help herself.

 

This morning they were driving to a photoshoot in Staten Island, and traffic was murder given the summer season and all the people trying to make their way out of Manhattan to enjoy the sunshine. Xavier had the windows down as they crawled along the road over the bay, the breeze stirring tendrils of red hair in Waverly’s periphery. Waverly could see Nicole’s closed eyes and soft grin in the car’s side mirror, and she bit back her annoyance as she once again wished that Doc was sitting in his usual seat in the front.

 

Waverly sighed and went back to looking out her own window as Nicole and Xavier chatted in the front.

 

“What made you want to join the Army?” Xavier asked her, and Waverly found herself listening for Nicole’s response.

 

“It was the family business,” Nicole said. “My grandpa and father both served, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps and serve my country. I joined when I was eighteen and never looked back.”

 

“Where were you stationed?” Xavier asked. “You were in for almost a decade, right?”

 

Nicole nodded in the affirmative. “When I first left Atlanta, I went to Basic in Oklahoma and then did my job training in Missouri. After that, my first duty station was out in Colorado Springs, and I got deployed for the first time after only being there for six months.”

 

Nicole paused and looked thoughtfully out her window before continuing, Waverly’s eyes on the back of her head the entire time.

 

“When I got back after a year overseas, I PCS’d from Colorado to the east coast, only to get put on deployment again two years later. That time was for eighteen months, and I was allowed to stay in Maryland for the next few years until our unit got called to deploy again, Afghanistan this time. We were only there a few weeks before…they sent us home early, and I moved up here from Maryland when my contract was up,” Nicole finished.

 

Waverly wondered about the part of the story Nicole seemed to have left out, but she figured it wasn’t anyone’s place to pry. She couldn’t imagine what it had been like for a young Nicole Haught to be overseas in some desert, trying to keep herself and her fellow soldiers alive.

 

Xavier seemed to sense that Nicole’s mood had dimmed somewhat, so he changed his line of questioning, much to Waverly’s relief.

 

“Is your family still in Atlanta?” he asked.

 

Nicole shook her head. “My dad died a few years ago, while I was on my first deployment, and I don’t really speak to my mom anymore. She lives out in Reno now with her new husband.”

 

How awful, Waverly thought. I wonder why she isn’t close with her mom.

 

“I’m really sorry to hear that,” Xavier said kindly. “You know, if you want to borrow any of my huge Dominican family you just let me know.”

 

Nicole laughed out loud at that.

 

“I might just take you up on that when I want a good home-cooked meal,” Nicole said.

 

When they finally arrived at the large house where the photoshoot was taking place, Nicole exited the car and opened Waverly’s door for her as she always did. They made their way to the front door and knocked before heading inside, leaving Xavier in the car with his book.

 

“What did Mercedes say this shoot was for again?” Waverly asked Nicole as they wandered through the giant house, heading towards the commotion of people putting up tents and hanging backdrops in the back yard.

 

“Some denim company, Levi’s I think,” Nicole replied, pushing the back door open and gesturing for Waverly to go ahead of her into the huge back yard.

 

“Too bad it’s not lingerie again, I could’ve gotten a good tan,” Waverly said, smirking as Nicole clenched her jaw with a sideways glance at her.

 

“It’s too bad,” Nicole mumbled, and Waverly suppressed a laugh, making her way over towards the hair and makeup team who were set up under a large white tent to get her ready.

 

She makes it so easy, Waverly thought.

 

She felt slightly guilty about teasing Nicole, but Waverly had to admit it was her new favorite pastime now that Doc wasn’t around to chastise her for it. It was all harmless, given that obviously nothing would ever happen between the two of them. For all Nicole and the rest of the world knew, Waverly was straight, and she had a feeling someone as uptight as Nicole would have strict rules about dating a client.

 

Not that it matters to me.  

 

She watched Nicole lean against the outer wall of the house, keeping an eye on things but occasionally typing messages on her phone. She wondered who Nicole was keeping in touch with, given that she had said she wasn’t close to any of her remaining family.

 

Waverly knew she wasn’t scrolling through social media. She had tried internet stalking her new bodyguard when Doc first brought her on board, but she couldn’t find the redhead on any of the major platforms. She wondered why someone Nicole’s age wouldn’t be on social media, that seemed odd. She couldn’t be in her thirties yet, Waverly mused, not if she joined the Army at eighteen and served less than ten years. She’s got to be 26 or 27.

 

She also wondered how Nicole could stand wearing those suits of hers in the stifling summer heat.

 

Apparently, Waverly wondered a lot of things about Nicole Haught these days.

 

“You ready, Miss Earp?”

 

The photographer’s assistant led Waverly over to meet the photographer before they got started. Dan was older, probably in his mid-forties, with sandy brown hair and a kind smile. He was very soft-spoken, and Waverly instantly liked his calm vibe. He explained to her what he was thinking for the shoot, and Waverly nodded as he spoke, everything sounding pretty straight forward. There would be no H.E.R. albums or electronic dance tracks at this shoot, but then again there was only one Alexander Hart.

 

She made her way over to the backdrop Dan’s team had set up and listened to his directions as he softly instructed her movements. Waverly went into her usual zone, the place she always went in her mind when she was doing photoshoots or walking red carpets. She tuned her self-conscious mental chatter out and became hyper focused on the details and sounds around her instead.

 

Camera shutter clicking rapidly. Dan’s voice telling her to place her right hand higher on her hip. Tree branches rustling overhead as the breeze lifted her hair. Someone’s phone ringing across the yard. Idle chatter among the assistants and staff. Occasionally humming a random tune to herself as she changed positions.

 

Waverly glanced to her right at Dan’s direction and caught a glimpse of Nicole. She was still standing in the same place, one shoulder leaned against the side of the house, but her back was now half-turned towards Waverly as she surveyed the rest of the people milling around the yard.

 

Waverly had done a few photoshoots since the first one Nicole had attended, and she recognized Nicole’s now familiar routine of keeping her eyes fastidiously away from the action once the photographers got to work. It was interesting, the more closed-off demeanor Nicole had adopted with Waverly since Doc left, and honestly a little frustrating. Waverly thought she was good at putting walls up, but her new bodyguard apparently had them in spades.

 

The rest of the photoshoot passed without much fanfare, and Waverly was grateful for the long drive home so she could close her eyes and let the sun warm her face as Xavier took them back to the city.

 

***

 

Nicole could tell Waverly was excited for today’s event, the brunette practically bouncing in the back seat of the car as Xavier drove them towards the park.

 

That makes one of us, Nicole thought bleakly.

 

The music festival they were heading towards was going to be a security nightmare, and it had been keeping Nicole up at night for days. This would be Nicole’s first time attending an event of this size with Waverly, and the sheer number of people who would be there were going to make her job very difficult.

 

Waverly had been invited to the festival by one of her favorite musicians, and he’d asked her if she would introduce him before going on stage. This was one of the rare appearances that Waverly wasn’t attending out of obligation, and Nicole wished she could be more excited for her.

 

Xavier pulled the car to a stop outside of a gated security stand the park had set up for the performers to enter through, rolling his window down to speak to the police officer on duty.

 

The officer looked in the window and took note of Nicole and then Waverly in the back seat before asking for all of their IDs, which were handed over for him to inspect. He checked his clipboard and nodded, handing their IDs back and explaining to Xavier where he could park to be closest to the main stage.

 

A barricade was raised to allow them to pass, and Xavier slowly guided the car along the walking path that had been turned into a makeshift road leading to a huge stage in the middle of Central Park.

 

“Whoa.” Nicole heard Waverly say from the back seat, taking everything in as they approached the stage.

 

The crowd was massive, and Nicole immediately began scanning for entry and exit points, taking note of how many people seemed to be working behind the stage area. The bass was thumping through the car’s windows, getting more intense the closer they got to the stage. House music was being blasted over the speakers as the crowd eagerly awaited the main performers.

 

Xavier found a parking spot marked “VIP” and slid the car smoothly into it. They were on the back side of the stage, their view consisting of thousands of cables and cords running underneath the towering structure that had been built for this event. On their other side, the rest of the park opened up behind them, barricades creating a temporary wall that would keep any bystanders who hadn’t purchased tickets for the event a good 200 yards away from the back of the stage.

 

Nicole got out and felt the heat and humidity hit her full force. It was almost 85 degrees, and she silently applauded herself for remembering to hydrate throughout the day. She could already feel the sweat beading on her lower back as she opened Waverly’s door, the actress sliding out gracefully but quickly, not wanting to give any backstage paparazzi a glimpse under the short skirt she was wearing.  

 

Nicole closed the door once Waverly was clear of the car, finding green eyes on her as she turned to face her client.

 

“Everything ok?” Nicole asked.

 

“I don’t know, do I need to be worried about my security passing out because she’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt and suit jacket in the middle of Satan’s summer?” Waverly quipped.

 

Nicole felt herself flush at Waverly’s teasing but shook her head. She’d certainly endured much hotter summers than this in the Middle East, all while wearing much more clothing along with a hundred pounds of gear.

 

“I’ll be fine,” she assured Waverly.

 

Green eyes narrowed at her doubtfully.

 

“How about you at least lose the jacket? Maybe you can attempt to blend in for once rather than sticking out like one of the Men in Black,” Waverly suggested.

 

Nicole sighed, realizing she wasn’t going to win this battle once Waverly placed her hands on her hips stubbornly, one eyebrow raised in challenge.

 

“Fine,” Nicole said, barely containing the eye roll that threatened, slipping her suit jacket down her arms and opening the car door to lay it across her seat. Next, she unbuttoned her shirt cuffs at both wrists and rolled each sleeve up to her elbows. Nicole wondered if Waverly would change her mind and ask her to cover up when she saw the dark ink covering both of her arms. She continued rolling her sleeves when she surprisingly didn’t hear any commentary from her client. Nicole finished by undoing another button at her collar, leaving the top two buttons of her shirt undone instead of her usual one.

 

She shoved her hands in her pant pockets and finally met Waverly’s eyes, awaiting her verdict. Nicole physically felt Waverly’s appraisal as much as she saw it, watching her take in the tattoos on her arms with slightly widened eyes, her gaze traveling slowly up to Nicole’s elbows before jumping up to her throat.

 

“Happy?” Nicole asked to break the lingering silence.

 

Waverly met Nicole’s eyes and cleared her throat.

 

“Better, but you’ve got something…” Waverly took a step towards her with an outstretched hand, causing Nicole to flinch and inhale sharply when two fingers suddenly brushed along the scar at her exposed collarbone.

 

“Oh.” Waverly dropped her hand, and her eyes went wide when realization hit her. Nicole took a step back to give herself some space. “I’m so sorry, Nicole, I didn’t realize-“

 

“It’s fine,” Nicole cut Waverly off, adjusting her collar absently with her fingers. She slid her sunglasses over her eyes to protect herself from the look of pity Waverly was now giving her, pity she neither asked for nor needed.

 

“If you’re happy with my wardrobe then let’s get going.” Nicole winced at her own tone, not meaning to speak to Waverly that harshly no matter how uncomfortable she had made her moments before.

 

Waverly nodded silently, falling into step beside Nicole as they made their way up the stairs that led to a side stage platform, which was protected from the crowd’s view by a heavy black curtain. A small green room had been created just off stage for the band to utilize before starting their set, and the lead singer stood up immediately when he spotted Waverly and Nicole approaching.

 

“Waverly Earp, I can’t believe you’re really here, this is so rad!” He talked animatedly, gesturing with his hands as he spoke, the Australian accent catching Nicole off guard.

 

Nicole watched a smile break over Waverly’s face as she extended a hand to the musician. “Thanks so much for having me, I am a seriously huge fan of yours and couldn’t believe you’d want me of all people to introduce your set,” Waverly said, the young man taking her outstretched hand in both of his and shaking vigorously.

 

“Oh my god, are you kidding me? My mates are never gonna believe I got to meet you,” he said, smiling widely.

 

The chanting of the crowd was growing louder by the minute, and Nicole checked her watch.

 

“I think it’s time,” she said, glancing at one of the producers for confirmation.

 

“Miss Earp, right this way,” a young man dressed in all black approached, gesturing for Waverly to follow him towards the stage.

 

“Break a leg,” Waverly said to the musician, giving him a fist bump with a laugh as the young man held out his fist towards her.

 

Nicole followed behind Waverly and the stagehand, their small group stopping when they reached the edge of the heavy black curtain, the stage in front of them drowned in bright light.

 

“Whenever you’re ready, Miss Earp,” the man yelled into Waverly’s ear to be heard over the crowd.

 

She nodded once and took a deep breath, glancing over her shoulder at Nicole.

 

Nicole saw the nerves flash across Waverly’s face and gave her a reassuring smile. “I’ll be right here,” she said, raising her voice so Waverly could hear her.

 

“Ok.” Waverly nodded and turned back to face the stage, her shoulders rising with another deep breath before taking her first stride out into the lights.

 

The crowd went insane at the sight of her, the wall of sound hitting Nicole like a physical wave.

 

Holy shit, she thought, peeking around the curtain to get a look at the masses of people now clapping and waving their hands wildly as Waverly approached the microphone.

 

Waverly had to wait a few long seconds for the crowd to quiet down, smiling and waving as a few voices rose above the rest to shout their undying love for her.

 

“Thank you so much, I love you guys right back!” Waverly said, Nicole watching the giant projection of Waverly on the monitor at the other side of the stage, angled towards Nicole so that the majority of the crowd could see her up close.

 

The crowd cheered loudly again before quieting once more.

 

“First of all, let me just say it is my immense honor to introduce your headliner to you tonight,” Waverly said, her projected voice echoing around the park. “I have been a huge fan of his for years, and when he invited me to come to this show tonight, I couldn’t possibly say no. I think you all know who I’m talking about, right?”

 

Waverly waited with a huge grin on her face as the crowd starting chanting “Troye! Troye!” over and over again, the sheer volume of sound giving Nicole goosebumps.

 

This time Waverly didn’t wait for the crowd to die down before yelling into the microphone. “Everybody put your hands together for my friend, Troye Sivan!” she shouted, turning to face Nicole and the musician grinning by her side as the crowd erupted again.

 

Troye jogged out on stage and gave Waverly a hug as the crowd went nuts, thousands of phone flashes going off simultaneously as they photographed the two celebrities together on stage. Troye finally released her, and Waverly gave one last wave to the crowd. Nicole released the breath she’d been holding now that Waverly was heading back towards her and out of the spotlight.

 

“That was insane!” Waverly shouted close to Nicole’s ear, and Nicole smiled at her enthusiasm as they turned their backs to the stage and returned the way they’d come. Nicole ushered Waverly down the side stairs as the band began playing and Troye started singing an upbeat song behind them.

 

They reached the car, finding Xavier waiting right where they’d left him, and Nicole opened Waverly’s door to usher her inside.

 

She breathed a sigh of relief once Waverly was safely inside the vehicle. Now all they had to do was get her home.

 

***

 

Waverly’s pulse was hammering, the adrenaline from the crowd and being on stage humming through her veins.

 

She leaned up between the two front seats as Nicole was buckling herself in.

 

“Do you think there’s somewhere towards the back we could go and watch for a bit?” Waverly asked.

 

Nicole turned her head so she could meet Waverly’s pleading gaze.

 

“I don’t think there’s anywhere we can go without you being recognized,” Nicole explained, watching Waverly’s face fall. “This crowd is huge, and it isn’t quite dark yet so somebody’s bound to see you. All it’ll take is one fan screaming your name and we’ll have a stampede on our hands.”

 

Waverly sighed and sat back in her seat, Nicole’s response exactly what she’d expected. She knew Nicole was right, but Waverly wished more than ever she could just be a normal person in this moment so she could go watch one of her favorite musicians perform from the crowd.

 

She heard Nicole drum her fingers on the door handle a few times, her gaze trained out the window.

 

“Do you think you could pull over just past that guard stand and park close enough that we could make it back if things get hectic?” Nicole said suddenly, turning to read Xavier’s face.

 

Waverly sat back up, a glimmer of hope in her chest as she awaited Xavier’s response.

 

“I think so,” Xavier finally said. “There’s a pedestrian walkway just off that path, and I think I can park there as long as I stay with the car. If any security approaches me, I’ll just how them my ID and explain who I’m waiting for. It should work, but you’re the boss,” he said to Nicole.

 

Nicole seemed to consider for an eternity, but finally she sighed and glanced over her shoulder at Waverly, who was now bouncing in her seat excitedly again.

 

“No movement without me by your side. If anyone, and I mean anyone, recognizes or approaches you, we’re out of there no questions asked. We’ll stay on the outside of the barriers so we’ll have some separation between you and the crowd. And you’re wearing this,” Nicole said, reaching for a plain black baseball hat she kept on the dash for situations like this and handing it to Waverly.

 

Waverly pulled the hat down over her eyes immediately, grinning from ear to ear but nodding her agreement to Nicole’s terms.

 

“Don’t make me regret this,” Nicole grumbled. “Let’s go, Xavier.”

 

He pulled the car out of the spot and made his way slowly back down the path they’d driven in on. As they passed the security stand, Waverly saw the path Xavier had seen on their way in, and he guided the car over to it. It was mostly shaded by overhead trees, and the side barriers containing the giant crowd were about 50 yards further in through the grass.

 

Nicole got out of the car and pushed her sleeves above her elbows before reaching for the handle to Waverly’s door.

 

Yeah, we’ll come back to the sexy tattoos later, Waverly thought briefly, focusing on their undercover mission for the time being.

 

She exited the car and pulled the hat down lower over her eyes. Nicole’s hand went to her back and guided her towards the barriers.

 

The stage was to their left and pretty far in the distance, but if they were able to stand against the side barrier Waverly would have a pretty decent vantage point to see the giant monitors that were currently showing Troye dancing all over the stage like a madman. The music was quieter from this distance but still easily recognizable to Waverly.

 

The show was sold out, so the crowd filled every inch of the enclosed space. Once they reached their position next to the barrier, Waverly grinned as she took in the concert from the vantage point of a typical member of the crowd. The people on the other side didn’t notice her or Nicole, everyone’s eyes and phones trained on the stage in front of them.

 

Waverly glanced over at Nicole and shot her a grin when brown eyes met hers.

 

“Thank you for this,” she said, hoping Nicole knew how much she meant it.   

 

Nicole nodded in acknowledgment but returned her eyes to the crowd in front of them, her head on a swivel as the masses danced and sang along on the other side of the barrier. Waverly turned her attention back to the stage and reveled in the experience for what could have been hours.

 

She had no idea how long they’d been there when she suddenly felt Nicole’s body tense beside her.

 

Waverly turned to follow Nicole’s gaze, which was currently trained on a group of two men and one woman who had apparently had the same genius idea Nicole had come up with of seeing the concert for free from their mostly hidden vantage point.

 

It’s fine, there’s no way they’ll recognize me, Waverly thought, inching closer to Nicole’s side just in case.

 

Waverly kept her face towards the stage as the clearly drunk trio stumbled behind them laughing and talking loudly. She could feel Nicole’s slow, deep breaths in and out against her arm as she stood with her hands flexed, gripping the top of the barricade tightly. Waverly felt Nicole stop breathing, and she suddenly knew shit was about to hit the fan.

 

“Hey, I love your skirt,” the woman slurred, turning suddenly to face Waverly. “Babe, I told you I wanted that skirt when I saw her on stage, remember?” the woman smacked her companion’s arm to get his attention.

 

The guy was huge, probably 6’2” and bald with heavy chains around his neck. He was wearing a tank top that showed off heavily muscled arms, and his drunken gaze landed on Waverly at his girlfriend’s insistence.

 

Waverly knew the instant the man had recognized her, his bleary eyes suddenly widening with clarity as he pointed his solo cup at her.

 

“Hey, aren’t you that Earp slut?” he swayed a little as he turned to face her fully, his girlfriend grabbing his arm to steady either him or herself, although Waverly guessed maybe both.

 

“No she’s not, so keep it moving,” Nicole said calmly, moving from Waverly’s side to step slightly in front of her.

 

The man seemed annoyed that someone else had spoken to him, and he narrowed his eyes at Nicole.

 

“Don’t tell me what to do, bitch,” he spat, sloshing his drink over the sides of his cup as he gestured aggressively towards Nicole.

 

Nicole stood her ground but said nothing, and Waverly held her breath behind her shoulder.

 

The man looked between Nicole and Waverly a few times, seeming to make up his mind that he wasn’t going to go quietly as he handed the cup to his girlfriend.

 

Nicole spoke quietly but turned her chin to her shoulder so that Waverly could hear her.

 

“When I tell you to move, you run to the car. It’s only fifty yards, and they’re drunk so they won’t chase you. Trust me, ok?” Nicole spoke quickly, keeping an eye on the lumbering drunk in her periphery as he edged his way closer to them.

 

Waverly didn’t respond, realizing the gravity of their situation and what Nicole was suggesting.

 

“Waverly,” Nicole spoke her name a bit louder to get her attention.

 

Waverly’s eyes snapped to Nicole’s, and she nodded to let Nicole know she had heard her.

 

Nicole turned her attention back to the drunk in front of her, and Waverly waited for her signal.

 

I think I’m gonna be sick, Waverly thought.

 

“Babe, c’mon I have to pee,” the woman was now whining, trying to get her boyfriend’s attention as he approached Nicole.  

 

“Not until I teach this one some manners, and then get a selfie with Waverly fucking Earp,” he leered, taking another step towards Nicole.

 

Waverly resisted the urge to grab the back of Nicole’s shirt as the redhead suddenly took her own step forward, creating more distance between herself and Waverly.

 

The drunk’s eyes widened slightly at Nicole’s approach, but he kept moving forward. Waverly watched in horror as the man took a swing the second he got close enough to reach Nicole’s face. Nicole ducked and the punch missed, but the man’s drunken momentum caused him to crash into her with his shoulder, sending Nicole stumbling sideways and allowing the man to fall forward onto his face, right at Waverly’s feet.

 

He recovered quicker than Waverly expected, pushing himself up to his knees and reaching a hand out to grab the bottom of Waverly’s skirt.

 

“My girlfriend said she likes your skirt,” he slurred, giving the fabric a tug and forcing Waverly to take a step towards him.

 

Nicole was suddenly at the man’s back, her tattooed forearm wrapped around his throat and her other hand at the back of his neck. Waverly’s eyes went wide as she watched the man start to struggle in Nicole’s grip, grabbing at her arm and hands to no avail.

 

Nicole’s voice was calm but hard as she looked into Waverly’s eyes. “Move,” she said, gesturing with a jerk of her head for Waverly to run towards the car.

 

Waverly heard the man gurgle and cough as she turned on her heel and sprinted towards where she knew Xavier was waiting for them. A quiet gasp sounded from behind her, and then there was a muffled thud. Waverly kept running as she heard the drunk woman’s raised voice, finally seeing Xavier sitting on the parked car’s hood. He jumped into action when he saw Waverly coming towards him.

 

“Miss Earp, are you ok?” he ushered a heavily breathing Waverly into the back seat but kept the door open, crouching in front of her and looking her over for any signs of injury.

 

Waverly tried to catch her breath as she looked over his shoulder, waiting for any sign of Nicole. Minutes seemed to pass, and finally Waverly saw Nicole walking towards the car at a quick pace. Nicole didn’t seem to be worried about anyone following her, but Waverly kept an eye over her shoulder until she too reached the safety of the car.

 

Xavier turned when he heard Nicole approach. “Haught, what the hell happened?”

 

Nicole ignored him and made her way to Waverly’s side, her eyes scanning over her body quickly before she stepped back and slammed the car door shut.

 

“Get us out of here.” Nicole’s voice was muffled through the car’s windows, but Waverly made out the words before Nicole opened her own door and slid into her seat.

 

Xavier was in the car right behind her, the dim overhead lights illuminating his face briefly.

 

“Jesus, are you ok?” he asked, taking in Nicole’s appearance.

 

Waverly leaned around the back of Nicole’s seat and covered her mouth when she saw the dark bruise already forming on the underside of Nicole’s jaw.

 

“I’m fine, let’s go,” Nicole said, the car’s interior lights dimming once again and casting its occupants in the deep shadows of twilight.

 

Xavier started the ignition and pulled onto the path, quickly locating the exit and pulling out into city traffic. The streets were crowded, and the going was slow as they made their way uptown towards Waverly’s building. The longer they were in the car, the more Waverly felt herself getting ready to crash at the sudden loss of adrenaline. The seriousness of the situation they’d just been in settled over her, and her hands started to shake in her lap. She flashed back to the night that crazy guy had tried to break into her apartment with her inside, and she clenched her fists tightly to try to get the shaking to subside.

 

Mercifully they got to her building a few minutes later. Waverly was forcing her door open before Nicole had even unbuckled her seatbelt; she needed to get inside to the safety of her apartment as fast as possible. Nicole stopped her outside of the car before Waverly could sprint into her building.

 

“Hey, are you ok? He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Nicole spoke quietly, and Waverly shook her head without meeting her eyes.

 

“I’m sorry,” Waverly said, finally raising her eyes to meet Nicole’s. “You were right, it was too risky, and we shouldn’t have been there. All of this is my fault,” Waverly said, her eyes traveling to the now dark purple bruise at Nicole’s jaw.

 

That’s because of you, Waverly thought, disgusted with herself. You and Nicole could have been in serious trouble, all so you could see some stupid concert.

 

“It isn’t your fault that guy was a drunk idiot and his girlfriend happened to recognize you,” Nicole said. “It was just wrong place, wrong time,” she finished with a shrug.

 

Waverly didn’t know how to respond, and she was ready to get inside and spiral into self-loathing for the evening.

 

“Thank you for trusting me,” Nicole said quietly. “If you hadn’t gone when you did, things could’ve gotten uglier.”

 

Waverly shook her head in disbelief that the woman in front of her was thanking her for getting her slugged by a huge drunk.

 

It suddenly occurred to Waverly that she had no idea what had actually happened after she took off towards the car. She remembered Nicole putting a choke hold on the guy, but after that she had no idea what state her would-be attacker had been left in. Clearly, he had somehow landed a punch given the state of Nicole’s face.

 

“You didn’t…I mean the guy isn’t like, dead, right?” Waverly asked.

 

Nicole’s face broke into an amused smile before the pain in her jaw caused her to wince and relax again.

 

“Of course not. You think Doc hired you a murderous psychopath for a bodyguard?” Nicole asked jokingly. “I just put the guy to sleep for a little while, that’s all,” she said simply.

 

Right, silly me.  

 

“But then how was he able to hit you?” Waverly gestured to her own jaw to show Nicole what she meant.

 

Nicole rolled her eyes. “He caught me with an elbow while I had him in the choke, it’ll be fine. Plus, chicks dig scars,” she said with a gleam in her eye. 

 

“Chicks dig…right,” Waverly sighed and shook her head, suddenly exhausted by the day’s events and the frustrating conversation she and her bodyguard were now having.

 

Nicole seemed to pick up on her mood immediately.

 

“You should head inside. Call my cell if you need anything, and I’ll tell Mercedes to reschedule your early appearance tomorrow,” Nicole said, gesturing to Hector to help Waverly inside.

 

“Ok, thanks,” Waverly managed, making her way to the revolving door with Hector now by her side. “And I’m sorry again,” she threw over her shoulder.

 

She felt Nicole’s eyes on her back until she made it safely inside, Hector pressing the button to call the elevator for her. As soon as she made it inside, Waverly stripped off her clothes and collapsed face first onto her bed, pulling the duvet over her and falling asleep in seconds.

Chapter Text

A few days had passed since the incident at the concert, and luckily for Waverly nothing about her run-in with the drunk had made it to the press. All of her appearances had gone smoothly since then, and she was set to start filming her new rom-com with Champ in a few days’ time.

 

Waverly liked the routine of shooting movies, her days taking on a more predictable schedule and the random daily publicity appearances dying down almost completely until filming was done. Sure, she’d have some really long days and late nights on set, but it was all worth it to see a project she and so many others had worked hard on come together in the end.

 

Waverly’s frosted bathroom window was cracked open to let out the steam, the summer heat already permeating the apartment although it was still early. The heat reminded her of that night at the concert, and the way she had stared as Nicole rolled up her shirt sleeves to reveal black ink covering both of her toned arms.

 

It was some kind of script, and then a bird or something wrapped around her right forearm…

 

Waverly wished she could remember better the details of the tattoos she’d seen. Maybe she could ask Nicole to make her dressed down look a more permanent uniform. God knows she should thank her given the wretched heat.

 

Yeah sure, it’s out of concern for Nicole’s comfort, not because you want to ogle her some more, Waverly chastised herself as she finished brushing her teeth.

 

Her phone ringing in the other room put a stop to her ridiculous train of thought, and Waverly padded into her bedroom to pick it up from her nightstand.

 

“Hey Mercedes,” she said. “I’m not running late for anything, am I?” she asked.

 

“No, you’re fine,” Mercedes answered, her voice sounding a bit strained on the other end of the line. “It’s that boyfriend of yours who’s the issue today,” she said.

 

Waverly sat on the edge of her bed, annoyance flooding her as concern took a back seat.

 

What has he done, now?

 

She voiced the question out loud, earning a heavy sigh from her publicist.

 

“He was photographed out drinking with that blonde musician last night, and then he got arrested for a DUI at 2:00 AM,” Mercedes said.

 

“Oh god.” Waverly fell back onto her bed with a sigh. “He didn’t hurt anyone, did he?” she asked worriedly.

 

“No, thank god,” Mercedes said. “However, when the news leaked, the studio dropped him on the spot. They fired him from the movie, Waverly.”

 

Waverly sat back up so fast the room spun in front of her for a second before her vision cleared.

 

“Wait, does that mean the project is canceled, the whole movie is off?”

 

Please say no, please say no, no no no no no.

 

“No, it isn’t. But the studio is scrambling to get you a costar last minute, somebody who is currently free but also not somebody totally unknown. They still want this thing to be a success, no thanks to Champ freaking Hardy,” Mercedes explained.

 

“God, what a mess,” Waverly said quietly, running a hand through her hair. “When will we find out?”

 

“Should be a day or two tops, they’re making calls to everyone you’ve ever seen on a TV screen,” Mercedes said. “I’ll let you know when I hear something.”

 

“Ok. Thanks, Mercedes.”

 

Waverly hung up and collapsed back onto the bed, throwing an arm over her eyes.

 

I swear to god I would have killed that idiot myself if he’d hurt anyone else with his selfish drunk behavior.

 

Waverly was pissed, and not only because Champ could have single-handedly just ruined her biggest project of the year. She prayed the studio was able to find someone halfway decent to play opposite her, or this movie was going to tank worse than the first slasher film she had been an extra in when she was only twelve-years-old.  

 

Fuck this, I’m done carrying that cheating ass’s dead weight.

 

Waverly unlocked her phone and typed a text message before hitting send, knowing it’d likely be a few hours before Champ made bail and was able to see it.

 

Lose my number, you cheating prick.

 

Short, but sweet.

 

Waverly checked her watch and pushed off the bed, deciding a workout was in order to blow off some steam. Waverly wanted to punch something, and she knew just the place to do it.

 

***

Nicole checked her watch for the fifth time in as many minutes. Waverly was running late, and they were taking her to the studio today to begin rehearsals for her new movie. Nicole had gotten an update on the costar drama from Mercedes, and Waverly had been in a foul mood for days thanks to Champ’s antics.

 

Good riddance, if you ask me, Nicole thought. Not that anyone was asking.

 

Realizing there was no way they’d be on time given the late morning traffic, Nicole picked up her phone and dialed Waverly’s cell.

 

“I’m coming,” Waverly said without ceremony, the line clicking off immediately.

 

Nicole glanced at the blank screen before rolling her eyes and slipping the phone back into her pocket.

 

“She’s coming,” Nicole grumbled to Xavier, who just chuckled from the seat next to her.

 

Nicole got out and pulled Waverly’s door open as the starlet finally made her long-awaited appearance outside. Waverly glared at her and slid into the seat, pulling the door closed behind her before Nicole could shut it herself.

 

Fantastic, it’s gonna be another one of those days, Nicole thought with a grimace.

 

Waverly put her headphones in and didn’t say a word the entire ride to the set. Nicole tapped her fingernails against the glass of the window as they drove in silence, even the always cheerful Xavier recognizing the bad mood everyone was in and keeping his banter to a minimum.

 

They showed their IDs to studio security, and Xavier parked outside of Studio 7. Because studio sets had their own on-site security, Nicole and Xavier didn’t have to hang around all day while Waverly worked. They’d drop her off and pick her up when she was done shooting for the day, until they went out on location in the city, in which case Nicole would be nearby in case any fans decided to test their luck with the rent-a-cops the studio hired for those shoots.

 

Nicole exited the car and opened Waverly’s door.

 

“We’ll be back to get you whenever you text us,” Nicole said, although Waverly was already marching away from the car.

 

“Fine,” she said over her shoulder, disappearing into the studio without a backwards glance.

 

“Fine,” Nicole muttered, shutting the car door a bit harder than necessary before getting back into her seat.

 

She hoped Waverly would be in a better mood the next time they saw her.

 

***

 

Waverly shot a quick message to the group text she shared with Nicole and Xavier, knowing they’d need about twenty minutes to get back to the studio at this time of day.

 

Her new costar waited with her outside, the two of them chatting idly as they enjoyed the late afternoon breeze.

 

Drew Clayton was a surprise Waverly hadn’t seen coming, and truth be told her spirits had improved greatly since being introduced to him that morning. He was six feet tall with sandy blonde hair and dark blue eyes that crinkled at the corners when he smiled. He had freckles dusting the bridge of his nose, and Waverly thought it was a shame that the makeup department would cover them up for filming. Drew was your classic boy-next-door handsome, and Waverly thought the prospects for their film were looking better by the minute.

 

It wasn’t long before Waverly saw her car pull up, and Nicole was out to open her door for her without a word.

 

“Is that your security detail?” Drew asked curiously, and Waverly nodded in the affirmative.

 

She realized the need for security probably seemed strange to a relative newcomer to the industry like Drew, although it wasn’t often her male costars needed a close security detail given that they weren’t often targeted by crazy fans, at least not at nearly the same rate her female costars were.

 

“Can I meet her?” he asked. Waverly was surprised by the request but figured it couldn’t hurt.

 

The two of them approached the car, Waverly watching Nicole give Drew a quick once over. Her face was an unreadable mask as always, and Waverly found herself wondering what Nicole would think of the man.

 

“Nicole Haught, meet Drew Clayton. Drew is my new costar on the film, so there may be some hope for us yet,” Waverly said, giving Drew a smile.

 

Nicole gave nothing away but reached a hand out for Drew to shake. “Nice to meet you, Drew.”

 

“Likewise,” Drew said, giving Nicole his customary eye crinkling smile as their hands shook. “I guess you’ve got a pretty big job keeping the crazies away from this one, huh?” he gestured to Waverly at his side.

 

“I guess it’s a good thing it’s my problem to worry about and not yours, right Drew?” Nicole’s tone wasn’t rude, but it definitely wasn’t friendly.

 

Waverly narrowed her eyes at her bodyguard before turning to say goodbye to her costar.

 

“I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow. Good work today,” Waverly said, giving him a small wave before climbing into the back seat.

 

Nicole pulled her own door shut soon after, and Xavier backed out of the lot.

 

“What was that?” Waverly snapped, wanting an explanation for Nicole’s behavior.

 

“I’m sorry, Miss Earp, I didn’t realize we were suddenly on speaking terms again,” Nicole threw back over her shoulder.  

 

“Seriously?” Waverly said. The silent treatment is only fun when I do it.

 

Xavier gave her a nervous glance in the rearview mirror, remaining silent as he wove through traffic.

 

Nicole didn’t respond, and Waverly let out a frustrated huff as she sank back into her seat with her arms crossed over her chest.

 

Maybe I was a bit of an ass the past few days, but that doesn’t mean she gets to treat me like that, Waverly fumed. I was stressed, my asshole boyfriend cheated on me again, and now the news is out there for everyone to laugh about. PLUS, our movie could’ve tanked because of him. None of this is my fault!

 

Waverly stared out the window as the thoughts swirled in her mind. By the time they reached her building, she had cooled off and decided to at least try being civil to Nicole. After all, none of this was her fault either, and Waverly knew she had behaved poorly over the past week.

 

Nicole opened her door, and this time Waverly met her eyes as she stepped out of the car.

 

“Thank you,” she said simply, watching Nicole’s eyes widen in surprise before she steeled her expression back into its usual mask.

 

“You’re welcome. Goodnight, Miss Earp.”

 

Nicole was back in the car before Waverly made it to the door, giving Hector a wave as she entered.

 

Baby steps, Earp. Baby steps.

 

***

 

Judging by Waverly’s improved mood, Nicole assumed shooting had been going well the past few weeks. The harsh heat of summer had finally taken a turn for the better, and the crisp air of early September had finally arrived. Fall on the east coast was Nicole’s favorite time of year, and she couldn’t wait for those cool fall nights when she could leave her windows open in the evenings.

