Actions

Work Header

why don't you ask?..

Chapter Text

The rain pours heavily and although her umbrella could have possibly covered at least three more slim people, her hair is messy and wet by the time she places herself on the passenger seat of old Toyota. All at once, she feels the weight of a tight quick embrace around her shoulders, a casual kiss pressed to her left temple. Within and despite all the years, hug and peck both are still so warm and comfortable and she doesn’t let herself to exhale, holding the intimate scent inside her lungs for a couple of extra seconds. The subtle notes of nutmeg, vanilla and cedar, so damn good.

“Hey, take it easy. I’m right out of slammer”, she mumbles carelessly as Lou pushes herself away.

“I thought you’d just changed your number”, she throws back with a slight smirk, returning her hands on the steering wheel and driving them from the cemetery.

The car radio babbles some familiar melody but the sounding is so quiet and the raindrops drum on the rooftop, so Debbie cannot make out the words. They both watch the road through the windshield and although Debbie doesn’t understand how she can see anything through that impossibly long bangs, Lou seems to be relaxed and unconcerned. But only seems because in the corner of her eye Debbie catches how her hands grip the steering wheel a little bit tighter than they should have, how the small sparks jump in her icy blue eyes, warming them somehow, how she barely shifts in her driver’s seat, almost unnoticeably, her long fingers banging the rhythm of the rain on the wheel. Lou is overexcited and quite soon Debbie can sense the electricity in the small space of their old car.

“Tell me you know he’s not dead?” the blond blurts out, a wide and sincere smile appearing on her face. She has changed a bit, Debbie admits to herself: her hair is longer and sloppier than she remembers, its colour much lighter and colder, not to mention that overlong quiff which covers her eyes partly, entangled with her fluffy and deeply black smoky eyelashes. The tiny thin wrinkles touch the corners of her eyes just a little, but then again, doesn’t Debbie find the same lines dancing by her own eyes now? But that smile, so bright and so “for-you-only”, is the same, warming Debbie’s self-defensive heart. “He is absolutely alive and you know how I know it? Because everybody were whimpering like bitches at his funerals four months ago and I almost died myself when he just gave us a visit about a month and a half within.”

Us… Debbie was prepared for that. She has been preparing herself for that damned five years eight months and twelve days. And yet. And still. That stabs unexpectedly strong. Strong enough to accelerate her heartrate twice and to make her throat dry as a desert in August. Unconsciously she swallows dryly and straightens herself on her seat. Only a slight movement but Lou notices, of course she does, and locks her concerned eyes on Debbie’s, her brows most definitely frowning under her bangs.

“You won’t even ask, will you?” she utters almost under her breath, her voice low and urgent, her eyes shifting between the road and her friend.

Debbie clears her throat, after all, being the one between the two of them who has always managed to really stay, not to seem only, cold-blooded, the words, jumping from her tongue, are clear and imperative. “The job first, then pleasantries, Miller. Wasn’t that the first lesson I taught you many years ago?”

“Oh…”, the only sound Lou squeezes out of herself, her face straight now and her eyes, averted from Debbie and concentrated on the road, cold and aloof in a matter of second. Of course, it’s about the job. When it is about Deborah Ocean, the whole world could have collided, but against all the odds, job always had to come first.

“You know how the fckng lame excuse that sounds to be?” Lou emits through the almost clenched teeth before to throw one more peek in Debbie’s direction.

“I know. I know…”, she sighs indifferently, her freshly manicured nails drawing the patterns on the fogged up side window.

Lou’s perfect instantaneous and impenetrable poker face is a masterpiece carved by Debbie herself and she would have admired it with the complacency of an artist if only not that cursed question, burning her inside like hell.

Chapter Text

“Stop it!..” Debbie says with a superficial attempt of a meaningless smile, yet taking her eyes away from her now-partner-again. It’s their first big argument in the job, which keeps them on the verge of a quarrel and promises to escalate into the real big fight. She may bet that their team is being snooping them through the loft windows at this particular moment. And it’s not good and not healthy for the whole partnership atmosphere and all that bullshit stuff about trust, margin of safety and leader’s authority in the team building relationship. That’s why she’s just trying to talk this thing down and laugh like everything is okay.

But their disputes are like fencing – it needs the two of them to put the swords down to end this up. And Lou definitely doesn’t look like someone who’s ready to disarm herself right now. Lou hates fighting. Lou is always, always patient like a Tibetan monk and wise like Buddha himself. Even so, with every next word Debbie is more and more insecure in her own ability to undermine this stupid situation. Actually what she can say for sure is that propitiation is absolutely above her power at this point.

“It’s just the last time”, Lou pronounces all of a sudden calmly and turns away with the intent to leave. Confused about an unexpected turn of events, for a moment Debbie can do nothing but blinking over the blonde’s back turned silhouette, stupefied as if she sees her for the first time in her life. For the moment, long enough for Lou to make several steps away from the beach and not long enough to leave for good.

“Lou… Lou... Lou!..” before she knows it, she catches-up Lou and grabs her wrist gingerly, pulling her to herself. Now their faces are extremely close to each other, she can capture coniferous fragrance of Lou’s perfume, mixed with the scent of her pepper-mint gum and barely imperceptible trace of nicotine (since when do you, Debbie thinks to herself, but this they’ll discuss later). Debbie squeezes Lou’s hand lightly, stroking the back of her palm with her thumb. “It is because of him I ended up in jail. You have no idea how that feels like!” Debbie utters almost desperately, trying to make an eye contact with Lou whose impossibly blue eyes are flickering over the river surface.

Lou is angry. However, these last words are the most sincere among those she’s heart from Debbie since she had picked her up from the cemetery. And she finally turns her face to meet her gaze. And Debbie’s eyes, the colour of melted chocolate, are so warm, so self-conscious and finally so again familiar, that she can do nothing except to give up.

She breathes in and out loudly, biting the inside of her cheek. “Well, fine. He’ll do that again.”

“No, he won’t. He can’t” Debbie smoothes her forearm up and down, peering into Lou’s face as if she needs no words to tell I’m here-I’m with you-I’m not going anywhere… For a moment, it seems to Lou like a slight breach in Debbie’s around-the-heart concrete wall and she doesn’t hesitate, scratching it further, trying to get on the surface something that lays deep under the layers.

“I’m tired, Debs. I’d be lying if not saying that it’s great to have you here. That it was funny to spend these two weeks together, pretending that we are back to square one, that the things are where they used to be, that nothing’s changed and it is just the two of us against the whole world again. But it isn’t anymore... And you know it. And I’m frustrated by your silence and I have no idea if you even care at all. ‘Cause you never ask and…” the flow of Lou’s words is disordered, she empties what’s on her mind almost without breathing and Debbie interrupts her, because she’s afraid that Lou is just going to suffocate, or that her heart is going to stop, or that her, Debbie’s, “concrete wall” is really going to collapse if she hears one more word from Lou’s lips.  

“I care! I do care! But all of that is such an enormous distraction we can’t afford right now!”

Lou yanks her hand away from Debbie, wrapping her arms around herself protectively and looking at her partner in disbelief. “Oh, don’t give this shit to me. Distraction? So that’s how you call it? Distraction? So Claude-the fucking-Becker wasn’t any sort of distraction to send you to prison then, as well as he is definitely not a distraction now. But, for Debbie Ocean that is an enormous distraction”. Lou is beside herself and out of control and if just a moment ago there was at least a tiny hope on reconciliation, it is a slippery slope for now.

Debbie knows she can do absolutely nothing with it at the moment, so she exhales, puts her indifferent mask back and replies in the most genuine way “I just cannot run this job in a job. That’s all.”

Lou just rolls her eyes. “Fuck you, Ocean. Just so fuck you!..”

Dramatically, she turns around and jerks away like scalded.

And it is only Debbie on the empty river bank. And there’s only sharp pain inside. And a lump in her throat. And the wet glimmering in her chocolate-brown eyes. And the same unasked question in the air.

Chapter Text

The first time they happened falling asleep in the same bed was right after the Met. Not like the first time ever in their entire coexistence, but obviously the first one since Debbie had been released from the inside.

It was around 4.30 a.m., the lightweight glimpses of dawn were just about to give a humble touch to the sky above New York.  Debbie had slipped away from their thrilled buzzing crowd like an hour earlier, probably too exhausted even to make an attempt to hush the half-drunk con kindergarten down, therefore leaving Lou the only mature person to cope with all that small chaos. And she managed to do it brilliant. Lou had just closed the door of the cab after Tammy, who was the last of the girls to leave to the hotel, and averted herself from escaping back to the loft at once. Actually, there was no need to rush anymore neither to run and run and run somewhere, neither to stay vigilant in the permanent endeavor to keep in step with Debbie’s completely genius but certifiably insane brain machine. There were moments when Lou questioned herself if Debbie Ocean was some sort of the AI. But she herself certainly wasn’t. That’s why she had simply switched off her brain and didn’t resist when her legs carried her through the road to the riverbank, when her back leaned against the old abandoned container, when one of her hands pulled the menthol JPS from the pack in her inside jacket pocket and the other lighted her zippo, when the heavy thick smoke filled her lungs with the first inhale and her misty eyes fixed their gaze on the sky. For several minutes, short like a flash and long like the life itself, she just let herself to be nothing more than she was at that particular moment: non-official anonymous Smoking-Man who was silent in his observation of the sky returning its colour from the night.

The loft was quiet and shaded but Lou could swear she could hear it, breathing calmly in its sleep. She took her shoes off and barefoot, trying not to wake up the house and its only dweller, the other from her, proceeded through the airy space of the living room, pulled herself up the metal stairs, cold and uncomfortable to her bare feet, tiptoed past all the doors upstairs right to the master bedroom in the end of the open hallway. She stayed only for a while near the door next to her own, leaning to the rough wooden surface with her temple and moving away in a couple of minutes since the room behind the door was absolutely mute.

She stepped into the darkness of her bedroom, switching on the lights breaker, only to freeze where she was as her widened eyes locked on the tiny silhouette, turned back to her in her own bed. Coming to her senses almost at once, Lou flipped the switch, dimming the lights, and looked around. The black-golden gown was thrown carelessly over the nearest armchair, the two exquisite high-heels all over the floor. Wearing her sleep-t-shirt, their owner was also there, sound asleep, curled into the pile of pillows on Lou’s side of the king-size bed, which was right in the center. Dense curtains were drawn, preventing even the slightest glimpse of sunrays, but the window itself was ajar letting the breezy morning air inside the room. Dawns in New York in this time of the year are not as warm as they may seem.

With a noiseless movement, Lou opened the top drawer of her commode and grabbed the first shirt she could find in semi-darkness. Then she walked to the other side of the bed, the sound of her steps absorbed by the thick carpet on the floor, picked the broad fleece blanket up off the nearest armchair and covered it against Debbie, whose body unwinded in her sleep immediately. She yearned for staying there. Just sitting on the floor, with her knees up to her chest and her chin placed on them, just reveling Debbie in her rare moment of tranquility and appeasement, watching her chest up and down and listening to her soft breathing. But she couldn’t. Debbie was right – damn it, she was – they couldn’t allow themselves any inappropriate distractions. The price was too high for an additional risk of any possible kind. Therefore, Lou just moved on her way out of the bedroom when a sudden sound of Debbie’s voice broke the silence in the air and made her freeze in the same position she was when she entered the room: her hand on the breaker but her back turned towards the bed now.

“Don’t leave…,” not a whisper but still pretty quiet, “…just give me a little more time”.

And Lou didn’t know if Debbie meant her self-invited slumber in Lou’s bedroom and Lou’s bed or if that was about their distraction situation in general, but she was already too tired to give two shits about it and Debbie looked so unprotected just to leave her alone this way. So she quickly sneaked out of the jumpsuit, which accompanied Debbie’s dress across the armchair, pulled on the shirt and slipped under the blanket, placing herself on the vacant edge of the bed.

For a moment, they were lying in a mute silence, just back to back. But then, Lou heard the blanket and pillows rustle, felt the barely notable shift of the weight on the mattress and almost immediately Debbie’s arm was resting around Lou’s waist, Debbie’s forehead pressed to Lou’s back of the head, and Lou’s body spooned comfortably against Debbie’s as if they were the two parts belonged to the same puzzle.

“I don’t like your new “healthy” habit,” the brunette drawled in a whisper when they were already drifting away, their eyes closed and their heart-beatings calm and slowing. Lou didn’t answer, only her exhale a little bit louder than usual.

“We aren’t playing by your rules, Ocean,” the last thing Lou had thought to herself just before she passed out, “Not this time.”

The very following afternoon, the turquoise pack of menthol JPS just appeared in the kitchen drop box out of the blue.

Chapter Text

The first time they happened to not only fall asleep in the same bed was one week after the Met, when Claude-the fucking-Becker was arrested on suspicion of stealing the Toussaint. Once again, not like the first time ever in their entire coexistence – actually, they had been making love a lot when Lou was… well, they had been making love a lot during an exceptional period of their life together, when Lou was vulnerable and sort of needy, and Debbie was extremely overprotective of her, during their life before Claude - but obviously the first one since Debbie had been released from the inside.

They both had had sex with other people before that period of life. Conventional wisdom about the squalling mess of the con lifestyle is somewhat true – whereas they had to keep their minds in strict discipline, their sexual life usually was disordered, their partners random, haphazard and temporary. They had sex with other people after that period of life, at least Lou had, although she wasn't sure as for Debbie during her sentence and they never discussed that matter. But, if while sitting across from each other, while looking into each other’s eyes they would have told they had made love to anyone else except each other, that would be nonsense. However and, of course, they both were too stubborn and arrogant - Debbie by her very nature and Lou as an honour student of an excellent teacher - to admit it or to discuss it.

Virtually, after Cloud’s arrest, each of their shared nights was speechless but filled with other type of language, tight entanglement of soft touches, breathtaking kisses and pervasive emotions. Exhaustive, comprehensive happiness and love – the only two feelings that were harboring the whole Lou’s essence during these nights. “Just give me a little more time,” - Debbie’s words, which had made Lou change her mind. Words, which had made Lou remember that that was Debbie Ocean. Debbie Ocean, who was so complicated and uneasy when it came to expressing her emotions. Debbie Ocean, who was so good at building the skyscraper walls around her heart, at putting a strong exterior and keeping it sacred for everyone. For everyone except Lou. Debbie Ocean, who needed this time, indeed. To finish her job. To stop from escaping from herself. To take a deep breathe. To face the changed reality of them. To accept the existence of this reality at all.

Lou had had almost six years for this acceptance. Debbie had only a little over than one month since she had been out from behind bars. So Lou was patient. She didn't leave. She stayed for a little longer. She didn't rush her. Instead, she was savouring every night of sharing her bed with Debbie, waiting for her to ask.

Yet, every morning, waking up with the other side of her – of now, their - bed cold and empty, and with that question unasked again, Lou felt herself like a betrayer. She had been here, in New York, much longer than she had expected, more importantly, longer than she had promised. With her permanent cellphone off, the burner just for emergency – thanks God, there hadn't been any yet - helping Debbie with the heist, trying to settle the question of “them”, being patient and forgiving. While, she knew, she was also needed on the other side of the globe. Yes, Debbie needed her more now. Yes, all that was supposed to be for the good of new them. Yes, she had made her best to explain everything before she left to New York. Nevertheless, every morning, holding her disabled iPhone in her hands and being not able to type a simple “good morning”, she was almost praying she was not the only one who possessed the ability of forgiveness. And most of all in the world she was afraid that yes, she was.

Chapter Text

After Becker’s arrest the team split up for some time, for safety reasons. No meetings, no phone calls, no connections at all. Apparently, most of them were even out of the country: Amita in Paris with her new boyfriend; Rose and Dahpne in Cannes, starting Rose’s new collection with Daphne, of course, as her upgraded brand’s face; Nine Ball in Saint Michael, visiting her relatives with her sister; Tammy in Cabo San Lucas on vacations with her husband and kids; and Constance lost in the jungles of Brooklyn, which may also be considered as another country or even galaxy. So, Debbie and Lou have finally got an opportunity to spend these three weeks together, only the two of them. Debbie, waiting for the person who had sent her to prison, to be sentenced; Lou – just waiting for Debbie.

They quickly got used to that everyday domestic routine. Lazy days have been spent without any rush, they both nestled on the couch in the living room, with Debbie’s feet placed on Lou’s thighs firmly, Lou’s rested on the coffee table, both of them wrapped into the checkered blanket – hell, that loft was really the bitch to warm up. Even though that was June outside the window, the temperature inside was hardly 62°F. They would watch movies Debbie had missed, read books Debbie hadn’t had an opportunity to read. They would talk about everything in the world, ably avoiding some certain topics. Lou would prepare delicious lunches they shared at the kitchen island, and gorgeous dinners they either served on the deck or picnicked on the beach. And as Debbie would be savoring every first bite of an excellent meat made according to some new recipe, Lou would be watching her with her bright blue eyes, expecting any sort of an immediate, invariably positive, feedback.

And in all those small details, Debbie has been easily recognizing her Lou. Lou, who used to hate cooking and was always half-starved, except for the occasions when she cooked for Debbie, turning into the real chief in their kitchen. Lou, who used to stick to the most strange and weird books Debbie had ever seen and barely understood. Lou, who used to move slightly towards the TV-screen, placing her elbows on her knees, when some of the movie moments were especially exciting, and on the contrary, pressed herself deep into the back of the couch, when the moments were especially eerie. Lou, who used to be both kind of wild and deep conservative, absolutely childish and over-responsible at the same time. Lou, who frowned her brows and rolled her eyes under her messy blond bangs as if Debbie couldn’t see it, who bite her inside cheek and fumbled her numerous rings while being nervous or unsure. Lou, who used to touch Debbie almost subtly here and there, from time to time as if checking if she was really here, with her. And Debbie was, because it was her Lou, the only person in the world whose embrace felt like home.

While their days, although full of candid emotions tangled with unending chatter and sonorous laughter, which sometimes promised to grow into uncontrollable hysteria, have been leisured and languid, their nights haven’t been indolent at all. Their nights have been wordless, tacit, as if they had concluded a pact and imposed a freeze on any sort of talking after the dusk. At the first night Lou had tried to say something, she couldn’t even remember what now, but Debbie had stolen her words and her breath with a long kiss, making her head spin. And so, here they were, the two silent culprits, having making love to each other for three weeks already. Not utterly mute either, no, gosh, how do you imagine this? But neither a word, nor a whisper, not even under the breath…

During these nights, when their bodies have been wound together like hair in a braid, their breathings have been integrated in one airstream, their vitals have been increased to the life-threating rates, Lou hasn’t been recognizing her Debbie. Her Debbie used to be teasing and yet soft, tender, caring and easy-going. This Debbie was different. This Debbie was rough and savage. This Debbie was hungry and desirous and so demanding and urgent. This Debbie was grasping at Lou as if Lou was her only straws to the reality. This Debbie was scary to the goose bumps on Lou’s bare skin. And this Debbie was scared. Damn it, they both have been scared of the whole world, moving past them too fast.

During these nights, this new Debbie has been taking Lou’s universe upside down, making her head heavy and fuzzy, absorbing her heart, which has been tearing apart between here and the place where she belonged to now. She has been getting Lou drunk with herself, so drunk that she’d got used to not waking up to the slight movement in their bed at 4:45 am., to the muffled sound of water in their bathroom, to the weightless kiss against her temple and quiet tiptoeing, muted with the fluffy carpet. She’d got used saying “good nights” to the new night Debbie mentally, and “good mornings” to her old Debbie aloud when she has been greeting her in the kitchen with a cup of black fragrant coffee, light healthy-food breakfast and wide delighted smile.

However, this night was different. Yesterday, there was a trial. Yesterday, there was a verdict. Yesterday, Claude-the fucking-Becker was finally wearing “orange-is-the-new-black-tuxedo”, his brand new outfit they provided him for the next 18 years. Thereby, this night was distinctively different. And Debbie was different, either.

It seemed that gentleness was back to her touches, delicacy – to her movements and sweetness – to her kisses. She wasn’t avoiding the eye contact anymore, her eyes looking straight into Lou’s. The fear of the cornered animal in her gaze has been replaced with some new expression, unknown and unreadable for Lou. She seemed to be relaxed. She seemed to be really, completely free. And Lou could have sworn that when Debbie was lulling her into sleep, with her fingertips drawing the soothing invisible patterns on the lanky scar in her lower abdomen, faded within these years but still notable in sharp contrast with her pale skin, she could hear how the barely audible “I-love-you” escaped from Debbie’s lips.

“So, that’s it,” Lou thought to herself, a soft smile playing on her lips, invisible in the darkness of their bedroom, as she was floating away with Debbie curled into her side, “we've finally broken the ice.”

Except, oh God give her strength, of course they have not.

Chapter Text

Lou doesn’t wake up when Debbie slips out from their bed at the usual time, when the city is still submerged deep into nautical twilight. Neither opens she her eyes, now sprawled out on her stomach against the middle of the bed, when Debbie walks out of the bathroom, draws the blanket from under her legs, pulls it over her shoulders and kisses the top of her light head. Lou’s sleep is not disturbed by the noise of the loft frontdoor closing when Debbie goes out for her daily morning jog, as well as by the same sound when she returns in somewhat more than forty minutes, letting in the first sunbeams through the doorway with her.

Lou’s sleepyhead is totally awake only around 8am, after the single mischievous ray of the sun sneaks through the slot between the curtains and jumps right on her face, signaling that the sun is already high over the horizon. With several nonchalant moves, she pulls on her long-sleeve tee, a couple of red sweatpants and goes out of the room barefoot, failing to find her second slipper.

The loft is uncharacteristically silent as she climbs down the staircase, and she creeps like a cat with her moves soft and her eyes and ears open, trying to catch even a quietest sound. The kitchen is lacking its usual morning inmate, but the glass of her warm lemon water and the bowl of her yogurt with oat cereals and grains are waiting for her on the kitchen island, and the corners of her mouth jump up. Only until the moment when she takes a hot coffeepot so as to pour black coffee into her mug, noticing a small yellow sticker under her plate. As she moves the plate and reads the note, the smile drains from her face together with all her blood and the mug falls out of her hands, shattering against the marble tile into smithereens and filling her ears and the whole loft with an awful, ringing blast. She stands there for a moment, another one. Then grabs her keys, her helmet and rushes away from the loft, the frontdoor slamming like thunder in a blue sky.

The mug is still scattered throughout the kitchen floor. The note is still clinging on the black glass table-top. “Hi babe. Time 4 u 2 go home. Just wanted 2 tell u I’m not eligible 4 my share. & AFA u have ur own, I think we both know whom it belongs 2 now. Say hello 4 me. Or don’t. U know what 2 do. Always know. X. D.” Well, Debbie Ocean has never claimed to be a “writer of the year”. As well as a “goodbye’r” of the year, either”.

____________________

 The silence of the crypt is surprisingly placating and private. Exactly the kind of one Debbie needs for her small talk. She knows there’s not a soul who could be an unnecessary eavesdropper, yet, as she sips her martini, sitting on the bench opposite the gravestone with the name of her elder brother, she talks in a down, “just between the two of us” voice, using a coded language, known just by them since childhood. She starts with the Heist (“The job first, than pleasantries”, actually, the first lesson she learnt herself from her father as a teenager). She even manages to almost finish her narrative as she hears the roaring of the motorcycle engine outside. She glances at her (well, Danny’s) wristwatch and thinks that she’s given herself the too short lead of time. However, maybe that’s a good thing she didn’t need to address any other topics but her success here.

“You would have loved it,” she utters calmly with a slight self-righteous smirk, with the sound of the steps approaching quickly.

“Oh, you would have loved it, indeed. And how badly you would have loved the fact that your sister is a proper coward who flees with the tucked tail,” Debbie can see Lou only with the corner of her eye, but she doesn’t need to see her to know that she is all the rage.

“Wha… What, Debs?..” the only words that escape from the cellphone’s speaker before it beeps as Debbie breaks the call.

“I didn’t expect you waking up so early,” Debbie says, her hands collecting her belongings and getting them back to the inside pocket of the oversized black jacket. Her movements are calm and firm, she seems to be focused and easy. And while her tone is effortless and casual, and her exterior is as strong as usual, she uses her last ounce of strength not to break in front of Lou. She’s made her decision. She has no right to invade into Lou’s life. Lou’s new life. There’s no place for such person as she is. Debbie Ocean is corrupted. Debbie Ocean is spoiled. Debbie Ocean is a first-class con, but she is also an excellent destroyer of everything she loves. Debbie Ocean is a broken, insensitive, empty doll. With the Met, she’s given Lou everything she was capable to. And now she must leave. Leave for good.

“You do not throw the fucking “Iloveyou” into somebody’s face and just run away,” Lou’s voice is low and harsh, growling somewhere deep in her throat. But it hits the target. Debbie straightens her back, her hands starting to tremble uncontrollably so she rises them as if to fix the bow tie, although it abandoned loosen over her neck anyway, trying to hide the tremor.

“I thought you were asleep,” she whispers, her throat too dry to talk louder.

“Apparently, I wasn’t.” Lou makes an unsure step towards the bench with Debbie on it, but she raises her left hand to prevent her from coming closer. “Debs, what’s the hell with you? Everything was just fine. What are you doing?” Lou’s voice is soaked with bitterness and pain and resentment. And pure misunderstanding. That makes Debbie cross her legs. She exhales heavily, covering her eyes with her hand and rubbing the temples.

“I thought that I can. But I’m a con, Lou, a criminal. I cannot do this!..” she still doesn’t look into Lou’s direction, still hides her face under her hand. And there is a pause and she can physically feel the tension between them, while Lou doubts as though she’s trying to figure out the right words to say. Moreover, the right emotions to feel. As though she struggles to put on her perfect poker face but it is like to fight a losing battle.

“So am I, Debs. A criminal, a culprit, an offender, a fraud, a rascal… Call it whatever you want, that does not revise the content anyway. And I also couldn’t. I wasn’t even supposed to be able to, don’t you forget about it! But I had to do it without you! And now it’s me who needs you to be my partner in this job…”

Debbie knows that Lou is sincere with her now. She puts all the cards on the table, but Debbie cannot make herself to make even a sound. The gears in her head turning haphazardly, preventing the shreds of her thoughts from forming into sentences. She is a captive mute, but that pisses Lou ultimately. Everything has its borders. Even the Pacific-fucking-Ocean.

“Why do you need to do this? Why can’t you just ask this damned question?” she cries out and her voice spreads over the crypt with an unexpected echo. They both shrug reluctantly. And this seems to finally get Debbie out from the stupor.

She gets up from the bench, turning her face towards Lou, their eyes locked for the first time since yesterday night. She approaches to the blonde with every step, her heels, knocking on the white stone floor, so high that she is ridiculously, impossibly, strangely taller than Lou, who stands there in her sweatpants and white loafers on bare feet.

“What if I don’t want to ask?” Debbie blurts out before she knows, and she can see as her words literally drop the bottom out from under Lou’s feet. But she realizes her mistake fast enough, and she is already close enough to put her hands around Lou’s waist and to pull he close to herself, averting the falling. In her arms, Lou is so small and fragile, her cold blue eyes glimmering with anguish and fear, and Debbie hurries to correct her own mistake. “What if I want not to ask but to see with my own eyes? Will you let me?..”

Chapter Text

The second half of the day and the following one are all kind of blur for Debbie. They come back from the cemetery on Lou’s bike. Debbie was going to return to the loft after Lou would have left, so she didn’t even collect her possessions in the morning. That’s why the first things they do after entering the loft are packing their bags for Lou and cleaning kitchen floor from the broken glass of the mug for Debbie. This occupation seems to be especially interesting for her. As if collecting glass shards would have fixed everything between them…

They almost do not talk. Lou makes some calls, talks to somebody, moves across the loft like the light wind. Business-class open ticket is a great gee, but even this option is not an easy task when you’re trying to arrange your flight the day before departure. Yet, somehow, Lou manages to make the booking: she is either a sorceress or has some secure line with Nine Ball. Taking into account where Nine Ball is, at this point it is almost the same.

They still do not talk a lot while sharing an impossible amount of alcohol at night, chilling at the coffee table on the carpeted floor of their open-space living room. They definitely do not talk when, after all this whiskey having been drunk, they are on the floor of the bathroom, Debbie holding Lou’s blonde hair behind her neck, while Lou is tearing herself inside out above the toilet, and Debbie admits to herself, that their roles have shifted since their last shared big blast, and that Lou hasn’t probably returned to her drinking habits, and that Debbie is not surprised because she apparently knows why.

They sleep on the different edges of their bed, back to back, still, in the same room and in the same bed. But this time it’s Debbie who wakes up with an empty pillow and cold sheets by her side, probably because for the first time in the last six years, she sleeps until 11am. It’s Debbie, who goes downstairs, with her heart heavy and bouncing against her ribs, not knowing if she’s been left alone. And it’s Debbie, who’s, instead, greeted with a huge mug of black coffee, with a big ear-to-ear grin, with a soft kiss on the cheek and the sweetest “Good morning, honey” ever. Like nothing has happened. Like she’s never left. Like before Claude. Like before jail.

They close their loft, leaving Lou’s bike inside and their old Toyota in the backyard. Their girls are supposed to come back to New York soon, one by one. So their home isn’t gonna be empty for a while.

30 minutes cab drive to the airport. Checking in. Passport control. “Mrs. Louise King and Mrs. Deborah Brown-King. And you two are…?”, Debbie can hear Lou answering, but her voice, low and velvet, is somewhere far away, unreal, like everything around. “We’re wives. Just recently married. Have been paying a visit to my wife’s parents. Now on our way back home.” Lou’s smile is charming and a young customs officer returns her both the smile and their fake IDs. “Have a safe flight.” Debbie doesn’t even ask how they’ve managed to get the new documents (while on parole, she remains to be the subject to restricted residence), neither she is surprised by the fact they are “wives”, nor how this young boy is trying to flirt with Lou, despite he knows this woman is gay, since she’s married to a woman, and her wife is actually here. That’s annoying, but Debbie cannot blame him: Lou is like silk, if it doesn’t belong to you, you wanna touch it even if only with your fingertips.

Their flight departures at 6:10 pm, exactly in time. Then almost 6 hours in the sky. One 1h 40m connection in LA and another flight, this time 15h 50m. They both are too tired, almost exhausted, they must sleep, must recharge, at least a little bit. Business-class seats in Airbus have horizontal position, sounds in headphones are calm and relaxing, so they drift off almost all the flight, waking up only to rehydrate their bodies and to exchange fleeting touches of their hands.

They arrive to Melbourne Tullamarine Airport at 7:30am, in almost 24 hours after they left their home. Customs. Baggage claim. Passport control. Finally, they exit the airport. They are at home. At least, Lou is at home. Well, apparently, since yesterday, Debbie’s home is now where Lou’s is.

The creeping line outside displays 53.6F. And the wind is fucking crazy. Isn’t Australia supposed to be a warm “home”?

Lou disables “Airplane mode” on her iPhone and efforts to request Uber. A sort of a challenging deal, taking into account the ocean of messages that’s rained down at her at once – Viber, WhatsApp, Skype. It takes her a while. And she actually doesn’t finish it because the huge black Tahoe approaches them almost at the same time. A tall man in his sixties, wearing a perfect black suit, gets out the car, puts both their suitcases in the trunk. He opens the passenger door. “Miss Miller” – a slight tilt of his head in acknowledgment. ”Geoffrey,” Lou pairs as she’s getting in the car right after Debbie.

Geoffrey, the driver. Right. Debbie remembers him. And she remembers that now he’s going to drive them to the southeast of Melbourne, straight to Wilson Prom. And it will take him about 3 hours and a half. So she follows Lou’s example and settles herself more comfortable on the black leather backseat.

_____________

The first time they came to Australia – well, the only one for Debbie – was in November 2011, almost seven years ago. Actually they had a business to Lou’s younger brother, but as Lou’s mother was pretty much obsessed with the idea of celebrating Lou’s 38th birthday on 11.11.2011, that sounded as a good excuse to get in touch with him.

Debbie knew nothing about Lou’s family. Of course, she knew about her parents, Cordelia and Robert Millers. She knew about Lizbeth, Lou’s sister who was 7 years older than Lou and who she was chronically allergic to. She knew about Liam, Lou’s brother, 6 years younger and basically adoring her. But that was all Debbie’s knowledge about Lou’s family and her routs.

“Miller family business generates about 3% of Australia's total wheat production,” Lou dropped as a matter of fact, shrugging and answering Debbie’s questioning look when a huge tinted-windows SUV picked them up from the airport. For those who knew even approximate numbers that wheat industry generated for the state economy each year, the “3%” would have told a lot. But those numbers didn’t talk to Debbie. A sumptuous, ornate, tremendous, three-floor Victorian mansion - that was what really talked to Debbie. Luxurious interior design of the mansion - that really talked to Debbie. Impeccable hairstyle, makeup, dresses, straight backs and irreproachable conduct of two blonde women who were Lou’s mother and sister – that talked to Debbie. And the way Lou behaved around them – discreetly, politely, coldly, like some sort of a bogus (“we don’t steal here,” she whispered into Debbie’s ear just as they entered the house) – that talked to Debbie above all.

It wasn’t ridiculous or embarrassing for Debbie to participate in such an event or to communicate with such people. That was ridiculous and embarrassing that such people were her Lou’s family. And that she and Lou had to ask her brother about a favor. A very, very, very important one.

Lizbeth brought her politician-husband and two teenage children – a boy and a girl, the twins, as “brushed” as their mother. Liam brought his model-looking wife and their four-year-old daughter. Lou brought Debbie. “Deborah is a well-known art critic,” Louise uttered with a proud Cheshire smile while kicking Debbie’s leg under the table and there they were: an “art critic” and “architect”.

To the surprise of Debbie, Liam turned to be a great kid. He adored Lou indeed. So he didn’t say no to their delicate plea. And they left that goddamned doll-house in three days. Together.

_____________

Debbie brings herself back to reality and turns her head towards Lou. Jet leg will certainly make them crazy for the following couple of days but at the moment it’s not the biggest problem.

The blonde sits uncharacteristically straight, trying to seem calm and tranquil, but Debbie doesn’t believe into this spectacle. She shifts a little closer, their thighs touching now, reaches her hand with her own and rests them on her laps, softly touching the pulse-point on Lou’s wrist. “You’re nervous. Why?”, a statement, not even a question.

Lou glances at her just for a second - “I’m not” - and returns her eyes to the landscape in the window.

“You are,” Debbie pushes a little harder, because there’s a fear in Lou’s eyes and she wants to understand. “I know why I must be nervous. But why should you?”, she asks in a playful tone, squeezing her hand lightly, but what disturbs Lou must be somewhere deep in her mind. She just shakes her head and bites her inside cheek. However, in a couple of minutes she turns her head and meets Debbie’s eyes.

“I haven’t been here for 9 weeks. It’s the first time I’ve left for more than a day. I have no idea what expects me as much as you have no.”

They spend the remaining 90 minutes of their drive in complete silence. But Lou’s hand is still in Debbie’s, their fingers intertwined. And Lou’s heart rate still through the roof.

Chapter Text

While June may be summer in New York, it’s only the beginning of winter in Melbourne. The cold waters offshore and not less cold cyclones from Antarctica turn the weather here pretty gloomy and worthless. And in case you ask if it’s a good idea to visit Melbourne at this time, you’ll probably receive a negative answer. Then again, it’s not like anyone asks Debbie’s opinion.

So, when Tahoe pulls over and stops on the access road to the mansion front steps and Debbie follows Lou out of the car, it is almost midday but it’s barely 55F outside and she literally feels like the gusty wind from the ocean breaks through her entire body as if she doesn’t wear any jacket, nor any skin and muscles at all.

A tall slender woman opens the heavy oak door and steps backward, making a space for them to enter. She is as tastefully dressed as Debbie remembers her: the V-neck Ralph Lauren turquoise cardigan matches with the snow-white collar of her shirt and similar colour pants, all exterior meticulously framed with elegant jewelries. Her platinum blond hair, shoulder length and slightly wavy, is perfectly coiffed and her French-manicure-nails well-polished as usual. Even so, something looks a little out of place when after closing the door after them, some weird expression crosses her usually indifferent face and she suddenly wraps her arms around Lou’s shoulders, embracing her tight and for a little bit longer than etiquette allows. “Louise!..,” she exclaims warmly - with relief?.. - while cupping Lou’s face with her hands and Debbie feels a tiny itch inside her heart, remembering her own mother.

Cordelia throws the dry by-the-way “Deborah” with a slight nod in her direction, brings her eyes back to Lou and, before her daughter comes to her senses after an unexpected cordial greeting, returns her common mask of courtesy. “Darling, you look terrible! So pale! You seem to have lost too much weight. Do you even eat at all? How long's it been since you slept? How’s your flight? By the way, what’s with the weather in New York? I’ve heart they expect an exceptionally cold summer this year. Did you know…?” she slows down just to take a breath but Lou uses this opportunity to interrupt this endless flow of senseless words, her voice a little husky after the hours of silence.

“Mother, I’m perfect. Yes, I do eat. We slept on the plain. The flight was normal. New York sucks as always. And by the way,” she suddenly makes a pause and glances over as if looking for something. “Where’s she?”

The look on Cordelia’s face is a little puzzled and just for a moment, she seems to hesitate how to answer. “Darling, we didn’t know when to expect to you so, obviously, we didn’t tell her anything. You know better than I do how a busy schedule she has. We didn’t want her to be overexcited for nothing.”

“Where. Is. She?” Lou repeats her question, punching out each word this time. Debbie can see that she is both impatient, annoyed and nervous. And as she admits to herself, she doesn’t stand on ceremony with her mother anymore like she used to do during their last meeting. Well, a lot of water under the bridge.

Cordelia makes a waving “give-up” hand gesture at her daughter.

“Gymnasium,” she utters and before Debbie knows, Lou’s hand is around her wrist and she pulls her towards the backyard door.

“Your room is ready. But we didn’t know if you bring Deborah with you. So I’ll tell Mrs. Carson (“gosh, do these people know that slavery was abolished?” Debbie thinks to herself) to prepare the guestroom,” Cordelia yells after them and Debbie holds the chuckle and almost regrets she cannot see Cordelia Miller’s face when her daughter shoots back with a rebellious smirk “Don’t bother. My room is fine. Debbie sleeps with me.”

When they are out of the backyard and Debbie inhales deeply, the exasperating cold Aussie wind doesn’t seem so exasperating anymore. At least if to compare with the exasperating cold Aussie mother of Lou. This speculation of hers doesn’t last too long, because she notices that the backyard has changed a lot since she had seen it several years ago. There’s a big two-storey building perpendicular to the mansion she couldn’t see from behind the house when they arrived. Lou still tugs her after herself, and as they enter the building and walk upstairs to the second floor, it appears to be an observation balcony of the high-grade, full-sized and well-equipped gym. Just the same, as children usually have at school, but most likely, at some sort of private school with toffs-parents and spoiled frat-boys children. This thought makes Debbie uncomfortable and she chases it away to the back of her mind, following Lou’s gaze instead and focusing on what she must see.

On the left of them, just few meters away, it is a climbing wall. A complicated structure from the gym floor to ceiling, it’s a rock-textured wall with belay, modular hand holds, incuts, and protrusions, about 23ft height. It changes its form in different angles and Debbie almost sinks into the memories when they used to go to the climbing gym in Manhattan Plaza, but Lou nudges her slightly and points her finger at something right in the middle of the wall.

Debbie narrows her eyes, squinting. There is someone, a small figure, climbing up against the wall. It’s hard not to notice it because the "Someone’s" climbing harness is placed atop of the bright grass-green sweatsuit and the sneakers and fingerless gloves that shift from one grips to the others, are deep purple. “Someone’s” long dark hair, drawn back into the ponytail, swings like a pendulum as this “Someone”, extremely concentrated, all the muscles intense, looks up and down, measuring every new step to change current position. Debbie and Lou both seem to stop breathing, just watching quietly, not to reveal their presence.

“Someone” makes another pull-up and climbs a little higher, to the new mark on the wall, which is almost on the level with the balcony and which is probably “Someone’s” new high score, because they hover on the spot, turn their head to the left, still not seeing Debbie and Lou while looking somewhere downstairs. “Ms. Anderson, look, it’s 11ft,” “Someone” cries out with wide self-satisfied grin and Australian accent – as clear and notable as Lou used to have many years ago when they first met - and the sound of that voice is so sonorous and cheerful that it covers every inch of the gym space. It jingles in Debbie’s ears, spreading warmth through her body, through every fiber of her being. It’s a funny, unknown tightness inside of her chest and without her even knowing, a wide smile lightens her face.

And when Lou touches her forearm and squeezes it softly, looking at her with studying eyes and with the knowing smile, when Debbie turns her head to meet her eyes just for a short moment before to look back at “Someone”, this “Someone” finally notices the movement on the balcony with the corner of their eyes, and raises their head to finally see them. It’s just a split second and “Someone’s” eyes widen of a sudden when they meet Lou’s. It’s just another split second when “Someone”, caught out of guard, skips the necessary incut and their right foot slips up. And one more second, when “Someone” snaps from the wall and falls, stopped by the belay ropes just about 5ft above the bottom.

Debbie’s heart seems to snap together with “Someone” and she jerks towards the stairs to run down to the gym, but Lou puts her hand on her shoulder and stops her firmly. There’re already two people downstairs: a fit-looking man, probably a climbing-instructor, who disentangles “Someone” out from the harness and ropes, and a woman, who goes down to “Someone’s” level, examining their arms and shoulders, looking into their eyes. “Are you Okay? Do you feel any pain?” There is blood on “Someone’s” face, but “Someone” is mute, eyes still glued to the balcony. “Oh God,” the woman grabs someone up and rushes out from the gym.

They meet “Someone” again in a little more than 40 minutes. They both jump out of the sofa when the blonde younger woman from the gym (is “Someone” the only dark-haired person in this house?) enters the living room with a child.

Debbie is flurried. Moreover, Debbie Ocean is absolutely horrified. Hell, she doesn't remember when was the last time she couldn't cope her emotions. It seems that everything inside of her has been tied into a knot, her legs are weak as water, her head is jelly, and she is completely frozen when Lou yanks forwards, kneels down and cuddles “Someone” close to herself. Debbie is too confused to notice the tension, to notice that the child doesn't return the embrace. But these unbearably long seconds are long enough for Debbie to shake off the consternation and as Lou kisses “Someone’s” forehead softly, mumbling something against their hair (is it “I'm-so-sorry”?), gently brushes her thumb through the narrow medical patch on the cheek (thanks god, only the minor abrasion from falling in the gym) and leans away back to her, Debbie takes a moment for observation.

“Someone” turns out to be a slim tiny girl, not older than 5 and a half and not taller than 3’6 Ft. Her dark auburn hair, now carefully interlaced into two long braids, is only a couple of shades lighter than Debbie’s own. Her little nose is slightly turned-up and covered with the tiniest flash of little freckles, and Debbie knows that with age, those freckles will most likely disappear and that turned-up nose will straighten, of course if the child won’t try to break it like Debbie did at the age of 8. The exact opposite with Debbie’s and perfect match with Lou’s instead, the girl’s eyes, now sliding through the different objects in the room and avoiding an eye contact with any of them, are ocean blue. She has been changed from her sweatsuit and now she wears the dark-blue skirt-suit (school uniform? does she even go to school?), white knee socks and black patent leather shoes. There’s a skinny tie tied above her tight-buttoned snow-white shirt and Debbie can say for sure that if it’s a “never-go-out-without-a-tie” habit, she knows whence its legs grow.

It is an uncomfortable silence in the room that brings Lou’s thoughts back to Debbie and makes her realize to what extend the whole situation is strange and absurd, and that her “partner in crime” probably doesn’t even know where to start from as long as she doesn’t possess even the smallest piece of information. Debbie has been an unconditional leader in all their cons and frauds. But it’s Lou’s turn to hold the reigns in this “job”. So, Lou leans to Debbie’s ear, whispering so quiet that only Debbie can hear, “You didn’t want to ask this question to me. Well, I think it’s about time you ask her,” and nudges her forward along her lower back.

At this moment, Debbie thinks to herself, that this child looks exactly as if someone has printed the baby picture of her and used it as a coloring book, just refreshing it with some new colours (oh yeah, and wrapped it into some new covers - you would never be able to call little Debbie Ocean a white-collar girl). She also thinks that she is here anyway, and as she is here, she has no much choice. And that, ultimately, it must be not so bad at all. Really, what can possibly go wrong with the smaller version of her?

All this happens in her head as she makes a steady step towards the girl. Doesn’t go to her level, but tilts her head a little in an effort to look into the girl’s eyes. Fuck… she doesn’t even know…

“So, what’s your name?”

Yeah, she doesn’t even know the name

Finally… Lou barely holds a loud moan of relief as Debbie finally asks this damned question. She has been waiting for this since Debbie was out of jail. Furthermore, she has been waiting for this even since earlier, for almost six years already. Because, of course, Debbie hasn’t seen her. But Debbie hasn’t even asked her name.

Lou loosens up her back and makes a deep breathe, just to straight again at a moment's notice. Hand-carved German wall clock counts ten more seconds, but the child is absolutely quiet, her eyes studying the toes of her shoes with a special interest. Lou shakes her head to move the bangs from her eyes and clears her throat to utter the only word “Honey?”, and that makes girl’s long fuzzy eyelashes flinch like butterfly’s wings. She still looks down when her timid voice fills the silence of the living room.

“My name is Dashiell Claire Miller.”

Lou’s heart misses a couple of beats as she looks at Debbie in anticipation of any reaction. Though, she’s still a little surprised when Debbie turns to her, connecting their gazes, a stunning happy grin appears on her face as she mouthes only with her lips “It’s perfect”. More confident now, Debbie brings her attention back to the girl and asks her another question.

“Hmm, such a beautiful name you have. And do you know who I am, Dashiell?”

Debbie’s hands are in her pockets and she is still nervous, but as well as Lou can judge, and of course, she can, her brunette is sincere and opened now. She wears no “masks” or lime strict exteriors, and no matter how difficult it must be for her, she’s doing her best to make a first step. Lou is relaxed, the worst seems to be behind and nothing unexpected can happen now, right?

But the girl is still silent, her eyes still downward and the cursed wall clock ticking starts getting under Lou’s skin when the blonde woman who escorts Dashiell, bends over the child’s shoulder and utters in a calm, professional tone “What did we say about eye contact while talking with people, Miss Miller?”.

“Katy, don’t…” Lou raises her palm to prevent any further words and the au-pair woman steps back, but a loud heavy sigh already comes out from the girl’s lips.

And when Dashiell dramatically raises her head, fixing her bottomless blue eyes first on Lou and then staring straight at Debbie, her chin cocked, eyes slightly narrowed and corners of her lips up just a bit, “alarm” lamp starts blinking in the back of Lou’s mind. Although she has never seen this look on her five-and-a-half-year-old’s face, she knew it too damn well. It’s with this curve of the right eyebrow, Debbie Ocean announces every “I bet” of hers. It’s this mischievous spark flares in Debbie Ocean’s eyes when some sort of ingenious but completely insane idea comes into existence in her head. And it’s with this stunning, sly and naughty smirk, Debbie Ocean executes her brilliant heists.

Lou knows this look. And it’s like a stab in the nut when, somehow, she realizes, that what their girl is going to answer is absolutely not what she is supposed to. And far from what Debbie expects to hear from her. And Lou is right about to say something but Dashiell comes before.

“I believe, you must be Ms. Deborah Anna Ocean. My mother’s friend. Nice to meet you, ma’am!” she puts an accent on the last word and tilts her head in a greeting. And if it’s not enough, she narrows her eyes and adds “And now I beg your pardon, but I must leave you. Mein Deutschlehrer wartet auf mich. See you two at dinner.”

At this point, the girl tilts her head once again, turns on her heels and leaves the living room, followed by her au-pair.

If the invisible walls around people’s hearts would have been palpable, Lou could have probably felt the draft airflow and heard the blast of the gates which these two have just slammed right in front of each other noses.

She collapses on the sofa tiredly, growling under her breath something that sounds like swearing. “Ugh, it’s going to be a rough road, isn't it?” - she thinks to herself and closes her eyes, raising her left palm to massage the back of her neck – “the Ocean, is the Ocean, is the Ocean…”

Debbie stands on the same place, not moving, seeming to be glued dead to the parquet floor.

Lou’s menthol JPS don’t sound as such a bad idea now.

_____________

 

*Sept. 23d, 2012 / 5 years 6 months 21 days ago…

It’s about 11pm and Debbie lies on the uncomfortable mattress of the iron bed. The lights in the cell are dimmed, the cellmate is in the infirmary after an unfortunate fight in the dining room, but she cannot fall asleep and studies curved cracks on the ceiling, when something slips down to the cell-floor from behind the bars.

Debbie jerks to the object just to raise to her eyes nothing but the standard-sized pink Christmas greeting card. She slides down the wall, leans to the bars, trying to catch the weak glimmering of the corridor lamps to read the message.

“Hey there. Merry Christmas! I know I’ve planned to greet you earlier but I really had no occasion for this. Actually, I’ve hold the first copy of your book just today, early in the morning. Our publishing house had to finish it two weeks ago, but they had some difficulties so external assistance was engaged just today. And everything went smoothly.

I must confess, I expected its cover to be slightly darker but it’s still beautiful and for the rest, the book is perfect: 20 chapters and 106 pages of clear text. Like you’ve planned.

The publishers have changed the name at the last moment but they keep insisting you to know it from them directly so I sweared not to spoil. Call them as soon as you can. You will enjoy it.

Love you. X. Big D.”

Debbie leans her head to the wall, closes her eyes, smiling and letting the lonely tear escape from under her eyelashes. So, it’s a girl. 14 days delay, c-section. 20 inches height, 106 ounces weight. Perfect little girl.

As for the name, she won’t ask. Not until she’s inside. She has no right to pronounce it even inside her head within these walls. It will be her punishment for her mistake, for her failure. She will wait. She will plan. And she will deserve to know her daughter’s name.

Chapter Text

Lou glances at the clock. Dinner is usually served at 6 and they have nearly four hours to finally freshen up and get changed after the flight before Dashiell’s “see-you-two-at-dinner” sideshow begins. She doesn't know when exactly they've come to this point – don’t fool yourself, Lou, two months ago, when you left this house, - but at this moment she has no idea what to anticipate from this child. So, Debbie and she, they need to talk, to explain themselves, to line up the troops. Ugh, gosh Lou, since when do you consider the interaction with your daughter as a battle?..

When she takes Debbie’s hand, entangling their fingers, and leading her out of the living room, Debbie doesn’t protest. She doesn’t look at Lou, nor says a word. The Moony, who just obeys and blindly follows Lou upstairs.

Lou’s room is actually not just only a room at all. Two-storey bedroom, constructed in the ultra-modern style and turquoise-dark grey-white colours, it’s nothing like their New York loft, lacking its easiness and slight recklessness. It is weirdly tidy, natty, and ordered. Panoramic windows, across all the room’s height, open up to the wide balcony and offer a lovely, calming view, admitting plenty of light. Debbie remembers that there’s a tiny harbour and a modest but cozy beach only a five-minute walk downhill the mansion. What she doesn’t know is that in the early morning, when the sun shows up from across the Bass Strait, slowly colouring everything around into a smooth gradient of orange, peach, pink and purple, she will see all of this magnificent beauty right from this balcony with her own eyes. And that, with Lou standing behind her and holding her tight around her waist and resting her chin on her shoulder, it will be so breathtaking and thrilling and to the pain deep in her chest, that she will not be able to hold back the tear...

The first storey seems to be just a sleeping space: a California-king bed in the center with a mount of different size pillows, a couple of apparently comfortable oversized arm-chairs by the window, a half-of-the-wall sized plasma in front of bed, doors to the bathroom and walk-in closet, and a hundred of other little things. The second storey has a smaller area, but it’s the sort of a den, with the desk and a 27-inch screen iMac pro on it, with the shelves all over the walls, which contain dozens of books, with the impressive acoustic system and another hundred of other little things.

Lou’s created the whole design by herself, it’s her harbour, her shelter, her own space inside this house and no one but Dashiell, whose nursery is connected to Lou’s bedroom through the shared bathroom and balcony, is allowed inside.

And when Lou carefully sets Debbie in the middle of that huge bed, presses one of the innumerable buttons on the remote control to shutter the curtains, kisses Debbie’s forehead and leaves to the bathroom, Debbie looks around and thinks that yes, this room is nothing like their loft, but still somehow everything here is as much about Lou as in New York.

Lou’s just out from the shower, in her white silky bathrobe, leaning to the washbasin cabinet in front of the broad mirror and drying her wet messy hair with the towel, when Debbie sneaks past her to the glass cabin in nothing but her underwear and turns the water on. “Your speechlessness is marginally better than Dashiell’s carousels and the same childish as well. You know that, right?” Lou raises her voice just enough to be heard through the water flow. Although the shower walls and door are frosted, Lou can see as Debbie’s silhouette moves closer and as her forehead leans to the glass. Yet and still, remaining silent.

Debbie is an introvert, solitary and secluded when it is about her feelings. Debbie Ocean is strong. Debbie Ocean doesn’t demonstrate even a bit of weakness. She rarely shares her worries and fears, almost never her heartaches and distresses, overcoming everything alone, just by herself. Lou is not comfortable with this, does not welcome this, yet she’s got used to this, adjusted to this state of affairs and accepted the fact she can never say for sure what is in her partner’s head. But now… Now it’s not only about her own comfort or approval. So she goes ahead.

She reflects Debbie’s gesture, resting her temple and her right palm on the other side of the glass wall so that their heads are touched through the barrier. “We need to talk about it, Debs. We must talk…”

When the glass door opens, letting the steam out, when Debbie’s hands grab the edges of her bathrobe waist and enthrall her into the cabin, the rain shower pouring the strong flow of hot water over her head, Debbie’s fingertips sneaking off the wet fabric and Debbie’s lips finding the pulse spot on her neck, the last thing Lou can think about before she loses her ability of thinking at all, is that she’s got caught. Debbie knew Lou intended to have this conversation. Debbie didn't want to have this conversation. Debbie planned. And Debbie used the same act of distraction she always uses to run off such conversations. And Lou’s jumped on the hook. Again.

Of course, there was no place for talking in the shower. Neither during the two-hour nap under the comfort covers of Lou’s bed, among all the pillows, cuddled into each other. Nor during putting the make-up and dressing, getting ready for the dinner.

Chapter Text

"Papa is coming back from Sidney on Sunday. Lizbeth and Liam are coping with all the business affairs so well that he’s thinking about stepping aside till the end of the year. You know, we are not as young as we used to be, the years show themselves and he wants to spend more time with grandchildren. By the way, have I mentioned that Cillian and Carol – Deborah, these are Lizbeth’s children, you are supposed to remember them, - were enrolled to Oxford? They’re so excited and inspired by Liam that both have chosen faculty of law. And talking about Liam. Elsa is in Spain with children now, but they are going to visit us in August. Deborah, you must not know, but Liam has two more children now, twin-boys of three, Sasha and Tristan. And Louise, you won’t believe how big they are now!..”

They are in the dining room, Cordelia, Lou and Debbie, all three sitting at the table. Debbie barely says a word, just nodding in acknowledgement while hearing her name from Cordelia, who is especially talkative this evening and Lou is already sick and tired of her mindless chatter. Lou knows that she must hold her tongue, that Dashiell is about to join them any minute, but if you haven’t done the talking to the person who you were supposed to – thank you Debbie – it’s almost impossible to hold your mouth shut.

“Mother, I know the things. I saw them all in the end of March. Don’t talk to me as if I’ve been to New York not for two months but for two years,” Lou drops out her palms to her thighs with a loud flap. “You better tell me what the hell is going out with our child?”

Cordelia turns her head towards Lou, her brows raised in astonishment and embarrassment. “What exactly do you mean, Louise? Explain yourself.”

“You perfectly know what I mean. Her schedule is as busy as if we’re preparing her to FBI academy. She is tensed, nervous, closed like under lock and key. No eye contact again. She flinched and almost jerked when I touched her. And this thrown grandstand with all this fucking ‘Ms. Ocean, ma’am’… what was that even?” Lou’s voice is cold and deep, thickened with now heavy accent and all that indicates Debbie that she is extremely angry. Unlike Debbie, who seems to be completely calm, thoroughly studying the wine glass, which is standing on the table in front of her.

“Ahem… That’s what you mean. Darling, I’ve already told you, your arrival was so unexpected that we hadn’t had a chance to tell her. The girl is just confused, take this into consideration.”

“Don't give me that bullshit! You sent Geoffrey to pick us up from the airport. Your bloodhounds at the airlines had tracked my ticket. You knew I was to come. You knew I was to come with Debbie. You had had the fucking 24 hours to prepare her but you didn’t!.. So why the hell haven’t you done that?” Lou sits with her back to the doorway ark and the cold panic crawls under her skin when she suddenly hears the teasing child’s voice from behind her. Shit…

“Mother, you swear like a sailor from Port Botany. Am I mistaken or is it forbidden within the walls of this house? Shame on you!”

Cordelia is sitting at the head of the table and Dashiell walks around it, and sits on the right from her, straight opposite Lou, with Mrs. Carson moving her chair closer to the table and leaving them in a moment.

Dinner starts in inconvenient silence, accompanied only with the clattering of silverware against plates and abnormally loud ticking of another wall clock (why do her parents need those fucking craps in every fucking room, Lou thinks to herself), but this silence is abruptly broken by Dashiell’s words, which hold the promise to escalate into an even more inconvenient conversation.

Wearing the dark maroon turtleneck, with her hair still woven into two braids, her cheeks covered with a slight blush to the contrast with her fair skin, and her dark eyelashes flattering as her gaze scans across the dishes on the table without interest, the girl looks more like a porcelain doll than like real live child.

“Did you know that according to the modern psychologists, the human being lives through five different crisis during their lifetime? The first and the most insignificant one, is considered to be the pre-natal crisis. I doubt if any person remembers that gross thing, you know. Even I don’t. The third one, known as the heaviest and the longest, is puberty and at the moment it’s also out of our interests,” Dashiell utters all the words in a monotonous, measured fashion as if giving a lecture to the public, and all three grown-up women stop eating, waiting for what comes next. “What can really attract our attention as an interesting one, is the second crisis. Normally, it starts at a three-year-old age, when the child stops considering itself as an integral part of their parents and their parents as an integral part of themselves, especially in the case of mother-and-child relationship. The very rough period, with all that self-realization, pushing the boundaries and “no-as-the-only-answer” stuff. I say ‘normally’ because in my case, this crisis came a little later.”

She turns her head to the left, her eyes still downward. “Cordelia, what did Mr. Lang, my psychotherapist, say?” She raises her eyes to the ceiling in attempt of quoting word for word. “Taking into account Dashiell’s personal aspects and the special situation in your family, this crisis showed up with a delay and most likely it will take her longer to overcome it…”

The girl stops talking. As unexpectedly as she started.

“What are you saying, Dashiell?” Lou folds her hands across her chest and looks directly at her daughter, knowing that they have to finish this conversation if they want to make at least a little step towards each other.

Dashiell looks up, not into Lou’s eyes, but at her lips. “I am saying that you ask Cordelia what the hell is going out with me whereas you’ve abandoned me all on my own during the first most difficult period of my life.”

Lou sighs loudly, resisting the urge of rolling her eyes to Dashiell’s spectacular ability to overdramatize things, but her words are soft and calm. “Dash, listen to me. We’ve discussed everything a million times beforehand. You weren’t alone. I had to go. And I was absent for only several weeks…”

“No. You listen to me!” they always have their conversations in a grown-up manner, like equals, but this line from her daughter makes Lou reconsider the boundaries, which, apparently, Dashiell has lost during these two months. “I am 5 years 8 months 21 days old now. You’ve disappeared for the nine weeks. It’s almost 3.5 percent of my life…”

“A little less than 3.1, actually. Perform only an accurate data if at least anyone can double-check it.” they all turn their heads towards Debbie, who sits next to Lou, throwing her first words during the dinner very casually, interrupting Dashiell’s protracted tantrum. The child is so flabbergasted that she allows the momentary contact between dark-chocolate and ocean-blue eyes, so different and so similar at the same time. But just the momentary, because in the next second she makes a face and snarls “I said almost, ma’am” into Debbie’s face. And holy crap, if all the situation weren’t such frustrating and backbreaking, Lou would have definitely burst out laughing at Debbie’s ‘you talkin’ to me?’ facial expression, for there was no person in the world who talked to Debbie Ocean this way.

But Dashiell doesn’t even notice it and she has no intention to stop, because, like with any other ordinary child, it’s always difficult to pull her up when she is so much flustered. “Anyway, you turned off your phone and vanished. And what for, mother? To bring her to our house? For your information, I don’t want her to be here!”

“Behave yourself, Dashiell!” it’s Cordelia’s gasp of disapproval that brings Lou back to reality, her blood pulsing in her ears.

“Say it again and you go to your room!” Lou growls to her daughter menacingly, simultaneously trying to find Debbie’s hand under the table, but she jerks it away like from the red-hot iron.

“Do you know who I am?” Debbie’s voice, so tranquil and reasonable in spite of the hostile behavior of the girl, waters the dry silence of the dining room, attracting Dashiell’s attention.

“I’ve thought we had dotted all i’s in the situation with introduction this afternoon. You’re my mother’s friend, ma’am,” she utters dazed, her eyes stuck to the plate.

“Don’t you dare lie to me! And look at me when I’m talking to you! So, I repeat the question. Do you know who I am?” this time Debbie says every word in her best slaying manner, with her best murderous look. The manner, that, without her even raising her voice, usually makes everyone in the room straighten their backs, shut their mouths and comply. She had used this trick with their Met-team only once, but that was enough for them to recognize it in the bud and to concern themselves with obeying her every instruction.

Dashiell blushes heavily at the unexpected attitude. It is an explicit fact that during Lou’s absence she has transformed all the habitants of this house into the kowtowing puppets without them even knowing about it. But neither Debbie, nor Lou are going to let her tie those strings to themselves. So perforce, she locks her gaze on Debbie and makes the words getting out of her mouth.

“As long as I remember myself, my mama continued to tell me that I have one more mother. Kind, and beautiful, and extremely intelligent. Debbie Ocean, a brilliant prominent art-critic who, although she loved me above all, has suddenly disappeared and was being forcibly retained from us by some very reasonable causes. Nine weeks ago, when mother told me she was leaving to New York, to meet you and bring you to me, I was utterly excited. And when she left, I googled my own little research to find out more about you. Of course, I hadn’t succeed to find a lot, even though it was before all the mentions of your name magically evaporated (‘too late, Nine Ball’, flashes in Lou’s head). But what I managed to find out is that Debbie Ocean, a famous art-critic, doesn’t exist and never did. Instead, there is Debbie Ocean, convicted felon, who was arrested and, in the beginning of August 2012, sentenced to 8 years of prison.”

Another speechless moment between the four of them. Cordelia’s eyes travel the paintings on the walls absently. Lou’s look shifts between Debbie and Dashiell, trying and failing to predict the following lines. Debbie doesn’t take her eyes from Dashiell (oh god, but how much she urges to drop them down now), her façade solid and strong, like an impregnable, unswerving tower. But she barely breathes, and when she unwittingly swallows hard, Lou’s heart misses a beat, because she knows it’s a crack. So as knows Dashiell.

“So now, you tell me, who are you? An imaginable superhero art-critic? Or a con who had chosen a fraud over their family and eventuated to end up behind the bars a month and a half before I was born?”

And that’s it. Defeated, surrendered, the tower collapses. Debbie’s eyes fall down. Lou’s gaze is chained to the brunette, she doesn’t want to miss any emotion of hers, nor expects any more words from their daughter. But indeed, isn’t it the truly Debbie’s trait that, as appears, Dashiell inherited so damn well: to destroy the adversary to the ground, leaving no stone unturned.

“Huh, don’t think so loud. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve seen the copy of my birth certificate a couple of weeks ago - peeked to my medical record when Cordelia was busy, talking to Mr. Lang. And you know what? There’s only one name at the column “Parents”: Louise Catherine Miller. No father. No mother. No Debbie Ocean. So, you see, I don’t have you. And I don’t need you either.”

“To your room! Now!” the only thing Lou succeeds to squeeze from herself.

Without meeting her eyes with Lou, Dashiell puts her napkin on the table, jumps off her chair, utters polite “It was a great dinner; thanks Cordelia,” and vamooses from the dining room.

_____________

 

* July 2012 / 5 years 11 months ago…

 

The interrogation room is cramped and dark. They question her every fucking day of those five that they have been holding her in the bullpen, and Debbie knows, it means they have no evidences, good enough for the court. For the person who’s popped, she seems surprisingly calm. Actually, she is calm. She still has the tricks up her sleeve, only needs to play them in time. To off the carousel. To run away. To come back to Lou. Patience, Debbie. Patience and calculation, as Denny taught. And you’ll be home.

The guy who enters the room is new. She hasn’t seen him before. He is different. A good suit, expensive wristwatch, polished shoes. Nothing like the cops from the station.

He switches off a small tumbler on the wall and she knows that even if there’s someone behind the broad wall-mirror, they cannot hear them now.

“So, miss Ocean. Let’s talk,” he smiles to her, demonstrating perfectly white teeth, sits at the table casually and puts the folder on it.

“I’ve already talked to the plenty of your colleagues. And the same as before, I’m not saying a word.”

“Miss Ocean, you must understand that mister Becker is a well-known art-dealer, a respectable man. And you are no one. Even more, you are the sister of one of the most notorious fraudster of our time. It is your word against his. I think that court’s decision is rather predictable, isn’t it?”

“And still, you’re here. So, I wouldn’t say that.”

He taps his fingers on the table and sighs. “Okay, miss Ocean. We can do it easy, or we can do it hard. You sign a confession, we accept it as a cooperation with the investigation. Mitigating circumstances, exemplary behavior and voila, you are eligible for parole before you can blink.”

“Or, I’m not saying a word, you finally let my lawyer in, and we are saying goodbye to each other tomorrow.” Her smile is winsome, she is beautiful notwithstanding wearing that fucking dress for the fifth day in row. He admires her discreetly and she knows this.

“Miss Ocean, before you make your final decision, I want you to look through this,” he moves the folder closer to her.

“This is my case. I’ve seen it a thousand of times already. You have nothing. So no, thank you.”

“Even so. I’ll give you some time,” he stands up and leaves the room, closing the door.

Debbie pulls the folder to herself and leafs through the first pages. It is her case. She has seen it a thousand of times. And there is nothing new. And she is already to close it when she opens the next page…

A photo between the pages. It’s an airport terminal. Bulletin board in the background says “Sydney”, 13/06/2012. A little over a month ago. Dressed in the green oversized “Adidas” sweatpants, white loafers, black leather jacket and ‘Marvel’-printed t-shirt, which fits tightly her 24-week-pregnant belly, it’s Lou. Her Lou. With her baby.

Debbie can feel her heart jumping out of her rib cage painfully, her blood pulsing in her ears, both too loud to be able to hear her thoughts. It suddenly seems too cold inside her entire body and too hot in a small room. She can barely breath – the space in her lungs is not enough to inhale and it hurts in her chest. As she takes that photograph, folds it in half, hiding it to the inside pocket of her jacket, her hands are shaking so hard she cannot stop them.

She is a smart girl. It’s a clear, non-verbal message that needs no explanations.

When the guy with a Hollywood smile comes back and starts “So, where were..,” Debbie cuts him off in the middle of a sentence.

“What do you want me to sign?”

And the tower collapses…

Chapter Text

When they finally enter her room, Lou sheds her heels carelessly and throws herself to the bed, making a loud haggard moan and covering her eyes with her left palm. While in New York, with the relaxing, effortless atmosphere of her team, she has grown unused to her mother’s habit of having dinners all dressed up.

Debbie sits on the edge of the bed, slowly undoing the straps of her stilettos. She has been quiet since Dashiell had left the dining room. And to tell the truth, Lou is so extremely jaded with everything that has happened there, she doesn’t think she can withstand one more diatribe.

“What was that?” Debbie’s voice is quiet, almost a whisper, but so as the room and Lou can hear her pretty well.

“For God’s sake, it’s talking!” Lou grumbles in a falsely surprised and scared manner, not pulling her hand away from her eyes.

“Exactly! It’s talking! Who is this creature? Is it even a human? Oh, wait, don’t tell me! Is it a Vulcanian? Have you even noticed as they replaced our baby in the hospital?”

“Oh, honey, you watch too many movies. By the way, she doesn’t even like “Star Trek”. The last thing I know, we’re on the ‘Avengers’ stage now,” Lou’s answer is teasing and their whole conversation sounds like a friendly prank, but of course, it isn’t. Debbie knows Lou too damn well to be aware that it’s Lou’s protective mechanism. It’s not the time and the place for her poker face: they share a room, a bed and, my gosh, a child. That’s why Lou jokes. And that’s how Debbie knows that the topic they’re sneaking up to, is probably hard and painful.

“Seriously, Lou. She speaks as if she is thirty and has at least a ‘phd’ in criminal psychology. What’s wrong with this kid?” Debbie’s eyes follow Lou as she stands up from the bed, pulling of her pants and shirt and slipping into the airy grey-checkered pajama top.

“She’s a spectacular actress, isn’t she? I’d have given her Oscar if they asked me,” she goes to the walk-in closet and returns with another pajama set. Throws it to Debbie, and is ready to escape to the bathroom, but running away from emotional topics is Debbie’s thing and she catches her hand gently. “Lou?”

It’s rather a request than a demand, but Lou stops and slowly clambers the bed, her face to the now uncurtained windows, bringing her knees up to her chin, wrapping her arms around them. “They were arguing if it’s a ‘high-functioning autism’ or ‘Asperger syndrome’. Taking into account the level of her cognitive development, opting for the first.”

“They?” Debbie shifts from the bed edge, moving closer to Lou, hanging on her every word.

“Her doctors. There’ve been plenty of them since she was 10 months old. Endless tests, baseless theories and senseless speculations. One day I just felt they were about to turn our child into a lab rat and told them to fuck off. It’s only Mr. Lang now. He seems normal, you know, even supportive. And we visit him from time to time,” her voice is small, it comes from the deep of her chest. She sounds like a person, who, maybe if not has given up, but at least has tolerated her reality – not mournful, but definitely dismal.

Debbie produces a heavy exhale. “What has happened? Tell me.”

Lou tilts her head slightly, wandering through her memories. She’s been preparing herself to this conversation dozens of times. And still, she’s not ready at all. “I was late for 12 days already, but the doctors kept telling me it was normal and it was just my body’s reaction to stress. ‘Cause, you know, when Danny had suddenly arrived in August, told me you were in jail and I couldn’t contact you anymore, and packed me up from Sydney to my parents’ house, still staying in the area all the time, I was a bit overstressed,” a crooked smirk crosses Lou’s face and Debbie feels like the guilty conscience stabs her in her stomach. “Anyway, the doctors really panicked only on the 14th day, after she had frozen for the whole 10 hours. And they did a C-section. You know, I thought that not feeling her moving inside was the worst. Nope. The worst was to come later.”

“But Danny said everything’d gone smoothly…” Debbie sighs, her eyes searching for Lou’s but the only thing she gets is another crooked smile and blond head shaking.

“Yeah. He had hold her in his hands, kissed my forehead and vanished to New York. The very next day we had the crisis, cardiac arrest and a month in the incubator with the steady beeping of a monitor as my only favorite sound.”

“Why didn’t you tell him?”

“What for?” Lou turns her head to Debbie, meeting her eyes. “Your brother would have sentenced to death half of maternity ward. My brother just deprived them all of their medical practice for life.” Lou releases a bitter chuckle that makes Debbie flinch involuntary.

“What was next?”

“We released from the hospital. She was calm and quiet, almost didn’t cry. Physically and mentally, she had been developing perfectly. At 1,5 she could show me all the possible colours. At 2 she was able to make words from toy letters, at 2,5 – write them with her own, left hand. She was smarter than any of my nephews at her age, and believe me, they were considered as geniuses. Except one minor detail. She refused to make any eye contact with other people. And she didn’t talk. Not a word. No “mama”, no anything. Mute. It was when they diagnosed her autism.” Lou raises her eyes up to the stars they both can see through the window and quotes the doctors in the same manner Dashiell quoted Mr. Lang during the dinner. “‘Neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication.’ Stupid freaks. I quitted all the therapy bullying. My child was smarter than all of them and if she didn’t want to talk, so was it.”

Debbie moves a little more closer, so that their arms are touching now, rests her head on Lou’s shoulder, and Lou turns her face, whispering into Debbie’s hair now. “Do you know how she eventuated to start talking?” a negative shake of the dark-haired head as an answer. “It was her third birthday. A big and noisy party with all the relatives, including Danny, Tess and your parents – yes, I’ll tell you about this later, - and of course, she was exhausted with all of that. We went to her room at 11 pm, but it was about 2 am already, I was so tired and frustrated and just gave up on trying to make her fall asleep instead of looking up at the ceiling. We both were laying on our backs, watching the stars and moons, casted on the walls by her night-light box, and I said her something I could confess only to her ‘cause at her three she was still the only person who could understand me. ‘I wish your mama were here with us.’ And she suddenly jumped off the bed, ran to my room through the bathroom doors, came back in a minute. With your photo from my nightstand. Speechless, I sat down, she climbed on my lap, cuddled to me, burying her face into my neck and hugging the framed picture tightly with her small hands, and just uttered ‘Mama. With us’.”

The edges of Lou’s mouth jump up, spreading into a sincere but sad smile as she remembers how that felt - to hear their daughter’s voice for the first time. And as she smiles, she feels she cannot hold her emotions anymore. “She was talking in full sentences in a week, reading – in two more. Soon she could recite her 12 times tables perfectly and spell better than a kindergarten student. Yes, we still had the eye contact and socializing difficulties – actually, still has sometimes, - but Deb, I swear you, she is nothing but perfect, so much more than we could even imagine! She is caring, and funny, and wise. She has a very strong way. All what has happened today – it’s my fault! I’ve left her for the first time in her life and turned off my phone. And I’ve lied to her about you. She is angry and scared. She is hiding in her box, not knowing how to behave, how to express her feelings. But I know, she loves you so much!..”

Debbie raises her head and, seeing wet trails lowering down from Lou’s eyes, moves forward and kneels in front of her to get on the same level with her. Among the two of them, Lou’s always been more emotional, ready to cry a river over a sentimental film or homeless kitten. But this…

Debbie cups Lou’s cheeks, brushing her tears with her fingertips and feeling the heat behind her own eyes. Wasn’t that worse than prison what she had made Lou to go through by her own? Her betrayal? Her sentence? The endless days when their baby refused to come out to this world. Perpetual hours when she stood still in Lou’s belly. Infinite seconds when her tiny heart stopped beating. Debbie had to be by Lou’s side during the sleepless nights when she was praying the terrible beeping heart monitor sound never to stop. Debbie had to be by Lou’s side when those psychiatric suckers were calling their child disordered and handicapped. Debbie had to be by Lou’s side when their daughter was calling her ‘mama’ for the first time.

She had to. But she wasn’t. Moreover, she was trying to buy off her failures, thinking that all those dirty Met diamonds, all those millions of dollars were enough. But they were not. Will never be.

And, as if even that hadn’t already been more than impossible to forgive, she tried to escape again just like three days ago. To escape from this responsibility. To escape from Lou who had returned to her no matter what. From Lou, who she had pulled into the most dangerous heist. From Lou, who had laid on the line so fragile and precious relationship with their daughter only to bring Debbie home.

This realization hits Debbie all of a sudden, with an unbearable force, opening her blindfolded eyes. The true question for Debbie now is not what is wrong with Dashiell. The true question is what is wrong with herself? Is she even a human?..

“Why didn’t you get out of that shit?” Lou’s voice is small and scratching, tearing Debbie out of her self-flagellation, searching for an answer in her eyes. “I mean, I know why you’ve lied to me about quitting your deals with Becker – I’m not stupid, you didn’t care about him, just wanted to get extra money for us. But why couldn’t you avoid the prison? I know you, Debbie, know how you scheme. You always, always have plan ‘B’. And ‘B’ for this ‘B’. And for any other possible ‘B’s as well. How could you afford any fucking mistake? How could you screw up when you knew we were waiting for you here? What did they have on you?”

Debbie bites her bottom lip and lowers her eyes in the attempt to avoid the question. But Lou bends her head, making Debbie look back at her. “Deb?”

“You,” she extrudes, staring at Lou. “They had you,” and, although the light in the room is dulled, she sees as her words echo with awareness and anguish in Lou’s eyes.

“Oh shit” Lou exhales under her breath. So, that was it. That was why Danny had rushed to Australia and stayed with her until she was safe with her parents. That was why Debbie had blocked her phone number and banned all the attempts to arrange any meeting during her sentence. That was why Debbie had spent five years eight months and twelve days in the slammer. Her protective instinct in all its glory.

“I didn’t know! Why, why didn’t you…? Debs, I… I’m s…” Lou mumbles as she bursts into tears again, desperately gasping for air.

“Shhh. Please, don’t be. Stop it, baby. It’s fine,” Debbie pulls Lou’s face closer to hers, their foreheads touching, her hands stroking her soft light hair. “That was my fault. I had to fix it. And I’d do it again. I’d die for you. For both of you.”

Lou traces her thumb over Debbie’s bottom lip slightly while her other hand runs through Debbie’s arm and shoulder up to the back of her neck. “We don’t need you to die for us. We need you to be with us.”

“I am,” she leans to Lou’s face, touching their noses, “I am with you,” kissing away her tears, “Once and for all” her lips finally covering Lou’s in a kiss, long enough to become dizzy from the lack of oxygen in their lungs.

It’s the noise of music that makes them finally get apart and take a breath. Coming from behind the wall and the bathroom and another wall, it sounds kind of muffled in the space around them. But in Dashiell’s room it must be rumbling like thunder, making the walls vibrate.

Lou tilts her head back, grumbling. “Oh yes, it’s time for lullaby.”

Debbie chuckles at this gesture. Drums, bass guitar and trashy three-piece is the last thing that can be called a ‘lullaby’.

The rhythm is familiar to Debbie. Too way familiar… “Wait. Is this… Is this ‘Muse’ playing over there? ‘Uprising’? Really?” Debbie makes a face, crinkling her nose and Lou widens her eyes in a fake offence.

“What? I’m half English!”

“I’m half German!”

“Huh, here we go. Thanks God!” Lou rolls her eyes, sighing in relief.

“What? Why?”

That finally explains from where in the hell 'Rammstein' got to her iTunes. Not my genes. Not my!”

Debbie nudges her side playfully and they both crash to the pillows, exchanging a loud, silly laugh. For the first time in quite a long time, a truly relaxed and sincere. And whatever hardships they still have to deal with, it feels so fucking good right now.

_____________

 

* May 2012 / 6 years 3 weeks ago…

 

It’s 5 am. Debbie takes off her Louboutins, stealthy turns the key and slips in through the front door of their one bedroom apartment.

The place is quiet and she’s not surprised. Lou’s always been a sleepy-head, let alone now.

She drops both her coat and dress to the floor of the hallway, tiptoes to the bathroom and comes out in a little more than 15 minutes, wearing her silk dark blue nightgown.

She has been outside their temporary small home for almost 24 hours now. Yesterday was one of her mutual jobs with Becker. Not a way too big deal, but relatively bigger than the previous. And the money was good. Very good. So they ended up in his luxury loft-apartment in Manhattan, with a perfect candlelit Mediterranean dinner he prepared – or at least he lied he prepared - by himself. There was plenty of wine – good wine had always been Debbie’s weakness – and a thrill from the perfectly embodied hustle, and Debbie had had none of them since she and Lou returned from Australia in November. So, before she even noticed, they were in his bedroom and… in his bed.

It’s not like she likes him at all. Actually, on the contrary, she is rather annoyed by his presence than enjoys it. But a con is like a drug to her. She needs it. It is what she is good at. And she is always high after it. That’s the only reason she let him get her into bed.

Prowling across their living room in the direction of the small kitchen, she knows she will feel endlessly guilty as soon as she sees Lou. But at this particular moment the only thing that clouds her heavy hangover head is a vital necessity of drinking aspirin. She enters the kitchen, takes a glass and is already drinking a live-giving liquid when her gaze falls on the fridge with an unfamiliar object on it. Not taking the glass from her lips, she makes several steps to the fridge and chokes on the water when realizing what this is.

“Oh, shit, shit, shit” she whispers under her breath while getting a sonogram picture from under the small magnet. The image is black-and-white and fuzzy – of course it is, Debbie, it’s not from Vogue photoshoot after all – but she can clearly distinguish the baby’s silhouette on it. Her 17-week-baby’s silhouette. Little arms and legs. For a second, her heart moves.

But, once again, shit, shit, shit. She’d left yesterday morning before 6 am, when Lou was still sleeping. And her head was so busy with the job she’s totally forgotten about the ultrasound appointment she’d been supposed to visit with Lou. And now she is ready to fall into the earth because of this.

When she enters their bedroom, Lou seems to be asleep on her side of their bed, her face turned to the shuttered window. Debbie slips under the blanket, trying to make as little noise and movements as possible.

“Good you guessed at least to take a shower. You know I’m kinda sensible to the smell of some fucking schmucks on my sheets recently,” Lou’s voice is husky but not sleepy at all.

“You don’t sleep. Why?”

“You had sex with him,” she doesn’t answer Debbie’s question and her own is not a question at all.

Debbie sighs loudly, turning herself to Lou’s back and shifting closer to her. But Lou flinches and Debbie stops her hand before she can touch her.

“Listen, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to miss the appointment. And I didn’t mean to have sex with him.”

Lou doesn’t answer. She is quiet but she breathes heavily and Debbie feels herself a terrible, terrible person.

They are going to have this baby together. But they’ve never discussed their own relationship. Never talked about stopping going out with other people. It’s not like they had anything long-term with anyone except each other, but they had continued dating someone occasionally before Lou got pregnant. At least Debbie had. And she’s never considered it can make Lou uncomfortable. Or even hurt her. Until now.

She moves a little closer, pivots on her elbow, resting her head on her hand so that Lou could hear her better. This is definitely not the best moment and she herself is definitely not in her best state to have this sort of conversations and to give this sort of promises, but what the hell, they are having this baby together. And it is what Debbie aspired to have. And yes, the con is her drug, but maybe it’s time to break her addiction.

“Baby, I promise, I do not ever go out with someone else any more,” Debbie pauses for a second and Lou is so quiet she is not sure she even breathes. “And I quit Becker. This was the last time. Yeah, we don’t have enough money to buy some real estate on the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. But what we have is sufficient to rent some lovely place on the east coast of Australia. I’ve heard they are pretty tolerable to the former-cons-gay families.” She chuckles the last words and they diffuse the tension a bit, and Lou groans “You’re an asshole” in an almost joking way. But Debbie means indeed what she says and Lou knows it.

“You are an asshole,” she repeats in a softer manner, catching Debbie’s hand that is now caressing her blonde locks, and leading it to her perfectly rounded belly. “But this Bumblebee starts whirling like crazy inside of me as soon as it hears your voice. So cool of your child so that I could finally sleep.”

Debbie shortens the distance between them, pressing her chest to Lou’s back and placing her arm around Lou’s belly. “It? You know the sex of the baby already, don’t you?” she whispers into her ear softly.

“Mm-hmm”

“And you won’t tell me, will you?” the moving inside Lou slows down gradually under Debbie’s palm.

“Nuh-uh”

“It’s a girl, isn’t it?”

“Not saying a word,” Lou utters in a sleepy voice, her eyes closing and her mind starting drifting away.

Debbie kisses her temple and rests her own head on the pillows, inhaling the subtle coniferous scent of Lou’s hair and smiling to herself. “Yeah, it’s definitely a girl.”

Chapter Text

They’ve been in the Millers’ mansion for two weeks now.

 

>> Millers’ mansion, day 4 , Monday

Debbie opens her eyes at 6 am precisely.

Despite the general misconception, it is Lou among the two of them, not her, who is frankly quite a good opportunist. Because, you know, the perfect con man, and Debbie is the one, must adapt fast. Yet. Lou can survive on water and bread for weeks (actually, some days Debbie thinks that on water alone). Lou can fall asleep on a shabby mattress in the corner of some abandoned cold warehouse uptown (or hypothetically even laying on the glass shards if she is completely drained.) Lou has no insomnias or migraines; jet lags never haunt her for more than a couple of hours even after the longest flight.

It’s beyond Debbie’s comprehension because Debbie, for her part, is a sybarite. A hedonist, a pleasure-seeker, a bon vivant. Call it whatever you want, but she needs comfort, coziness and luxury. She must sleep in the king-size bed with a mattress of a peculiar stiffness, and for no less than 8 hours. Her morning has to begin with a glass of lemon water, physical training session and organic yogurt (not earlier than in 30 minutes after water.) Debbie is a conservative. A planner. She got used to live her life through the schedule, to put all her business to different shelves with a particular time line and strict order for each. These external comfort and schedule are the fundaments of her inner harmony. And her inner harmony, in its turn, is a cornerstone of her con nature, an integral part of her survival mechanism. When something interrupts it, kicks it out of her control, she is always, always a mess, lost to the world for the whole eternity, trying to pull herself together and to get back to her habitual mode and way of thinking.

But despite this all, despite they had the bloody long journey here, the bloody long day and a half before this journey and the bloody long four days of Dashiell’s silent riot after it, Debbie’s inside clock starts returning to normal rhythm surprisingly fast. One of these recent nights, with her head resting against Lou’s chest, drinking in no sound except for Lou’s peaceful breathing and steady rhythmic heartbeat, she suddenly becomes fully aware of the reason. Once, when they were in their twenties, illegally crossing Mexica/USA border in the back of the old like world truck, bouncing like crazy on every road bump, Lou was peacefully dropping off, curled around Debbie’s laps, and on Debbie’s “How the hell ‘r you doing it?” she grunted huskily “Just don’t give a shit as long as I have you.” And that was it. That’s Debbie’s running reality, Debbie’s verity – Lou is her own one constant in a sea of variables. As long as she has Lou, she can scheme, she can plan, she can deal with the most unpredictable breakthrough or modification in her normal life.

So, she opens her eyes at 6 am precisely.

She slides out from under the comfortable weight of Lou’s arm and leg as slowly and carefully as she can. After all, you don’t need too much to get away out of a grip of a 130-pound-sleeping-person without waking them up – several years of a daily 2 hours combination of jogging, work-out and yoga, and you’re able to perform excellent results.

She pulls on her black silk running tights, gets into the dark-coral tank-top, ties the shoelaces of the motley air-maxes and zips her fleece jacket. Lou sighs audibly and as she shifts under the blanket, the platinum-blonde bangs fall on her eyes, covering her from the outside world. In her sleep, Lou seems so soft and so young, Debbie cannot restrain her desire to touch her. She kneels near Lou’s pillow, moves the luminous locks sideways, her fingertips delicately brushing the side of her face, her perfect jawline. Before Debbie knows, a soft crooked smirk twinkles on Lou’s face and one of her hands simultaneously catches Debbie’s and presses her palm to her cheek.