 

Xavier had surprised Nicole by inviting her to a Labor Day cookout his family was hosting, and she readily accepted the offer of her coworker and now friend. After all the crazy stories Xavier had told her, Nicole couldn’t wait to meet his boisterous extended family, and she knew the food would be amazing.

 

Even more surprising was the fact that Waverly had also accepted Xavier’s invitation. Nicole assumed Waverly would politely decline, but when Xavier had pitched the idea to her one evening as they drove her home, Waverly had eagerly accepted.

 

Nicole had admittedly been slightly annoyed when Waverly had requested to bring Drew along, but of course it wasn’t her place to judge who Waverly was dating these days. If her client was happy, Nicole would be happy for her.

 

Well, she would keep working on being happy for her.

 

The night of the cookout finally arrived, and the weather couldn’t have been better. Nicole opted for a short-sleeved button down and khaki pants, her favorite black snapback turned backwards over her shoulder length hair.

 

She could hear the music pumping and voices carrying from the backyard as she knocked on the door to Xavier’s mother’s townhouse in the Bronx. It was an end unit with a nicely kept front yard, and Nicole pushed the door open slowly as she heard a loud “It’s open!” from inside. There were people everywhere, everyone talking loudly and cups being passed around to anyone who didn’t already have a drink.

 

Nicole felt a cool plastic cup being pressed into her hand before she had even realized Xavier was in front of her, a huge grin on his face.

 

“Welcome, my friend, make yourself at home. Come on, I want to introduce you to my mother,” he said.

 

Nicole took a sniff of the cup he had given her.

 

“Don’t worry it’s only water, I know how you roll, Haught,” Xavier said with a wink, turning and leading the way to the backyard.

 

Nicole was impressed he’d remembered, given that she was pretty sure she had only mentioned once offhand that she didn’t drink anymore. She sipped her water as they stepped out into the cool night air, strands of soft yellow lights hanging above the yard in gentle arcs that stretched from the house’s gutters to the large tree near the back fence.

 

Nicole’s eyes were immediately drawn to the makeshift dancefloor the family had set up in the middle of the yard, and she shook her head with a smile as she realized Xavier had warned her to expect it. A few older couples were out there already, swaying to an old slow song that Nicole recognized.

 

“Mom!” Xavier waved at a short, heavyset woman with long dark braids who stood from her folding chair to make her way towards them.

 

The resemblance between Xavier and his mother was uncanny, and Nicole smiled as the woman approached and pulled her down into a hug as if Nicole was family, too.

“You must be Nicole,” she said, stepping back and giving Nicole an approving once over. “I’m Deanna, Xavier’s mother. He’s told me a lot about you, and we’re so happy to welcome you into our home,” she said.

 

Nicole swallowed at the sudden emotion in her throat. She couldn’t remember the last time her own mother had said anything that kind to her.

 

“Thank you so much for having me,” Nicole said sincerely. “Your home is beautiful, and I’m glad to be here with you all tonight.”

 

Deanna pulled her into another quick hug before letting her go again. “Make yourself at home, and make sure you eat. Xavier,” she said, pointing from her son to Nicole in a mock stern gesture. “You make sure she eats, you hear me?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Xavier said. “I’ll make sure Nicole’s a good five pounds heavier before she leaves tonight,” he winked at Nicole conspiratorially.

 

“Good man,” Deanna said. “Nicole, I better see you on that dancefloor later!” she called over her shoulder as she swayed her hips on her way back to her chair.

 

“I think I’m in love with her,” Nicole said laughing.

 

“Yeah, she has that effect on people,” Xavier said with a shrug. “C’mon, let’s get some food before the cousins eat it all.”

 

***

 

Waverly and Drew had arrived late, and Waverly only had herself to blame as she hadn’t been able to decide what to wear. She had tried on every dress she owned before finally putting the fifth one she had tried back on and finding the matching chunky wedge heels she loved. The sleeveless, dark green Grecian style dress she’d chosen was flowy and comfortable, landing just above her ankles and showing just a hint of cleavage below the rounded neckline.

 

They made their way into the backyard, Waverly immediately searching for Xavier in the crowd. The atmosphere was amazing, and Waverly couldn’t get over the cozy ambiance his family had been able to create in the middle of the city. Some Latin music was blaring from the speakers, and Waverly’s gaze was immediately drawn to the small crowd on what looked to be a makeshift dancefloor in the middle of the yard.

 

Her eyes landed on long red hair beneath a backwards hat, and Waverly found herself staring at none other than Nicole Haught. Nicole was holding the hand of a little girl no older than eight as the girl twirled in countless circles around and around while Nicole cheered encouragingly. The short-sleeved shirt she wore had Nicole’s tattoos and biceps on full display, and Waverly felt her mouth go suddenly dry.

 

The little girl finally lost her balance and would’ve fallen over if not for Nicole’s arms scooping her up and cradling her to her chest, continuing to dance around the floor as the girl gripped tightly onto her neck and laughed hysterically. Nicole was smiling from ear to ear, and Waverly couldn’t tear her eyes away from her face.

 

“Do you see anybody you know?” Drew asked from beside her, and Waverly realized she had completely forgotten he was there.

 

“Um…” she stalled as she dragged her eyes away from Nicole and did a quick scan of the yard. “Oh, there’s Xavier,” she said pointing, her gaze finally landing on him over by the grill.

 

They made their way over to him, and Waverly handed him the bottle of bourbon they’d brought as a host gift.

 

“You made it!” Xavier said, looking happily between her and Drew. “Welcome to our humble abode, please make yourselves at home.”

 

“Thank you so much, Xavier, we’re thrilled we could make it,” Waverly said, and Drew nodded his agreement.

 

“I’ll introduce you guys to my mom later, but help yourselves to food and drinks and have fun!” Xavier left them by the food table, and Waverly suddenly felt awkward, not knowing what to do next.

 

Someone cleared their throat behind Waverly, and she turned around to find glittering brown eyes on her.

 

Oh, thank god.

 

“Nicole!” Waverly said, her voice sounding too loud in her own ears. She reigned in the nerves before continuing. “It’s great to see you. Can you believe this place?” Waverly asked, gesturing to the general scene surrounding them.

 

Nicole shook her head and smiled. “No, it’s really great. Deanna did an amazing job with the place,” she said.

 

At Waverly’s confused look, Nicole continued. “Oh, Deanna is Xavier’s mom. I guess you guys haven’t met yet?”

 

“No, not yet,” Waverly said, remembering once again that Drew was standing next to her.

 

“Uh, Nicole you remember Drew, right?”

 

Please be nice, please be nice, please-

 

Nicole smiled and clapped Drew on the shoulder good naturedly, and Waverly breathed a small sigh of relief.

 

“Of course, I do. It’s good to see you again, Drew,” Nicole said, taking a sip from the red solo cup in her hand.

 

Waverly wondered if she’d get to see a tipsy Nicole Haught tonight. She honestly couldn’t imagine the woman being out of control in any way.

 

Drew smiled and seemed relieved to get a better response from Nicole this time around. “Nice to see you again, as well. Great party, huh?”

 

“It is,” Nicole replied, smiling and more relaxed than Waverly had ever seen her.

 

She looks…happy, Waverly thought, and the idea made her smile.

 

Her eyes wandered over Nicole’s arms, the short sleeves revealing more skin than Nicole had ever previously displayed. The black ink disappeared under her cuffed sleeves, so Waverly assumed it must extend up to her shoulders.

 

“You guys should hit the dance floor later,” Nicole was saying. “Deanna will hunt you down if you don’t, trust me on that,” she finished with a laugh.

 

Waverly watched the color drain from Drew’s face and tried to suppress the laugh that bubbled into her throat. Apparently, her date was not a keen dancer. Waverly loved to dance, but she wouldn’t insist if Drew was uncomfortable.

 

He coughed nervously and shifted his weight. “You know I’m not much of a dancer. Can’t say I have much rhythm to be honest, but you two should definitely get out there,” he said diplomatically.

 

Guess that answers that, Waverly thought.

 

Nicole caught Waverly’s eye and shrugged. “Suit yourselves. I’ve got a date with a young lady named Sophia, so if you’ll excuse me.”

 

Nicole touched a finger to her brow in a mock salute and made her way back to the dancefloor, the little girl Waverly had seen her with earlier immediately running to grab her hands and beg to be twirled. Nicole twirled her faster and faster, the girl’s laughter ringing out across the yard.

 

Are you seriously jealous of an eight-year-old, Earp?

 

“I think I might be,” Waverly muttered to herself.

 

“What was that?” Drew asked, leaning closer to hear Waverly over the music.

 

“Let’s get something to eat,” Waverly said, shooting Nicole a final glance before they made their way to the packed food table on the other side of the yard.

 

***

 

Nicole was exhausted but having the time of her life. Her stomach hurt from laughing so hard throughout the night, Xavier’s family being the exact brand of loud, loving chaos he had described. She was seated next to Deanna as she caught her breath, her dance partner giving Nicole a run for her money in the stamina department.

 

“Please, Miss Nicole, pleeasssseeeee?” Sophia was back and begging for more twirling.

 

“Sophia, you leave Miss Nicole alone and go get some ice cream, you hear me child?” Deanna swatted playfully at the girl’s behind, shooing her away from the adult table where they were currently seated.

 

“I think you just saved my life there,” Nicole laughed. “I don’t know if I’ve got another dance in me.”

 

Deanna surveyed the yard. “You sure about that? Not even for a beautiful young lady who seems to be in need of a partner?” Deanna asked, a mischievous gleam in her dark eyes.

 

Nicole followed her gaze, her eyes landing on a bored looking Waverly Earp sitting next to her rhythm-challenged date. Drew was talking animatedly, gesturing with his hands while Waverly nodded along as he spoke, her eyes watching the couples on the dancefloor wistfully.

 

“She’s here with her new boyfriend,” Nicole explained, hoping Deanna wouldn’t push the matter.

 

“Oh, please, honey. I can see from over here that those two have as much chemistry as a pair of old boots,” Deanna said.

 

Nicole choked on her water as she snorted in laughter, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and leaning forward with her elbows on her knees.

 

“I hope for Waverly’s sake you’re wrong about that or the movie they’re filming might tank,” Nicole said.

 

“Nicole, I know I don’t know you very well, but I’m gonna give you some free Mama Deanna advice. You ready?” Deanna waited until Nicole met her eyes and nodded.

 

“Here it is,” Deanna began. “All that stuff on the big screen, that’s all horse shit. This right here, this is real life, and if you sit by and watch from the sidelines, the game is gonna keep being played without you. You get me?”

 

Nicole wasn’t one hundred percent sure she fully understood what Deanna’s metaphor meant, but she got the gist.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole replied. “Thank you for the advice.”

 

“Stop thanking me and go dance with the girl before I die of old age,” Deanna quipped, and Nicole had to smile at the woman’s conviction.

 

Nicole pushed herself up from her chair and walked around the dancefloor, a fast-paced salsa number currently in progress as couples of all ages moved quickly in time with one another. Nicole saw Waverly notice her approach, her eyes widening slightly in a silent question as Nicole stopped in front of her and held out a hand.

 

“What do you say, Miss Earp? Want to get out there and show these kids how it’s done?” Nicole asked.

 

Waverly’s mouth dropped open, and Nicole wondered if she’d overstepped with the woman who was technically her boss. She dropped her hand a fraction as Waverly seemed to recover from her initial shock.

 

“Um…” Waverly glanced at Drew, who only smiled and gestured that he didn’t mind.

 

“Ok, let’s do it,” Waverly said, slipping her warm hand into Nicole’s and following as Nicole led the way to the dancefloor.

 

Nicole found them some space and turned to face Waverly, keeping the grip on her hand as she placed her free one on Waverly’s waist, drawing the shorter woman closer to her own body. She could smell Waverly’s perfume and tried not to inhale deeply at the floral scent.

 

“Do you know how to salsa?” Nicole asked, leaning down to speak next to Waverly’s ear so she could be heard over the music.

 

Waverly pulled back so Nicole could once again see her face, the glint in her green eyes unmistakable as she smiled innocently.

 

“Let’s find out,” Waverly said, and Nicole didn’t waste any more time chatting.

 

She stepped back and Waverly followed her lead easily, her hips swiveling in time to the music with every step they took. Nicole spun Waverly out and kept a hold of one hand, spinning her back into her chest so Waverly’s back was to her front. They kept perfect rhythm, stepping in time with the music, Nicole’s hands on Waverly’s hips as she turned her body to mirror her own. They moved around the floor like they’d done it a thousand times, both flushed and breathing hard by the time the song ended.

 

Their eyes met and held in the brief silence between songs, and Nicole reminded herself to breathe.

 

A slower number came on next, and Nicole figured it was time to return Waverly to her date.

 

Nicole felt a hand grab her wrist as she turned to make her way back to where Drew was still seated, watching them. She turned back, realizing Waverly was holding her arm and hadn’t moved from her spot on the dancefloor.

 

“What’s the matter, Haught? You don’t know how to slow dance?” Waverly teased, and Nicole accepted the challenge with a smile and shake of her head.

 

She adjusted her wrist in Waverly’s grip, sliding her hand in its place and wrapping her other arm behind Waverly’s back.

 

“I know how to do a lot of things,” Nicole spoke low next to Waverly’s cheek. “But I figured your date might be missing you.”

 

Waverly turned her chin up slightly so her warm breath tickled Nicole’s ear. “Drew’s a big boy, he’ll be fine on his own for five minutes,” Waverly said.

 

Nicole didn’t know what to say to that, so she kept them moving in slow circles around the dancefloor without further conversation. Waverly’s body was so close to hers Nicole thought she might combust from the heat between them. She focused on keeping her grip light on Waverly’s hand and not pulling the shorter woman’s chest flush against hers, although it took a great deal of effort.

 

When the song finally ended, Nicole let go of Waverly’s hand and stepped back reluctantly. She gave Waverly a joking half-bow and tried to play off the emotions churning in her gut.

 

Waverly’s eyes flitted over her face for a moment before she said, “Thanks for the dance,” and left Nicole standing alone at the edge of the dancefloor.

 

Nicole blew out a breath and took off her hat to run a hand through her hair. She found her way back to Deanna’s table and put her head in her hands.

 

“I think I’m in trouble, Mama D,” Nicole muttered, lifting her head to meet the woman’s knowing eyes.

 

“I think you’re both in deep shit, honey,” Deanna replied, patting Nicole’s back a few times in sympathy.

Chapter Text

It was around 11:00am when Nicole’s phone pinged, signaling an incoming text. She checked the screen and was surprised to see Waverly’s name appear.

 

Waverly Earp: Hey. We have a long break this afternoon since we’re shooting late again tonight. I wanted to go grab a coffee but figured you might not approve of me going alone lol. Do you want to meet me at the NW corner of Central Park and we can walk to Demitasse?

 

Nicole didn’t know what to say to Waverly’s offer. Her client had never texted her for a spontaneous meet up before. Was this a spontaneous meet up, or did Waverly just want an excuse to see her?

 

I think you’re reading a little too much into that dance, Nicole chided herself.

 

“This is your job. She’s asking you to meet her so she can go out in public without getting mobbed,” she muttered to herself.

 

Nicole checked her watch and did the math on how quickly she could get to the Upper West side by subway.

 

Nicole: Sure. I can be there in 15.

 

Nicole glanced down at her clothes. She had changed out of her suit after dropping Waverly off for work that morning, but she figured her civilian clothes would have to do on such short notice.

 

Her phone pinged again, and she checked the message while rounding up her house keys and sunglasses.

 

Waverly Earp: Great! See you soon.

 

Nicole left the apartment and walked the few blocks to the subway station, taking the train uptown a few stops before emerging at Cathedral Parkway on 110th. She emerged from the station at exactly fifteen past the hour and scanned the busy sidewalks near the park.

 

Nicole caught a glimpse of long brunette hair and waited to cross the street at the roundabout outside of the station.

 

Looking like that, it’s a miracle there isn’t already a small crowd forming around her. Nicole sighed and shook her head as the light changed and it was her turn to cross.

 

Waverly’s hair was down and curled into perfect waves past her shoulders. Nicole was always surprised to see her in full professional makeup, even though she should’ve been used to it by now. She wore jeans, a green crop top that showed off impressive abs, and a long cardigan. Even with the large sunglasses covering half of Waverly’s face, Nicole would have spotted her from a mile away.

 

Waverly looked up from her phone when she sensed Nicole’s approach, a wide smile spreading across her face. She looked stunning as always, but Nicole kept the comment to herself.

 

“Is that your idea of going incognito?” Nicole asked, gesturing to the sunglasses on Waverly’s face.

 

Waverly laughed and shook her head. “It was the best I could do from set without donning a full wig,” she shrugged.

 

Waverly studied Nicole for a moment before continuing. “Apparently this is your idea of flying under the radar though, huh?” she asked, pointing to Nicole’s outfit. “No suit?”

 

Nicole shuffled her feet and glanced down at her Converse sneakers. “Um, yeah, sorry I didn’t have time to change. Your text kind of caught me off guard,” she admitted.

 

Waverly looked thoughtful. “Casual looks good on you,” she said simply.

 

Nicole was thankful she wore her own sunglasses that day, and she hoped they hid the blush she felt heat her cheeks.

 

“Thanks,” she replied. “You ready to go?”

 

“Yeah, it’s just a few blocks so I figured we could walk,” Waverly said.

 

“Lead the way,” Nicole replied.

 

***

 

Waverly led them south along Central Park West, the low stone wall containing the park to their left. Demitasse was one of her favorite coffee shops in the city, so she was excited to see what Nicole thought of the place.

 

Nicole was quiet as they walked, her eyes no doubt scanning the people that passed on either side of them. Waverly took the opportunity to glance at Nicole in her periphery. She was wearing dark jeans and a long-sleeved Henley, the navy blue color in stark contrast to her red hair. Waverly hadn’t been lying when she told Nicole casual looked good on her. It looked very good.

 

Waverly cleared her throat and broke the silence as they waited to cross the street at West 108th.

 

“Did you have fun at Xavier’s cookout the other night?” she asked, curious to see what Nicole would say. From Waverly’s vantage point of trying not to stare at her all night, Nicole had seemed to be having the time of her life.

 

A smile overtook Nicole’s face instantly, and Waverly knew she’d been right.

 

“Yeah, it was amazing. I loved his entire family, they were so welcoming,” Nicole said. “What about you? Did you and Drew have a good time?”

 

Waverly loved Drew, but she had actually spent most of that night wishing she had gone to the cookout alone, mostly so she could’ve spent the entire night dancing with Nicole.

 

She kept those thoughts to herself as she focused on Nicole’s question. “Yeah, we did. It was nice to get out and just relax with some normal people for once,” Waverly said.

 

Nicole nodded her agreement. “I kind of forgot that you wouldn’t get to go to a regular backyard party like that very often. It was nice of you to go, I know it meant a lot to Xavier.”

 

They crossed the street and kept their leisurely pace as they headed the final block to the café.

 

“I was glad to be invited,” Waverly said. “I’ll take a family barbeque over a red carpet event any day of the week. Xavier was sweet to think of me.”

 

Nicole shrugged at that. “He cares about you a lot, probably more than you know.”

 

And what about you? Waverly wondered.

 

They reached Demitasse, and Nicole pulled the door open for Waverly to enter first. The café was buzzing with activity as usual. Waverly took in the smell of freshly roasted coffee with a grin. She’d need a triple shot to get her through the rest of the day’s late shooting schedule.

 

Waverly left her sunglasses on, the interior of the shop bright enough that she wouldn’t look too out of place in doing so. If anyone thought twice about it, they’d probably just assume she was some upper west side socialite who was hungover from a night of club hopping.

 

She glanced at Nicole who had tucked her aviators into the collar of her shirt, taking in the scene around them as they approached the counter to order.

 

“Hi, how can I help you?” the cashier asked as they walked up.

 

“I’ll have a triple macchiato please,” Waverly said. “And whatever my friend here is having.”

 

Nicole seemed surprised Waverly was offering to pay for her, but she ordered a cappuccino and thanked the cashier.

 

So she really does like cappuccinos, Waverly thought, remembering her previous drink order when she’d done her People magazine interview.

 

Waverly paid in cash, and they made their way to the end of the counter to wait for their drinks.

 

“You didn’t have to pay for me, but thank you,” Nicole said.

 

“It’s the least I can do for springing this outing on you last minute,” Waverly replied. “I appreciate you coming by the way.”

 

“That’s my job,” Nicole said with a shrug.

 

Waverly frowned at that but turned away when her drink was called. They waited another minute for Nicole’s cappuccino to be ready before heading back out of the shop. Waverly felt a tug at her hip as Nicole prevented her from walking straight out in front of a passing skateboarder, the kid swerving to miss them at the last second.

 

Waverly closed her eyes and remembered the feel of Nicole’s hands on her waist as they danced in Xavier’s backyard.

 

“You ok?” Nicole asked, brown eyes studying her closely as they stood in the middle of the sidewalk.

 

“Yeah, fine,” Waverly said. “Thanks for the assist there.”

 

“No problem,” Nicole said, slipping her sunglasses back over her eyes.

 

They walked back the way they’d come, each sipping their coffee and humming in contentment.

 

“Where’d you learn to salsa?” Nicole asked suddenly.

 

Waverly wondered if Nicole’s mind had been wandering back to their time on the dancefloor as much as hers had.

 

“I learned for a movie I did when I was younger,” Waverly said, smiling at the memory. “I’ve learned all kinds of random skills thanks to the various jobs I’ve been hired for.”

 

“I’m impressed you still remember the steps that well,” Nicole said. “I would’ve thought you were a regular dancer given how well you moved.”

 

Waverly’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Was that an honest to god compliment?” Waverly asked. “Too bad I didn’t get that on the record,” she said laughing.

 

Even with her sunglasses on, Waverly could tell Nicole was rolling her eyes.

 

“Yeah, yeah, don’t get used to it, Earp. I don’t think your ego needs more of a boost,” she quipped back.

 

“Oof, you wound me,” Waverly joked.

 

Nicole shook her head with a smile and sipped her coffee as they reached the light to cross the street back towards the park.

 

“Speaking of impressive, where’d an Army veteran learn to dance like that?” Waverly asked.

 

Nicole didn’t respond right away, and Waverly wondered if she would tell her the real answer or a joking half-truth instead.

 

“My dad was a great dancer,” Nicole finally said. “We used to listen to old vinyl records and dance around the living room of our house. One time at my cousin’s wedding, he let me stand on the tops of his shoes as he spun me around and around for hours. His calves were so sore the next day he could barely walk,” Nicole smiled at the memory.

 

“He sounds like a great dad,” Waverly said sincerely.

 

Nicole nodded. “He really was.”

 

They reached the corner of the park where Nicole would need to catch the subway to go home, but she made no move to head in the direction of the station. They had a few more blocks to go before reaching the studio, and Waverly was glad to have a few extra minutes of Nicole’s company.

 

When they reached the outer security gate, Nicole waved to the guard but stopped shy of the entrance, turning to face Waverly.

 

“Let Xavier and I know when to come get you, ok?” Nicole asked.

 

Waverly remembered their late shooting schedule and shook her head. “We’re going so late tonight, Drew offered to split a taxi with me just to save time. And that way you and Xavier won’t have to come get me in the middle of the night,” she explained.  

 

Nicole didn’t seem thrilled about the idea, but she didn’t push.

 

“If that’s what you want to do that’s fine,” Nicole said. “I’ll let Xavier know he’s off duty the rest of the night then. Call me if you change your mind or if something comes up, ok?”

 

Waverly nodded. “Will do. See you later, Nicole.” She waved over her shoulder as she went through the security gate, showing her ID to the guard before proceeding onto the lot.

 

She had a long night ahead of her, but her mini coffee date with Nicole was sure to give Waverly a much needed boost.

 

Not that it was a date, obviously, she reminded herself. It’s just her job.

 

A small smile still hung around Waverly’s lips as she made her way back to set to wait for direction. Who needs a triple shot when Nicole Haught is around?

Chapter Text

Waverly was exhausted. She and Drew were doing some late night shoots this week, and the sixteen-hour days were starting to catch up with her.

 

She thanked Hector in the lobby and made her way onto the elevator, swiping her key card before pressing the button for her apartment.

 

As soon as the doors opened, Waverly knew something was wrong. All of the lights in the apartment were off, and she purposely never left the place completely dark. She stepped out of the elevator slowly, running her hand along the wall until she felt the light switch in the entryway.

 

Waverly flipped the switch and closed her eyes tightly while they adjusted to the bright light, reopening them and immediately covering her mouth with her hand as she surveyed the destruction around her.

 

This can’t be happening. Not again.

 

Her apartment was in shambles. Objects were strewn all over the floor as Waverly tiptoed cautiously into her open concept living room and kitchen. Drawers had been pulled out and dumped upside down on the kitchen floor. Her couch pillows had been sliced open, and her picture frames had all been knocked off of their various tables.

 

Waverly felt a familiar tightening in her chest as she felt the panic well up inside her.

 

Someone has been in my home. What if I had been here when it happened? What if someone had tried to hurt me again?

 

“Fuck. Ok, breathe,” she whispered to herself, sliding down the wall to sit on the kitchen floor and kicking random utensils away from her foot.

 

Waverly pulled her cell phone from her purse and dialed Nicole, leaning her head back against the wall as she tried to stay calm.

 

It was 3:15am, but Nicole answered on the second ring.

 

“Hello?” she sounded groggy, and in any other circumstances Waverly would have found it cute.

 

“Nicole?”

 

“Waverly?” Nicole sounded instantly more awake, and Waverly could hear fabric rustling as she must have sat up in bed.

 

“What’s wrong?” Nicole asked. “Are you ok?”

 

“Somebody was here,” Waverly said, her voice almost a whisper.

 

“What?” Waverly heard more background noise as Nicole began moving around her apartment. “Where are you? Are you at home?”

 

The questions were rapid-fire, and Waverly realized she was nodding instead of answering.

 

“Yeah, I just got home. Everything’s a mess, I don’t…” Waverly sniffled as the situation settled over her.

 

“Waverly, stay with me, ok? I’m gonna be there in five minutes. I want you to hang up and call down to Hector so he knows I’m coming, and then tell him to call the police. Do you think you can do that?” Nicole’s voice was commanding but reassuring.

 

“Yeah, I can do that,” Waverly said quietly.

 

“Ok, stay where you are. I’ll be right there,” Nicole said.

 

The line went dead, and Waverly pressed another button to dial her doorman. She had no idea how Nicole was going to get there so quickly, but she prayed to god that she would.

 

***

 

Four minutes later the elevator pinged open, and Nicole stepped out breathing heavily from her run, her eyes scanning the room for Waverly. Not immediately seeing her, she walked further into the apartment, her tennis shoes crunching over broken glass and what looked to be a picture frame. She rounded the corner and saw Waverly sitting on the kitchen floor with her back against the wall, her feet surrounded by random objects and overturned drawers.

 

Jesus Christ…

 

Waverly turned puffy red eyes towards Nicole when she heard her approach, and Nicole watched as the floodgates opened and Waverly started sobbing in earnest.

 

“Hey, it’s ok,” Nicole crouched by Waverly’s side as tears streamed down the brunette’s face. “It’s gonna be ok,” she repeated softly.

 

Nicole’s eyes scanned the room and saw that although the couch pillows hadn’t survived, the couch itself still looked to be in decent shape.

 

“I’m gonna move you, ok?” Nicole asked.

 

Waverly nodded silently as the tears kept falling. Nicole slid one arm under Waverly’s knees and put the other behind her back, cradling her to her chest before standing and making her way to the couch. She placed Waverly on the end of the sofa and crouched in front of her, loud sobs wracking her body as she tried to breathe through her tears.

 

“The police are going to be here any minute. You’re safe, ok?” Nicole tried to reassure her, but she wasn’t sure if Waverly was listening.

 

“Waverly, look at me,” Nicole spoke louder, and she watched Waverly try to focus on her face.

 

She could tell Waverly was on the verge of hyperventilating, and Nicole needed to get her to calm down. She placed a hand on each of Waverly’s wrists and squeezed lightly, her pulse thumping hard and fast against her fingers.

 

“I need you to breathe, ok? Everything is going to be all right, you’re safe now,” Nicole tried to speak in a calming tone, keeping her eyes on Waverly’s as she hiccupped through more sobs.

 

“We’re going to breathe together. Do you think you can breathe with me?” Nicole asked.

 

Waverly gave a small nod, and Nicole felt instant relief that at least something was getting through to her.  

 

“Good, ok we’re going to breathe in, then try to hold that breath before we let it out. You ready? Breathe in.” Nicole took a deep breath to show Waverly what she wanted her to do, and she counted slowly to three out loud when she saw Waverly copying her movement.

 

“Now let that breath out slowly. One, two, three. Good. Again.” Nicole took a deep breath in, and Waverly once again mirrored her action, holding her breath and releasing it slowly on Nicole’s count. They repeated the process many more times as Nicole watched Waverly’s breathing start to regulate, the pulse at her wrist now feeling slower.

 

The elevator doors pinged behind Nicole, and she saw Waverly’s eyes go wide in alarm.

 

“Hey, that’s just Hector and the police. You’re safe, nobody is going to hurt you. I promise,” Nicole said.

 

Nicole released Waverly’s wrists and pushed herself into a standing position, Waverly’s hand grabbing her wrist tightly before she could step away from the couch.

 

“I’m not going anywhere, I’ll be right here the whole time, ok? I want the EMTs to come check you out, and then we’re going to talk to the police,” Nicole explained.

 

Waverly reluctantly released her wrist but nodded, and Nicole stepped a few feet away to direct the EMTs to where she was sitting. She walked through the rest of the apartment with the police officers while Waverly got checked out, and they gave the medical team a few final minutes to finish their examination before making their way over to the couch.

 

“Waverly, this is Officer Briggs and Officer Loren. Do you think you can tell them everything you remember about when you got home tonight?” Nicole asked, taking a seat next to Waverly on the couch.

 

Nicole listened intently as Waverly recounted what she remembered from when she got home. She thought of how scared Waverly must have been, given the trauma she’d had with a near burglary all those years ago. Nicole didn’t understand how someone would’ve gotten in, given that the elevator only operated with the use of Waverly’s security key card.

 

When the police were finished questioning Waverly and taking notes, Officer Loren gestured for Nicole to follow him a few feet away to the kitchen.

 

“Do you know of any immediate family members Miss Earp may have, somebody she could stay with for a while?” he asked Nicole.

 

Nicole rubbed the back of her neck as she thought. “I’m not sure,” she answered honestly. “She’s never spoken about having any family nearby.”

 

“Maybe she could stay at a hotel then, until we can clear the apartment as a crime scene?” he asked.

 

Nicole sighed and shook her head. “Too many unknowns in hotels, it’d be a security nightmare.”

 

Officer Loren seemed to be out of ideas, and Nicole wasn’t faring much better.

 

“I suppose she could stay at my place,” Nicole mused. “It’s definitely not gonna be anything like what she’s used to, but it could work for the short term-“

 

“Can I, Nicole?”

 

Waverly’s voice from the couch interrupted, and Nicole made her way back to her side.

 

“You’d be ok staying at my place for a few days? Are you sure?” Nicole asked.

 

Waverly nodded, and Nicole sighed realizing they didn’t have many other options.

 

“Maybe I should call Doc-“

 

“No!” Waverly looked upset at the idea, so Nicole didn’t push. “He’s supposed to be retired, and I can’t be calling him every time I get scared for the rest of my life,” Waverly said, wiping the makeup from under her watery eyes.  

 

“Ok, whatever you want to do, we’ll do,” Nicole said.

 

Officer Briggs took down Nicole’s address so they’d know where to find Waverly if needed for additional questions.

 

Nicole asked if there was anything Waverly wanted from the apartment before they left, but the woman shook her head no.

 

The group made their way down in the elevator, and Nicole shook the officers’ hands and asked them to keep her updated on the investigation. She’d speak to Hector in the morning and figure out what they could do as far as getting the apartment put back together, as well as getting a new security system put in place.

 

This was going to take weeks, so Nicole needed to figure out a long-term place for Waverly to stay. She would call Mercedes first thing tomorrow morning.

 

***

 

The rest of the night had passed in a blur. Waverly remembered being surprised when Xavier had been parked out front, her driver giving her a quick hug before helping her into the car and driving them to Nicole’s, which turned out to be only a few blocks away.

 

That’s how she got here so fast, Waverly realized.

 

Nicole had helped Waverly upstairs, apologizing for the lack of elevator in her building, and shown her to her small, tidy bedroom. Waverly thought she remembered seeing a cat bolt under the couch when they arrived, but she couldn’t be sure now if she had imagined it.

 

Waverly rolled over in the bed. It was much smaller than the California King she was used to, but still cozy enough for her to have passed out immediately the night before. She reckoned she would’ve been able to sleep on a concrete floor after the day’s events.

 

She sat up and took in the room around her. Sunlight was streaming in through the window, meaning it must be much later in the day than Waverly realized. There was a colorful piece of art on the wall opposite the bed, and Waverly wondered what had drawn Nicole to the piece. A small dresser sat underneath the painting, and a closet door appeared to open to the left.

 

The top of the dresser held only a few items that Waverly could see. A small ceramic bowl that held a pair of dog tags and some bobby pins. A pile of books ranging from Glennon Doyle to the biography of Michael Jordan. A framed photograph of Nicole and a few men on either side of her, all of them in uniform and smiling widely at the camera. A small digital clock that read 12:56, which made Waverly realize she had slept past lunch time.

 

Waverly stood from the bed and glanced down, realizing she had slept in her clothes from the day before, although her feet were bare. She padded over to the dresser, picking the photograph up and looking at it closer. Nicole’s arm was slung around the man to her right’s shoulder, both of them grinning at whoever was taking the photo. She looked so young and carefree; it was hard for Waverly to believe that had been the woman she knew now just a few years ago.

 

A sound from the kitchen made Waverly jump, and she realized she should probably get herself together and get out there to talk to Nicole about their plan.

 

I can’t believe I’m homeless, she thought.

 

A soft knock at the door made Waverly check herself quickly in the standing mirror on the other wall of the bedroom.

 

You had a burglary at your house last night, Nicole doesn’t give a crap what you look like.

 

Waverly could have laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation, but she managed to keep it in check.

 

She ran a hand through her disheveled hair and went to open the door. Waverly felt herself relax at the sight of familiar brown eyes.

 

“Hi,” Nicole said.

 

“Hi.”

 

Nicole shifted her weight as if not knowing quite what to say. “I thought you might want some coffee,” she said, and Waverly’s eyes fell to the mug in her outstretched hand.

 

“Coffee sounds great, thanks,” Waverly said, taking the mug gratefully and following Nicole as she walked the ten feet from the bedroom to the tiny kitchen.

 

Nicole was already dressed in her usual uniform of dark slacks and white button down shirt, her jacket currently hanging over the back of a kitchen chair. Waverly felt oddly comforted by the normalcy of Nicole in her element. Routine. Routine is good.

 

Waverly sipped her coffee and sighed. Nicole leaned against the kitchen counter and gestured for Waverly to sit at the small table.

 

“How are you feeling?” Nicole asked, watching Waverly carefully as if she might burst into tears at any second.

 

Waverly shrugged. “I’m safe, and I wasn’t hurt, so there’s that I guess,” she replied.

 

Nicole nodded her agreement. “I’m going to speak to Hector today and see what we can do about getting your place cleaned up as soon as the police are done gathering evidence. It might take some time, so we’ll have to figure out a longer-term living arrangement for you.”

 

Ouch, Haught. “Trying to get rid of me after one night?” Waverly asked, her tone aiming for teasing but coming out a bit flat.

 

“Of course not,” Nicole replied quickly. “I just know my place isn’t exactly up to your…usual standard of living,” she said, looking sheepishly around at her small apartment. “I want you to be safe, but I also want you to be comfortable and have everything you need.”

 

“I appreciate you letting me stay here last night. Seriously, Nicole, this kind of goes above and beyond your job requirements, so thank you,” Waverly said sincerely.

 

“You don’t have to thank me,” Nicole replied. “Something super shitty happened to you, and it is my job to make sure you’re safe. Right now this is the safest place for you to be, so I’m glad I could help.”

 

Waverly nodded her thanks and sipped her coffee, not knowing what their next step should be.

She voiced the thought to Nicole, who immediately went into organizer mode.

 

“First, I think we need to go meet with Mercedes. I spoke to her briefly earlier, but she needs to know everything that’s going on, and we need to try and keep this incident out of the press for your security. I also arranged for Gina to drop off some clothes and essentials for you since you’re still going to have to film in a few days, and you didn’t bring anything with you so…” Nicole shrugged.

 

Waverly was surprised at that. “You arranged for my stylist to drop off clothes for me?”