“Do you really need to go? It’s nasty out there,” she murmurs without opening her eyes, kissing the inside of Debbie’s wrist. “Stay with me.”

“Not everyone has a luxury to eat an elephant and still remain as scrawny as an undernourished elf, Miller,” Debbie’s thumb traces Lou’s nose, from the bridge to the tip and back, as Lou frowns in outrage.

“Not an elephant! And I’m not scrawny!”

Debbie rolls her eyes “Ok, half of the elephant!”

“Half of the elephant!” ‘Elf’ assents as a compromise, with her eyes still closed.

“And whose hip bone was that at night that left a colorful bruise on my inner thigh?” Debbie chuckles and Lou just wrinkles her nose, burying her face in the pillow.

“Anyway, do you really,” Debbie leans to Lou’s ear and purrs in a low seductive voice before to stand up with Lou’s hand still glued around her own, “…really want my ass to become as wide as your Toyota’s boot?”

On these words, Lou slowly lifts her head from the pillow, and with only one eye opened, gives Debbie an appraising up-and-down glance.

“Nah, I like your ass. Get out of here, you’re really irritating...”

Debbie leaves the room with a wide grin on her lips, and walks towards the stairs, scrolling through the songs in her iPhone playlist and ready to put the AirPods in her ears, when she passes by the slightly opened door of Dashiell’s bedroom and stops next to it, hearing the voices.

“Miss Miller, please, you need to put on your dress and go downstairs. You’re supposed to be at the table having your breakfast right now. Otherwise, you’ll be late for your meeting with Dr. Lang.” It is Mrs. Carson, who tries to make the youngest member of Miller family get out of her bed.

“I’m not dressing and not going anywhere until I have my hair braided,” Debbie comes closer to the door, listening and waiting to what is to come next. Mrs. Carson is calm and patient, but the girl’s tone doesn’t promise any success to the old housekeeper lady.

“Miss Miller, it is Miss Anderson who takes care about your hair, but she is coming an hour later today due to her personal circumstances.”

“Then you make them up!”

“But Miss Miller, I don’t know how to plait the braids.”

“Then ask my mom!”

“Miss Miller, it’s 6 o’clock in the morning. Everyone in the house is still asleep. No one will come here to make up your braids just because of your whim. So you need to dress up now,” Mrs. Carson’s voice is as calm and mollifying as it used to be several minutes ago, but Dashiell herself starts sounding more and more frustrated.

“But I need my braids. I always have my braids. I’m going nowhere without my braids,” Debbie peeps over into the room through the gapped door-frame. Still in her pajamas, with her long hair scattered across her tiny shoulders, Dashiell sits cross-legged in the middle of her wide bed. She doesn’t move, doesn’t look at the old woman in front of her, just presses the wooden comb to her chest.

“Miss Miller, I’m afraid you’re staying without your braids today. Let’s just tie your hair in a ponytail,” Mrs. Carson makes a movement towards the girl but Dashiell winces, pressing the comb tighter, hunches her back in a question-mark gesture and starts rocking back and forth.

“You don’t understand. Please, find someone who can do it. I need my braids. I need them. I need my braids…” she mumbles without weeping or crying, but it’s her tantrum. Debbie recognizes it from the stories that Lou’s already told her about their daughter. And Debbie knows she’s not going to stop any time soon. It’s her painful overreaction on the abrupt interruption of her accustomed schedule, which is so precious to her. And that’s how Debbie recognizes herself in her daughter’s actions.

She slowly steps into Dashiell’s bedroom. “I can,” she utters firmly and the girl jerks on her unexpected appearance. “I can twist your braids,” she shortens the distance between them, sits down on the edge of Dashiell’s bed, tilts her head slightly, trying to look into the child’s ocean-blue eyes. “Will you let me?”

There’re several endless seconds of nothing and Debbie can feel her heart racing like insane not even against her ribs but somewhere in her throat. She almost stops breathing as, without a word, the girl slowly crawls over to her, settles herself with her back turned to Debbie and her knees up to her chin, and extends her hand with a comb and two little scrunchies to Debbie.

As she gently brushes her girl’s silky hair along the entire length, breathing the smell of her butterscotch shampoo and trying to memorize the feeling of her fingertips tracing her delicate frame, Mrs. Carson quietly walks away from the room, closing the door behind her back noiselessly. It is the very first time when Debbie and Dashiell are alone together in a room. The first time when they enter each other’s personal space. And, oh jeez, how badly Debbie enjoys it…

When Lou pulls herself out of their room and comes down to the kitchen, Dashiell is already gone to Dr. Lang, and Debbie is waiting for her with an enigmatic smile, which plays on her face for all the daylong.

In the evening, Debbie tells Lou about morning incident and when, with a brief peck to Lou’s forehead and a laconic “That was nice” comment, she slips away to the shower, Lou grabs her phone and texts: “Hi Katy. Schedule update. Starting with 2morrow, ur working day is from 8am. Dash has a personal braid-maker now.”

 

>> Millers’ mansion, day 7, Thursday

They’re nestled against the pillows jumble at the headboard of their bed, with Lou’s both legs crossed and dropped over Debbie’s comfortably. Actually, comfortably for Lou only, because for such a slender person Lou is really bloody-heavy and Debbie starts feeling millions of microscopic needles in her feet already. But she doesn’t care. She secretly – because it would be a shame for her to admit it even to herself - savours when Lou demonstrates her possessiveness regarding her. It’s really nothing in such just-between-the-two-of-them domestic moments, but Debbie feels warm inside at the thought that Lou is not ready to let her go even now.

The light in the room if off but there’s still plenty of it from the huge TV-screen their eyes are clinged to at the moment. Lou truly loves spectacular fiction films, and Debbie is obsessed with good cars and with everything that Lou truly loves, so the first of the ‘Transformers’ series seems to be a good choice for the lazy evening. It’s one of especially thrilling action scenes with lots of loud noises and good quality computer animation, so the newcomer, who’s just stepped into the room, doesn’t attract much of their attention. Only when Dashiell’s silhouette appears right in front of the TV, her back turned to them and her eyes, widely opened, focused on what’s currently happening on the screen, Lou finally notices the child and mutes the sound.

“What’s that?” Dashiell utters, so enthralled by the effects she doesn’t even look in their direction.

“Honey, did you want something?” Lou answers a question with a question, surprised by the fact that Dashiell is actually in their room, while she has been avoiding coming here the whole previous week.

“Uhm… Oh… Yeah,” the girl turns her head towards them a wee bit, her eyes still on the movie, so they can see only the profile of hers, “Cordelia asked to tell you that dinner would be served at 7. Grandpa departed from Melbourne later than he had expected and you know she doesn’t start without him. So, what’s that?”

“Transformers,” Lou drops and Dashiell only nods in acknowledgement.

Lou looks at Debbie, her eyes slightly narrowed under her messy bangs and the corners of her mouth lifting in a tricky smirk as if a good idea appears in her head, and calls their daughter “Hey, Dash!”

The girl neither moves nor makes a sound, magnetically drawn to the fight between Autobots and Decepticons and Lou has to pause the movie and call her again to make her look at them.

Dashiell turns around and her gaze falls downwards immediately.

“It’s not even the middle of the movie, and we still have pretty much time before dinner. So, we thought perhaps you might like to join us?”

Dashiell’s eyes jump up, now shifting between Debbie and Lou. Then she glances at the screen behind her, returns her eyes back to the two women on the wide bed, hesitates as if there’s some sort of a struggle inside her head.

After all, they finally get an unconfident beck as a positive answer and Lou’s piercing blue and Debbie’s dark-chocolate eyes meet for a second, exchanging the look of happiness and…hope? As Lou removes her legs from Debbie and slightly shifts her weight on the mattress to the side, she mentally gives thanks to universe and to her own patience that their girl’s sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights is the sailed ship already. Who the hell is autistic, again? Stupid imbeciles, those doctors.

Dashiell kicks off her shoes, crawls towards her mothers and rests herself between the two of them. The room Lou has just made for her is big enough to fit into and, at the same time, small enough for her shoulders to be touched by their forearms on both sides as if not on purpose.

“So, what team do we root for?” Dashiell crosses her arms on her chest, trying to seem serious and calm, yet her own huge and unblinking eyes betray her excitement.

“Oh, baby, you’ll tell us,” Lou answers with a huge grin, slightly nudging Dash’s side, as the picture on the screen starts moving again.

They watch through the whole film together. Or, in fact, Dashiell watches it without taking her eyes off the screen. Lou watches too, her eyes escaping to the girl or to Debbie from time to time. But Debbie’s eyes only shift between the two most precious faces in her life, exploring their features and emotions, their similarities and distinctions.

Dashiell is cozily nuzzled in the crook of Lou’s arm around her shoulders and her little feet are on Debbie’s lap - the first touch, except her braids making up, they actually exchange. Her body is tensed, because it’s a final battle in Mission City, and as Megatron kills Jazz, her shoulders move forward (talking about similarities) with a ‘No’ gasp on her lips and her fingers cling around Debbie’s hand tightly. Several more seconds, the dark-haired girl on the screen cries out ‘I'm not leaving till I get Bumblebee out of here…’ and on this particular line Dashiell’s back straightens abruptly and both Debbie and Lou hear the clear “Oh shit” jumping off her lips. “Dashiell!” they yell in sync outraged and watch as the girl turns around to face them.

“Bumblebee? I just got that. Bumblebee! Really? It is ‘the Bumblebee’, am I correct?” the dozen of emotions plays on the child’s face and it’s the most uncovered that Debbie sees their daughter since they’ve met. It is astonishment, curiosity, joy, everything but disappointment and both women breathe out with relief.

“Yeah, it is definitely the Bumblebee” Lou utters in a conspiratorial deep voice and quickly adds “But that was her idea,” pointing her finger at Debbie and they both giggle as Dashiell rolls her eyes and utters “Jeez, so childish you two,” in the most dramatic way.

With a satisfied smile, she returns to her place between them and curls into a small ball. They finish the movie and as the closing credits appear, Lou mutes the sound and lowers herself from the reclining position to the same level with Dashiell, tracing her fingers through her braids. “Hey, Bumblebee, you know grandma is gonna kill you for that ‘shit’ of yours?”

The girl moans but then chuckles “She’s gonna kill you for that ‘grandma’ of yours, too,” making the corners of Lou’s lips jump up.

“And she’s gonna kill both of you right now,” Debbie utters while looking at Cordelia who’s just entered the room.

“Thank you, Deborah,” she throws in a bone-chilling manner, “I’ll kill you both and Liam will get me out off. But only after dinner. So go down, please.” She turns around just about to leave but stops for a second. “And Deborah, for Christ’s sake, make your woman do something with her hair!”

“Oh, lucky we are there’s grandpa downstairs,” Dashiell shots in a moment of silence after Cordelia leaves and their chortle grows into the ringing laughter, covering every inch of the room. And, oh jeez, how badly Debbie enjoys it…

Chapter Text

>> Millers’ mansion, day 9, Saturday

Saturday promised to become a great day for them.

They have been lazing in bed until 11am. Of course, first, at 6am, Debbie had managed to plate Dashiell’s braids before she left for her preschool day (needless to say – in a dark-blue three-piece skirt-suit and with a thin deep-purple necktie; gosh, this child’s sense of style is already stunning; what will they do when she’s a teen?). Then came Debbie’s standard sport session. And then, when she was already about to step under the hot water steam to take a relaxing shower, Lou slid into the cabin and joined her. And of course, that shower could be called everything but relaxing. And of course, they ended up in bed. And that’s how they – both of them, - happened to stay there until 11am.

And they would have probably stayed there even longer. But exactly at 11:15 Lou’s father virtually broke into their room with a really amazing – and not really well-timed (“Oh shit, dad! What the hell are you doing here?!” Lou squealed in an uncharacteristically high voice, covering them under the blankets with their heads) – proposal to join him in skeet shooting this afternoon. As later turned out, Cordelia had left to the charity lunch with some of her friends; Mrs. Carson went for grocery with Geoffrey; even Dashiell wasn’t at home. And Mr. Miller, 78-year-old and 6’5” feet Mr. Lewis Miller was simply as hungry and bored as a child.

So, they had their ‘too-late-breakfast’ (with “thank you, Debbie, that’s the most delicious omelet ever” from poor starving Mr. Miller.)

And they joined Mr. Miller in skeet shooting in the field not far from the mansion. And it was a kind of extremely exciting and cognitive experience for Debbie. First of all, because Mr. Miller was huge as a bear, and both Debbie and Lou, in their knee-deep boots without any hills, seemed to be the two little girls under the protection of his enormous frame. Second of all, because Debbie found out that despite of his hard façade, Mr. Miller was soft as marshmallow with his younger daughter and Lou could have literally wrapped him around her finger if she wanted. And third of all, Debbie learnt that Lou had inherited plenty of traits from her father. Like, for instance, irritating people while she was bored; or, or, or, what pleased Debbie especially, his exquisite voice. Oh, that voice! Of course, Lou sounded at least a couple of octaves higher, but yet, her voice had the same tonality, pitch class, and was as purring, deep and velvet as her father’s. And shooting! Shooting was definitely one of those inherited things. Debbie, who was taught how to shoot as a girl of eight, has always considered herself as quite a good shooter. But, apparently, when it came to Lou and shooting, Debbie sucked. Lou held the slim sporting gun gracefully as if it grew out of her hand and she was simply born with it. Her shot missed no clay disk, not even a single one (how the hell did she see them at all through her thick bangs layer?). Debbie caught herself admiring this new side of Lou and thinking that if there was a chance that one day she would happen to need a professional killer for her job, she had the best one already. Because if Debbie would have died for Lou, Lou would have killed for her, by all means. And this awareness was both terrifying and thrilling, making Debbie’s blood cold and the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

The three of them are in the hall of the mansion, a bit tired but satisfied with an excellent entertainment. Lou and Debbie thank Lou’s father for this great pastime, he tells them a dumb old joke about the hunter who goes into the woods to hunt a bear. Lou groans “if mom were here” in a mocked outrage and rolls her eyes but yet they all laugh sincerely as children when the front door opens and Katy comes in, carrying sleeping Dashiell in her arms. The laughter hushes in the blink of an eye. Lou moves forward to take the girl from Katy, but WhatsApp on her phone starts calling. Mouthing “It’s Tammy” to Debbie, she only strokes Dashiell’s back intangibly, throws “Don’t let her sleep too long, we have plans for evening” to Katy with an apologetic smile on her face and retreats towards the living room. And as she walks away, there’s a strange, almost impalpable shift of the mood in the hall. It’s not a big deal and somebody else wouldn’t even notice, but it’s Debbie who’s standing there with Mr. Miller and Katy. Debbie knows people. Debbie reads people as opened books. So she catches as Mr. Miller frowns and slightly lifts his chin in a questioning gesture. She catches a small nod of Katy’s head and captures a short gaze these two exchange, before Katy provides her a bright - but too forced to be true - smile and goes upstairs. The mechanisms in Debbie’s head start rotating with a high speed, because that gaze is full of anxiety and concern and it’s the last thing you expect to see from the person who carries your child.

It’s forty minutes later, Lou and Debbie are in their room and Debbie cannot start a conversation about what bothers her because they’re on the line with New York. It’s still late at night between Friday and Saturday there, and as may be expected, the girls are in the loft, for the first time met together without their mastermind and her right hand. No one but Tammy (well, and probably, Nine Ball, who had to clean all their prints) knows about Dashiell, it’s not the time yet, so when there’s a knock at the door and Katy appears in the doorway, Lou quickly ‘goodbyes’ them all and hangs up.

“Lou, I’m leaving now.” she gives them a pressed-lips smile and Lou just nods.

“Okay. Thank you Katy. Have a nice weekend.”

“Yeah, thanks. But somebody needs to stay with Dashiell.”

“Uhh… I’ve thought she was asleep, wasn’t she? We’re here and the door is opened. I’ll hear when she wakes up,” Lou utters with her brows slowly raising up and a light confusion seeping through her voice.

“She is sleeping, but somebody needs to stay with her in her room,” Katy says as something obvious, but expression on Lou’s and all the more, on Debbie’s faces, gives her a hunch they don’t really understand her.

“Why? Katy, what’s wrong?” Lou’s already on her way to Dashiell’s room, not waiting for the answer.

Windows in the nursery are almost completely shuttered so only a little light sheds through the curtains. Curled in a small ball and covered with a plaid, the girl lays on the very edge of her bed, and Lou’s heart snaps down as she jerks towards her as soon as they enter the room, because Dashiell’s entire body is shaking uncontrollably in her sleep. Even in the dimmed light of the room, they can see the thick blush on their child’s pale face and Lou doesn’t need to touch her forehead to tell that she has a fewer. She sits down near the girl, traces her fingers through Dashiell’s disordered hair (and, oh god, how hot their poor baby is) and a low menacing growl rattles out from her throat. “Katheryn, why the fuck my child is burning like the Cracks of Doom and I don’t know about this until now? How long has it been? Did you call the doctor?”

Debbie lowers herself next to Lou, her own heart racing like a car on Formula One circuit, but her palm lays on Lou’s thigh in a discreet attempt to calm her down. She can literally feel the electricity Lou radiates, but it’s not a good time for freaking out.

“No. We do not call the doctors anymore.”

“What? Anymore? What is that supposed to mean?” Lou snarls and Debbie has to squeeze her knee to make her stay where she is.

“We called the doctors the first two times. But they didn’t help cos they didn’t find anything anyway. According to Dr. Lang, it’s Dashiell’s hyper-reaction on socialization process and, taking into account her particularities, adaptation may take some time. So, usually it’s Mr. Miller who lulls her into sleep and as well as I know, everything goes away next morning.”

The child next to Lou makes a small whimper and starts mumbling something meandering. Delirious in her fever, Dashiell is obviously raving and as the hot tears start streaming from under her closed eyelids down her frowned face, Lou wraps her into the blanket, takes her into her arms and starts pacing the room (“Shh, Bumblebee, easy now, baby. It’s okay”), rocking their girl back and forth.

Usually?” Lou narrows her eyes, locking them on Katy, who’s notably embarrassed about the whole situation. “So, how long has this ‘adaptation’ bullshit been happening?”

“Um… She had her first class in preschool like in a week after you’d left to New York. And it was the first time we had this. After the second, we were told about the reasons of this condition. But Mrs. Miller insisted on continuing because she wanted Dashiell to be ready for primary school this year. So, except last weekend, she had had her preschool day each Saturday, and it makes today the tenth time…”

“Tenth? Jesus…” Lou exhales bitterly and takes her eyes away, holding the child even tighter. She buries her face into the crook of Dashiell’s neck and when Debbie realizes she’s not going to say anything, she tells Katy to go home.

As the door to the room closes, Debbie takes a moment to watch the two figures in front of her.

Barefoot, but still in her skeet shooting tight pants and with rolled-up shirtsleeves, Lou looks unbelievably young and thin. She holds Dashiell, whose bare foot hangs out from under the colourful blanket, in her arms as if she were a newborn. Though Dashiell truly seems to be extremely smaller and tinier than usual, she still must be bloody heavy to hold her this way and for this long. And if Lou doesn’t feel it at the moment because of all emotions and adrenaline rushing through her veins, she will probably feel it tomorrow morning, bitching about her lower back and begging Debbie to ‘do something with this damned pain’.

Lou walks across the nursery, slowly swaying Dashiell back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. She murmurs something into the girl’s hair, now and then kissing her forehead or her nose or her temple. Eventually, the girl’s shivering diminishes, her grip on Lou’s shirt collar loosens, her breathing calms down and her little body relaxes, safely cuddled into her mother’s arms. As Debbie watches this, in her eyes it seems to be the sort of sacred ritual, some kind of invisible sorcery. She can almost feel the connection between these two. She can almost feel how they exchange their love to each other at some unconscious, incomprehensible level, forcing away all the fears, and anger, and despair, and pain. This is something so enormously strong and powerful that Debbie suddenly perceives she doesn’t know if she has enough strength to become the part of this or to bear this.

She stands up and walks to the window to open it and to let some fresh air into the room. That helps. She finally forces a deep breath into her lungs and brings her face back to Lou.

“God, Debbie, she has given her hell through these weeks!” Lou whispers, without taking her eyes from Dashiell, “What’re we gonna do now?”

This whisper is cracked, frightened, and Debbie’s heart tightens up as she overcomes her own fear and shortens the distance between them. One of her hands rests on Lou’s forearm, stroking it up and down while another finds Lou’s chin and lifts it up gently to make an eye contact. “Now, we’re gonna calm down and relax because thanks to you Dashiell seems to be much better. At least she’s not able to destroy the Ring anymore.” Lou sniffs a barely audible chuckle and they exchange the knowing smirk. “And then,” still smiling, but her eyes serious more than ever, Debbie thumbs Lou’s cheekbone “Then we’re not gonna let this happen again.”

There’s a moment of comfortable silence between them when they hear the noise of the car pulling over outside and Lou knows it’s Cordelia who is back home. Lou’s face changes as hundreds of different emotions go through it within a moment and Debbie doesn’t expect it at all when Lou hangs the sleeping child over into her arms in one fluid motion (“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God” starts racing in Debbie’s mind simultaneously.) With the words “Excuse me, wanna chat a little with someone,” Lou surges out of the room.

For several seconds Debbie stands in the middle of the room frozen, not blinking and not breathing at all. Then she shakes her head, regaining her senses. As carefully as she can, she sits on the edge of the bed and slowly crawls to the bed-head, leaning her back to the pillows (gosh, do all the slim people this heavyweight or, thank you very much, she’s been lucky to get the only two raw-boned girls with adamantium skeletons?)

There’re loud noises and yelling somewhere far downstairs and, knowing Lou, Cordelia is in a very, very big trouble, but Debbie doesn’t think about it right now. Right now, she holds her daughter in her arms for the very first time. And what she’s really thinking about it’s if she feels the same way Lou felt when holding Dashiell after she was born. What, again, did Lou tell her, describing their first ‘meeting’? “The first time in my life I felt ‘ineffably’ – so much joy, so much relish, so much happiness. So much love to the person you don’t even know yet. So much love that it hurts, digs deep into the nucleus of every cell of your body. And you don’t belong to yourself anymore…”

After some speculations, Debbie decides that yes, she feels the same. However, at the same time, not at all.

Because, when Lou had their daughter in her arms for the first time, she was just a little nameless bundle and they had her entire life ahead of them. At that moment everything (or at least, the bulk of constants and variables), everything depended on Lou’s decisions and actions. But Debbie has missed five years and nine months of that life. The bundle she holds now is several times bigger and already has the whole unique and complicated world inside herself. This child has no boundaries. This child sets her own rules and laws. And whereas Lou’s word is above all that laws for now, Debbie has no authority even to give recommendations.

Thus, holding her daughter for the first time scares the hell out of Debbie. She knows what the all-consuming love means – she loves Lou with all her essence. But, gosh, lets finally, finally face it – she has never been truly afraid of losing Lou. It’s not that she would have survived it – no, damn it, of course she wouldn’t! It’s that she’s always known that Lou would never ever go. She knew it since that hideous night in one of LA clubs, when, with the words “this one is mine”, she literally jerked drunk-as-a-skunk nineteen-year-old stranger by the scruff of her neck from the stranglehold of stoned Rusty, who had already laid out a thin coke line in front of her. Since that night, Lou has never left her. Every damned time Lou turned her back to Debbie, who moved forward on her own, she would inevitably come back, haunting her even halfway around the world. Debbie has anchored Lou on herself, chained her. Instead of coke, Lou’s got addicted to the Ocean, who had seeped into her bloodstream till the end of the days. And Debbie knew Lou would never walk. And Debbie used it. Because nothing could have changed it. Nothing, except her own flesh and blood. And now, Debbie doesn’t know if Lou still belongs to her if, ultimately, Dashiell rejects her. C'est la vie, my friend. Never say never.

The night-light on the nightstand is casting silhouettes of stars and clouds and half-moons on the walls. One of the crescents falls on Dashiell’s sleeping face and Debbie takes this opportunity to study her closer. Her closed eyelids are a little swollen from crying before. Her impossibly long, black, fluffy eyelashes, with the barely visible grains of salt from dried tears on the edges, flinch every time she sees something in her dream. Her breathing is even, her temple and cheek, firmly pressed to Debbie’s left shoulder, don’t seem to burn anymore. Her plumb baby lips are slightly parted, her left semi-closed fist rests on Debbie’s chest, right above the place where her heart pounces crazy against her ribs and she probably can feel this racing beat vibration through her slumber. After Lou, this human creature, so peaceful and tranquil, is the most beautiful, expensive and precious treasure Debbie has ever seen (and believe you me, she has seen a lot). Dashiell lets out an audible sigh and at this moment, Debbie is abundantly honest with herself: this child has the power to become either the greatest happiness or the death of hers.

The front door downstairs slams like thunder. And when the mansion submerges into the dead silence, by reflex Debbie raises her eyes to the window, listening to the sound of departing footsteps on the gravel outside. Lou and Cordelia’s squabble must have finally ended up reaching an impasse. Lou must have fished up the spare pack of her JPS out of some stash behind the fireplace in the living room. And most likely, she will have not shown up in the next forty minutes, before she walks down to the harbor shore, blows her anger out of her system, cools off, comes back to the mansion and fails in attempt of replacing the smell of menthol cigarettes with the smell of menthol toothpaste. Debbie hates this smoking habit of hers. But at the same time, she appreciates that Lou doesn’t want to bring that rage to the nursery, where their child is sleeping.

“You smell nice,” Debbie hears from below as the small fist squeezes into the fabric of her shirt. Her eyes fall to Dashiell, whose own eyes are still closed, and she stills, turning into the living statue. She wants to disappear into the air, wants to fade into the bed-head, to vanish before her daughter opens her eyes and understands that it’s she, not Lou, who holds her now. Debbie doesn’t want to feel as her relaxed body tenses in a blink of an eye, to see as her soft face frowns as she wears her usual indifferent mask. Doesn’t want to be pushed away. So she doesn’t move, doesn’t make the smallest sound, praying that the child will fall asleep again.

“Mom’s right,” small fingers find the strands of Debbie’s long hair and cautiously interlace with them, “You smell like bergamot, green tea and orange skin.” Dashiell takes a deep breath, inhaling Debbie’s smell, and a light shy grin plays on her face, “I like it.”

Light-headed, Debbie suddenly forgets how to breathe. Both bed and bed-head seem to slide out from underneath her and she frantically tightens her hug around Dashiell not to pass out, making the girl’s grin even wider. “I like it…,” Dashiell repeats, starting drifting away as Debbie’s unsure fingertips caress her brows and nose bridge.

“She knows,” the voice in Debbie’s head rejoices, cries aloud, muting all the other thoughts and fears. “She knows it’s me and not Lou. She knows and she doesn’t freak out, doesn’t jostle away.” This idea spins on the merry-go-round of Debbie’s consciousness until she drifts away after her girl.

When she opens her eyes the next time, she feels the blanket around her legs, finds Lou’s sleeping face buried between her shoulder and the top of Dashiell’s head, and Lou’s arm, embracing both her and their daughter. The curves of their bodies fit so perfectly, and all of this, the three of them, feel so right…

Debbie closes her eyes again and inhales, savoring the subtle and still so intoxicating mixture of scents: Dashiell’s butterscotch, Lou’s vanilla and cedar, and… menthol toothpaste. And, oh jeez, how badly Debbie enjoys it…

Chapter Text

>> Millers’ mansion, day 11, Monday

Irrigation system turns on, signalizing it’s 6:15 am. Through the huge panoramic kitchen window, Debbie watches as small sprinklers disperse water and as myriads of glossing drops land on the dark-green lawn and Cordelia’s mostly pruned rose bushes. At this time in New York, sunrise colours would have been already dissolving in heavenly blueness of morning sky. But here it’s still the civil twilight and it’s still hard for Debbie to process how it’s possible at all to have winter in the end of June.

The smell of fresh banana pancakes, which Debbie now finishes coveting, hovers through the broad space of the kitchen. She takes the last pancake off the stove, when delicate arms, hidden in the checkered sleeves, enlace her waist from behind, crawling under the edge of her lumberjack shirt and meeting on her flat stomach. Lou’s nose gently pushes back Debbie’s deep brown hair, releasing the way to kiss the sensible place between her neck and shoulder, and Debbie wonders if this woman has a spare checkered robe in her every habitation or just carries around the same one.

“Someone here is already waiting for you,” Lou’s morning deep voice vibrates against her bare skin, sending shivers down Debbie’s spine. And before she turns her head and sees as Dashiell scrambles the barstool at the marble kitchen island, she desperately tries to suppress the feeling that starts building deep inside her core.

“The pancakes are ready. You just need to…” she hums into Lou’s hairs, but the blonde doesn’t let her finish, playfully pushing her away and slightly spanking Debbie’s ass.

“…I know, I know, Chef Ramsay. Let me do my job!” Lou groans ‘cause such mornings have turned into their daily routine, so she needs no reminders to do something she knows by heart already: Debbie wakes up at 5:00 am (gosh, how does she even make herself leave their bed at such a ridiculously, impossibly early time? It’s still dark as in the blue whale’s stomach but she never misses her jog.) At 5:50, Debbie enters the shower cabin and walks downstairs to the kitchen in ten minutes, after placing a soft binding kiss on Lou’s temple. At 6:15, Lou drags Dashiell out from under the blanket, pulling on her a couple of warm socks and wrapping her into her robe, raises her over her shoulder and by the time they enter the kitchen, they both are giggling and completely awake. Finishing Dashiell’s and their meals is on Lou, while Debbie makes up the two perfect Dashiell’s braids. And then goes breakfast for three. A very simple scheme. Step by step.

Today ‘finishing Dashiell’s breakfast’ means covering one half of perfectly coveted golden pancakes with the layer of dark-brown vegemite and another half – with raspberry jam, and then connecting them together, which Lou executes within a couple of minutes, although mumbling “where do you even find the place for all of this? and your mom says I can eat an elephant..,” under her breath.

“Hey, I can hear you!” the girl screams from behind and Lou can feel as a small rubber band flies into her back.

Lou takes a glass and turns around, leaning back against the countertop and seeping lemon water, to admire the scene that is happening in front of her.

It’s weird how these two interact. It seems they dispense of language, seems they're sort of transcendent in a way – partly because Dashiell is as stubborn as a mule (or, to be precise, as her mother) and for some reasons still refuses talking to Debbie directly. Lou cannot even imagine how that is feasible, but Debbie tolerates this. Omnipotent Deborah Ocean, who is used to control everything and everyone around her, gets nuts from a child. Almighty Debbie, whose ‘one more word and you’re dead’ kind of look with the slightest arch of her brow, effortlessly pacifies even the most notorious criminals, let alone the irrepressible and only partly adult Constance, tolerates the five-year-old, who is audacious enough not to share a word with her. Of course, ‘tolerates’ in her own way – doesn’t speak with her, too (just as Lou claimed, not as a mule but as her mother. Oh my, these Oceans…) But as it turns out, they don’t need words to communicate on this stage of their relationship.

Dashiell sits on the barstool, swinging her legs in the air, the auburn waves of her hair flow down her shoulders, as she patiently waits for Debbie to brush them (one hundred combings, neither less, no more.) Her brows are frowned in a funny way as she mutely mouths something, concentrated on Debbie’s moves. Lou’s gaze travels from Dashiell to Debbie: in a soundless countdown, her lips are moving too. Her face, perfectly framed with her dark-brown hair and undistracted by an incredibly serious task, entirely mirrors Dashiell’s facial expression. Even with her unaltered braids, with the colour of her hair several shadows lighter than Debbie’s, with her huge eyes cold-blue instead of warm-chocolate, Dashiell usually looks very much like Debbie. But right now, when they’re wearing their hair in the same way and their faces completely reflect each other, ‘looks very much like’ is underestimated.

Lou crosses her hands on her chest, tilts her head to the right. “Like mother, like daughter...”

“What?” the two brunettes ask simultaneously, glancing at Lou and an audible chuckle escapes her lips.

She picks a small black scrunchie up from the floor, gives it a return throw right to Dashiell’s forehead and, with the one-sided mischievous smirk, locks her ocean-blue eyes with the same of her daughter.

“I say, Bumblebee, that with your hair so long and down, you’re a dead ringer for your mom.”

At these words, Debbie smiles and her eyes go down, where her hands already interlace three auburn hair strands, forming a plate. Dashiell’s face is puzzled for several seconds, the wheels in her head rotate, processing the statement. But when her eyes narrow tricky and her lips bent into the lopsided and oh-so smug gesture, Lou can do nothing but look away, shaking her head and failing to hide the wide, tooth-showing grin. Okay, all right, regarding that particular smile, all the credits are hers.

 

Chapter Text

>> Millers’ mansion, day 13, Wednesday

The dark green, almost black ‘911 Turbo S’ pulls over and stops by the front steps to the mansion. Debbie gets out of the car, but turns around to move her passenger seat forward and to extricate a little ‘prisoner’ out from their rear seat. When Dashiell’s high top Converses, as crimson and leather as Lou’s car cabin, rustle against the access road gravel, stomping hard in her running, Debbie admits to herself that it was a pretty brilliant idea of hers to listen to Lou’s advice and to wear her Acne flat boots instead of high heels. Lou’s head appears from the driver’s seat and her lips quirk in a smirk at the expression of Debbie’s face, already so familiar and… accustomed (?), when she’s looking at their girl.

Yesterday evening they decided to take a couple of day-offs for Dashiell, so today the three of them have spent the whole day together in the city. And today Debbie’s met the side of their daughter, absolutely unknown for her before.

Just a couple of days ago, if you’d asked Debbie’s humble opinion about Dashiell’s curriculum, she’d have told you that it was the height of cruelty to arrange such a huge number of classes and sports for this five-year-old bug. So serious and collected, Dashiell Claire Miller is always extremely calm and thoughtful, and Debbie’s quite sure it’s not typical for her age. However, today’s Dashiell, with the perpetual motion machine working inside, is something completely new to Debbie. Today’s Dashiell is worth of a dozen of her peers who’re considered as ‘hyperactive’ children (cause people have no idea, what does ‘hyperactive child’ mean indeed!). So, ask Debbie the same question now, after the first days she’s actually spent with Dash from morning till dusk. “Oh, no. No-no-no-no-no! You can never have too many activities for Dash (thank you Cordelia for those she already has now). Any ideas on what else to add?” she’ll tell you, because now she can bet: in the competition on energy generation between this child and nuclear power station, Dashiell will definitely win.

They’ve scaled the walls in Gravity Worx, bounced each and every trampoline in Latitude, watched ‘Incredibles 2’ in the cinema (first Lou had suggested some con-movie about a group of women who planned a sophisticated heist, but Debbie declined it, assuming this, most likely very layman-story, to be not the best way to represent their profession to their daughter), and finally, visited ‘New York! for Kids’ installation at NGV. In between, they’d had several snack-breaks, and popped by the supermarket before the road back to Wilson Prom, much shorter in Lou’s Porsche than in Tahoe, yet still quite tiresome.

Both Debbie and Lou shuffle their way to the front door and as Dashiell runs them around as Deimos orbits Mars, Lou utters in a just-between-the-two-of-us voice “Honey, your ‘nuclear reactor’ is a misjudgment. I’m afraid it’s the damned Tesseract that is inserted into our child, huh?” Despite the exhaustion and the throbbing headache, she can feel starting to pulsate deep inside her brain, Debbie chuckles out aloud at her partner’s hypothesis. And when she thinks that their daughter could have become a great super-villain when grows up, the front door opens and Cordelia lets them all inside.

They walk into the house (someone actually jumps into), but Lou suddenly turns around on her hills and with the whisper, “Damn, completely forgot,” hearable for Debbie only, returns to the car. Debbie holds the door unclosed, cause she knows that Lou’s forgotten their grocery bags in the front boot and her hands would be busy on her way back to open it.

Dashiell is already on Cordelia’s hip, visibly excited while listing all the places they’ve visited and all the things they’ve done together.

“But, Cor, the best part is still lie ahead. Tomorrow! Tomorrow I’ll be taught how to make the wooooorld’s best brownie!” Dashiell’s eyes broadly open and sparkling when she stretches the last words as if in some fancy commercial, and Cordelia widens her own eyes in surprise. Debbie watches them - always so cold and strict Cordelia, so uncharacteristically soft and easy-going while holding this child in her arms. And it is the very first time when Debbie really notices this. If not the age difference, Lewis and Cordelia Millers’ children could have been mistaken for triplets: all three tall and perfectly built, with similar remarkable cheekbones and jawline, and the same shade of platinum blond hair. But only two out of the three, Lou and Liam, have blue eyes. So has Dashiell. Piercing and glittering, making the brightest summer sky and the clearest Grandidierite look faded, ocean-blue eyes. Cordelia’s ocean-blue eyes.

“Oh, really? And who is going to teach you how to make the world’s best brownie? Mummy?” Cordelia exclaims with the genuine interest, returning Debbie from her discovery back to reality. She sees as Dashiell shakes her head in a negative gesture and glances in her direction. Cordelia’s eyes follow Dashiell’s, she looks straight at Debbie and what she says surprises Debbie pretty much. “Honey, you may not be ready to call your mother ‘mother’ yet. Even so, she has a name and it’s at a minimum impolite and at a maximum rude and boorish not to mention it in her presence. You’re not an ill-mannered young lady, aren’t you?” Politeness. That is how Cordelia, the person almost as closed as Debbie herself, covers her feelings. And that is what she teaches Dashiell to do as well.

On one of the first days of her staying in Millers’ mansion, Debbie ran into Cordelia in the living room while looking for Lou. Sipping on the glass of Penfolds Grange, most probably hardly the first one, and not taking her eyes from the fireplace, in her best manner, imperturbable for anyone else but clearly ‘what-a-lowlife-you-re’ readable for Debbie, she confessed something that sawed the fresh seeds in the field of Debbie’s recent self-questioning and self-doubting. “Deborah Ocean… You’d taken my girl from me. If not you, she’d have come back from that damned New York in a matter of several weeks. But you’ve poisoned her, turned her into a felon. If only not you…” she paused for a second but continued almost at once. “And you’re going to take her away again. Both of them.”

Debbie had always been aware Cordelia didn’t like her, - it was not like she herself was thrilled by the woman - but hadn’t known that that much. “For your information. If not Debbie,” Lou’s voice, hoarse and careless, filled the space of the room and interrupted Debbie’s unsuccessful attempt to produce any adequate reply to the elder woman. As Cordelia sharply turned her head to meet her daughter’s eyes, Lou’s hand landed on Debbie’s waist in a lightweight gesture, pulling her to herself as close as possible. “If not Debbie, I’d have died of an overdose in some shit-hole a year after I came to the US. And if not Debbie, you wouldn’t have had Dashiell. Don’t forget about these two things, mother.” Lou’s palm found Debbie’s and she pulled her away from the living room with her.

Debbie hadn’t had an idea what had scared Cordelia more that day: the realization that her perfect family reputation could have been tarnished or even completely destroyed by the dead drug-addicted kid, or the fact she could have both lost her beautiful ocean-blue-eyed daughter and never to have her only dark-haired grandchild. Debbie hadn’t had an idea, up to last Friday, when Cordelia not only demanded Lou to attend some great charity gala ball in Southbank Theatre she hosted herself, but also insisted politely on Debbie’s presence there, too. In Cordelia’s world that meant everything. The acknowledgement, which inflamed the cream of Melbourne’s society: Lizbeth Miller-Wright attended event with her husband Kevin, a prominent senator of the Australian Parliament; Liam Miller was there, accompanied by his beautiful wife Elsa, a model and film producer; Louise Miller’s companion at her mother’s gala ball was a gorgeous brunette, Deborah Brown-King – introduced as a renowned New York art critic (yeah, of course, ‘art critic’), Louise’s daughter’s co-mother, and, her common-law relationship partner. So, if Cordelia Miller wanted her daughter to know she supported her every decision, it was difficult to find a more obvious way to do it…

Dashiell’s voice sounds so small and timid as she murmurs to Cordelia that Debbie literally cannot believe her own ears. “Yeah, I’m sorry. Debbie’s gonna teach me how to bake this brownie which mama likes so much. She says it’s the yummiest thing she’s ever eaten. And we want to make her happy, so we’re gonna bake it tomorrow.” Dashiell. Sounds timid. Really? A five-year-old kid, with a cheap on her shoulder, who is capable of being shy. Who is actually able to experience and demonstrate normal human – childish! - emotions. Is it really the same child?

“You two will definitely make me happy by going to the bathroom and preparing for bed right now,” Lou enters the house and, as Debbie supposed, her hands are full with shopping bags. She heads towards the kitchen with a perfectly serious and severe façade but at the last moment stops to fix her eyes on those who’re in the hall. “I’m not clear. Are you still here? Upstairs! Now!”

Debbie approaches the two Millers ladies and as she purses her lips trying to hold on her smile and her right brow cocks in the ‘We’re powerless against her, just obey’ gesture, Cordelia transfers the giggling girl into her arms. When they climb the stairs up, Dashiell’s legs are wrapped around Debbie’s waist, her little hands are connected behind Debbie’s neck and her chin is nuzzled into Debbie’s shoulder. Every time Dashiell exhales, Debbie can feel the ticklish warmth of her breathing on her skin. Every time Dashiell inhales, filling her lungs with O2, her diaphragm rises, pressing slightly closer into Debbie’s chest and Debbie can swear that for these several short seconds she can feel Dashiell’s heart beating against her own. This simple rhythmic process of her child breathing in her arms makes Debbie’s fatigue retreat from her body, replaced instead with the renewed feelings of energy, interior equilibrium and euphoria. It is this weird creature who has been making her smile all the day long, who pours the warmth of her little body into Debbie’s, releasing a flood of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins into her bloodstream. It’s their daughter. Her daughter. And she really, really wants to hold her this close on every step of her life…

Lou is in the kitchen, unloading their bags and sending all the foodstuff to their places, when one of the two iPhones on the nearest kitchen cabinet vibrates with the WhatsApp message. Their WhatsApps are on US numbers, it’s midday in New York and it must probably be someone from their girls’ bunch. She glances at Debbie’s phone since it’s the one buzzing, and the name on the screen makes her brows frown immediately under her bangs. She unlocks it, – of course their ‘apples’ recognize both of their faces, - looks through the message and it’s very likely she is not happy of what she sees, because the words that escape her lips when she grabs the smartphones and jerks away from the kitchen, sound suspiciously like swearing.

She runs upstairs two steps at a time, passes by the closed door to the nursery and noiselessly walks into the bathroom through their bedroom, hoping not to catch up with Dashiell. And really, she finds Debbie alone. Changed into her homey clothes, with her sleeves rolled up and her hair collected into the messy ponytail, she’s sitting on the stone-edge of the huge bathtub, filling it with hot water, adding bubbles and preparing everything to give a bath to their daughter.

It’s so easy for Lou to distinguish any mood of Debbie’s. She is the only person in this universe who can clearly tell when Debbie’s mischievous smile, sparkling eyes and nonchalant naughty behavior is nothing but the ‘perfect-con-artist-mode’ on. Deborah Ocean may be fabulous as she slays everyone who she has her eyes on (including Lou, always Lou, because, no matter how big the heist is, Lou is the only thing Debbie has her eyes on indeed and thus she has no chance to resist). Debbie’s oh so stunning appearance may be seasoned with the intricate speeches, carved by the sharp silver tongue of the most assertive person, who manipulates people, making them do what she wants without them even knowing. But when her part is perfectly performed, her back is perfectly straight, her grin is perfectly wide and shit-eating and dazzling, when she radiates self-confidence as if she owns this whole fucking world, Lou just stands next to her, ready to catch if Debbie falls. 