 

“Um, yeah?” Nicole seemed confused by Waverly’s question.

 

She is so freaking adorable.

 

Waverly just smiled into her mug. “Thank you for doing that,” she said quietly.

 

“Don’t thank me yet,” Nicole warned. “We need to go by Mercedes’ office, but as we just discussed you don’t have anything to wear, and I assume you don’t want to wear the clothes you wore all day yesterday…”

 

Waverly glanced down at her rumpled outfit. She could definitely use a change of clothes and a hot shower while she was at it.

 

“I don’t suppose there’s any way I could take a quick shower here before we leave?” she asked Nicole.

 

“Yeah, of course,” Nicole said. “I apologize in advance for the overly large clothes I’m going to have to lend you. And the lack of designer shampoo.”

 

Waverly waved off her concerns and headed towards the bathroom.

 

“Just give me fifteen minutes and we can get out of here,” she said over her shoulder. “Any clothes you have are fine.”

 

***

 

Nicole paced around her apartment as Waverly got ready. She had a hundred things running through her mind, one of which centered heavily around Waverly Earp currently in her shower, but first and foremost was how things were progressing at Waverly’s apartment. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Hector, who had agreed to be on site whenever the police needed to get access to Waverly’s place.

 

He picked up on the third ring, and Nicole dove right in with her questions. Hector told her the police had returned earlier that morning and had gathered evidence and taken photos throughout the day. They expected to be finished later that afternoon, and then Hector could bring in the cleaning crew his manager had hired to clean up the mess.

 

Nicole nodded as he spoke, thanking him for keeping tabs on things and asking him to call her immediately with any updates.

 

Nicole shot a quick text to Xavier when she heard the water turn off in the bathroom.

 

We’ll be down in 10.

 

She slid on her suit jacket and went back to pacing as she waited for Waverly to emerge. When she finally did, Nicole couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face at the sight of her.

 

She had given Waverly a pair of black yoga pants that were too long for her, as well as a well-worn Atlanta Braves t-shirt and a black baseball cap so no one would recognize her. Waverly had cuffed the sleeves of the t-shirt to make them shorter and pulled her damp hair into a ponytail under the hat.

 

She looked concerned when she saw the look on Nicole’s face, glancing down at the outfit.

 

“Do I look insane?” Waverly asked.

 

You definitely do not look insane.

 

Nicole cleared her throat. “You look great as always,” she said diplomatically.

 

“Liar,” Waverly said with a laugh. “Whatever, let’s get going.”

 

They made their way down the five flights of stairs to the ground floor, and Xavier was waiting with the car. He greeted Waverly with a wide smile, and she thanked him for being there to pick her and Nicole up last night. Nicole thanked him as well and slid into the front seat after Waverly got situated in the back.

 

They arrived at Mercedes’ building and made their way up to her firm’s floor. The place was quiet since it was a weekend, so Nicole and Waverly walked straight through the empty reception lobby and back to Mercedes’ office.

 

Mercedes was typing away on her laptop when they walked in, giving Waverly a quick once over when she spotted her.

 

“Oh my gosh, it’s so good to see you in one piece,” she said, coming around her desk to pull Waverly into a hug. “How are you holding up?”

 

Nicole watched Waverly shrug and attempt a smile in response, although it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

 

“I’m hanging in there, thanks to Nicole,” Waverly replied. “And Hector, and Xavier, and you, too. Thank you for meeting us today and helping me figure all of this out,” she said.

 

“It’s no trouble at all, Waverly, and I hope you know I mean that sincerely,” Mercedes said.

 

She seemed to suddenly notice what Waverly was wearing, and she wrinkled her nose in distaste.

 

Beggars can’t be choosers, Nicole thought.

 

Mercedes Jones was definitely not the yoga pants and ball cap type, so Nicole didn’t begrudge the woman her judgment.

 

“First things first, here are the clothes and supplies Gina brought for you,” Mercedes said, gesturing to numerous bags scattered around her office floor. “You can use the staff restroom to change now if you’d like.”

 

Waverly seemed to debate the offer but surprised both Nicole and Mercedes when she shrugged and said she was fine as is. Mercedes sighed but moved on to the next order of business.

 

“Ok, so let’s talk housing options,” she began. “I’m going to reach out to some friends, see if I can find you a nice rental that’s convenient to the studio but up to your usual standards. Where are you going to be staying for the next few days until I can lock something down?”

 

Waverly met Nicole’s eyes, and Nicole nodded indicating that whatever Waverly decided was fine with her.

 

“Well, I stayed at Nicole’s last night, and if she’s ok with it then I’ll just stay there until you can find somewhere for me. I know it’s easier than her trying to arrange security for me at a hotel. Plus, I’m sure it’ll only be a couple of days anyway, right?” Waverly directed the question to Mercedes, who nodded her agreement.

 

“I’ll work day and night until I find you something,” she assured Waverly. “And I agree, staying with Nicole keeps you safe and also helps us keep this whole ordeal out of the press, so it’s a win-win. Nicole, you’re ok with all of this I presume?” Mercedes asked.

 

“It’s the best short-term option I can see, so it’s good with me,” Nicole said. She glanced around at the multitude of bags of clothes warily. “Although, I have no idea how all of this is going to fit in my apartment.”

 

Waverly and Mercedes both laughed at that, and Nicole just shook her head at the pair of them.

 

“I know this is a stressful situation Waverly, but try to keep things business as usual next week on set,” Mercedes advised. “The fewer people who know about what happened the better, and the safer you are. We don’t want any nutters trying to locate you if they find out your home has been burglarized and you’re living out of a suitcase somewhere.”

 

Waverly nodded seriously and thanked her publicist for having her back.

 

With the short-term arrangements made, Nicole and Waverly split the bags and made their way back down to street level. Xavier helped them load everything into the trunk, and they headed back to Nicole’s apartment to lay low for the rest of the day.

 

Nicole tapped her fingers against her thigh as they drove, trying to mentally picture how many square feet Waverly’s clothes would take up in her apartment.

 

I guess I’m saying goodbye to my bed for a while.

 

***

 

Living with Nicole Haught was nothing like what Waverly had been expecting. She had expected things to be awkward and tense between them, and so far it had been the exact opposite. Waverly had been there for five days, and it amazed her how quickly they had fallen into a routine of coexistence and how much Waverly had learned about her temporary roommate.

 

First, Nicole was a neat freak, and Waverly supposed she should have suspected as much given her military background. There was something about watching Nicole neatly stack her dishes in the cabinets and place each mug handle to the right just so that made Waverly smile to herself every time she saw it.

 

Second, Nicole was very considerate of her house guests. The first morning Waverly had woken up in Nicole’s apartment after the burglary, it had been eerily quiet as she laid in bed. She listened for any signs of movement outside but heard nothing for several minutes. Finally deciding to see if maybe Nicole was still asleep on the couch, Waverly tiptoed out of the bedroom and looked around. Nicole was nowhere to be seen, and Waverly had a moment of panic as she wondered what could’ve happened to her.

 

A note on the counter caught her eye, and Waverly went to pick it up, relaxing immediately when she realized it was from the missing Nicole.

 

Good morning. I’m at the gym on the first floor, be back soon. Help yourself to coffee or anything in the fridge. -N

 

Speaking of the gym, Nicole Haught was freaking fit. Again, Waverly hadn’t been surprised to learn this about her bodyguard given her line of work, but the first time she had seen Nicole in workout clothes instead of her usual suit, Waverly had nearly shattered a mug in the kitchen sink at the sight of her.

 

Waverly jumped as she heard the door close behind Nicole when she returned from her workout, turning to meet her gaze as she washed her used coffee mug. Nicole had her hair pulled back into a messy ponytail and a pair of wireless headphones around her neck as she let herself in and dropped her keys in the bowl on the entry table. Her face was flushed, and a layer of sweat covered her arms. Arms that were left completely bare thanks to the loose fitting tank top she was wearing.

 

She had some dry cleaning on hangers thrown over her shoulder - multiple shirts, jackets and pants bunched together in clear plastic.

 

Waverly took in the sight of her. Tattoos on full display. Strands of loose red hair falling into brown eyes. Long slender legs and thigh muscles that flexed when Nicole walked.

 

Waverly dropped the mug and the resulting clatter against the metal sink snapped her out of her staring.

 

“You ok?” Nicole asked, that familiar concern evident in her voice.

 

Waverly cleared her throat and rescued the mug, continuing to scrub it although it had been clean two minutes ago.

 

“Yep, all good. Sorry I’m a bit clumsy apparently,” she said with a laugh.

 

“Don’t worry about it, I’ve had that thing for years. Pretty sure I got it at the Dollar Tree when I was just starting out and couldn’t afford real silverware, let alone matching coffee mugs,” Nicole chuckled.

 

Waverly eyed the dry cleaning she was holding. “And now you’re getting your suits pressed by a professional. Quite the glow-up, wouldn’t you say?”

 

Nicole laughed and walked into her bedroom to hang the clothes in her closet before returning to the kitchen. “I guess that’s true,” she said with a shrug. “Not that picking up your own dry cleaning is probably that impressive to someone like you.”

 

Waverly thought over her words. “Honestly, the fact that you’re a real adult who knows where a dry cleaner even is, let alone being self-sufficient enough to run your own errands is impressive. I have people to do just about everything for me, that’s not saying much for my adulting abilities.”

 

Nicole shrugged again. “It’s not like it’s your fault you can’t even go into a store without being mobbed by fans or paparazzi. Doesn’t exactly make it easy to be self-sufficient, right?”

 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Waverly said. “Funny how different the worlds we live in are, huh?”

 

Nicole cocked her head and seemed to think over her answer. “You know there was a time I would’ve agreed with you, maybe back when I was in Afghanistan. The idea of being in a place like that while you were here shooting movies and doing photoshoots - the fucked up duality of that world is pretty insane when you think about it. But, that was just a brief moment in time. Now, here we both are despite our severely different backgrounds and upbringings, and we’re living a shared experience. It’s pretty wild, I never thought this would be my life,” Nicole said thoughtfully.

 

I wonder if it would be overstepping to ask…

 

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Waverly decided to brave it, curiosity getting the best of her.

 

Nicole looked surprised but nodded her consent.

 

“Will you tell me about your last deployment? You said you got sent home early, but why was that?” Waverly asked.

 

Nicole sighed and sat at the kitchen table, her fingers absently running along the scar at her collarbone. Waverly wondered if Nicole even realized she was doing it or if it had become an unconscious habit.

 

“You don’t have to tell me,” Waverly backtracked. “I just wanted to understand, or try to I guess…”

 

“No, it’s ok,” Nicole interrupted.

 

Waverly watched her settle deeper into her chair before continuing, seeming to choose her words carefully.

 

“My team was out on a mission, we were doing recon on a compound that was the home of a known bomb maker in the region. On the way home, our vehicle hit an IED that was buried under the dirt road. It was…like nothing you could ever imagine, the noise and the heat of it. We were upside down and everything was on fire, guys were screaming and trying to get out…”

 

Nicole paused, and Waverly could tell by the distant look in her eyes that she wasn’t really present right then, she was back there, deep in memories she would probably rather forget.

 

“I managed to crawl out of the truck and radio for another unit to come help before I passed out from blood loss. When I woke up, I was in a hospital in Germany, and the doctors told me I was lucky to be alive and my best friend had died in the seat next to me,” Nicole said quietly.

 

Jesus…

 

Waverly sat across from Nicole at the table, placing a hand on her clenched fist and meeting distant brown eyes.  

 

“I needed so many stitches I couldn’t even count them all,” Nicole said, her finger running along her collarbone again. “Once I had recovered enough to travel, they flew me home and I was back in Maryland alone, without the brother who had been by my side through everything. That’s partly why I came here, I had to get out of there and start over somewhere new.”  

 

Waverly shook her head, not knowing what to say to the pain Nicole had endured at such a young age. “I can’t imagine what that was like for you, but I can say that I’m glad you’re still here,” Waverly said, giving Nicole’s hand a light squeeze.

 

Nicole gave her a small smile and pulled her hand out from underneath Waverly’s, leaning back in her chair and letting out a deep breath.

 

Waverly wondered at Nicole’s seeming discomfort with physical contact, remembering she had also pulled away when Waverly had touched her scar weeks before. She also remembered how much of a dick she had been to Nicole after Doc left, and Waverly felt she needed to make some overdue amends.

 

“I just want to say, first of all, thank you for sharing part of your past with me. I know that wasn’t easy for you, but I appreciate you trusting me with it,” Waverly said. “And second of all, I’m sorry for being a grade-A asshole when we first met, and for the weeks after Doc left you in charge,” she said with an appropriately guilty look.

 

Nicole let out a short laugh, and Waverly hoped they were on solid footing again.

 

“You really were an ass,” Nicole said with a grin.

 

Waverly laughed with her and shrugged. “I was upset and I took it out on you, but you didn’t deserve that and I’m sorry. I hope we can move forward from here and try to be friends,” Waverly finished hopefully.

 

Nicole studied her for a moment but finally nodded her agreement. She stuck a hand out across the table, and Waverly took it and shook once to seal the deal.

 

“Friends,” Nicole said.

 

Friends. I can do friends, Waverly thought.

Chapter Text

I don’t know if I can do friends, Waverly thought.

 

She watched the car pull away from set, Xavier and Nicole heading off to do whatever it was they did in their free time while Waverly was shooting at the studio. Given how clean the place always was, Waverly assumed Nicole must spend a good deal of time tidying up her apartment. Or maybe reading, since she did have that large stack of books on her dresser. Waverly wondered what book was Nicole’s favorite.

 

God, you are so obsessed it’s pathetic.

 

Waverly entered the studio and found her way to the hair and makeup room, her usual first stop when she arrived on set. She chatted a bit with her hairstylist, Terri, before zoning out and letting her thoughts wander back to the time she’d spent with Nicole over the past week.

 

Nicole being a crazy early bird was just about the only negative Waverly could think of when it came to living with her, although Nicole was always quiet enough not to wake Waverly when she left for her morning workout. Waverly had come to find out that Nicole was a pretty decent cook, even when challenged to make some vegetarian dishes that Waverly might like. She was also slightly OCD when it came to everything being in its proper place, which was hilarious given she had a cat whose mission in life seemed to be knocking things over or hiding random objects around the apartment.

 

Nicole was quiet and introspective most of the time but always willing to share stories or entertain Waverly when she was in one of her chatty moods. Waverly really felt that Nicole had loosened up around her over the past few days, and the stiff formality that had existed between them since Doc’s departure had all but lifted. And then, of course, there was how attractive Waverly found her, which was becoming more of a distraction as the days went by.

 

She’s kind of great all around, honestly, Waverly mused, her thoughts continuing to wander until her makeup was done and Terri finished with her hair.  

 

A few hours later, after shooting a few good scenes with Drew, Waverly was more than ready for a break. She and her costar had also gotten much closer over the last few weeks of shooting, and Waverly was now glad to call him a good friend.

 

Drew came to find her on their lunch break. Waverly was eating a snack in her dressing room as she snuck in a few moments of rest between scenes.

 

“Hey you,” Drew said, sitting on the end of the small couch Waverly had requested for her room. “What’s for lunch?”

 

Drew pulled out his own Tupperware filled with some quinoa creation that Waverly was instantly jealous of.

 

“Just some trail mix at the moment,” she said, tossing some peanuts in her mouth as she read over the script for the next scenes they would be shooting.

 

“Boring,” Drew joked, munching happily on his quinoa salad.

 

Waverly threw a peanut at him and kept reading.

 

“How’s that hot bodyguard of yours doing?” Drew asked next.

 

Waverly’s head whipped around, the question catching her completely off guard.

 

“Um, she’s fine I guess. I’ve actually been staying at her place while my apartment has some…work done,” Waverly replied.

 

Drew looked surprised. “Damn, I guess that stereotype about gay women is really true, huh? That whole U-haul thing?” he asked with a laugh.

 

Waverly’s eyebrows shot to her hairline. She had never mentioned to Drew that she was queer, so how had he guessed so easily?

 

“Nicole and I are definitely not dating,” Waverly said, “but how did you even know I was into women anyway?”

 

Drew smirked as he took another bite of his lunch. “It was probably something to do with the night we went to Xavier’s Labor Day cookout, and you spent half the night tearing up the dancefloor together and the other half staring at each other across the yard,” he said.

 

Waverly felt the blush heat her cheeks, and she hid her face in her script for a moment before meeting Drew’s knowing gaze.

 

“I think I’ve got it kinda bad for her,” Waverly admitted.

 

“Ya think?” Drew asked with a laugh. “Also, why wouldn’t you? She’s totally hot and can dance like a pro. If I was into women, I’d date her.”

 

If he was into women…wait what?

 

Waverly opened her mouth but nothing came out.

 

Drew saw her struggling and filled in the blanks. “I’m gay, but I’m not out in the industry because I don’t want to fuck up my career, and so far every role I’ve been cast in is your typical boy next door, hetero eye candy. I don’t want to risk my income until I’m a bit more established in the business,” he said with a shrug.

 

“Wow, I had no idea,” Waverly said.

 

“I’m kind of great at the whole acting thing,” Drew said with a wink.

 

Waverly laughed at that. “You really are. I’m sorry you don’t think you can come out because of the negative impact on your career though, that’s really awful.”

 

Drew shrugged. “What about you? I’m assuming you’re bi given that meathead you used to date, but I’ve never seen anything in the press about it before.”

 

Now it was Waverly’s turn to shrug. “Honestly I guess I hadn’t given it much thought. I haven’t even been in a real relationship with a woman before, and since I’ve been in the industry I’ve only dated a few guys so it never came up.”

 

“Well, now that you’ve got someone you’re interested in, do you think you’d go public with it?” Drew asked.

 

Waverly thought about it but shook her head. “First of all, Nicole and I aren’t going to be a thing, we just can’t. Plus, who’s to say she’d even be interested in dating me anyway?”

 

Drew looked at her skeptically. “Remember that whole thing about me seeing the chemistry between you from a mile away? That chemistry wasn’t one-sided. And my gaydar is top notch, trust me.”

 

Waverly tried to remember if Nicole had ever explicitly mentioned dating women in the past. Obviously the way Nicole dressed was a potential sign, but she could also just be a tomboy or prefer masculine clothes.

 

She turned down a date from that pretty girl at the podcast recording…but after the Troye Sivan concert didn’t she say something about chicks digging scars? Maybe I’m making that up…

 

“Earth to Waverly,” Drew said, waving a hand in front of her face.

 

“Sorry, I was just thinking…”

 

“About a hot redhead who you’re living with and who may or may not be seriously into you? Yeah, I expect you think about that a lot,” Drew said with a laugh.

 

Waverly laughed and shook her head. “Actually, now that you mention my living situation, I do need somewhere longer term to stay. Nicole has really gone out of her way to help me out, but her place is super small, and I expect she probably wants her bedroom back at some point. She and my publicist were trying to find me some options to rent temporarily, but so far I haven’t heard anything.”

 

Drew looked thoughtful for a moment before responding. “You could stay with me if you want. I’ve got a spare bedroom, plus I live super close to the studio. I walk here most days, but we could also take the subway or something if you wanted.”

 

Waverly thought over Drew’s offer. On one hand, it’d be really nice to be that close to the studio while they finished shooting the movie. They had a few weeks left, and she really needed to dial it in and focus on making sure their final shoots were a success. Plus, a little distance from Nicole might help Waverly get over this rapidly developing crush that was only going to end badly.

 

On the other hand, Waverly really didn’t want to leave Nicole’s, for purely selfish reasons. She liked the routine the two of them had developed over the past week, and being around Nicole all the time made her feel calm and happy and safe. Unfortunately, Waverly knew what she’d told Drew was the truth, and it was time for her to give Nicole her space back.

 

***

 

Nicole’s cell phone rang as she rode shotgun with Xavier on the way to pick Waverly up from the studio. The caller ID said it was Officer Loren calling, so Nicole answered immediately.

 

The officer gave her a quick update on the investigation into the break-in at Waverly’s apartment. So far, they were able to discern that the intruder had entered the apartment via the fire escape stairwell that was the only entrance into the space other than the main elevator. Unfortunately, the burglar had left no trace evidence at the scene, so as of now the police were out of leads.

 

Officer Loren also informed Nicole that the apartment was now clear, so the building manager was free to have the place fixed up and prepared for Waverly’s return.

 

Nicole was frustrated by the lack of leads but thanked the officer for the update and hung up. She dialed Hector and told him they had the green light to get the cleaning crew in there and hire an alarm company to upgrade the existing security system.

 

When they arrived at the studio, Nicole received a text from Mercedes with a rental listing on the upper east side.

 

Mercedes Jones: Can you take Waverly by this address tomorrow at 5:00pm when she’s done filming? I think this is a great option for her!

 

Nicole: Sure, I’ll run it by her when we pick her up. We’re at the studio now.

 

Xavier parked in his usual spot, and Nicole stood outside the car as they waited for Waverly to emerge. She came out a few minutes later, waving goodbye to Drew as he walked off the lot and headed down the sidewalk.

 

He must live close by, Nicole thought.

 

Waverly smiled at Nicole as she approached the car, Nicole opening the back door for her automatically.

 

Waverly’s hairstylist had straightened her hair for shooting today, and Nicole caught herself thinking how beautiful she looked as always.

 

Waverly slid into the back seat, and Xavier had them back to Nicole’s apartment in under half an hour. Waverly said goodbye to Xavier and followed Nicole inside.

 

“I got a call from that police officer who was leading the investigation into the burglary at your place,” Nicole said. “He said they figured out how the guy got in, but they don’t have any new leads to go on to figure out who did it.”

 

Waverly looked disappointed but thanked Nicole for the update.

 

“Oh also, Hector said they’ll get the cleaning crew in there right away, and they’ve hired a security company to do an all new alarm system in the apartment. It should be better than new when it’s done.”

 

“That’s great,” Waverly said, although she didn’t sound too excited about it.

 

“Mercedes found a place for you to rent,” Nicole continued, hoping that would lift Waverly’s spirits. “She wants to know if you want to go look at it tomorrow after you’re done shooting?”

 

“I don’t think so,” Waverly said.

 

Nicole was surprised by how relieved she felt at Waverly’s words. She’s staying.

 

“Drew has an extra room at his place, so he actually offered to let me stay there rent free for a few weeks, or however long I need to until I figure everything out,” Waverly explained.

 

Nicole’s heart sank.

 

They must be getting more serious than I realized, she thought.

 

She kept her face blank and tried to sound enthusiastic when she responded. “That’s nice of him, I’m glad that worked out then.”

 

Waverly shrugged. “Yeah, it should be convenient. I mean we work the same schedule, and we can walk to the studio from his place, so that’ll be nice and save time. You and Xavier won’t even need to drive me most days.”

 

When will I ever see you, then?

 

Nicole cleared her throat. “Ok, I’ll let Xavier know that you won’t be needing the car every day. When were you thinking of moving over there?” Nicole asked.

 

Waverly seemed to consider it. “I don’t have a ton of stuff here, so I’m sure I could have everything together by tomorrow. If we load the car in the morning, we can drop my stuff off at Drew’s before we have to be on set. Does that work?”

 

“Whatever you want to do is fine,” Nicole said. “I can help you get things together if you need it.”

 

“I think I’m ok. This is great though, right? I’ve got somewhere to live, and you get your room back. It’s a win-win,” Waverly said, smiling.

 

“Win-win, totally,” Nicole said, trying to return the smile but feeling it fall a bit flat.

 

She checked her watch, needing a reason to get out of the house so she didn’t have to watch Waverly pack her things.

 

“I think I’m gonna get in an extra workout today since it’s still early. I’ll just change really quick and then be out of your way,” Nicole said.

 

She went into her bedroom and changed into the first workout clothes she could find, heading for the door and waving over her shoulder at Waverly’s goodbye from behind her.

 

This is why you don’t fall for straight girls. Especially straight girls who literally tell you they just want to be your friend.

 

Nicole got on an open treadmill and ran until she couldn’t feel her legs anymore.

 

***

 

The move to Drew’s had gone smoothly, and Waverly was now settled at her costar’s two-bedroom apartment. It wasn’t the same as living with Nicole, but then again nothing would be she supposed.

 

Nicole and Xavier had only been driving them to set on days when they were shooting on location around the city, and today was one of those days. Waverly looked forward to these days more than ever, as it was the only time she got to see Nicole anymore. So far, giving herself some distance from Nicole had made her crush worse, not better. Waverly missed her, and it was starting to drive her crazy.

 

She had almost asked Nicole to accompany her to coffee again on one of her breaks the day before, but at the last minute Waverly had decided it was a bad idea and nixed the thought.

 

When the car arrived out front, Nicole opened Waverly’s door for her as usual, but the smile Waverly had become accustomed to the week prior was notably absent.

 

Drew slid in behind Xavier, and they headed downtown to today’s shooting location. The shoot was in the theater district, so Waverly knew it was bound to be crowded with fans, tourists and paparazzi trying to catch a glimpse of the action on set. She assumed Nicole would be sticking around during filming to keep an eye on the bystanders, but she suddenly wanted to be certain of it.

 

“Will you be staying on set today, Nicole?” she asked.

 

Nicole didn’t turn around when she responded. “Yeah, I’ll be there to make sure the crowd doesn’t get out of hand,” she said.

 

Waverly let out a breath in relief, glad that Nicole would be there even if she seemed to have put her walls back up since Waverly had moved out.

 

When they arrived near the location, Xavier got as close as he could to the temporary barriers before putting the car in park.

 

“Looks like you’ll have to walk from here,” he said, pointing towards the half block between the car and where the barriers began.

 

There was a group of fans and photographers milling around on the sidewalk, so Waverly assumed she’d have to take some pictures and sign a few autographs before she made it on set.

 

“Stay close, and move as quickly as you can with the fan photos, ok?” Nicole directed from the front seat.

 

“Got it,” Waverly said, placing her sunglasses over her eyes before looking to Drew. “You ready?” she asked.

 

Drew nodded. “Let’s do it.”

 

He got out on his side of the car, and Nicole opened the door for Waverly as the flashes started going off around them.

 

Fans and paparazzi began shouting Waverly’s name, and she smiled and waved as she and Drew wove through them towards the set barriers. Drew stopped to take a selfie with a young fan, and Waverly photobombed the shot over his shoulder, giving him a playful kiss on the cheek as the camera flashed. The studio will eat that up, she thought.

 

The fan thanked them for the photo, and Waverly kept moving. Nicole was right in front of her, clearing a path for her and Drew to weave through the remaining members of the crowd. She signed a final autograph and then they were at the barriers, an on-set security guard sliding the sections apart to let them through. Nicole thanked him and a producer ran up to their group, ushering Waverly and Drew over to the hair and makeup trailers.

 

When Waverly emerged from wardrobe about an hour later, Nicole was nowhere to be seen. The crew had sectioned off a full block radius on Eighth Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, and there were crew members and extras all over the place.

 

Waverly was led towards a well-lit section of the street just outside of the Majestic Theater where the first shots of the day would be taken. Today she and Drew would be shooting a dramatic scene in which Drew chases her down the street after they’ve had an argument and Waverly storms out of his apartment. Of course, the scene ends in a makeup kiss between the couple, and later in the movie they go on to live happily ever in true rom com fashion.

 

Waverly wondered what Nicole would think of the kiss scene. Would she be jealous seeing Waverly kiss someone, even though it was work and none of it was real?

 

She’d have to like you to actually be jealous of Drew, Waverly thought with a sigh.

 

Drew was already waiting under the lights, a script in his hands as he read over what they were about to film. He glanced up when he saw Waverly and the producer approach.

 

“You ready to be swept off your feet by my grand gestures and charismatic charm?” he asked with a wink.

 

Waverly laughed and rolled her eyes. “Sure thing, Casanova. You sure they didn’t get you a body double for the charming part?”

 

Drew held a hand to his chest in mock pain. “You wound me, Miss Earp,” he said dramatically.

 

Waverly shook her head and smiled. It was the easy banter she and Drew had that made it so fun to shoot with him. That, and the fact that he was always so well prepared. Waverly knew she could rely on him to know his lines and not make them have to re-shoot things a hundred times before they got it right. His work ethic was definitely a refreshing change from other actors she’d worked with.  

 

“Ready on the set!”

 

Their director was ready to begin, and the set instantly quieted. Of course, city shoots were never fully silent in the background, but the sounds of the city brought a welcome realness to the scenes.

 

“We love you, Waverly!”

 

A group of three girls outside the barriers yelled their admiration as cameras were rolled into position, and Waverly turned to give them a quick wave before getting back into character.

 

“Quiet on set! Ready camera one. Actors ready?”

 

Waverly and Drew both gave the director a thumbs up, and shooting began.

 

They had to shoot the kiss scene a few times, mostly due to catcalls and cheers erupting from members of the crowd during the filming. On-set security warned bystanders to be quiet or they would be escorted away from scene.

 

As they reset for another take, Waverly realized she hadn’t seen Nicole in hours. Her makeup artist touched up her foundation as she craned her neck to search the surrounding crew.

 

Where the hell is she?

 

The director called for quiet again, and Waverly’s makeup artist stepped out of the shot. She faced Drew and waited for “action”.

 

“FUCK NEW YORK, GO RED SOCKS BABY!”

 

Waverly’s head whipped around at the sudden shout from behind her. She spotted an overweight man running shirtless through the set, his face and torso covered in blue and white body paint with a pair of red socks painted in the middle of his hairy chest.

 

What the actual fuck-

 

A streak of red and navy blurred past, and the guy hit the ground with a thud, the crowd letting out a simultaneous “ooooh” as he landed hard on the concrete. Nicole was on top of him, her knee in the man’s back as she held his arms behind him and called over her shoulder.

 

“Get Midtown PD on the phone,” Nicole shouted at the closest on-set security guard, who was staring at her with his mouth hanging open.

 

“Now would be good!” Nicole said, the man underneath her struggling to get his arms free. “Be still, idiot,” she said firmly to him.

 

Waverly’s mouth mirrored the security guard’s, her jaw hanging open at what she’d just witnessed.

 

Nicole seemed to sense her gaze, her eyes meeting Waverly’s from her position twenty yards away and holding steady.

 

Police arrived on the set moments later, and Nicole stood up to let them take over.

 

“Red Socks all day, baby!” the man was still cheering even as he was led away in handcuffs. The surrounding crowd booed loudly, and chants of “Let’s go Yankees!” started rippling through their ranks.

 

It was then that Waverly covered her mouth to stop the laughter from bubbling out.

 

Nicole made her way over to where Waverly was standing and placed her hands on her hips.

 

“What’s so funny?” Nicole asked, clearly at a loss.

 

Waverly was laughing so hard she was on the verge of tears. She pointed to Nicole’s suit and watched the redhead’s eyes widen as she took in her appearance.

 

The man’s body paint had rubbed off on Nicole’s dark suit, leaving a man-shaped red and white imprint across the front of her body.

 

A smile broke across Nicole’s face, and suddenly she was cracking up right alongside Waverly.

 

“Only in fucking New York, I swear,” Nicole said, shaking her head as she rubbed at the paint with her fingers to no avail.

 

“Dude, that was some tackle,” Drew chimed in, his face showing as much disbelief as Waverly’s had moments before.

 

Tom, one of the producers, was nearby as well, making sure everyone was ok after the unexpected excitement.

 

He looked Nicole over and smirked at her ruined outfit. “Do you need a change of clothes, Miss Haught?” he asked.

 

“I think I might, if you guys have anything extra you could spare for the day,” she said. “Just a new shirt should be fine.”

 

“I think we can manage that.” Tom spoke quickly into a walkie talkie, and Waverly assumed an intern was now searching the wardrobe trailer for a clean shirt.

 

“Hey, have you ever thought about doing stunts?” Tom suddenly asked, and Waverly realized he was addressing the question to Nicole.

 

Nicole looked as though Tom had asked her if she’d ever considered auditioning for Top Chef.

 

“Um, no, can’t say that I have,” Nicole replied.

 

“Huh. Well, you should think about it. Hell, after what I just saw there, I’d hire you on the spot,” he said.

 

Nicole raised an eyebrow but didn’t respond. An out of breath young man sprinted up to her with a dark t-shirt clutched in his fist.

 

And there’s the intern, Waverly thought with a smirk.

 

“Will this work, Miss Haught?” the man asked, holding the shirt up by the shoulder seams for Nicole to inspect.

 

“It’s fine, thank you,” Nicole said, taking it and heading towards the nearest trailer to change. She slipped her ruined suit jacket off as she walked, a few catcalls erupting from the crowd as she did so.

 

You guys have no idea, Waverly thought with a shake of her head.  

 

***

 

A week had passed since the exciting “half-streaker incident” on set, and the crew was now set to wrap filming on the movie. Waverly had been thinking a lot about what was coming up next for her, and not just in her career. She needed to get her housing situation figured out, but she was now certain that she didn’t want to move back into her old place. It felt like that space had been permanently violated, and Waverly couldn’t imagine feeling fully comfortable there after what had happened. She needed a fresh start, and now was the perfect time while she was between projects.

 

She’d asked Mercedes to hook her up with a realtor, and Waverly had spent her newly-earned free time touring various condos, townhouses and high rise apartments. So far none of them had felt quite right, but they were scheduled to see an apartment in NoHo that Waverly had loved from the online listing later that afternoon.

 

For some reason Waverly really wanted Nicole to see the place, too. She had grown to trust Nicole’s instincts and opinions about things, and she wanted Nicole to give her two cents on the location of the apartment, especially since it was in stark contrast to her old place on the upper west side. Waverly debated whether she should bother Nicole with a request like this before finally pulling out her phone and drafting a text.

 

Waverly: Hey, you busy later?

 

Waverly stared at the screen and immediately hit the delete button multiple times.

 

What is this, a freaking booty call? Jesus, Earp.

 

Waverly shook her head at herself and tried again.

 

Waverly: Hi. I’m going to check out an apartment with my realtor in a few hours. Would you mind coming with to see what you think of the area?

 

Better.

 

She hit send and waited, staring at the screen and waiting for the infamous typing bubbles to pop up.

 

Finally the bubbles appeared next to “hot bodyguard”, and Waverly grinned. Drew had changed Nicole’s contact name in her phone, and Waverly hadn’t bothered to change it back.

 

Hot bodyguard: What time?

 

Waverly glanced at her watch. She wondered if Nicole would be up for getting lunch before heading over to the apartment.

 

Waverly: If you want to do lunch first, we could meet in NoHo in half an hour and find a spot to eat and then head over?

 

She chewed on her thumb nail as she waited for Nicole to respond.

 

Hot bodyguard: Can’t do lunch, sorry. What time should I meet you at the apartment?

 

“Damn,” Waverly muttered to herself.

 

Waverly: 1:30pm. Address is 25 Bond Street in NoHo, near Wash Park. 4th floor.

 

Hot bodyguard: Ok, see you then.

 

Waverly sighed, now needing to kill two hours before she got to see Nicole and hopefully her new home.

 

But at least she said yes.  

 

***

 

Nicole checked her phone’s map and headed north on Lafayette Street. The address Waverly had sent was only about two blocks from the Broadway-Lafayette Station, which was super convenient. She knew Washington Square Park was a few blocks over to the west, but still close enough that Waverly could walk there if she ever wanted a brief respite from the city.

 

The area was trendy but not overcrowded, the streets lined with a variety of shops as Nicole walked. She passed a Levain Bakery and grinned. Nicole was jealous that Waverly might live in such close proximity to her favorite chocolate chunk cookies.

 

She hit Bond Street and turned east, finding the building’s entrance easily between shopfronts. The door had been propped open, Nicole presumed by Waverly’s realtor, so she was able to enter without a key. She took the elevator to the fourth floor and found Waverly and a slightly older woman chatting outside a door marked 4E.

 

“Oh, hi Nicole,” Waverly said with a small wave when she spotted her approach.

 

Nicole smiled at Waverly and introduced herself to the woman who had to be Waverly’s realtor.

 

“Kelsey Parker,” she said, giving Nicole’s hand a firm shake before facing the door of the unit. “Are you two ready for this?”

 

The woman was clearly excited to show Waverly the space, and Nicole hoped it lived up to the hype.

 

As soon as Kelsey opened the door, Nicole’s eyes went wide. Waverly stepped inside first and Nicole followed, her eyes traveling up to 12-foot ceilings and a wall of windows across the room. The space screamed modern comfort, with wide plank wood floors and a tiled fireplace feature on the eastern wall of the living area. It was staged with midcentury modern furniture in wood and white tones, a sleek glass credenza separating the living room from the expansive kitchen behind it.

 

The kitchen cabinets matched the wood floors, but the blue tile backsplash brought a pop of color to the otherwise neutral room. The kitchen boasted a commercial sized fridge as well as the largest gas range Nicole had ever seen. It was a chef’s dream, and Nicole wondered briefly if Waverly knew how to cook. She hadn’t seen any evidence of it while Waverly stayed with her, although Nicole had insisted on cooking to try and ease Waverly’s transition to her new living situation.

 

“It’s stunning,” Waverly said, breaking the silence.

 

Kelsey was grinning from ear to ear, and Nicole knew the realtor was counting the seconds until closing the deal on this place. Nicole couldn’t fathom what something like this would even cost.

 

“It’s priced to sell. 11.8 million, so if you love it you’ll need to move fast,” Kelsey said.

 

Waverly just nodded and Nicole’s jaw dropped as she continued to take everything in.

 

Almost twelve million dollars, holy shit…

 

“The master bedroom and en suite is the best part, come see,” Kelsey said, leading the way down a hallway that opened into a huge bedroom.

 

Again, one wall was taken up by floor to ceiling windows, and on the wall opposite the bed was another fireplace decorated with tile that looked like wood. Waverly walked through the bedroom and into the attached bathroom that doubled as the master closet, a large porcelain tub along one wall with custom shelving across from it. The floating double vanity was reflected in the giant mirror above it, and Nicole noted that the lighting in the room was amazing.

 

Everything about the apartment felt expensive yet homey, thoughtfully laid out but not overdone. Nicole watched Waverly walk back into the main living area and take everything in. She wondered what Waverly thought of the place. It was very different from her old apartment, much softer tones and less rigid lines. Was this more her style? Nicole wondered.

 

“What do you think?” Waverly was looking at Nicole, and Nicole didn’t understand why the question was being directed to her.

 

“Uh, I think it’s gorgeous, obviously,” Nicole said with a small laugh. “But I’m not the one who has to live here, you do.”

 

Waverly considered that for a moment before asking another question. “What about the location? Do you see any issues with the area or anything?”

 

Nicole thought about it from a professional perspective. “From a security standpoint, this is a bit different than what you’re used to. No doorman, entrance off the main street. It’s a bit more public, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

 

Nicole addressed Kelsey with some questions of her own. “Does the unit have its own security system?” she asked.

 

“Oh yes, state of the art, motion activated alarm system. And there are cameras on the balcony outside that cover the entire patio, as well as that entrance into the house. Although, someone would have to scale four stories in order to reach it,” Kelsey said matter-of-factly. “There are also cameras that are monitored 24/7 in all of the hallways as well as on the street outside of the main entrances.”  

 

Nicole nodded. “And what about other entrances into or out of the building – any back entrances or fire escapes with direct access to the unit?”

 

Kelsey shook her head no. “The fire escape stairwells are all off the main hallways, they don’t have direct access to any particular apartment. The building has a front and rear entrance, both requiring physical keys to access the outer door, as well as obviously a unique key to access each unit.”

 

Nicole focused on Waverly again. “All of that sounds more secure than the last place you were living, the only difference being you don’t have the doorman out front as an added layer of security. The area overall looked good to me, and it’s not as busy as other parts of the city. You’re really close to the subway station, and if there’s a back entrance then I would imagine Xavier could pick you up from that side if you wanted more privacy when going in and out.”

 

Nicole watched as Waverly walked to the large living room windows and looked out over the balcony Kelsey had mentioned. Nicole wondered how long one had to think it over before deciding to spend over eleven million dollars on a single purchase.

 

Waverly turned back to face them with a huge grin on her face. “I’ll take it,” she said.

 

Apparently, less than two minutes, Nicole thought.

 

Kelsey clapped her hands excitedly and pulled out her cell phone. “I’ll make some calls, and we’ll get the offer over to the seller immediately. I should have news within the hour,” she said, stepping out into the hall as she spoke into her phone hurriedly.

 

Nicole’s smile mirrored Waverly’s as she spun in a slow circle in the middle of the living room.

 

“I can’t believe I’m going to live here,” Waverly said.

 

“We’re not going to be neighbors anymore,” Nicole said, surprising herself with where her train of thought had taken her.

 

“Well, if you ever need a couch to crash on, I think I owe you one,” Waverly said with a wink, and Nicole chuckled.

 

“I think I might have to fight Drew for first dibs on the sleepovers,” Nicole said.

 

Waverly stopped spinning and focused on her with a look Nicole couldn’t quite place.

 

“You’re probably right,” Waverly finally replied.

 

Speaking of Drew, Nicole wondered why she was here right now instead of him. Wouldn’t Waverly want her boyfriend’s opinion on her new home?

 

Nicole’s phone pinged in her pocket, and she pulled it out to glance at the screen. It pinged three more times in quick succession before she even opened the first message.

 

“Someone’s popular,” Waverly commented.

 

Nicole sighed. “Not exactly.”

 

Tia was freaking out about Maya’s upcoming birthday, and apparently whatever big gift she had been planning had fallen through.

 

“Not a hot date then?” Waverly asked.

 

Nicole laughed and shook her head. “Definitely not,” she replied. Nicole paused, wondering if Waverly would care about the details. “It’s my best friend’s wife, Tia. Her daughter turns ten this month, and she was planning to get her Taylor Swift tickets or something, but it looks like they sold out too quickly so Tia’s freaking out.”

 

Waverly looked surprised at the information but glad to be in the loop. “This is the wife and daughter of your friend who was killed in combat?” she asked.

 

Nicole nodded, typing a quick reply to Tia that she would call her later. She had kept in regular contact with Tia since Brian’s death, doing whatever she could to help her friend’s family whenever they needed it. Tia and Maya had become like a second family to Nicole, and she knew they’d always have each other no matter how much physical distance was between them.

 

Waverly cleared her throat. “You know, I happen to know some people in the music industry. I bet I could get my hands on some concert tickets if I made a few calls,” she said.

 

It took a second for Nicole to grasp what Waverly was saying. “Oh no, I can’t ask you to do that, Waverly-“

 

Waverly held up a hand to stop Nicole’s protests. “You’re not asking, I’m offering. Plus, what’s the point of having celebrity perks if you never use them?” she asked.

 

Nicole shook her head in disbelief. “You really don’t need to do that. I’m sure I can think of some ideas to help Tia out, we can come up with something.”

 

Waverly raised an eyebrow at her. “You can come up with something better than VIP tickets to a Taylor Swift concert?” Waverly asked.

 

Nicole let a deep breath leave her lungs, sighing in defeat. “No, probably not,” she admitted.

 

“That’s what I thought,” Waverly said with a knowing smile. “Let me see if Mercedes has some connections, but I think we can pull this off.”

 

Waverly began typing a text to Mercedes, and Nicole had the sudden urge to pull her into a hug.

 

“I seriously can’t thank you enough,” Nicole said. “This will mean the world to Maya.”

 

Waverly looked up from her phone and smiled at Nicole. “What are friends for, right? Plus, who better to take advantage of the perks I never use than a little girl on her birthday.”

 

Nicole laughed. “I think most of my friends consider a grand gesture of friendship to be loaning me five bucks, not hunting down VIP concert tickets for one of the biggest artists in the world.”

 

Waverly chuckled at that but said nothing, finishing her message to Mercedes before hitting send. Kelsey stepped back into the apartment with a huge smile on her face.

 

“The selling agent was very excited to hear about our offer, and he’s ready to review the paperwork and present it to his seller as soon as he receives it,” she said. “We should have good news before dinner time.”

 

“Excellent, thank you so much, Kelsey,” Waverly said. “You’ll call me later then?”

 

Kelsey nodded and told them they could go ahead and head out and she would lock up behind them.

 

Nicole and Waverly made their way to the elevator and got in together when it arrived.

 

“I can’t believe you just spent eleven million dollars on an apartment,” Nicole said.

 

“I can’t believe I thought you were texting a secret girlfriend, when you were actually planning a 10-year-old’s birthday,” Waverly said.

 

Their eyes met in the mirrored elevator doors, and both women burst out laughing.

 

“I think you’d know if I had a secret girlfriend,” Nicole said, using air quotes on the secret.

 

Waverly shrugged. “I witnessed you get asked out on one date, who’s to say it’s not a regular occurrence?”

 

Nicole had forgotten all about the girl from the podcast studio who had asked her out in front of Waverly. She was surprised Waverly remembered it.

 

“Samantha wasn’t my type,” Nicole said, holding the door open as it reached the ground floor, and she and Waverly made their way out onto the street.

 

Waverly glanced at her skeptically. “Beautiful and blonde isn’t your type? Then what is?”

 

Short, stubborn brunettes who ask too many personal questions.

 

Nicole rubbed the back of her neck, not sure how they’d gotten into this line of questioning. “I don’t have a type,” she said.

 

Waverly looked confused. “But you just said-“

 

“I’ve gotta run,” Nicole said, her phone mercifully ringing at that very moment and saving her from finishing their conversation.

 

“Hello?” Nicole said into the phone.

 

She heard Tia’s voice going a mile a minute as she backed away from Waverly with a mouthed “see you later” in her direction.

 

Waverly rolled her eyes but waved, the look on her face saying she and Nicole would finish their conversation another time.

 

Nicole finally turned away and focused on what Tia was saying, filling her in on Waverly’s offer and holding the phone away from her ear at Tia’s high-pitched squeal in response. She wondered who would be more excited to see Taylor Swift from the best seats in the house, her friend or the birthday girl.

Chapter Text

Late September had settled upon the city, and Waverly had been soaking up the crisp Fall weather as much as she could. She had a few weeks of downtime until the cast started doing press for the movie, and she had been using that time to get settled into her new apartment in NoHo. Drew, Xavier, and Nicole had all volunteered to help, but Waverly had decided to use a moving company to make her life easier.

 

A lot of her stuff had been trashed in the burglary, so she had decided to purchase some new furniture and décor for the new place. Alex had sent her a gorgeous black and white photograph of the Manhattan skyline as a housewarming gift, and Waverly had decided to hang it in a place of honor above her bedroom fireplace. All in all, she was happy with how everything had come together, and as much as she loved Drew, she was glad to be in her own space again.

 

The Fall season marked the start of an assortment of red carpet events, parties, and publicity opportunities, the first being the star-studded Met Gala. This was Waverly’s first year being invited, and she couldn’t wait to attend the event she’d heard so much about from colleagues in the industry.

 

Alex and Drew were also both invited, so Waverly’s entire entourage and friend group would be in tow. Alex was bringing his boyfriend, Ben, as his plus one, and Waverly was using her plus one spot to get Nicole in, although Drew would be her official date for the evening.

 

Waverly had asked Nicole to attend under the pretense of security, but she secretly just wanted Nicole to get to experience the event with the group. Nicole had seemed a bit worried by the black tie dress code, but Waverly told her if she needed any styling help she could have Gina hook her up.

 

Now that she thought about it, Waverly didn’t actually know what Nicole would be wearing. Gina had found a gorgeous emerald green dress for Waverly to wear, a long-sleeved number studded with emeralds and diamonds, a collarbone height neckline in the front but a deep V in the back that almost reached the bottom of Waverly’s spine and left her entire back bare.

 

The dress currently hung on a hanger in Waverly’s bathroom, awaiting Gina’s expert hands to help Waverly into it after her hair and makeup were done. Terri, Waverly’s hairstylist, was on her way over to get Waverly red carpet ready, so Waverly was anticipating a few hours of prep at least. Xavier was scheduled to pick Drew up and then Waverly before heading over to the Met. Nicole was meeting them there due to limited space in the car (Waverly was ready to lay across the entire back seat of the car if it would prevent her dress from wrinkling). The things we do for beautiful photos, she thought with a roll of her eyes.

 

A few hours later and it was go time. Terri had expertly twisted Waverly’s hair into an updo of intricate braids and twists that allowed the dress’s deep v-cut in the back to be on full display. The heavy dress sat snugly on Waverly’s shoulders, the bodice fitting her like a glove. Gina was a styling genius, and Waverly gave her an air hug in thanks before heading downstairs in the elevator.

 

Drew and Xavier were waiting for her, both standing outside the car as though it would be a two-man job to get her into it. They might have a point.

 

Drew was in a classic black tuxedo with white shirt and black waistcoat, a black bowtie around his neck and his hair perfectly styled. He looked every bit the part of up-and-coming movie star, and Waverly grinned at him.

 

“You clean up pretty good,” she said giving him a once over.

 

Drew shrugged and brushed a hand down the front of his jacket. He gestured for Waverly to turn so he could see the full outfit.

 

He whistled under his breath and shook his head. “People are gonna drop dead when they see you,” he said. “You look amazing.”

 

Xavier voiced his agreement. Waverly grinned and thanked her friends, turning her attention to the back seat that she now had to crawl into without ruining her look.

 

“Ok gents, how do you suggest we get my sparkly butt in this car without wrinkling me?” she asked.

 

Xavier laughed and seemed to think it over.

 

“I’d say sit with your back facing the far side door, and then just scootch back. You might as well just sit sideways and keep your feet up across the seat,” he suggested.

 

Drew nodded his agreement. “Alright, get your high maintenance ass in there, Earp. We’ve got a party to go to!”

 

Waverly rolled her eyes and took the hand Drew offered as she got herself settled on the seat. She slid back until her back hit the opposite door, leaving her feet out across the seat as Xavier had suggested.

 

She smirked at Drew as she got as comfortable as she could in the back. “Guess you’re riding on the hood, hot shot.”

 

He smacked her ankle and closed the door, sliding into Nicole’s usual seat up front.

 

Thankfully, the car ride was short. Waverly was able to wiggle her way out of the opposite side of the car when they arrived outside the event, with the help of Xavier. She brushed herself off and Drew extended an elbow for her as they rounded the car, paparazzi immediately shouting their names as they approached the red carpet at the bottom of the famous steps leading up to the museum’s entrance.

 

Waverly was amazed at the number of A-list actors she was faced with upon their arrival. Blake Lively and her husband Ryan Reynolds were posing together towards the top of the steps. Behind them, a solo Anna Kendrick was being photographed with a hand on her hip as photographers shouted her name.

 

“Oh my god, is that Shonda Rhimes?” Drew whispered in Waverly’s ear.

 

Waverly turned, and it was in fact, Shonda Rhimes getting out of a sleek black car behind them.

 

“Waverly!”

 

A familiar voice caught Waverly’s attention, and she turned to find Alex and Ben approaching them with huge grins on their faces. They exchanged hugs and air kisses as Alex gushed over how amazing Waverly looked. He had his signature camera slung over his shoulder, and Waverly thought he looked like the best dressed paparazzo she’d ever seen.

 

“Oh you know, just something I found on clearance,” Waverly joked, gesturing at the dress.

 

“Clearance my ass,” Alex said. “You look like a million and a half bucks,” he said.

 

“Oh wow, thanks for that extra five hundred thousand,” Waverly laughed.

 

Alex’s own laugh died in his throat as he looked at something over Waverly’s shoulder.

 

“Holy crap,” he muttered, shaking his head as a slow grin spread over his face.

 

Waverly turned around, searching for what had caught Alex’s attention.

 

A woman in a white suit was talking to one of the security guards, and as she turned around Waverly’s eyes went wide.

 

Is that…

 

Nicole caught her eye and gave a small wave, making her way towards Waverly’s group.

 

“Haughtpants cleans up good,”, Alex muttered. He raised his camera and Waverly heard the shutter click a few times.

 

That’s Nicole?” Ben asked. “Jesus, Waverly, where’d you find her, Vogue for bodyguards?”

 

Drew and Alex both laughed, Waverly staying quiet as she watched Nicole approach.

 

She was wearing an off-white suit with tapered pants that fit her like a glove, her hair down and pulled over one shoulder, a few braids on one side near her temple. But what Waverly was staring at was the mostly-open suit jacket that seemed to be missing an accompanying shirt, an expanse of bare skin on display from Nicole’s throat to her sternum. The jacket had a single button just below the lapels, the only thing keeping the rest of Nicole’s torso hidden from view.

 

Holy fuck, Waverly thought, swallowing at the sudden dryness in her throat.

 

Waverly all but felt Nicole’s eyes appraise her as she got closer, and she felt paralyzed under her scrutiny.

 

The group was silent when Nicole stopped in front of them, not that Waverly noticed. Her eyes traveled the length of Nicole’s body before meeting sparkling brown eyes that were similarly appraising her, a faint blush on her dimpled cheeks.

 

Alex broke the silence, and Waverly realized she had no idea how long they’d been standing there shamelessly staring at each other.

 

“Good to see you again, Miss Haught. You surely did not disappoint,” he said, shaking Nicole’s hand with a grin. “This is my boyfriend, Ben Strand. He’s a classical musician for the New York Philharmonic,” Alex said.

 

Waverly watched Nicole and Ben shake hands, the smile on Ben’s face matching his boyfriend’s.

 

“Great to meet you, Ben,” Nicole said.

 

“You too,” Ben said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things.”

 

Nicole smiled at that and turned her attention to Drew.

 

“Drew, good to see you. You glad to have your house back to yourself?” she asked, shooting a playful glance at Waverly.

 

Drew smirked. “Oh, Miss Diva here is pretty high maintenance, but I guess you’d know all about that from when she was staying at your place,” he joked.

 

Alex’s eyes went wide. “Hold up, somebody better catch me up on that story. I had no idea you two had moved in together so fast!” he said, pointing between Nicole and Waverly.

 

Waverly felt her face go hot as she smacked Drew’s arm. “Way to get him all worked up,” she said laughing.

 

Waverly quickly filled Alex and Ben in on everything that had happened between moving in with Nicole to buying her new place on the south side of Manhattan.

 

“Sounds like something out of a Lifetime movie,” Alex said. “We need to get film rights on this story asap!”

 

The group laughed, and an event staffer made their way over to them.

 

“Miss Earp, Mr. Clayton? You two are next up for entrance photos. Are you ready to go in?” the woman asked.

 

Drew nodded and Waverly fidgeted with her dress to make sure everything was still in place.

 

“Wait! Let me get a shot of you and Nicole before you go in,” Alex said.

 

Waverly narrowed her eyes at her friend but nodded, stepping to Nicole’s side to oblige him.

 

“A bit closer,” Alex said, gesturing for them to adjust their position.

 

The sigh caught in Waverly’s throat as she felt a warm hand rest on the bare skin of her back, Nicole stepping into her until their sides were flush. Waverly felt goosebumps spread across her skin as she turned to look at Nicole, but the redhead was already smiling at Alex as a flash went off.

 

Waverly saw Alex check the camera screen and smile widely.

 

“Beautiful,” he said, slinging the camera back over his shoulder.

 

“But I wasn’t look-“

 

“Miss Earp?” The organizer woman was looking at her expectantly, indicating she and Drew should make their way up the stairs.

 

Waverly threw a final glance at Nicole before taking Drew’s arm and making their way to the first landing on the stairs. Cameras flashed around them as they smiled and turned various directions for the paparazzi. Waverly went to her happy place and wiped everything else from her mind. Especially red hair, warm hands, and sleek white suits.

 

***

 

Nicole was a bit overwhelmed to say the least. She had never seen so many celebrities in one place in her life, and she couldn’t believe some of the A-listers who were milling around the building around her were even real. Everyone was dressed impeccably, none more so than Waverly Earp and her friends.

 

Nicole’s eyes drifted to the woman currently monopolizing her thoughts. She was laughing with a woman who looked like a clone of Brie Larson. Wait, that’s actually Brie Larson, Nicole realized.

 

Her eyes were once again drawn to the bare skin on display thanks to the dress Waverly was wearing. Nicole owed Gina one hell of a gift basket, and not just because she had helped Nicole find her own outfit for this event. Nicole had been apprehensive about the low cut of the suit jacket with no shirt underneath, but Gina had insisted she looked amazing, so Nicole had accepted her expert opinion.

 

She tugged on the jacket’s lapels slightly to adjust the opening at her chest.

 

“Stop fidgeting, you look amazing,” Alex said, coming to stand next to her with a drink in his hand.

 

He followed Nicole’s gaze and smiled as Ben and Drew joined Waverly and Brie in an animated discussion about music.

 

“I’d say we made out pretty well, wouldn’t you, Haught?” Alex asked.

 

Nicole was confused by the statement, assuming Alex was referring to being lucky that Ben was his partner but knowing she and Waverly weren’t together.

 

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Nicole admitted. “Waverly is here with Drew, and I’m here for work.”

 

Alex rolled his eyes. “What do you see when you look at those two?” he asked, pointing between Waverly and Drew.

 

Nicole considered the question. “Hollywood’s next A-list power couple?” Nicole said.

 

Alex shook his head and lowered his voice. “I see a pair of actors who are very good at their jobs, and who will make the studio a lot of money because of it,” he said.

 

“You mean they’re pretending to be a couple?” Nicole asked, confused.

 

“What I mean is they might be very close, but I know for a fact that Drew Clayton is gay,” Alex whispered.

 

Nicole’s eyes widened in disbelief.

 

“The only reason I’m telling you this is because the way you look at Waverly is starting to make me depressed for you, and I want you to know that she isn’t really off the market, if that’s what’s been holding you back,” Alex said.  

 

Nicole had no idea what to do with this new information. Just because Waverly wasn’t in a relationship with Drew didn’t mean she was into women, and it definitely didn’t mean she’d be interested in Nicole. Plus, there was the issue of Nicole working for Waverly, not to mention she was nowhere near being in the woman’s league. The crowd surrounding them right now was proof of that.

 

Alex seemed to understand that Nicole needed some time to process what he’d told her. He patted her on the back and made his way over to the group, offering Waverly a glass of champagne when he arrived.

 

The lights suddenly went dim in the large room, and a voice came over the speakers to get the crowd’s attention.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming out this year to support the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. We greatly appreciate you being here tonight, and thanks to your generous donations we have raised over thirteen million dollars for the Institute this year. Please give yourselves a round of applause!”

 

The crowd shifted their drinks in their hands to applaud the news, people murmuring to their neighbors at the exorbitant figure.

 

“And now, it’s my great privilege to introduce this year’s surprise musical guest. I think you’ll recognize him once he hits the stage, but please put your hands together for Mr. Justin Timberlake!”

 

The celebrity crowd went wild, people cheering and whistling as Justin walked out onto a stage that was setup at one end of the room. Nicole hadn’t even noticed the dance floor setup in front of the stage, but she now saw people putting their drinks down and making their way out onto the floor.

 

“How’s everybody doing tonight?” Justin asked, warming the crowd up before starting his set.

 

Nicole felt like she was in a movie herself, taking in the scene around her as some of the most famous people in the world clamored to get closer to the stage while Justin Timberlake performed.

 

You’re a long way from Georgia, she thought with a shake of her head.

 

Nicole was surprised to see Waverly making her way over to the table she was currently leaning against. She managed to keep her eyes from raking over Waverly’s dress for the umpteenth time as Waverly approached.

 

“Hey,” Waverly said with a wide smile. “You having fun?”

 

Nicole scoffed. “I’m in a room with some of the richest people in the world,” she said. “It’s pretty surreal honestly.”

 

Waverly nodded knowingly. “I know what you mean. The first celebrity party I went to was so overwhelming I hid in the corner all night and hoped nobody would talk to me,” she said.

 

Nicole laughed. “That’s hard to believe given the fact you were chatting it up with Harry Styles a while ago,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

 

Waverly shrugged. “You get used to it. They’re all just people, just like me and you,” she said.

 

“Right,” Nicole replied, still skeptical but taking Waverly’s word for it.

 

Waverly seemed to hesitate before speaking again, leaning in so Nicole could hear her over the now thumping music behind Justin’s vocals.

 

“I think I owe you a dance after the Labor Day party,” Waverly said. “What do you say?”

 

Nicole studied Waverly before glancing around the room. She didn’t belong there, not with Waverly and her peers who were enjoying a night out of the limelight but living a privileged reality Nicole would never share.

 

She shook her head. “I don’t think you should be photographed with the help,” Nicole said. “Go have fun with Drew and your friends, and I’ll hang out until whenever you’re ready to leave.”

 

Nicole fought the urge to change her mind at the look of disappointment on Waverly’s face. The brunette recovered quickly, her face notably blank as she stepped back and nodded.

 

“Sure, ok,” Waverly said, turning her back on Nicole and finding her friends out on the dancefloor.

 

Nicole sighed and leaned her elbows on the table in front of her. She was doing the right thing, but that didn’t make it suck any less.

 

***

 

Nicole watched Waverly place her fifth empty champagne flute on the bar and shook her head. As small as Waverly was, there was no way she was going to be standing upright much longer. Nicole had never seen a drunk Waverly before, but she expected she was about to.

 

Alex and Ben had ducked out about an hour prior, so Drew and Waverly were the only ones left of the group. Drew led Waverly over to Nicole’s table with an arm around her back to steady her. Waverly sat heavily in the chair next to Nicole’s and hiccupped loudly.

 

Nicole raised an eyebrow at Drew, who became sheepish at her stern look.

 

“Yeah, I didn’t do a great job monitoring how much she was drinking,” he admitted. “By the time I noticed her getting tipsy she was already four glasses in.”

 

Nicole rolled her eyes. “I’ll text Xavier to bring the car around, and we can drop you off first. I’ll make sure she gets into her place ok before we leave her there.”

 

Drew nodded and stifled a yawn. “Thanks, Nicole.”

 

Nicole texted Xavier and told him they’d be out front in five minutes. The crowd had thinned a good deal, but there were still some celebrities on the dancefloor as the DJ spun remixes of popular dance music. Nicole didn’t know how they were still going, she was almost dead on her feet herself.

 

Nicole stood from the table and gripped Waverly’s elbow as she helped her up, Waverly stumbling slightly but thankfully still able to walk on her own.

 

Xavier handed them all bottles of water as they got in the car, and Nicole nodded her thanks.

 

They rode to Drew’s in relative silence, broken only by a few shared stories as Drew and Waverly recounted conversations they’d had with various party guests.

 

“Did you see the guy from Grey’s Anatomy?” Drew asked Waverly in the back seat.

 

Waverly must have nodded because Nicole didn’t hear her initial response. “He’s a bad kisser,” Waverly giggled. “We did a movie together a few years ago.”

 

Drew laughed and they fell back into a tired silence. Traffic made the trip slow going, and Nicole stifled her own yawn as they pulled up to Drew’s building. Xavier got out to let him out of the car, and Drew said goodnight to them all before heading inside.

 

They arrived at Waverly’s half an hour later, and Nicole had to wake Waverly up in the back seat.

 

“It might take me a few minutes to get her settled, so I’ll text you in a few,” Nicole told Xavier.

 

She helped Waverly out of the back of the car and kept an arm around her waist as she fished for Waverly’s keys in her small clutch, finally finding them and letting them into her building. Waverly seemed to have sobered up a bit on the car ride over, but she now looked as exhausted as Nicole felt.

 

The elevator opened on the fourth floor and they exited, Nicole using Waverly’s keys to open her front door. It was the first time Nicole had been back to the apartment since Waverly had purchased it, and the new furniture and décor Waverly had brought in kept with the neutral tones Nicole had seen when the place was staged.

 

Waverly immediately tried to crash on the couch, but Nicole grabbed her wrist and led her to her bedroom instead.

 

“Ok, we need to get you out of this dress,” Nicole said.

 

Waverly snickered and Nicole realized her mistake.

 

“Shut up, you know what I mean,” she said.

 

Waverly pointed towards the closet as she searched for the zipper at her lower back.

 

“Middle shelf on the very right side,” she said.

 

Nicole went into the closet and found the drawer Waverly described, pulling out a folded t-shirt and sleep shorts from the top of the folded pile.

 

She returned to the bedroom and found Waverly still struggling to locate the zipper that would free her from the dress.

 

“Um, I think I’m stuck,” Waverly said with a laugh.

 

Nicole placed the pajamas on the bed and went to examine the back of Waverly’s dress.

 

“Here, let me help you,” she said. She saw the small metal zipper at the base of the deep V, extending a few inches lower over Waverly’s butt.  

 

Nicole sighed. Of course it is.

 

“I’m gonna unzip you, ok?” Nicole said quietly.

 

Waverly nodded, and Nicole slid the zipper down, being careful not to touch Waverly’s skin for her own sanity.

 

She saw a sliver of black lace and stopped, stepping back and releasing the breath she’d been holding.

 

“All set,” she said, her voice coming out much quieter than she intended.

 

“Thanks,” Waverly said, her tone matching Nicole’s. She glanced at the bed and frowned.

 

“You grabbed the wrong shirt,” Waverly said, pouting.

 

Nicole had no idea what the “right shirt” was, so she asked a still tipsy Waverly to explain.

 

“I want the Braves shirt,” Waverly said. “The one that smells like vanilla.”

 

Nicole raised her eyebrows but went back to the closet and searched the same drawer, locating her old baseball shirt under a few others that were folded on top. She suppressed a grin as she went back into the bedroom, Waverly now trying to wriggle the dress off her bare shoulders. Nicole tossed the shirt on the bed and turned her back to Waverly to give her some privacy.

 

When she heard Waverly huff and start pulling the duvet off the bed, Nicole turned around to help her get settled. They folded the duvet halfway down, and Waverly suddenly turned to face Nicole. Her eyes were a little unfocused, but Waverly held Nicole’s gaze for a minute before leaning in to her, one hand gripping the front of Nicole’s jacket.

 

Nicole felt Waverly’s lips hit the corner of her mouth, and she pulled back with wide eyes as she searched Waverly’s face.

 

Was she actually trying to kiss me or-

 

“Thank you for tonight, Nicole,” Waverly said with a yawn. “I appreciate you being there and bringing me home.”  

 

Waverly crawled into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin.

 

“Sure, no problem,” Nicole said, her mind still reeling from Waverly’s lips on her skin.  

 

She fought the urge to kiss Waverly on the forehead, leaning instead to turn her bedside lamp off.

 

Waverly was already breathing deeply, and Nicole knew she’d be asleep in minutes.

 

She padded softly out of Waverly’s room and went to her fridge, finding a bottle of water that she took back to place on the nightstand. With a final glance at a sleeping Waverly, Nicole left the apartment and pulled the door closed softly behind her.

 

She ran a hand through her hair as she took the elevator back to the first floor, shooting Xavier a text that she was headed down. As he drove, Nicole checked her phone and found a message from Deanna saying she had seen Waverly and Nicole on TV during the red carpet coverage.

 

Mama D: You and your girl both looked STUNNING

 

Nicole shook her head and smiled, always glad to hear from Deanna, even if she was delusional about her and Waverly’s relationship.

 

Nicole: Thanks, Mama D. It was a wild night. Bruno Mars was there, your fave!

 

Mama D: Oh lord I love that man

 

Nicole: What are you still doing awake at this hour anyway?

 

Mama D: I just wanted to say hi and make sure you and Waverly got home safe

 

Nicole: Your son is graciously driving me home right now. We just dropped Waverly off, she passed out as soon as her head hit the pillow LOL

 

Mama D: You tell my boy I said hi and drive safe! And I expect to see some photos of you two from tonight, you better text me later <3

 

Nicole: Yes ma’am, I’ll do that. Have a good night, talk soon.

 

Nicole put her phone away and rested her head on the headrest.

 

“Your mom says hi and to drive safe,” Nicole told Xavier.  

 

She closed her eyes and thought about all that had happened throughout the night. Alex telling her Drew and Waverly weren’t dating. She wondered why Waverly had let her think they were. Waverly in that dress that Nicole would never get out of her head. The near-kiss in Waverly’s room.

 

She was just drunk and trying to say thank you.

 

Nicole looked out the window and watched the city lights go by in a blur. She wondered if Waverly would even remember the almost-kiss in the morning. She knew she would.

Chapter Text

A few weeks had passed since the Met Gala, and Waverly’s life was about to get hectic again. Mercedes had called that morning and filled Waverly in on her upcoming schedule of appearances now that the movie was in post-production and set to be released in a few months. Waverly and other members of the cast would be traveling coast to coast to shoot segments on both daytime and late night talk shows in order to promote the film. It was a requirement of the job that Waverly both loved and hated. The talk show circuit was really fun when being interviewed by the right hosts, but the travel schedule to shoot such short segments was brutal.

 

Waverly’s first appearance had been in New York on the Tonight Show with Drew, and her next one would be in LA to shoot the Ellen show with Hailey Summers. Hailey had played Drew’s snarky younger sister in the film, and she and Waverly were slated to shoot Ellen together while Drew did a solo appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

 

Waverly didn’t know Hailey very well, but from the few scenes they’d had together in the movie, she knew the young woman fully lived up to the personality of the snarky character she played. Hailey was twenty-three with long blonde hair and colorful tattoos, and her fans loved her because she was a singer in a band as well as an actress.

 

The other reason the young actress had so many fans is because she was openly queer, and unlike Waverly she had been out for her entire career. Waverly envied her confidence and security in herself and her sexuality. The way she saw it, Waverly had a lot to learn from her younger costar, and she was looking forward to getting to know her better on their trip to LA.

 

The studio had sprung for a private jet to fly them out, and Xavier was due to pick Waverly up in a few minutes. Hailey would meet them at the airport, and they’d have four hours on the plane to chill and catch up before landing in LA. Gina had already dropped off the outfits Waverly would wear for her west coast appearances, and Waverly had them neatly packed in her large suitcase.

 

Waverly sat on her bed and scrolled through her phone, waiting a few minutes before going downstairs to catch Xavier. A picture of herself and Drew from the Met Gala was on her news feed, Waverly being touted as one of the best dressed stars at the event. Waverly smiled. It was probably time to give Gina a raise.

 

Thoughts of the Met Gala immediately brought Nicole and her jaw dropping outfit to mind, not that Waverly had faced any shortage of time thinking about it over the past few weeks. And then there was the near kiss when Nicole had taken her home. Waverly sighed, shaking her head at the memory of the misguided gesture on her part.

 

Waverly had been admittedly tipsy that night, but when she had leaned in to kiss Nicole she hadn’t intended to kiss her on the cheek. Waverly had had a moment of panic at what Nicole’s reaction might be, so she’d diverted the kiss to Nicole’s cheek at the last second, turning it into an awkward thank you instead of a declaration of her feelings. And clearly, since Nicole hadn’t brought it up since that night, best case was she didn’t feel there was anything to discuss, worst case was Waverly had made her feel uncomfortable and Nicole just wanted to forget all about it. It had driven Waverly crazy for weeks, but now that so much time had passed, she didn’t know how to bring it up herself.

 

Her phone pinged signaling Xavier’s arrival, so Waverly stood and rolled her suitcase out the front door and onto the elevator. Xavier helped load it into the trunk, and they headed towards the airport to meet Hailey and Nicole. Of course, Nicole would be traveling to LA with them. Waverly couldn’t escape her bodyguard, not that she really wanted to.

 

***

 

When they reached the airport, Xavier pulled the car up next to the waiting jet and retrieved Waverly’s suitcase for her. Waverly thanked him and made her way up the stairs to the plane, finding that Hailey was already on board and flipping through a magazine. The actress glanced up and grinned when Waverly boarded.

 

“Hey lady, long time no see,” Hailey said, standing to greet Waverly with a quick hug.

 

“Great to see you again,” Waverly said, taking a seat on one of the couches towards the back of the jet.

 

Hailey sat opposite her, her long blonde hair held back by a pair of sunglasses perched on top of her head.

 

“So, what’s new in the life of People Magazine’s best dressed celebrity?” Hailey asked, holding up the article she’d been reading before Waverly boarded.

 

The article showed a picture of Waverly from the Met, as well as one of her when she and Drew were on set in downtown Manhattan.

 

Waverly rolled her eyes. “Best dressed this week, probably worst dressed next week,” she said with a laugh.

 

Hailey nodded solemnly. “Very true, I wouldn’t expect you to be able to top that dress. It’s all downhill from here, Earp.”

 

Waverly laughed, remembering how much she’d liked Hailey the first time they’d met.

 

“What’s new with you?” Waverly asked. “Are you working on any new projects these days?”

 

“Actually yeah, I got called back to a second audition for this new sci-fi action show that’s coming out on SyFy. I’m hoping I land that job because the character is seriously badass, and she’s openly gay, so it’d be amazing if it works out,” Hailey said. “We need more representation like that on TV, you know?”

 

Waverly was surprised she hadn’t heard of such a project, because Hailey was right about it sounding like a great opportunity.

 

You’d have to tell Mercedes you’re interested in queer roles in order for her to send you scripts for them, duh.

 

“That’s amazing,” Waverly said. “When do you find out if you get it?”

 

“Supposed to be about two weeks or so,” Hailey said. “They’re still auditioning for the other lead, too, so I don’t even know who I’d be working with yet.”

 

Their conversation was interrupted when Nicole stepped onto the jet, ducking slightly to avoid hitting her head on the low ceiling.

 

Waverly drank in the sight of her and hoped she was being subtle about it.

 

“Good morning, everyone,” Nicole said, dropping her backpack in an empty seat towards the front of the plane.

 

“Good morning,” Waverly echoed, waving Nicole back so she could introduce her to Hailey.

 

“Nicole, this is Hailey Summers, she’s one of my costars on the movie. Hailey, this is Nicole Haught, my private security,” Waverly said.