But, this Debbie - so domestic and relaxed, with her mind not busy with exquisite and sophisticated scheming, and her shoulders not burdened with the consequences of her own decisions and deeds – this Debbie is such a rare, almost endangered phenomenon that for several lingering moments Lou cannot make herself to give away her presence. She just stands at the doorway, admiring the moment, which, she knows, will be completely ruined as soon as Debbie sees her facial expression. Because Debbie knows her so well, either, and the news she’s going to tell her isn’t favorable at all in their current very-inextricable-situation. But Lou must do it before Dash is here, so eventually, she makes several reluctant steps towards her brunette, and she has to take a very, very deep breathe, because when Debbie raises her head and her dark-brown eyes fall on Lou, her lovely smile fades away from her face in a split second.

“What?” Debbie doesn’t need to make any effort to decipher Lou’s body language to know something is very far from okay, however as her woman swallows hard still pretty silent, she has to raise to her feet towards Lou and repeat her question. “Lou? What?”

“Problem,” the only thing the blonde finally manages to spit out and it’s almost nothing from this usually eloquent person, but when she extends her the unlocked iPhone, nervously threading her thumbs through her belt loops as Debbie takes it from her and reads the message, there’s no necessity of further explanations to realize that ‘problem’ is actually catastrophe.

Debbie’s thought she would never experience that feeling again. When the heavy still cell door closes behind your back for the very first time, yet being the safest object in you surrounding, whereas the small space in front of you is swarming with the most disgusting creatures, who in fact were collected in the same cell as a special ‘greeting present’ for you, the only thing you can really feel is the pure, irrational, animal fear. You’re on the edge of panic attack because, while terror scratches and claws into every inch of your body at the speed of light, panic is everything that truly exists. Your mind and your body detach from each other as if being the two opposite banks with the whole fucking Amazone river in-between. And when you’re frantically trying to make logic and composure regain their power in the first one, the last one refuses to obey, slowly and painfully implying self-destruction as a perfect way of killing you without your cellmates even touching you at all. The lump in your throat blocks your respiratory system, making your every next inhale harder and harder and harder, until almost impossible. The knot in your stomach invokes nausea even though you haven’t eaten anything for the three days already. Not telling about your heart, which oscillation amplitude fulfills your entire chest, seeming to break your ribs to hell. Your limbs are jelly and weak and soon you find yourself convulsing and suffocating on the dirty floor of the slammer, surrounded by several convicts who regret you’re probably dying, without their assistance.

Debbie’s thought she would never experience that feeling again. But she feels this fear right now. And though she knows it’s ridiculous, because it’s far from one and the same: to go behind the bars and to disappoint expectations of her own daughter, yet she can do nothing when her legs are trembling and she starts collapsing down and down and down.

 And of course, it’s not the same. And that hits her when she’s suddenly on the bathroom floor, but instead of being dying alone she is in Lou’s arms, her face cradled in Lou’s palms, Lou’s fingertips flickering the tears Debbie hasn’t even noticed coming. Her temple is pressed against Lou’s lips and Lou’s muffled whisper seeps into her ears, aspiring nothing else but to comfort her. “Shh, honey, easy. Calm down. Breathe. It’s gonna be okay. It’s not the apocalypse. We’ll explain her everything. And she’ll understand.”

Debbie is not able to tell a word, just raises her face slightly, staring into Lou’s bottomless ocean eyes as Lou repeats that mantra again and again, not sure who she tries to convince indeed. “We must tell her, Deb. We must and we will and she’ll understand,” Lou utters one more time and Debbie is quiet but her head is shaking as everything inside of her is screaming and screaming and screaming. ‘No Lou. No Lou. No, Lou, she won’t. She won’t understand, baby. She won’t…

They are so much into each other, they do not notice as the door to the bathroom opens and they both jerk on Dashiell’s quiet but sudden “You must tell me what?”

It’s a moment and another and another one, and Lou just blinks on the child who’s standing in the middle of the bathroom in nothing but one of her own Marvel t-shirts - are her t-shirts marked as ‘put me on’ for her two brunets or what? - staring at them cautiously, her small bare feet on the cold marble tile floor. And Debbie just doesn’t even dare to avert her face from Lou and to face their daughter, to meet her questioning look. She’s just desperately clutching at Lou’s sleeves, trying to prevent her from speaking, but she can almost palpably feel Dashiell’s gaze shifting between them as the girl utters again, more demanding this time. “Mama? What’s the matter? Is something wrong with Debbie? And what do you need to tell me?”

Lou’s lips quickly touch Debbie’s forehead as she jumps from the floor, releasing herself from Debbie’s grasp. She’s already pulling off her black skivvy, staying in her jeans and skinny singlet, while tottering through the soft fabric of the collar in such a forgery cheerful way that Dashiell’s dark brown brows frown even harder. “No, baby-girl. Mommy is Okay. She’s just very tired. So, let me give you a bath while we’re chatting here.”

And although Debbie has somehow managed to get it over, to raise from the floor, to place herself on the ottoman in the not far corner of the room, her eyes fixed on Dashiell now. And although Lou has somehow managed to slip on her nonchalant façade, squeezing out one of her brand dazzling smiles. And although the two superb cons of our present are doing their best to con a five-and-a-half-year-old… that all is such a bare deception that only an idiot would believe in it. And as well as they know, Dashiell is far from an idiot. In her mothers’ best manner (some things are just inscribed in her DNA no matter how hard they try to shield her from their criminal world), she notices every detail: the barely visible tears traces on Debbie’s pink cheeks, the remains of shivering in her hands she almost succeeds to hide by clenching her phone to white knuckles, the absolutely not-smiling eyes on Lou’s shining grinning face, the way she protectively crosses her arms on her chest (trying to protect who from whom?)…

Of course, Dashiell notices all those details, her brain whispers they are lying to her and Debbie is everything but okay. However, when Lou cocks her head towards the bathtub in the inviting gesture, she only nods obediently, letting her mother help her take off her clothes and get into the warm embrace of water and bubbles. As Lou starts watering her hair, she only clothes her eyes, prepared to listen. Because, in the first place, Dashiell is still only a child. And no matter what, she craves for their love. And this day was so great. And she’s desperately trying to persuade herself that they have no reasons to lie to her. And that she did nothing wrong to upset Debbie that much…

“Bumblebee, do you know what parole is?” Lou’s voice is soft and smarmy as she pours a little shampoo and foams it in her palms before to lather Dashiell’s hair. The girl thinks for a moment, but just for a moment.

“It is a release of a prisoner before the completion of the maximum sentence period under certain conditions,” – she rocks solid and Lou is not surprised at all. Well, that’s only a start. Why do they need Google at all when they have Dashiell?

Certain conditions, like what?” the next question Lou murmurs, while she massages caramel shampoo into their little girl’s long auburn strands, which, while wet, seem to be as dark and chocolate as Debbie’s.

“Hm…Like… Like to avoid the company of any person who has any criminal record. Or not to leave the state. Or to find a job, and pay the bills, and be a diligent member of society.”

“You know that your mother is on parole. What does that mean for her?” Lou brings the showerhead closer, slightly tilts Dashiell’s head back and lets the water flow, carefully flushing the foam.

“That means she is forbidden to see uncle Danny. Or to be here, in Australia with us,” she screws up her eyes tighter and scrunches her nose when the stream escapes from the water flow right to her face, and that funny facial expression finally turns Lou’s smile into the real and sincere one. Her child is relaxed. Her child, usually so tensed and anxious, is not afraid to sit in the middle of the full bathtub with her eyes closed. Because she’s not afraid. She trusts them. “But technically, she breaks no rules. Because, technically, uncle Danny rests in peace. And, again, technically, Deborah Brown-King has nothing in common with Debbie Ocean.”

That comment makes the corners of even Debbie’s lips jump up slightly. The gears of Dashiell’s brain machine swirl correctly: she seeks loopholes, bypasses pitfalls. She schemes. She swindles. She cons without even knowing, without being taught to this art. That’s their girl.

 All this time Debbie’s been watching them. Watching Lou bathing their daughter, carefully, gently, softly, with no rush. If not her panic attack, she would have been on Lou’s place right now, but she’s not. And she’s neither envy nor jealous. It was she, not Lou, who’s always been a ‘mentor’, wise and experienced, in their relationship. Always and in any sort of their relationship. But not here. Here Debbie loves watching them. Loves to learn how to be a mother for Dashiell from Lou. Loves how these two completely change while they’re around each other, in each other’s space. This shift may be impalpable for all the other people: they seem to be the same Lou and Dashiell, pranking on each other, teasing each other, pushing each other’s borders like equals. The same Lou and Dashiell for the whole world, but absolutely different for Debbie only. Her Lou and Dashiell. Believe it or not, this is her personal sanctity. And if not the tension of expectation, not that bad feeling, floating over the bathroom, this moment could have been perfect for Debbie.

“But what if they find out? What if somehow, they know that your mother is here? That she’s violating the conditions of her parole?” Lou’s voice is soft but firm when she asks these questions casually, meanwhile repeating her ministrations of lathering girl’s hair for the second round. “Do you know what is to come then, Dashiell?”

As Lou utters the last question, girl’s bright eyes flutter widely open as if she’s not afraid of shampoo getting into them anymore. Her scared stare shifts chaotically from Lou to Debbie and back. When she finally processes her answer, fixing her eyes on Lou, she is nothing but small and timid – something completely alien for her. “She will be returned to prison.” It’s barely a whisper.

Debbie swallows hard. She knows what Lou is trying to do, because Lou’s always been the only person somehow capable to manipulate Debbie Ocean when she really needed it. Lou makes Dashiell watch inside herself. Jump her own hurdles, leap her own fences, penetrate her own walls. Just following her through the holes she pokes in those walls by herself, Lou frightens Dashiell, making her finally ask herself what she really feels to Debbie. By drawing her this perspective, this possibility of losing her mom, she also gives her an opportunity to choose her reaction on the information they’re to splash on her. But without any true choice in reality. As the person who herself hates to accept her feelings, Debbie doesn’t think it to be fair, so as Lou is sick of the necessity to intimidate their child. But, indeed, does Dashiell or do circumstances give them any other option?

“Do you want me to be returned to jail, Bumblebee?” Debbie makes her move, entering Lou’s game, her voice slightly husky after her body’s failed attempt of self-suffocation. It’s actually the first time Debbie refers to Dashiell directly since their uneasy dialogue during that dinner, omitting their ‘cat-and-mouse’. Dashiell blinks blindly, her eyes lock on Debbie’s, then suddenly drops her gaze down on the water surface. She is noiseless. She is thinking. She is delving in the depth of her mind, rummaging in the perfectly folded and streamlined rows of her feelings, while her eyes trace the iridescent-white foam as if looking for the right answer in any of thousands and thousands small bubbles. Both Debbie and Lou almost stop breathing, waiting to hear the answer like their lives depend on it. And if to think about it, that’s partially true, because Dashiell’s answer may or may not tip the scales in their favor in this whole situation.

After several moments, which seem to stretch into the whole eternity, Dashiell exhales loudly, puffing through her coupled lips, and shakes her head. “No. Of course I don’t. You know that, Debbie. It’s absurd!”

They look into each other’s eyes a bit stunned, because this is the first time Dashiell answers Debbie’s question directly since that dinner, and it already sounds like a dialogue, and Debbie’s eyes glitter like dark stars when Dashiell’s lips crook in a sweet lopsided grin, which is definitely destined to her.

Gotcha! Lou’s trap shut…

“Your mother and I need to come back to New York. We are leaving on Saturday.” It’s Lou’s voice, which comes like a thunderbolt from the blue, giving birth to the pure silence. Debbie can swear she hears like the drops from Dashiell’s hair fall down on the water surface and like the tiny soapy bubbles explode from the contact, when, as if in a slow motion, a smile disappears from Dashiell’s baby face and she brings her eyes from Debbie to Lou, flabbergasted in disbelief.

“We don’t want to, honey, I swear. But we’ve just received a message that your mother’s parole officer was to come the following Monday,” Lou continues, keeping herself cool but trying to explain everything as good as possible. She wants to tell her that this fucking Debbie’s parole officer is already almost as rich as they are only for sending them these messages with the dates of his visits. But it’s the only thing they’ve managed to get from him: to know when Debbie has to be in Lou’s loft. And yet, Debbie must be there. Otherwise, they would take Debbie back to jail, away from them. Lou wants to tell her all of this, wants to convey to her that that’s not their desire nor fault of theirs. “The whole thing would take a couple of days, may be a week, tops. And then we’ll come back to you. I promise.”

Dashiell is quiet again, her huge eyes staring at Lou without blinking, and from her facial expression, they cannot even be sure if she listens to Lou at all.

“Bumblebee,” Debbie raises from her place, extending her hand so as to touch the girl, but all of a sudden, Dashiell closes her eyes, takes a sharp breath, letting the air to fill her lungs, holds her nose and goes under the water…

Do you know those crappy ‘free-trial’ conundrum games from any app store for any mobile operating system? Those ones, where you need to gradually solve a puzzle after a puzzle after a puzzle, open the door after the door, looking for the clue to every next riddle, until you find some sort of a golden Easter egg and win the game? Those ones, where all the tasks are so various and complicated that, when after the row of mind-blowing tasks you face the really easy one, you relax just a little, not even knowing about some trick? But of course there is a trick, and you make a wrong step and you slip up. And theoretically, you should have been saved on your previous result, but that’s the damn ‘free-trial’ and all the doors slam all at once in your face with the terrible resonating ringing sound. And you need to start from the very beginning because you are bullheaded and you want to get to that fucking Easter egg at all costs.

The four hands immediately sink into the water and yank the child to the surface in one fluid motion.

“Are you insane?” the girl cries out at them, pushing away their hands, “What do you think you’re doing here?”

She rubs her eyes from water, while the two grown-up women stare in a daze at her, their hearts drumming somewhere in their ears. “I think I can handle it from here. You can go, thank you,” Dashiell turns her back on them, hiding her face, her head and shoulders wilted so that they can easily count her spinal cord bones.

Lou is the first to recover. “Dashiell, did you…”

“Yes, I’m not deaf, I heard you,” she snarls and that comes rougher than the child can allow themselves in the conversation with a parent. “You’re leaving this Saturday. That’s fine. Now let me finish here, please.”

They walk away from the bathroom – there is no sense to argue right now. Both lost deep in their thoughts, they sit on the opposite edges of Dashiell’s bed for quite long. Because it takes the teeny ‘three-feet-six-inches’ almost forty minutes to finish bathing themselves, to get out of the bathtub, to dry themselves with a towel which can be wrapped around them trice, to dry their long naughty hair with a hair dryer which weighs almost as much as they.

Therefore, it’s not surprising at all that when Dashiell finally enters her bedroom, her auburn hair is a half-wet messy bird nest, her muddled slivers suspiciously reminding Nine Ball’s dreadlocks. That view would have caused smiles on their faces, but not now, when she mutely bypasses both of her mothers, cuddles under her blanket and pulls it over her head.

Debbie nervously raises her feet from the carpet, her knees up to her chin. Although fidgeting on her rings, Lou just patiently waits for their daughter’s next actions and when she’s already going to break the silence by saying something, the girl releases from the covers and sits, crossing her legs. “It is her parole officer, isn’t it? She must be there, not you. Why do you need to go?” Dashiell stares directly at Lou, her childish features serious and calm; however, Lou can see her fear through the uncovered breaches of her newly built fences. Lou scratches the surface, trying to find the widest gap, to make her words slip through it. “Your mother is a coward chicken – she’s afraid to sleep alone, never goes to bed if it’s empty. You have the whole army of teddy bears, your grandparents and Katy with the bodyguard license by your side, but your mom has only me. You won’t let her die from insomnia, Bumblebee, will you?” Lou winks at their daughter, slightly pinches her foot under the covers. Tries to laugh it off.

But Dashiell doesn’t seem to give up so easily. She straightens her back, levels her chin in parallel with the floor, narrows her eyes on Lou. “You’re afraid!” she spits out as an unexpected assumption, but Lou’s neurotic, stuttering and laughing “Wha…? What? For god’s sake, of what?” just exposes this as a matter of fact to Dashiell. She makes a face in a sudden realization and chuckles. “You’re afraid that she won’t come back. That she’ll escape. Disappear. Vanish. Lurk.” The fleeting dumb expression on Lou’s face makes Dashiell burst out in hysterical laughing. Who has to delve in their feelings to Debbie now?

Raising her voice is far from Lou’s communication style, especially from her and Dashiell’s bonding habits. But this behavior of her daughter’s she doesn’t expect, so she’s not even angry. She’s furious, barely controlling herself as she roars “Stop it!”, jumping out of bed. Her rational self knows that this is how Dashiell’s protection system works, that she has already lied her once and now the girl was just frightened of the story to repeat itself. Lou is aware her daughter is just a child, children are cruel by their nature, and it’s not Dashiell’s fault that she is who she is. But with that, it’s not Debbie’s fault this time either. Just an hour or something ago Lou was holding the suffocating Debbie in her arms on the floor of their bathroom, barely trying to shake off her fear. So Lou knows who is really terrified right now, that’s why, perhaps, for the first time, she doesn’t take Dashiell’s side, doesn’t try to understand her.

The flow of poisoned swearing is already spinning on her tongue when she feels Debbie’s palm on her shoulder. And all the anger and fury are drained from her in an instant.

“I don’t ask your opinion or advice,” Lou utters tiredly and quietly, shaking her head. “I just bring it to your attention.”

Debbie’s fingertips slide down her arm, their fingers interlacing, as she starts walking Lou away from Dashiell’s room. “Good night Dashiell,” Lou almost whispers over her shoulder, following her brunette. Of course, they receive no answer.

Only when both in the corridor, Lou already pulling the door to close it, hears she “Lou,” and freezes. Because this ‘Lou’ coming from her daughter instead of ‘mother’ is like a shot in her head, making her heart drop to her stomach and a sudden wave of sickness overpower her. “I’m afraid I’m not in the mood of cooking brownie tomorrow. You know, just bring it to your attention.” Lou and Debbie’s eyes meet… And all the doors slam all at once in their faces with the terrible resonating ringing sound

…….

“I can hear you thinking, Ocean.”

It’s way past midnight, they both don’t sleep. But Lou mostly because Debbie has been twisting and hustling in their bed since they’ve turned lights off.

“How can you be so calm? It’s really irritating.” There’s the childish resentment in Debbie’s voice and Lou relaxes a bit more because childish Debbie is a good sign.

“You are spiralling too much. She can’t escape a submarine. She’ll accept it more or less after all. If not for you then for me, and that’s enough to begin.”

Several seconds of silence. Sheets rustling. Shift of the weight on the mattress. On her side, Lou cannot see but feels with her back: Debbie sits up.

“Why do you need to do this?” Lou’s expected this question yet hoped not to hear it. She turns so as to lie on her back, waiting for Debbie to continue. “Why do you need to go with me?”

“Baby, you’re living in my property. I must be present to approve your staying there is legal. And besides, won’t starting a family with a diligent member of American society be an advantage for your parole profile? You know, I do really pay taxes regularly.”

Lou’s fooling around, but that’s a partial truth, at least the one she’s gonna tell her parents. But Debbie exhales loudly and Lou knows that’s not what she meant.

“Is she right? Are you really afraid that I’m going to run away?”

It’s Lou’s turn to take a deep breath. “Do I have reasons not to be?”

Well. That’s fair. Another bunch of mute seconds. Although beating in different bodies, their hearts are accelerating in unison, as if competing of which one is to stop the first, for not it is about them to discuss things like this. Or, to be exact, not about Debbie, because she had been hearing Lou’s ‘Iloveyou’ every night and every morning and every afternoon before she went to jail.

“Because I love you?”

That sounds awkwardly, clumsy, quietly, and yet, that sounds aloud and Lou raises herself from her side of the bed, kneels right in front of Debbie and even makes an attempt to blow away her bangs to be able to see the contours of Debbie’s face in the moonlighted darkness of their room.

“Is it a question? Because I’m not sure you even know how to answer it.”

Lou doesn’t expect any sincere answer from Debbie. She got used to this state of affairs years and years ago. Because it’s Debbie, and Debbie always shifts the topic if it touches her feelings somehow. Debbie doesn’t make confessions about her feelings. Debbie doesn’t accept her feelings at all, because Debbie thinks that whoever you love, that is your weakness. And Debbie Ocean does not have ones.

But although Lou doesn’t expect it, Debbie shortens distance between them, her index and middle fingers carefully remove Lou’s blond hair behind her ear. Her hand cups Lou’s cheek, while another one shifts to the back of Lou’s head, pulling her closer and sending shivers down Lou’s spine. Even in this darkness, Lou knows that Debbie is shaking her head (cause her long storm of hair tickles Lou’s shoulders and forearms), that Debbie is smiling at her with one of her ‘only-for-Lou-limited’ smiles (cause she cannot see the curve of her lips but sees the glimmer of her black-in-the-night eyes). Lou can smell her bitter-sweet fragrance, can feel the heat radiating from her body, and her head is already fatally dizzy when she finally hears Debbie’s voice.

“No-no-no,” almost impalpable brush of Debbie’s thumb against Lou’s bottom lip. “It’s not a question,” their foreheads touching. “I know that,” Debbie’s lips on Lou’s. “I know that for sure,” tracing down Lou’s jawline. “I love you!” an exhale into Lou’s ear. “I love you!” the light pressure on Lou’s chest. “I love you!” Lou’s spine back against the pillows.

Distance doesn’t exist between them anymore. Neither between their bodies, nor between their minds or souls (if you believe humans have ones). They’re not the two people but the coherent whole, only the universe knows how that possible at all, because it is its playing tricks that weave the soulmates out of some supreme space substance.

“I love you and it’s the only true thing I know I can believe in,” the last thing Debbie mouths when she breaks their contact for the last time for this night, only to renew it in a second. Before she thumbs Lou’s tear from her porcelain cheekbone. Before Lou kisses away her’s. Before they absorb each other like till the end of time.

Chapter Text

_____________

                

* Apr., 14th, 2012 / 6 years 2 months ago…

 

Debbie’s key set is already inserted in the door lock when she stills it half-turned, presses her ear to the door and listens. The cold metal surface slightly vibrates against her skin in some unfamiliar beat, making the corners of her lips curl in a wide smile. Music

 She doesn’t need to open this door to imagine the scene she’s going to encounter in a minute: windows and balcony door shutters are down, living-room lights are off and the whole studio space is lighted only with the changing YouTube video, flickering on the huge LED-screen and the narrow stripes of above-the-counter fluorescent lamps of the kitchen; some extraordinary play-list compositions fill every corner of their flat like water fills the vessel (it’s definitely something new as far as Debbie doesn’t recognize the rhythm); Lou is somewhere around the kitchen - it’s too late for the house-cleaning and she’s already finished her picture so she’s not in her ‘study’ on their roomy glazed balcony - most likely cooking something, wearing her dark-green boxers, oversized ‘brooklyn’ hoody and ludicrous striped knee socks; while she’s conjuring up some most delicious dinner, her slender body sways, perfectly matching the music.

Music… Lou and music. Music and Lou. These two are almost as inseparable as Lou and Debbie, because Lou has only two forms of existence in this world: she is either with Debbie, or her blonde dishevelled head is crowned by the massive white Monster Beats when she’s not. Lou loves music. It’s in her veins, deeper than even conning. Not only it’s her passion, but rather an integral part of her primordial nature inserted into her DNA and, knowing that, Debbie always makes sure her girl has only the best ‘toys’. Dr. Dre Wireless is Debbie’s present. As well as the 65-inch Panasonic screen and a pair of Diablo Utopia, which appear on the wall and in the corners of their new apartment living-room even before all their boxes are unpacked and all their things take their places.

...

They moved in here several months ago. Their old two-bedroom apartment was a ‘renovated’ warehouse, with dark brick walls, uncovered harsh concrete floors, questionable heating schedule and permanent disruption of hot water supply. The rent only cost a penny, and, spending most of their lifetime somewhere else, conning and scheming, sharing far from king-sized beds in the numerous faceless hotel rooms, they were completely indifferent with that discomfort. Until one day, after the split-up coming back home from some small scam, they got caught in a rainstorm and Lou was drenched to the skin (of course she was, because of course someone was too stubborn and arrogant to take a car and chose to ride their bike instead). When Lou stormed into their loft, her teeth chattering and body shaking under the cold heavy leather of her jacket, they’ve suddenly faced an ‘unexpected’ fact that air temperature in  their apartment should’ve better been higher than in the morgue, and that it had to be much more comfortable to get hot water from your own pipeline than by boiling a small kettle for the tenth time in a row, while water in the bathtub slowly gets colder. Predictably, Debbie wasn’t able to warm Lou up the whole nigh no matter how hard she was trying and how close they were. Predictably, Lou not only caught a cold but earned a pneumonia as well. And as if that didn’t sound bad enough, it should have also been mentioned that she was already in her early pregnancy. So, after the three-days-fevering Lou ended up taken by ambulance to the hospital without a hint of proper health insurance or real ID; after the endless sleepless night spent fighting against the bunch of night-shift doctors to let her stay in the hospital bed cuddled around unconscious Lou, whose hands, even in this condition, were one clenched onto Debbie’s collar and another wrapped protectively around her own stomach; after the visit and severe reprobation from their prenatal caregiver and reminder that, although this time they were lucky because Lou’s body was strong and healthy, she was not a young girl (she was always one for Debbie, but hell, guys, really!), all that was not a joke at all and Lou had to take care about herself for the baby’s sake; after all of that shit happened to them within a couple of days Debbie finally (finally!) realized they couldn’t continue living their life the same way they had been living it for the last soon-to-be-twenty years. So she spent another night in the hospital fully awake, with Lou’s fragile body frame nestled into her, stroking Lou’s short blonde hair, listening to Lou’s even breathing, feeling the warmth (the warmth, thanks god, not the heat) of Lou’s body, not taking her hand away from Lou’s still  flat stomach, and thinking and planning and contemplating their new life. And in the morning, when Lou was taken to her endless medical tests and examinations, Debbie made a call, met with Danny and that same afternoon found them both on the threshold of their parents’ house.

Unlike Lou, who, although being among the three heirs of one of the richest Australian families, had some only to her known things about ‘I don’t need their money’ (in fact, no wonder at all with all those over-insistence from her parents, permanent comparison with her perfect elder sister, responsibility for her younger brother and so on and on and on), Debbie had no problems with asking her parents for help and support. Of course, she aspired to prove the whole world that she was worth of ‘Ocean’ name, but yet and still…

Debbie was the youngest child in the family of Anna and David Oceans. She used to have almost all the same perks that all the youngest children in ordinary families usually had. Except, of course, her family had never been ordinary, neither had Debbie. Debbie was the youngest child in the family, which suffered through the three miscarriages in seven years since Danny had been born. Debbie was the youngest child who was born a year after 15-year-old Damien, the eldest of the two Ocean boys, had got into some bad things and died of an overdose just a month before their father was paroled. So, Debbie was a long-awaited youngest miracle child, some sort of remedy and salvation for her parents’ wounds. And although they didn’t mention the eldest of Oceans’ children too often now, it was because of Damien that Danny was so overprotective of his little sister and so intolerable to drugs. Because of Damien, the same night Debbie dragged some drunk to death blond kiddo, who seemed to be barely 16, into her and Danny’s shared hotel room in LA, muttering “saved from Rusty. Please, just let’s keep her safe. Please!”, Danny found his best friend and bet him almost to death and stopped working with him for the whole year, until Rusty was clean as glass from all that shit. That was how Oceans got ‘baby’ Lou (the fact she kept saying she was nineteen didn’t mean she started looking like that) into their family and almost lost Rusty. But that was another story to tell.

So, the Oceans adored and were ready to support both of their girls. And although Debbie usually felt her own responsibility to solve all their with Lou problems by herself, not involving Lou or her parents (because, 1st, she was 4,5 years older and 2nd, she was an Ocean), this time, when she already allowed the pregnant Lou to get to the hospital and god knew how that could have ended, she swallowed her pride, came to Danny and their parents to finally tell them about the child and to ask for help.

In a week, when she picked Lou up from the hospital, she brought her to this new place of theirs (which was not rented but, thanks to Debbie’s parents’ help, really belonged to them). And then, while still weak but happy to be finally away from the hospital Lou had been looking around the place with a wide grin, Debbie announced her that from now, for the safety reasons, Lou was forbidden to participate in any cons. And to ride any other vehicle than a car. Preferably, with Debbie on the driver’s seat. That didn’t sound like a recommendation. That sounded actually like an order. Compulsory to performance.  “Not to con… not to ride your bike...” – had been reverberating in Lou’s head, replacing excitement from their new home. And of course, Lou was furious. And of course, Lou was arguing and yelling and storming frantically across the apartment, because “nobody, nobody tells me what to do and what not to do!” And then she hadn’t been talking to the brunette for the whole three days. But contradicting Debbie was a nonsense sort of idea (especially when Debbie was right) and in the end, Lou had nothing to do  but to obey. The same day she shuffled out from their bedroom, in a warm fluffy baby-blue pajama set, settling herself next to Debbie on the bed-mattress from their old flat, which served them now like a temporary sofa, with her knees up to her chin level and her face nuzzled into the crook of Debbie’s neck, grumbling “‘kay, you won,” Debbie bought those over-expensive tv and audio system – the least she could do to keep her restless girl from being bored to death.

Debbie finally enters the hall of their apartment, the door noiselessly closing behind her back and a small smile never leaving her face. Fragrance of something totally delicious is floating over the living room space. This ‘something delicious’ is still in the oven, but it smells fantastic and meaty and the small glass table in their small kitchen is served for two (with candles and flowers and serviettes and cutlery) and she smiles because she was right about Lou preparing dinner for them.

Their TV is indeed on, there’s indeed YouTube broadcasting from the screen and as Debbie quietly walks closer to the sofa in the middle of the living room, the names of tracks from the playlist, which are better  distinguishable now, make her recall in her memory their recent conversation and Lou’s firm ‘no’ on Debbie’s suggestion to listen to the classical music to improve the baby’s brain development. “No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no, Ocean. There’s no way I’m gonna ever listen to /this/! Don’t even try! And we don’t need this bullshit anyway ‘cause Deborah Ocean’s child has no chances to grow into anyone except genius. It’s inevitable.” Debbie listens to the music more attentively and smiles. Because, although it’s some renewed cover version, with more modern sounding and cadence and instruments, it’s still Prokofiev, it’s still classical and it’s still from Lou’s ‘no way ever’ list.

The next to the sofa floor lamp is switched on, Lou’s light-haired head is seen from behind the sofa cousins and even if she cannot see the whole picture, Debbie knows that Lou has her shabby massive-framed glasses on her nose bridge, her knees up, feet covered with the soft blanket and there’s one of her weird, totally unreadable for Debbie books, opened in front of her face – so close that six more inches and she can draw with her nose between the letters on the pages. Debbie similes to herself but makes a mental note to a) take Lou to the ophthalmologist for the new glasses, b) break Lou from her round-shoulders habit. 

 Without making a noise, she approaches the blonde from behind. Her first intention is to make some sort of teasing comment about “no way for classical music”, but she stops at the last moment, keeping her mouth shut. This baby is not even born yet but Lou’s already refused from so much for them – the last time she held the cigarette was before they first stepped into the door of the perinatal center, the last time she rode her bike was before she got the pneumonia, and the last time she had a chance to steal something was… well, that was just yesterday, during their shopping session but the stolen blue-ray DVD of the latest Transformers doesn’t count as a con of the century, doesn’t it? And now she’s listening to Prokofiev. Holy fork… Her Lou and Prokofiev. Is that even possible?.. So, instead of mocking, Debbie leans over the slouched slim figure on the couch, kisses the top of Lou’s head, nuzzling into her hair, and inhales deeply. As always, her heart misses a beat and the world stops for the moment. Vanilla and cedar… Her oh-so bitter-sweet flaxen-haired angel…

“How’re my girls doing?” Debbie’s hands travel down Lou’s shoulders, her forearms, stop above her perfectly rounded stomach. Lou is halfway through her pregnancy, but her belly is still the only part of her body through which she puts on weight and Debbie has no idea what else to feed her to remove  her from ‘skin-and-bones’  weight range.

“You are impossible, you know that Ocean?” Lou turns her face to Debbie, shoving glasses to the top of her head, mutters into her cheek. “Why do you continue insisting it’s a girl? You don’t know that yet.”

Debbie kisses the edge of Lou’s nose, breaks their contact only to walk around the sofa, place her purse and a small paper bag on the coffee table and to land herself next to Lou.

“Just think,” she softly straightens blonde’s long legs onto her laps and starts massaging her feet slowly. “You are taller than me. Liam is like 8 inches taller than you are. Can you imagine me trying to make the 6’7’’ feet sixteen-year-old Hulk to wear his hat in winter, to eat broccoli or to be at home no later than 10pm?”

Lou’s eyes squint and brighten, her firm shit-eating grin flourishes on her face, growing gradually into the most infectious giggling. And that’s how Debbie knows that yes, Lou can very well imagine that whole situation and even finds it extremely entertaining. As Debbie makes a fake pouty face, “Hey, not funny at all,” and pokes her knee slightly, trying to hold her smile, Lou raises her hands in capitulating gesture and shakes her head, trying to stop laughing.

“Okay, okay. Just promise me that you won’t abandon him with me if it’s a him. Cause I’m afraid it’s not subject to change and return, so Liam won’t take it back, and I’m quite a shitty version of a mother. We both will starve to death eventually.”

“Honey, of course I won’t abandon him. You’re missing the options. Even if it’s a “him”, my child is gonna be handsome. We can use him as a model. Or put him into film-industry.”

“Right. You’ll sign contract with Marvel for the baby Thor TV-show. That would be legendary.”

Now they both are laughing out loud, not even trying to suppress the chuckling. It’s sincere and good, but at the same time nervously a little, cause they are still scared to death, dancing around this baby topic and not got used at all to the thought that this child is a reality and not just a game. Reality that’s gonna change their lives.

“So how was your lunch?” Lou finally evens her breathing, a wide smile not leaving her face.

“Fine,” Debbie wipes away tears from the corners of her eyes, traces of laughter still echoing in her voice. “That idiot showed up in disguise and in a couple of glasses with the ridiculously huge lenses, and half of the lunch I was trying not to burst out laughing at his failed attempts to catch the food on his own plate. But that was nice. I missed him. And he says hello to you.”

Debbie smiles at the warmth she feels while recalling their lunch with Danny this afternoon. He’s been hiding somewhere from another criminal bosses for several months now, and she hasn’t seen him the whole time. But today is different. Today is her birthday. And no matter what, Danny always, always shows up on her birthday. 

“Why took you so long? You are an hour and a half late,” Lou interrupts her thoughts and nods at the dark crimson paper on the coffee table. “And since when Danny steals Cartier with the gift wraps?”

Debbie squints her eyes towards the object on the table as her hand unconsciously reaches the watch on her wrist – a real present from her brother. The paper bag is Cartier indeed. And it contains a Cartier - a thin golden four brilliant-cut diamonds bracelet. And it’s a present, too. She pauses for a moment and inhales a bit deeper than intends. “It’s not from Danny.”

Debbie can physically feel the lightning shift of the mood in the living-room, can almost see electricity sparks that start flickering around the blonde’s body, and although Lou’s “Oh…” is totally calm and indifferent (god, this woman is Debbie’s best chef-d'oeuvre and thereby her worst punishment), her body betrays her as her legs yank off, trying to escape from where they rest on Debbie’s knees.

“Lou,” Debbie tightens her grip around Lou’s ankles – hard enough to keep them where they are but not too hard to leave the bruises. She wants to explain. She’s not obligated to, but she knows Lou is vulnerable now and she doesn’t want Lou to worry without a reason. “It’s nothing Lou. I was already going home when he called and asked me to meet. He picked me up, we had coffee, he gave me this present and I left. Like I said, nothing. Just a job.”

“Yeah, it’s nothing. Right,” Lou makes another attempt to take her legs away from Debbie, to folder them under herself, curling up into a small ball in the corner of their couch, but fails because Debbie doesn’t let her go. So she just continues, a little rougher than she wants to admit, tells a little more than she otherwise would. “It’s nothing, it’s a job, but it’s a job with him and he gives you presents that I could never afford because I’m here all the days long and I cannot participate in our… in your cons and it’s killing me and…” she takes a breathe to continue but cannot finish this flood of words, to form them into some remotely logical speech, because while spitting this all out she didn’t notice Debbie rolling her eyes and shaking her head in slight disbelief, but Debbie’s right hand is away from her ankle now and instead her index and middle fingers are on Lou’s lips, preventing her from telling anything else.

“Lou, I don’t need his presents. We can sell it, give it to someone else. We can throw it away, I don’t care.” Her voice is calm and confident and her dark brown eyes are fixed on Lou’s icy-blue, trying to enhance the effect of her words, to convey to Lou something that even these words cannot. Debbie’s hand wanders from Lou’s lips up to her boyishly cut hair, gently stroking her fingers through it, moves down the side of her face, cupping her cheek and caressing her cheekbone with her thumb. “You have nothing to worry about ‘cause this job is nothing compared to what you and I have been performing before and will have been performing together for the rest of our lives. And his present is nothing compared to your ‘cause the present you gave me is the best among those I received this year.”

Almost simultaneously their eyes travel to the far corner of the living-room where Lou’s present is standing, waiting to take its place on the wall, and Debbie smiles. It’s her portrait. Her portrait in oils on canvas stretched on a frame. Her own portrait in oils on canvas stretched on a frame and painted by Lou. She knew Lou has been preparing something for the last couple of weeks,  turning their balcony  into the study and carefully hiding this something from Debbie. Debbie promised she wouldn’t peek and she didn’t. And when this morning Lou dragged her out of their bed and, with the edges of her lips shyly curled, let her unwrap the huge flat present, Debbie was speechless.  She has never known this side of Lou. The only thing Debbie was good at was conning. But Lou… Debbie could never imagine that even here, locked in the four walls of their apartment, trapped from everything she got used to do for her living, Lou would be able to create something that spectacular. No one has ever painted Debbie before. No one could ever paint her with the same striking resemblance because no one knew and would never know Debbie as well as Lou knows: her every mood, her every smile, her every glare, the every glimmer in her eyes, the every curve of her lips and every crook of her brow.

Debbie turns her face back to Lou, tilts her head slightly so that to look directly into Lou’s eyes – wants the blonde to hear her. To hear her really, fully, without any misunderstanding and understatement. Lou stares at her without blinking, her eyes huge and a bit frightened, and she looks almost like a girl Debbie first met so many years ago: disheveled, insecure, twitchy, assailable and panicked.

“The present you gave me today - is the best among those I received this year. And the present you’re going to give me soon,” Debbie’s smile widens and gets warmer as she brings her hand from Lou’s face and rests it on Lou’s stomach. “The present you’re going to give me will be the most wonderful gift I can receive in my whole life…”

They are quiet for a moment, for a couple of synchronous heartbeats, and Lou finally breathes out the air she didn’t even know she was holding in her lungs. Her hands reach Debbie’s hand on her stomach, starting playing with it, intertwining their fingers. She throws her head back to the cousins and growls in frustration. “Ugh, I know. I know that’s ridiculous and immature. But I can’t help it Ocean. Your child makes me jealous and possessive and whiny and grumpy. I wanna cry and laugh and do wonders and destroy the world. And it all at once. And your coffees with this jerk do not help at all, you know?”

Debbie chuckles quietly and brings Lou’s hand to her lips, places a  lightweight peck on her knuckles. Pregnant Lou is something: so sweet and soft and childish… Debbie has known this person for almost two decades but she still appreciates that Lou can afford herself to be this  honest and vulnerable only with her.

Carefully, not to hurt Lou, Debbie changes her position – she lies down on the sofa, nestling herself between Lou’s body and back of the couch and hooking one leg over Lou’s in her striped knee-socks. Their sofa is huge, so there’s plenty of room for two (or soon for three) and Debbie’s face is on the level with Lou’s stomach, her arm gently wrapping it from underneath, resting her palm on the opposite side. She starts whispering something almost noiselessly, but the music is off for a while now and Lou can hear each and every word, uttered in the quiet of their place.

“Hi there, little Bumblebee,” Debbie mumbles into the side of Lou’s belly and Lou giggles because it’s ticklish and because Debbie talks to her stomach and because Debbie started calling this baby ‘bumblebee’ yesterday after the movie and continues calling it this way now. “I just want to remind you that, even not yet born, you are the most precious and wonderful being in our lives. So please, stop being jealous for no reason. And stop manipulating your mom’s hormones so that she’d stopped harassing me.”

Words jump down from her lips almost unconsciously but she’s aware of what she’s just said because Lou’s hand hovers above her head where it was caressing Debbie’s shoulder-length chocolate hair only a second ago. She’s aware she’s said “in our lives” and “your mom’s” because Lou’s body all tenses up and she can feel Lou’s heart rate accelerating like the spaceship engine against her tiny ribcage. Debbie’s aware it’s too much and she went too far, and it’s only “Lou, I’m so sorry I didn’t mean it” when she clings away from Lou’s body and leans on her elbow to raise herself from where she is, but there’s a sudden “Shush…” and she glances at Lou, whose facial expression is absolutely new and uncharacteristically indecipherable for her. Debbie opens her mouth to tell something but Lou shots “For god’s sake, shut up Ocean,” grabs her hand and leans it back to her abdomen and in that moment everything inside Debbie falls down and all the universe stops its existence because in that moment the whole universe exists only in the movement inside Lou. The first movement inside Lou ever.

And they freeze this way – Debbie’s palm and ear against Lou’s belly and Lou’s hand above Debbie’s - for several endless minutes until someone inside Lou calms down and stops moving. And even then, when Debbie kisses the top of Lou’s tummy and nuzzles herself into Lou’s side, she’s afraid even to breathe let alone to tell something else. However, Lou’s “Debs, I…” breaks the silence and Debbie raises to her knees, still voluntarily trapped in-between Lou and sofa back cushions, debates for a moment but starts talking herself. Because she knows, that’s not what they agreed about. She knows that’s extremely selfish and unfair to ask and that Lou’s terrified with this all because Lou’s not ready and Lou’s not even supposed to be ready, and perhaps, Lou doesn’t event want it. But Debbie herself is scared to death because this movement inside Lou is real. This baby is real, and no matter how much she wants it, she’s oh so much afraid to go through this on her own. And it’s her birthday. And Lou could never say no when Debbie asked.

“You know. I did. I did mean what I said, Lou.” Her fingertips find their way to the place where the hems of Lou’s hoody and boxers meet and trace the velvet porcelain skin of her stomach. Her brown eyes wander over every inch of Lou’s body, over every surfaces of the living-room, everywhere but Lou’s face, averting the smallest chance of meeting Lou’s eyes and that’s how Lou knows that no matter how playfully and nonchalantly Debbie is gonna sound now, this line of hers is the most serious one because Deborah Ocean hides her eyes only when talking about ‘them’.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while. About this baby. About the way I’m going to raise it. About the fact that it deserves a family with the two normal parents…”

Debbie quietens for a moment as if trying to pacify her heart, to coordinate her thoughts, to choose proper words. Alarmed of what can come next, Lou throws, “And who is the first normal one? Or you’re giving it up for adoption, after all?”

The joke is lame and rough and Lou’s almost sorry for not holding her tongue behind her teeth but still, a roll-eyed smirk and a slight pinch from Debbie make her smile in return and the whole awkward tension between them breaks a little.

“What I’m trying to say is that may be, this child deserves to have in their life a person, who carries them under their heart and sleeps with their mother,” the last words earn the quiet “Ahem…” from Lou and a skeptical arc of blonde’s brow so Debbie corrects herself in an instant. “…Okay, okay, with whom their mother sleeps… and whom their mother… cares about… Deserves to have you in their life… as their… other mom?..”