 

Nicole smiled and shook Hailey’s hand, and Hailey instantly broke into a huge grin.

 

“Your last name is Haught?” Hailey asked with raised eyebrows. “How often do you get shit for that?”

 

Nicole smiled and shrugged. “Pretty often,” she said.

 

“I can see why,” Hailey said. “Kinda doesn’t help when you look like that to boot, huh?”

 

Waverly saw Nicole’s cheeks flush slightly, but she recovered quickly.

 

“All right don’t give her a hard time,” Waverly said. “You should have seen Alex drooling all over her when they first met,” she chuckled.

 

“Can you blame us?” Hailey said, giving Nicole a final once over before taking her seat back on the couch. “Either way, it’s nice to meet you Nicole super Haught. I’m sure Waverly loves having you around all the time just so she can stare at you.”

 

Now it was Waverly’s turn to blush, and she took her own seat while choosing to ignore Hailey’s comment. Nicole also didn’t respond, taking her seat towards the front of the plane, presumably to give Waverly and Hailey more privacy.

 

“Don’t you have a girlfriend anyway?” Waverly asked. She was pretty sure she’d seen something online about Hailey dating somebody outside the industry.

 

Hailey smiled. “Yeah, and Jess will 100% agree with me when I tell her how hot your bodyguard is,” she said.

 

Waverly shook her head and decided to change the subject.

 

“How did you two meet?” she asked.

 

“She’s my financial advisor,” Hailey said laughing. “Do you believe that shit? I walked into a finance firm to meet with someone about how to invest my money, and Jess walked out in a power suit that would make Hilary Clinton jealous. I was a goner from the moment I saw her.”

 

Waverly was surprised but loved that story and how happy Hailey seemed. It gave her hope that maybe she wouldn’t have to date known celebrities her entire life, just because she had yet to meet a “normal” person without an agenda.

 

“That’s a great story,” Waverly said. “I hope I get to meet her someday.”

 

“I’m sure you will, and she’d love that. You’re one of her favorite actresses, aside from yours truly of course,” Hailey winked.

 

“Well, of course,” Waverly said. “What an honor to be someone’s second favorite next to you.”

 

Hailey laughed and went back to her magazine.

 

Waverly settled in and removed her laptop from her purse, deciding she could use the time to read over some scripts Mercedes had sent over. Her mind wandered to the show that Hailey had been talking about auditioning for. Waverly wished she could get her hands on a copy of that script.

 

***

 

Nicole’s phone rang as she was waiting for Waverly to finish an interview with a local entertainment writer for the Village Voice. They’d flown back to New York after shooting the Ellen show the night before, and it was right back to the grind for Waverly and the movie publicity today.

 

She and Hailey had been hilarious together on the show, even managing to beat Ellen and Andy in a game of Heads Up in front of the live studio audience. Nicole hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time, but watching Hailey and Waverly from behind the scenes making total fools of themselves to win the game had been a riot.

 

Nicole put the phone to her ear, talking quietly so as not to interrupt the interview in the next room.

 

“This is Haught,” she said.

 

“Nicole, it’s Mercedes. I’ve got a change in Waverly’s schedule for this afternoon. The producer of KIIS FM, the LA-based radio show, just called and wants to interview Waverly and Hailey today via phone. Apparently they created quite the buzz with their Ellen appearance, and videos from their episode on the show are going viral. Once Waverly wraps up her chat with the Village Voice reporter, I need you to get her back home where we’re going to set her up to do the radio interview from there. Sound good?” Mercedes was talking a mile a minute, but Nicole took mental notes and nodded before replying.

 

“Sure. We should be able to be there by 11:00. Is Hailey going to meet us there or is she calling in from another location?” Nicole asked.

 

“I’m having her meet you all at Waverly’s. I’m sending over someone from the agency to get her place setup with mics and headsets so they can both hear and talk when Ryan calls,” she replied.

 

“Ryan?”

 

Mercedes laughed. “Ryan Seacrest. He hosts a show on KIIS FM, On Air With Ryan Seacrest, and the interview will be broadcast on his show this morning. Luckily they’re three hours behind over on the west coast, so he’s squeezing them in last minute today.”

 

“Ok, sounds good. I’ll make sure we get to Waverly’s on time then,” Nicole said.

 

“Thanks, Nicole. Tell Waverly I’ll email her some talking points and notes that she needs to read over on her way home. This is big!”

 

Mercedes’ excitement was palpable, so Nicole assumed the radio broadcast must be a big deal. She hung up with Waverly’s publicist and waited for Waverly to wrap up. She filled Waverly in when they reached the car, giving her Mercedes’ message and telling her to check her email.

 

When they reached Waverly’s house, Hailey’s driver was already sitting out front. Hailey got out when she saw Waverly and Nicole approaching the entrance, greeting them both with a wave before following them inside.

 

“Have you seen the memes about us online?” Hailey asked as they rode up in the elevator.

 

Waverly shook her head. Hailey pulled out her phone and opened Instagram, scrolling until she found a meme with a photo of the two of them on Ellen’s couch during their interview. The photo had captured a moment when Waverly and Hailey were both laughing hard at a joke Ellen had told, Hailey’s hand on Waverly’s knee, the caption under it reading: When the hotter little sister steals her big brother’s girl.

 

Waverly’s eyes widened as she looked at the photo.

 

“They’re making jokes about you being hotter than Drew since you play his little sister in the movie?” Waverly asked.

 

Hailey nodded, a grin on her face.

 

“I mean I am hotter than him, but that’s not even the best one,” she said.

 

She went back to scrolling and showed Waverly another meme. This one was a side-by-side photo of Drew next to Hailey, with the caption You versus her lesbian coworker with the tattoos and amazing voice she told you not to worry about. The hashtags under the photo included all three actors’ names, as well as the movie title, and it tagged each of the actors in the post as well.

 

Nicole glanced at the photo over Waverly’s shoulder and chuckled, earning a glare from Waverly.

 

“This isn’t funny, they’re making fun of the movie!” Waverly said.

 

Hailey shook her head. “No Earp, you’ve got it all wrong. They’re shipping me and you as a couple, instead of you and Drew. They’re not making fun of the movie, they’re just making comments about how we have better chemistry and would be hot together,” Hailey explained.

 

Nicole had no idea what ‘shipping’ meant, and apparently neither did Waverly because she asked Hailey to explain.

 

“Oh my god, you’re hopeless! Shipping is when your fan base is rooting for you to be in a relationship with someone they’d like to see you with. This happens all the time in the LGBTQ+ community. Sometimes fans ship certain characters together, or sometimes they ship the actors being together in real life. In this case, I think they’re shipping our characters,” Hailey said.  

 

If Nicole was understanding Hailey’s explanation correctly, it sounded like Waverly had gotten herself some new queer fan attention thanks to her and Hailey’s appearance together. She wondered if Waverly would welcome that attention or be worried about it negatively affecting her career.

 

Waverly seemed to think it over as they entered the apartment, dropping her purse by the front door as Hailey did the same. They all huddled around the kitchen island as Nicole and Hailey waited for Waverly’s response.

 

“Ok, so you’re saying that this is positive publicity, they aren’t actually hating on us or the movie or anything like that. You’re sure about this?” Waverly asked.

 

“I’m sure,” Hailey said. “Like I said, queer fans are kind of known for this kind of thing. One time my fans started this entire internet campaign to try to hook me and one of my old band mates up, just because we were both openly gay and worked together. It always blows over eventually, but the publicity has never been negative in my experience. If this brings more attention to the film, that’s all that matters right?”

 

Waverly nodded slowly. “Yeah, as long as people are talking about the movie and come out to see it when it opens, then that’s good news for us. Sounds like I need to embrace this shipping thing then.”

 

Hailey laughed. “Like I said, it’ll blow over pretty quickly. But if it’s this big online already, then it’s possible we’ll get asked about it in interviews, so you should be prepared for that,” she said.

 

“Speaking of interviews,” Nicole interrupted. “It looks like Mercedes has sent over everything we need for the call with Ryan Seacrest at 11, so you guys have a few minutes to get settled in and read over her notes before the shows calls us.”

 

Waverly nodded and grabbed them all bottles of water from the fridge before heading into the living room. Microphones and headsets were sitting on Waverly’s coffee table, multiple extension cords running along the floor to various outlets around the room.

 

Mercedes had texted Nicole that the show would call Nicole’s line in order to keep Waverly and Hailey’s numbers private, so Nicole just needed to plug her phone into the USB that would attach to the mics and headphone splitter and they’d be all set when it rang.

 

It was five minutes until 11:00, and Nicole paced by the living room windows as Hailey and Waverly settled in on the couch, placing the headphones over their ears so they could both hear Ryan clearly. Nicole wouldn’t be able to hear Ryan’s end of the conversation since her phone was plugged into the headphones they were wearing, but she would be able to hear Hailey and Waverly’s responses since she was in the room with them.

 

“Oh, it’s him!” Waverly suddenly said, swiping her finger across the front of Nicole’s phone and listening intently before nodding at Hailey. Hailey gave her a thumbs up indicating she could also hear the call.

 

There was silence for a moment as both actors listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, Hailey eventually nodding and speaking up.

 

“Thank you so much for having us, we’re thrilled to be talking to you today,” Hailey said, and Waverly nodded and grinned.

 

Waverly spoke next after listening for a while.

 

“Yeah, of course. The movie is set in New York, and it’s about a girl in her early twenties struggling to figure out what she really wants out of life. She then meets this guy, who has big plans for his future and what he wants to make of himself, and the two have to figure out how to navigate a relationship together while they’re in very different places in life. My love interest is played by Drew Clayton, and Hailey plays his younger sister who does nothing but antagonize me the entire movie,” Waverly finished with a laugh and wink at Hailey.

 

“I’m the comedic relief for their sappy romance, Ryan. Somebody’s gotta do it, am I right?” Hailey chimed in.

 

Hailey nodded along with whatever Ryan was saying, and Waverly looked at Hailey as though she was waiting for her to respond to the next question.

 

“I’m in the middle of auditions for a new tv series that will be seriously badass, so you’ll be the first to know if I land that,” Hailey said with a grin. “Aside from that, my band and I are always in the process of writing new material, but we don’t have a release date for our next album yet.”

 

The two of them laughed at something Ryan said, and then both went quiet again as they listened to his next question. Nicole saw Waverly raise her eyebrows in either surprise or alarm, and Hailey signaled silently that she’d answer first. Nicole wished she could hear what was going on on the other end of the call.

 

“Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is such an amazing gift. My fans are the best people out there, and they’re a huge reason why I’ve had as much success as I’ve been lucky to have this early in my career,” Hailey said. “They’re also never shy about trying to recruit new members into our ranks, as my friend Waverly here is now finding out,” she said with a laugh.

 

He must have asked about the memes online, Nicole realized.

 

Waverly nodded her thanks to Hailey, and the two listened intently before Waverly rolled her eyes and shook her head at Hailey.

 

“Listen, I see any fan interest in our movie as positive, so I’ll take some good-humored viral memes any day of the week. Hailey and I had an absolute blast on Ellen, and we crushed her at her own game and were hilarious doing it, so I don’t blame the fans for loving us together,” Waverly said, glancing at Hailey who gave her a thumbs up.

 

It was quiet again for a minute and Hailey gave Waverly an apologetic look, which Nicole found confusing.

 

“Definitely not,” Waverly said. “I’m flattered to think that Hailey’s fans would even want someone like me to be a love interest for her on screen. I mean have you seen her, Ryan? I don’t think there’s a person on the planet who would turn down attention from someone as gorgeous and talented as her.”

 

Damn, he is really pushing for a story, Nicole thought.

 

Hailey gave Waverly a silent fist bump, and Waverly breathed a sigh of relief.

 

Ryan asked a few more questions, and the women both thanked him before Waverly ended the call. They took off their headphones and leaned back on the couch, Nicole coming to sit on the coffee table across from them.

 

***

 

“Was it ok?” Nicole asked.

 

Waverly glanced at Hailey, not certain of the answer herself. “I think so, yeah. I mean his show is huge, so it’s great we got to promote the movie on air. He was being a little weird about the lesbian love interest thing, but I think we handled it fine.”

 

Hailey nodded her agreement. “Stuff like this is always a story to these guys, even though it’s really not a big deal. It’s just the fans showing some love for us and appreciating our banter, not breaking news.”

 

Waverly considered what Hailey had said. It would certainly be breaking news if I actually came out as bisexual, she thought. Am I even ready for that? Is this the right time, now that this thing with Hailey is out there? Maybe it’s the opportunity I’ve been waiting for…

 

“Did you mean what you said about your fans?” Waverly asked Hailey. “Do you really think the queer community’s support has played a role in your success?”

 

Hailey looked thoughtful for a moment before answering.

 

“It’s hard to explain, but something about being part of the LGBT+ community myself gave me an instant tribe of people who were rooting for me, and that support absolutely fueled my success but more importantly, it fueled my love for what I do. The fact is that the queer community is fully themselves without apology, and they lift up and celebrate anyone and everyone who is a member of that community with them. We all want each other to succeed, and we’re all trying to help others where we can. I think that’s why my fans tend to go so over the top with their love, kind of like with these memes and shipping relationships and all of that. They mean so well and they want happiness for anyone who has a platform to represent our community, and in return I want to keep fighting for our community to be represented on as many big screens and stages as I can,” Hailey explained.  

 

Nicole was nodding her appreciation as Hailey talked, and Waverly agreed that her passion for her community was inspiring. Waverly had a lot to learn from her young costar, just as she had previously thought.  

 

“I think that’s amazing,” Waverly told her. “I see why your fans are so in love with you, and I think what you’re trying to do by expanding representation in the roles you take is really admirable.”

 

Hailey flushed at the compliment but nodded her thanks, giving Waverly a playful punch in the shoulder before standing from the couch and gathering her stuff.

 

“I’ve gotta get out of here, but I’m glad we could pull this together so last minute, and I think it went great,” Hailey said. “I’ll see you both soon, I hope,” she said addressing both Waverly and Nicole.

 

Nicole waved and Waverly walked her out, telling Hailey she’d see her at their next press event if not sooner.

 

Waverly turned to find Nicole watching her.

 

“I couldn’t hear everything that was being said, but it sounded like you handled the questions really well,” Nicole said. “Are you feeling ok about everything – the memes, the videos online, all of that?”

 

Nicole looked genuinely concerned, and Waverly was flattered although she knew Nicole needn’t be worried about her.

 

“I think Hailey’s given me a lot to think about, but yeah I feel good about everything,” Waverly replied.

 

Nicole looked slightly puzzled by her answer, but she nodded and made her way to the door.

 

“I’ll see you for your next event. I think you’ve got another photoshoot this week, and then things will start to slow down leading up to Thanksgiving,” Nicole said.

 

Not if I have anything to say about it, Waverly thought.

 

She walked Nicole out and closed the door behind her, leaning her back against it as she considered her future and what she wanted for herself.

 

Waverly thought about Alex and Ben’s relationship. She thought about Hailey and Jess. She thought about her failed relationships with Champ and so many like him since she was a teenager. She thought of Nicole and the possibilities they might have if Waverly could be honest with herself and everyone around her. She thought about Drew and his lonely life being in the closet because he feared for his career.

 

Waverly knew what she wanted. And more importantly, she knew what she didn’t want. She didn’t want to be afraid anymore.

 

I need to have a chat with Mercedes.

Chapter Text

It was the week before Thanksgiving, and Nicole had a rare three days off thanks to Waverly’s calendar being empty as the holiday approached. She’d gotten her usual morning workout in before deciding to grab a cup of coffee from her favorite local spot down the street, not bothering to change out of the long-sleeved baseball tee and joggers she’d worked out in. The Fall air was crisp but not too chilly, and Nicole only had to walk a block and a half to reach Downpours.

 

She ordered her usual cappuccino then went to the end of the bar to wait for her drink to be prepared. The Ryan Seacrest interview had aired a week earlier, and between that and the Ellen show appearance, Waverly and Hailey Summers were all the internet seemed to want to talk about. Nicole didn’t have social media, but she did read the news and latest in entertainment, and there wasn’t a major outlet anywhere in the country that hadn’t at least mentioned the duo and their upcoming movie. Drew Clayton had all but been forgotten, and Nicole pitied the guy.

 

Nicole scrolled through her Apple News app, checking out the highlights of the day as she waited. Not surprisingly, she saw the name Waverly Earp show up more than once as she scrolled past various articles ranging from the best Thanksgiving recipes, most anticipated Christmas gifts of the season, and the latest NFL scores.

 

She paused and scrolled back when one particular headline jumped out at her. “Fellow actress Hailey Summers shows support for Waverly Earp after coming out”.

 

Wait, what?

 

Nicole clicked on the link, briefly skimming the short article that showed a snapshot of an Instagram post Hailey had made, apparently in support of Waverly and applauding her for sharing her truth with the world. There was a link to a Vanity Fair article under the photo, and Nicole opened that one next.

 

Out With a Bang: Waverly Earp on her next project and her new lease on love

 

Waverly Earp, household name and reigning queen of the rom-com, is ready to mix things up - both on and off the screen. The young starlet, currently promoting her upcoming box office romance, Crossing Hearts, is about to take on an entirely new type of role, one that her fans will be able to watch on their small screens next Summer. I sat down with Miss Earp to discuss her upcoming career shift, and how her personal life may have been a driving factor in making the change.

 

VF: Waverly, always great to see you. Although I feel like you and Hailey Summers have completely taken over my social media feeds the past few weeks, so technically I’ve been seeing a lot of you.

 

WE: Thanks for chatting with me today, Taylor. Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind since Ellen. We can’t believe the response fans have had to what they’re now calling our “bromance”, but it’s been really fun to have them so involved and excited about our new movie.

 

VF: Why don’t you fill us in on what projects you’ve got coming up once the movie is released.

 

WE: I just signed on as a co-lead in an upcoming drama called Close Contact, and I’ll be starring alongside my friend, Hailey Summers. We play an NYPD detective and medical examiner, respectively, and there will be tons of action as well as really compelling storylines. We start shooting after the holidays, and the show will air on SyFy next Summer.

 

VF: This is a big departure from the types of characters you usually portray. What made you decide to take on a more action-focused drama like Close Contact?

 

WE: Honestly, once I got my hands on the script for the show, I was immediately hooked. The writing is so good and fast-paced, and the ensemble cast they’ve got lined up is incredible. Hailey had told me a little bit about the show while she was in the process of auditioning, and I ended up reaching out to my agent to see if I could send the producers an audition tape myself.

 

VF: Was there anything in particular about the show or your character that made you so determined to land the part?

 

WE: Yeah, there was. The show is written around this dynamic duo of Hailey and my characters, two badass women who are great at their jobs and don’t apologize for that. They also have a—

 

“Nicole!”

 

Nicole’s head snapped up as the barista called her name. The grabbed her coffee quickly and pushed her way out the front door, stepping to the side of the sidewalk against the building so she could keep reading.

 

They also have a lesbian romance at the heart of the storyline, and to my knowledge this will be the first show on a major network to feature a gay or lesbian couple as the leads.

 

VF: Just to get this straight, no pun intended, you’re saying that one of the driving factors for you wanting to play this role is because it will feature a queer romance?

 

WE: That’s correct, yes.

 

VF: You’ve played strictly heterosexual characters in the past, so why the change?

 

WE: Well, as a queer woman myself, I feel it’s important to have representation of all types of relationships on television, and right now there is a huge gap where the LGBTQ+ community is clearly missing from the stories we’re seeing. When this opportunity came up, I knew I had to jump at the chance or someone else would.

 

VF: I think this is going to be breaking news in the industry, so I just want to make sure we are completely clear about what you’re saying here. You’re saying that you are queer, and you identify as part of the LGBT community?

 

WE: That’s right. I identify as bisexual, although I don’t think labels are necessary or comfortable for all people to use.

 

VF: Can I ask, why come out now? Was it this role that provided the spark?

 

WE: There were a lot of factors, but I’d say the timing of this role coming into my life was certainly one of them. I’ve met some amazing people the past few years, and some much more recently, who are living their truths and identify as queer each in their own way, and what that’s taught me is that I don’t want to live in fear or hide my truth for the rest of my life. I’ve been keeping a major part of who I am a secret for a long time, and it’s time for me to show the world the real Waverly Earp.

 

VF: I have to say, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing you many times over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you as happy as you are right now.

 

WE: I feel like this is the beginning of a brand new chapter of my life, and I’m so looking forward to seeing where things go from here. I’m just really hopeful and optimistic about things for the first time in a while.

 

VF: Well, congratulations on your upcoming role, I for one can’t wait to watch you and Hailey Summers kick ass and take names together. And I think there will be a lot of young readers who will take your openness as a beacon of hope and positivity in their own lives, so thank you for sharing your truth with us today.

 

WE: Thanks so much, Taylor. I look forward to chatting with you again after the show airs. Hopefully I’m still in one piece after all of the insane stunts they’ll have me doing.

 

VF: I can’t wait, thanks Waverly.

 

Nicole clicked her phone screen off and stared at her own reflection for a few moments.

 

Is this true, or some kind of publicity stunt?

 

Nicole opened a new message and fired off a quick text to Mercedes.

 

Nicole: Is the article true or a publicity thing?

 

A speeding taxi honked loudly as it drove by. Nicole waited until she heard a ping in response.

 

Mercedes: It’s true. You should talk to W.

 

Nicole didn’t move. She didn’t know what to do with this information.

 

Waverly is bisexual. She just came out to the entire world.

 

Multiple emotions competed for Nicole’s attention. She was excited for Waverly. She was worried about what her fans might think. She wondered if this meant anything for the two of them. She wondered if Waverly was ok and how she was feeling. She was curious if anyone other than Mercedes knew before the article went public.

 

But more than anything, Nicole was angry. And hurt.  

 

Why didn’t she tell me?  

 

***

 

It’d been three days.

 

Three days, and nothing from Nicole. Not even a text.

 

Waverly was at her wits end.

 

She’d assumed that Nicole would reach out after the article went public. She expected surprise, anger, confusion, elation, something. Waverly hadn’t expected radio silence, and she was over it.

 

Waverly: We need to talk. Can you come over?

 

She tapped her nails on the back of her phone case as she waited. A full five minutes went by before Nicole replied.

 

Hot bodyguard: Is everything ok? I’m kind of busy right now.

 

Waverly: It’s important. Please.

 

Hot bodyguard: Ok, I can be there in 20.

 

Waverly sighed in relief and spent the next eighteen minutes pacing around her apartment, jumping when she heard a firm knock at the door.

 

She went to answer it, finding Nicole standing in the hallway with her hands in her jean pockets. She was wearing a faded red hoodie that said “ATL” in bold letters across the front, her hair down and cheeks slightly flushed from the crisp Fall air.

 

“So, can I come in or…?” Nicole broke the silence, and Waverly realized she had been staring like an idiot.

 

“Yeah, sorry, come in,” she said, stepping back to allow Nicole to pass.

 

Waverly closed the door and turned to find Nicole leaning a hip against the kitchen counter, rather than making herself comfortable in the living room. Everything about her posture said she didn’t want to be there, and Waverly was instantly on guard.

 

“Listen, I just wanted to talk to you about the article. I assume you saw it…” Waverly trailed off, realizing for the first time that there was a small possibility Nicole actually hadn’t seen it yet.

 

Nicole nodded and stuffed her hands in the front pocket of her hoodie.

 

“Yeah, I read it,” she replied, her face giving none of her thoughts away.

 

Waverly considered her next words. “I guess I thought you would have reached out to me or something after you read it. Were you not surprised?” she asked.

 

Nicole laughed humorlessly. “Oh, I was surprised all right. Me and the rest of the world, all finding out together with zero warning.”

 

She sounded angry, and Waverly didn’t understand why.

 

“Are you upset at me for some reason?” she asked.

 

“I’m upset that you didn’t tell me!” Nicole said, raising her voice. “I thought we were supposed to be friends, yet I literally had no idea about any of this, nor did you choose to share it with me before sharing it with Vanity Fair and the entire country. And this isn’t exactly the first time you’ve kept something from me.

 

What is she talking about? Waverly thought.

 

She voiced the question aloud.

 

“I’m talking about your fake relationship with Drew Clayton,” Nicole said. “Is there some reason you told me you two were dating for months when you were really never a thing?”

 

Waverly shook her head. “I never said we were dating, you just assumed that.”

 

“I assumed that because you acted like you were together. You were living at his place for god’s sake,” Nicole said.

 

Waverly rolled her eyes. “I was living at your place for a while too, or have you forgotten about that?” she asked.

 

Nicole paused before answering.

 

Waverly swore she saw Nicole’s gaze fall to her mouth briefly before returning to her eyes.

 

“No, I haven’t forgotten,” Nicole said, seeming to have lost some of her steam.

 

“Neither have I,” Waverly said.

 

They stared at each other for an indeterminable amount of time.

 

Nicole finally sighed and ran a hand through her hair.

 

“I wish you would have told me yourself, rather than me having to find out in the press like everyone else. It hurt, and I was upset. That’s why I didn’t say anything to you about it once I found out,” Nicole said.  

 

“I’m really sorry, Nicole. I wanted to tell you, I really did, but I just…I couldn’t,” Waverly said.

 

“Why couldn’t you?” she asked.

 

Waverly released a breath as she considered how honest to be.

 

“If I had told you, it would have made this…thing between us tangible in my mind, like something that could become real. I didn’t know if you’d be open to that, much less if I was even ready for something with you.”

 

Nicole’s eyebrows reached her hairline, but Waverly pushed forward, needing to get this out once and for all.

 

“Then there’s my career, and the fact that when I came out it could ruin literally everything I’ve worked so hard to build these last few years. It was just a lot to consider,” Waverly explained.

 

Nicole seemed to be processing everything Waverly had said, taking her time before responding.

 

“I get that, although I admit I didn’t initially think about what you’d be risking by coming out so publicly. If your career might be in jeopardy because of this, why come out at all?” Nicole asked.

 

“Honestly, I looked around at my friends, how happy they are in their lives and with their partners and their careers, and I thought why can’t that be me? Why can’t I have the career and the person I decide to love? I finally realized that I could have that, if I was willing to be honest with myself and open myself up to the potential backlash from fans who might be upset. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering what if,” Waverly said.

 

Nicole studied her before speaking again.

 

“Can I ask you a question?”

 

Waverly smiled. “I think I’m an open book at this point, so shoot.”

 

“That night after the Met Gala, when you thanked me for taking you home-“

 

“I was going to kiss you,” Waverly blurted out. “I panicked, and then I kissed you on the cheek, and it was weird and yeah…”

 

Waverly shrugged, not knowing what else to say.

 

Nicole’s eyes were wide. She was still for a moment before seeming to come to a decision, pushing off the counter and closing the distance between them. She stopped in front of Waverly, not quite close enough to touch her, but close enough to make Waverly’s heartbeat speed up in her chest.

 

She had to look up to meet Nicole’s eyes.

 

“Do you maybe want to try that again?” Nicole asked quietly.

 

Waverly’s mouth opened, but she didn’t know what to say. She glanced at Nicole’s lips before meeting her eyes with a questioning glance.

 

“Are you sure?” she almost whispered.

 

Nicole’s gaze never wavered from hers.

 

“I’m sure if you’re sure.”

 

I’m so fucking sure.

 

Waverly fisted the front of Nicole’s sweatshirt to close the distance between them, leaning up on her toes to reach Nicole’s lips. Nicole’s lips were soft and warm, and Waverly felt a jolt of electricity run through her body as their mouths moved together for the first time.

 

Waverly felt Nicole’s hands gently cup the sides of her face, turning her head slightly to get a better angle. Waverly released her sweatshirt and gripped her forearms instead, holding on for dear life as the feeling of kissing Nicole Haught rushed over her. Nicole held her gently, carefully, and Waverly realized she was holding back.

 

Oh, no you don’t.

 

Waverly reached behind Nicole’s back to pull her even closer, biting her bottom lip and immediately soothing the spot with her tongue. Nicole’s breath caught, and Waverly could feel her answering smile against her lips at the move.

 

Suddenly they were moving, Nicole guiding Waverly backwards until her back hit the kitchen counter. Her body was flush against Waverly’s as she deepened the kiss, Waverly opening for her immediately and groaning at the feel of Nicole’s tongue sliding against hers.

 

God, why did we not do this sooner?

 

Waverly lost all coherent thought as Nicole pulled away from her lips and instead focused on a spot below her ear, placing multiple kisses there before scraping her teeth lightly over Waverly’s pulse point. Waverly gasped and gripped the back of Nicole’s neck, holding her mouth to that oh so sensitive spot and trying not to moan at the thought of Nicole marking her skin.

 

Nicole’s fingertips moved just beneath the hem of Waverly’s shirt, brushing against her bare skin and causing Waverly to arch into her touch. She needed more. She needed Nicole’s hands everywhere at once.

 

Waverly grabbed Nicole’s face and forced her lips back to hers, their tongues meeting and gliding over each other like they had done this a hundred times before. She ran her hands up Nicole’s back under her sweatshirt, earning a groan from Nicole at the feel of bare hands on her heated skin.

 

Nicole suddenly pulled back, breathing heavily and placing her forehead against Waverly’s with her eyes closed. She was shaking her head slightly, and Waverly opened her eyes to see a grin spread across Nicole’s face.

 

“As much as I would love to take this further, I think we should slow down for a second,” Nicole said quietly.

 

Waverly pulled back slightly, searching Nicole’s face for any signs of what she was feeling in that moment. Her cheeks were flushed, her hair slightly disheveled from Waverly’s hands, her lips swollen. Waverly had never seen her look more beautiful.

 

Waverly cleared her throat. “I think I’m confused. Do you not want this?” she asked quietly, gesturing between the two of them.

 

“Believe me,” Nicole said. “There is nothing in this world that I want more than you right now.”

 

Oh, thank god. But then why-

 

“I just don’t want to jump into this too fast to the point where you regret it in the morning,” Nicole said. “Between your movie release and just coming out to the press and exploring your sexuality, there’s a lot going on right now. I think there are some things we should talk about, and I want you to be completely sure that this is what you really want.”

 

Waverly studied the woman before her, finding nothing but sincerity in Nicole’s eyes. She knew Nicole was right, but her kiss-swollen lips were proving to be quite the distraction.

 

“Don’t look at me like that,” Nicole said, smiling.

 

“Like what? Like I want to spend the next couple of hours getting intimately acquainted with your lips?” Waverly teased.

 

Nicole laughed and shook her head. “Yes, that.”

 

She surprised Waverly by dipping her head and capturing her lips again, ending the kiss before Waverly could get her hands on her and trap her there for good.

 

“I’m gonna go before I change my mind, but maybe we can talk about this…about us, tomorrow?” Nicole asked.

 

Waverly nodded. “Yeah, let’s do that,” she said.

 

She walked Nicole to the door, giving her a final kiss on the cheek before watching her walk down the hall towards the elevators. Waverly closed the door and leaned back against it, running her fingertips over her lips and grinning like a maniac. Her entire body felt electric from one kiss, something Waverly had never experienced in her life before Nicole.

 

I can’t believe that’s what I’ve been missing out on this entire time, she thought. I should have kissed her the first day we met.

Chapter Text

Nicole woke up at her usual 5:00 AM, and the first thing that popped into her mind was the kiss with Waverly the day before. She smiled and stretched in bed before getting up to feed Calamity Jane. She wondered if things would be weird between her and Waverly now. She really hoped things wouldn’t be awkward, but Nicole was already nervous to see her again.

 

She definitely needed to channel some of her anxious energy, so Nicole changed into workout clothes and headed down to her building’s gym. She got in an hour long circuit before heading back upstairs to cook breakfast. By the time she had eaten and taken a quick shower, it was only 6:45 AM. Nicole knew from experience that Waverly wasn’t a morning person, so she paced around her apartment as long as she could stand it before giving up and opening a new text on her phone.

 

It was 6:51 when she messaged Waverly.

 

Nicole: Good morning. You up yet?

 

It took over a minute for Waverly to respond.

 

Waverly: Um, have you seen the time? Is the sun even up yet?

 

Nicole laughed. She could picture Waverly’s grumpy morning face easily, as she’d seen it on quite a few of Waverly’s early morning call times on set.

 

Nicole: It is, yes lol. Wouldn’t you like to get out there and see what a beautiful day it is for yourself?

 

Waverly: Ugh. Maybe in like 2 more hours.

 

Nicole thought about that. There was no way she was waiting two full hours to see Waverly again.

 

Nicole: What if I make it worth your while?

 

Waverly: I’m listening…

 

Nicole: How about I head your way and pick you up, and we can walk to get coffee and pastries at that place you like near Wash Park?

 

Waverly: Hmm. I was thinking more like breakfast in bed and maybe we could make out after?

 

Nicole had instant butterflies in her stomach at what Waverly was suggesting. This woman is gonna be the death of me, I swear. She shook her head and typed out a reply, hoping it would make Waverly happy.

 

Nicole: Compromise – coffee for me and kisses for you after I get my caffeine.

 

Waverly: Deal :)

 

Nicole: See you in 30 :)

 

***

 

Nicole knocked on Waverly’s door and shifted her weight nervously.

 

We see each other almost every day, so why do I feel like this is a first date? she thought.

 

Waverly opened the door and Nicole’s breath caught. She was wearing tight black jeans, short boots, and a long oversized sweater that was the same color green as her eyes. She looked stunning, and Nicole couldn’t believe this was the same woman who had kissed her the night before. Could I be any luckier?

 

Waverly smiled at her, and Nicole remembered she should probably say something.

 

“Hi.”

 

Waverly laughed. “Hi, yourself.”

 

They just looked at each other for a moment, and Nicole caught Waverly staring at her lips. She was itching to touch Waverly, but she found herself unsure of what the protocol was after their first kiss the night before. She decided honesty was probably best in this situation.

 

“I changed my mind, I vote for kisses before coffee,” Nicole said.

 

Waverly grinned. “Wise choice, Haught.”

 

She pulled Nicole into the apartment and joined their lips immediately, Nicole sighing into her mouth as her arms wrapped loosely behind Waverly’s back. Kissing Waverly felt like coming home after a long day. Nicole let herself sink into the kiss, Waverly groaning against her lips as she teased Waverly’s bottom lip with her teeth.

 

The kiss was slow, unhurried, and lacking the desperation of the night before but all the better for how natural it felt. Waverly gently scraped the back of Nicole’s neck with her nails, sending a shiver up Nicole’s spine. They eased out of the kiss simultaneously, their noses brushing as they stayed only inches apart, reveling in the moment of just being together.

 

“I could get up before the sun every day if that was my reward,” Waverly said.

 

Nicole quirked an eyebrow at her. “Five AM early?” she asked.

 

Waverly looked horrified. “Maybe six.”

 

Nicole laughed. “That’s a deal.”

 

She gave Waverly another peck on the lips before putting some distance between them.

 

“You ready for some coffee?” Nicole asked.

 

“I am.”

 

Waverly grabbed a pair of large black sunglasses and slipped them over her eyes. She surprised Nicole by slipping a hand into hers as they walked down the hall to the elevator. Nicole gave her hand a squeeze and let go when they reached the ground floor. She knew Waverly was out now, but that didn’t mean she was ready to have their…whatever this was between them, on display for the rest of the world right now. It would always be her job to make sure Waverly was protected no matter what.

 

They hit the sidewalk and headed towards Washington Square Park. It was a gorgeous Fall morning, the air crisp on Nicole’s cheeks as they walked. She glanced over at Waverly who was smiling to herself as she walked beside her. It was a perfect day.

 

“So, how are you feeling about everything?” Nicole asked. “I mean with the response to the article and all of that.”

 

Waverly tucked her hands into her large sweater pockets to keep them warm.

 

“I feel really good,” Waverly said. “Overall, the fan response has been amazing. Mercedes says we couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome, so that’s all great. But aside from that, I just feel like…I don’t know, more myself than I’ve ever felt, you know?”

 

Nicole nodded. “I know exactly what you mean. I felt the same way when I came out, even though it wasn’t the best experience with everyone in my family.”

 

“Would you mind telling me more about that?” Waverly asked.

 

“Not at all,” Nicole said. “I came out to my parents when I was fifteen. I pretty much always knew I was different from other girls that I went to school with, and after a girl kissed me in high school that pretty much sealed the deal.” Nicole chuckled at the memory. “My mom was in serious denial about me being gay for years, and unfortunately things never got better with her. My dad was always the supportive one. Who I dated never changed the way he saw me. After he passed away, my mom and I really had nothing in common anymore, hence why we aren’t in touch. He was the glue that kept our family together, and as I got older and he was gone, I realized I didn’t need to beg my mom for her approval anymore, so I stopped.”

 

“I’m really sorry to hear about your mom,” Waverly said. “It’s too bad her fear caused her to miss out on the amazing person you grew into.”