 Finally. Debbie finally pours this out and it’s like a confession and purification and a mount off her shoulders. But not for long. Because when she manages to bring her eyes back to Lou’s face, it’s Lou who now averts her gaze and cannot find her place on the couch, fidgeting on the only ring she keeps on wearing even at home. The ring that Debbie stole for her in Paris, years and years ago – a simple white gold nail, wrapped around her middle finger.

Debbie’s fingertips touch Lou’s, her palm cover’s her hand and she closes her fingers around Lou’s wrist, her thumb searching for Lou’s pulse point so that to feel her heart-beating. The heart beating that seems to exceed the norm at least twice.

“Lou?,” Debbie whispers when her other hand finds Lou’s chin and turns her face towards herself. The sharp-blue eyes, those, which are capable both to enchant and destroy her to the ground, look up at Debbie.

“Are you sure about this, Deborah?” Lou’s voice is low and husky, thick with the accent her girl normally manages to disguise so well. “Have you really thought this whole thing through? Do you ask me about it?”

And it’s now that Debbie knows she’s lost. In their relationship, it’s Debbie, who is in charge. Debbie, who is the strong one, the mature one. It’s Debbie, who chooses directions, makes decisions and takes responsibility. Who knows everything and controls everything. But this side of Lou, this mind-numbing combination of this look in Lou’s eye and this shade of Lou’s voice, if only for a moment, but this makes Debbie feel small and obedient. And in moments like this, the most candid revelations click in Debbie’s head.

It’s not like they are into women, or they are into men. It’s not like they are into anyone at all apart from each other. In spite of all the madness inside each other’s heads, they match each other, functioning like the scales in equilibrium.  Though, even this equilibrium has never been equal. You ask how it can be. Just imagine the following: the scale over the water, with the two cages and two birds opposite each other. The balance seems to be perfect, the only trick is that one of the birds is on her cage, and another is in her cage. And the one on the cage can fly away any moment. But the second one… The second one is trapped and is gonna die, drown in the water…

Debbie knew the blonde kiddo was into her since she saved her from Rusty. Danny had been joking that now Debbie turned into a planet with her own satellite. But only in several years, when she left Lou for a couple of months scam in Europe, realized Debbie the fact that Lou was that second bird. Everything seemed to be going smooth, that foolish royal boy was in love with her and Debbie actually was having fun with all that story. Until one day, in about a month and a half, Danny called her (and Danny never called her during her job because job was first. Always. Well, almost always.) “I can’t help it. She doesn’t listen to me. She’s uncontrollable and self-destructive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sober recently. I don’t know what she eats and if she eats at all. I tried to distract her but she refused to assist in my jobs. I tried to lock her but she slipped through my fingers every time. And it gets worse - she’s been fucking with Rusty, for god’s sake. If you don’t want your girl to kill herself, Debs, you need to come back.” And Debbie left her job without a second thought and came back to New York with the first flight, and dragged Lou literally out from Rusty’s bed. She brought her to her own flat (“You know which drawer is with your stuff, don’t you?”), bathed her from head to toe (“Fuck Lou, when was the last time you combed your hair?”), finding at least three new tattoos on her body (“Why not on your forehead so that everyone could see you’re an idiot?”), fed her (“Gosh, I can count your ribs and vertebras. If you were going to starve yourself to death, there’re many less painful ways for suicide, you know?”) and put her to bed (“Do you even remember how to sleep? Because those bags under your eyes haven’t appeared for one sleepless night.”). Debbie was in Europe not even for two months. But it took her more than two months to repair the damage. To make Lou start eating again, without throwing up all the food. To bring Lou’s sleeping back to some semblance of schedule, returning day and night to their proper places in her biorhythms. To draw all the alcohol (and god knows what else) from Lou’s blood and, when the things were bloody bad, hold her tight, pressing her delicate breaking frame to the mattress with the weight of her own body. It took Debbie more than two months to collect all the shatters of Lou back together and even though her smile finally started shining on her face, her laughter started rattling deep in her chest and her bright-blue eyes were clear and sparkling again, she still was following Debbie like a shadow and panicked every time Debbie had to go out. Thus, one day Debbie collected Lou’s stuff from every place where she spent her time while Debbie’s absence and moved it to her flat. That was almost thirteen years ago. They both had their lives, fucked with other people. But yet, always returning to each other beds. And since that time they haven’t parted for more than two weeks.

Are you sure about this, Deborah?” reflects in Debbie’s head and she knows what this question is about. Lou’s tolerated her own role of the ‘second bird’, accepted it like her only possibility to co-exist with Debbie because as practice shows, she starts dying without Debbie anyway. And even now, holding all the cards, Lou gives Debbie chance to escape, chance not to trap herself in that cage. But it was a long path for Debbie – to come here. To understand that not only she’s ready to get into the cage across from Lou, but to turn the tables, to let Lou become a bird on the cage. Because for the first time in almost twenty years, she’s really afraid to lose her, ‘cause she  knows: Lou is a wild soul and what she’s asking about can be too much even for her, no matter how much Lou loves her.

“Yes, I’m sure about this. Yes, I thought and thought and thought about it. And I don’t want to think myself out of happiness anymore. And yes, Lou Miller, I ask you. I ask you to become a second mother for my child you have been carrying for me.”

And this all may scare the shit out of Lou, because her pulse under Debbie’s thumb seems to triple, but her facial expression suddenly shifts (and now, after the second time she sees this face, Debbie knows it’s probably because the baby must have moved), she inhales deeply, closes her eyes and the corners of her lips break into the most beautiful smile. “I love you, Ocean. I love both of you. And if you ask me to step onto this path together with you, I’m happy to join. Because anyway, if you thought you two can get rid of me, you were wrong.”

And Debbie’s entire face lights up. Because it’s Lou. Lou is sincere. Lou doesn’t say anything if she doesn’t mean it. Lou doesn’t fake anything if she doesn’t feel it. Therefore each and every Lou’s revelation is so much important for Debbie.

She pulls Lou closer and their lips touch in a soft, tender kiss. The kiss that makes Debbie know that she was never so happy in her whole life. And Debbie is ready to lean back to Lou on the couch, to intertwine their limbs and to make the time stop at this moment, but the oven timer beeps and Lou stands up reluctantly, taking Debbie’s hand and leading her to the kitchen. And they take the Beef Wellington out from the oven and it’s delicious and perfect as well as the whole dinner and as well as everything made by Lou. And after lunch, when the dishes are left for the dishwasher, Lou takes Debbie’s hand again and walks them to their bedroom.

“Ask me nicely Ocean,” the barely audible whisper, which sends shivers down Debbie’s spine, electrical shock through all Debbie’s nerve endings and enveloping fog among Debbie’s thoughts. And Debbie asks. With every touch of her fingertips. With every kiss of her lips. With her every exhale against the silk of Lou’s skin. With her every whisper against the pulse point under Lou’s chin… She asks and asks and asks. And it doesn’t even matter what for because now Lou would have jumped off the highest cliff and into the deepest abyss if only her Ocean asked her. Now Lou would have gone to outer space without any oxygen, because Debbie is her air.

When afterwards they are lying skin to skin, cuddled together under the blankets in their bed. When Lou is already asleep, nestled comfortably into Debbie’s side, and Debbie can sense the warmth of her body and can count her even peaceful breathes. When Debbie’s hand travels down Lou’s body: from her naughty hair, to the prominent shoulder blade, freezes for e second above her solar plexus – to feel the soft chattering of Lou’s heart – and finally stands still on Lou’s belly. When Debbie waits and waits and waits and her (no, not her but their now) baby finally moves slightly under Debbie’s palm, Debbie knows for sure that this is the best birthday she could ever dream of. And this is the only place in the world she wants to be now. And this is the only person she wants to raise this child with.

Chapter Text

>> Millers’ mansion, day 14, Thursday

 

Lou rubs her eyes and stretches over under the blanket, snarling like a malcontent feline and sending a signal to her body to wake up. It’s 6:00 AM, the sky outside the curtained windows is still fighting to pass its late twilight and although the space in bed next to her is already empty and cold, through her slumber she can still remember places where Debbie’s lips touched her skin just like an hour ago: her temple under the bangs, the slight crook of her nose, her bottom lip, the cavity under the angle of her chin where it flows into her throat. Now, after what happened yesterday, Debbie is back to her everyday routine. And Lou is okay with it because it’s Debbie’s coping mechanism. So at least on this battlefield, the fight is suspended and everything seems to be fine.

She gets into her robe, which is waiting for her at the foot of her bed (Debbie keeps bringing it from the bathroom every morning and leaving it there, within arm’s reach, because Debbie knows how desperately Lou’s body trembles from cold, especially when it’s a question of getting out of bed in the morning), hides her bare feet first in the knee socks and then in the soft slippers and shambles herself out of the room.

Lou doesn’t know what she really expects to see when, while passing by the slightly open door to Dashiell’s room, she stops and instead of making her way towards the stairs, walks through the doorway. Does she want to see Debbie and Dashiell both cuddling and giggling in Dashiell’s bed as if Debbie is a normal mom back from the two- or three-weeks business trip to Shanghai or wherever, and Dashiell is a normal child who’s sulking for her absence but is already bribed with a new Christmas-scale toy and a monthly supply of favorite sweets? Does she want to join them in the nest of stuffed animals, blankets and pillows, covering Dashiell’s back on the other side of her bed, which is huge even for the tree of them, but which edges turn into a threat to their daughter as soon as she starts demonstrating her acrobatic abilities? ”Mommy, look what I can do!”… C’mon, Lou. Do you really believe this ever gonna happen? Do you really believe Debbie is capable to ever stop her race, to finally settle down and to become a ‘normal’ mom? Do you really believe Dashiell is capable to ever understand Debbie’s ”the job first, then pleasantries”? To ever forgive her for always choosing a con over the two of you? C’mon, Lou. That’s the ridiculous and naïve thing to think. You have known this woman for the whole half of your lives - nothing has ever been able to make her change her preferences… You gave birth to this child, she’s been raised in your family, being treated as if she were the center of their universe – nothing will make her tolerate the fact that she’s not the one in the universe of her other mother. Didn’t you stop believing in miracles many years ago?

These thoughts swarm in Lou’s head like at home, because of course, there’s no one in the room when she enters. She needs a couple of minutes to calm down, to banish this frustration from herself so she doesn’t even notice as she seats on the edge of Dashiell’s bed. Her fingertips tiptoe over the neat and tidy made up blanket, shift to the hill of the pillow, which lulls the dark-haired head of her daughter to sleep every night. The corner of her eye catches a thin white spot on the nightstand and her hand moves towards it, picking up a mat surface paper stripe. The four square pictures, one under another – the printout from their yesterday ten-minutes photo session in Gravity Worx photo booth. It’s black and white, but she doesn’t need colours to see their emotions, because happiness is happiness, no matter how many shades are used to display it. Her thumb traces the contours of their smiling faces (not even smiling but grinning as wide as if they are the whole Cheshire cats family), and she smiles to herself unwittingly, because it’s actually their first picture together and they are happy and they are family.

She swallows down the lump in her throat, hides destructive thoughts to the far corner of her mind. “Yes indeed, you did stop believing in miracles years ago,” although there’s no one in the room to hear her, Lou utters it aloud, because she needs to hear it herself. “What else you stopped doing was distressing yourself and being angry with people for things you made-up in your head because of your own expectations. Debbie is still here, isn’t she?”

She glances at the pictures one more time, puts the stripe back to the nightstand and jerks from the bed, from the room, down the hall, and down the stairs.

She has no false illusions, doesn’t hope to meet Dashiell on one of the kitchen barstools, doesn’t expect to catch Debbie making Dashiell’s usual dark-auburn brides. But yet and still, the slightly notable pain kick throws her heart against her ribcage a little harder than it should, when the only thing she meets in the kitchen is as tight as strings Debbie’s back.

She knows Debbie feels her presence even if the brunette doesn’t give up herself, so she shortens the distance between them in a matter of a second and hugs her from behind. Debbie relaxes, just a little bit but yet. Lou’s face nuzzles into the waterfall of dark-chocolate hair, her arms enlace Debbie’s waist and her fingers find the edge of Debbie’s shirt, paving their way under the soft fabric, straight to Debbie’s flat stomach. She needs it. Needs it as she needs oxygen in her lungs. And only when her palm rests against the silk skin, feeling Debbie’s warmth, feeling her heartbeat through the pulsation of blood in abdominal aorta slightly higher than her belly button. Only when she inhales the flavor of coffee Debbie brews for the two of them (as usual, as if everything is as usual), finally she’s able to even her own breathing and to placate her thought process.

“Dash?” Lou doesn’t even whisper, more like exhales the name.

“Awake and in action.” They don’t need many words to understand each other. Never needed. “Mrs. Carson says she showed up in her bedroom as soon as I left for a run and asked to call Katy. Mrs. Carson prepared her breakfast, fed her and now she’s in her study, waiting for Katy’s arrival and her scheduled classes.”

Lou exhales heavily but nuzzles deeper into Debbie’s hair and holds her closer to herself. “Well, then classes it is. Her choice. It’s even better that way. You’re all mine till the evening. And I want the promised brownie. You owe me one.”

Debbie swirls in Lou’s arms to face her, meets her eyes, wants to tell something, but the blonde’s forefinger is on her bottom lip before she knows. “Nah-nah, Deborah,” she shakes her head and tuts her tongue. “I’m tired of her antics. She’s smart enough to know the consequences of her decisions so I don’t want to hear about her today. Furthermore, you owe me and Oceans always pay their debts, don’t they?”

There’s the hint of remorse, biting Debbie deep inside, because “I’m not competing with you. I’m not gonna take her from you. I just want to be with both of you.” -  that’s what she told to the sleeping small figure of their daughter in the morning before she went for a run. She wants to object but Lou’s palms are still under her shirt and already traveling up her body, Lou’s lips are already on the pulse point under her chin, she can already feel the fire in her chest and moths in her belly, and when her knees betray her, becoming weak and unsure, ready to let her body fall apart, Lou catches her and tugs her away from the kitchen, up the stairs and back to their dormitory. “I’m not gonna take her from you,” still echoes in her head when they pass by the entrance to Dashiell’s room, but as soon as their bedroom door closes behind them, as soon as her bare back is against the coolness of their silk sheets and she feels the vital weight of Lou’s body against her own and the vital pressure of Lou’s lips against her own, and Lou’s hand strays from her neck to her shoulder blade… and down… and down… and down… Her brain doesn’t work anymore – she can barely think, let alone put a sentence together. Her body doesn’t listen to her anymore, doing whatever it wants. She gives up, closes her eyes. Everyone is unnecessary. No one exists anymore. The world, apart from this person over her, doesn’t exist anymore…

They spend three following hours in their room, in their bed. Together. Hushing the whispers in each other’s heads the best way they can. Not taking their eyes away from each other.

It takes them three or four more hours to drive to the Tidal River village, to grab a takeout very-late-breakfast, to eat it somewhere near the Whale Rock (it’s bloody cold and wind bites the tips of their noses but they have hot chocolate and each other’s backs to lean against so who cares), and to come back home.

The house is big enough for everyone to find their personal corners not to be disturbed. Mr. Miller is probably in his office, settling some company business with Liam on the line. Mrs. Miller can be anywhere, but at this time, you’ll most likely find her in the separate building of her greenhouse, enchanting her lovely flowers. Dashiell… Well, according to her schedule, Dashiell is supposed to have the forty-minute break for lunch, then her second History class and her climbing lesson with the instructor after. She asks Mrs. Carson to serve her lunch in the dining room so no, Debbie and Lou don’t run into their daughter when they tumble into the kitchen, giggling and laughing, with a couple of additional grocery bags for their planned baking.

It’s another couple of hours or even a little more, full of quiet chatters and loud laughter, full of silly jokes, stolen kisses and touches, flour and cocoa clouds and mutual distractions. The sweet scent of chocolate and vanilla finally hovers over the kitchen (and probably over a good half of the house as well), stirring with the smell of fresh hot coffee from the two big mugs on the kitchen island. The well-known brownie is finally ready and it’s perfect, exactly the same as Lou remembers. Except it’s even better. Still warm, right out of the oven, it melts on her tongue, and she can’t help but break into the widest cat smile, because she doesn’t know what’s sweeter – the brownie itself or Debbie’s kiss that follows it. She brushes the flour from the brunette’s cheek when her phone buzzes in the inside pocket of her jacket and she answers without looking because the ringtone is for Katy.

Debbie cannot hear what the person on the other end of the line says, but it’s only several words and Lou’s flattered grin is in the wind, her brows frown over her nose bridge and Lou herself is back on her feet. “Okay. We’re coming,” she utters before to hang up and “Debs, we need to go,” is the only thing Lou throws to Debbie before she grabs the bunch of keys from the upper cabin drawer and storms out through the kitchen back door. And of course, Debbie follows her without hesitation.

Debbie follows her through the backyard and to the gym, the first place where she met her daughter just several days (but now like a million years) ago. They enter the building, turn left, walk down the hall, and pass by several doors until they stop in front of the one at the end of the corridor. Debbie’s heart is pounding in her ears because she has no idea what’s going out but there’re Katy and Dashiell’s instructor here and Katy is mumbling something like “She just asked to use a bathroom and closed the door. Nothing unusual. But she’s been there for twenty-five minutes now and she doesn’t answer. So I thought you have a key and…”

Lou doesn’t listen to her, doesn’t let her finish, approaches the door in one step, tries the doorknob. Closed. “Bumblebee, honey. It’s me. Please, open the door.” She quiets listens but there’s nothing from behind the door. Lou knocks. Calmly, patiently. Though each and every nerve of her body is on fire, she must stay concentrated. “Dash, sweetheart. What’s happened? We’re here. Debbie and I. Let’s talk. Just open the door. Dashiell?” Nothing. Silence. Then, all of a sudden, repressed sob.

Lou doesn’t wait any additional second. She inserts the key, turns it, opens the door widely and steps into the gym bathroom. Debbie keeps up with her but when she enters the place, it’s as if the thick fog sinks on her eyes, it’s all kind of a blur, kind of slow motion.

Dashiell is in the bathroom, on the bathroom floor, sitting with her legs crossed in front of her. Her widely open icy-blue eyes are red and puffy and Debbie can see as crystal clear tears, as huge as the transparent gems, roll down her cheeks. While Lou jerks towards the girl, falls down to her knees, shakes the girl’s shoulders, Debbie slowly walks backward, backward and backward, until her back folds against the doorjamb and she can slide down the wall, because her legs do not hold her anymore. She pushes the back of her hand to her mouth, both to silence her own cry and because she feels sick, whereas her heart stops somewhere in her throat and familiar panic starts getting under her skin, filling every inch of her chest, making her limbs weak and heavy. Her ears are ringing and she cannot say for sure if she hears Lou’s “What have you done, Dashiell? What have you done?” for real or it’s only her imagination. Her eyes are blurring, and she cannot say if the spots around their girl, contrasting dark against the snow-white tile on the bathroom floor, are actually blood pools or it’s her mind that plays jokes about her. Her fear clasps its claws around her neck and she feels like she cannot inhale, cannot breathe, like her lungs are torn inside, but Dashiell's eyes meet her own and Debbie hears the clear “I don’t want to look like her! I don’t want to be like her…”, jumping from her daughter’s lips. That’s when Debbie shuts her eyes, blinks one time, another, and finally sees.

The spots on the floor, though they look like them a lot, are not blood pools but the long strands of dark auburn hair, crumbled around, lost and forgotten. The object, which Lou snatches from Dashiell’s hands, is nothing less the ordinary nail scissors. There’s blood, but it’s from the deep cut on Dashiell’s cheek, just under her left eye, because it happens that five-year-olds can cut themselves while trying to cut their waist-deep hair with the nail scissors and it’s not without the reason that they tell not to leave children with sharp objects unattended. It’s Dashiell’s “I don’t want to be like her”, which continues ringing against the tiled walls while Lou moves the girl’s face to the light in an attempt to get a better look at the wound, that brings Debbie back to reality, makes her start breathing again, makes her start thinking again…

When Lou grabs their girl, whose face is stained with tears and snot and blood, into her arms and turns around to take her to the kitchen where they have the first-aid kit, Debbie is long gone. Of course, Lou notices it, cannot not to notice. Of course, that concerns her a lot. However, not Debbie but a whining bundle in her arms, whose head looks more like it belongs to the plague stray than to her daughter, and whose blood is on her hands, on her shirt and even on her own cheekbone now, definitely seems to be the first priority at the moment. 

Only when the cut is cleaned and covered with the Band-Aid (it’s deep enough to start bleeding any time but not too deep to be in need of stitches – and Lou knows too damn well how Dashiell’s cuts look when they need to be stitched). Only when the girl is washed and bathed and changed out of her soiled sweatsuit. Only when the scope of the catastrophe with the girl’s hair is properly assessed, enters Lou her with Debbie bedroom and closes the door behind her back. All the event took not more than half an hour, but it seemed like another hundred of years to Lou cause sometimes it takes all her strengths and energy to fight her daughter without fighting. She is tired. No, she’s exhausted and so, when she falls onto their bed and rests her head on the knees of Debbie, who sits on the far bed edge, she doesn’t notice that Debbie doesn’t even look at her.

“Dashiell?..” Debbie asks quietly, looking away, into the darkening twilight behind the huge panoramic window.

“Washed and changed. In her room with Mrs. Carson. I let Katy go home ‘cause the poor girl’s really got cold feet.”

Lou wants to stay in bed, to stay in Debbie’s embrace but she knows too well they need to return to Dashiell’s room for the not-an-easy-conversation. So she rubs her eyelids tiredly, smudging the already smudged ink, thinking out of how to make her body get her to the shower and make her brain collect all the messed thoughts.

“I think we can give her fifteen more minutes to calm down and then go talk to her.” Debbie tangles her fingers into Lou’s blonde hair and sighs heavily. Lou opens her eyes, keeps herself from rolling them in frustration. “Look, I know that’s not easy but we cannot leave it at that…” the corner of her eye suddenly catches the object besides the door she didn’t notice before, and she is back to her feet as if her body wasn’t completely crushed only a minute ago.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she’s trying to stay calm while the bottom of her stomach falls down and all the air aspires to get out of her lungs with a desperate cry instead of a well-adjusted speech, because it is the suitcase near the door and it belongs to Debbie and it seems to be packed and ready for departure. Debbie doesn’t answer though, doesn’t look at her and that really doesn’t contribute Lou’s composure at all. “Debbie, I asked a question: what is that?”

It’s bloody difficult. It’s bloody difficult to pull on her usual solid façade, which seems to be as heavy as medieval armor. It’s bloody difficult to meet Lou’s eyes and therefore Debbie’s eyes are on each and every surface of the room but Lou’s face. It’s bloody difficult to get the words out of her mouth and her lips just refuse to part, glued. It’s a thousand times harder than Debbie could imagine. Still, she somehow manages to slip on her ‘bulletproof’ facial expression and finally raises her eyes to meet Lou’s.

“I’m going to New York alone. There’s no need in your presence during my meeting with the parole officer at all. Nine Ball can settle down all the paper issues of my staying in your loft. But they need you here. She needs you here. So you’re staying.” Against all odds, Debbie’s even trying to smile.

And that’s how Lou suddenly loses the ground under her feet, as if her body is in a free fall. And Lou wants to shout. Lou wants to shout until her vocal cords are not able to produce any other sound but the hoarse roar. Lou wants to yell as long and loud so that to cry out all the anger and rage she feels raising from the bottom of her stomach and squeezing out all the other feelings from her chest, all the other thoughts out of her head. Lou wants to drown the inner voices, which sound in her head, get louder and louder, making her crazy. ‘Miracles do not exist… What an idiot you are… Miracles do not exist…’ Lou wants to crash everything around, to blow to smithereens, wants to hit the walls because they suddenly seem approaching her, narrowing around her, clasping around her, blocking any access of air to her lungs. She wants to hit those walls until her knuckles are bruising and bleeding, dangerously close to being crushed and broken as if those walls are the ones Debbie erects between them once again. Lou’s mind is on the edge of sanity, ready to jump to the abyss without looking back. Lou is an exposed wire, is a nuclear bomb and if there are any timer and any countdown for her, right now she’s just seconds before the explosion.

Debbie expects this explosion. She’s ready for it. She recognizes these lights in Lou’s eyes, menacing and burning. She notices the white knuckles of Lou’s clenched fists and knows that there will be four bruising crescents on each of Lou’s palm when she unclenches them. Not only she knows the face of each demon, dwelling in Lou’s mind and soul since her Lou was only a girl. Debbie was the one who discovered each of them, the one who gave the name to each of them, the one who pacified and domesticated each and every of them. Debbie is the only living person who can push Lou to this edge of the ball, infuriate to this extent. Except for Cordelia of course but then again, a mother is a mother while Debbie is still the only one who can fix this Lou. Debbie knows every string she needs to pull, every button she needs to push, every spot on Lou’s body where her lips need to touch Lou’s bare skin - to calm Lou’s demons, to drag Lou back from ‘the Razor’s Edge’. She will kiss away all of Lou’s pain, will love away all of her fear and anger. She will lull her to sleep in her arms and then will slip out of their bed and out of their room and out of this city and country, unnoticed. So yes, Debbie is ready for this explosion. And she prepared herself: her every word, her every action, her every step.

What Debbie is definitely not ready for at all it’s when the lights in Lou’s eyes dim as abruptly as if someone has just switched off the breaker inside her head. She is not ready at all when, instead of to explode, Lou only slouches her shoulders, releases her fists and lowers herself on the bed heavily, right next to Debbie. Her elbows lean to her knees, her head almost falls on her palms, her fingers squeezing her temples with the force.

”What are you doing Deb? What are you doing?” She shakes her head and mutters quietly, barely whispering, but Debbie can hear every word as clear as if they sound from the inside of her own head. ”She’s only the child. Our child. And no matter how difficult it seems, it’s nothing more than another of her tantrums and we can, we can cope with it together. As every family does…”

Debbie can see how under her absurdly long bangs Lou shuts her eyes tight but flinches just barely when Lou suddenly raises her head and her impossibly blue eyes meet with her own.

“Don’t do this to me. I cannot do it alone anymore. I won’t handle it alone…”

Debbie’s heart tugs painfully when she tilts her head to look at Lou better, in an absolutely new way. Maybe for the first time since she came back from jail - to see her really. “Look at you!” Debbie’s hand raises by reflex to hide the strand of Lou’s blonde hair behind her ear and to brush her bangs off her eyes. “Look at the person who you grew into. So mature, and calm and levelheaded. How could I miss it at all? How didn’t I notice my girl turning into a woman? Into a mother? A really, really wonderful mother?” Debbie’s palm cups Lou’s cheek, thumb caressing the soft place under the blonde’s eye, her cheekbone, moving to her bottom lip. The impossibly blue eyes skitter between the two dark chocolate ones, not comprehending the meaning of Debbie’s words as if they’re pronounced in another language. “You don’t need me to cope with Dashiell. Furthermore, I’m in your way here since it’s me who’s the reason for her behavior.”

Lou shakes her head barely. She shakes her head and in her watering eyes, Debbie can finally see the glints of realization. She brings their faces together, kisses Lou’s forehead softly, connects their temples to whisper into the younger woman’s ear. “That wasn’t in my plan, Lou. I never planned to lose to you in this job. But you heard her. She doesn’t need me. I’m hopelessly losing. And I don’t know how you did it but never on Earth could I become a mother for our girl you are now.”

The words burn her own tongue as well as her palm where it was touching with Lou’s skin when Lou throws it off from her cheek and jerks away from her. She doesn’t escape far, crumbles down to the floor right in front of Debbie’s feet, tugs her knees to her chin to embrace them with her arms.

“Do you know this sensation of rotation? As if you offended the whole world and there’s no forgiveness? As if someone turned all your cells inside out and the most talented doctor cannot ever heal you? As if someone blocked the air to the submarine and you’re the only one aboard?” Lou starts, her voice low and husky, thick with Australian accent and bitterness, her eyes preventing to meet Debbie’s as if she dies if she can read their expression right now. “Do you know this feeling of ultimate despair? As if you’re an athlete, out of shape for years now? As if you’re the fighter who was captured in enemy uniform? As if you’re going to be blown up on a Nazi mine in a moment and you can do nothing with this? As if sitting in solitary confinement?” Debbie flinches on the last words but Lou still cannot notice, her eyes looking past Debbie without seeing.

“I had been living with this for the whole year after Dashiell was born. I was so angry it seemed the blood in my veins was on the verge of boiling. I was angry with you for working with that motherfuker, for cheating on me, for being so stupid to be caught red-handed, for being thrown to jail, for leaving me alone… I was mad at me for not being able to help you, for being too proud and arrogant to come to my parents and ask for support instead of letting you drag yourself into that shit… for loving you that much that to be ready to burn in your hell to complete self-immolation… I was mad at my parents for accepting me in their house, accepting Dashiell as their own… without saying a single word, even knowing she was actually your child and not asking about her father… Because that meant that, after everything I’d done, I was wrong about them and they loved me no matter what… I was mad at our daughter,…” Lou stammers, swallows hard, trying to suppress the lump in her throat, to suppress the tears aspiring to escape from the corners of her eyes, and finally connects her gaze with Debbie’s. “I was mad at Dashiell because she was my trap, she was my glass ceiling, my single cell… She was a reason we were where we were and still she was the only reason I had to live while the only thing I wanted was to destroy myself to the ground, stone by stone, brick by brick… to deflate me from the Earth’s surface… ” Lou makes a pause to collect her thoughts and Debbie uses this seconds to slide down, to place herself between the bed and Lou, to wrap her legs around Lou’s slim figure, to wipe the tears from her cheeks. She doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t tell anything for it’s the confession Lou needs to let out and Debbie needs to absorb. Lou nuzzles her cheek into Debbie’s palm and continues. “That was the end of Dashiell’s first birthday party when Anna and Cordelia, both our mothers, cornered me in Dashiell’s room after I put her into bed. They told me lots of things that evening, put my finger on many issues but the bottom line was that by eating and killing myself from the inside I was doing the same to my child because no matter how small Dashiell was she could feel everything. So they gave me a vacation - put a return plane ticket to LA into my hands and pushed me out of the house, arguing that anyway it was time for us for abandoning breastfeeding. I arrived in LA, rent a bike with an intention to make a trip from California to New York… But instead, I ran off into the blue, bought another plane ticket and the very next day I was in front of the glass of the Bedford Hills visiting room, hiding the small square photo of our daughter in the inside pocket of my coat…”

Debbie bites her lip, holds the air in her lungs a bit longer than she would, “…and I turned down a meeting…”

“Rrright. As soon as you saw me, you just turned around on your heels and escaped. I only managed to see the flash of that uncharacteristic terror in your eyes as if I were a ghost… For the following three days I had been drinking and drinking and drinking with both my brain and my phone on the ‘airplane mode’ but when I accidentally switched on my phone and got a hundred of missed calls from my mother and message that Dashiell was sick… I thought I would die, Debbie. On my flight back to Sydney, on my way to the hospital, in the doorway of the hospital room, I thought I would die. As it turned out our one-year-old refused to eat, refused to sleep, refused to do anything… without me… And when I finally could hold her in my arms, her unconscious little body, all connected to the wires and drips, seemed twice tinier than when I had left her some week before. It took us almost a month to get her back to the normal weight, to make her smile again, to make her let me get out of her sight at least for several minutes. In a year after her birth, that was when I finally became a mother. I bet you wouldn’t have considered me such a perfect mom if you knew how many times I fucked up. So please, stop chastising yourself and let’s go talk to our little monster.”

Lou shifts her body to kneel in front of Debbie, catches her in a kiss, biting her bottom lip teasingly, takes both her hands in hers and pulls her up from the floor with her. She’s already walking towards the door, her body half-turned from Debbie and her hand holding Debbie’s in the attempt to walk her from the room, when a sudden “No” sounds behind her and she stops because someone behind her doesn’t follow her.

Lou brings her eyes back to Debbie, her brows frowning under her bangs. “I beg your pardon?”

“No, Lou. I’m not going with you. I can’t.” Debbie sees as misunderstanding and disappointment pour into Lou’s face, as her lips part in the intent to tell something but Debbie outpaces her. “I’m not going with you to talk to Dashiell. She is not ready to accept me as her mother. I’m not ready for all of this. We both need more time to settle down our thoughts and feelings, to get used to this new reality, to learn how to share you and stop competing for you. I am broken, Lou. I cannot fly anymore. I am a bird with broken wings and you cannot give me yours every time we need to catch Dashiell.” There’s a fear in Debbie’s eyes and Debbie’s voice. There’s fear because she is afraid. She’s afraid of her feelings. She’s afraid not to succeed in this job of being a mom for Dashiell and a partner for Lou. She’s afraid to be hurt because in all her dignities Deborah Ocean has never been able to tolerate pain.

She looks at Lou, who is nothing but speechless and stunned and hurting at the moment. Looks into her bottomless piercing eyes, weighing if she should tell her everything that is on her mind. Takes a really deep breath because yes, no matter how difficult it is, she should spit it out, to the last drop. She should tell her out loud every note she mentally did in her head, should tell her about every thorn that thinks into her heart. Because weren’t they two the only ones who could always heal each other’s wounds, wind away each other’s fears and doubts?

“I’m scared, Lou. For the first time in my life, I don’t know how this is all gonna work. I don’t know who I am and where’s my place. And I don’t know you anymore. I don’t hold your reins anymore. I need a little time to start recognizing you again because you are different, you’re not the same person and I honestly don’t know if this new Lou still can love this new me, if she still needs me or she tolerates me just because that’s what our daughter needs. I need time, Lou…”

The following slips from Lou’s tongue almost involuntary, yet like a poison. “What a bullshit…,” like a slap in the face and Debbie stares at Lou, taken aback. “What a ridiculous bullshit. You are a fucking coward, Deborah, that’s who you are!” Lou starts pacing the room, her breathing shaking and her voice raising gradually. “You’ve spent five years eight months and twelve days to pull off one of the biggest jewelry heists in history. Did you really think that it would be enough? That it would be easier and faster to win the trust of a child? Did your excellent calculating brain really think that whereas you thought you didn’t deserve her during your staying inside, you could win her heart and redeem for your absence in her entire life by stealing millions of dollars? You’re not a mastermind but a dumbass Debbie if you really don’t understand that Dashiell doesn’t need any money or toys or sweets or anything in the world except for you!”

She paces back and forth, her arms wrapped around her shoulders, her head shaking, and Debbie absolutely has no chance to tell anything since Lou is almost yelling, no sign of her previous composure and calmness. “It was you,” she suddenly stops and her index finger points towards Debbie angrily. “Among the two of us, it was you who wanted to be a mother, who had been always ready for that. You told me that you always knew that being a mom was your purpose, was your calling. You wanted this child. Not me!”

Debbie narrows her eyes, frantically trying to grasp at the remnants of her own self-control because the two of them yelling is totally helpless. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“I wasn’t in that place, Debbie. I wasn’t even ready to get to that point. Our life was easy, fun, thoughtless and irresponsible, we have been fooling around, pulling off mind-blowing cons and fucking. I was fine with that. Even more than fine, I loved my life, okay? And I didn’t want to change anything. I didn’t even know if I wanted to ever become a mother at all!”

Debbie’s jaw is literally earthbound when she hears what she doesn’t think she hears for real. That’s absurd. That doesn’t make any sense.

“But no one forced you to do this. You said you were happy to join me on my way. Why did you agree to do it? Why did you agree to become her mother?” she mumbles quietly, in sharp contrast with Lou’s yelling only a minute ago and her half-whisper is full of hurt and disillusionment and confusion.

Lou bites her bottom lip, drops her eyes down, still shaking her head stubbornly and it’s not clear who is a coward now. Her voice is trembling and it seems she has never admitted this even to herself, has never said it out loud before. “Because I loved you more than my life. Because I was ready to ride at the top speed any road you choose, till the very end. Because if you had asked me to jump I would have asked how high. Because you were frightened and you asked. And that was my ‘high’...”

And they stand in front of each other, staring at each other as if after all these years they are complete strangers. The silence of the room rings in their ears in unison with their own heartbeats. The space between them is thick of electricity and the freshly spilled long-standing shrifts and anguish linger in the air.

 It would have taken from Debbie only a couple of moments to finally understand she is not the only one injured wild animal here, released from its cage but still barely healed from the old wounds. It would have taken her several seconds to recognize Lou in this broken creature in front of her: with the slightly longer bangs over her eyes and slightly more prominent ribs under her shirt, with the new wrinkles around her eyes and near the corners of her lips, with the new status of ‘mom’, a new person to love and cherish, but still and yet her own Lou. It would have taken a split second to remember who is elder and thus stronger and more mature in their relationship, in the end, to shorten the distance between them, to catch Lou into her arms, to hold her tight, preventing her from falling apart. To kiss away all of Lou’s pain, to love away all of her fear and anger… To stay with her no matter how scared Debbie is herself because that what’s Lou has always been doing to her…

It would have. But it doesn’t. The muffled sounds from the hallway (“What are you doing here, Ms. Miller”) make Lou pull back her nonchalant face expression as easy as if it’s really a mask and run herself out of the room and Debbie follows her… Only to see how the door to Dashiell’s nursery shuts in front of the baffled face of Mrs. Carson with the cocoa and sandwiches tray in her hands.

“What’s going out?” Lou’s face turns to Mrs. Carson with a questioning look while she approaches the door with the intention to open it, but the click of the closing lock is heard and when she finally tries the door handle, it’s closed.

 “Dashiell, open the door. You turn it into a bad habit and force me to take measures,” she knocks the door trice, patiently but persistently, while a bit frightened Mrs. Carson mumbles to her almost in a whisper – so quietly Debbie needs to come closer to hear. She doesn’t look at the older woman instead watches Lou, still trying to figure out when and how her extravert choleric explosive girl scored such an eligible amount of emotionless ‘masks’. The fight they’ve just had, it proves Lou’s still the same crazy one. The only difference is that she manages to hide it perfectly well and Debbie wonders how tired she must be of faking this for Dashiell.

“I honestly don’t know what to say…” Mrs. Carson’s eyes shift between both Lou and Debbie in complete confusion and… guilt?

“Dashiell, I asked you to open the door,” another rigorous request from Lou, another triple-knock, barely harder one.

“Once you left to your room young Ms. Miller said she was hungry and sad and asked me to make her cocoa to get her into the mood. Of course, I agreed, how could I refuse her when she was so scared and tired? So she promised to behave and to wait quietly and I left her. But when I came back, she was here, right outside your door.”

Lou’s hand, clenched into a fist and raised to perform the third in a row knock at Dashiell’s door hovers in the air.

“For how long? How long haven’t you been here? How long Dashiell has been alone?” Lou walks closer to Mrs. Carson, glaring at a woman so intensively that Debbie can swear those blue eyes can make a hole in her as she stutters her answer.

“I… I don’t know, Ms. Miller. Ten… maybe fifteen minutes…”

Shit!..” the word slips out of Lou’s lips although she never tends to swear in front of this woman who she has known since she wasn’t even ten.

Debbie watches the blonde without much understanding. She honestly doesn’t understand why Lou starts pacing the corridor without restraint, biting the inner side of her cheek, her hand massaging the back of her neck and her gaze spreading itself sharply and haphazardly as if she’s trying to find the answer to the most life-priority question somewhere on the floor. The state of complete terror, which starts filling her now dark blue eyes, absolutely doesn’t make any sense to Debbie. Neither it makes sense when Lou suddenly stops, runs both of her hands through her already messed hair, her brows frowned and her eyelids shut tight.

“No! No, no, no, no, no… You’re kidding me. You’re fucking kidding me…” she utters almost under the breath, jerking towards the door and starting drumming it as strong as she can. “Open the door, Bumblebee. That’s not what that seems. Please! Open this fucking door!!!”

And when the only answer to Lou’s ongoing attempts to reach out to their daughter, which now look more as if she’s trying to kick down the door or break her wrists, is an enormously loud bass of Rammstein’s ‘Sonne’ from behind the still closed door, the erratic pieces of this puzzle finally build into the single whole inside Debbie’s head: Lou wasn’t just wandering the hall, she was rather wandering her own brain, rummaging in her thoughts, rapidly recalling their conversation, playing it backward, trying to reconcile each syllable pronounced with each minute that their five-and-a-half-year-old could have potentially spent with her ear pressed to their door… Ten, maybe fifteen minutes…

“Fuck,” Debbie mutters, her fingers squeezing her nose bridge, but Lou cannot hear her because at the moment Lou hears nothing but the sounds of her own fists crashing against the door.

“Open the door!” Lou cries out, her voice rough and breaking, but she cannot even hear herself…

‘…Die Sonne scheint mir aus den Händen / Kann verbrennen, kann dich blenden / Wenn sie aus den Fäusten bricht Legt sich heiß auf dein Gesicht / Legt sich schmerzend auf die Brust / Das Gleichgewicht wird zum Verlust / Lässt dich hart zu Boden gehen / Und die Welt zählt laut bis zehn…

 

___________

 

* Dec.28th, 2011 / 6 years 6 months ago…

 

She sits on the tiled floor of their small bathroom, with her legs crossed, her back and shoulders rounded and her light blue eyes fixed on the small object in her hands. She has nothing but her sleeping shorts and tank top on, the floor and the air in the bathroom are almost as cold as if she’s outside (and it’s December, without jokes), her skin is covered with the thousands of goosebumps, which slightly raise the tiny light hairs on her arms and on the back of her head, but she doesn’t notice. Actually, it’s even better that way because it helps her mind to stay clear despite everything…

It’s three days after Christmas, their fridge has finally got empty and, pretending to feel not good, she finally seized the opportunity to stay by herself while Debbie left for some grocery shopping. She has been sitting on the floor for the last fifteen minutes…

Lou hears as the key is being put in the door, as it’s being turned. She hears the front door opens and closes, hears as Debbie throws the key set on the shelve beside the door, hears Debbie’s steps… She gets back to her feet, shuffles her way off the bathroom, down the hall and towards the kitchen open space where she knows she’ll find Debbie.

When she approaches the kitchen and Debbie notices her she knows she must look completely terrible because the grocery bags fall from Debbie’s hands and the green apples pour into the floor as the brunette shortens the distance between them to cup Lou’s face, to kiss her forehead checking the temperature, to look into her eyes, her own dark brown questioning.

“What’s wrong? You’re cold and trembling. Are you okay?” There are concern and love in Debbie’s eyes and Lou knows she can lose in their darkness, can hide from the whole world there if she wants. Lou feels small and scared and helpless and she knows Debbie feels it because she steps closer, taller than Lou in her impossibly high heels, opens her coat and wraps it with her arms around Lou’s slim shoulders, places her palm on the back of Lou’s head to bring Lou closer and to press Lou’s temple to her cheek.

“Shhh, baby. I’m here. No matter what, I’m here with you.” She rocks her slightly, standing in the middle of the half-empty space, runs her fingers against Lou’s short hair (even after more than a month, still not used to its length after she cut it almost to zero after her fight with Cordelia in November). Lou works up the courage, kisses the neck under Debbie’s chin, steps out of her embrace to make a little space between them and raises her hand with the same small object in it.

She doesn’t take her gaze from Debbie, watches her when her eyes fall down on the object, when she takes it from Lou’s hands, when notices the clearly visible two lines on it. Lou doesn’t know how to interpret it when Debbie gasps the quiet “Oh my god”, puts her hand over her mouth, shakes her head in disbelief…

Lou is scared, and small and helpless but the next thing she knows, the mighty Deborah Ocean kneels before her own barefoot figure, lifts the edge of her tank top with the visibly trembling hands, presses her lips to her flat pale stomach…

During the endless several minutes, when they just stand this way, with Debbie’s arms around her and Debbie’s cheek against her belly, and her own fingers tangled into Debbie’s hair, she doesn’t think she even breathes, she doesn’t think she can think at all. But then Debbie finally raises her head to find Lou’s eyes, the dark brown glittering with tears and it seems like the whole immense outer space is in them for Lou.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy in my life,” Debbie utters under her breath, looking into Lou’s eyes and the tear falls down her cheek. It’s strange and unusual and unbelievable and unexplainable, because Debbie Ocean never, never cries. But as she brushes away her tear with the fingertip of her thumb, all the fear and concern are being displaced from her with some absolutely ineffable fluttering feeling. Lou doesn’t know what’s this: butterflies in her stomach, moths in her ribcage or the sensation of caring the piece of Debbie inside of her

“I know,” as she cups Debbie’s face, her thumbs caressing Debbie’s cheeks, the corners of her lips finally break into the widest and brightest smile ever and she feels like the tears drop down her own cheeks. ”Me too, baby, me too!..”

Chapter Text

* November 11th, 2011, 6 years 7 months ago…

 

“This thing… you’re asking me about… Isn’t it gross? I mean, I understand your reasons but you’re still my sister and all that sounds dangerously close to the incest…” Liam scrunches his nose, his face so close to Lou’s that she can watch as the drop of salt water falls from his thatch blonde hair, rolls down his stubble cheek and finally disappears in his short beard. Liam’s chest voice is low and muffled, but including little Carys there’re only five of them here on the beach, so everyone present can hear him well enough.

Lou unknowingly rolls her eyes and turns her face to the side, suppressing half-irritated groan that tries to escape her throat. Her brother is a smart guy and an excellent first-class lawyer, one of the best in Sydney in fact. But at the moments like this, when wet like a shaggy mongrel, nestled under a huge towel, with his long hair (much longer than her own) covering his piercing blue eyes, after being told about everything for like a hundred times in a row, he’s still asking those silly questions, she thinks he’s just the same teenage dumb-ass he used to be when she scooted from home almost twenty years ago. Actually right now they are both wet like shaggy mongrels, nestled in the tepee of this huge beach towel, close to each other and to the fireplace. Because believe it or not, swimming in the Bass Strait while watching the last sun-rays of Lou’s birthday day, seemed to be such a thrilling idea only half of an hour ago, when they were running and jumping in the water like two drunk idiots, still in their white shirts and black slacks, both their tuxedo jackets safely resting around the shoulders of Debbie and Elsa. Now, when the sun’s far gone behind the hills, when their tailored tuxes are hopelessly spoiled with salt water (except for the jackets, which are still warming slim figures of the girls sitting on the dry log of some fallen tree right in front of them), when wet cold fabric is clinging to their bodies, and the cold’s invading their systems, superseding all the alcohol and its cheering effect, swimming in the Bass Strait in November doesn’t seem to be a good idea any more.

Lou turns her face back to the fire; her eyes meet with Debbie’s and Debbie smiles to her reassuringly. She must be nervous and frightened, so is Lou, because what they ask from Liam is far from an ordinary favour. However, Debbie’s still calm and patient and that’s what Lou has to be for her. Lou returns a smile, gives a slight wink to her brunette and parts her lips to start her lecture to her younger brother from the very beginning.

“It’s not how it works, love,” it’s Elsa who speaks instead and Lou is embarrassed at first because Elsa has been quiet all the evening since they brought up the subject. “It’s three parties that participate in the whole process: genetic father (or sperm donor in our ladies’ case), genetic mother and surrogate mother. They fertilize genetic mother’s egg with the donor’s sperm and then it’s being placed in the surrogate mother. So, technically, surrogate mother is not genetically related to the fetus at all.”

Elsa speaks meticulously slowly, looking directly into Liam’s eyes and Lou doesn’t know either it’s their love that makes them understand each other so well or the umpteenth time they try to explain everything to Liam, but it seems that things finally start making sense to him.

“So, it means that genetically Lou will have nothing to do with this baby in the end?” he mutters finally and all three women exhale with relief almost in synch.

“Yes, I won’t,” Lou answers for Elsa, making Liam bring his attention back to her.

“I don’t understand then,” he frowns, his eyes narrowing at Lou and when the fire glares dance on his serious concentrated face, he stops seeming like a little boy anymore. “Why do you do it in the first place? What’s in it for you, anyway?”

Without looking at her, Lou knows that Debbie almost stops breathing, can feel her tension literally with her own guts. They’ve been ready for this question. They knew it was to come up eventually. And she’s not going to lie to her brother, not going to con him. Not telling everything, after all, is not a lie, isn’t it?

“Because Debbie cannot,” her face returns towards Debbie, their glares unmistakably finding each other like the two neodymium magnets. The corners of Lou’s lips raise in a lopsided smile, reflection of fire flames and sparkles jumping in her light blue eyes as if they’re trapped there behind the bifocal lenses. “But we want it,” she shrugs her shoulders just a little bit, pursing her lips in an awkward upside-down smile. “That’s that, all our story.”

Her brother looks at her carefully, processing everything said in his head.

Lou watches Elsa and Liam. Watches as their gazes connect on the tiny figure of Carys, who’s sound asleep, curled in Debbie’s arms, her blonde, slightly curly hair mirroring the same fire like gold. Lou wasn’t with them on their way, wasn’t there when she was born. But Lou knows Carys is their own miracle. Born after seven years of their marriage. Born after seven years of attempts and excruciating failures. Born by the surrogate mother because, as it happens sometimes, Elsa couldn’t. That was their story…

________

The house is dark and quiet, every single dweller of its asleep. Debbie and she, they left from the beach with Carys in Debbie’s arms (the little munchkin surprisingly easy clung to Debbie, fascinated and bewitched by this first dark-haired and brown-eyed person in her close surroundings), put her to bed and as soon as they themselves were in their own bed and their heads touched the pillow, Debbie closed her eyes and drifted away just the same minute.

But Lou couldn’t sleep, no matter how hard she tried. She slipped out from under Debbie’s arm and tiptoed out of their room, pulled out a bottle of Sullivan's Cove from her father’s bar and here she is: finishing her 38th birthday sitting cross-legged by the outdoor swimming pool at her parents’ house, nursing a glass of 40-year-old whiskey in her hand.

Liam and Elsa need time to make this decision, she thinks. Right, she thinks. Ooooof course…

 Who even told her it was a good idea to ask Liam about this all? Of all the nameless American blond-haired donors, they could have found when applying to the IVF-centre, they chose her brother instead. Yes, they used to be close as children. Yes, he loves her the same way she loves him if not more. However, this idea is a pure gamble and Liam has never been an adventurer. He’ll never ever agree on this. Elsa won’t let him. They’ll probably tell everything to Cordelia, there’ll be another huge scandal. Lou’s already fed up with the latest scene her mother raised yesterday, rubbing Lou’s nose in her obviously “morbid” relationship with that girl. But this. If their with Debbie request to Liam gets her mother, it’s gonna be universal. So shit, Lou… It was a very, very, veeeeery bad idea. How stupid of you, Lou, to fuck up that universally much.

She pulls out a cigarette from the turquoise JPS pack, squeezes between her lips. Swears under her breath when realizes that she forgot her zippo somewhere in the house. Almost jumps on the place startled   and swears again, when Liam’s huge bear figure abruptly lands down to the tile floor, on the edge of the swimming pool right beside her.

He hangs his legs down to the warm electric blue water, fishes up Lou’s zippo from the side pocket of his linen shirt, lights her cigarette. Then takes a glass from her hands, makes a delicious deep sip on the golden liquid in it.

Lou takes a long drag, lets the poisoned smoke to enter her lungs, to be absorbed into her blood. Exhales the puffy half-transparent vague cloud into the air, trying to concentrate and to calm down her own nerves, steady her racing pulse. Not even noticing when Liam finally utters something.

“Pardon?” her face jerks in Liam’s direction, watching his head tilted back, probably in the attempt to find some familiar constellation on the night sky – one of their favorite games from childhood.

“I said that mother would kill you if she finds out you’re smoking here.”

She snorts, almost chuckling, makes another long drag. “I don’t fucking care,” throws her own head back to look at the stars. It’s strange to see them from this place – this house is not the one where they both grew up. The stars are different from here. They are different as well.

“You know you’ll have to quit all of this bullshit anyway, right? I want this kid to be born healthy.”

Lou turns her head back to Liam so fast the couple of her neck muscles pull painfully. He doesn’t look at her and she doesn’t need to see his face to know that the brand “Miller” shit-eating grin breaks on it.

All the words of the world are trying to break out of her lungs but seem to melt on her lips. She half-turns her body to Liam, tilts her head, nuzzles her forehead to his shoulder, wraps her thin long fingers around his biceps, not being able to link them because yes, Liam is really as huge as a bear.

“You little shit,” her eyes shut closed when she’s trying to hold back her tears but her voice cracks just so and she knows Liam can unmistakably hear it. “I didn’t see this coming. I thought you wouldn’t agree.”

“Hey,” he grumbles at her with a fake resentment, blows on her short hair through the small wound between his lip, his shoulder giving her the slightest nudge. “Watch your language. Just so you know. Swearing in front of kids is prohibited, too.” Lou chuckles and he kisses her forehead, rests his chin on the top of her boy-haircut blonde head.

She can't wait to see Debbie. It looks like they need to buy one more ticket to New York in the morning.

Chapter Text

>> Millers’ mansion, day 14, Thursday

 

She doesn’t know how to process it: the minutes stretch by in a torturously slow pace but the world and the space around them both seem to be spinning like a damned merry-go-round. The door to Dashiell’s room neither opens nor magically disappears under Lou’s fists and Debbie starts worrying that if Lou keeps pounding on the harsh wooden surface with the same force, she’ll more likely hurt herself than make this door give up from its place even for an inch.

“Lou,” she tries to get her attention and predictably fails. “Lou, please,” she repeats, this time sliding herself in-between the blonde and the door, managing to catch Lou’s wrists with her hands just a moment before one of Lou’s fists potentially splashes her nose – Lou may have been boxing for a while and she is more than capable to throw a proper poke, but five and something years in the slammer sharpen your body reactions significantly better than any possible kind of sports.

Lou’s eyes are wide but finally focused on Debbie and she uses the moment to get an old woman next to them out of her funk.

“Mrs. Carson, could you please try to find the key?” The woman blinks at Debbie in misunderstanding but recovers immediately and vanishes down the stairs.

Debbie’s hands shift to Lou’s shoulders in a soft smoothing motion, raising to the back of her neck and squeezing slightly just to make sure that Lou really listens to her.

“Honey, it’s no use, she’s not gonna open it. Let her chill out for other several minutes. Let’s just leave her alone until Mrs. Cason gets the key.”

That sounds reasonably for Debbie, sounds like the best, if not the only option they have for now instead of trying to break the unbreakable door and to scare the child on the other side of it even more than she’s most probably already scared. And Debbie’s almost relieved, believing for a moment Lou’s with her in this opinion, until the piercing blue eyes narrow under the messy blonde bangs, looking her right in the eye (and although she cannot see through the curtain of those light hair she knows Lou’s eyebrows are frowned up into the one straight line as well) and Lou shakes off Debbie’s hands from her shoulders, practically leaping away from her as if she’s Bubonic.

“Just ‘leave her alone’? Let her chill out for several minutes?” she snarls out at Debbie in pure disbelief. “For fuck’s sake, Deborah, are you nuts? Don’t you really understand? Or all those ‘building-self-control’ bullshit has erased the lasts of humanity from your hard drive?” Lou starts pacing the space in front of her with Debbie just staring because it doesn’t, just doesn’t make sense to her what’s particularly wrong with her suggestion.

“Not only she is a child. As you may have noticed, she’s a child with peculiar emotional issues. The last time we let her alone for other several minutes she slashed up almost all her hair and...”

Even if Lou wants to add anything else, she cuts her words halfway, because the sounds of music behind the door diminish, making them both tense even more in the uneasy silence that lingers over in the air between them. Diminish only for a second or two, only to shuffle into another track and the fact that it’s the fucking ‘Mutter’ (‘of all the songs it must be this one, really?’ flashes in Debbie’s head) doesn’t help at all.

They stare at each other for another moment, for both of them as endless as the eternity itself. Nobody dares to accuse Deborah Ocean in dumbassness. Nobody dares to talk to Deborah Ocean this way cause those who ever forgot to watch their language paid the price that was too high. Even Lou, the younger and less credible between the two of them, never lets herself to talk to Debbie this way. Until now, apparently. Debbie should be furious, should be at least offended or hurt, but this is not the place and not the time and she’s not in the position for anger or grudge right now. What is more, if only she seeks for the vacant corner to keep these feelings inside of her right now, wouldn’t she be able to find one. Those light blue eyes under that impossibly long fringe are filled with the intermixture of anguish and disappointment, of anger and frustration and, what?.. hatred? loathing? disgust? Debbie doesn’t recognize all of them for they are all hostile and unfamiliar and it’s the very first time in their mutual history that this deadly gaze of Lou’s is intended to her. Those eyes are honestly more precious than all the gems of this world for Debbie, but there’s no hurt in Debbie’s chest as well as no air in Debbie’s lungs, no other feelings but complete and total terror and the single thought that maybe at this same moment Lou’s just decided Debbie was her huge lifetime mistake and they didn’t need this person in their life anymore.

It’s Cordelia who brings them back to reality, literally materializing in the hall out of blue, to the noisy chaotic turmoil they raised.

“Can anyone tell me what’s going out here? Louise? Deborah?”

She questions them as if they both are nothing more than some ten-year-olds who picked up the fight and the tops Debbie manages to do is to make her lips move, catching the air. But Lou comes to life, half-turns her head towards her mother, breaking eye-contact with Debbie. “Dashiell’s locked herself in her room and wouldn’t answer.”

 

She passes by the still numbed Debbie and when their shoulders touch just slightly, her gaze locks on Debbie’s lips, avoiding her eyes. She lowers her voice just to the ‘two-of-us’ level. “I don’t ask you to give ‘mom-of-the-year’ advice, Ocean. But if you can’t help at least don’t complicate things.”

It’s a punch to the gut, dreadful and painful, sharp enough to get under Debbie’s skin, but Lou utters it much softer than everything that was said only a moment ago, and it’s like an ice shower to Debbie’s mind.

‘Think Deborah, think,’ races in her head when she manages to wave off all the emotions and to start doing what she’s really good at – trying to generate ideas.

“Our bathroom,” Debbie patters before Lou’s fist punches the door in another attempt of reaching their daughter and when their eyes magnet to each other in a blink understanding, Debbie doesn’t need to explain herself.

Lou swoops to the door to their room, Debbie on her heels, crosses the space with the broad steps of her long legs, storms into the bathroom that is being shared with the nursery. Her movements are fast and sharp – they both hope… no, they both are almost 100% sure that this door will succumb when they try it.

All of Lou’s way here is a matter of a couple of minutes, but all of a sudden, she freezes and her hand hovers right above the door-handle as if someone points the remote control at her and presses the ‘pause’ button.

And not until Debbie sees this does she finally comprehend that Lou’s afraid. Not only comprehends but just knows because so is she herself, terrified of what can greet them behind this door. The image of Dashiell, sitting on the cold tiled bathroom floor - with the long strands of her hair scattered around her in haphazard waves, her face covered with tears mixed in with deep-red blood, her dark-auburn-haired head framed with the shreds of jagged spikes all different length – still stays in her mind when she closes her eyes as if printed on the backside of her eyelids. Debbie knows and despite the entire deliberate cool façade Lou still manages to keep on, notices as the barely prominent cartilage slowly moves under the porcelain skin of Lou’s neck when she swallows hard, as her hand shivers and trembles, hang above that damned knob on the door to their child’s room. That’s pretty scaring to see Lou this way, this vulnerable and uncertain. Debbie wishes she could do anything, could say anything to help her, to encourage her, to ease her task, because standing here is a dead end, a waste of time they cannot afford now.

The words are the weight in Debbie’s throat, though. Words had never been one of her strong suits furthermore today she’s already told more than for the last who-knows-how-many-years, so she does the only right thing she knows. Her hand covers Lou’s, faintly pushing it forward. And just like this, hands together, they turn the handle and open the door to Dashiell’s bedroom in one sharp motion.

The light. The light, with all the lamps and luminaries and other possible sources of it on, so flamboyant and blinding after the half-darkness of the bathroom it physically hurts. Makes both Debbie and Lou screw their eyes tight. Takes them several moments to blink not seeing, to adjust to the surroundings.

The sound. The sound, so loud and resonant and powerful that when its waves approach Debbie, her thorax starts vibrating in synch with another song in damned German. As it goes right through her head and through her rib cage, making her temples pulsate from the inside and offsetting the rhythm of her heartbeat, Debbie has no doubts that not only the one shitty night club in New York where they used to pickpocket in their early twenties, would envy this sound system in their daughter’s bedroom. 

But only after Lou jerks to the remote panel and shuts off the music, which still keeps ringing in their ears even in the silent room. Only after Lou dims the lights just so, making them tolerable to the human eyes (especially for her light-blues, which do not tolerate bright light at all, making her wear dark glasses whenever she’s outside). Only after they search the room – each wardrobe, each cabinet, each drawer and each corner of it - in a vain attempt to understand how the hell it’s possible for it to be empty… Only then realizes Debbie there’s something else.  Something that makes the goosebumps run down her body and raises the hair on the back of Debbie’s neck. Something that slips under Debbie’s skin through her fingers and toes, moves towards Debbie’s brain and her chest and her heart in that slow, treacherous and imperceptible way that it’s far too late when she finally notices it’s already inside of her. Something that is definitely not supposed to belong in here, in the nursery, where their little girl should be instead. The cold. All-consuming and all-displacing cold – the one you expect to feel when meeting a Dementor face to face (a hilarious thought at the moment but really, it’s naive to think you can live with Lou Miller and not watch through all the ‘Harry Potter’ series every now and then).

Debbie turns away from Lou, slowly moving towards the curtained balcony door, the only half-comprehensible source for this coldness, with Lou’s absentminded “I don’t understand. Where she’s gone,” to nowhere behind Debbie’s back and then “Debs?” to Debbie this time.

The sudden barking outside makes them almost bump into each other in the doorway and get tangled into the heavy canvas of curtains, but when they finally manage to get out to the balcony, the words that leave Lou’s lips with the heavy exhale sound are suspiciously similar to the cursing.

The motion sensors have turned on the outdoor lighting and it illuminates the space in front of the mansion, so they can easily discern the silhouettes of three one-hundred-fifty-pounds Millers’ Neapolitan Mastiffs running around the fourth dark figure. One may think that they are going to slaughter the intruder, tear them into pieces for it’s not for the niceness that these guard dogs are famous for. But the dogs are the last thing that bothers both women on the balcony for they know that, although this other figure is significantly smaller, neither of three beasts will ever hurt their little Master. “You little rotter-climber. I swear I’ll eradicate this fucking ivy to the last smallest root,” the only thing Debbie hears Lou mumbling under her breath when turning on her heels and rushing herself from the balcony while the petite human downstairs recedes from the house, with each step of their run becoming smaller and smaller.

The next thing Debbie knows she herself is scudding headlong down the hill, further and further away from the mansion, trying to keep up with Lou. Debbie is a decent runner, hardy and fast. But Lou is faster. Has always been. Faster than Danny. Faster than this crazy asshole Rusty. Faster than wind or sound or the light itself. At least it seemed to Debbie every now and then, when they were getting away from a chase after getting themselves into another trouble when the job went wrong. So, Lou far ahead of her now – that’s not a new thing at all.

What’s new is the fact that Lou doesn’t look back this time. Although she always does. To make sure Debbie’s on her heels, following her on every step. Isn’t lagging behind too far. To make sure Debbie’s out of the woods, out of the risk to be caught. Like the time Debbie foolishly hurt her leg and was falling behind and the twenty-three-year-old Lou risked herself, risked everything: stopped her own race, dragged Debbie to the darkness of the nearest alley around the corner, pressing her to the brick wall and hiding with her own body - so close that Debbie could feel like the heat of Lou’s breathing on her own skin was sending goosebumps down her spine. Such a trivial situation, such an old simple trick, but it worked. It worked them out of the chase; worked them to their first kiss right when Debbie raised her already dizzy head so that to meet Lou’s piercing blue eyes (she could have sworn they flowed in the dark). It worked them to the first bar just a few blocks away, where they got completely drunk and yet managed to fish up a couple of extra wallets. Then it worked them back to their apartment; to Debbie’s room; to Debbie’s bed. And to their first sex. Wasted and exuberant and flustered, accidental and half-conscious and thus meaningless, but so meaningful simultaneously in spite of everything…

The new thing is that Lou doesn’t look back but Debbie understands and accepts it as a fact, takes it for granted, without a drop of resentment or jealousy or bitterness. She will never admit it, but that’s a whole new thing that Debbie Ocean puts aside her own interests, suppresses her egoism and pride, and elevates someone else above herself.

The moment Debbie finally shortens the distance between her blonde and herself - getting through the scratching tree covers and wondering at how this ‘supernatural’ creature, as known as their daughter, manages to run faster than two grown-up women – she sees Lou running into the water at full speed.

Debbie doesn’t know that several months ago Liam brought the real kids kayak for Dashiell and she spent every spare minute of her Australian summer here in the bay, changing between floundering underwater like a small mermaid tadpole until her lips were turning blue and her fingertips were whitening and shriveling up, and hovering on the surface in her small boat as a bright-green buoy until the sun was hiding behind the treetops and Cordelia was calling both her and Lou (another totally ocean creature) home. Debbie doesn’t know that the kids' kayak is light enough to be carried by the child and compact enough to be hidden in the bushes on the beach. She doesn’t know that yesterday, while they were too distracted with each other to hear the dogs’ barking, they gave Dashiell plenty of time to plan whatever she needed to plan, to prepare whatever she needed to prepare and to drag her kayak from the mansion garage to the beach.

Therefore, under the thick covers of the twilight sky, Debbie doesn’t see that this barely visible grey shapeless form in the water in front of Lou is Dashiell in her kayak. From this distance, she doesn’t see that those blur fuzzy motions are nothing less than a moving paddle, which makes kayak slide over the surface of the Strait. Debbie doesn’t see that those motions are widening the gap between the girl and Lou. The only thing Debbie sees is Lou, who fights the water resistance with every move of hers, so she runs after her. Without a second’s delay. Without a grain of hesitation.

She’s not surprised to be met by coldness. When the air temperature is barely 11 of Celsius above zero, when the cold wind seems to blow straight through your skin and bones, guiding the direction of your steps, the seawater to be about 14 is exactly what you expect. Debbie’s used to the cold water. Helpful or not, it’s another of her adaptational skills from prison.  But this. This coldness is something different. Some other level of shocking agony, it feels rather like boiling water than like ice against the bare areas of her heated with running skin.

Deeper and deeper, feeling as the water quickly seeps into the fabric of her clothes, turning into some sort of liquid iron and getting closer and closer to her heart, Debbie tries to shorten the distance to Lou. Stops only when she cannot swim further: when she cannot feel her fingers and toes, cramps fettering her legs and her feet not touching the bottom anymore. She’s a good runner but a really shitty swimmer and with her jeans and turtleneck stuck to her body, as heavy as Iron Man’s suit, there’s no chance she can catch up with Lou without going down under the water like a piece of rusty junk. Desperately moving her limbs and trying to keep her head above the surface, she feels helpless. Her breathing is fitful and her heart is racing a mile per second, aspiring to escape from her ribcage as if the sailor from submarine without air. At least she’s a little bit closer. At least she can see Lou swimming in a couple of meters ahead. At least she can see Dashiell now. At least she can move herself a little backward, without taking her eyes from the scene in front of her, let the edges of her sneakers find the mainstay again. Let herself exhale with a slight relief because her Lou is fast, faster than the bright-green kayak, and they are closer and closer with every stroke of Lou’s arms. Let herself exhale with a slight relief only to hold her breath in a matter of second because everything that happens next seems to happen in some slow-motion movie but not with her. God please, not with her at all

When Lou’s chest hits the cold salt water, her arms start their rhythmic coordinated movements automatically, pushing water from underneath. Arm stroke - inhale, arm stroke - exhale. Arm stroke - inhale, arm stroke - exhale. Synchronized with her legs, each and every muscle working, it’s a closed loop, well-established scheme her body jumps into naturally as if there were no this two-and-a-half-months break. A person, raised in the ocean, water has always been her element. As much as Dashiell’s, though. And yet, Dashiell is just a child, her movements are still childish, not sufficiently strong and accurate, and Lou knows, no matter how far she is from her daughter now, catching her up is only a matter of a few moments. Just do not pay any attention to cold. Just do not to stop. Just do not throw off the rhythm. Just do not distract.

Lou knows Debbie’s been following her. She hears how Debbie’s legs slosh when meeting the water. Hears how the Ocean swims after her, her movements clunky, loud and frantic. She’s almost ready to interrupt her own way to stop the brunette wherever she is before she downs herself because yes, it’s not Debbie who’s her priority now but Debbie is the most horrific swimmer she knows and no, her death is the crappiest life hack their small family can use for bonding. She somehow senses with her back when Debbie stops behind her, most probably not being able to reach the soil, almost thanks the gods or Debbie’s common sense or her ability to read Lou’s thoughts for this.

Arm stroke - inhale, arm stroke - exhale. Arm stroke - inhale, arm stroke - exhale. One more stroke - and she’s finally close enough. Another one - and her fingers cling into kayak’s back carry handle, ending its course. “Dash,” the only word she manages to come up with, her voice breathy and husky, too loud as it breaks through the sounds of the sea. Dashiell turns in her seat in an abrupt movement; the paddle in her hands flinches… Losing its balance, the small boat suddenly capsizes, pulls its little passenger under water.

“Oh my,..” Lou hears somewhere behind and she turns her head to see as Debbie brings her palm to her lips to prevent any further sound from escaping her mouth…

‘Never turn your back to the ocean, baby-girl,’ her father used to tell her as a small child… Echoing him, she keeps telling it to her daughter every time they enter the water… Yet she makes this mistake and it shouldn’t be unexpected when a sweeping wave comes, only slightly bigger than the previous yet unnoticed under the shadows of the upcoming evening. Hits Lou right in her face, covering her with her head. Salt-water sneaky slips into her lungs with the inhale, mixed in with oxygen, burning from the inside. Lou coughs in an attempt to clear her airways, gasps for the vital air greedily…

Only several seconds of distraction. Only several seconds. But as her hands move in the dark, as black as oil water and her fingers capture nothing except for the cold liquid substance, the chilling terror starts creeping into her bones, paralyzing her body from her toes and tightening its clench around her chest. “No-no-no-no-no-no-no” races in her head with the blood rushing in her temples while her hands keep their search and seconds stretch into minutes and hours and the whole eternity up to the moment when her fingertips finally reach something way too similar to the strap of Dashiell’s backpack and she pulls it to the surface in one drastic stir…

Debbie’s already on the shore when Lou finally emerges from the water. Her steps sluggish and heavy because of her dripping wet clothes and even more because she’s dragging behind herself Dashiell’s backpack. Still bucked to the backpack straps and hanging on them, the girl kicks and bucks, desperately trying to escape, but Lou’s grip is too strong, Lou herself is too tall and Dashiell’s toes only barely shamble against the sand, for a moment reminding Debbie a wild wet panther cub, grabbed by the neck.

Only when they’re away from water unclenches Lou her fist with Dashiell abruptly landing on all fours. Meanwhile, she herself crashes to the sand, pushes her blonde soggy bangs away from her eyes, wipes the rests of salt water of from her face and spits the rest of it to the sand. As Lou takes off one of her black navy boots and pours a good glass of salt water out of it, Dashiell releases herself from the backpack ballast, hooping and spitting, and crawls several feet away. The three of them quieten for the whole forty seconds, trying to catch their breaths, trying to catch what’s going out at all.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” Lou utters through already chattering teeth, pulling on her boot back and working on the laces of the second one. Her voice comes from the depth of her chest, as menacing and cold as the air around them and Debbie can swear that all her glorified tranquility and level-headedness are starting to burst at the seams.

“I’m leaving. What’s it look like?” Dashiell throws in exactly the same way and if not the whole absurdity of their situation, Debbie would have been scoffing at how ridiculously similar despite themselves these two can be sometimes.

“Leaving, huh?” shadowed with black mascara smudges, Lou’s eyes instantly shift from her boots towards their daughter. “And, may I ask, leaving where?”

“Tasmania,” the word slips off from Dashiell’s lips with her chin parallel the floor, eyes locked with those of the same piercing blue in a silent battle. It’s a challenge, a ‘dare you’ look, so self-confident and deliberate Debbie would have never believed such a small person can wear it so effortlessly. Still, what she says is ludicrous to such an extent that Debbie’s loud chuckle emerges into the air, interrupting the dialogue.

“There’s absolutely no way you can get to Tasmania,” she’s not going to speak yet she blurts and Dashiell’s face turns towards her in surprise as if she notices Debbie’s presence only now.

 “Oh look who’s speaking here. A native Australian, aren’t you?” she taunts angrily, but that doesn’t bother Debbie anymore. It’s only one of her antics, she repeats Lou’s words in her head while Dashiell keeps talking. “You’re a stranger. You know nothing about me and about this place. I’ll easily get Flinders Island from here in a matter of just a couple of hours.”

“There’s no way you can get to Tasmania on that thing,” Debbie repeats more forcefully, nodding towards the sea where the bright green bottom of Dashiell’s kayak is still visible in the distance.

The girl’s eyes yank to Lou, looking for support, but the blonde only negatively shakes her head in a silence agreement with Debbie. “But Liam told… That I can… That the kayak is excellent and… and I’m such an outstanding swimmer…” her words come in pieces and she mutters much less confident as Lou keeps shaking her head and Debbie brings back her attention, clearing her throat.

“Taking into account the wind speed, the water flow and the size of your excellent kayak,” Debbie continues in her usual hortatory manner, and Dashiell slowly pulls her knees up to her chin, trembling slightly and trying to embrace them as tight as possible. She is in a wetsuit, quite a better selection of outfit for winter swimming than both Debbie and Lou have, yet with the sun down the temperature keeps falling with every several minutes and Dashiell must be as bloody cold as they are now. “The tops even an outstanding swimmer can make is to the Great Glennie.”

Dashiell opens her mouth, probably to snarl again, but no noise comes to life instead, with her lips moving in soundless attempts to gasp for air like a fish out of water. She is so self-conscious and confused, her eyes focused on her own feet almost in a panic, that mentally Debbie already claims the victory. Even Lou, if only for a moment, thinks to herself that maybe they’re done with all this “nuthouse”.

However, their daughter is not a fish. Of course, she’s not. Dashiell’s a predator. And predator dies only with the jaws of someone stronger clenched tightly around their throat – all fangs and claws - wheezing and convulsing, choking on their own blood.

Once Dashiell’s brows frown in a stubborn line, Lou knows it’s not the end – even before the sparkle of fight flashes in her eyes; even before she jumps to her feet, all her wetsuit stained with soggy sand; even before she starts yelling at them, moving slowly but steadily towards the sea.

“I don’t care. I don’t care if I get anywhere at all. I need to get out of here. I’m not staying where nobody needs me. Not for a day. Not for a second!” she screams, walking backward, her eyes running between the two of grown-ups before her, with the tailwind in her back making her words crash into Debbie’s face like a solid slap and into Lou’s chest like the sledgehammer stab. It hurts. It fucking physically hurts.

“Dash, that’s not true,” Debbie’s the first who recovers and tries to talk some sense into the girl – Lou seems to freeze where she is, just blinking at Dashiell, unseeing. Debbie cannot see her, but if she could she wouldn’t be able to tell if she was even breathing.

“Don’t ‘Dash me!” Dashiell snaps, cutting Debbie’s words as if with the knife. “I’m not stupid, okay? You’re a coward! You’re leaving ‘cause you don’t want complications. ‘Cause you don’t want me even more than you want Lou! But the worst part is, she...,” her eyes shift from Debbie to Lou who still doesn’t show any signs of life. “She has never even wanted me at all!”

That is a lie, now!” Debbie fends off, but the girl’s face scrunches up and she turns her back to both women, keeps walking so that Debbie has to cry into her back. “Don’t you dare to make a victim out of yourself, young lady! You’ve done everything – everything – to break us up and make me leave! So do not pretend that I’m the only one guilty here!..”

And they keep yelling at each other, blaming each other, interrupting each other, looking for the new and new evidence of the fact that each of them doesn’t love another one or doesn’t deserve another one… All that thing turns into the monotonous squabble of human cries, glacial wind howling and the roaring of the sea. They’re too busy to notice how Lou bats her eyes once and twice before to stand up, white sand slipping off her black leather pants.

“Shut up!” although she doesn’t even scream it, Debbie nevertheless flinches all of a sudden, so as Dashiell. “Shut your mouths right now!”

The three of them stare at each other, standing as the vertices of a perfect triangle, Debbie and Dashiell quiet, waiting for Lou to talk again.

Lou pinches the bridge of her nose, squeezing her eyes tight as she’s trying to find the words. “I… You… You both are impossible..,” her eyes finally fix on Debbie, narrowing. “I suggested this plan with a child that was absolutely insane only because I loved you. The day you asked me to become her mom I agreed only because I loved you. But when the first time I saw her moving inside of me on the ultrasound screen… The first time I realized she was mine as much as yours… I fall hopelessly in love and ever since then everything I’ve been doing… All those six years I’ve been waiting for you… All was because I wanted us to be a family. And now…” she runs her hand through the messy wet hair, stops it on the back of her neck, making bitter laughter. “Now, when we’re finally together. When you can finally have what you have always aspired to… I know you’re capable to pull any con you want, Debbie. But if you fail this, you won’t be able to steal it back...”

Debbie wants to say something, parts her lips but Lou winces as if she’s hurt and takes her eyes off from Debbie and brings them to Dashiell. “And you…” she sucks in a breath and Debbie may not see as a huge tear rolls down her pale cheek but she sees as Lou wipes it with the back of her hand before it reaches her chin. “I might have not been the best mother. But your IQ is 130. One hundred and thirty, Karl! That’s quite a thing even for an adult, let alone for a child! Aren’t you too smart not to understand that I love you? That I can’t live without you? That it hurts even to breathe without you!” her voice cracks and now Debbie knows she’s crying despite her best efforts not to. “I went to New York, the city where I had been ‘almost dying’ for more times than I’d like to remember, for you. I came back to a woman who I thought had betrayed me and pushed me out of her life, for you. I brought her here, to another continent, for you to have both mothers and for us to be a family. And you tell me that I don’t need you?!”

It’s not the way in which Lou suddenly stays calm, bites her bottom lip, wipes her tears, shaking her head stubbornly. It’s the way she raises her hands that makes Debbie’s heart accelerate in alarm. Up in the air, both palms open towards them. “You know what?” As if surrendering. “I’m done.” As if capitulating. “I’ve had enough of this shit. You want to leave – leave. Scatter to the four winds. Apparently, it’s me who nobody needs anymore…”

She turns her back to them, shoulders slouched and wilted, starts walking herself from the beach and Dashiell’s “Lou, stop it!” screamed to her back, makes Debbie feel an awful déjà vu. If Lou thinks it’s a good idea to make the ‘beach exit’ scene her Charlie Special, well, she’s hopelessly wrong.

“Lou, stop it! Lou!.. Mom!.. Stop! Please! Mom!” Dashiell cries louder and louder, the hints of panic and fear clearly audible in her voice, but Lou doesn’t stop. She doesn’t stop when Dashiell runs to her and reaches her hand with both of her smaller ones. Neither when the girl pulls the sleeve of her jacket, trying to make her look at her. Retards only not to hurt the child when Dashiell slips down her leg, wrapping her limbs around her, trying to hold as tight as possible, as if her life depends on it. “Mommy please, don’t go. Mommy, pleeeease. I wasn’t. I wasn’t serious. Just bluffing. Don’t. Go. Debbie, tell her. Tell her, Debbie! Tell!”

Debbie stands, frozen, unable to move. She can literally see how all the walls, Dashiell’s built around herself, crumble all together in a blink of an eye, all smithereens, and dust. For the very first time since they met two weeks ago, she can see Dashiell this vulnerable, this candor and this real. For the first time since she knows her daughter, she can see all her limitless love for Lou and feel all the pain and fear and doubts that came to her little girl’s life together with the figure of Deborah Ocean. She is a coward. She was too blind and arrogant and selfish to let down her own barricades. Barricades against who, Debbie? Against the woman you love? Against your own child? How stupid of you Ocean. How stupid of you…

Lou keeps walking, hobbling her way with Dashiell, who’s stuck to her leg, blubbering out aloud now, pleading for Debbie’s help. But covered with another panic attack as if with the blanket, trapped in the soundproof shell of her own phobias and insecurities, Debbie can’t help but blame herself for being the only reason her daughter had to build her walls at all. She doesn’t know Dashiell feels this. Doesn’t know Dashiell can see through her ‘armor’ almost as good as Lou, finding the cracks and weak spots. She doesn’t notice a second of hesitation in Dashiell’s sobbing voice, doesn’t expect Dashiell to throw this ‘stone’, yet it demolishes her shell as if it’s from the glass. “Mama, tell her to stop. Please!”

Her eyes move instantly and when they meet Dashiell’s she knows it’s not a slip of the tongue. She knows this ‘Mama’ is for her and for her only. Knows the girl has been keeping it on the edge of her tongue, hiding it behind her teeth, saving it for the right moment. A moment like this? Jeez, if only they both were as intelligent and reasonable as Lou believes them to be.

She finally rushes towards Lou and Dashiell, catching up and overtaking them. Steps in front of Lou, blocking her way. Repeats her moves when Lou tries to circumvent her, with Dashiell now standing a little behind, observing them and still sniffing.

“Lou,” Debbie steps closer to face her, touches her hand just with her fingertips, but Lou’s chin falls to her chest and she herself drops to her knees as if they don’t hold her anymore. Debbie falls after her, cups her cheeks, wiping the black mascara tears trails off her face. “Lou! Look at me, baby!” she mutters under her breath, but Lou somehow hears her, tho. When her eyes, reddish and puffy yet still extremely blue even in the darkness of the evening, meet Debbie’s, Debbie’s brain stops working and she’s suddenly out of words. The only thing that comes to her mind is ‘Lou’. ‘Lou. Lou. Lou. Lou.’ pulsates endlessly in her head, replacing each and every thought and when the tears of bitterness and uselessness start forming in her eyes she feels a tiny hand slipping around her shoulder and, by the slightly surprised look of the blue eyes in front of her, she can tell that another small hand is now wrapped around Lou either.

She can feel Dashiell’s breathing, hot in spite of coldness around them, against her ear as the girl whispers to her. “Tell her not to go.”

Don’t go,” she delivers in the air without a second of hesitation, blinks the tears away from the corners of her eyes.

“Tell her we’re sorry...”

We’re sorry,” another quote that Lou seems to absorb, all eyes and ears open.

“Tell her we’re idiots…”

We’re idiots,” a small smile on Debbie’s face reciprocated by the corners of Lou’s lips up just a little.

 “Tell her we’re not gonna leave…”

We’ll not leave.

“Never…”

Never.”

“Tell her we promise. No, no, no. Tell her, we swear…”

“We swear!”

A little pause and Debbie feels how the tiny fingers go deeper in her hair, how Lou’s and her faces come closer and closer until their foreheads finally touch. Lou’s pulse under Debbie’s little fingers where they touch Lou neck right under her jaw is so fast Debbie’s not sure if Lou can really hear her behind the pumping of blood in her ears.

“Tell her we love her...”

We love you…

“More than anything in the world,” Debbie hears a little further from her ear and a little louder as Dashiell’s shaggy-haired head moves and her face nuzzles half into her and half into Lou’s cheeks.

Dark brown and icy-blue, their eyes are fixed on each other, glued to each other. She closes the remaining distance between them, her lips brushing against Lou’s. Her girl is tired and cold and trembling. She is hurt and broken. They both are. But they can fix it. She will plan it. They will plan it. And they will make it work

“…and I will surely learn how to make your favorite brownie. I promise, mommy.”

That interrupts Debbie’s thoughts but she feels Lou smiling against her lips and they tighten their hugs around each other and the girl next to them. Yes, they will definitely make it work.

_____________________

Amazingly, but it’s Cordelia who finally finds them on the beach, cuddled to each other but already starting to freeze to death, and brings them back home. Accompanying with the grumbling about their immaturity and irresponsibility, it is Cordelia who pushes the three of them, trembling and miserable from cold, out of their wet clothes and to the tube filled with the steaming water, while Lewis makes arrangements in the kitchen. It is Cordelia, who takes Dashiell to the nursery to dry her hair and dress her into the fresh pajamas set and then brings her back to Lou and Debbie, both already dried and changed, only to put the three cups of hot honey milk, delivered to the room by Lou’s father, into their hands. It is Cordelia, who covers them with a huge comforter from toes and up to the chins, nudging it at the edges, adds several extra degrees to the air-con temperature and turns-off the lights, still snarling something about ‘by God, Lewis, we have the three children out there’ when closing the door behind her back.

It’s long after midnight when they finally settle down in their bed with Dashiell nestled between the two of them, sound asleep. Her head is resting against Lou’s chest, nuzzled under her chin; delicate small back spooned into Debbie. Lou wonders if, with her forehead pressed to her pulse point and her back to Debbie’s solar plexus, she can feel both of their heart beatings even through her slumber.

Lou’s hand gently strokes short disheveled hair, her fingertips caressing the back of little girl’s head. Carefully fondles her shoulder, her forearm and all the way downwards where one of Dashiell’s fists is sunk into the hem of her own t-shirt and another wrapped around Debbie’s thumb. Even in a dream, Dashiell refuses to break her hold on them.

Lou brings her eyes to Debbie, whose look is fixed on Dashiell. They’re close. Close enough to feel the scent of Dashiell’s butterscotch shower gel and menthol toothpaste they all used before bed. To listen to each other’s breathing, calm and even after they finally stopped trembling, wrapped into each other under the blanket. To hear the quietest whisper any of them could have dropped in the shadows of the room.

“You do not destroy people you love, Debbie. That’s not how it works. That’s not how it should be.” Lou’s whisper is barely audible but Debbie’s face rises and the dimmed light of the moon from the behind of Lou’s back reflects in her now almost black eyes. Debbie’s lips move but Lou goes on faster than Debbie can find her words to produce her answer.

“No,” her tongue clicks against her palate. “Let me finish.” She needs to tell this. Needs to reveal this whilst she still can. To spit it out before she falls for Debbie again, before her love will cover her eyes and cloud her common sense. “I know what that means to love the Ocean. I remember myself crying over you every time you were leaving me. I remember myself crying over you when you got to prison. And I’m not talking about whining and snotting. I’m talking about howling at the moon, collapsing and slowly dying. About heating the knuckles to blood and waking up in the middle of the night, screaming to the darkness. Nevertheless, every time you come back I can’t help but forgive you. But this is me – I can handle now a good bunch of scars and embrace a mouthful of explanation – as far as I’m concerned I always know what I’m doing. But she…” Debbie doesn’t recognize her features in the shadows, only the silhouette of her, which shifts slightly when she makes a pause.

“She’s the most important thing in my life. She is my life itself.  My shiny-shiny girl…,” she tilts her head – exhales heavily when kissing the top of Dashiell’s head, brings her face back to Debbie. “I’ve freaked out today, though you were right. If you’re not sure you want this, you better leave. I want you to get your shit together, to figure out which part of yourself you’re ready to share with us. I’m tired of being on the other side of the walls you two build between yourself. I want you to be with us only when you’re ready. If you ever are. Because if you hurt her, I will never forgive you.”