 

Nicole shrugged. “It is what it is. I think what they say about choosing your family is true. I joined the Army and met some amazing people like Brian and then his wife Tia and daughter Maya, and they’re my family now. Same with Xavier and his mom, Deanna. I think everyone comes into our lives at the right time.”

 

Waverly smiled at Nicole’s mention of Xavier and his mother.

 

“I think you can thank those two for sealing the deal with my crush on you,” Waverly said.

 

“It was my killer dance moves, wasn’t it?” Nicole winked.

 

“They definitely didn’t hurt,” Waverly said grinning.

 

They reached the coffee shop at the edge of the park, and Nicole pulled the door open for Waverly to enter first. Waverly perched her sunglasses on the top of her head, and Nicole glanced around to keep an eye on the people inside out of habit. The shop was pretty empty given the early hour on the weekend, so Nicole didn’t think they had anything to worry about.

 

They placed their order, Waverly opting for a white mocha and Nicole getting her usual cappuccino and a chocolate croissant.

 

A fan came up to Waverly as they were leaving, asking her if she minded taking a quick selfie. Waverly obliged, and Nicole watched the woman snap a quick picture of them on her phone, her excitement at meeting Wavery all over her face. Nicole had no idea how Waverly did this day in and day out. She wondered if she ever got tired of it, the constant attention and being recognized everywhere she went.

 

Nicole decided to ask her about it once they exited the coffee shop.

 

“What’s it like, not being able to go anywhere without being recognized and asked for things by total strangers? Do you ever get sick of it?”

 

Waverly thought about it and sipped her coffee before responding. “Sometimes it’s not the greatest. There are days when I just really don’t feel like putting on a fake smile or signing an autograph, you know? But I try to be gracious and remember that it’s because of my fans that my career and life has turned into what it is, and ninety percent of the time my life is pretty amazing,” Waverly said.

 

Nicole nodded thoughtfully. “I get that, and you’re always so great with people who come up to you on the spot. I just don’t know how you do it every single day. I’m not sure I could ever get used to that.”

 

Waverly frowned at that, and Nicole wondered if she’d said something to upset her.

 

“It’s not all bad,” Waverly said. “And it wouldn’t have to be like that with us. You know I would never ask you to be put in positions like that in public if it bothered you.”

 

Nicole now realized how Waverly had interpreted her previous statement.

 

She glanced at Waverly out of the corner of her eye. “Just so you know, you and I don’t have to define anything between us right now. I really don’t expect you to want to immediately put a label on this since you just came out and all of that.”

 

Again, Waverly looked slightly upset by Nicole’s words.

 

You’ve seriously lost your touch, Haught.

 

“I get it, Nicole. We’ve kissed twice, we’re not getting married,” Waverly said, a bit harshly. “I’m not trying to drag you out into the Hollywood limelight with me against your will.”

 

“Waverly.”

 

Nicole grabbed Waverly’s hand and pulled her to a halt on the sidewalk, waiting until she met her eyes before speaking.

 

“I didn’t mean that I don’t want to be in a relationship with you. I’m sorry if it sounded like that’s what I was saying. I just…I don’t want to put any pressure on you, that’s all. I know you get enough of that from literally the entire world, and I don’t ever want you to feel that from me. Ok?”

 

Waverly smiled slightly and nodded, squeezing Nicole’s hand before dropping it.

 

“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” Waverly said. “My fame has been an issue in past relationships. I guess you could say it’s a bit of a sore spot for me,” she shrugged. “Thank you for not pressuring me. Let’s just take it one day at a time and see where life takes us. No labels, no promises. Deal?”

 

“Deal,” Nicole agreed.

 

“Good. Now give me a bit of that croissant,” Waverly said with a cheeky smile.

 

“Yes ma’am,” Nicole laughed, splitting the croissant and handing half to Waverly.

 

They kept walking until they reached the eastern edge of Wash Park, opting to walk around the outer edge and enjoy the beautiful morning a while longer.

 

“So what are your plans for Thanksgiving?” Waverly asked.

 

Nicole sighed. The holiday was only a few days away, and this was the first year in her life that she didn’t have any plans. After her dad had passed away, Nicole started attending the annual Thanksgiving dinner her Army unit would put together on base, and she often went with Brian, Tia, and Maya. Now that both her father and Brian were gone, Nicole hadn’t even considered what she’d do for holidays. Tia was taking Maya to her parents’ place in Florida, and while Nicole knew she always had a standing invitation to visit them, she really didn’t want to impose on Tia’s family.

 

“Nicole?”  

 

Waverly’s voice dragged Nicole out of her thoughts.

 

“Sorry. Um, I guess I don’t have any plans this year,” she replied. “What about you?”

 

Waverly looked thoughtful as she finished her portion of the croissant and licked the chocolate off her fingers. Nicole did her best not to stare but failed miserably.

 

“I’m hosting a friends-giving,” Waverly said, seeming to have come up with the idea on the spot. “You’ll come eat with us, of course.”

 

Nicole raised an eyebrow. She kind of liked bossy Waverly.

 

Nicole doubted she’d get a better offer than spending Thanksgiving with Waverly and her friends, and she had to admit it sounded pretty great. She wondered which of Waverly’s famous entourage would be in attendance for this friends-giving.

 

“Ok. What can I bring?” she asked.

 

Waverly smiled. “So glad you asked. You can bring your cooking talent, because my knife skills are admittedly not the greatest.”

 

Nicole was surprised. “You’re going to cook everything yourself? Seriously?”

 

Waverly smacked her arm playfully. “No, silly, you’re going to help me. We can do the turkey and some sides, and I can ask the group to each bring a dish of their own, potluck style. How hard could it be?”

 

Nicole racked her brain, trying to remember the last time she’d cooked an entire turkey for a large group. Then she imagined a group of young celebrities all attempting to cook their own side dishes, and she laughed out loud.

 

This will be an epic disaster.

 

***

 

Waverly could admit it, she may have gotten herself and Nicole in over their heads.

 

It was the morning of friends-giving, and so far all they’d managed to do was forget to thaw the frozen turkey, meaning it was highly unlikely the bird would be cooked by the time their friends arrived. They’d thrown the frozen turkey in the oven on a prayer, and by Nicole’s estimation there was about a fifteen percent chance of it being edible.

 

“Ok, what next?” Waverly asked.

 

She tried not to smile at how adorable Nicole looked in an apron, but it was a losing battle.

 

Nicole glanced warily at the giant pile of potatoes on the counter.

 

“Well, being from the South, I think I can manage some mashed potatoes without too much trouble. Want to help peel?” Nicole asked.

 

“Sure thing.”

 

Waverly grabbed the peeler while Nicole opted for a paring knife. They chatted idly while they peeled, laughing at old memories from Thanksgivings past.

 

Waverly felt Nicole’s eyes on her and looked up, finding brown eyes regarding her with an amused expression.

 

“What?” she asked.

 

Nicole shook her head. “If anyone had told me a year ago that I’d be peeling potatoes in Waverly Earp’s kitchen, I would have called them nuts,” she said.

 

Waverly smiled at her knowingly. “Kind of funny how life works out, huh?”

 

“Not as funny as how slow you are at peeling potatoes,” Nicole quipped. “I’ve done like three times as many as you.”

 

“Hey, no fair! Your parents actually taught you how to fend for yourself in the kitchen. All mine taught me was how to make myself more desirable to casting directors and what drugs you could take to help you lose weight,” Waverly said, her tone turning melancholy at the end of her thought.

 

Nicole looked up sharply, and Waverly shrugged at the pitying look on her face.

 

“Some people really aren’t cut out for the whole parenting thing,” she said.

 

“That explains the friends-giving then,” Nicole said. “I’m really sorry to hear about your parents. No kid should have to go through that.”

 

“Like you’ve said before, we also have the family we choose. Luckily, I’ve chosen some pretty great people to surround myself with lately,” Waverly said.

 

Nicole’s eyes softened. “I think we’ve both been pretty lucky on that front,” she said, smiling before going back to peeling potatoes.

 

I think we have, too.

 

***

 

A few hours later, and Waverly’s friends were all standing around her kitchen island drinking cocktails and laughing about whose side dishes actually looked edible.

 

“Ok, so we all agree Xavier’s dessert looks the best, although I still don’t know if he’s allowed to win on account of his mother making it for him,” Hailey said with a wink in his direction.

 

“Babe, c’mon,” Jess disagreed. “It’s not his fault his mother is a baking goddess. We should be thankful she decided to share her gifts with us via her son.”  

 

“Exactly! Thank you, Jess,” Xavier said, giving her a small bow.

 

Hailey looked like she was about to argue further, but Jess put a hand playfully over her mouth as she sipped her Moscow mule.

 

Nicole liked Jess immediately. She was the only person there other than herself and Xavier who wasn’t in the industry, and she shared her girlfriend’s dry sense of humor that Nicole found hilarious. The two of them together were a striking couple of stark opposites. Hailey was all tattoos and rock and roll, while Jess was the epitome of simple elegance. They couldn’t have been more different if they’d tried, but it clearly worked for them.

 

“Well, I’d like to cast a vote for myself, given that my dish was clearly the most labor intensive to prepare,” Alex said.

 

Nicole and the group stared at the blue Jello shapes piled on a plate in the middle of the island. Most of the shapes resembled squares, although they were clearly cut free-hand as some looked closer to random blobs.

 

“Honey, I think it’s safe to say that your life skills lie about five miles outside of the kitchen,” Ben said, putting an arm around Alex’s shoulders affectionately. “And I don’t think whisking for two minutes counts as hard labor.”

 

“Not to mention that you’re disqualified for not even picking the good Jello flavor,” Waverly chimed in.

 

“What’s the good flavor?” Nicole asked.

 

“Cherry!” Drew and Waverly spoke simultaneously, while Hailey shouted “lime!”.

 

Hailey narrowed her eyes at her costars. “Of course, you two are in cahoots,” she said, shaking her head. “Everyone knows that lime is the most popular flavor of all time.”

 

Jess snickered. “Yeah, maybe back in my grandmother’s day.”

 

“I think lime is my mom’s favorite,” Xavier said.

 

“My point exactly,” Jess said.

 

The group burst out laughing as Hailey pouted.

 

“I think Nicole’s mashed potatoes are probably the hands-down winner, let’s be real,” Ben said, and everyone in the room nodded their agreement.

 

“I knew you were my favorite,” Nicole said with a smile.

 

“Hey, what about me?” Waverly asked.

 

“Hmm, you can be my second favorite, Waves,” Nicole said.

 

Waverly gave her a strange look, and the room was quiet for a second as they watched each other from across the island.

 

“Can we stop talking about all the food and just eat before I starve to death?” Hailey asked, the rest of the group agreeing enthusiastically.

 

They grabbed plates and worked their way around the island, helping themselves to hot rolls, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and cranberry salad.

 

“Anybody want any half-frozen turkey? I made it myself,” Waverly said with an apologetic laugh.

 

“Valiant effort, but I think we’ll pass on salmonella this year, Earp,” Drew said, giving her a pat on the back.

 

Waverly huffed. “I blame Nicole. She’s nothing but a distraction in the kitchen,” she said.

 

Nicole caught Alex’s eye, and he gave her a knowing smirk.

 

How does he always know everything? she thought.

 

Nicole thought back to a few hours earlier when she and Waverly had indeed been distracted while the potatoes were boiling away on the stove. She smiled to herself as she took her seat at the dining room table, sitting between Waverly and Jess on one side.

 

The group ate and laughed and ate some more. Deanna’s German chocolate pie had been devoured in minutes, and Nicole made a mental note to ask her for the recipe later. Almost everyone had switched to drinking coffee and Bailey’s with dessert, and Alex got everyone’s attention by tapping a fork against his coffee mug and standing from the table.

 

“I’d like to make a toast,” he began. “First, to each and every one of you here tonight, and to my dear friend Waverly for bringing us all together. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to spend this day with, and I hope we have many more friends-givings ahead of us. Cheers!”

 

The room echoed his salute and clinked mugs, and Alex continued.

 

“Also, I want to say a special thank you to Ben. He’s been putting up with me for years now, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. Babe,” Alex addressed his boyfriend, “thank you for being my constant inspiration, and most of all, thank you for agreeing to be my husband.”

 

***

 

Waverly’s jaw was on the floor.

 

“Are you serious?!” she exclaimed, looking back and forth between Alex and Ben.

 

Ben grinned and held Alex’s hand as he stood next to him. “He’s serious, we’re engaged!”

 

“Oh my god!”

 

“Congratulations!”

 

“That’s amazing news!”

 

The friends took turns hugging the couple before resuming their seats, more coffee and alcohol being passed around to refill mugs.

 

“I can’t believe you kept this a secret,” Waverly said. “I’m so happy for you two I could cry.”

 

“Have you guys decided on a date already?” Drew asked.

 

Alex glanced at Ben with a twinkle in his eye. Ben nodded that he should go ahead and tell them.

 

“We want to elope and have a Christmas wedding in Telluride,” Alex said.

 

“Oh my god, I love Colorado! Can we come?” Hailey asked.

 

Jess smacked her arm. “Babe, you don’t get to invite yourself to someone’s elopement,” she whispered.

 

“Actually, yes,” Ben said grinning. “We want you all to come. The guest list is entirely made up of the people in this room. We want to book a few suites at a ski resort in Telluride and do a simple ceremony in the mountains.”

 

“Simple, but chic, obviously,” Alex corrected.

 

“Obviously.” Ben rolled his eyes and laughed at his fiancé.

 

“Pack your snow boots people. Rocky Mountains, here we come!” Hailey cheered.

 

After a few more hours of sorting out wedding details, telling embarrassing stories, and endless laughs, the group thinned out until only Alex and Ben remained with Waverly and Nicole. Ben was gathering their coats and talking Broadway with Nicole in the living room, and Waverly took a minute to talk to her friend one-on-one in the kitchen.

 

“I’m so happy for you, Alex,” Waverly said. “I can’t believe you finally pulled the trigger and asked him. I feel like a proud big sister right now,” she laughed.

 

Alex gave her an indecipherable look. “Actually, I was hoping instead of a proud sister, you’d maybe be my best man?” he asked.

 

“Really?” Waverly felt her eyes fill with happy tears. “I’d be honored,” she replied, pulling her friend into a fierce hug.

 

Alex rubbed her back before releasing her, his own eyes looking a little teary.

 

“It means the world to me and Ben that you all will be there to celebrate the start of our new life with us. Thank you for always being in my corner, even when I was a stubborn idiot, and especially when I was razzing you every five minutes about your sexy bodyguard,” he said chuckling.

 

Alex glanced at Nicole in the other room, and Waverly followed his gaze. Nicole was gesturing with her hands as she spoke, something Waverly had noticed she did often when she was passionate about something. Could she be any more adorable?

 

“Yeah, that look right there tells me everything I need to know,” Alex interrupted her staring. “I hope you’ll take your own advice and stop being so stubborn, Waverly. I want you to be happy, and I think with Nicole you really could be.”

 

Waverly sighed. “There’s definitely something there,” she admitted quietly. “I just don’t know if she really wants to be a part of my life in that way. The chaos of my schedule, the constant publicity…it’s a lot to ask of anybody, and I know that.”

 

“You’re worth it, you know,” he said. “Just talk to her.”

 

Alex gave her another quick hug before making his way to the living room to say goodbye to Nicole. Waverly and Nicole walked them out together, both of them collapsing on the couch once the apartment was finally empty. It had been a long, emotional day, and Waverly couldn’t remember ever having a better Thanksgiving in her life.

 

“Nothing is ever dull with your friends,” Nicole said with a tired laugh. “I’m so happy for Alex and Ben.”

 

Waverly couldn’t agree more. “We’re a wild bunch, but that’s what I love about us,” she said.

 

Waverly remembered Nicole had been stationed in Colorado at some point in her Army career.

 

“I’ve never been to Colorado. What’s Telluride like?” she asked.

 

“I’ve only been there once, in the Summer, but it was gorgeous,” Nicole said. “The mountains are so close surrounding the town, they almost seem fake. And there are some really good restaurants there, too. You all will love it.”

 

What does she mean you all?

 

“Wait, you’re not going to come to the wedding?” Waverly asked, sitting up straighter on the couch.

 

Nicole looked confused. “Um, no? I don’t think they really meant that Xavier and I were invited, just your friends and their significant others,” she said.

 

“Nicole.” Waverly put her face in her palm, shaking her head as she lifted her head again. “When are you going to realize that you’re a part of this family now, as much as me or Hailey or Drew or Jess are? We’re your tribe, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re stuck with us whether you like it or not.”

 

Nicole looked surprised at Waverly’s words, but a slow smile spread across her face.

 

“Yeah?” she asked.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Waverly stared into deep brown eyes and got lost in them as she almost always did.

 

“Plus, I wanted to officially ask you to be my date to the wedding,” Waverly said. “I know we haven’t put a label on this yet, but I want you to go with me, and I want to be able to tell our friends that we’re seeing each other.”

 

Nicole rubbed the back of her neck, seeming unsure of what to say.

 

Shit, she doesn’t want this, Waverly thought, trying not to freak out before hearing what Nicole had to say.

 

“Waverly, I am so attracted to you it’s distracting. I spend ninety percent of my time thinking about you, and the other ten percent asleep. I really want to believe this can work between us, but I think you’ll end up having regrets about being with someone as…boring as me,” Nicole said. “I’m never going to fit into your world. And what would your friends think if they knew you were dating someone who worked for you? You can do so much better than me.”

 

“That’s bullshit,” Waverly said, a fire igniting in her chest at Nicole’s words.

 

Nicole’s eyes went wide at her tone.

 

“I want you, Nicole. I want to be with you, and I don’t give a shit if we just happened to meet because I hired you to work for me. I know I come with a lot of baggage and a lifestyle that is very public and a schedule that is hard to deal with, but I’m asking if you’re willing to take all of that on to be with me. It’s a simple question really – do you want to be with me or not?” Waverly asked.

 

She felt like she couldn’t breathe as she waited for Nicole’s response.

 

Waverly’s fears were drowned out by sheer joy as Nicole put a hand behind Waverly’s neck and pulled her in for a scalding kiss. Waverly demanded entrance and Nicole complied immediately, opening for Waverly and sucking her tongue into her mouth hungrily. They kissed for seconds or minutes or hours, Waverly had no sense of time when Nicole’s lips were on hers.

 

Nicole finally pulled back slightly, her lips brushing Waverly’s as she whispered her answer against them.

 

“I want you,” she murmured. “I want this.”

 

“Good,” Waverly responded breathlessly. “Glad we got that settled.”

 

Waverly leaned back in and tangled her fingers in Nicole’s hair, groaning as Nicole pulled her onto her lap on the couch, their lips never parting as she moved.

 

“Will you stay?” Waverly asked, trailing her lips along Nicole’s jaw towards her ear.

 

“Hm?”

 

Nicole’s response was incoherent, and Waverly scraped her earlobe with her teeth, grinning when she felt Nicole’s breath hitch.  

 

“I said, will you stay tonight?” she repeated, moving her attention to Nicole’s long neck, brushing her lips back and forth over the exposed skin there.

 

“Waves, you’re killing me,” Nicole gasped, gripping Waverly’s hips as she nipped at a spot near Nicole’s collarbone with her teeth.

 

Waverly pulled back, meeting Nicole’s eyes. “I like when you call me that,” she said, the nickname from Nicole’s lips causing an unexpected flutter in her stomach.

 

“I’ll call you whatever you want if you stop driving me insane with your teeth,” Nicole laughed breathlessly.

 

Waverly smiled like the Cheshire cat and winked playfully.

 

“Sorry not sorry, baby,” she said.

 

A look passed over Nicole’s face at Waverly’s casual use of the term of endearment. “Yes, I’ll stay tonight, if you’re sure you want me to,” Nicole said.

 

“I’m sure.” Waverly settled in Nicole’s lap and kissed her again, softer this time.

 

She was in no rush, knowing they had all night and Nicole wasn’t going anywhere. Waverly was finally getting her wish of becoming intimately acquainted with Nicole’s lips, and she didn’t plan to waste a second of it.

Chapter Text

The month leading up to Alex and Ben’s wedding went by in a flash. Waverly and Hailey had been kept busy with meetings and rehearsals for their new show, which meant Nicole had been just as busy running security for her very in-demand girlfriend.  

 

Nicole still wasn’t sure if girlfriend was the appropriate term for Waverly at this point, but she didn’t know how else to classify things at the moment. They’d agreed they both wanted to see where things went between them, but they’d also agreed not to label anything for the time being, and that was fine with Nicole for now. These days she felt that her thoughts were constantly swirling with thoughts of their future and what that could look like given the differences in their lifestyles. Nicole could admit she harbored a lot of anxiety about being caught up in Waverly’s public life, but she also knew that was part of the beautiful package that was Waverly Earp. Things were happening so quickly, and Nicole was just trying to keep up.

 

Waverly had been spending a lot of time with Alex and Ben, helping them make arrangements for what was sure to be wedding event of the season. Well, more accurately, the secret wedding event of the season, given that the couple had only decided to invite their closest friends to the ceremony. Nicole was looking forward to visiting Colorado again, as she had nothing but fond memories of being stationed there. The thought of trading in the bustling city for panoramic mountain views and crisp winter air sounded pretty great to Nicole right about now.

 

Their group was flying out the next morning on a chartered jet, and Nicole’s neatly packed suitcase was already zipped up and ready to go at the foot of Waverly’s bed. Waverly had suggested Nicole spend the night at her place so they could head to the airport together bright and early.

 

The only other time Nicole had spent the night at Waverly’s, the night after friends-giving, had been one of the best nights Nicole could remember. She and Waverly had spent hours lying in bed, talking, making out, and talking some more before finally falling asleep in each other’s arms. Nicole couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so safe and comfortable with someone. Waverly allowed Nicole to be fully herself, and Nicole was starting to believe that maybe she was enough, just as she was.  

 

A frustrated groan from the closet interrupted Nicole’s musings, and she glanced up from her forgotten book to see a disheveled Waverly hauling a pile of clothes through the doorway.

 

“You need some help there?” Nicole asked.

 

“Yes, actually,” Waverly replied. She dropped the clothes heap on the foot of the bed and glanced warily at her empty but not overly large suitcase. “You think you can make all of this fit into there?” she asked, gesturing at the suitcase halfheartedly.

 

Nicole snorted. “Um, no I do not. Sorry, Waves, but I’m not a magician.”

 

Waverly sighed and ran a hand through her hair as she surveyed the pile before her.

 

Nicole sat cross-legged on the bed as she eyed the stack of items Waverly had brought out. She saw no less than four different scarves, multiple beanies, two pairs of snow boots, and enough outfits to last two weeks.

 

“Are you sure you need all of that?” Nicole asked. “We’re only going for two days, and we’re not invited to stay for the honeymoon portion, remember?” she said with a laugh.

 

“I need options, Haught! How am I supposed to know what I’ll be in the mood to wear two days from now?”

 

Nicole shook her head and stifled a smile. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to make some tough decisions here, Waves. Which scarf is your favorite?”

 

Waverly picked up the four options and mulled it over for a solid minute.

 

“This one,” she finally decided, holding up a knitted navy blue one that looked well-worn and extremely comfortable.

 

“Great, throw it in,” Nicole said. “Now, I think one pair of snow boots is plenty, don’t you?”

 

Waverly sighed but nodded slowly. “Fine, one pair of boots. What else?”

 

Nicole looked over the options. “I’d say you need one nice outfit for the ceremony, a cozy outfit for the second day, something to wear for the flight home, and a pair of pajamas,” Nicole said.

 

“What kind of person travels anywhere with only four outfits?!” Waverly asked, placing her hands on her hips in defiance.

 

Nicole shrugged. “The military makes you practical to the extreme, I guess. Anyway, that’s all that’s going to fit in that suitcase, and you’ll be lucky if you can even fit half of your hair products once you get the clothes in there,” she said with a smirk.

 

Waverly narrowed her eyes. “Very funny, Nicole. I’ll have you know, I will fit all of those products in there because I’m only taking three outfits. Ha!”

 

Waverly began selecting items from the pile and folding them neatly before placing them in her suitcase.

 

Nicole quirked an eyebrow at her. “You’re going to short yourself one outfit option? I find that hard to believe, Miss Earp.”

 

Waverly paused her packing to meet Nicole’s eyes. “I don’t need to waste space on pajamas,” she said, her tone deadpan.

 

Nicole’s eyes widened comically, and Waverly laughed before resuming her folding.

 

“Touché,” Nicole said, feeling her cheeks warm at the thought of sharing a room with a naked Waverly.

 

This trip was certainly going to be one for the books, she thought.  

 

****

 

When the group landed at the small regional airport in Telluride, light snow flurries were falling over the already snow-covered mountains. They had chartered two cars to transport them to the resort from there, and it wasn’t long before they were checking in and divvying out room keys to their suites.

 

“Ok people, we’ve got Drew and Brian in 208,” Alex said, handing Drew a keycard from the stack in his hand.  

 

Waverly was glad that Drew had decided to bring a date to the wedding, and to Waverly’s knowledge this was the first man Drew had openly dated in his life. She hoped things were looking up for her previously closeted friend and co-star.

 

“Next, Hailey and Jess, you guys are in 205. Hailey, try not to wipe out the entire minibar in the first night,” Alex said with a wink.

 

“Rude!” Hailey said, snatching her key with a grin.

 

“He knows you well, honey,” Jess said with a laugh.

 

“Last but not least, Waverly and Nicole. You guys are sure you’re cool with sharing a room, right?” Alex asked, looking between the two of them for confirmation. “We can add on another one no problem, if you want.”

 

“We’re good,” Waverly said, hoping she could keep the blush at bay by not meeting Nicole’s eyes as she took the key from Alex. “Not like we haven’t been roommates before,” she said.

 

“Great. Let’s all go get settled in, and we’ve got a private dinner set up in the restaurant at 6:00,” he said.

 

The group split up to find their respective rooms, Waverly leading the way down the hall until she found the door marked 210. She slid the keycard into the lock, and the door clicked open. Nicole wheeled their suitcases in, and they both collapsed on the bed with smiles on their faces.

 

Waverly turned her head to look at Nicole, her profile defined in the bright winter sun streaming through the huge window in the bedroom. Nicole turned to meet Waverly’s gaze, a grin stretching her face and her dimple on display.

 

She’s fucking beautiful.

 

“You’re gorgeous, you know that?” Waverly said out loud.

 

Nicole’s face flushed instantly, and she turned her head to break their eye contact and look at the ceiling above them.  

 

“Hey, none of that,” Waverly said, rolling over and pushing up on her knees so she could straddle Nicole’s waist. She looked down at Nicole, her hair falling around her face as she placed her palms on either side of Nicole’s head.

 

“You are beautiful, Nicole Haught. I could stare at you all day and never get tired of it,” she said.

 

Nicole gripped the back of Waverly’s thighs as she sat above her, rubbing her thumb over the denim in a way that was instantly distracting to Waverly.

 

“I’m not used to hearing things like that, so thank you,” Nicole said quietly, her brown eyes steady on Waverly’s.

 

Waverly bent down to kiss Nicole lightly. As always, she was surprised by the intensity of her desire as soon as their lips met. She pulled back before she got carried away and kissed the tip of Nicole’s nose before sitting back on her calves and looking at Nicole thoughtfully.

 

What is it with all the feels today? Waverly thought.

 

“What?” Nicole asked when Waverly didn’t say anything.

 

“I like you,” Waverly said somewhat shyly.

 

Nicole’s grin was back instantly. She pushed up on her elbows and met Waverly’s gaze seriously.

 

“I like you, too,” she said.

 

“I want to tell our friends about us tonight,” Waverly said. “Are you ok with that?”

 

Nicole seemed to consider it. “Are you sure now’s the best time? I don’t want to steal the attention from Alex and Ben this weekend.”

 

“We don’t have to make it a big thing, I’m just tired of having to hide all the time. I want to be able to hold your hand, slow dance with you, kiss you whenever I want. These are our people, and I know they’ll be happy for us,” Waverly said. “Especially Alex and Ben.”

 

Nicole nodded and tucked Waverly’s hair behind her ear, brushing her cheek with a fingertip as she did so.

 

“I want that, too,” Nicole said. “Let’s do it.”  

 

Waverly grinned, and she suddenly had butterflies in her stomach at the idea of sharing what she and Nicole had with other people, even a group as small as their friends.

 

It makes it feel more real, she thought with a smile.

 

She focused back on the woman in front of her, those warm brown eyes scanning her face.

 

“Wanna go for an adventure in the snow?” she asked, bouncing with excitement and hoping Nicole would say yes.

 

“Hmm, I don’t know, it’s awfully cold out there, Waves. And didn’t you only bring like one scarf and six pairs of gloves?” Nicole teased.

 

Waverly smacked her shoulder and climbed off the bed. “Keep it up and you’re not getting any bedtime snuggles tonight,” she threatened.

 

“Ok, I take it back!” Nicole said, sitting up on the end of the bed and pulling Waverly back to her by her belt loops. “You are the best packer I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure that one scarf will keep you well protected from the snow,” she said with her most charming smile.

 

“That’s what I thought,” Waverly said, bending to kiss Nicole’s lips quickly before stepping back to rummage through her suitcase. “Bundle up, Haught!”

 

****

 

The resort was nothing short of stunning. It was only 15 degrees outside, but Nicole and Waverly still took their time wandering around the grounds and taking in the views of the surrounding mountains. Nicole hadn’t been to Telluride in years, but the scenery certainly hadn’t changed. The little ski town would always be one of Nicole’s favorite places on earth, and she was ecstatic to be here with a group of people she had become so unexpectedly close to.

 

After a while of wandering through the snow, Waverly decided one scarf was certainly not enough to protect her from the elements, so they went back to their suite and got cleaned up for dinner. Alex and Ben had decided to keep it casual for dinner that night, so Waverly and Nicole both opted to wear jeans and be comfortable for the evening.

 

They got in the elevator and headed down to the lobby, Waverly slipping her hand into Nicole’s before the doors opened on the ground floor. Nicole glanced at their hands and then met Waverly’s eyes with a small smile, giving her hand a little squeeze before stepping out and heading for the resort’s restaurant.

 

The dimly lit restaurant was empty except for the wedding party, all of whom were seated at a large round table and passing bottles of wine around when Waverly and Nicole walked in.

 

Hailey zeroed in on their joined hands before anyone else took notice of them, her eyes widening and a huge grin spreading across her face as she pointed at them.

 

“I knew it!” she said.

 

Nicole felt herself flush and thanked the universe that the restaurant lighting was low. She felt Waverly give her hand a reassuring squeeze as they approached the table and their friends, who were now all staring at them expectantly.

 

“Yeah so, we have something we want to talk to you guys about,” Waverly said when she reached the two chairs that had been left empty for her and Nicole.

 

“Praise be,” Alex muttered loud enough for Nicole to hear from the seat next to hers. He met her gaze and gave her a wink and a genuine smile.

 

Waverly cleared her throat before continuing. “Nicole and I have been seeing each other for a couple of weeks now. We won’t be announcing it to People Magazine or anything right away, but we really wanted to tell you all because you’re our people and we don’t want to have to hide our relationship with you guys.”

 

Nicole glanced around the table and saw nothing but huge smiles and nods as their friends took in the news.

 

“Well, I say cheers to that, and cheers to you two,” Ben said, raising his wine glass in Waverly and Nicole’s direction. “And in the words of my soon-to-be husband, it’s about fucking time.”

 

The table erupted in laughter, and everyone stood to take turns giving Nicole and Waverly hugs and pats on the back.

 

“Welcome to the circus,” Jess whispered into Nicole’s ear as she gave her a tight hug. “I’m really happy for you.”

 

Nicole thanked her and resumed her seat at the table between Waverly and Alex. She couldn’t keep the smile from her face as she took in the group surrounding her. These people really had become a second family to her over the past few months, and it was all thanks to the woman beside her.

 

She placed a hand on Waverly’s knee under the table and gave it a squeeze as a silent thank you. Waverly met her eyes and covered Nicole’s hand with her own.

 

It was a perfect moment, in a beautiful place, surrounded by unconditional love and support. She hoped Alex and Ben would feel the exact same way tomorrow when they would finally say their vows to one another.   

 

****

 

The ceremony the following day was intimate, funny, emotional, and all around gorgeous. Waverly had cried so many times during the vows, she’d finally given up on trying to dab her eyes gently with a napkin and resorted to simply wiping her mascara off with her tears. She could reapply it later.

 

Alex and Ben had promised to spend the rest of their lives together in a stunning ballroom that showcased the snow-covered mountains through its large windows. Waverly had stood beside Alex as his best man, and Ben had opted to forego tradition and stand alone, saying that the best man he knew was standing right in front of him. Cue more tears from Waverly.

 

Once the couple had sealed their commitment with a kiss, the group moved to a more intimate gathering space where food and wine had been provided by the resort staff. A local DJ was spinning dance tracks and wedding favorites, and as the night was winding down he slowed down the music to match the mood.

 

Hailey and Jess had called it a night first, followed by Drew and his date not long after, leaving just Waverly and Nicole tearing up the dancefloor with the newlyweds.

 

When the DJ put on James Blake’s version of “Godspeed”, Nicole slipped a hand around Waverly’s waist and pulled her in close without a word, like they’d done it a hundred times before. Waverly rested her cheek against Nicole’s shoulder as they spun slowly around the floor.

 

I could stay right here forever, Waverly thought.

 

They danced slowly, moving as one, their bodies seeming fused together. Waverly felt Nicole’s warmth everywhere. The strong grip around her left hand. Her shoulder under Waverly’s cheek. The palm of her hand against the bare skin of Waverly’s back, her thumb caressing the skin there as they turned around the room. It was all too much, but not enough.  

 

She had fallen hard for Nicole. Waverly didn’t know the exact moment it happened, but she could admit that to herself now. She had never felt this strongly about someone in her entire life, and that truth terrified her.

 

What terrified her more though, was not knowing if Nicole would return her feelings, or what it would mean if she did. Things were complicated with them. Waverly understood that, but she also needed more than this gray area of attraction with no labels, friends with some benefits, whatever this was they were currently doing. It wasn’t enough. It was torture.

 

I need more.

 

She raised her head and put her lips against Nicole’s ear.

 

“Let’s get out of here,” she whispered.

 

Nicole pulled her head back so she could meet Waverly’s eyes. She wondered if Nicole could see the need she felt in them. It felt big enough to swallow Waverly whole.

 

Nicole nodded and let go of Waverly’s waist but kept hold of her hand, threading their fingers together as she looked over her shoulder.

 

Alex and Ben were swaying slowly around the room, both wearing the biggest smiles Waverly had ever seen, with eyes only for each other. They didn’t need to interrupt their moment. They would all be together again in the morning before most of the group would be heading home to New York.

 

She and Nicole headed for the elevators, neither of them speaking as they climbed to the second floor. It was as though they both knew what the night would bring without having to voice it, and Waverly was thankful for that. If they talked about it too much, her nerves might overtake her, and she wanted this too badly to fuck it up.

 

She swiped the keycard at the door, and Nicole entered on her heels. The lights were all out, but the window shades were open, the light of the moon reflecting off the snowy landscape and coating everything in an ethereal glow.

 

Waverly walked to the windows and looked out, crossing her arms over her chest and trying to hold herself together. She wanted Nicole so badly, but she had no idea how to do this.

 

“Waves?”

 

Nicole spoke quietly from behind her, but Waverly didn’t think she could speak without her voice shaking.

 

“Waverly, please look at me,” Nicole said.

 

Waverly turned, finding Nicole there with an expression she couldn’t place, hands shoved deep in her suit pant pockets. Her dark eyes were pleading, understanding, desperate, uncertain. So many emotions at once.

 

“Are you ok?” Nicole tried again.

 

Waverly knew she had to say something. She wanted to say the words she had felt settle into her soul while they were on that dancefloor, but she knew it was too soon for that. Too soon, too scary, too big.

 

“I want you so badly,” Waverly said instead, her voice barely loud enough for Nicole to hear.

 

Nicole took a step closer, to hear her better or to close the distance between them Waverly didn’t know.

 

She shook her head and dropped her gaze to the floor. “I don’t know how to do this. I feel…”

 

Nicole was there then, pulling Waverly into her chest and wrapping her arms around her back.

 

“I’ve got you, Waves,” she whispered into Waverly’s hair. “We’re in this together, I’m right here with you.”

 

Waverly gripped Nicole’s back and hung on for what could’ve been minutes. She didn’t know how long they stood there before she finally stepped out of Nicole’s embrace.

 

“Are you sure about this?” Nicole asked. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t feel ready for.”

 

There’s no going back, Earp. She’ll own you completely after this.

 

Waverly nodded and slid shaky hands under Nicole’s jacket and up to her shoulders, pushing the fabric down her arms and letting it drop to the floor behind her.

 

“I’m sure,” she said.