They’re staring at each other through the darkness and through the years that have been separating them. So impossibly close their noses are almost touching. So impossibly close, it hurts to look. There’s nothing but silence between them now, hovering above them, smothering their throats with tears. Debbie swallows hard. It’s been two months and a half since she had been outside. It’s been two months and a half of innuendos and misunderstandings. Two months and a half of dancing around each other, making like there’s no elephant in the room. Two months and a half of Debbie pretending she has nothing to do with her daughter – let’s be honest, that was exactly what you’ve been doing, Ocean – and Lou wearing badass exterior and acting like she’s not bloody hurt because of this.

“After Met,” Debbie finally breaks the spell, her free hand moves and slips under Lou’s cheek, cups her face where it meets the pillow, “Tammy told me there had to be something except for heist that made me happy. But after all, heist has never been this something. You were the only thing that has been making me wake up in the morning for five years eight months and twelve days. You were the only thing that was keeping me breathing. I was alive just because I knew that you and our little girl were somewhere in the world. But I also knew what I did to you. And I didn’t know if you were to forgive me, if you were to ever let me become the part of this. So I guess, heist became my obsession cause it was a tool. To give you everything I believed I could. To give you the choice to become happy even without me.”

“You idiot, I don’t want! How can I…?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Debbie’s finger stops above Lou’s lips not letting her finish. “I know you can’t. And don’t want. Now I know. Figured it only this evening. I’ve been still thinking you’re my baby girl who never knew what she wanted. What a dumbass I am, huh?”

Debbie more feels than sees the corners of Lou’s lips twitch slightly in her firm lopsided smile.

“What if I tell you I don’t need time to decide?” for a second she feels Lou holding her breath. “What if I tell you I’d made my decision a moment before we jerked out of our room to deal with Dashiell. What if I ask you to let me stay with you, to become the part of your life because there’s nothing in the world I want more than to be with you and Dashiell?..”

Ask, then…” Lou utters in the quietest whisper.

“Can I? Please?”

No answer follows. Only blonde head keeps nodding against Debbie’s cheek, tickling her with the messy long bangs and leaving wet salty trails. Only “Iloveyou-Iloveyou-Iloveyou-Iloveyou,” exhaled against her lips between the kisses. And then ‘Stay. Please. Stay’ Debbie’s not sure she really hears, just moments before her eyelids get heavier and heavier and finally close, Debbie herself dozing off with her chin resting above the top of Dashiell’s head and her nose still pressed to Lou’s.

She’s waiting for good fifteen minutes until she has no doubts her both brunettes are asleep. Somehow manages to change her position, disentangling herself out of Dashiell’s grip and turning to her side to grab her phone from the nightstand. Kills the screen brightness to zero, makes sure the sound is muted.

Plans’ve changed. One extra plane ticket this Saturday. And one more passport: Vivian Brown-King. 30.08.12. The rest u know.”

She doesn’t need to calculate what the time in New York it is now – Nine Ball is on the line 24/7 anyway. Her phone beams in an instant reply.

12, huh? thought this monster from ur messenger was kinda elder. too smartass, no offense XD

‘Well, well,” mental note to herself, glancing towards Dashiell, “gotta update my passwords.’ Yet, she types a quick message with an amazed grin. “Will send photos tomorrow. Thx.” The phone screen dies and it returns to the nightstand. Whatever Leslie’s reply is, it’s a ‘yes’ and she’ll read it tomorrow.

 Lou burrows up under the covers, back to Dashiell and Debbie. Her voice small and timid deep in her dream, the girl mumbles a whimpering “Mommy”. Lou budges closer to her, leaving no space in between. “Shush, shush, baby-girl,” she rubs the bridge of her small nose with the back of her forefinger. “It's all right..,” places a weightless kiss on the soft spot under the girl’s eye. “I’m here,” nuzzles her nose into Dashiell’s hair, kissing the top of her auburn head. Her arm lands protectively over both sleeping figures besides her, holding them even closer. “We’re here…,” mutters she half-asleep, smiling as Dashiell’s hand rises and her fingers entangle back to Lou’s tee shirt. It’s not even in a minute that her own eyes shut down and she dozes off, feeling the warmth of the two dearest people in her life.

Chapter Text

* October 2011, 6 years 8 months ago…

 

Lou,” it’s barely a whisper. She feels it more than hears - like the light wind against her bare skin, it follows the weightless kisses that raise from her flat stomach up to her ribs, brush over her breasts, trace her collarbones. “Lou…,” echoes still somewhere far away on the background yet right behind her ear, delicately making its way through the fog in her head, bringing her back from the high. It’s the way she says her name that makes a difference. It’s the way she says her name that gives her something to hold on to, that anchors her when the world around becomes way too big to handle it. It’s the way she says her name that makes her feel safe in her arms. Feel loved in her arms.

Lou,” she murmurs into her ear, trying to return her from where she herself has just got her to. She’s always dealt terrible with words, and her love and her gratitude to Lou are so much bigger than words, so she decides against speaking. Lou doesn’t hear ‘I-love-you’s jumping from her lips too often. But they share a space where they live and sometimes a bed in here. They share the skin, losing the sense of themselves into each other. What’s to say, they share life and soon to be sharing so much more, so when she says her name it is different and she makes sure Lou notices it.

I want her to look like you…” her lips repeat the line of the perfectly sharpened cheekbone up to her temple. “I want her to have your eyes…” scarcely touch the impossibly long eyelashes partly tangled with the messy blonde bangs, on the still closed velvet eyelids. “I want her…”

Her?..” Lou finally hums, interrupting, and she reluctantly takes her lips from where they feel Lou’s racing heartbeat over her pulse point so steady, only to catch her bottom lip between her teeth slightly and to kiss away the familiar, lopsided, smug as a fuck smirk, which indicates ‘Huston’ is finally ‘back to Earth’.

She pulls away just a little, only to caress the porcelain white cheek with her fingertips, only to drown in the two ocean-blues in front of her. “Him…,” steals another soft kiss from the smiling lips. “Her…” and another one. “I don’t care. I want them to look like you.”

When she closes the gap again just about to give her one more proper kiss, she feels Lou’s fingers trail their way to the small of her back. She arches her back, feels as Lou winds her hands around her waist, links them behind, rolling their bodies over and reversing their position. Now she’s hovering above her, holding her weight on her elbows on either side of Debbie’s head. Their eyes are into each other, blind to anything else except for each other.

“Who am I to say ‘no’ to the almighty Deborah Ocean?” A kiss. An easy bite in return. “But in that case, we’ll need to accept my mother’s invitation. We’ll go to Australia.”

“And why do we…” a kiss. “How exactly…” a kiss, “…this will help me to obtain the copy of you?” Debbie breaks away, leans back to lock their eyes again, but Lou transfers her weight on her one elbow and the sensation of Lou’s palm sliding down her body makes her take a sharp breath.

“Do you remember Liam?” nothing but a short nod from Debbie instead of reply – the only coherent reaction she manages to produce -  widens a devilish smile on Lou’s lips. “Well, you must remember as well that…” an all teeth tug on Debbie’s earlobe distracts her from the hand, which travels lower and lower, making her shut her eyes closed. Her own hands jump from the bedsheets, desperately grasping at as much of Lou’s she can reach – the elbow, the shoulder, the lower back, the strands of blond hair on the back of Lou’s head - to hold on something, not to break apart into pieces all at once. She succeeds, even if for a moment only, but long enough to hear another whisper into her ear “he has my eyes.”

 

 * September 2011, 6 years 9 months ago…

 

She’s sprawled over the sofa, leaning back against the cushions like a big feline who owns the place: nonchalant, cocky and relaxed to this exactly extend when the cat starts reminding liquid. Except for her leg, which doesn’t get in the shot of her laptop camera but which has been bouncing against the concrete floor without stopping for no less than the last fifteen minutes. Debbie didn’t ask her to join her and she didn’t offer though - she is honestly terrified with hospitals, they make her feel small and pathetic - so it was her choice to stay at home and wait. But Debbie was supposed to come back a good hour ago and letting her go by herself doesn’t seem to be a nice plan anymore.

“Louise Catherine Miller? Are you even listening to me?”

She flinches, coming back from her speculations, wants to shoot some random excuse - it was she who invented this thing with talking to her mother in the background autopilot mode – but decides against it. Usually, she nods and ‘mm-hmm’s exactly when necessary, however, Cordelia’s face expression in Skype video chat on the screen tells her it’s most likely not the first time she’s trying to break through the wall of her thoughts. So, since she’s caught, there’s no wain to pretend she’s been listening.

“You’re all antsy and flying miles away. Is everything okay?” classic head tilt, eyes narrowed, one brow crooked in ‘you-better-not-lying-to-me-here’ expression. Lou fidgets on her place uncomfortably, runs her fingers through her hair. Throughout time and distance, Cordelia still manages to read her like an open book. Not the same way as Debbie does - but somehow deeper, through her skin and bones. After all, it’s not because Cordelia didn’t know her second daughter that they had always had those spats between them. Quite the contrary - it’s because she knew her like the back of her hand. Each of her personality trait, each behavioral pattern, each little ‘sidelong’ glance and each uttered or unuttered word that were different from her own view of a perfect ‘Miller-girl’…

“Erm… Just this big new project at work. Takes up all my thoughts, you know. I’m sorry mother. So, you were telling…?” now that’s a lie. But this one is a tempered one. Seasoned with years of practice and sprouted with stratums of legends. Not a complete one though – she has her ‘M.Arch.’ indeed, Debbie pretty much compelled her to graduate all those years ago. Without her parents’ money but with the scholarship and all the privileges instead, since according to all that university snobs she was such a fucking prodigy – a prodigy who disappeared into thin air the second her fingers touched her degree certificate. No need to say she hasn’t worked a day as a true architect. But at least, it comes in handy in their cons. And it keeps being quite a die-hard fence-story for her parents.

A little hitch, pursed lips. A suspicious glance of her mother’s eyes. “I was asking if you’d decided regarding your birthday.” Yeah, mom, this is definitely ‘to the place now’, thank you. “It’s in a little over a month. And what an amazing occasion for you to visit us. We haven’t seen you for almost a year. Your father misses you like crazy. He’s such a child, you know?” Cordelia rambles and Lou only smirks slightly. You’ll never admit you miss me, will you mother?

She wants to ask her. How difficult is it to accept that Lou is so different from her standards (has always been as far from them as Lizbeth has been close). How difficult is it to admit that she misses her (do you, mom?) To tell her that she loves her (do you?)

She stops her bouncing feet, moves closer to the screen, resting her elbows on her knees. “Just dad?” she starts but before Cordelia processes the question, blinking at her in surprise, before Lou can add anything else, the key turns in the front door lock, opening it.

Her head flounces towards the door and back to the screen, “I got to go, mom”.

“But we haven’t finished…”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Louise!”

“I’ll. Think. About. It,” Lou stretches each word in annoyance as if explaining to a naughty child. The two pairs of absolutely identical ocean-blue eyes stare at each other in a silent duel for a couple of seconds. Lou gives up first. “I promise. Kiss dad for me. Bye,” she disconnects and shuts the laptop. Jumps off the sofa and she is in the hall in front of the door even before Debbie appears in the doorway.

Lou tries and mostly fails to stay still and not to bounce up and down on the place in anticipation. Anticipation is thrilling and exciting - one of the reasons why she is practically addicted to their work. But this. Is different. She was excited every previous time and every previous time it was hurting her more and more, giving her no other feelings but complete emptiness and loss. Somehow, she has always been able to share Debbie’s pain. Like physically. Like for real. And she hurts for Debbie. Will always be.

She’s doing her best to stay nonchalant, even pulls on her wide snow-white ‘Lou Miller’ brand grin, but it fades away from her face as soon as she sees how Debbie enters the hall and shuts the door behind her, how presses her back to the cold metal surface and how her chin, usually parallel the floor in the most audacious manner, falls to her chest. Deborah Ocean, defeated and capitulated – the sight so unique and rare it’s in fact unprecedented. The sight so miserable and pitiful that Lou’s hands involuntary rise from where they hang hooked on the front pockets of her jeans to cross on her chest in one sharp motion. She will never admit it (of course Lou, you’re a grown-up and mature and independent and all on your own), but Debbie Ocean is her stronghold. Debbie Ocean is her armour and her ground and her protection from the outer world. And Debbie Ocean with her shoulders slouched, her eyes puffy and her cheeks still wet from tears (has she been crying in the car? hiding from Lou? really???) seem to aspire to tear Lou from the inside.

Debbie stubbornly remains silent, stubbornly keeps her eyes on the floor, refusing to meet Lou’s. Her silence is almost palpable. It soars in the apartment, so sick and deadly Lou can swear she hears the icky buzzing of the lamp above the kitchen island (a pang of conscience suddenly hits in the guts with unexpected force – she promised to replace it two weeks ago. Apparently, she didn’t.) It’s unbearable not to know. A myriad of questions are desperate to get out from Lou’s mouth.

“So?...,” the tops she manages to mumble a little louder than under her nose but Debbie hears her. She knows by the slight shake of her head, replicated with the wave of dark chocolate strands that hide her face from Lou. All of a sudden, it becomes incredibly difficult to take another breath because of a wave of nausea that comes from the bottom of Lou’s stomach. It is ‘no’. Complete and total one.

“Okay,” she inhales deeply, exhales, hardly swallows a nasty lump in her throat. Watches as Debbie’s fists clench tightly. “Then, you will try again later...”

“I won’t, you know it. What for?” Debbie cuts, raising her face abruptly and their eyes finally lock. “They said it was the last time. Any other will end up the same. You. Know it!” her voice is calm and reasonable as always, but the dark-brown eyes, normally so warm and happy with Lou, look at her with so much cold and pain and grief and bitterness Lou never knew they can hold. Of course, she knows. Knows better than anyone because she was with Debbie every step of this way. Yet still tries her luck to con a con, to lie to the best liar of all times, to smooth the things over or whatever they call all this supportive bullshit. Because, for fuck’s sake, what is she even supposed to tell? They’ve never discussed this scenario – when Deborah Ocean’s ‘plan B for plan B for plan B’ crumbles as a filthy house of cards.

“Okay…” she catches her bottom lip between her teeth, the canine sinking in the flash so deep she can taste the metal on her tongue; twists the massive wolf-head ring Debbie has stolen for her recently, around her ring finger. “Why don’t we calm down and find a solution together? Have you considered an opportunity to take it…”

“They won’t let me, Lou,” Debbie interrupts, brows furrowing as if the suggestion itself is a complete absurd. “I’m a fucking criminal.”

“They don’t know it.”

“Well, they will find out!” she spits sharply, in much more anger and annoyance than intends, but who can blame her, honestly? Her eyes move away from Lou’s face and to the window. A second of hesitation, as if she’s not sure if she should say the following. “Anyway, I don’t want it to be this way. I want it to belong to me.”

Her last words are barely a whisper and Debbie quietens again, eyes falling downwards. There are uncertainty and shame on her beautiful face. She feels the shame, but she shouldn’t, Lou thinks. What Debbie feels about all this is completely normal, Lou thinks.

Lou purses her lips, makes a step forward and brushes her fingertips against the knuckles of one of Debbie’s fists in the attempt to open it, but Debbie just pulls it back sharply. Shakes her head again, brings her fingers to squeeze the bridge of her nose hard.

“I’m tired. Sorry. I’d better go to my room.” She storms past Lou, preventing their shoulders from any contact, as if one of them is a radioactive soon-to-be-dead body, leaving her partner to stand alone before the front door to their silent apartment.

Several minutes pass before she heads towards the kitchen, grabs a bottle of whiskey from the upper cabinet, pours it into the nearest mug she finds, filling it to the brims, and drains it in one go, almost in one fell swoop. Shambles to her own lair, locking the door behind herself as quietly as possible. Falls to her bad, landing on her back, and stares to the ceiling unseeingly.

Her room is as dark as the closed blinds let it be in the late afternoon, preventing any sun rays from breaking the perimeter. Normally Lou loves darkness, basks in the cold contrast it makes to the light, in the peace and tranquillity it provides her with. Normally Lou loves a glass of whiskey, either: toppled in a good company (in the company of Debbie, to be precise), it makes the world around a little less serious, its laws and boundaries a little less tedious and strict, and the layers of clothes that are between their bodies a little less existing in the end. But at the moment this mixture of lack of light in the space around and a sudden oversupply of C2H5OH in her blood result in not such favourable reactions. As it so often the case when her slightly shaking hands cannot feel the warm body of her restless brunette girl next to her to anchor her fuzzed brain on the only solid thing she knows in her life, it starts spiralling on a thousand-mile speed, dragging her further and further to the sticky inner upside-down world.

They were drunk as lords in one of the dubious cheap pubs at Canary Wharf after some outstanding for that time job in summer London when a crowd of noisy wasted students crashed inside and Debbie stilled for a second, staring at them without blinking, just to blur out of blue in the same breath, “They would have been eighteen this month, you know. My kid. If I hadn’t killed them...” Lou’s jaw dropped to the floor.

It was seven years ago. Debbie was barely thirty-five. And it was the first time when Lou realized that a single probability of Debbie’s failure scared the shit out of her and sent the cold shivers down her spine. Cause as it turned out, Debbie Ocean didn’t make a mistake, but if she did - it was truly universal.

Debbie didn’t move to any further explanations although Lou wasn’t dumb not to understand the crux of the matter, so they never raised the topic again. It simply had been hovering above them like a fucking Damocles’ sword, causing the awkward silence in their drunk talks every once in a while. Until about two and a half years ago, when in March Tammy gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby girl. And the minute Debbie’s fingertips touched the newborn, she became obsessed with the idea of her own motherhood.

Of course, nobody but Lou knew about her attempts to get pregnant. But Debbie wouldn’t have been Debbie if she hadn’t turned everything into another entertaining adventure. The two of them had always been predators, hunters if you want. And for Debbie, this had become some new kind of hunt. At first, they even had fun (if not to mention the fact that Lou had been mostly jealous rather than fun). Behind the wheels of Bugatti’s and Aston Martin’s, in their perfectly tailored Brioni’s and Zegna’s, with Rolexes’ and Patek Philippe’s around their wrists and innumerable zeros resting in their bank accounts, their marks not only had been robbed but also had turned into pure-bred stallions, being chosen by the verified and re-verified hacked medical records. This had been going on for almost a year: Debbie leaving fancy restaurants and luxurious clubs with some handsome ‘fat cat’ and Lou waiting for her, hiding in the shadows of their apartment and torturing herself with the thoughts of what would come to their lives together with Debbie’s pregnancy. But by the end of this first year of trying the only thing they scored was numerous ‘negative’s’ and two painful ‘positive’s’ (they both had ended up within two and three weeks respectively and Lou still feels the same bone-chilling terror when recalling Debbie wrapped in her arms, sobbing wordlessly on the bathroom floor, and blood, blood, blood… dark red stains everywhere from white silk bedsheets in Debbie’s bedroom to white cold tiles under them). Apparently, that was when the fun was over.

It was about eighteen months ago that Lou kicked Debbie out of this ‘not-a-game-anymore’ shit and dropped her off from her old Toyota in front of New York IVF Gold Coast center. And it was almost eighteen months ago that they stopped seeing Tammy. Because ‘sorry Tim Tam, lots of things recently Tim Tam, busy-busy Tim Tam, just have no time at all Tim Tam, of course, we’ll swing by your place the other day, kiss the princess for us’ and ‘no-no Tim Tam, of course, everything is ‘kay. Everything is ’kay

Then there they had this year and a half of hospital corridors, endless analysis and tests, alcohol-free and healthy food diets (which was a challenge-thing to combine with the jobs), daily sports and ‘Lou-you-are-not-smoking-at-home-anymore’ rules. They had this year of ‘we’ll do our best to help you to have a healthy baby but, in a view of all, we cannot guarantee anything’ talks. They had this year of putative successes (‘everything seems to go smoothly Ms. Ocean’) and excruciating failures (‘unfortunately, this time it’s negative’ or ‘we are sorry, Ms. Ocean, but you were aware there was a high risk’) again and again. And then they had the previous Debbie’s appointment a couple of weeks ago when they faced the scary fact that she had her last attempt – if it would be unsuccessful, the doctors were washing their hands.

So, here they are. Closed in different rooms of the same apartment, with the walls of cold bricks and concrete but more with the walls of grief and fear, separating them from each other like the unbridgeable world oceans. With the final verdict of the final attempt, which chokes the breath with nausea and takes its sharp glass roots deep into their hearts to leave its shreds there forever, pulsating with a dull pain. Because sometimes, they said, it happens that adolescent abortions may result in irreparable consequences, both psychological and physiological. Debbie cannot carry the child. Will never be able to.

Lou doesn’t notice as the tears roll down her temples, soaking into the blonde messy hair spilled against the bed. She was so stupid and selfish, secretly terrified to death of how this not-existing child would change Debbie, would change them. But now, there will be no child. And she doesn’t feel any relief about it. She feels helpless and miserable instead because Debbie is the only person she ever loved. And she cannot protect her from this. She can rob each and every casino in this country for Debbie, can steal each and every diamond for Debbie. She can kick any ass, jeez, she can probably kill for Debbie. However, there’s one fucking thing in this world that Debbie really wants, one fucking thing Debbie really needs and she would have sold her soul to get it for her but nobody makes an offer for this exchange.

Planning is not her best suit, it’s Debbie’s part of their couple, but the gears in Lou’s head rotate with such a speed it feels like it’s gonna explode. ‘Debbie cannot carry the child and I cannot help her. Debbie cannot carry the child and I cannot help her. Debbie cannot carry the child and I cannot help her.’ Her temples start aching so hard she has to squeeze them to minimize the pain, and this is the single thought that swirls in her brain, drilling it from the inside. ‘Debbie cannot carry the child and I cannot help her… Or can I?... ’

The ocean blue eyes fly wide open suddenly and she jumps up to the sitting position. Pulls her legs close to her chest, hugs them to rest the chin on her knees. Bites the inside of her cheek to the blood. She doesn’t blink in the darkness. Barely inhales, too scared to spook the idea that emerged in her head from the fog of self-beating and self-destruction. She doesn’t know how long it takes her to untangle all the parts of a puzzle out of her mind. To run a thing several times, to fix all the weak spots. To finally assemble a puzzle, click the pieces into the piece, making it run like clockwork, perfectly. She almost hears a ‘ding’ when all the parts come together and it sounds good enough to see the world, sounds like a guide to action.

When Lou tosses herself out of her room, the sun already starts to settle, sending the kaleidoscope of dark orange and purple sunset rays through the narrow windows. She suggests they’ve spent quite a while in their rooms. Enough time for Debbie to calm down at least a little bit. She crosses the broad space of their living room, shivers from the cold air that hugs her bare forearms in the tank top. Tiptoes down the hall, slips inside Debbie’s bedroom through the slightly ajar door. She never locks it, not even now. Leaves it open for Lou. For Lou, who still tends to have nightmares and to wake up in a cold sweat, gasping for air. For Lou, who comes to her room in the middle of the night when the nightmares are especially tough – just to crawl under Debbie’s blanket, just to cuddle next to her, just to feel the warmth of her skin. Debbie doesn’t know what she sees, doesn’t ask because it’s not how it works with them. Just leaves her door open, just in case.

Lou moves like a cat, her barefoot steps muffled against the cold floor and she’s happy she doesn’t make a sound because she’s not sure if Debbie’s awake or asleep after what she has had to suffer today (‘alone, because you’re a pathetic coward’ her inside voice scolds mercilessly). Debbie lies on the far edge of the bed, face turned to the window so the only thing Lou’s eyes can spot in dimmed light from outside is her silhouette, so small and fragile it painfully blows Lou to the gut. She wants to hug her, to wrap herself around her, to hide her deep inside her own heart, protect from any further hardships this fucking world keeps for her. She wishes she could have taken all her sorrow with only one touch, could have kissed away all her pain with only one kiss. If only that was possible. Lou Miller, what an odd thing you are. How soft you become when it comes to Debbie. She is gonna be the death of yours one day, for sure she is.

Quietly and carefully, not to wake or disturb Debbie, she climbs into bed, nestles in the centre, crossing her legs before herself and placing her hands on her feet - one to another - palms up. Her face is turned to the door – she needs some space and courage to start and the prospect of meeting Debbie’s eyes in case she decides to turn to her doesn’t help. She is silent for several endless seconds until a loud heavy sigh behind her back indicates that the resident of this room is not asleep. Doesn’t know either it was the hammering of her heart that woke Debbie up or she just didn’t sleep at all.

“Honey, I’m sorry. I know how much this means to you, how much you want this and how much it must hurt. And I’m sorry. I really am,” she pauses, takes a deep breath. Debbie doesn’t move, doesn’t say a word. After all, what do you expect from her now? A confession? Baring her soul? Just because you are sorry for her? Ridiculous. No, Lou, Deborah Ocean doesn’t show weakness and doesn’t accept sympathy; even if it’s from you.

“But no matter how bloody difficult it is, I’m with you tho. And I need you to know it because I beg you not to give up on this whole idea.” Another sigh from behind sounds noticeably irritated now. With her eyes blinked tightly, Lou can imagine how Debbie parts her lips to confront her. She cracks her knuckles nervously, urges to go on before Debbie can say anything.

“No, listen. They say you cannot carry a baby. Your body just doesn’t seem to be a suitable storage for the fetus, cannot keep it safe inside long enough. But,” Lou stills for a moment to collect her thoughts, because she knows that her ‘but’ stops Debbie from any comments for now – no matter what, Debbie is curious and a ‘but’ is always a promise of ongoing. “but your eggs are healthy, so this issue is about the storage functions of your body, not about your fertility.” She hears the rustling of bed sheets, hears as Debbie moves. Probably rolls onto her back. Lou knows she starts catching the edge of the thread Lou’s throwing to her.

“What I’m saying here is that you still can have the child, which will be genetically yours. Your blood and flash. In the way you want it. Surrogacy. That is the solution we have.”

“Lou,” she flinches slightly when Debbie growls her name in frustration. “Surrogacy is illegal in New York, we discussed it already…”

Commercial surrogacy is illegal in New York!”

“And how am I supposed to find a fucking volunteer? To add an AD in New York Times, huh? Commercial surrogacy is an only option I have but I don’t want this child to be taken from me because I will be in prison for violation of the law.”

Debbie is angry. Debbie is angry because she is desperate and hopeless and it’s such a reverse of roles for them for Lou to be on a reasonable, pacifying end.

“You’re not listening, Deborah. I’m not done. So shut the fuck up and let me finish!” Lou’s voice is all of a sudden the pure iron. It’s quiet but so strong and Debbie only opens her mouth wordlessly in surprise.

“Just imagine that, hypothetically, there’s someone who is ready to become your storage. Someone who willingly and selflessly wants to carry and deliver your child for you. What will you say then?”

When she shoots the last words, it’s quiet. She can hear as the second hand of the kitchen wall clock ticks in the empty space of their apartment. She can hear how the rain starts outside, the small drops of water banging on the windowsill more and more often. But the bedroom is completely silent. She can swear that even her heart, which was bumping in her ears only a second ago, treacherously goes to the ‘mute’ mode. After several seconds that seem to last the whole forever, she hears another rustling behind. Then the weight on the mattress shifts and the next thing she knows is Debbie’s chest pressed to her back, both Debbie’s hands and legs repeating the curves of Lou’s body and hugging her from behind.

“Let’s suppose that, hypothetically, you’re right and there’s someone indeed,” the brunette’s forehead touches the back of her head and she utters so quiet that Lou barely distinguishes the words. “I will ask then, why would this someone do this? Why do they need to do this?”

Lou sighs heavily. It’s… hard. Hard to be strong when you’re used to be the one that is cared of. Hard to be serious about something when all you’ve been doing your whole ‘adult’ life was fooling around, drinking, fucking and, though mostly masterly, but conning and robbing people. Hard to take responsibility for something this globally important when sometimes you can barely find your favourite tie in your own wardrobe without Debbie’s assistance. It’s hard, but all of a sudden she can feel Debbie’s accelerated heartbeat against her own back and, as if driven by it like by some sort of magnet, her own heart rhythm speeds up in a matter of seconds, to step into the same synchronized staccato.

“I guess because this someone loves you tons. Cause you’re the only thing they cannot live without. Cause sometimes you are more themselves than they are and they can feel you with their naked nerves and thus when you’re hurt it makes them suffocate from pain either. Because they desperately want you to be happy. And if the only way for it is a child… let it be the child.”

Lou feels as Debbie’s hands tighten their hug around her ribcage, so strong it almost hurts. Feels how Debbie shifts a little, moving her face closer to Lou, nuzzling it to the crook of Lou’s neck. Tries not to pay too much attention to the wetness she feels on her shoulder because at least one of them needs to hold it together. Feels Debbie’s hot breathing as her lips move against her bare skin. “And, again, hypothetically, if that’s the truth. And this someone is ready to do this for me. What should I do for this to become real?”

Lou turns her head to the left, runs into the crown of dark chocolate hair, inhales the hints of green tea, orange skin, and bergamot. Raises her right hand to stroke Debbie’s hair, kisses her temple as gently as possible.

“You know what, Debs?” smiles more to herself, but even if she cannot see it, Debbie is always able to hear this smile in her voice. “Why don’t you ask?

Chapter Text

>> June 30th, 2018 / day 1 after Millers’ mansion

 

“fkng Airport, 4:40pm, Term.8-35?”

“OK”

Debbie threw a message to Tammy from LA airport and got her immediate reply almost seven hours ago. And now they approach her in John F. Kennedy arrival terminal, with Dashiell who has been awakened with difficulty by the customs officer at passport control, hopping down towards her with “Hiiiii Tim Taaaaaaam” excited shriek. While Tammy is busy, grabbing their daughter in a tight hug, Debbie throws her demanding explanation glance at Lou. Lou raises eyebrows, bites inside cheek and her ‘of-course-Tammy-knows’ half-guilty half-irritated look serves her as a reply. Debbie doesn’t blame her. She’s just surprised and curious. She wonders how much exactly ‘of-course-Tammy-knows’. And under what kind of circumstances ‘of-course-Tammy-knows’. And how close her Lou might have got to Tammy in the process of ‘knowing’ for the five years, six months and eight days.

She waves away the thought before it starts sneaking into her brain, taking the roots, encouraging it to create a web of possible course of events while she was on the inside. She never asked Lou if she had had anyone during these years. She thinks she has no right to ask. Anyways, she would have noticed during the job. If there were anything, she would have noticed…

“Tammy,” she exclaims with a wide smile, which people usually confuse with a sincere one, giving her peck on the cheek and taking Dashiell from Tammy’s arms to settle her on her hip. She loves Tammy. They’ve been friends since the day when Tammy, a student of Economics and Fine Arts department, two courses below Lou, ran into them at an abandoned dead-end of university library labyrinth, with Lou pressed into the cumbersome antique floor-to-ceiling bookshelf by Debbie’s body and with Debbie’s hand literally in her pants. A blushing mouse turned out to become an excellent addition to their duet, now and then transforming it into a daredevil threesome. Partner in crime. Never in bed.

The pinch of jealousy is unexpectedly painful. Tammy knows her daughter. Apparently, knows her pretty close – Dashiell is never this open with a stranger. Tammy knows her daughter before Debbie. Knows her name before Debbie. Knows that she looks just like a small copy of Debbie, but in some final irony, the colour of her eyes is exactly as surreally ocean-blue as Lou’s… So yes, Debbie adores Tammy. But since that first meeting in the library when Debbie was not happy to see her because of their interrupted occupation, it’s another time when she’s not happy to meet her again.

“A new hairstyle?” Tammy utters with a questioning look, smiling and nodding towards the girl to Lou, who comes closer. Lou returns a smile, shakes her head in a ‘don’t even ask’ motion. Dashiell’s arms wrap tighter around Debbie’s neck as she nuzzles her face into the dark-chocolate waterfall of her mother’s hair. Debbie holds a girl a little closer, gives a small pat on her child’s back.

The ride to the loft is quiet, soft music playing somewhere far on the background. Debbie glances behind herself to the backseat, where Dashiell is sound asleep in the car seat. Tammy’s boy is a year and a half younger, but he’s a big guy, and Dashiell is quite a tiny thing for her age, so she fits there perfectly. Debbie watches as Lou’s fingers tangle soothingly in Dashiell’s messy hair when the girl sighs heavily and mumbles something in her dream.

She dropped off as soon as they settled her in the seat. Frankly, this flight was anything but smooth. They had all the possible comfort the first class provided you with, but their girl just happened to be not a ‘flying’ person. She was nervous and fidgeting, trying to hold tough but nevertheless, clinging to any of them the entire fourteen hours of the flight from Melbourne to LA as a little monkey. They ended up having a huge scandal with a flight attendant when Dashiell, on the edge of a panic attack, refused to be peeled off from Lou’s neck and to come back to her seat during the landing. Debbie had to use all her diplomatic skills to put out the fire, but when they got no suggestion of an adequate decision, Lou, as calm as cucumber with her impenetrable exterior, passed the scared Dashiell off to Debbie, walked by the outraged crewmember and dropped out of Debbie’s sight for the whole ten minutes. Debbie still has no idea who she talked to and what she told them, but apparently, Lou didn’t give the two shits about their safety rules – the plane landed, with their daughter nestled on Debbie’s lap.  

By some incredible miracle Dashiell, totally exhausted and depleted, blacked out in Lou’s arms during their connection in LA and slept through the whole flight to New York. Thus, this cheer when meeting Tammy was mostly the smoke to their eyes – in fact, Dashiell was drained, drowsy and groggy. But it’s not like the two of them didn’t feel the same.

“So, how was the flight?” Tammy smiles sweetly, trying to fill an awkward silence in the space.

“Like a fuck,” Lou spits in a snarky tone, and Tammy’s eyes dart from the road to the rearview mirror to study Lou’s face, expecting any explanation. Debbie continues instead of her.

“What Lou’s trying to say here is that the next time we fly, we rent a private jet…”

“…buy a private jet,” correction comes from behind as a one that won’t tolerate an objection and the corners of Debbie’s lips squirm up into a smug grin.

Tammy only rocks her head from side to side – these tigers are not gonna ever change their stripes. “I didn’t think you were to bring Dash with you,” she adds as if by the way.

“We did!” their reply snaps in one voice, sharper than they both mean it. Reproach and hesitation in Tammy’s tone tell she doesn’t think it was a good idea to drag a five-year-old reclusive child through the twenty-one-hour plane trip. Although their common sense and situation on the plane say exactly the same, they don’t need another reminder from a ‘football team mommy’. Yes, this all is not Tammy’s guilt, but neither it’s her concern. This is their child. And it’s not like they had any other choice. Tammy knows nothing.

Measured, Tammy’s Ford Expedition pulls off to the loft parking. With Tammy’s help, Debbie gets their two small suitcases from the boot while Lou scoops Dashiell up into her arms. In a deep knockout, the girl shows no signs of consciousness, looking like a rag doll, her head maintained safely into the crook of Lou’s shoulder with Lou’s hand. Debbie soothes her palm against Dashiell’s back, swallows another lump of a guilty conscience. “You gotta ride a bicycle without looking backward, otherwise you’re gonna fall,” Lou told her yesterday. “We cannot fix all the damage we both made. Let’s try to make her life normal starting from where we are.” A bit insecure one yet a smile curves her lips when her eyes meet Lou’s.

Only when the noisy crowd of five women, sprawled across the different objects of furniture in their living-room open space, goes numb, seeing Debbie and Lou with the sleeping child in Lou’s arms, realize they the real meaning of Tammy’s words. Of course, she didn’t know they were coming back with Dashiell. Of course, she told the girls. Of course, all the team was in their place an hour before they came.

Being followed by the six pairs of perplexed and curious eyes, Debbie walks after Lou up the stairs. She understands what they feel now. They know Lou. Lou is strong, Lou is bold. Lou is audacious and arrogant, straightforward and rough, charming and stunning. If and when she wants, Lou is menacing, intimidating and bloody deadly. Lou is someone whose energy fills up every space she enters, someone who magnets all the eyes on the street, someone who radiates self-confidence and hazard. Lou seduces. Lou controls. Lou devours and annihilates. The Miller they know, cradling a child in her arms, is the height of fucking cognitive dissonance for everyone here.

They walk down the hall and right to their bedroom. The one they left in a hurry two and a half months ago. The one where they were spending their nights (and days) after the Met, fucking each other half to death - angry, hurt, frightened, shattered - trying to distract their own demons, to silence each others’ destructive thoughts. Not knowing what to do with their own feelings. Not knowing where they were, who they were to each other and what to do next. Asking and answering the unspoken questions the only way they knew: with touches and kisses and scratches and bites. Leaving marks and bruises and crescents on alabaster skin, trying and failing to compensate the dull ache of the inside marks they couldn’t see but knew were there.

It seems that was like forever ago. The curtains are still shuttered, dimming the lights in the room. Debbie remembers being exasperated back to the day they left, but now she’s happy Lou was tagging along and cleaning the mess she was leaving in the process of getting packed: tossing the needless clothes back to the shelves, shutting the cabinets doors and drawers, changing the bedsheets and making their bed tidily. For a second Debbie’s memories make her afraid Dashiell will be too out of place in this space of their past. To her surprise and relief, thanks to Lou’s efforts, she’s not. Lou takes off Dashiell’s crimson gold ‘air maxes’, undoes the bed, puts the girl down in the centre onto the bedsheets, which still smell like the lavender fabric softener. And she fits there perfectly as if the last missing part of their puzzle. As Lou pulls the blanket up, tucking neatly around Dashiell’s tiny shoulders, Debbie fishes up the notebook sheet and pencil from the nightstand drawer and sketches out. ‘Bumblebee. Don’t be scared. It’s our home. We’re downstairs. Come down to us. X Moms.’ They leave the note on the pillow besides so that she could see it as soon as she opens her eyes. Exchange the tired looks, place their kisses to Dashiell’s forehead. Pull themselves out of the room.

The place is buzzing with muffled whispers. As they walk down the stairs, they can detect “Woah, holy geez, what was that?” uttered in Constance’s voice. And “You’ve been partners with these two since you hit puberty. Why didn’t you tell us?” hissed probably towards Tammy and probably by Daphne. And “Wait a minute, you little rotter. You got the tickets for them. You knew!” snarled in a shock by Tammy to Nine Ball who decides against giving any reply and most likely just takes a nonchalant silent sip of her beer.

As soon as the subjects of their discussion appear in their view, silence lingers in the air. Lou heads to the kitchen, pulls the two beer bottles from the fridge and they can hear as the beer caps fall to the countertop with a clunk as Lou cracks them open.

Debbie approaches their gang, hops upon the edge of the scene in front of them, waiting for Lou. All the eyes are chained to the blonde: when with her signature smirk she makes her way towards Debbie, winking at her so that she’s the only one who sees the mischievous sparkles dancing in her eyes; when she comes closer – way too close even as for the ‘old friends’ they’ve been acting before everyone all this time - and deposits one of the bottles on the scene besides Debbie’s left hand, their fingers brushing casually; when she shortens the remaining gap, invading Debbie’s personal space to stand between her dangling legs, her eyes never adverting from Debbie’s; when her free right-hand rests on Debbie’s waist under her jacket, pulling her up to press to her body, Debbie’s knees squeezing Lou’s thighs on the sides and her hand raising to grasp at Lou’s belt buckle reflexively; and when her lips finally cover Debbie’s and their mastermind leans forward, returning the kiss.

A matter of only several seconds, the scene goes for everyone as if in slow motion, as if in some kind of hypnotic state. Debbie wallows in the two icy blue oceans in front of her, the very first time letting herself drop her walls in front of her team. Lou, seemingly imperturbable, hopes her heart, which thunders frantically against her chest, won’t dissect her ribcage in a strive to flow into Debbie. The girls watch bewitched, holding their breaths, trying to make themselves invisible – trying to comprehend this new knowledge about the most dangerous predators among humans they know.

Then Lou makes a small step aside, pulling apart from Debbie, turns on her heels and leans back against the scene to face the girls. Takes a seep of cold liquid, crosses her arms on the chest. A lopsided, shit-eating, dazzling smirk touches both her lips and eyes as her piercing glance falls on each of the six women in front of her in turn. “Any questions?"

Lou’s deep velvet voice rattles through the silence, waking them all from trance and Debbie lowers her eyes to the floor to hide an amused grin seeing as all the girls stare between Lou and her dumbfounded. They’ve never defined their relationship to any of them. But there’ve always been talks behind their backs: behind their touches and lingering shared looks and messing banters and behind-the-doors but noisy altercations. She doubts any uncertainty’s left after Lou’s message, though. That was the fucking ‘Lou Miller’s private property’ statement. And frankly, it’s not that Debbie has any objections. She is Lou’s. She is. She is...

Tammy is the first one who picks up her jaw from the floor. After all, their lifetime together she literally has been witnessing these two fucking in the most inappropriate places. She clears her throat, “Sooooo, you two are finally –“

“- yes, we are.”

“For how long?” – Amita, another long-time bystander of their permanent ‘ride-or-die’s.

“Deliberately and monogamous – for two months before Debbie got to the slammer. And. For the last two weeks.”

“…and not deliberately and monogamous?” – Constance, probably the most adamant stickler of ‘I-bet-they’re-fucking’ theory.

“Most of our lives, I believe.”

“Why didn’t you tell us? – Daphne, eyebrows raised in dismay.

“Cause we had to get our shit together first.”

“Had you?” – Nine Ball. They know she knows the answer but wants to hear it with her own ears.

Lou turns her head to the left, looking at Debbie, her face expression softening. “Yeah. We had. We had.”

Debbie’s face twitches to Lou, their eyes gravitating towards each other. But the next question makes them pull apart and look for its source, who sits in the furthest armchair, quiet all this time.

“Who is the kid?” - Rose. She is the only one of the team who is still wary of Lou. Yet she is the only one who dares to ask the question that bothers the most.

 Debbie’s eyes dart back to Lou, who swallows hard and tightens her grip on the beer bottle. Although she would never ever admit it, Debbie knows her woman is a possessive freak. Hell, they both are possessive freaks. If they were allowed, they’d have wrapped themselves around each other and Dashiell, keeping her save, hiding her from the whole world. Actually, they are allowed, since Dashiell is their child and since Dashiell has nothing against being lost for the world in their embrace. But these women have invited and let them into their lives, have somehow become part of their family. They know about their Achilles’ heels: Rose’s occasional depressions and former gambling problems, Constance’s childhood between the streets and foster families, Daphne’s loneliness before she became the part of them, Amita’s complicated relationship with her mother, Nine Ball’s fears about Veronica’s future after their parents’ death, imperfect issues of Tammy’s perfect marriage. They risked their lives and freedom when coming to Debbie and Lou. And Debbie trusts them. So she wants both her blue-eyed girls to learn how to trust people who love them.

She slightly nudges Lou’s shoulder with her nose, encouraging her to finally answer.

“The kid is our daughter.”

Another ten seconds of awkward silence come. Tammy and Nine Ball share a knowing look – but it’s like an ice shower to the rest, to know there’s someone who calls these two compulsive criminals ‘moms’.

“Did you adopt her in Australia?” apparently, Constance sees no other option.

“We did not adopt her.”

“Oh.”

“And who is her father?” Daphne. “Please tell me it’s not an asshole we’ve sent to prison.”

“I said she’s our daughter,” Lou hisses through her teeth at the mention of Becker. “No fathers involved.”

“And who,” Daphne’s eyes jump from Debbie to Lou as if watching the ping-pong game. “Which of you did – ”

“ – it doesn’t mat-“

“ – Lou did.” Debbie cuts Lou off in mid-sentence, using her voice for the first time in this talk. “Lou gave birth to her.” Lou averts her eyes, hiding them under the curtain of blonde bangs, her jaw tightening. Nine Ball is the only one who is not surprised – she knew this from Lou’s medical records when cleaning her footprint. But the rest – even Tammy – did not expect this. The bunch of questions rains down on them and they take turns to answer, complementing each other.

How old is she?

“Five and a half…”

“…will be six in late September.”

What is she like?

“She’s marvelous – ”

“ – totally ethereal.”

“I still cannot believe we did create such an incredible thing.”

“She looks exactly like Debbie at her baby pictures.”

“But her facial expression set is all about Lou – eyebrows curving, lopsided smirks, nose crinkling, lips biting. And when you see her eyes. There’re no doubts about whose child it is. You know what I mean. Only ‘vampires’ have those eyes.”

Everyone in the room share a chuckle and Lou keeps talking.

“She’s incredibly smart and stubborn just as Debbie. To an exactly the same extent when you’re ready to kill her sometimes.”

“But she is kind and funny just like Lou. And just like Lou, she’s hiding it behind an armful of needles and poignant words, trying to seem more dangerous than she is.”

They all laugh again. Girls know Debbie and Lou quite well. Know who and what they are. It’s strange to find out they have a five-and-a-half-year-old secret. But they can’t wait to meet her – taking from both of them, this baby of theirs is probably an exquisite masterpiece.

“Wait. Wait a moment,” Constance utters, her eyes shining with excitement and expectation. “What is her name?”

“Well, ask her yourself.” Lou’s head is raised and Debbie, together with the rest, follows her line of sight.

 On the balcony, with her feet shoeless, her eyes slightly unfocused and her dark auburn hair messy from sleep, there stands their daughter. Small and unsure “Mommy?” and Debbie watches as Lou goes into motion and walks to the stares as soon as Dashiell sets her foot on the top step. She takes the girl out of the steps and into her arms, comes back to where Debbie’s waiting for them with a wide smile. She hops up on the stage next to Debbie, their forearms touching, tugs up and crosses her legs, settling the girl in the nest they form. Rests her chin upon the top of Dashiell’s head.

“Uhm… My name is Dashiell,” she gives a quick glance to Debbie, who mouths ‘They are friends’ soundlessly. “Ermm… My name is Dashiell Claire Miller-…Ocean.” Each word uttered sharp and clear.

“Hi Dashiell,” the six women cheer almost altogether.

“Nice haircut, kid,” Nine Ball shoots with a smug simper.

“Yeah, nice haircut, DC” Constance echoes her comment, winking at Dashiell.

“Thanks, Cons. Thanks Leslie,” Dashiell sticks out her tongue at their hacker (one of the best hackers on the East Coast) and both Lou and Debbie’s eyebrows arch in surprise as they exchange an astonished look. ‘Cons’? ‘Leslie’??? Now, this is something interesting. Which of their phones has been hacked this time? This child is gonna rule the world, nothing less.

 

 

>> September 23d, 2018 / 3 months after Millers’ mansion

 

…// She lies with her back against the snow-white cushion and pillows of a massive round hanging bed in the backyard of their bungalow. Refreshing sea-breeze wiggles the half-transparent tulle curtains, wrapped around as if a weightless cocoon, making her alternately drift off to sleep and back to consciousness. Her brain replays the events of the last two weeks in her head, colours and smells and emotions as explicit and bright as if happening right now, and not even for a second regrets she neither their spontaneous escape from the noisy New York nor renting this spacious jungle bungalow with their own private beach in the backyard. As well as she doesn’t regret her impromptu idea of giving an overnight stay visit to the elephant sanctuary park in the south of the island. Never before has she seen any of her two brunettes as excited and thrilled as when swimming in the river with a bunch of baby elephants or walking in the jungles in the company of their majestic mammoth parents.

She smiles to herself, remembering the shining in Dashiell and Debbie’s eyes and she doesn’t even need to open her own ones to know whose body gives a bit of a swing to the surface beneath her. She feels Debbie bending above her, her soft streaming hair creating a curtain around their faces, tickling her shoulders. Senses Debbie’s hot breathing against her lips and flies her eyes open right in time to see the two brown of Debbie’s approaching her. “Is she asleep?” -  “Mmm-hmm,” Debbie smiles at her and pulls her into a long kiss, taking her breath away. Lou’s hand slides up Debbie’s body to tangle into the hair on the back of Debbie’s head, but her partner suddenly pulls away, sits on the bed and tugs Lou at the belt of her denim shorts and at the collar of her pastel-turquoise linen shirt to straddle Debbie’s hips, settling her onto her lap. Their faces are almost touching when Debbie’s hands move to rest on each of Lou’s thighs, pressing her closer to her body.

“What have you done to me, Miller?” the naughty whisper into Lou’s ear sends the shivers down her spine, where Debbie’s fingers are already crawling under the hem of her shirt. “I put our child to bed,” a brush of soft kiss behind Lou’s ear, “close the door behind myself,” a trace of small kisses hovers along Lou’s jaw up to her lips, “and the next thing I know is me rushing to you head over heels.”

Debbie’s pupils are fully dilated when her eyes meet Lou’s and Lou can swear there’s the whole universe inside of them. “So what have you done to me?” their lips join again and the kiss deepens. “Bewitched? Love poisoned?” a break for oxygen. “I want you all the time,” a kiss. “I need you all the time,” another one and Debbie pulls Lou’s shirt over her head, tossing it beside them and leaving her in nothing but her bikini top. “Now I can’t imagine how I survived all those years in the slammer without you,” all Lou’s feelings are sharpened and concentrated on Debbie’s hands all over her upper body. “My body craves for you,” on Debbie’s teeth working a mark where her shoulder meets with her neck. “My heart aches for you,” on Debbie’s voice muffled against her hair. “I can’t stand not being with you,” on Debbie’s heartbeat thudding against her own stomach. “I can’t breathe without you,” Debbie nuzzles her face under Lou’s chin, pressing her lips to her pulse point, “If I were to lose you again,” her voice suddenly breaks, whisper barely audible “I’d have died,” and Lou’s pounding heartbeat stills for a second, falling apart into smithereens, pain clenching her throat. Because she’s still not used to this way too drastic flashes in Debbie’s emotions; is still learning how to deal with Debbie talking about them at all. She’s still surprised every time Debbie comes to hold her for twenty minutes straight, and that’s all she does. She doesn’t pull away. She doesn’t look at her face. She doesn’t try to kiss her. All she does is wrap her up in her arms, without an ounce of selfishness in it.

She leans off from Debbie only to tilt her chin until their eyes meet, her right hand cupping Debbie’s face. “I will not let you die!” her thumb caress her cheek, drying the wet trail tenderly, while her other hand tugs the straps of Debbie’s aerial sundress down her shoulders. “And you’re not gonna lose me ever again!” the dress slides down Debbie’s bra-less torso and she runs her hands down Lou’s spine, moving to her thighs and tugging their hips together.

There’s no space between them and they share every spot of their skins, every fiber of their bodies, every exhale-inhale of their breaths, their souls merging into a coherent whole as Lou affectionately pushes Debbie backward onto the mattress, pulling her into another kiss. Debbie’s hand sneaks down into the front of her undone shorts. “I love you,” Lou hums, breaths shuddering, into the crown of Debbie’s hair. “I love you,” echoes somewhere close with the light drag of teeth against her collarbone //…

 

That was yesterday when all the sunset shades already mixed into the warm darkness of twilights. It was when the tips of Lou’s fingers found the lace of Debbie’s underwear under the skirt of her dress and tugged it down her legs and off, that they both were startled with the loud ‘Oooouch’, the crackling noise of breaking branches and the thud of something (someone?) crumpling against the ground. Their first impulses to fix Debbie’s dress and to grab Lou’s shirt couldn’t be more relevant because… Well, because - ‘oh fucking shit’ and ‘holy mother of God’ - the following series of events turned into a real nightmare. The half an hour ride to the nearest Phuket hospital, with Lou at the wheel, here and there swearing under her breath and Debbie on the backseat, her hands trembling feverishly and tacit tears dripping down her cheeks without a break. Arrival to the hospital, where they were met by the bunch of medical staff and forced to stay in the snow-white sterile-clean waiting area: Debbie in her designer sundress (with literally nothing underneath) and Lou in her shorts and swimsuit top (her shirt, irretrievably damaged with blood, pressed to her chest), both lost, disheveled and barefoot, with the grains of sand covering their feet. The two-hour waiting, with Debbie, eyes puffy and red, shivering against the chilled air and Lou, façade bulletproof and tough, wrapped around Debbie in the attempt to warm her up but now and then excusing herself to the restroom to let her guts turn inside out. Another hour of riding home and back to the hospital without Debbie, because ‘of course, we have our passports and of course, we have our insurance policies, I just need to bring them from our place’. One more hour of waiting, Debbie’s head resting on her lap, they both now wearing more appropriate clothes, picked up from home. And finally, the eventual way back home with the precious cargo on board nestled safely in Debbie’s arms during the ride and in the middle of their super-king bed as soon as they enter the bungalow well after midnight. The shared shower (cause if not Debbie, Lou’s not sure she could make it, drained and exhausted, her heavy eyelids refusing to open after each blinking of eyes). Crawling to bed. Darkness…

“Are you sure she’s not mad at me?”

Lou slowly sneaks out of her slumber to the small timid whispers somewhere next to her.

“No, she’s not. I promise.”

The tiny fingertips stroke her bangs and eyelashes weightlessly, making her open her eyes to see Dashiell spooned into Debbie right in front of her. Two sets of eyes, icy-blue and warm-chocolate, stare at her expectantly. They say that home is not always four walls but the two eyes and a heartbeat. Well, for Lou it’s no more and no less than these four eyes and two heartbeats.

“Hey,” her gaze travels across Dashiell’s body, head to toe, lingering a little longer on the animals-printed cast on her daughter’s leg before to come back to her face. “Happy birthday, baby-girl,” she kisses the small fingers on her lips and her hand raises to brush auburn hair away from her eyes and to clear her forehead.

“Hey,” Dashiell murmurs in reply as Lou’s thumb runs delicate patterns above the plastered stitches over her left eyebrow.

“You scared us so, so, sooo much yesterday,” Dashiell’s look falls down with shame and guilt and Lou glances at Debbie to see how her eyes close for a second on the memory and her arm, draped over the girl’s body, tugs her in just a little closer.

“I know. And I’m sorry. I… I - ” she stammers, her eyes are still downwards, studying the unexpectedly interesting elephant-drawing on Lou’s oversized t-shirt.

Lou tucks a finger under her chin to lift it slightly. “You what, honey?”

Dashiell sighs loudly. “Our entire walk in the jungles I’ve been wondering if I could move through the jungles the same way as that boy from the book we’d been reading recently. Mowgli, you know? And, and, that tree by the window of my room... It seemed to be just close enough and strong enough. And I couldn’t sleep. And I was bored. And I-… I risked trying… And-and-and…”

“- and apparently it turned out to be not so close and not so strong.”

Dashiell’s lips pout and she wrinkles her nose, checking out her cast. “Huh. Yeeeah. Apparently.”

Lou huffs through her lips heavily. From all possible dignities she has (and she must have got some if she made Deborah Ocean to fall in love with her) their daughter inherited her impeccable capacity of self-ruining, which this time resulted in the deeply split eyebrow and fractured leg. Gosh, this child can find the troubles out of nowhere.

She cups her face with both hands, their eyes glued to each other. “Dashiell promise to me,” brings her face close to connect their foreheads, “Just promise me you will never ever risk yourself this way again!”

“Okay. I promise. I won’t. I promise.” Lou kisses her forehead as the girl nods repeatedly.

“Well,” Debbie clears her throat, propping herself on her elbow and extracting herself from their daughter. “Since we have a birthday-girl today I suggest we start our morning with a birthday-cake-breakfast.” She kneels above both Lou and Dashiell, placing her pecks on the tops of dark-auburn and then platinum-blonde heads. “I go to make breakfast and you two, catch up!”

She jumps off the bed, wraps herself in the silk dressing gown and shuttles off from their bedroom towards the kitchen. Lou’s eyes follow her back and she marvels to herself at how one little person, created literally in vitro in the lab and developed into a human being inside her womb, managed to fix two broken, egocentric, selfish people, who had been destroying and torturing one another for over than two decades and pacify them, tame them, smooth their angles, make them face their own and each other’s feelings and become a family. She loved them despite their sins and failures when they least deserved it as if feeling that that was when they really needed it.

Lou is probably smiling to herself like an idiot because Dashiell’s index finger lands to her bottom lip.

“What’re you thinking about?”

“That I love and love and love you two endlessly,” she kisses her nose and the girl breaks into giggles. “And that we’d better hurry up or your mom will be grumbling at us all day long.”

They join Debbie in the kitchen in a little more than twenty minutes after Lou helps Dashiell with her morning routine. She settles the girl on the sofa, her injured leg deposited comfortably on the pillow, and wonders over to Debbie, who conjures above the small chocolate cake – the only decent thing they managed to find in the supermarket, - installing the six candles on the top of it. It’s Dashiell’s sixth birthday. The sixth for Dashiell and the sixth for Lou yet the first one for Debbie and Lou can tell her Ocean is quite on edge because of this. She stands behind the brunette, her arms sliding around her waist, and nuzzles her nose in her hair. “Relax, love. You’ve pulled off the most exclusive jewelry heist in history. Don’t be nervous about pulling off the six-year-old’s birthday-breakfast,” she whispers behind her ear, earning a deep inhale.

“I promise to make it up with the best cake I’m capable of as soon as we’re home -”

“Moms?” they both turn their faces to their girl. “You know, I’ve been thinking…” Lou untangles herself from Debbie and approaches Dashiell, lowering herself into the empty armchair next to her, waiting for her to go on. Of course, Dashiell’s ‘I’ve been thinking’ is not Debbie’s ‘I’ve been thinking and you know, we would rob a museum’ yet it’s somewhere nearby so she has all Lou’s attention.

“I’ve been thinking that you’re so lucky you have each other. Although you’re ridiculous sometimes, - like children, honestly - you’re partners in crime and in life and you’re never lonely because of this.”

Debbie leaves the cake behind and walks closer to them, settling herself on Lou’s armchair armrest, Lou’s hand sliding to her knee immediately. They both are quiet – they know what it takes Dashiell to talk about something like this.

“And you know, everyone around has someone to be their team. I mean, Liam has Elsa, Danny has Tess, Lizbeth has uncle Kevin. All my cousins have each other to watch their back – ”

“ – you have us, Bumblebee.”

“It’s not the same, mama,” she looks at Debbie, brows furrowed, and her eyes go back to darting between the two of them. “None of you were growing up alone. And I… I know I made the list and we talked about me getting my presents at home, but – ”

“ – Dash, get to the point!” Lou shoots impatiently, her leg starts bouncing without her even noticing.

“I changed my mind. I don’t want all that presents. I want only one instead. Iwantyoutwotohaveanotherbaby!”

What?!” comes from them in unison in a couple of seconds, as soon as the sense of Dashiell’s incoherent ramble hits them.

“What?” Dashiell shrugs her shoulders as if she’s asking about the most casual present among all. Her eyes, bright with excitement and anticipation, fix on Lou. “Mummy, you can do it again, the same way it was with me. But they can use your egg this time. And you can ask Danny. If Liam didn’t mind I don’t think Danny would deny you…”

Both Lou and Debbie, brows raised, stare at their daughter with a startled look on their faces. ‘What the hell? How does she know? How did she find out?’ swirls in Lou’s head while she’s trying to gather her thoughts. Dashiell keeps maundering something about diluting the blue-eyed Miller family with a brown-eyed baby when Lou finally cuts her. “You did slam your head pretty good and went nuts. It’s a ‘No’!”

“But mom!”

“Don’t ‘mom’ me here, Dashiell. No!”

“And if I ask nicely?”

“No!”

“And if mama asks?”

Lou and Debbie’s faces jerk to each other and Lou raises her eyebrow in a silent ‘Don’t even start!

“That’s not gonna happen! This conversation is over.” Lou utters, her voice, dropping an octave or two, menacing and saturated with iron. Foreseeing the perspective of blood in the water, Debbie claps her hands against her laps, stands up from her place and with the words “Baby, please help me with the candles,” pulls Lou by the scruff of her t-shirt to follow her to the kitchen.

In the kitchen segment of open-area space Debbie corners her and presses her against the counter with her hips, lacing her hands around Lou’s waist. With the sofa facing the panoramic window, Dashiell cannot see them. With Debbie’s lips pressed to Lou’s ear – cannot hear. “Baby please, don’t be mad. She is a child. Under stress. She doesn’t know what she’s asking about.”

“How? Did you -?”

“No, Lou! Lou, this is our child. She is a fucking prodigy. Does it still surprise you?” Lou rolls her eyes on this and Debbie catches her bottom lip between her teeth and bites notably hard.

“Now be a good girl and go make peace with your daughter. It’s her birthday after all!”

With another eyes roll, Lou shuffles herself back to Dashiell, kneels before her, leveling their eyes.

“We love you more than anything in the world,” she tilts her head to look Dashiell in the eyes. “We’re your team, and your partners in crime and you don’t need anyone else to cover your back because you have us. Okay?”

A shivering breath. “Okay, mom. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Just… Do you remember how difficult it was for you to let your mama into our family?” a short nod of an auburn head in reply. “The universe gave us to each other, bringing together the most possessive humans ever. Just know. We will not have another baby not because I’m too old and nasty for all this shit. But because the three of us is already enough. We don’t need anyone else. Okay?”

“ ’kay.”

“Now, think about a wish you’re gonna make.” Lou kisses her forehead and while they’re waiting for Debbie she watches her carefully.

Such a light, faithful, fast body. An ability to fit in a box/suitcase/closet shelf and hide there. Each cloud is necessarily in the shape of someone. The love is bigger than you’re yourself, and you tell everyone about it or you’re gonna explode otherwise. Everything refers to you specifically. And, actually, you’re a giant, just an aspiring one. Who’s able to see it – your friend. Who talks to you as to the six-year-old fulmar - will find out you’re in fact a powerful ironman-vampire-monster-alien, but that would be already oh-so-late…

Their little girl. Their tremendous miracle.

Debbie carries the plate with the cake, lightened candles reflections dancing in her eyes. She places it on the coffee table in front of Dashiell. They sing ‘Happy Birthday’ (gosh, who would have thought, Ocean?).

“Are you ready?” Lou pats their girls back softly.

Dashiell takes a deep breath, filling her lungs with extra air, and a sassy chuffed smile raises the corners of her lips. As she blows out all the candles, every single one of them, Lou mouths soundless ‘Fuck’ to the air, all of a sudden very aware of a wish her stubborn child has just made. Nevertheless, she tries and fails to resist a smirk, watching Dashiell and Debbie grinning at each other with the happiest and most mischievous looks of conspirators of a century.

‘Ooooh no, Oceans. That’s definitely on me only,’ Lou thinks to herself. ‘Don’t even try. This time you won’t bring me in. This is not brain surgery, I’m not interested,’ she thinks. ‘For what it's worth, I’m not gonna play this game. That’s not gonna happen…’

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

>> July 13th, 2019 / 1 year and two weeks after Millers’ mansion

 

“Fuck me! Holy shit…Holy shit! Holy-fucking-shit!…This isn’t happening to me. Please tell me this isn’t happening to me,” she rushes herself outside and down the stairs like a scalded cat, people around turning their heads and staring at her at a loss because, by the looks of them, you’re not supposed to swear when leaving the place like this.

Holyshit-holyshit-holyshit…” still rambles she under her breath when turning a corner and dashing towards the parking set. Debbie barely keeps her pace, mentally cursing herself for her wardrobe choice in the morning: who even told her it was a good idea to wear her usual stilettos and a pencil skirt when accompanying an emotionally unstable woman to the doctor’s appointment.

“Lou, stop it. Lou. Lou! You’re overreacting,” Debbie cries out to her back, stomping her feet hard, and almost bumps into the blonde when she suddenly stops and turns on her heels in a sharp motion.

“I am overreacting! I am over-reacting! Bullshit!” she snarls looking up at her, minting every word into Debbie’s face, then keeps going and Debbie can’t help but grinning behind her back because in her slip-ons and cropped wide-leg ivory pants, now a good four-five inches below her, Lou looks so miniature and cute, and a couple of months are far from enough to get used to this view no matter how hard Debbie tries.

“Twins! It’s fucking goddamned twins, Deborah!!!” she throws her hands up to her head, now passing back and forth near the driver’s door of their dark red Lamborghini Urus, waiting for Debbie to toss her the car keys. Her breathing is heavy and erratic and Debbie doesn’t need to take her pulse to know it’s way out of normal. She’s not under a panic attack yet somewhere dangerously close.

Debbie finally catches up, closing the gap between them; puts her both hands on Lou’s shoulders, looking at her down her nose. Kisses her forehead over the light, slightly dishevelled from wind bangs. Brings her fingers to lift Lou’s chin and the two bright-ocean-blue eyes stare at her, frantically darting between her dark brown. “Baby, don’t get crazy,” she smiles at her, trying to look and to sound as if she doesn’t think that all of this scene is a groundless over-emotional tantrum of Lou’s. “Let’s take a deep breath and calm down.”

Lou takes one, indeed and Debbie already scores it as a victory. But probably, her smirking eyes betray her true attitude, because Lou’s eyebrows under the messy blonde bangs curtain furrow, she bites on the inside of her cheek, pouts her lips and shakes her head stubbornly.

“Don’t you tell me to calm down!” she waves off Debbie’s hands, resuming her passing motions, not looking at Debbie anymore. “I’m nothing but calm,” of course, she’s not. “I’m a pure peace as for the person, within which it’s two aliens that are growing up! Not one, Deborah! Two!!!” She stops by the driver’s door, one hand on her hip and another one with her palm up in the air, her feet stomping petulantly. “Now, give me the keys!”

For the purpose, Debbie approaches without any rush, towering over her woman for credibility. “First of all, no. You’re a little on edge so in this state no - you’re not driving,” she places another kiss on the tip of Lou’s nose playfully, trying to wrap her arms around Lou’s waist but the younger woman dodges, growls at her in exasperation and walks around the car to the passenger seat.

 “And second of all, hey!” she opens the door, drops down in the seat, waiting for Lou to do the same. “Go easy here!” her palm carefully lays above Lou’s rounded belly after she fastens her seatbelt, “Those are our unborn children you’re talking about!”

Lou growls again, raises her hand to cover her face. “I knew that was a terrible idea. I knew it. I knew something bad was gonna happen. I shouldn’t have listened to you.”

Her leg starts bouncing on the place spastically and Debbie’s palm trails down from Lou’s stomach to rest on her lap.

“Love, nothing bad is gonna happen, I promise,” she strokes lightly, up and down her thigh, until the jolting stills. “It’s… Just an insignificant deviation from the plan. A little… complication.”

“A little one?” Lou’s head jerks at Debbie, eyebrows furrowed and lips apart in a perfect ‘O’. “This complication is universal, Deborah,” she rolls her eyes, throws her head back and Debbie mirrors the gesture – this all ‘Deborah’ thing is way too tiresome and annoying. “This’s gonna be the real hell! They’ll bleed me dry even before they’re born… Or I’m gonna die in childbirth, in agony, with the bones cracking and muscles tearing apart… Did you hear the doctors? I’m the worst possible physical example of a bearing mother for twins…”

Debbie barely holds back some snarky comment but manages to replace it with something more supportive in time “…unless! we improve your diet and bring some special additional physical training, and you’ll be perfect. All of you,” her hand finds Lou’s, squeezes in reassuringly, brushing her thumb over Lou’s knuckles.  “Needless to say, a C-section. Nothing we couldn’t cope.” Lou sighs heavily. Doesn’t take her hand away, but doesn’t replicate the gesture either. Turns her face back to Debbie and utters now more calmly, her voice deep and quiet.

“What’s about our existing child? Have you thought about her?”

Dashiell. Of course, it’s about Dashiell. Each first thought Lou has in her head is always about their daughter. Especially now.

“And what about her? It was she who asked us about a younger brother or sister, don’t you forget it. And she is happy with this all.” Debbie’s eyes jump between concentrating on the road in front of her and the woman next to her. Something in Lou’s face makes the spark of concern twinkle inside of her, substituting her usual self-confidence and cool.

“She asked us about one younger brother or sister. About one, Deborah, not about the whole set of two little monsters, racing competition in crying and pooping and burping both simultaneously, taking all the 24/7 of the future two years of her mothers’ lives. I can’t imagine how we’re gonna balance this…”

“We’ll move back to Australia for a while – Cordelia and Anna will be happy to help. And we’ll hire a bunch of nannies and teachers…” the way Lou takes her eyes from Debbie, the way she fidgets and slides down in her seat, turns her face away towards the street – it all adds the fuel, turns Debbie’s spark first into a small and then into the full scale fire of anxiety.

“That’s not an option. Frankly, I don’t know if we’re ready for this.” Debbie’s hand jerks away from Lou as if she’s burning her skin.

“What is an option then?” they stop at the traffic light and Debbie can let herself cling her eyes on Lou a couple of minutes longer. “Lou?” there’s a silence in response and irritation is growing in her tone, her voice noticeably demanding and impatient. “I asked you a question: what are you saying here?”

“I don’t know, okay?” Lou’s gaze unfastens from the view behind the window, comes to Debbie and holds for several seconds before to shift back to the street. “I. Don’t. Know.”

Debbie swallows hard. Swallows, trying to thwart the wave of panic that starts rising from the bottom of her guts. She doesn’t remember the last time she saw this much fear, uncertainty, and pain in Lou’s eyes – since that day on the beach, with all that shit with Dashiell’s escape, she personally has been making sure those feelings would never make their way back into Lou’s heart. Her knuckles whiten as she hardens her grip at the steering wheel. Suddenly, everything inside turns cold and for a short moment, she thinks she may throw up. They are not close enough to the 24 weeks barrier, they are only 18. Only 18 weeks…  According to the law of New York State… According to the Reproductive Health Act, within the first 24 weeks, it’s legal…  No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no… She wouldn’t. Please… She wouldn’t, would she?

She glances back at Lou’s slouched figure. Her eyes travel from her face, which is turned away and leaned against the cold glass with her forehead, down to where her racing heartbeat is almost elusive nevertheless, visible throbbing under the skin of her pulse point, where her chin flows into her porcelain white neck…

A horn honk from the car behind, way too sharp and loud all of a sudden, both startles and wrenches her out of her ruminations and she pushes the accelerator hard by inertia. Yes, she might have missed the first two seconds of the green light and it’s like this motherfucker from behind is probably surviving the end of the world, but that’s definitely not an excuse to make that much noise and to cut their car, outracing them right at the crossroads, into oncoming traffic. Never being a decent driver (how many times for her whole life she has had to renew her driver’s license in the ways far from legal ones), she holds up a finger and cries out “What an asshole, huh?” in indignation.

It’s mere inches, a matter of seconds that separated them from a terrible crash between the cars and in a moment, Debbie remembers she’s not alone in the car. Her head wavers back to Lou, her throat contracts and she’s ready to fall into the earth. Back straight, shoulders squared and eyes wide, Lou is as pale as a sheet. One of her legs is bent and pulled up pressed to her body, both of her hands wrapped protectively around her belly. She got scared. She got fucking scared and the first impulse she had was to protect their aliens

You’re an idiot, Ocean. A fucking selfish idiot. How could you even assume this thought? Of course, she wouldn’t. She would have never hurt them, no way in hell… Your girl is just frightened to death. And confused, lost in her usual labyrinths of uncertainty and self-destruction. And tired, Debbie. Your girl is exhausted after the permanent threat of miscarriage during the first three months. Exhausted because it must be bloody difficult to be pregnant. It must be a thousand times more difficult to be pregnant in a sultry summer New York, to be pregnant with you as a partner by her side, to be pregnant, simultaneously being a mother of a restless six-year-old brat, to be pregnant with two… It’s too hard for her. It’s not one of your jobs.  The responsibility is too high. The cost of failure is too high. It’s the fucking Mountain Everest on her slender shoulders. So stop pushing, you idiot. Shove all your insecurities, claims and demands up your ass and just. Be. With her. For her.

Her hand rushes back to Lou’s belly, covering one of Lou’s and interlacing their fingers. “Sorry,” she whispers and smiles, wrinkling her nose apologetically. Still no colour in her face, Lou sends her a weak smile in return.

The rest of their drive home is mostly silent. The tension still so sensible that both Nine Ball and Veronica vanish away without goodbyes as soon as they cross the threshold of their huge new house. Debbie mentally sets a reminder to wonder if these three have been trying to hack the Pentagon and if they succeed. Again.

While she rummages their fridge, vacillating between burning up their kitchen making an omelette and ordering some pizza for as hungry as a little dragon Dashiell, with Dashiell herself kicking the air, deposited comfortably on the kitchen island, she misses the moment when Lou quietly slips from them to their bedroom, closing the door behind herself.

________________

She wakes up to the barely audible whispers and weightless but ticklish touches to her uncovered belly. She remembers sneaking out from the kitchen, nestling herself in a small ball on the edge of their ridiculously wide bed, staring out of the sunny panoramic window to the clouds running in the sky – an advantage of moving to the suburbs that you can finally watch the sky and not its reflection in the skyscrapers. She must have drifted away because she’s sprawled across the centre of the bed now turned over onto her back, the window is curtained with a single sunbeam flaring through a thin gap in the curtains and drawing a tiny sun stripe across the top of her stomach.

On both sides of her body, opposite each other, Dashiell and Debbie are propped up on their elbows. Although it’s significantly bigger than with Dash at the same term, her belly is not too big so far, so they’re facing each other over its hemisphere. It’s amazing how rapid the regeneration processes in children’s bodies are and after this whole year they’ve been living outside Australia, Dashiell’s hair is already slightly below her shoulders. When Debbie was having her haircut to the same length a couple of weeks ago – a hard reality for Lou to accept the absence of Debbie’s long fabulous hair but who even asked her - Dashiell insisted on having the bangs and since then all the girls have been making jokes that now she’s turned into the complete mixing of the two of them. You know, just like when they take the photos of two people and photoshop it into one – that is Dashiell now, they say, a perfect merge of Lou and Debbie’s features. From her current angle of view though, she can see the two photocopied dark-haired heads. Even their hair colour seems to be absolutely similar in this lighting.

She wonders which of these two have raised the hem of her shirt and decides it was probably Dashiell when the small fingertips caress her skin again. She smiles, almost raises her hand to card her fingers through the girl’s hair but stops and holds her breath when Dashiell murmurs.

“So, you’re telling there’re the two of them here?”

Thaaaaaat’s it. The time stands still for Lou, no other sounds exist except for the two so different and yet so precious voices. It’s not fair to hide from them she’s awake. It’s cowardly and meanly to eavesdrop their intimate moment and Lou Miller is anyone but a coward and a cheater. But her girl has stopped being honest with her. She is frank and candid and straight, it’s her nature, it’s in her blood the same way it’s in Lou’s blood. But behind Lou’s back Debbie treats Lou as if she’s some Pinner Qing Dynasty porcelain Vase and their little girl catches on fast. ‘Mommy is not allowed to worry’ and their six-and-a-half-year-old learns to bottle everything up, learns to suppress her real emotions, learns to lie about this all to protect her. She is such a brilliant learner, and her other mother is the best possible teacher – quite one hell of a duet they make here. So Lou releases her breath, evens her heart rhythm back to the normal and listens attentively in all ears, watching her brunettes from under the cover of her light bangs and dark eyelashes.

Debbie nods her head as a positive answer and Dashiell watches her, mirrors the motion, humming “Hmm, ‘kay.”

“ ’kay? That’s all you have to say?”

“Yeah… I mean, that was kinda predictable, wasn’t it?” she shrugs, drawing the circles on Lou’s belly.

“Predictable?” surprise is quite audible in Debbie’s voice – she either cannot or rather doesn’t want to cover it in this conversation. She wants to be honest, ’cause even Debbie knows this is the only way they can work out anything with their girl.

“Yeah. Well, we had the IVF and there’s always a higher chance of conceiving twins. And… uhm… we have Lizbeth with Cillian and Carol and we have Liam with Sasha and Tristan. It’s honestly more surprising that I was born without any company.”

She declares everything in such a serious lecturing tone as something absolutely axiomatic that Debbie has to press her forehead to Lou’s side for a moment - to hide her wide grin - and Lou knows the two of them are thinking about the same thing right now: how this is even possible that this idea, so obvious to their oh-so-young child, never happened to occur to their ‘mastermind’ heads. Apparently, the two of them, so brilliant when planning a heist together, both suck when it comes to the planning of their own family.

“Aaaaaand,” Dashiell holds a short pause before to go on with her questionary, “you’re telling that mom’s freaking out over this? Why would she?”

Lou has to make an effort not to flinch, not to give herself away. But Debbie’s voice is calm and quiet, her breath soothing and relaxing against Lou’s skin. She seems to know exactly what to do. “Because she thinks it will be a mess. She worries we’re gonna have a problem because of this. Thinks it will be too difficult, too much for the two of us. And, to be honest,” Debbie glances away from Dashiell, suddenly finding the face of her watch irresistibly interesting. “I think she’s still not 100% sure regarding me. You know,” she makes a chuckle but it comes reluctant and unnatural. “I’m not the top candidate for the parent of the year.”

The girl puffs out in a mock-frustration, pouting her lips. “Who told you this nonsense?” her left brow creases slightly in a perfect resemblance of Lou’s firm gesture. “First of all, she is 1000% sure. She wouldn’t have gone so far if she weren’t. Cordelia couldn’t force sixteen-year-old Louise to do anything against her will. So don’t flatter yourself Ocean – you cannot compel a forty-six-year-old Lou Miller if she’s not sure, either. And speaking of parents, I think I’m the only person who has any say here and I reserve the right to give this reward to you. So yes, ‘Oscar goes to Lou Miller and Deborah Ocean’. Both Lou Miller and Deborah Ocean! Cheering!” the brunettes chuckle quietly in unison and Debbie’s hand hoovers forward to give a light pinch to the little turned-up nose. Giggling, Dashiell waves it off hand and continues, “And second of all, yes, of course, it will be a mess, but it’s not only the two of you, but it’s the three of us. And we’ll temporarily move back to Wilson Prom…”

“…Wilson Prom. That was exactly what I suggested.”

A low growl almost escapes Lou’s throat: should you barely close your eyes to take a nap and these two are already plotting against you behind your back. What a terrible injustice…

 “They’re due in November, right?” Dashiell’s eyes suddenly widen, glimmering with naughty mischief. “Pleeease, mama, let’s not tell grandmas we have twins until we arrive. I wanna see Cordelia’s face when she finds out she’ll have to cope two more Scorpions besides mom. Thaaaaaat will be legendary!”

Debbie cackles, probably imagining the picture her daughter is talking about, her head nodding and the corners of her mouth stretching into a smile.

“You see, we got it covered with the ‘mess’,” Dashiell’s fingers tiptoe to the two cursive tattoos – capital ‘D’ and small ‘d’ next to it – clearly visible on Lou’s lower stomach, repeating their patterns. “What else?”

Lou’s heart skips a beat. Her question is almost rhetorical. She asks it as if it’s explicitly clear for her there’s definitely something else. Something much more significant than just a ‘mess’. Something Lou would desperately like Debbie not to voice.

“She is afraid…,” Debbie’s glance falls down, then swiftly comes back to the girl, “She’s worried about you.”

“Oh…,” the girl tenses, “Why?,” her hand stills and her impossibly ocean-blue eyes, framed with the hedge of fuzzy long eyelashes, raise at Debbie under the frowned brows, “Is she afraid… they will be… like me? Different?” Lou’s heart throws itself against her ribcage painfully and skips another beat.

That is why. That is exactly why you don’t tell some things to a child, Deborah. That is why there’re things you keep your mouth shut about. You do not tell a six-year-old that her pregnant mother she is overprotective with is on the edge because of her. Those demons are Lou’s and Lou’s only but not Dashiell’s fault at all.

She wants to intrude. Wants to cut into the conversation, to nip it the bud before they have another Armageddon she really has no strength to deal with now. She already takes a breath and her lips part, ready to produce a word. But Debbie’s left knee bends, leaning to Lou’s leg, her left-hand moves forward, sliding over Lou’s lower stomach and covering Dashiell’s tiny hand with her palm. The lightest brush of Debbie’s lips against the skin of her belly - a kiss so fleeting Dashiell is not even able to notice - and in an instant, it dawns on Lou that Debbie knows she’s not asleep. She knew this probably even before Lou’s eyelids fluttered and eyes almost flew opened several minutes ago. Knew it from the second Lou’s breathing changed its tempo, confidence increasing with every fluctuation of Lou’s heartbeat. Sometimes Lou still forgets that she is physically unable to lie to Deborah Ocean – for exactly the same reason Debbie cannot lie to her – not only because they are conmen and it’s their craft and art to read anyone as good as the first class shrinks but because for most of their lives they have known each other better than their own reflections. Each curve of every smile, each angle of every glance, each contraction of every face muscle; every sight volume, every voice tone, every possible heart rhythm…

Lou makes the last effort to steady herself. Dash is right - she is 1000% sure in Debbie. Finally, she can trust Debbie not only her own life. She can trust Debbie the life of their daughter as well. For this short time they’ve been a family, the two invented their own language of communication, their own rules of support and understanding. Just like back to the days when Dashiell was throwing hurricanes inside of Lou in the middle of the night and Debbie was able to pacify them with the only touch of her hand. For a moment, Lou wonders if the story will repeat itself this time, with these new tummy-dwellers of hers.

 Debbie thumbs the knuckles of a small fist, rubs her palm up and down over Dashiell’s arm, tilting her head, looking closely at a girl. “No, Bumblebee. No. You’re not different. You’re special. One of a kind. And it’s because you’re so special, your mom and I love you three thousand times more!”

Lou’s heart tightens – Debbie practically steals the words away from her tongue. ‘Our shiny-shiny girl’ echoes in her head while Debbie keeps talking.

“Your mom is concerned that when they’re born… because there’re the two of them… you may have some... sharing issues.” She chooses her words carefully, making sure they’re comprehensible for the child. Making sure Dashiell understands everything she keeps behind them, between the lines.

Dashiell throws her head back and rolls her eyes in a motion that would be hers ‘don’t-start-that-again’ face. “She still reproaches me for that time, doesn’t she? I thought, we agreed that’s water under the bridge.” She glances back at Debbie, scrunching up her face. “And that’s not fair. We were in the same boat with you! Why isn’t she concerned that ‘you may have some sharing issues’?”

Air quotes, performed with only one hand, for the other is still busy supporting her body on the bed, emphasize her last words. Debbie narrows her eyes and makes a face but looks away before to fend off.

“Not something I’m proud of. But it was not the same. I just came from the inside. I had to know where we were…”

“…and you stole her from me for the two months…”

“We were busy!”

“With the Met?”

“With the Met.”

“You thought Met was more important than me.”

“I thought Met was my way to atone it to you for my absence.”

I thought you thought Met was more important than me.”

“Yeah… My bad…”

Their fencing is rather a banter than a quarrel, not coming from an angry place anymore. Just retorting each other’s replicas in one breath, without a second delay. Yet the last line brings them to a screeching halt for the solid ten seconds. To both mothers’ great relief, Dashiell is the first one who comes back to reality.

“Anyway. Are you going to love me less? I mean. When they’re born.”

“No. That’s not gonna happen,” Debbie prompts without hesitation. “You know that.”

“Are you gonna love them more than me?”

“Absolutely not. We’ll love you all equally. And you’ll always be our firstborn, our Bumblebee. Nothing changes.”

“Then, I’m fine,” Dashiell nods comprehensibly and suddenly her face lightens up with the most adorable and charming satisfied wide smile – the one they’re always rewarded with when she gets exactly what she wants. “See, got this covered either. No more reasons for freaking out, right? Now all you moms need to do is to learn how to love both guys instead of one.”

We need to learn? What about you?” Debbie chokes on a chuckle, despite herself, her voice bewildered and surprised. “And guys? Why guys?”

Dashiell buckles her head, now her whole cheek resting against the hillock of Lou’s stomach and her shining eyes focused on Debbie. She sighs with a giggle as if she has to explain something so evident and obvious that it surges a burst of hilarity up in her. “Yes, I bet those are boys. And I have nothing to learn. I asked you about them – I already love them. We’re cut from the same cloth. We’re a whole.”

A single tear makes her escape from behind her closed eyelids and Lou feels it sliding down her temple, leaving a wet trail on her skin. She’s unable to determine what she feels at the moment, for it’s dozens of various feelings that are tearing her apart from the inside, making her heart bounce haphazardly in her chest. However, above them all is a shame – for herself, having any doubts in their little girl; but above that shame – the all-consuming love – so strong and profound that it hurts – to her little girl, so much wiser and braver than she and Debbie all together. Gosh, she loves her so much. She only hopes she’ll be able to chanel as much love into the two ‘guys’ they’re expecting.

“How did we happen to get so lucky to be your parents?” Debbie utters affectionately, fingers combing through Dashiell’s dark auburn hair, her voice tender and fond in an absolutely uncharacteristic way. The girl grabs her hand, jocosely catches the tips of Debbie’s fingers in between her upper and lower teeth.

“You didn’t happen. I chose you, because you’re cool. And special. One of a kind,” she giggles, reciting Debbie’s words. Unbends her elbow, sinks onto the duvet besides Lou, grasping blindly behind her back for Lou’s right hand. Finds it, brings it closer to place on the top of her head, hiding under it like a baby-bird under the wing. Nuzzles her face to Lou’s side, her small nose touching the belly, all next words, mumbled by her, sounding muffled and soft against Lou’s skin. “And now these two chose you either. For the same reason. Well, and obviously because of me. Isn’t it fantastic?”

Lou hears as Debbie titters and hums shortly, feels her moving next to her, mirroring Dashiell and sinking onto the mattress. She feels as Debbie’s forehead and nose press to her side, arm leaning around her and fingertips brushing Dashiell’s shoulder. Feels Debbie pressing her lips to her belly as she brings her hand to rest on the nape of Debbie’s neck, fingering the short hair on the back of her head. For the first time since she’s found out she was pregnant, she feels neither anxiety nor permanent fear nor nagging pain inside her heart. For the first time in several months, she finally feels calm, confident and peaceful. The two most important people of her life are wrapped around her, drifting away, the other two are nestled literally under her heart, lurked, preparing to make their first ‘kicks’ within the following week or even days or even hours. Their future, so cloud and blurry just several hours ago, now seems to be totally coherent and inevitably… happy. Blissful. Blessed. There’s no other place in the world for her except for here, her body entwined with Dashiell and Debbie’s. Integrated into each other’s orbits, they revolve around each other like the celestial bodies of one universe, their love indoctrinated into each other on the atomic level.  There’s just two new planets now, and they will learn how to love them, will figure out how to turn any possible chaos back into the harmony. Because they’re cut from the same cloth. They’re a whole.

 She starts drifting off with this realization, her thoughts getting messy and elusive.

“Will you marry her now?” Dashiell’s sleepy voice and the slight twitch of Debbie’s head draw her out of her doze.

“I’m not sure that’s what she wants,” comes from Debbie with a hesitated sigh, equally sleepy.

“Did you ask her?” A short pause.

“No.”

“Then ask.” Another pause, this one longer. So fucking long Lou thinks it may be a one-way ticket to her heart attack.

“Okay.”

“Okay?” a sneer from a six-year-old to the almighty Deborah Ocean for chickening out. “That’s all you have to say?”

“I will ask.”

Lou feels as the corners of Dashiell’s lips curve against her skin into the most adorable and charming self-satisfied smile – the one they’re always rewarded with when she gets exactly what she wants.

 

 A curtain!

The end.