 

Nicole nodded and looked into her eyes for several long seconds. What she saw in them, Waverly had no idea. She wondered if the depth of her emotion was written all over her face. She hoped to god it wasn’t.

 

Nicole ran her hands up Waverly’s arms, the touch barely ghosting over her skin, leaving goosebumps in their wake until she cupped Waverly’s cheeks with both hands and leaned in to kiss her softly.

 

“If you want me to stop, you just tell me, ok?” she whispered against Waverly’s lips, and the sensation made Waverly shiver.

 

“I don’t want you to stop,” she whispered back.

 

She slid her hands into Nicole’s hair and gripped the back of her neck to deepen the kiss.

 

Kissing Nicole was like striking a match, and Waverly felt herself light up immediately at the feel of their lips moving against each other, Nicole’s tongue slipping into her mouth before Waverly had even realized she’d granted her entrance.

 

Waverly made a sound at the back of her throat, and it spurred Nicole into action, walking her backwards until her knees hit the foot of the bed. Waverly went to fall back onto the sheets, but Nicole’s hands on her waist kept her upright.

 

Nicole moved her lips to Waverly’s neck and slid a hand around her back until she found the zipper at the base of Waverly’s spine.  

 

“Is this ok?” she asked, waiting for Waverly’s nod before slowly easing the zipper down, keeping her lips glued to Waverly’s skin.

 

Waverly shimmied her hips slightly to let the dress slide down her body, pooling at her feet as Nicole stepped back to look at her in the moonlit room.

 

Her gaze was so full of wonder that Waverly could feel the heat bloom over her cheeks.

 

“You’re so fucking beautiful, Waverly,” Nicole said, her eyes raking over her bare skin. “So beautiful,” she whispered, leaning in to place a kiss just above the lacey top of her bra.

 

Waverly breathed in sharply and pulled Nicole up to meet her lips again, sighing at the contact when Nicole ran her hands up her sides and back and shoulders. Her touch was everywhere at once, featherlight but searing Waverly’s skin everywhere she landed.

 

I need her skin against mine.

 

Waverly found the buttons of Nicole’s shirt, unbuttoning them one by one and tugging when she reached the part that was still tucked into Nicole’s pants. Nicole laughed into her mouth, never breaking their kiss as she slid the shirt off her shoulders once Waverly had finished with the buttons.

 

Waverly ran her hands down Nicole’s stomach, feeling her abdomen tense as she scratched lightly with her nails.

 

God, she’s gorgeous.

 

Waverly’s senses were overwhelmed with all the new skin on display, she didn’t know where to look or what to focus on. She ran her hands over Nicole’s abs, her chest, her arms, her shoulders, her dark tattoos made more prominent in the moon’s glow.

 

Nicole seemed to sense Waverly’s dilemma, pushing gently against her hips to ease her back onto the bed. She unbuckled and unzipped her pants before shimmying them down her legs, and Waverly swallowed hard at the sight of Nicole almost fully naked before her.

 

Nicole climbed on the bed and lowered herself slowly, a groan escaping Waverly’s mouth as she felt so much of Nicole’s skin flush against hers. Her hands immediately traced the muscles in Nicole’s back and shoulders as she leaned in to kiss Waverly deeply.

 

Apparently, Nicole was in no hurry to get where Waverly needed her most. Waverly was already so wet it would’ve been embarrassing if she’d been capable of having a coherent thought. As it was, Waverly was hyper focused on the feel of Nicole’s lips, which were taking their time tasting every inch of bared skin they could reach.

 

Nicole ran a finger under the edge of Waverly’s bra and met her eyes in question, a question Waverly quickly answered with a “god, yes” before Nicole’s mouth was suddenly on her breast. Waverly’s back arched and she held Nicole’s head to her chest, gripping red hair in her fist when she felt Nicole’s tongue circle her nipple slowly.

 

“God,” she breathed, not wanting Nicole to ever move from that spot but also needing her touch lower down before she spontaneously combusted.

 

“Nicole, please.”

 

Waverly had never begged for anything in her life, but if she had to start sometime there was no better time than now.

 

She felt Nicole’s smile against her skin before she scraped her teeth over Waverly’s nipple, making her cry out in surprise.

 

“Please what, baby?” Nicole asked, keeping her mouth where it was and driving Waverly insane with need.

 

“Please touch me,” Waverly said, her voice sounding foreign to her own ears.

 

Nicole breathed a laugh over her skin.

 

“I thought I already was,” she said, nipping Waverly’s breast and soothing the spot with her tongue.

 

Smart ass.

 

Waverly found one of Nicole’s hands and moved it where she wanted it, her body jerking when Nicole’s fingers brushed over her clit.

 

“Jesus fuck,” Nicole whispered, and Waverly knew she could feel how wet she was.

 

Nicole was on the move instantly, and Waverly sighed in relief as she kissed her way closer to where she needed her, skimming her lips over her abdomen before reaching the top of her underwear.

 

Nicole sat up and met Waverly’s eyes as she slid the garment slowly down her legs. Her pupils were blacker than Waverly had ever seen them, and she looked at her with more reverence than Waverly knew what to do with.

 

No going back, Earp, for better or worse.

 

Nicole settled herself between Waverly’s legs and looked up at her through her eyelashes.

 

“You’re sure?” she asked again, and Waverly barely stopped herself from shoving her own hand down her body if Nicole wouldn’t hurry up.

 

“For the love of god, Nicole, please just- oh fuck.”

 

Nicole hadn’t waited for Waverly to finish her sentence, her tongue sliding through Waverly’s folds with enough pressure to make Waverly think she might come on the spot. She gripped the bedsheets in both fists and clenched her jaw as hard as she could to keep from moaning loud enough to wake the neighbors.

 

Nicole’s tongue was the sweetest torture Waverly could imagine. It was a saint, a goddess, a fucking magician. Waverly felt the vibration of Nicole groaning against her clit, and her vision went black as her entire body tensed and then slowly relaxed.  

 

She felt Nicole moving back up her body, trailing kisses up her overheated skin before finally reaching her lips again. Waverly could taste herself on Nicole’s tongue, that fucking magic tongue, and she felt desire skyrocket all over again.

 

“You taste so fucking good,” Nicole whispered in her ear before sucking her earlobe into her mouth and biting it gently.

 

Waverly didn’t realize Nicole’s hand had drifted back down her body until she felt her fingertips pushing inside her.

 

“Fucking hell,” she groaned, pressing her face into Nicole’s neck as she clung to her shoulders for dear life.

 

Nicole pushed deeper inside, and Waverly felt her body go taut again. Nicole moved slowly but with purpose, hitting Waverly deeper with every thrust of her hand. Waverly’s entire body started to shake, and Nicole sped up her rhythm.

 

“Look at me, Waves.”

 

Waverly forced her eyes open and found dark eyes on her, those eyes she could never keep herself from getting lost in. Nicole curled her fingers and Waverly fell apart, biting Nicole’s shoulder to keep herself from crying out.

 

Nicole stilled her fingers and leaned down to capture Waverly’s lips in a kiss so gentle it made Waverly’s eyes fill with tears. She blinked hard and hoped the darkness would keep her secrets.

 

There were so many things to say. So many things she wanted to do. But Waverly couldn’t feel her body, couldn’t figure out how to make her limbs do what she wanted.

 

“Just rest for a while, baby. We have all night,” Nicole whispered, stretching out by her side and pulling Waverly’s body into hers.

 

Waverly stared into the moonlit night and felt Nicole’s breathing even out against her back, her breath tickling the hair at the back of her neck.

 

Waverly Earp, you are so screwed.

Chapter Text

Nicole woke up slowly, blinking the sleep out of her eyes as she took in her surroundings. The sun was shining brightly through the windows, casting the bedroom in the harsh light of morning. Nicole squinted at the clock to her left but couldn’t quite make out the time.

 

The right side of her body was overly warm, and her right arm was pinned under a sleeping Waverly who was draped across half of her body.

 

Waverly. Last night. God, last night.

 

Nicole grinned as the memories came flooding back. Her night with Waverly was not something Nicole would ever forget.

 

She took in Waverly’s sleeping face, her eyelashes, her slightly freckled skin, her long hair spread over her chest and shoulder, her arm wrapped tightly around Nicole’s middle, the bedsheet sitting low over her hips.

 

Nicole ran her fingertips up Waverly’s back lightly, unable to resist the urge to touch her. Her skin was so soft. Everything about her last night had been soft, giving, trusting. It had been pure magic.

 

Nicole felt a pang in her chest and fought the urge to let it settle there permanently. Her feelings for Waverly had surprised her, crept up on her when she hadn’t been looking. The woman she initially thought was a diva and a bit of a snob had slipped her way past Nicole’s defenses without Nicole noticing.

 

Nicole tried to imagine herself fitting into Waverly’s life. Being in the public eye, constantly under scrutiny, plastering on fake smiles, wearing designer clothes, her life no longer fully her own. Could she do that? Did she really belong in that world?  

 

What am I going to do with you, Waverly Earp?

 

Waverly began to stir under Nicole’s touch, snuggling in closer as she blinked herself awake and found Nicole’s eyes on her. Her smile was instantaneous and somewhat shy, and Nicole felt that pang grip her chest a little bit tighter.

 

“Morning, sleepyhead,” Nicole said, running her fingers through Waverly’s hair.

 

“Have you been awake long?” Waverly asked, her voice gravelly with sleep.

 

Nicole shook her head. “Just a few minutes. I’m sorry I woke you, I couldn’t resist touching you.”

 

“It’s ok,” Waverly said, running her own hand down Nicole’s side and stopping when she reached her hip. “The feeling’s mutual, by the way. Last night was…”

 

Waverly didn’t finish her sentence, but Nicole knew exactly what she meant. She was stroking Nicole’s skin with her thumb, her touch growing firmer by the second.

 

Waverly lifted her head to meet Nicole’s eyes, the question clear on her face, but she voiced it anyway.

 

“Can I…?” she whispered.

 

In answer, Nicole shifted Waverly’s body so she was fully on top of her, Waverly placing her palms on either side of Nicole’s head as she straddled her. Her green eyes were bright and crinkled at the corners when she grinned down at her.

 

Pang.

 

Nicole’s pulse was already pounding as Waverly’s lips met hers. Waverly kept the kiss slow, her tongue meeting Nicole’s tentatively before retreating, over and over again. She mapped Nicole’s mouth with her tongue, and Nicole let her take her time and explore. She would let this woman do just about anything she wanted.

 

Nicole sighed audibly as Waverly moved to concentrate on her throat, running her nose up Nicole’s skin until she reached that spot just below her ear and placed a wet kiss there.

 

A loud pounding on the door had Waverly freezing in alarm. She looked down at Nicole with wide, questioning eyes, but Nicole had no idea who would be knocking this early.

 

The knock came again, this time followed by Hailey’s voice, sounding muffled through the door.

 

“You two better be up, cause our plane is leaving in an hour!”

 

Oh, fuck.

 

The look on Waverly’s face made Nicole laugh out loud.

 

“Whoops,” Nicole said, shaking with laughter as Waverly did the same.

 

“We’ll be right there!” Waverly called out. “Shit, shit, shit!” she hissed under her breath.

 

“Waves, it’s ok. We just need to throw our crap in our suitcases, and we’ll be good to go. Do you want to take a super fast shower?” Nicole asked.  

 

Waverly nodded. “I’ll shower, you pack?”

 

“Deal.”

 

Waverly bent down to place a hurried kiss on Nicole’s lips.

 

“Don’t think we’re not coming back to this later,” Waverly said, gesturing at their bodies as she rolled off of Nicole.

 

“I look forward to it,” Nicole replied.

 

She lay still for a minute longer as Waverly turned on the water in the shower. She watched Waverly throw her long hair up in a messy bun before stepping behind the frosted glass.

 

In the words of Mama Deanna, Nicole was in deep shit. She had a lot of thinking to do.

 

****

 

Nicole got their clothes re-packed in record time, and she and Waverly headed downstairs to find their group of friends lounging on various pieces furniture scattered around the lobby, most of them with to-go coffee cups in their hands.

 

It was 8:03, and their car was already waiting outside to take them back to the Telluride airport. Alex and Ben were staying behind for a few extra days for their honeymoon, so they were giving out hugs and saying their farewells when Nicole and Waverly approached.

 

“Well, well, well. The sleeping beauties have decided to join us at last,” Hailey said, earning a laugh from the group.

 

Nicole grinned but said nothing, and Waverly made the mistake of meeting Alex’s knowing eyes. Her cheeks burst into flames immediately.

 

“Sorry we missed breakfast,” Nicole said. “Somebody wanted to sleep in a bit,” she said, winking playfully at Waverly, who smacked her shoulder in response.

 

“A bit overtired from last night, were we?” Alex asked with a smirk.

 

Waverly narrowed her eyes and stuck her tongue out at him.

 

“Alright, alright.” Ben interrupted their childish banter. “You guys have to get on the road, so we can tease you mercilessly later. Thank you both so much for coming, it really meant the world to us to have you here to celebrate us.”

 

He gave Nicole a hug and then pulled Waverly in for one as well. “Don’t be a stranger after the holidays, ok?”

 

Waverly squeezed his shoulders and stepped back. “We won’t.”

 

She hugged Alex next, squeezing him extra tight before letting go. “I’m so happy for you,” she said. “I better see you as soon as you get home. Enjoy the rest of your time out here, and safe trip back.”

 

“I love you so much, thanks for being here,” Alex said. “Best best man ever!”

 

He winked and turned his attention to Nicole.

 

“As for you, RedHaught, thanks for being here and keeping my girl in line. I’m so happy you two have found each other,” he said. “Not to mention, I fucking called it,” he laughed.   

 

Nicole looked surprised when he suddenly pulled her in for a tight hug.

 

“Alright, enough sappy feelings. Get out of here you lot!” he waved them off and the gaggle headed out to the car.

 

Most of the group slept on the plane ride home, including Nicole who, after last night, had definitely earned her rest. Waverly allowed herself to indulge in the memories for a few minutes before thoughts of work and her upcoming schedule drifted in to take their place.

 

She and Hailey had a short-lived vacation, as shooting started on Close Contact the following day. There would be quite a bit of site shooting around the city for this show, which meant Nicole would be with Waverly most days on set. Waverly was used to doing ninety percent of her work in studios, so she was excited at the opportunity to be out on the streets of New York for the majority of this project.

 

On top of long filming days, she, Hailey, and the rest of the cast would have a lot of promos coming up to get the show’s name out there. They were set to release the first episode in just a few months’ time, and she knew the schedule of shooting a show that aired weekly was extremely demanding. She was up for the challenge though, and it would be a good change of pace from the rom-coms she’d been known for the past few years.

 

Waverly allowed herself to get a brief nap in on Nicole’s shoulder before they touched down in the city. It was an icy winter afternoon when they arrived, and Xavier was there waiting with the car to pick her and Nicole up. Hailey and Jess had their own driver, and they were going to drop Drew and his date off on their way back to Queens.  

 

Nicole grabbed their bags and worked with Xavier to load up the trunk as Waverly said goodbye to the men first. She hugged Jess next and saved Hailey for last.

 

“I’ll see ya on set, lady. Enjoy your last day of freedom, and get ready to hit the ground running,” Waverly said.

 

“Just try and keep up,” Hailey smirked back, giving both Waverly and Nicole a hug before sliding into the backseat with Jess. “See ya, Haughtpants!” she called out before closing the door.  

 

Waverly and Nicole both sat in the back of the car for once, earning a raised eyebrow but no further comment from Xavier. They filled him in on their trip and heard all about his holiday with his mother and extended family.

 

“Should I drop you or Miss Earp off first?” he asked Nicole.

 

Nicole looked to Waverly. “Do you mind if he drops me first? I’ve got to relieve the cat sitter,” she explained.

 

Oh right, she’s got CJ at home, Waverly realized.

 

“No, that’s totally fine. Nicole first, Xavier,” she agreed.

 

When they reached Nicole’s apartment, there was an awkward moment in the backseat where Waverly didn’t know how to say goodbye to Nicole. Xavier didn’t know they were seeing each other, and she suspected Nicole may want to tell him the news herself when they were alone.

 

She met Nicole’s eyes as Xavier pulled over and got out to open the trunk for her.

 

“I uh, I guess I’ll see you later?” Waverly asked.

 

Nicole glanced over her shoulder through the back window and nodded.

 

“Yeah, we’ll be here to pick you up bright and early tomorrow. Try and get some rest tonight, tomorrow is a big day. I’ll text you later?”

 

Waverly nodded. “I wish I could kiss you,” she whispered as Nicole unbuckled her seatbelt.

 

Nicole’s eyes dropped to Waverly’s lips. “Soon,” she said, giving Waverly’s hand a squeeze before pushing her door open and climbing out of the car.

 

Waverly watched her thank Xavier and check her phone, most likely letting him know what time they needed to meet up in the morning to be on time to set.

 

Xavier walked back around the car and slid into his seat.

 

“Ready to head home?” he asked.

 

Waverly watched Nicole walk into her building and sighed.

 

“Yeah, thanks Xavier.”

 

When Waverly finally reached her floor, she saw a package waiting for her that had been propped up against her front door.

 

She took it inside along with her things and carried it to the kitchen to find some scissors. Waverly cut through the brown paper and found a note inside, stuck to a glass photo frame.

 

Dear Waverly,

Merry Christmas to my forever muse, best friend, and now best man. I hope this photo brings back fond memories for you both. I told that ginger from day one you two would be a striking couple ;)

xoxo,

Alex

 

The 8x10 photo was from the Met Gala. Alex had printed it in black and white, but Waverly still remembered the vivid green dress she’d worn that night. He had captured the moment just before Waverly and Drew walked the red carpet into the event, when he’d told her and Nicole to pose for a quick shot together. Nicole was gazing straight into the camera, dimples on full display and an arm tucked behind Waverly’s back. Waverly could still remember the moment as if it was yesterday, the electric feeling of Nicole’s bare hand on her skin. And then there was Waverly, staring at the side of Nicole’s face, a slight look of wonder in her eyes.

 

That was the moment, she thought. God, it’s all over my face, even then.

 

Waverly studied the photo for a few minutes longer, finally deciding to carry it to her room and place it on one of her closet shelves. She didn’t want to display it yet, not until she knew how Nicole felt and where they were headed.

 

God, I’m a disaster. Is being in love always this complicated?

 

She set the photo on one of her custom shelves and stared once more at Nicole’s smile.

 

I’m completely in love with Nicole Haught.

 

****

 

Nicole was exhausted.

 

Scratch that.

 

She was so far past exhausted she didn’t even know what she was anymore. It was lucky she remembered the day of the week, and she only managed that because she lived and died by Waverly’s shooting schedule, which she checked multiple times a day to make sure she was in the right place at the right time.

 

She and Waverly were working 16-18 hour days running all over the city, either filming the show, shooting promos for the show, or doing interviews to hype up the show’s release. It had only been a few weeks of this, and Nicole had no idea how Waverly kept up this kind of schedule. They barely had time to eat meals.

 

No wonder these actors stay so fucking thin, Nicole mused as she chewed a granola bar, watching Waverly and Hailey shoot another take of examining a fake dead body on the sidewalk.

 

February in New York was bone chilling cold, even colder than Nicole was used to in Maryland. She usually wore a beanie and multiple layers of sweatshirts and jackets these days as she watched the happenings on set. The crew had heaters set up sporadically around the set, and the actors kept giant parkas on standby so they could warm up as soon as their takes ended. There was also an endless supply of coffee and hot chocolate at Kraft Services, much to Nicole’s delight.

 

Thank god for coffee on days like this, she thought, stifling a yawn as Waverly and Hailey were told to reset the same scene yet again.

 

Nicole had to admit, she may be freezing her ass off, but watching Waverly work was fascinating. She knew Waverly was really enjoying this project so far, and she had high hopes for the show being a hit. She and Hailey had become a great team, and it was nice for Nicole to see both her and Jess regularly these days.

 

Jess rarely visited the set since she had her own full-time job at the financial firm, but she would come by on some of her lunch breaks to steal a few minutes with Hailey. Nicole wondered if carving out that intentional time together was out of necessity, for she now knew from experience how difficult it could be to schedule in any quality time with someone on an actor’s schedule.

 

She and Waverly were technically together most of their days, but they were both working and not interacting with each other much since Nicole wasn’t actually part of the show’s crew or cast. She was a bystander, an outsider, and as much as she was glad she and Waverly were physically close on set, they had struggled to find their rhythm outside of working hours.

 

Not that anyone could blame them, given the fact that once the director yelled “Cut!” for the day, all Waverly and Nicole wanted to do was go home and crawl straight into bed after getting a quick bite to eat. Nicole also still had Calamity Jane to care for, so she couldn’t spend all of her nights at Waverly’s place, although they had managed a few sleepovers when it seemed too daunting to bother driving the extra minutes to Nicole’s apartment after an extra-long day.

 

It was a vicious cycle, and one that neither of them were sure how to break.

 

****

 

When March rolled around, more social events started popping up on Waverly calendar again, as if she or Nicole had any spare hours that needed filled. Waverly politely declined most of the invitations she received, but Nicole knew there was one event in particular that she was determined to attend the following week. Waverly broached the subject with her one night after shooting when they had decided to both sleep at Waverly’s place.

 

“So that movie release is next Friday night at the Angelika Film Center in SoHo. I think the red carpet is at 8:00,” Waverly said around a yawn.

 

Nicole sat on the end of Waverly’s bed and rubbed her forehead in an attempt to soothe the headache she’d felt coming on for hours.

 

“This is the one that Ben worked on the score for, right?” she asked.

 

Waverly nodded. “He’s really excited about it, and I think the film is getting some good buzz already. It’ll be a lot because we’ve got so much filming that weekend, but I really want to support him.”

 

“Sounds good,” Nicole said. “I’m sure he’ll be stoked to see some friendly faces there.”

 

“Speaking of your friendly face,” Waverly teased with a nudge to Nicole’s shoulder as she sat down beside her, “I wanted to see what you’d think of going to the premiere with me.”

 

Nicole didn’t hesitate. “Of course. If you’ll be there, then I’ll be there, right?”

 

Waverly fidgeted with her thumb nail, and Nicole wondered why she suddenly seemed nervous.

 

“No, I meant I wanted to see if you’d go to the premiere with me. Like, as my date,” Waverly clarified.

 

“Oh.”

 

She wants to go public with us.

 

A thousand thoughts ran through Nicole’s mind at this revelation.

 

What are people going to say? How will Waverly’s fans react to her dating a nobody? Will our photo be in magazines? Will I ever have any privacy again? Are we really ready for this? Am I ready for this?

 

Waverly sensed Nicole’s panic and placed a hand on her bouncing knee.

 

“Look, I’m not trying to pressure you here, but I think it’s time for us to take the next step,” Waverly said before hesitating again. “I…I really like you, Nicole, and I want you to be a part of my life. I know it’s insanely hectic and demanding, and maybe not something you ever pictured for yourself before now, but I’m asking if you’re ready to take this next step with me. I’m in this, and I need to know if you’re in this with me.”

 

Nicole met Waverly’s eyes and wondered if the chaos in her mind was written all over her face.

 

“I…fuck, Waverly, I don’t know,” Nicole said, standing from the bed as she ran a hand through her hair.

 

She saw Waverly’s face fall and tried to correct course before she misunderstood her.

 

“God, I suck at finding the right words, that’s not what I meant. I am in this, Waverly, I’m with you one hundred percent. I like you so much, and I want a future for us, I just…I can’t figure out how I fit myself into your life. I can’t picture it, losing my anonymity, having no privacy, schmoozing with people who make more money than I’ll ever see in a lifetime, the crazy schedule and going weeks or months without seeing each other while you’re on a job-“

 

“We can work through all of that,” Waverly interrupted. “Tons of people do it, look at Hailey and Jess.”

 

“I know, but Jess knew what she was getting into when she met Hailey and agreed to start seeing her while knowing she was famous. I started out working for you, Waverly, with zero expectations of any kind of relationship developing between us. I never thought we’d be here, I never imagined any of this…” Nicole trailed off as she paced the bedroom floor.

 

What would I do for work? I couldn’t be Waverly’s employee anymore if we go through with this. Would she think I want her to support me?

 

The questions in Nicole’s mind were never-ending. There were so many unknowns she didn’t know which to focus on first, but all of them centered around the same seed of self-doubt that Nicole hadn’t been able to shake the entire time she’d known Waverly.

 

I don’t know if I belong in her world.

 

Nicole stopped pacing and sat back down next to Waverly, taking one of her hands in hers on her lap.

 

“Please don’t think that what I’m about to say has anything at all to do with my feelings for you, but I think I need some time to think through all of this,” Nicole said slowly.

 

Nicole watched Waverly swallow hard, as though trying to keep her emotions in check before responding.

 

“Of course, take whatever time you need. I know what I’m asking for isn’t easy, Nicole. Believe me, I wish my life wasn’t so complicated.”

 

Nicole considered her options. “Would it be ok if I took a few days off? I might get out of the city for a few days, really give myself a chance to clear my head and think about what I want,” she said.

 

Waverly searched her face for several long moments. There was an emotion in her eyes that Nicole couldn’t dwell on or she would lose her nerve and throw what she needed out the window.

 

Resignation.  

 

Nicole wished she could take Waverly’s sadness away in that moment, just tell her what she wanted to hear so she could spare them both the emotional turmoil. But Nicole knew this was the right decision. She knew she needed this time to decide where she fit into all of this, and to figure out her feelings for Waverly Earp once and for all.

 

Waverly sighed and shook her head, tears welling in those beautiful green eyes of hers.

 

“Why do I feel like we’re breaking up, when we aren’t even really together?” she whispered.

 

Nicole pulled Waverly into her side, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and squeezing tightly.

 

I wish Brian were still here. He always knew exactly the right thing to do.

 

Thoughts of her best friend who was taken too soon made Nicole’s next decision an easy one.

 

South Carolina it is. I need to talk to Tia.

Chapter Text

Waverly rolled over in bed at the sound of her phone buzzing on the nightstand. Her home screen clock showed 9:47am as she clicked the phone open to see the latest message from Nicole.

Nicole has been gone for three days now, and Waverly was trying her best not to have a meltdown while giving her space to figure things out. She appreciated that Nicole had been keeping in touch while she was away, sending some selfies of herself, Tia, and Maya at one of South Carolina’s many beaches.

The latest message was a shot of a palm tree in Tia’s backyard, one end of a blue hammock tied to its large trunk as Maya stretched out in the shade, a large black dog lying beneath her. It looked like the picture of serenity, and Waverly smiled and responded with a sunshine and sleepy face emoji.

She put her phone back on the nightstand and rolled back over to enjoy a few more rare minutes of sleeping in and having nowhere to be. The show was on a short shooting break, and Waverly was determined to soak up every minute of this much needed time to rest.

Of course, it would’ve been a lot nicer if Nicole was here to enjoy it with her, but Waverly brushed those thoughts aside and tried to focus on the positive. As much as she wanted to lie around all day, Waverly needed to get out of the house.

I wonder if Hailey and Jess are free? she thought.

She decided to shoot her costar a text and find out.

****

Waverly got off the subway and climbed the steps out of the Dumbo station in Brooklyn. It never failed to surprise her how quiet it was on this side of the river, the constant noise and chaos of Manhattan seeming worlds away as soon as you crossed the channel.

Hailey and Jess lived in a quaint three-story walkup on the southwest side of the Dumbo neighborhood, just north of Brooklyn Heights, and in close proximity to the ferry which Jess took to work most days as it dropped her just off of Wall Street where her firm was located.

The area was great, with views of the water to the north and west, and older brick buildings lining the narrow streets. Waverly had never been to Hailey’s apartment before, so she used her phone’s map to locate the building on Poplar Street before ringing the buzzer to let the couple know she’d arrived.

Jess buzzed her in, and she was waiting with the front door open and a smile on her face as she waited for Waverly to climb the last flight of stairs.

“Long time no see, stranger,” Jess said in greeting, waving Waverly in with her half full mug of coffee.

“It’s great to see you. Thanks for letting me crash your day off,” Waverly said apologetically.

“Not at all, we’re just bumming it around the house today, so the more the merrier,” Jess replied.

Waverly noticed Jess was dressed more casually than she had ever seen her, wearing some well-worn gray sweat pants and an oversized Metallica t-shirt that likely belonged to Hailey. It was a nice change to the suits she was always wearing, Waverly thought.

“You want a cup of coffee?” Jess asked from the small kitchen to the right of the entry.

“Oh, yeah sure, thanks.”

Waverly was distracted by the décor in the apartment, which was an intriguing mix of vintage framed rock and roll tour posters alongside trendy but comfortable looking furniture and accent pieces. There were also succulents and various plants scattered around the well-lit space, and Waverly wondered whether Jess or Hailey had the green thumb.

The apartment boasted a slight view of the channel in the distance, and Waverly looked out the oversized windows to watch a woman run down the sidewalk with a small dog by her side.

“Earp, you made it!”

Hailey entered the room with a burst of energy, as was her way, and Waverly felt a smile instantly stretch her cheeks. She was lucky to have friends like Hailey and Jess in her life, and she felt it especially deeply on days like this.

“Here’s your coffee,” Jess said, placing a steaming mug into Waverly’s hand. “Make yourself at home.”

Waverly nodded gratefully and sank into a blue reading chair with a matching ottoman that sat next to the large gray couch that took up most of the living room. Jess and Hailey sat on the couch, Hailey immediately draping her legs over Jess’s lap and making Waverly’s stomach ping with jealousy. She missed Nicole so much it hurt.

“So, what’s new, Waves? You enjoying the time off?” Hailey asked.

Am I? Waverly thought.

“Sure, yeah, it’s been good,” Waverly said.

Hailey glanced at Jess with an eyebrow raised. “You wanna try that again and make it a bit more convincing this time?” she asked.

Waverly huffed out a laugh and shook her head. She should’ve known her friends would see right through her. She had yet to tell them about where things stood between her and Nicole, but that was the reason she was here, right? She needed to talk things out with people who would understand their situation.

“Sorry, it’s been a rough couple of days honestly,” she admitted. She took a sip of coffee before continuing. “Nicole has been out of town for a few days, and I…I guess I couldn’t stand being at the house alone anymore,” she said.

Both Hailey and Jess looked surprised at the news of Nicole being gone.

“Where’d she go?” Jess asked.

“She went to South Carolina for a few days to visit an old friend. Well, the wife of her best friend who passed away a while back,” Waverly explained.

“You didn’t want to go get some sun in South Carolina with her?” Hailey asked.

Waverly glanced out the window before answering, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice when she answered.

“She…wanted to go alone. We had a bit of a disagreement the other night, and Nicole wanted to take some time to figure things out,” Waverly shrugged.

“Ah, I see,” Hailey said. “Let me guess, you’re ready to go public with your relationship, and Nicole isn’t too sure about it?” she asked.

Waverly was surprised. “Um, yeah that pretty much sums it up,” she said.

Jess spoke up next. “How are you feeling about everything? You seem like you’re not expecting a good outcome from Nicole’s time away,” she said.

“I really don’t know what to think,” Waverly said. “I thought things were going so well, but when I brought up going public Nicole kind of panicked. I know that it’s a big ask, but this is the next logical step for us, you know? We can’t just date in secret forever. I don’t want that, and I don’t think she does either. But I guess I don’t really know what Nicole wants…”

“I know our situation isn’t the same, but I get where Nicole’s hesitation is coming from,” Jess said. “I was really freaked out by the idea of dating someone as famous as Hailey at first. What it really came down to was fear of the unknown, of how my life would change and be somewhat out of my control if we went down that road. It took a bit of convincing on Hailey’s part,” she winked at her girlfriend who was rolling her eyes at Jess’s explanation.

“You mean literal begging,” Hailey countered. “This woman made me work for it, let me tell you.”

Waverly laughed as Jess smacked Hailey’s leg playfully.

“It was a big decision for me,” Jess said, addressing Hailey. “It took time for me to come to terms with the fact that all of that external stuff didn’t matter as much as how badly I wanted to be with you.” She focused back on Waverly. “At the end of the day, it’s just me and Hailey. All of the fans, the publicity, the online haters, none of that is real life, you know? Of course, all of those things affect our lives in one way or another, but they don’t change how we feel about each other.”

Waverly nodded as Jess spoke, turning the coffee mug in her hands slowly.

“I guess that’s where I have some doubts,” Waverly said. “I’m not sure that Nicole will come to the same conclusion that you did. I’m not sure that I’m worth all the trouble it’ll bring her to be with me,” she admitted.

Hailey sat forward on the couch and met Waverly’s eyes.

“You know you deserve someone great, Waverly, despite the challenges that come from living a lifestyle like ours. And if I know that ginger, which I think I do, then I know she knows that, too. She just needs to come to that realization on her own, and you’ve got to let her.”

Waverly smiled and glanced between her friends.

“I love you guys so much. Thanks for giving me a much-needed pep talk,” Waverly said.

Hailey dismissed her thank you with a wave of her hand.

“No matter how things turn out, you know we’ll always be here for you,” she said. “But if I was a betting woman, I’d bet you and Haught will be walking red carpets hand in hand by the time our killer new show releases,” she said with a wink.

Only time would tell, but Waverly hoped more than anything that Hailey was right.

****

“Did you know that Taylor changed outfits 16 times during her show?” Maya asked.

Nicole smiled and shook her head against her beach towel. Maya had talked about nothing but the concert since Nicole had arrived, and Nicole was thrilled that her birthday gift had been such a memorable night for her god daughter.

“I did not know that,” she said. “Which outfit was your favorite?” she asked Maya, keeping the large sunhat over her face as they laid out on the beach for the third day in a row.

“Um, probably the black sparkly dress,” Maya said. “Or maybe the blue sparkly jumpsuit that she wore for ‘Fearless’,” she said.

“Oh, I love that song,” Nicole said.

“Me, too! And did you know that she wrote that song while she was on tour for her first album?” Maya asked.

This kid knows everything, Nicole thought.

“Honey, do you want to go build a sandcastle?” Tia interrupted. “I brought all of your buckets and tools.”

“Yeah!”

Maya grabbed a large plastic bucket from their beach bag and took off towards the ocean.

“I figured you might want a break from Taylor trivia,” Tia said with a laugh.

Nicole removed the hat from her face and rolled onto her stomach, crossing her arms under her chin as she watched Tia scoop water from the ocean.

“I’m glad she loved the concert so much,” Nicole said. “It’s not too often that kids get to experience something like that.”

Tia nodded as she watched her daughter. “It’s not often someone like Waverly Earp is in your life to make things like that happen,” she said.

Nicole didn’t respond, her mind wandering to what Waverly would be doing on an afternoon off in the city. She wondered if Waverly missed her as much as Nicole was missing her. It had only been a few days, but Nicole’s chest pangs had gotten worse with each hour they were apart. She felt homesick, and not for her apartment in the bustling city.

“Earth to Nicole,” Tia said, waving a hand in front of her face.

Nicole glanced at her but kept her chin on her arms.

“Sorry, I was just thinking…”

“About Waverly? Yeah, I picked up on that,” Tia laughed. “Why didn’t you bring her with you? You know she would’ve been more than welcome here.”

Nicole sighed and poked at the sand in front of her.

“I just needed some time away,” Nicole began. “Things have been…complicated with us, and I just needed to get out of town and clear my head.”

Tia looked intrigued, but not surprised. “Complicated how?” she asked.

Nicole told Tia everything.

How she and Waverly had met. How they had been like oil and vinegar at first. How things had started to change between them. Their first kiss, the wedding, their night together, everything leading up to their last conversation. Nicole let the words flow out of her, feeling as though she was rolling a huge weight off her chest as Tia listened quietly.

“So, yeah. I told her I needed some time, and here we are,” Nicole gestured at the beach surrounding them.

“Can I ask you a question?” Tia asked.

Nicole nodded, so Tia continued.

“Why are you here right now instead of with Waverly, where you clearly want to be? What are you so afraid of?”

Nicole tried to explain the thoughts that had been careening through her mind for weeks now.

“I’m afraid of never having privacy in my life again. I’m afraid of being torn apart on social media for not deserving Waverly, not wearing the right thing, not saying the right thing. I’m afraid of what my career prospects would be if we were together. I’m afraid I don’t belong in her world. I’m afraid she’ll regret it, choosing to go public with our relationship when I’m a nobody, at least in the circles she runs in….” Nicole trailed off, knowing she could list more fears if Tia wanted her to.

Tia shook her head and looked out over the ocean.

“You know what I think?” she asked. She didn’t wait for Nicole to respond. “I don’t think you’re truly afraid of any of those things you just mentioned.”

Nicole opened her mouth to interject, but Tia held up a hand to let her finish.

“I think you’re afraid of the feelings you have for Waverly, and instead of admitting that you’re choosing to focus on all of these logistics that are out of both of your control. Am I wrong?” Tia asked.

Nicole opened her mouth again, but nothing came out. She watched the waves crash on the sand as she considered Tia’s words.

Was she really afraid of her feelings for Waverly? Was she more afraid to let someone into her life than she had been willing to admit to herself? Was she more afraid of giving Waverly the power to hurt her than she was about how her life would change if they were together?

All of this rang true in Nicole’s gut and in her heart, and she knew that Tia was right.

Nicole swallowed the emotion in her throat and tried to play off Tia’s words with a joke.

“When did you get to be so grown up and wise, huh?” Nicole asked.

Tia returned Nicole’s smile halfheartedly.

“Losing the love of your life will do that to you,” she said quietly.

Nicole didn’t know what to say to that. She reached a hand out and covered Tia’s own in the sand between them.

“I don’t want you to miss out on something as great as what Brian and I had just because you’re scared, Nicole,” she said seriously. “Believe me, I know the courage it takes to put yourself out there and allow yourself to open your heart to someone. But I also know the pain of never taking that risk, and I will never regret what Brian and I had, even though our time together was cut short.”

Nicole met her friend’s eyes and squeezed her hand tightly.

“I miss him every single day,” Nicole said. “Everyone I’ve ever loved has left me, and I’m terrified, Tia.”

Tia nodded and watched her daughter playing in the sand at the water’s edge.

“I know you are. But is your love for her greater than your fear?” she asked, meeting Nicole’s gaze.

Nicole raised her eyebrows in surprise.

It really was that simple, wasn’t it?

Is my love for Waverly greater than my fear?

Nicole knew what her answer was.

Chapter Text

Waverly jumped and dropped her fork in the sink at the sound of loud knocking on her front door. She checked her Apple watch and furrowed her brow. It was 7:30am and Nicole was still out of town for two more days, so who the hell would be visiting her this early unannounced?

She sighed and dragged her slippered feet as she went to look through the peephole, the yawn dying on her lips as she saw dimples and red hair on the other side. Waverly yanked the door open and stood there in shock, not understanding how Nicole was on her doorstep right now.

Nicole ran a hand through her hair and smiled nervously, her eyes drifting over Waverly’s bright pink slippers, plaid pajama pants, and the messy bun piled on top of her head.

“Hi,” Nicole said.

Waverly took in Nicole’s tanned skin, the freckles that had popped up across her nose and cheeks, the tattoos on display thanks to the dark t-shirt she was wearing with her jeans. She wanted to touch Nicole so badly it hurt, but she stayed where she was, not knowing where she and Nicole stood anymore.

Waverly shook her head in confusion as she kept one hand on the open door.

“I thought you weren’t coming back until Sunday,” Waverly said.

Nicole nodded and glanced down at her feet before meeting Waverly’s eyes.

“Yeah, that was the plan. But I needed to come home early. I just…” Nicole glanced up as if searching for the right words. It seemed to dawn on her that she was still standing out in the hallway. “Can I come in?” she asked.

“Yeah, ok.” Waverly stood back and swung the door open wider to allow Nicole entrance.

Nicole made her way to the quiet living room and sat on the arm of the couch facing Waverly. They looked at each other for a long moment, Waverly not knowing what was going on, and Nicole not helping by not saying anything.

“You’re up early for having the day off,” Nicole finally said, and Waverly tried not to be frustrated at the small talk.

Waverly sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “I haven’t been sleeping that well so…” she trailed off and ended the thought with a shrug.

Nicole’s eyes immediately crinkled in concern, and she slid her hands into her jean pockets as she sat. “I’m sorry, I’m sure that’s partly my fault,” she said.

“It’s all your fault, actually,” Waverly said, a bit harsher than she meant to. She began to pace as the words tumbled from her mouth without permission. “Nicole, I haven’t seen you in four days. The last time we really talked, you told me you didn’t know if you could be with me, that my life is too complicated to get caught up in. Now you’re here at the crack of dawn and you’re just sitting there, so will you please tell me what the hell is going on?” Waverly finished, letting her arms fall to her sides in exasperation.

“Waves, I…” Nicole stood from the couch and took a few steps away, turning her back to Waverly and looking out the large living room windows. “I’m not sure I can explain things very well, I just…I don’t even know where to start.”

Oh, god. Waverly’s heart sank.

She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t hear Nicole say the words she knew were coming.

Fuck, I can’t breathe.

Waverly held a hand to her chest, her skin feeling overheated under her palm. She looked at the floor as she spoke quietly, each word like a dagger to her own heart.

“I need you to leave,” Waverly said. “If you’re really doing this, I can’t-“ she choked on a sob as it stuck in her throat.

She saw Nicole turn towards her then, but she held out a palm to stop her from getting any closer, her vision blurring as her eyes filled with tears.

“Goddamn it, Nicole. Please-“

“Waverly, no I- God, I am so awful at all of this,” Nicole stepped into Waverly’s space and pulled her against her chest, wrapping long arms behind her back and holding her as the tears started to fall from Waverly’s eyes in earnest.

Waverly was shaking uncontrollably, the feeling of Nicole’s body both a comfort and torture to her senses. She felt Nicole’s hand rub up and down her back slowly, trying to soothe her.

“Waverly.” She could feel Nicole’s words where her lips were pressed against the hair at her temple, her hand never stopping its motion against her back as Waverly gripped the front of Nicole’s shirt in her fist. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not leaving you, not now, not ever again. I’m sorry I left in the first place I just…didn’t know what else to do.”

Waverly stepped out of Nicole’s embrace and sniffled loudly, confusion at Nicole’s words clear on her face.

She’s not leaving, but then why-

“You scare me, Waverly Earp.” Nicole met Waverly’s eyes with nothing but sincerity showing in her own.

Waverly cleared her throat and wiped a hand under her eyes to catch the fallen tears. “I scare you?”

Nicole nodded slowly as she continued. “You, and how I feel about you, terrifies me, Waves. I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never felt anything like this before, and I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it or-“

Waverly raised a hand to cut her off. “You don’t know if you’ll be any good at what, exactly?”

Nicole gestured in Waverly’s direction as if trying to sum her up in the movement. “You know, loving you,” she said.

Waverly’s eyes widened and she stood completely still as she played back what Nicole had said.

“Sorry, just to clarify, ‘cause I’m not sure if I’m understanding-“

“I love you, Waves. I’m in love with you. I’m so in love with you I had to run away from you. But then, of course, I couldn’t stand being away from you for the last few days, it made me sick. And then it finally dawned on me how much of a scared idiot I’ve been, and I had to come home and tell you right away so…yeah. I’m telling you,” Nicole finished.

Nicole’s brown eyes were pleading, uncertain, waiting for Waverly’s response.

Waverly didn’t know what to say first. So many thoughts and emotions flew through her, all vying for her attention.

Questions around Nicole’s fear prompted Waverly to start there. “What are you so afraid of?” she asked quietly.

Nicole ran a hand through her hair and laughed once without humor. “Where do I even start, Waverly? Not deserving you, disappointing you, losing you like I’ve lost literally everyone I’ve ever loved in my life.”

Waverly’s heart broke a little at Nicole’s admission. Her father. Brian. Her mother. All people Nicole had loved and lost too soon.

Nicole continued quietly, her eyes on the floor between them. “If I let myself love you and then lose you like everyone else, I don’t know how I’d-“

“Hey.” Waverly stepped into Nicole and lifted her chin with a finger until watery brown eyes met hers. “You’re not going to lose me, Nicole. I’m right here. Like you’ve told me before, we’re in this together. And I am all in. I’m so in love with you I can’t breathe at the thought of not being with you. I want this, I want us, more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life.”

Nicole smiled as Waverly spoke, placing her hands on Waverly’s cheeks and pulling her in slowly. “God, I love you so much. I’m sorry it took me so long to realize it,” Nicole whispered against Waverly’s lips.

Waverly smiled against Nicole’s mouth and brushed her lips over Nicole’s softly before pulling back just enough to speak. “I love you, too. And I’m sorry I cried all over you,” she said.

Nicole laughed and Waverly felt her warm breath against her mouth before Nicole pressed their lips more firmly together. The kiss was soft, questioning, unhurried, and lasted a few moments before Nicole pulled back slightly to meet Waverly’s eyes.

“I’m sorry I made you think I was leaving. I’m clearly incapable of rational thoughts or words around you,” Nicole said.

Waverly shook her head and smiled. “Yeah, maybe just lead with the I love you part next time,” she said, pulling Nicole back in for a deeper kiss.

“I love you,” Nicole said, when they finally broke for air.

Waverly stepped back and took Nicole’s hand, pulling her towards the hallway.

“Come show me how much.”

****

Nicole woke to the feeling of something tickling her bare back. She cracked one eye open and saw Waverly leaning on one elbow, her other hand trailing over Nicole’s skin slowly. The late morning sun was streaming through the window at Waverly’s back, illuminating her as though she were an angel. She was stunning, as she always was to Nicole.

Waverly noticed that Nicole was awake and smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry I woke you, I just couldn’t help myself. Your skin is so beautiful and soft,” Waverly said, her hand still tracing patterns across Nicole’s shoulder blades and down her spine.

Nicole snorted and rolled over onto her back, letting the sheet stay low around her stomach as Waverly’s eyes traveled over her torso.

Nicole knew what she’d find there. Pale red and white scars zigzagging across Nicole’s chest and ribs on the right side of her body, the highest of which reached just under her collarbone. Fire and shrapnel were one hell of a deadly combination, as Nicole’s unit had found out all too well.

Waverly lifted a hand as if to touch the scar near Nicole’s throat. “Can I?” she asked quietly, her eyes searching Nicole’s for any sign of distress.

Nicole hesitated briefly before nodding once. Nicole hated her scars, she hated that she got off so easily when others didn’t, when Brian didn’t. But Waverly loved her, so Nicole wouldn’t hide this part of herself from her. Not anymore.

She breathed out slowly as Waverly’s fingertips brushed over her collarbone, the same place Waverly had mistakenly touched months ago before she realized what the marks were. Nicole closed her eyes as Waverly’s fingers traced the scar lower, across the top of her breast and then down to her ribcage. Her touch was so light Nicole almost couldn’t feel it.

“These are beautiful, too, you know,” Waverly whispered, her fingers leaving the scar as she rested her palm against Nicole’s stomach.

Nicole opened her eyes and met Waverly’s gaze with a furrowed brow. “Hardly,” she disagreed.

“They are,” Waverly repeated. “They mean you’re alive,” she said simply.

Waverly leaned forward and placed a soft kiss over the jagged lines just above Nicole’s breast. Nicole felt her eyes well up, and a single tear fell from her eye and into her hair on the pillow.

“Shit, Nicole, I’m so sorry.” Waverly’s voice was instantly laced with concern, and she moved to straddle Nicole’s waist so she could see her entire face as she looked down at her. Waverly wiped the tear from Nicole’s cheek and leaned down to kiss the corner of her eye. “I’m sorry, love,” she whispered against Nicole’s skin.

Nicole shook her head. “Don’t be. Just…thank you. No one has ever shown me as much love as you have just now,” she said quietly.

Waverly searched Nicole’s face, her green eyes intense as she stared at Nicole. “You deserve it, you know? You deserve to be loved just as much as anyone else in this world, and I mean to make you believe that, Nicole Haught,” Waverly said seriously.

Nicole swallowed the lump that was quickly forming in her throat and nodded to show Waverly that she’d heard her. Waverly, seeming satisfied, leaned down to peck Nicole on the lips before sitting back and picking up Nicole’s right arm at the wrist.

“Good. Now talk to me about these tattoos,” Waverly said, immediately lightening the mood.

Nicole laughed and let Waverly turn her arm side to side as she squinted at the intricacy of the ink. “I thought the first time you saw them you were going to make me cover them back up,” Nicole said, remembering when Waverly had forced her to lose the formal suit at the summer concert they’d attended.

Waverly raised an eyebrow at her. “More like I wanted to see what else you’d been hiding under those stuffy suits of yours all of those weeks,” she joked. “I was…intrigued.”

Now it was Nicole’s turn to look intrigued, taking in the faint blush that was beginning to spread up Waverly’s neck. “You thought they were hot,” she smirked in disbelief.

Waverly’s blush set in deeper, and she kept her eyes on Nicole’s arm so she could avoid her gaze. “I plead the fifth,” Waverly said, squealing as Nicole surprised her by flipping their positions suddenly.

Nicole settled her body over Waverly’s and intertwined the fingers of their hands on the pillow beside Waverly’s head.

“Tell me you thought the tattoos were hot, and you wanted to jump my bones right then and there,” Nicole said playfully, leaning in to nip Waverly’s collarbone before sucking the spot lightly with her lips.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about- shit!” Waverly hissed and arched off the bed as Nicole’s mouth closed around her nipple without warning.

Nicole’s tongue circled her nipple slowly, torturously, and Waverly gripped Nicole’s hair to keep her there. Nicole smiled against her skin but pulled back, moving her lips to the side of Waverly’s breast and down, taking her time.

“Are you sure you don’t want to admit anything about finding me hot, even back then when you acted like you hated me?” Nicole spoke the words into Waverly’s skin, moving her mouth back up Waverly’s body until she hovered just over her mouth.

Waverly tried to lean up and kiss her, but Nicole pulled back and shook her head with a grin. She leaned down and licked a trail from the bottom of Waverly’s neck up to her ear, earning a shudder from the woman beneath her.

“Fine, you win,” Waverly husked, wrapping a leg around Nicole’s waist as Nicole nibbled her neck. “I was so attracted to you I thought I might kiss you right then and there. Even though I still didn’t like you very much. Happy?”

Nicole leaned back and met Waverly’s eyes with a genuine smile before leaning down to kiss her lips, taking her time to savor the woman she loved.

She moved her mouth to Waverly’s ear and spoke quietly as she trailed a hand down Waverly’s stomach. “The feeling was mutual, baby.”

Waverly gasped as Nicole’s fingers found their mark, her hands sliding down Nicole’s back to find purchase against her skin.

“I felt it that first day, when you looked at me during that photoshoot,” Nicole spoke into Waverly’s ear as she slid a finger inside her. “You looked at me, and the entire room disappeared.”

“Fuck, Nicole, don’t stop,” Waverly groaned. Nicole knew the combination of her words and what she was doing to Waverly were going to take her over the top, and soon.

“You were so beautiful I couldn’t breathe,” Nicole whispered. “So damn beautiful…”

Nicole added another finger and Waverly sucked in a breath, her nails digging into Nicole’s back as she moved her hips to take Nicole further inside. Nicole could feel Waverly clenching around her fingers as she moved, and she knew she was close.

She pulled back from Waverly’s ear so she could look her in the eyes, never stopping the movement of her fingers. Waverly’s eyes were squeezed tightly shut, her body starting to shake with her impending orgasm.

“Look at me, Waves,” Nicole said. She waited until Waverly’s eyes opened and found her own, the depth of her desire so plain on her face it almost took Nicole’s breath.

She stroked Waverly deeper and brushed her thumb over her clit, watching Waverly’s eyes go wide before the orgasm rippled through her body. It was the most beautiful thing Nicole had ever seen.

Waverly pulled Nicole’s face down so she could kiss her lips, her breathing still ragged as she tried to catch her breath. “I love you so much,” Waverly breathed against Nicole’s lips.

“I love you, too.”

Nicole slowly removed her fingers and rolled off of Waverly, lying next to her as their breathing evened out.

“I don’t think I can move,” Waverly said with a laugh. “That was…”

Nicole smiled at the unfinished thought. It was. It always is with you, Waves.

Waverly’s eyes tracked her movement as Nicole brought her fingers to her mouth and sucked them clean, groaning at the taste of Waverly on her fingers.

“Yeah, fuck that, my turn,” Waverly said, pushing herself up and settling over Nicole.

The laugh died in Nicole’s throat as Waverly slid down her body and nipped her inner thigh before placing a kiss right where Nicole needed her. It was going to be an amazing, exhausting day, Nicole thought.

I hope Waverly keeps Gatorade in her fridge.

****

When they were finally able to drag themselves out of bed, Waverly and Nicole were ready to make a game plan. Ben’s movie premiere was the following night, and Nicole had agreed that should be their first official outing together. There would be a red carpet, paparazzi, black tie dress code, the whole shebang. And although Nicole was slightly terrified at the prospect, she knew events like this would come with the territory now that she and Waverly were officially stepping out as a couple. She was ready to take on the challenge head on.

Waverly sat at the kitchen island while Nicole made them some much needed coffee.

“First things first,” Waverly said, “we’re going to need to meet with Mercedes to discuss all of this. No way can I blindside her with this news, and we need her prepared for the media circus that might ensue after the red carpet.”

“Media circus, right.” Nicole repeated the words she had latched onto from what Waverly was saying.

“Hey.”

Nicole stopped stirring her coffee and met Waverly’s eyes.

“You’re sure you’re good with this, right? You can still change your mind, up until we step out of that limo on the red carpet. After that…” Waverly shrugged.

Nicole smiled and sipper her coffee. “I’m good. Nervous, obviously, but good. Here’s hoping I don’t trip on the way out of the car and take you down with me,” she said with a wink.

Waverly laughed and sipped her own coffee with a hum. “You’re very graceful, babe, I’m not worried in the slightest. I’ve seen you tackle a large half-naked man without even wrinkling your suit, remember?”

That earned a snort from Nicole, and she rolled her eyes as she rounded the island to sit next to Waverly.

“Ok, so meeting with Mercedes. When are we doing that?” Nicole asked.

“Let’s find out.” Waverly picked up her phone and dialed #2 on her speed dial. She placed the phone on the counter and hit the speaker button so Nicole could hear the conversation.

It rang twice before Mercedes answered. “What’s going on, Waverly? I never get calls from you on your days off.”

“Hi, Mercedes. Nicole is here, too,” Waverly said.

“Hi, Mercedes,” Nicole echoed.

“Ah, hello Miss Haught. Is everything ok?” Mercedes asked.

“Everything is fine, I promise. Nicole and I want to have a meeting with you, today if possible. Do you have some time?” Waverly asked.

They heard the tapping of computer keys in the background and some clicking as Mercedes most likely checked her calendar for the day.

“Can you be here in an hour?” Mercedes asked.

Waverly looked at Nicole, who nodded.

“Yeah, we’ll see you then. Thanks, Mercedes.”

“See you then.”

Mercedes clicked off the line, and Nicole gave Waverly a once-over and smirked.

“You look like you’ve been having sex all morning,” Nicole said.

Waverly smacked her arm and pushed off her bar stool. “I wonder why that is.” She placed a quick kiss to Nicole’s cheek as she headed towards the bedroom. “So do you by the way!” she called over her shoulder.

****

Just over an hour later, Waverly and Nicole stepped off the elevator of Mercedes’ office building, both sporting damp hair. Waverly knocked once on the glass office door before pushing it open and finding Mercedes hard at work behind her desk.

Her publicist did a double take when she saw the two of them, both dressed in jeans and casual shirts, and both clearly just out of the shower not long ago.

“Oh, boy,” Mercedes said, standing from behind her desk and gesturing for Waverly and Nicole to sit on the leather sofa on one wall of her office. Mercedes sat in the reading chair opposite them and crossed one knee over the other, placing her glasses on top of her perfectly styled hair.

“Let’s hear it,” she said, a knowing look in her eyes as she glanced between her client and Nicole.

Nicole remained silent, figuring this was Waverly’s turf more than her own.

Waverly cleared her throat and jumped right in. “Nicole and I are dating, we’ve been seeing each other for a while now, and we’re ready to go public. I want her to attend that premiere with me tomorrow night, as my date. Obviously, given my newly out status, we’re assuming it will be a media frenzy afterwards, so we wanted to get your advice and also prepare you for that.”

Mercedes looked at Waverly briefly then focused on Nicole, seeming to consider the options. Nicole did her best not to squirm under her stern gaze.

Mercedes sighed and focused back on Waverly. “Is Miss Haught still employed by you?” she asked.

Waverly looked surprised at the question. “Um, technically, yes,” she answered.

“That ends today,” Mercedes said bluntly.

Waverly opened her mouth to argue, but Nicole placed a hand over her knee.

“She’s right, Waves. I can’t work for you and also date you, it looks bad for both of us,” Nicole said.

Waverly let out a breath and nodded. “Ok, what else?”

“Who else already knows about this?” Mercedes asked.

“Alex Turner and his fiancé Ben, Hailey Summers and her girlfriend Jess, and Drew Clayton,” Waverly listed.

“Also, Tia Michaels, an old friend of mine in South Carolina,” Nicole added.

Mercedes nodded. “I assume they haven’t told anyone, or we all would’ve heard about it in the tabloids by now. Thank god you keep a small circle of friends,” she said.

Waverly nodded. “We trust them implicitly, and we only shared the news with them recently.”

Mercedes tapped a long fingernail on her knee. “Given the release of your new show coming up, I think the timing of this will be fine for you. People are already fans of the relationship they created between you and Hailey Summers on social media, so having a real girlfriend is just going to make the LGBTQ+ fan base love you even more. You have a ton of publicity coming up before your show release, and this might create a bit more chaos for you if the talk shows want to have you and Nicole on prior to you and Hailey starting official press. Is that ok with you?”

Nicole glanced at Waverly and then addressed Mercedes. “I’d like to limit my on air time with Waverly as much as possible, but otherwise I’m fine with it. Premieres, big events and things like that where she would naturally take a date are all good with me, but as far as smaller interviews and a lot of unnecessary tv appearances, I’d rather not get into all of that if possible.”

Mercedes nodded her agreement. “I think that is completely fair and should be doable. Waverly will remain the public figure, and we can have you attend any events that you’re comfortable with as a couple, but you’re still a regular person with a day job in the eyes of her fans, makes total sense.”

“Well, I had a day job,” Nicole said with a laugh. “I guess I’ll be looking for a new one now.”

Mercedes cracked a smile. “Yes, I suppose you will. Let me know if you need any help in that department, ok?”

Nicole was surprised at her generosity. “I appreciate that, thank you.”

“Ok, well I see no glaring issues, and you two both seem to have thought this through, so I’m completely on board and wish you both luck in this. Obviously, Waverly, we’ll do our best to control the media spin after the premiere, although I expect it will be mostly positive anyway. I’ll weed out all media requests to only things I think make sense for the two of you to do, and we’ll continue to gear up for your pre-show press that starts in the summer. Sound like a plan?”

Nicole looked to Waverly, and they both nodded. Waverly grinned and stood from the couch, holding out a hand for Mercedes to shake. Mercedes stood from her chair and ignored the hand, pulling Waverly into a hug that seemed to surprise her. Nicole saw Mercedes whisper something into Waverly’s ear, and Waverly grinned in response.

Nicole was even more surprised when Mercedes pulled her in for a firm hug as well. “Let me know if you end up needing a publicist of your own, Miss Haught. If you end up working in this industry in any capacity, I can assure you you would have great success,” she said quietly.

“Thank you,” she responded, stepping out of the hug.

Waverly grabbed Nicole’s hand as they made their way to the door.

“No public hand holding until after the premiere please!” Mercedes called after them.

Waverly snickered and Nicole dropped her hand as they made their way down the hall. “Always trying to get me in trouble, Earp,” she joked.

“You love it,” Waverly whispered as they stepped into the elevator.

“I love you,” Nicole corrected. Waverly gave her hand another squeeze before they reached the lobby.

Waverly pulled out her phone as they hit the street.

“What now?” Nicole asked.

“Now, we call Gina,” Waverly answered. “I need us to be the hottest couple on that red carpet tomorrow night,” she said with a wink.

Chapter Text

6 months later.

 

Nicole’s phone pinged as she sat in the makeup trailer getting touched up by the movie’s makeup artist, Sharon.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Nicole said, trying to reach for her phone on the vanity counter without moving her body too much.

 

Sharon laughed and waved a dismissive hand at her. “Honey, I’ve done makeup while people were eating burritos, facetiming their grandmas, and fighting with their spouses. You answering a few texts isn’t gonna phase me.”

 

Nicole chuckled her thanks and checked the phone screen as Sharon darkened the color under her right eye.

 

Waverly: How’s it going, babe?

 

Nicole grinned and fired back a quick text to her girlfriend.

 

Nicole: Great! We’re doing a few more takes, and then I think we’re calling it for the day.

 

Waverly: You’re not going too hard right? You’re being careful? Can’t have my baby getting hurt again :(

 

Nicole knew Waverly worried about her, which is why she took greater care while doing stunts these days than she did when she first started out. She could admit she went a little too hard on her first few jobs, trying to show she was capable and prove herself to the people she worked with on set. The first time she broke a bone on a tv shoot was one of the only times Nicole had seen Waverly visibly upset with her, and she had promised her girlfriend she would be more careful on all future jobs.

 

Nicole: I’m being careful, love. Not even a real bruise today :)

 

Waverly: Good *kiss face*. I’ll see you at home soon then. Hailey & Jess are coming over for dinner – don’t forget to pick up some wine on the way home!

 

Nicole: Yes ma’am, see you soon xoxo

 

“Not to eavesdrop, but you two are sweet,” Sharon said over Nicole’s shoulder as she checked her work in the mirror.

 

Nicole watched the blush color her cheeks at Sharon’s comment. Actually just one cheek, since the other one had been perfectly darkened to look like a large bruise smudged with dirt. Although Nicole’s face wasn’t directly on camera as a stunt double, it was important her makeup matched the character’s since she would often be shot from the side while performing action stunts. The movie she was currently working on was an action thriller starring Scarlett Johannsson, who did a lot of her own stunts, but for insurance purposes still wasn’t permitted to do the more dangerous ones. That’s where Nicole came in.

 

She couldn’t believe that Tom, one of Waverly’s TV producers, had taken her up on her offer when she reached out to him about the stunt gig he had offered her many months before. Tom had asked Nicole to do a trial run on helping coordinate some stunts on Waverly and Hailey’s hit show, and they worked together so well he kept bringing her back and referring her out to other producers he knew who were hiring stunt artists. Before she knew it, Nicole had a brand new career on her hands, and it was one that she had to admit she loved.

 

“Ms. Haught?”

 

Nicole turned in the makeup chair to find one of the production assistants poking their head into the trailer.

 

“They’re ready to go if you are,” he said.

 

Nicole looked to Sharon for the green light. “She’s all set,” Sharon said, patting Nicole’s shoulder. “Be safe out there.”

 

“Thanks, Sharon,” Nicole said with a smile. “Thanks for making me look badass as always.”

 

Nicole followed the PA back onto set and found one of the stunt coordinators, Theo, waiting for her with a harness in hand. They were about to shoot a scene that required Nicole to rappel off the roof of an apartment building on the lower east side.

 

God, I love my job.

 

****

 

“Babe, I’m home!”

 

Waverly heard Nicole let herself in through the front door, dropping her keys and wallet in the dish on the entry table as she did every night. She kept stirring the sauce that was bubbling away on the stovetop, grinning when she felt strong arms wrap around her waist from behind.

 

“Hi, baby,” she said, leaning her head back until it landed on Nicole’s shoulder. Nicole rewarded her with a lingering kiss on the jaw before stepping back and releasing her.

 

Waverly did a double take when she turned to face her girlfriend.

 

“Jesus, you forgot to clean the makeup off your face again,” she laughed, shaking her head. “I thought someone had actually punched you for a second!”

 

Nicole shrugged. “I mean technically Theo did accidentally clip me when we were rehearsing a fight scene earlier, but he barely grazed me, definitely no bruise.”

 

Waverly smacked her arm disapprovingly. “I told you, no more injuries! And nobody better be hitting you, on accident or otherwise,” she chided playfully.

 

“I appreciate the concern, baby, but I’m fine I promise.” Nicole leaned in and kissed Waverly’s cheek. “I had to grab the wine for dinner, so I ran off set as soon as we were done. I’ll grab a quick shower now before Hailey and Jess get here.”

 

“Ok, sweetie. They should be here in 20.”

 

Waverly watched Nicole walk down the hall towards their bedroom. Their bedroom. It had been six months, and Waverly still couldn’t get over how far she and Nicole had come. They had been living together for the past five months, both agreeing Waverly’s newly purchased apartment was where they wanted to call home. Nicole had started her new job coordinating and performing stunts just after she moved in, and so far everything was going great for both Nicole and herself on the career front. The show she and Hailey were co-starring in had already been picked up for a second season, and Waverly had signed on to do a movie when their current season wrapped.

 

Hailey and Jess were coming for dinner so Waverly and Hailey could live tweet with their show’s fans during the new episode’s premiere. It was technically a contracted work obligation, but Waverly and Nicole both loved any excuse to see Hailey and Jess outside of the public events they frequented.

 

Waverly heard more commotion from the front entry as her costar and girlfriend arrived. She had given Hailey her own key months ago since the show filmed so close to Waverly’s place, and sometimes after grueling 16 hour days on set it just made sense for Hailey to crash with her and Nicole rather than go all the way home to Brooklyn.

 

 “Earp, we’re here!” Hailey called from down the hall.

 

“Come on in, Nicole just got here with the wine!” Waverly called back.

 

“Bless that woman,” Hailey said, lowering her voice to normal volume as she and Jess approached the kitchen.

 

“Hey, Waverly,” Jess said. “Thanks for having us. We’re stoked for the new episode!”

 

“Me, too,” Waverly responded. “I loved shooting this one. Remember how many times they made us reshoot that scene outside when it was like negative 10 degrees outside?” Waverly asked Hailey.

 

Hailey rolled her eyes as she opened the bottle of red Nicole had left on the counter for them. “Oh, I remember. And so does Jess, because I think I told her for days after that I had contracted frost bite on my toes from that day.”

 

Jess snorted a laugh. “It’s true, you poor thing,” she patted her girlfriend’s back.

 

“Frostbite can be deadly, babe!”

 

Nicole entered the room with wet hair and her eyebrows raised, catching Hailey’s comment without the previous context from the conversation.

 

“Who’s got frostbite?” Nicole asked the group.

 

“Hailey,” Waverly deadpanned. “Or at least that’s the story she’s gonna tell every time we have to shoot in the dead of winter.”

 

“Ah.” Nicole nodded sympathetically, but Waverly caught the smile she was hiding as she poured herself a glass of wine.

 

“Whatever, let’s stuff our faces and watch ourselves be amazing at our jobs,” Hailey said, grabbing her glass of wine and heading to the living room to crash on the oversized sectional.

 

Jess caught Waverly’s eye and stage whispered to her and Nicole. “Good thing she’s attractive or I don’t know how I’d deal with the theatrics.”

 

“I can hear you, babe!” Hailey called from the other room.

 

“Oh no, really?” Jess called back, winking at Waverly before grabbing plates of food for herself and Hailey and going to sit next to her on the couch.  

 

Nicole and Waverly made their own plates and joined their friends in the living room, Nicole turning the TV on and finding the SyFy network that would air the new Close Contact episode in 10 minutes.

 

“You ladies got your phones ready for this Twitter party?” Nicole asked.

 

“So ready,” Hailey said, cracking her knuckles and pretending to type furiously on her phone’s blank screen, earning a chuckle from Waverly.

 

Nicole shook her head. “Don’t encourage her babe, she already thinks she hilarious without you egging her on.”

 

Hailey stuck her tongue out at Nicole before her eyes brightened mischievously.

 

“I may not be that funny, Haught, but do you want to know what was probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen?” she asked.

 

“Oh god, here we go,” Nicole muttered, covering her face with her hands.

 

Waverly snickered, already knowing what was coming. Ever since their first public appearance together, Hailey had never let Nicole live that night down, and it seemed she wasn’t about to anytime soon.

 

Luckily, Nicole’s worst fear about tripping on the red carpet and taking Waverly down with her hadn’t come true. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t a slight disaster just the same.

 

Hailey turned her phone screen to show the group a meme that had circulated the internet for days after that premiere. It was a close up shot of Nicole’s face, looking beautiful as always, but with her eyes so wide it looked like she had seen an actual ghost. The photo had been taken as soon as she and Waverly had exited the car and were immediately flooded by camera flashes and sound from every direction. Unsurprisingly, the situation had momentarily overwhelmed Nicole, and although she recovered quickly, the paparazzi at the event had still caught that moment on film. The next day, the memes using Nicole’s face had been admittedly hilarious, although Nicole had been upset that she’d completely blown their first outing as a couple.

 

Even the usually cool Jess laughed out loud at the photo, before glancing apologetically in Nicole’s direction.

 

“I’m sorry, I hadn’t seen it in so long I forgot how funny it actually is,” she laughed.

 

Nicole threw a pillow at Hailey, which she dodged in a fit of laughter, and hid her smile behind a swig of wine. “Bite me, Summers.”

 

Waverly rubbed Nicole’s back and leaned her head on her shoulder as the opening credits of the show came on the TV. “Ooh, here we go!”

 

****

 

“This show is honestly so good, I can’t believe we’re the ones in it,” Hailey said. “Oh, that’s good, I’m gonna tweet that.” She typed a few lines into her phone, and a few seconds later Nicole saw the tweet pop up in her thread.

 

Nicole helped Waverly and Hailey by scanning the numerous tweets that tagged the show so they could pick some fun ones to respond to as the episode played.

 

“This one says it looks so cold out they’re surprised you two didn’t get frostbite,” Nicole pretended to read from her phone.

 

Jess leaned over to give Nicole a high five, and Hailey narrowed her eyes at them.

 

“Traitor!”

 

“Oh, you deserved it, honey,” she said, kissing Hailey’s cheek. “Now hush, I’m watching this.”

 

“Did you see Alex’s tweet?” Waverly asked, bumping Nicole’s shoulder with her own.

 

“No, let me find it,” Nicole said, scrolling until she found Alex’s handle.

 

@PhotoFinish98 Damn the stunts on this show are amazeballs, way to go @HaughtStunts !!

 

Nicole smiled and replied to Alex’s tweet with a string of emojis. “I love that kid, always hyping me up,” she said.

 

Nicole had been extremely hesitant to get a social media page, but Mercedes had insisted it was necessary once she started her own career in the business. She didn’t engage on any platform too much, but she liked doing it for situations like these when she could be a part of supporting something that meant so much to Waverly and their friends.

 

“Did you work stunts on this one? I can’t even remember when exactly we shot this episode,” Hailey said.

 

“Yeah, this was my third or fourth time coordinating for you guys, I think,” Nicole replied. “It has the dramatic car crash scene at the end remember?”

 

“No spoilers!” Jess said, covering her ears as her girlfriend laughed and Nicole zipped her mouth shut with her fingers.

 

Sorry, Nicole mouthed to Jess as she watched Waverly and Hailey on screen together.

 

“Oh babe, I just remembered we have that podcast taping tomorrow. Should we just meet at the studio a few minutes before?” Waverly whispered to Nicole so she didn’t interrupt the show.

 

“Yeah, I don’t have to be on set at all tomorrow,” Nicole said. “Me and Xavier can pick you up around 4:00 if that works.”

 

Waverly nodded and cuddled back into Nicole’s shoulder as she responded to some new tweets about the show.

 

Nicole had stopped being Waverly’s bodyguard when they announced their relationship, but that didn’t mean she didn’t help coordinate security and travel for her girlfriend whenever she had time. When she and Waverly attended events together, they didn’t use any additional security anymore; but if Waverly ever had to attend something alone, they paid a well-known firm to provide a security detail for her. There were a few people from the firm that Waverly liked and trusted, and they still used Xavier as Waverly’s driver as well. He would always be as good as family to Nicole, and she made a point to visit his mother Deanna as often as she could.

 

@TiaJane This show is fire! Already excited for season 2 

 

Nicole recognized her friend Tia’s handle and immediately liked her post. She had come up to visit Nicole and meet Waverly a few weeks earlier, and the two of them had hit it off immediately. Waverly especially loved Tia’s daughter, Maya, and she now took it upon herself to buy the kid anything she thought would look cute on her anytime they went into a clothing store.  

 

Nicole glanced around the room as a commercial came on and Hailey, Jess, and Waverly continued to scroll through their Twitter pages. Hailey lay back with her feet in Jess’ lap, Jess’ free hand tracing circles over Hailey’s ankle as she scrolled with the other hand. Waverly was still cuddled into Nicole’s side, the warmth from her body radiating through Nicole’s long sleeve shirt. Nicole shifted to wrap an arm around her and pull her in tighter, Waverly humming contentedly as she settled against her more fully.

 

Nicole didn’t know how she had gotten here, surrounded by people she loved and who loved her right back. She wished her father could have been here to know and love her new chosen family. She wished Brian could have known them, too. And although she didn’t know what adventures were waiting for her down the road, Nicole knew she would never take a road alone again.

 

As if sensing her thoughts, Waverly clicked her phone screen off and slid her hand into Nicole’s on her lap, squeezing twice before relaxing again. Nicole kissed the side of her head and smiled against Waverly’s skin.

 

“Frostbite!” Hailey yelled, pointing at the screen as the camera panned over a fake dead body her and Waverly’s characters were examining.

 

The group dissolved into fits of laughter, the grin clinging to Nicole’s face even after everyone had quieted down again.